Part 1: Trash Troubles in Tanzania*

July 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

Garbage in Tanzania is out of control. There’s not a lot of quality infrastructure in general – roads, government personnel, electricity, water, etc – but the lack of interest in waste management still shocks me after three months.

Littering is not taboo at all in Tanzania. People throw plastic, paper, food cartons, old clothes, metal, any kind of old, unwanted trash wherever they want. On the street, out the window, over the side of the boat, in the Serengeti where the animals roam, anywhere.

Residential trash management is pick a spot in your yard, make a big pile of all your garbage, including plastic, and set it on fire every once in a while. We’re not talking compost heap, we’re talking garbage pile. It’s not burned properly or evenly either, so the trash piles are in a constant state of charred, stinky, eyesore bummer.

Then there are the fields of garbage. In Moshi, for example, there was a field of garbage I walked through every day on the way from my home to the orphanage. A literal garbage field. Goats and chickens liked to hang out there and pick through the trash for food. It was huge and nobody seemed to mind it or feel any pressing need to do anything about it. Rather, it seemed to be the local place for waste disposal and people just kept adding to it. I swear it expanded by 20% just during the month I was there.

In Dar es Salaam, the trash is even worse. It’s a huge city and it’s littered with garbage and sewage everywhere. The street sewage drains are open and line both sides of the street and are filled with rotting waste. Dar has a major rat infestation problem. When I’m in Dar I see a rat almost every day on the street or in the apartment or at the restaurant or wherever. The streets are also in such a state of deep disrepair that there are massive potholes, chunks of street missing, dirt sections, mud, rocks, broken down vehicles, and dilapidated buildings to navigate. Walking around in Dar is like navigating a disheartening obstacle course of sad.

Dar es Salaam does have trash collection every few days, in Kariakoo at least, but all it is is an open dump truck with six guys riding on the top. They pick up some of the trash and throw it in the truck. The trash is sitting on the side of the street.

I would love to see some sort of organization pop up in Tanzania that paid people to bring trash to waste processing facilities as an incentive for people to start properly disposing of their garbage. Tanzania has enough hygiene and health problems without trudging through a garbage field twice a day adding to the “pile.”

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s addition of Parts 2 & 3 – Upcycling and Reducing!

*Alliteration is fun!

The Landscape of Dar

May 14, 2012 § 3 Comments

Dar es Salaam, from what I’ve seen so far, is very dirty. Filthy. Rats are a huge problem. Even our home, which is kept meticulously clean by Moshi and Mrs. Meghji, gets rats sometimes. Littering is not taboo here and there is trash everywhere in the streets. Trash pickup is inconsistent and the trash collection vehicle is just a big, open dump truck with two or three dudes riding in the back on top of the trash.

The streets are sort of paved and sort of dirt; when it rains everything turns to mud.  Buildings are ramshackle and close together but all different. The old buildings have been added to and repaired so many times over the years that their original parts are sometimes unrecognizable. New glass and metal skyscrapers appear randomly throughout the city, without any obvious plan or reason. Dar’s cityscape is unique and beautiful, but still a little ugly – Frankenstein-esque.

Dar’s beauty is often in its humor. Each of the buses, for example, has its own motto painted colorfully on the sides, front and back – a word or phrase that they identify with. Most seem to stick with a religious theme, “Allahu Akhbar,” or “Allah will keep us safe,” or just, “Allah.” Some of the more creative individuals went with ideas like, “Laptop,” “Oxygen,” “Power,” and “Tutabanana Hapu Hapu!,” which translates as, “I will fight you right here, right now.” The liveliness and excitement of the city and its people is one of the best parts.

A TMI Post on Tanzanian Toilet Practices

May 9, 2012 § 2 Comments

Sooo… toilets. We all use ‘em. What’s odd is that humans all over the world seem to disagree on the best way to use them. Some people prefer the porcelain bowl toilet, some people the shelf toilet model, some like the squat toilet, some champion a dirt hole dug in the backyard (one of my crazy uncles, probably).

The variety doesn’t end there!

Having never lived in a country with a large and acknowledged Muslim population before, I wasn’t familiar with any bathroom differences and didn’t know that water is a required part of the cleansing ritual. Strangely, none of my Arabic studies professors thought to mention what Muslims do in the bathroom! I want my money back. I’d visited the houses of Muslim friends before, had noticed the hoses or bidets, but never really given it much thought.

(Well… except for the one time that I was studying at a male-friend-from-Saudi’s house and had to pee but couldn’t figure out how to flush the toilet because some weird hose thing was interfering with the water supply. I had to ask him for help. Embarrassing! Even then, I didn’t get why this guy had installed a fancy pants bidet in his college apartment and then treated me like I was weird because I didn’t know how to work it. Oh, ignorance.)

Back to bathrooms…


My first week in Tanzania, everywhere I went there were these hoses in the bathroom, and also sometimes buckets of water with a cup next to the toilet. Toilet paper was also provided as an option, so I went with what I knew. Still, I had no idea why these hoses were hanging out in all the bathrooms and I got the feeling toilet paper wasn’t meant to be used by itself.

After a week, curiosity overcame me, and I got up the nerve to ask Nabeel’s mom. She explained that Muslims believe you have to use water in order to be clean, and, of course, Muslims have to be clean in order to pray. The hoses make it convenient and the buckets/cups are there because sometimes water supply is inconsistent.

A few days later my curiosity compelled me to try the hose. I was afraid of using it because I thought it was going to spray water everywhere and then I’d be soaked and embarrassed (WHY do so many of my most embarrassing moments occur in the bathroom?!?). Then I figured, if it works for millions of people around the world, it will probably work for me.

Thankfully, everything else is the same, so the learning curve wasn’t too steep. It turns out using water is easy, and actually *quite* refreshing on hot days. It also seems a lot more efficient and less wasteful than toilet paper. Next time you’re bored, bring your hose in through the window and give it a try. You might like it!

Traffic – The Monster of Dar es Salaam

May 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

I think this is supposed to be a roundabout.

Traffic in Dar es Salaam is unlike any I’ve ever seen. The insanity of it puts any bad traffic contenders in the US to shame – Los Angeles ain’t got nothin’ on Dar es Salaam. Pedestrians, bicycles, motorbikes, buses, cars and semi trucks are all jammed together in a tight one or two lane space. Traffic is so bad, it can take 3-4 hours to clear the very short section of road – maybe half a mile – that it takes to get out of Dar es Salaam.There is only one major highway to get around all of Tanzania. It has one lane going in each direction.

The rules of the road seem to be:

  1. Don’t crash.
  2. Don’t crush the pedestrians weaving through the cars on the tightly packed roads.
  3. Watch out for cops.

Pretty simple.

Pollution is common and pretty bad since most of the cars and trucks here are old.

Is this a picture of a guy just riding down the highway on top of a van? Yuppers, it sure is! This is a type of security position. His job is to ride up top and make sure nobody tries to steal stuff out of the back.

Like way old. Emissions testing is decidedly not a thing here. Often there will be vans or trucks driving down the road spewing a steady cloud of thick, black, acrid smoke that reeks of chemicals burning. This is true even of the public buses, daladalas. Vehicles here are pushed way past their natural limitations. The creativity employed to keep them running is impressive.

Drivers use flashing lights, signals and hand gestures to communicate. If you’re behind someone, the right blinker means “not safe to pass – car coming;” the left blinker means “okay to pass.” Flashing your lights at someone is a way of asking if there are cops up ahead. The responding car flashes back and either points down with four fingers, meaning “yes, cops ahead” or makes a “come here” gesture signaling that it’s safe.

Bus drivers are the craziest. They race each other from city to city, flying down the road, making dangerous passes and turns. There’s about one deadly bus accident per month. Those that can afford not to won’t ride those buses.

Tanzania. Drive at your own risk!

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