Hashing (Not what you think)

I am hoping to upload a video of our Hash adventure in a week or so, depending on how long it takes me to finish editing it. But in the mean time, I thought I’d share a little bit about it, as a kind of introduction to the video, but also as a kind of introduction to the ‘Mzungu’ community that can be found in Moshi.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the word, ‘Mzungu’ is a Kiswahili term used to denote any foreigner who is also usually white, as far as I know.

Don’t quote me, as the following theory is not cited, but it would seem that the word Mzungu is derived from the Kiswahili word ‘kuzunguka,’ which means ‘to go round’. There is also ‘zunguko,’ which means ‘a circuit; revolution.’ Perhaps the first white foreigners the East Africans saw were explorers who seemed to simply walk around with no outwardly apparent purpose or direction. Or maybe they just assumed these foreigners were out of their minds, since their dress and mannerisms were so markedly different, especially in the tropics. Either way, it makes me laugh to imagine what those East Africans were thinking, to come up with the term ‘mzungu’ for these strangers.

Even more intriguing is the contrast of Mzungu with the term ‘Mbongo,’ which I hear is used for local Tanzanians. ‘Mbongo’ is derived from the word ‘ubongo,’ which means ‘brain.’ I think you can figure out the rest from there!

Anyway, on to the Hash. I will let you look it up on Wikipedia for a more detailed definition and history, but a Hash is essentially a kind of run (or walk, depending on your physical abilities) in which the group follows a trail that has been made ahead of time. The trail is usually made by throwing flour on the ground in intervals. Depending on the Hash, there can be various tricks or detours to this trail in order to make it more challenging to follow.

The trail ultimately leads back to the place from which it began, where there is food and drink and a time to socialize.

(… And as I describe the Hash, I am just realizing how this activity serves to further solidify our ‘Mzungu’ identity. A bunch of people walking in a huge circle… you get the picture.)

I didn’t know this, but apparently there are many Hash groups around the world. And once a person is on the lookout for Hashing, they will most likely find that the opportunity to Hash will be available in any place they visit.

A lot of Hashing has started to gain a poor reputation – one slogan that is attached to Hashing is “Drinkers with a running problem.” This Hash group in Moshi, however, was started as a more family-friendly Hash, and mainly as a place for Wazungu (that’s the plural form of Mzungu) to hang out and connect. And for over 250 Hashes, now, it has continued on in the spirit with which it was begun. I saw families with small children, a number of individuals in their 60s and 70s, and a majority of young adults. I met people from Germany, Australia, Canada, the US, Holland, Sweden, El Salvador, and Tanzania. And I’m sure there were more countries than that represented. Some people had lived in Moshi for most of their life; others were here for just a few weeks. All were engaged in various levels of lively conversation by the end of the Hash.

As first impressions go, it seems to me that this Hash community is a microcosm of the greater Wazungu community that can be found here in Moshi: people from many countries; a lot of young people who are here very briefly; a few older people who have put down roots. And though we are all from quite different backgrounds and cultures, for some reason there is a common bond, I guess in the fact that we are all still slightly out of place here.

OK, let’s have some interaction this time around. Anyone ever been on a Hash before? Post about it in the comments if you have – I’d love to hear about it!

Living in Moshi

Moshi is a small city of about 145,000 people, located at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro. We are living in a house in what is known as the “Doctor’s Compound,” which is about a 15 minute walk from KCMC (Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center), the hospital Steve is doing his project through. In fact, if you’re curious, I’m pretty sure you can actually look up the Doctor’s Compound on Google Maps. Just type doctor’s compound moshi tanzania into google. KCMC is then another 5 or 10 minute, very crowded, “Daladala” ride from the center of Moshi. (Daladala is the name for the public transport vans used in this area).

The two peaks of Kilimanjaro towering over downtown Moshi.

The house we live in is leased by Duke for their medical students and residents, so it is furnished and kept up fairly well.

The yard is beautiful, and on clear days, we can see the top of Kilimanjaro from our front porch and living room window.

Looking at the front of our house from the yard.

Looking out from our front porch.

When we were in Nairobi, we bought a relatively expensive camping filter for our drinking water. Much to our dismay, we discovered a hole in the filter bag only after we were in Moshi and had poured water in it to begin filtering. It was the kind of hole that the water didn’t just seep out of – it spurted out. In a steady stream. Ah…

Thankfully, we ultimately prevailed. A former resident of this house had left behind some unused self-adhesive bicycle patches. One was immediately put to good use and I can happily say that our water filter bag no longer leaks. I am thanking God for this very specific provision!

Our drinking water set-up.

Our first week here was riddled with these kinds of small ‘adjustments’. One of the ways in which I felt most disoriented was with the currency and the cost of things. Most shops, except a few of the larger stores (which, no doubt, cater to foreigners) have no pice tags on anything, anywhere. I’m pretty sure it’s because prices are flexible, depending on who is buying. If you look wealthy (or ignorant), then the price will be higher.

So you either have to ask the store owner for the price of an item every few minutes, or just wait until you check out and watch the cashier tally up your total on a calculator, hoping you’ve brought enough money. Couple that with the fact that the exchange rate is 1500 Tanzanian Shillings (Tsh) to the Dollar, and you can see why I walked around for the first week feeling like I was being ripped off by everyone.

But this brings me to a question I’ve now been mulling over in my mind. A question that reveals a difference between African and Western economic mindsets. If I have more money to spare than the majority of local shoppers, shouldn’t I be OK with paying a little more? Why am I so intent on always getting the best deal (the American way, of course), when, really, I can afford to pay a slightly higher price?

And, as you think about that, a few more photos to enjoy.

An evening rainbow from our front yard.

The bars on our windows.

A tree in our front yard with very sweet-smelling flowers.

A row of old Jacaranda trees that can be seen on our walk to KCMC. You can see their lavendar flowers in bloom. They can be stunning!

More rows of Jacaranda trees in the same plot.

Nairobi to Moshi

On Tuesday we drove down from Nairobi to Moshi, which was about a 7 hour drive in total. We left Nairobi at 6:30 am to avoid its horrendous traffic. On the outskirts of the city we passed a group of cement factories. In the early morning light, the scene looked like something out of a Science Fiction film. I was reminded of the complexity of development and environmental conservation.

The landscape quickly turned to savannah, much like what you would see in the Maasai Mara or Serengeti game reserves. We didn’t see any exciting animals, however. Just some cows mingling on the highway at one point, and a disoriented sheep at another.

Good thing they have signs for that.

Apparently they also have signs to indicate that land is NOT for sale. I saw more than one of these.

Once in Tanzania, we were surprised by how many police checkpoints there were along the highway (and also by how many female police officers there were!). Every half an hour or so we would come upon a small sign in the road, or a piece of metal barrier set across the road, indicating a police checkpoint. A vehicle only has to stop if a police officer flags them down. We were stopped two or three times, I guess to check the driver’s paperwork. They never asked to see our Passports/Visas, although one officer did comment on our pile of luggage in the back.

Aside from that, our trip was uneventful, and we made excellent time, thanks to the highway upgrades paid for by the African Development Bank and constructed by the Chinese contracting companies! “China Offers Sincere, Unconditional Help to Continent” More complexity…

Safely across the Atlantic

After packing, weighing, re-packing, shopping (forgot about those last minute items!), packing, weighing, re-packing, driving to the airport, weighing, re-packing, and shedding a few pounds (from our bags, that is), we and our 6 checked bags have made it safely to Nairobi, Kenya! My mom likes to say that our belongings propagate when we’re not looking. After this experience, I’m convinced she’s right.

Tomorrow we do some shopping around Nairobi, and on Tuesday, will drive the 7 or 8 hours down to Moshi, where we will be for the next 7.5 months. Steve will be carrying out a research project related to motorcycle crash prevention, which he developed when we were there last year. During that time we also put together a video introducing the issues surrounding road traffic injuries in this area.

Motorcycle Injury Research : Tanzania from Steve Sumner on Vimeo.

It is my plan to update this blog semi-regularly in order to update you on life in Moshi, as well as hopefully give you a glimpse (albeit limited) into this part of the world. Please email or comment with things you would like to know more about – that will no doubt make for more interesting posts!

If you are like me and like reading blogs but forget to check for blog updates, feel free to subscribe to this blog via the link on the right. That way, you will receive any new blog postings directly in your inbox.