Little shops open for business…
Tanzania has a pop-up economy – little shops (Dukas) are everywhere; lining the major roads, alongside dirt paths heading into villages, and tucked away in the forests. It’s a very industrious and entrepreneurial mindset here, with small independent businesses that will surprise and amaze you when you happen upon them in the most unexpected places.
On our hikes in the forest, bordering Arusha National Park (always on the lookout for wandering elephants, perhaps being observed by a leopard, on alert for a lone cape buffalo snorting from behind a tree) – we are definitely off the beaten track.
While trudging through the wilderness, feeling like there is no one else for miles (or kilometers these days), suddenly a well-trodden dirt path materializes, and a few small, weathered buildings appear, open for business as always though there doesn’t seem to be a population nearby to serve them. Through one open door I see an older woman sitting behind an ancient Singer sewing machine, fabric flying by under the presser’s foot as she whips up a beautifully made dress out of traditional kitenge cloth.
Next to the seamstress is a small pharmacy with a few chickens in cages out front, in case you’re in need of something for dinner while you pick up your meds. A tangle of foliage, rusted metal drums, and a spare tire or two separate the next building from its neighbour, and you can see the fundi (artisan) underway making custom furniture out of the beautiful wood that grows here.
It is still seems odd to be driving down any main road into town, let alone in the middle of the forest, and see handmade bed frames, tables and chairs, wardrobes, and more, placed on the side of the road, resting directly on the red/brown/grey dirt. This is the retail space of these stores, and if you see something you like you just drive off road onto a dirt patch and get out of your car to inspect the merchandise.
Ways of life…
My observation is that this way of life is a necessity, as so many people here have so little. They seem willing to take on any project, profession, or trade, sometimes all at the same time if it means earning extra shillings to put food on the table.
Today I need documents printed in colour for our Kenyan Visas. The nearest place I know of is the tiny little hair salon cum printing and passport photo shop. It seats one client, with chairs and buckets available for friends and family to sit on and hang out while hair is being braided. Tucked in a corner is an old printer for that part of this business. A small, dented digital camera is on the shelf for the occasional passport photo request. All of this in probably 50 square feet. The salon is dark inside, but open for business. If of course you don’t mind getting your haircut or picture taken without any lights, because there is no power. Printing our documents this afternoon is now out of the question.
I get the owner’s WhatsApp number so we can communicate about the eventual return of electricity. The odds of it coming back on in a reasonable amount of time are slim, and as it’s rather an undertaking to get from our place to the stores, mentally this task has already been moved to tomorrow’s to do list.
Before hopping back into the truck though I look around to see what else I can accomplish while I’m out and about.
Near the salon is a used clothing store, but really it is a shanty, hastily assembled it appears, from scraps of lumber and sheet metal.
Across the seriously pot-holed and rocky dirt parking lot is a small flower stand, and next to that is a display with beautiful handmade baskets. If the basket lady is not around, just look across the way as she also manages the fruit and vegetable stand until a basket buyer shows up. And there is a chicken condo next to the baskets too….in case you need a chicken for dinner while buying a basket.
Always open for business…
At the end of the parking lot is the chapati stand, made fresh to order, and a small open-air restaurant serving home cooked Swahili food, beers, and sodas. In-between all these little entrepreneurial businesses is the main grocery store where most of us buy what we need for the week. The power is out inside the grocery store, too. This is such a regular thing during certain times of the year that I have become quite adept at shopping in the darkness. I keep the flashlight on my phone in stand-by mode these days. After almost a year of living here I’ve learned that during the dry season it is more surprising to find out that a store has its lights on. We now see it as part of the charm of living in East Africa.
In case you’re wondering about the spastic electrical service, it is partly due to Tanzania relying a good bit on hydroelectric power to serve their needs. When water is scarce during the long dry season it impacts electrical usage throughout the country. Fortunately, Tanzania is very progressive with solar power, so many people and businesses have that in place to help be independent of electricity as much as possible.
I negotiate for some fresh vegetables – eggplant, tomatoes, beets, arugula and coriander, and get in the truck to head home. Steve is not a fan of a few of those items, so I start thinking about how I’m going to disguise them again so he doesn’t know what he’s eating. Sometimes one extra garlic clove will do the trick, but serving beets and arugula at the same time could bring an end to the marriage. After thirty three years of being together he is on to my tricky ways. I still love a good challenge though, and Steve has become my lifelong project.
So, another afternoon in Tanzania has passed with almost nothing having been accomplished, and what little was done seemed to take forever. We are starting to get quite used to that and realize we may never function again in western society. For now we are quite okay with that.