Nungwi is an up and coming tourist destination. It has some of the best beaches in Africa, a chill island culture steeped in pole pole (“go slowly”) and hakuna matada (“no worries”), and some neat attractions like Stone Town, diving, and surfing. Many tourists we see are concentrated in a cluster of bungalows by the beach, including the “Z”, a fancy hotel with thatched roofs that has separate staff quarters.
This is not where we are. We are staying at a house that is run by a local Tanzanian who is slowly building it into a guest villa of sorts. There is a small TV, a small fridge, and (weak) air conditioning in the bedrooms, all of which are huge luxuries here. They also provide a lovely breakfast for free, which is also a luxury we haven’t had thus far on our travels. But no wifi, no laundry, no restaurant, and certainly no upscale concierge. For the most part, we source our own food as the locals do, we cook in a small outdoor kitchen, and we do our own laundry. Pole pole is not only a philosophy here; it is also an imposed reality, given how much time it gets to get anything done.
A day in our life here looks like getting up in the morning to realize that mobile wifi has run out of data, so I walk about 15 minutes to find someone who can reload our SIM chip with more data. Apparently, I burned up more than I realized on a couple of video calls. The place I did it last time shrugs and points across the street. The person there speaks a little better English, and tells me to try a third place. That place seems to know what I want, and gets the job done. The kids will be happy, as no wifi means far more limited options for getting schoolwork done.
From there, I go to pick up some eggs. There are two prices here: the local price and the mzungu (“foreigner”) price. I don’t always know which is which. I ask how much a dozen eggs are. They quote me twice what I paid last time. “Hapana asante,” I say (“no, thank you”) and look for another place. I could negotiate, but I find it unpleasant. The next vendor quotes me a lower price, and I take the eggs as well as knoweledge on what a new baseline price for eggs might be.
The children need more than eggs. They need vegetables and carbohydrates. Our small fridge only holds so much, so gathering vegetables has become a daily task. There are no “supermarkets” to speak of here, either. Only small shops selling a few items, some fresher than others. Tomatoes are in abundant supply here, for some reason; other vegetables, not so much. I pull together some tomatoes and an eggplant. “Kunradhi, hili ni pesa ngapi?” The price is fair and we make a trade. I pick up a liter of water. The price is only $0.50, but the guilt is considerably more, as the island is full of plastic waste and no good waste disposal system. But tap water is not safe to drink here.
Upon returning to the house, I am hot and sweaty from the hard sun and the walk. “Kids! I got wifi!” They are excited, as this allows them to get back on their self-imposed schedule to do more math. Janet and I wipe off the latest infestation of ants, trot off to the kitchen to heat up a large pot of water, and wipe off some more ants. The water heats slowly. We saute the tomatoes and the eggplant to make homemade pasta sauce, as the closest the stores have is ketchup. Here on Nungwi, we were lucky to find one store that sells cheese, probably courtesy of the few Italian expats that have taken up residence here.
It is noon, and we have accomplished a bowl of pasta and wifi. Pole pole, it is a good morning.
Julien reminds us that we have to take our malaria pills. We split one pill in half, the correct dosage for Jasper and Kieran. And then another half into a quarter, so that Julien gets three-quarters of a pill. Janet and I take one each. It serves as our daily mass, to give thanks for that which we could so easily take for granted. Sometimes we even down it with a little bit of chilled red wine, which is hard to source in Stone Town but surprisingly easy to find here in Nungwi.
By afternoon, the kids have worked through their self-directed math homework, geography, reading, and their blogs. They ask Janet or I to proofread. One by one, they chime in with “now, what should I do?” They’re not bored; they’re asking what more they can do to further their education. We haven’t had time to kick back, but we are thrilled that they have such an appetite for learning. “How about some ‘Little History of Science’?” Janet says, pulling out the Kindle version of this treasure of a book that we spotted at the British Museum. Meanwhile, I explore than ck-12 app, which has science simulations, to see what I can engage them with tomorrow. There is a wonderful module on geosynchronous orbits; and another on elliptical orbits, which is perhaps too abstract. Some days we play boardgames instead.
By 3 or 4pm, we head to the beach. But not before a small, familiar game of getting each of the kids to consider whether they have sunscreened — front and back? on the nose too?… are the tablets put away and charging, in case we come home to a power outage and need the battery life?… did we remember to pack the water, as we don’t want to add to the plastic waste we are already responsible for?… did everyone go to the bathroom?… are all the lights and fans turned off, as electricity in Tanzania is so expensive and we don’t want to abuse the generous discount our host granted us for our stay?… and circling back to the kids, we find that two of them have gotten delightfully distracted with a game of alien inspector, one of them completely forgetting about sunscreen, the other unsure of where his one remaining clean shirt is, and a third that decides late in the process that maybe he does have to to go the bathroom after all. And so we begin again, eventually making our way out the door.
Only to have to turn back after 5 minutes because while the kids have, in fact, gotten their stuff together, Daddy forgot to bring money.
When we get to the beach, the kids run off to play. Janet and I might take a stolen moment to reflect or think on life together. Some connections to community back home have felt bumpy, with some well-intentioned friends interpreting things far from where our experience lies; and we are far from home, limiting our ability to understand and be understood. But we reaffirm that we feel lucky to have each other, blessed that we have such wonderful, caring kids, and that the space we’ve created for our little family in this far corner of the Earth is exactly where we want to be.
We walk home in the dark, feeling remarkably safe, despite our way home taking us through a remote path with few routes of escape. There are no street lights, and the sky is alight with stars. The kids laugh and joke a few feet ahead of us, knowing the way home through many a twist and turn in the night. Public displays of affection are not comfortable for Tanzanians, and we try to respect that; but in the dark, we reach over and hold hands.
When we get home, there may be a time for a shower. This house has remarkably good water pressure; much of Tanzania does not. There is no water heater, but with the hot outdoor temperatures, the lukewarm water feels cool to the skin. There is no plumbing and the water comes from a large tank, so we try to be mindful about conserving it by turning it off in between scrubbings.
If there’s time, we cast a movie onto our trusty Roku — a splurge of a purchase before we left Europe — that gives us the ability to watch the movies that we’ve downloaded onto our tablets (at a local restaurant with free wifi, of course; not off our mobile wifi, as that would get expensive very quickly). We’ve enjoyed watching The Good Place with the kids, which raises interesting and humorous moral questions; and have since moved on to Dr. Who. The kids haven’t yet met David Tennant, and I’m excited that they should do so.
Below: the shops in Nungwi
Below: playing boardgames at our house in Nungwi
Below: our kitchen
Below: the beaches of Nungwi