I am currently studying abroad in Arusha, Tanzania through Arcadia University’s undergrad program. I arrived on August 25th, so I’ve been here almost a month already! Needless to say a lot has happened in just a few short weeks, its amazing how much you can learn about a culture by total immersion.
So the program that Arcadia is running here is strictly through them, we’re not studying at a foreign university, there actually isn’t one in Arusha that I’m aware of. Almost everyone in the program is living in a house provided by Arcadia. There are around 16 of us in the house: two guys from Uganda, twelve American girls, and two American guys. In addition there is one guy who is from Arusha who lives on his own, one from Nairobi, Kenya, and two other guys from Uganda, all of them have friends or family in the area they are living with.
The house we live in is awesome though! We share rooms but each room has its own bathroom and shower, we have a huge dining room table, living room, and fully equipped kitchen (complete with unreliable refrigerator and a rat friend named Mr. Panya!). We also have a yard with nice flowers and a covered seating area we fondly call The Cabana. The entire place is surrounded by at least a ten foot concrete wall topped with huge shards of glass. We also have a guard and several women who come and clean, this is all in addition to the two women who bring us delicious dinner every night. By the way, this living situation is NOT what I was referring to by “total immersion”, far from it, but who’s complaining?
We all take classes together in a room at the Natural History Museum, its only about a ten minute walk from where we live. The museum is small and is housed in an old German fort, very cool architecture, but not what you would typically think of as a museum. The bathrooms there are situated in a small separate structure that consists of several stalls with holes in the floor, oddly the holes actually flush, go figure? After a few days we discovered that only the female stalls had holes, the men’s had an actual toilet AND toilet paper. Obviously we girls, being the majority, have taken it over. Beyond just the toilet situation though, there is also a beautiful yard and gardens, an enormous, terrifying, and unfriendly bird who we have lovingly named Zazu (he is actually a Marabou Stork), a herd of leopard tortoises that troll around in a large enclosure, and a very oddly located taxidermy shop.
Everyone in the program takes two core courses, Swahili (except for the native Tanzanian) and Peace and Conflict in East Africa, the other two classes vary a little. I am taking Health Issues in Africa and Gender and Development. The class structure, both time layout and teaching style is very different from what most of us are used to in the States. This has been a hard adjustment and definitely not without some growing pains. We usually get a few ten or five minute breaks and we try to make the most of them with cart-wheel competitions or random games of freeze-tag. I think most of the museum workers on site very likely think we’re crazy, they may be right. A four hour lecture about UN legislation and treaties twice a week can drive anyone to extremes.
As a little recap of my time spent here thus far I compiled a list:
Top (mostly irrelevant) Things I’ve Learned in Africa in a Month
-Power, water, or internet outages are common, do not panic, use them as an excuse to avoid your homework
-Africans (at least Ugandans and Tanzanians) do not understand the Western aspect of “personal space”, expect to be touched but do not be afraid to defend your honor!
-Friendly people on the street that start walking with you and asking about your life, telling you their story, will in time inevitably try to get you to buy something. Obviously all American’s are rich, dumb, and desperate for souvenirs.
-Be careful what you do, even though we live in a city, we’re the only group of 14 white people that are going to be living here for four months-people will and do recognize you everywhere, and they’re definitely not above remembering your name and screaming at you on the street.
-Get used to starches and carbs, they might be all you eat-especially if you’re a vegetarian (thought you would lose weight in Africa did you? Wrong!). As an example, its not uncommon for our dinner to consist of a combination of bread, noodles, potatoes, and rice, along with a small amount of veggies and meat.
-There are NO tortilla chips anywhere, not even the Mexican restaurant, get over it!
-This may be because corn and maize are NOT the same thing. Surprise!
-There are animals everywhere: goats, cows, chickens, sheep, extremely loud obnoxious howling dogs next to your window at night that may be poisoned before December, creepy cats eating mice in bars…none of them are friendly. Stop touching everything…really. (I actually got scratched by the mouse-eating cat at the bar and a random man poured Konyagi, a local liquor, on my arm because he was afraid for my life).
-Bringing Ramen here is a waste; they have all the great flavors we do plus a curry flavor 🙂