a typical day: running errands in mwanza

For those of you who wonder what an average day looks like for a missionary in Tanzania, you should know there are many different kinds of days.  But one type is that of running errands.  For us in Geita, many errands require travel to Mwanza.  This was my day today, and I apologize for the length:

6:30 — Wake up and prepare Baylor’s bottle and my coffee.  Feed her while I have my morning prayer time.  We play until she’s tired and grumpy, when I rock her to sleep.  Bible study and other reading, then write half of a blog post.

8:45 — Eat breakfast, talk with Christie, take a shower, prepare for the day.

9:30 — Go to three stores to get prices on electric fans.  Buy one oscillating fan and one ceiling fan.

10:-00 — Find an automotive parts store with wiper blades to fit the Toyota; buy and install them.  

10:10 — Go back to the store that sold me the fans to pick up the blades for the ceiling fan, because they were previously locked in a storeroom somewhere else.

10:15 — Go to the post office to pay some fees for our team’s post office box.  Wait 20 minutes for the one guy to arrive who figures taxes on incoming packages, so that I can retrieve and pay for two packages. (Thanks mom and the Dahlmans.)  After waiting a while, they call him and find he won’t be back anytime soon.  Then they decide there’s someone else who can figure the taxes and take my money.  I leave with two packages.

10:45 — Go to a local travel agency to check on round-trip tickets for the domestic flights our families will need when they arrive in Tanzania.  I get great news — I can open an account with the agency so I can book flights for friends and family in the states, without having to pay at the time of booking.  Once our guests arrive, they can pay for the tickets themselves here in Mwanza.  That means they get a better rate than they could from the states, and I don’t have to spend my money buying their tickets in advance.  But I have to fill out the paperwork and bring it back later in the day.

11:05 — Go to three hardware stores in an attempt to find longer-than-normal screws for electrical outlets and light switches.  Two shops don’t have them, and the third only has them in stainless steel, which costs more (80 cents a screw).  Since I need 40 of them, I buy two so I can make sure they work before I waste a bunch of money on screws that won’t fit.

11:30 — Begin the search for a dish-drying rack.  I finally find one made of nice wood and metal (much nicer than we’d want).  I ask the guy working there how much it costs, and he tells me the shillings equivalent of nearly $40.  I notice the owner watching me, so I walk with the drying rack toward him and ask if he’s got any plastic or cheaper drying racks.  He says this is the only one he has.  I set it down to check out how sturdy it is.  I even take a nearby plate and put it on the rack to “test it out” a little.  I know it sounds like an absurd amount of money for a drying rack, but it’s the only one I’ve seen so far — so I’m actually considering it.  

About that time, an employee comes and takes the rack away from me to put it back on the shelf.  I politely tell him I was still looking at it, trying to decide whether or not to buy it.  He apologizes and sets it again in front of me.  Immediately the owner yells at him to take it from me and return it to the shelf.  The employee does.  I’m standing there wondering what to do, and try to explain to the owner that I was still looking at the rack and had not yet decided if I’d purchase it.  He told me I was taking too long to decide — that I could finish my thinking without looking at the item.  Did I want it or not?!  

I told him it seemed odd he wouldn’t let me look at a fairly expensive item while determining whether or not to purchase it.  He then told me I shouldn’t tell him how to run his business.  He asked how long I’d been in Mwanza, and then went on to tell me he’d been here (he’s not of African descent) for 50 years.  He asked me where I was from and whether or not I was going to buy his rack or not — and told me I should leave if I didn’t want it.  I told him I had not decided until then, but that I preferred not to purchase anything from him if he was going to treat me that way.  He told me he didn’t have any control over me or what I did, but that it’d be better for him if I didn’t buy anything.  So I left.  It was very odd.  I think it might have been my first harsh anti-American moment since 2004 in Vietnam.  But I’m not sure, because I don’t think he knew I was American until I told him.  Maybe it was just a color thing?  I’m still confused about it.

12:45 — Leave the main market in Mwanza with two plastic dish-drying racks and a couple of other small things for a little over $20.

12:55 — The ATM machine at Barclay’s bank eats Christie’s card while I’m trying to use it.  Despite the fact that I show the bank employees my driver’s license and passport, Christie’s passport and birth certificate, and our marriage certificate, they say only Christie can retrieve the card.  [I happen to have all these things with me because we’re in the process of applying for Baylor’s residence permit.]  I show them that my ATM card matches hers, and that they even share the first 11 of 16 numbers.  They still refuse to give it to me.  So I change the subject — ask them why the machine took the card in the first place.  They don’t know, but they’ll check.  After 10 minutes a lady comes back and gives me the card, saying “You can just take the card because we have no record it was ever here.  The computer doesn’t say why it took the card, or even that it took the card.”

So then I debate whether or not to try the card again.  We have to get money out of the bank or we can’t pay for the work that’s been done on the truck.  If this mess had happened in one of the more popular Tanzanian banks, I would have waited in line an hour before even getting to speak to someone about my stolen card.  So I decided to try there at Barclay’s again.  It worked fine.

1:30 — I arrive at Hotel Tilapia to treat myself to some “western” food (we don’t really have any in Geita).  Tilapia has pretty decent food, though you have to pay for it.  But for some reason they’ve not yet figured out they could charge a lot more than 40 cents for their croissants and chocolate doughnuts.  I have one of each with a diet coke, and spend the same amount of money I’d have spent in a Tanzanian cafeteria — and I was able to watch the Australian Open while eating.  I wait 15 minutes to get my change back after paying, and then leave.  I’ve successfully avoided shopping in the 1:00 – 2:30 time slot when basically no stores are open.  I’ve also completed the paperwork for opening an account with the travel agency.

2:40 — I get word that our shipment by truck to Katunguru arrived safely, and Daniel and Calvin have already taken our freezer, oven, and generator the rest of the way to Geita.  Daniel asks me to grab a package for him at the post office.  So I go there again to get it.  The sender didn’t put a value on the box, so the tax guy says he’ll figure it at 100 euros.  I tell him that I can’t imagine the box is worth that much, and we discuss it for a bit.  Finally we decide I should call Daniel and ask him what’s inside.  He says it’s a birthday present for one of his daughters from her grandmother — some kind of toy.  I tell him the post office is trying to figure the tax on 100 euros (meaning I’d have to pay $80 just to get the package).  He says it can’t possibly be worth more than 40-50 euros.  I explain that to the tax man, who believes me.  I pay $30 and take the box.

3:10 — Back at the travel agency to open my account with them.  It’s relatively quick and simple, and the staff is easy to work with.

3:40 — To a store that sells phone vouchers (almost all phone plans here are pre-paid) in bulk.  I buy $80 worth, which will last Christie and I over two months.

3:50 — I’m off in search of a couple of sturdy 20-liter plastic jerry cans to hold petrol for the generator we bought earlier in the week.  Found and bought for $3.50 per jug.

4:15 — I’m shopping at U-Turn, a small grocery store (think a third the size of a CVS pharmacy) that carries a lot of western items.  Okay, I’m not really shopping per se; I’m actually just walking around the store while I eat a cup of ice cream — I know all I have to buy is a loaf of bread.

4:45 — I borrow a few DVDs from Jason and Emily Miller, for Christie and I to watch tonight and tomorrow night.

5:15 — I’m home playing with Baylor and talking with Christie about our days.  Then the three of us sit down and have a package-opening party, during which we find all kinds of wonderful goodies like cheese goldfish and Velveeta from the states.  I shower and get ready for dinner.  

6:00 — We eat and sit down to watch a movie together (The Illusionist), during which I am typing this blog post.  Baylor’s last feeding will end about 10:00, and the three of us will sing together, pray, and go to bed.

You have to add to the above timeline a lot of greeting people and having short conversations here and there.  You also have to add being asked for money at least 15 times.  Then there’s also the time it takes to walk to all these shops and offices — unless you drive, but then the searching for legal parking spots requires about the same amount of time.

So this is a typical day in the life of a missionary running errands in Mwanza.  It’s amazing how long things can take, and how complicated tasks can become.  Not all of these things happen every day (ie. being kicked out of a shop and having an ATM card snatched by a bank machine), but they truly are representative of things that do happen every day.  If it’s not an ATM problem, it’s a flat tire… or three extra offices you have to visit… or a 500 shilling stamp for which you have to wait in an hour-long line… or a visitor who shows up at your door for chai and has you leaving the house an hour later than you’d intended.  It’s always something in Africa.  Hence, Christie and I not yet living in a house that was sure to be finished in September.

But all in all, you should know that today was an incredibly successful day of running errands in Africa.  I normally would not dare make such a lengthy list of things to do.  And I’d be happy to accomplish only half.  I honestly think it went so well today because none of my destinations were government offices.

Anyway, the next time you’re able to find everything you need in just one trip to Target, please think of our days and know that you are blessed.  If doing things quickly is a blessing, you are blessed.  But I’m not so sure that’s the right way to look at it…  this pace of life is beginning to suit me.



Filed under updates from geita

8 responses to “a typical day: running errands in mwanza

  1. Love this post. Was the place you got kicked out of Dubai Bazaar? It sounds just like the guy.

  2. it was dubai bazaar. that guy is so kali — i have no idea why he was so angry with me. but in the end, i guess he saved me cash — because i probably would’ve bought the rack for fear i wouldn’t find christie one somewhere else…

  3. Brett, this post makes me laugh. It brings back memories of going to three hardware stores and finding only two of the three things we needed for a project. The Americans were shaking their heads wondering how in the world these people get anything done. We do have to check our American efficiency model at the airport. You certainly did have a productive day. I pray all your days will be fruitful–great opportunities to build relationships and to be conspicuously spiritual without being obnoxiously religious so persons of peace can find you. Give my love to Christie and Baylor.

  4. Ike

    And I work for a living???

  5. Ike


    My wife scolded me for leaving that last comment. I’m trying to explain to her that you actually “do” have a sense of humor. Bail me out:-)

  6. i do indeed have a sense of humor. it’s a work ethic that i lack…

  7. redaptimesaga

    I’m trying to explain to her that you actually “do” have a sense of humor. Bail me out:-)

    • ike, is this you? whether it is nor not, though, i’m afraid i’ll be of little help in convincing someone that i’m funny — or even humorous. humor is basically a slower form of funny, you know.

      yep, i’m about as serious as they come.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s