Familiarity: just a post about peanut butter

When we first got here, Iris (one of the WHE interns here with me) said that she brought a jar of peanut butter with her (among other food items) because her faculty advisor had told her to bring familiar food items to satisfy cravings during the summer. While I was happy to use some of her peanut butter the odd time she brought it from her room for breakfast, I thought it was a little weird.

Today, all I wanted was peanut butter.

We started out our day well, I actually slept through the night and woke up rested (it should be mentioned that this has not happened yet, my body apparently still hasn’t adjusted to Tanzanian time). Breakfast is served at the hostel we’re staying at, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that hard-boiled eggs, watermelon, and a type of sweet bread was being served. I used some of Iris’s peanut butter this morning, but didn’t think much of it.

Since we’re still getting ourselves oriented with our projects, we don’t have any set routine or schedule planned. The last two weeks have been pretty fluid, I think mostly because our WHE partners know that interns need some time to adjust. I’ve definitely appreciated that. So today we were picked up at 11 am by a taxi driver that we’ve relied on a lot; Jane has worked with many WHE interns in the past, and likes to improve her English whenever more students come. Since we haven’t had a very balanced diet (you typically can’t trust fruits and veggies at restaurants unless they’re cooked), we decided to brave the market, with the help of Jane, and buy fruits to last us a few days. We also wanted to look at katanga fabric, with which we can get dresses made for us.

The market was terrifying.

Walking the streets of Mwanza is already overwhelming; I don’t speak the language and am visibly different. I am subject to stares and only know that I’m being talked about by the often-heard word “mzungu.” The market is really a series of stalls that expand over blocks and blocks; I had no idea where I was and just followed Jane (the taxi driver). Looking at katanga fabric was nice, and pretty standard in terms of people looking and trying to grab our attention. I know how to navigate that.

Going to the market to buy fruit was something else. Jane led us to a particular stall that sold mangoes, grapes, and citrus-like fruits (I cannot remember the name for the life of me). Immediately after we stopped, a flock of boys came to us pushing black and blue bags in front of our gazes. It took me a while to realize that they were trying to sell us bags to put our produce in. A bag for 200 Tanzanian shillings. While Jane and Samira (another WHE intern whose mother is from Tanzania) negotiated prices, I held onto my backpack for dear life and told them how many mangoes I wanted. Jane handed me three: “one for today, two for few days.” There was so much going on, but I wasn’t a part of any of it. I felt so lost.

After we had paid for our mangoes, we went to get some bananas from the stall opposite to the stall with the mangoes. Next, we walked to a place that sold the citrus-like fruit for a cheaper price. Again, boys pushed bags at us (now that I was accustomed to this and knew what they were trying to do, I was quick with my response: “Hapana asante”). This time, a lady at the next stall touched my arm and said something in Swahili to me that could have meant that her fruits were better. But I really don’t know. I think I smiled and muttered “asante.” This time, a boy walked past me and touched my neck, saying “mzungu” and who knows what else. This time, I was ready to get out of there and huddle in a corner.

We were so ready to go to the market. We were so ready to barter down prices (“puzunga baye” means “lower price,” although I’m not sure if that’s how you spell it). We were so ready to venture into the next chapter of our stay in Mwanza.

I was so ready for this.

I never want to go back there again, if I can help it.

After going back to the car with Jane, we stopped to pick up more water and then went back to the hostel. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the garden, working out a presentation to show SAUT students in the tourism and hospitality program to inform them about our new yogurt kitchen on campus. That went well.

I had a banana and a mango for lunch. They were both fresh and delicious. I loved them. But as the afternoon wore on, all I wanted was peanut butter.

Samira got connected with a family member of a family friend who lives in Mwanza, so she was out for dinner. Samira grew up speaking Swahili with her mom, so her vocabulary is limited but she has been a lifesaver ever since we’ve landed. Undeterred, Iris, Nuri, and I went out to a local eatery around the corner. We’ve been there quite a few times, and know exactly what to order. No big deal.

We ordered “kuku na wali mbili, na samaki na wali moja.” Two chicken and rice dishes for Iris and Nuri, and a fish and rice dish for me. I haven’t been feeling great the last couple of days, and my stomach is still off (although I’m still praying it’s not malaria). Usually, Samira double checks that we get beans with our meal, and the beans have typically come later a bit after the rest of our food. We tried to order those as well, to no avail. The language barrier was greater than we expected. I will never ever take Samira for granted ever again.

I finished my fish (which was delicious, if you ever come to Mwanza you can’t not get fish it’s always fresh from the lake). I ate a bit of my rice, but it was sitting funny in my stomach. I wasn’t sure why, but I couldn’t finish it. The waitress finally got that I was finished (from my body language, my confidence in my Swahili was shot down a few notches) and bagged up the rest of my rice for the boy that had come in to beg.

Before heading home, we walked a little further to the supermarket close to us. Supermarkets have more westernized food, so while the prices are often more expensive (but still cheaper than in Canada), you can get things that you can’t get at the market.

Like peanut butter.

I got peanut butter, bug spray, digestive biscuits, and granola. I spent more than I originally intended (the granola was a bit of a splurge). I have never been so excited to have peanut butter.

We got back to the hostel and went to our respective rooms. Iris, Nuri, and I were all pretty tired and looking forward to some time to ourselves. I was full from dinner, and my stomach kind of hurt. So what did I do?

I opened the peanut butter.

So here I sit on my bed, typing away, and eating digestive biscuits dipped in the jar of peanut butter that’s balanced haphazardly on my bed. I had to take some Pepto-Bismol to settle my stomach, and yet I’m still eating peanut butter.

Because it’s familiar. It tastes like peanut butter at home.

I never thought it would be like this. Overwhelming and a little scary? Yes. Lonely sometimes? Yes. I knew I would miss family and friends, and would be sad to miss a whole three months of things happening back home. I was excited to come here, but knew there would be ups and downs.

Am I still excited to be here? Of course. Is it all bad? Nope, it’s mostly good. I love it here.

But I never knew that I would want peanut butter so badly.

2 thoughts on “Familiarity: just a post about peanut butter

  1. Janemorgan

    Hi Andrea .Thanks for the blogs .you are doing great .It will still take you awhile to adjust to a different culture but it will come .great to see pictures .


  2. Amara

    I remember you and your peanut butter sandwiches every day in high school. I really don’t know how I would deal with the market. I honestly feel sick to my stomach every time I do something new at work never mind an entire new environment.

    I think its great you can separate your anxiousness from being in a new country/continent from your overall experience, I have the hardest time doing that. I have one bad day and I am subject to saying I had an awful experience!

    I promise to take you out to swharma when you get back, I’ll sacrifice myself


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