“Simple” grocery trip?

In general, there is no such thing as “a simple errand” here in Tanzania. Or even a “simple chore” at that. Everything takes longer than you would expect, and there are plenty of additional difficulties. With our simplistic life, and our current single room living situation, the littlest tasks can take a whole different approach. Dishes to wash? Grab your bucket of water that has come out of the pump over at the in laws house. Fill a basin with dirty dishes and water. Have a second basin for clean water. Wash from the first basin, rinse in the second and then find a cloth to dry them to place them back on the shelves. When finished the second basin can be emptied onto the “porch” area so you can mop as well.

Another thing that is not so simple here? Grocery shopping…. Here are some comparisons from when I lived in the US to now.

Getting To the Supermarket

US: Walk a few steps from my kitchen to the driveway where my car is parked. Drive to grocery store. Park, usually not very far from the front doors of the store. Done.

Tanzania: Depending on which supermarket I want to go to that day. Say I want to go to Nakumatt, the largest (though not best stocked so I usually only visit once a month) supermarket on the opposite end of town. I leave my house and walk about 20 steps to the waiting point for a dala dala. When one arrives check to see if its standing room only or seats. If seats are available climb on board. Ride all the way to the end of the route, which is a giant open lot of tons of dala dalas going every which way. Walk quickly across the lot while trying to avoid getting run over and all the conductors trying to get me to climb into their dala dala. Exit the lot and cross one of the busiest streets in town. Walk about 5 minutes and enter the supermarket.

The Supermarket

US: The store features huge shopping carts, wide aisles, and some kind of pleasant background music. No one looks at me or cares that I am there, except for the occasional employee who asks if there’s anything I need help finding. There are a million different kinds/brands of most products.

Tanzania: People stare. Often I am flirted with/asked for me number even though I wear my wedding ring. Employees constantly ask if you need something or are welcoming you. The stock varies and you can usually only find one brand/kind of anything, that is if you can find it at all. The “Americanized” items are 3 or 4 times the price you would pay for them in America, or occasionally even more ridiculous like 6 times the price.

What I Buy

US: Whatever is on my list. Usually enough food to last us a week. Often this includes things like freezer and convenience foods, pre-washed produce/veggies, cheese and breads.

Tanzania: Whatever is on my list that is also actually in stock that particular day. Since I do not own a car, I also have to plan for carrying my bags to public transport and being able to hold them on my lap for the duration of the ride. My fridge and storage spaces are limited and so there is very little “stocking up” and more so what can I get by with for maybe a week.

My meat is generally bought at a separate store. As well as most fruits and vegetables are bought at the market. In order to get everything I would want to buy for the week I generally need to visit at least 4 different locations, though without a car, I cannot accomplish all of that in one day. 

Getting Home

US: Reverse of “Getting to the Supermarket.”

Tanzania: Hand carrying bags of groceries to public transport where you then find a way to hold them on your lap and not spill out contents onto the floor while people stare at you. Try to ignore looks you get when someone sees you carrying a large container of mayonnaise or other specialty items.  Get off the dala dala at the same place you got on and carry the bags up to the house where you fiddle with the padlock until you can get inside.

There’s always more…

And that’s just the groceries. I could go on about all the other tasks of daily life that require more effort here. We don’t own a washing machine, dust covers every inch of every surface until cleaned multiple times a day. I have to COOK my dogs food from scratch. We don’t have a oven, all meals are prepared over a gas stove. There have been months and months of every other day power outages (from 7am-7pm). I buy all my clothes at a giant second hand clothing market. There is no Target or Walmart for one stop shopping.

Please don’t think this is all about complaining. I am trying to be more intentional in sharing what life really looks like here in Tanzania.  It’s been almost 3 years and I have gotten use to the routine of life here, but I realize most of you don’t even know what “routine” for Tanzania even is!

Maybe our next goal after the house is finished will be a car 😉



3 thoughts on ““Simple” grocery trip?

  1. I don’t envy you the dala dala rides, but right now after about 3 weeks of being fully submerged in US consumerism with two 5-year-olds, I do miss the lack of shopping options in Tanzania. As opposed to our shopping limitations in Arusha, there is SO MUCH here and it’s available EVERYWHERE. I seriously don’t know how to navigate it for myself, much less with Max and Elly.

    1. I know when I went back to the US after 3 months in East Africa I had a nervous break down trying to buy bread at Target. Hahaha.
      I’m sure it would be SO overwhelming to be back and trying to shop. And I don’t think I could EVER do it with two 5 year olds who are used to the limited options of Arusha!

  2. David

    This is so well written in a way that somebody who knows really nothing about foreign to US cultures can totally understand the complexity of shopping in tanzania (& other developing countries).

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