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America to East Africa: The Adjustments

We get a lot of questions from friends & family about our adjustments to life here in Zanzibar. Coming from America, we knew we would be facing a lot of adjustments to our lifestyle! Here’s a taste of some of the adjustments we have been making! 

The Slow Lifestyle. One thing I can say is back home in America, some days/weeks, I felt like I would blink and the day/week would be over. Life moves slower here, which has 2 sides to it: Ordering at a restaurant or trying to accomplish what seems to be a simple task takes much longer, however you also have time to enjoy your surroundings/environment. You have time to sit and chat with people. Small talk feels like it goes on forever compared to America. It’s very common for locals to exchange greetings for 5 minutes before they get to business, but they are sincere & genuine in this exchange. You will constantly hear “pole-pole” (slowly-slowly) or “there is no hurry in Africa”; these are very true statements! From our previous travels here, we had a small taste of it, but now it is just part of our “norm”.  Everyday we walk thru the village & the locals that have taken to us always come out to say hello and the exchange is always longer than the typical American exchange. We walked by one of our friends Osmand, but we didn’t see him, he actually ran after us to say hello – back home the mindset would have been “ah, ill just see them tomorrow”. It’s very welcoming for us.

Since there is no hurry here, reliability is another huge adjustment. If you hire someone to do something, they may tell you “I am on my way.” And show up 2 days later. (Not a joke). This goes with the pole-pole island life. We are very fortunate that we met our developer who is building our home; He deals with all of the fundis (technicians), we do not. The finalizations of our home being built have been delayed, but we expected this!

Mtende Beach, Zanzibar. The quiet beaches are a reminder to slow down & enjoy life!

Conveniency is something I knew I would miss, but I did not know to what extreme. One-stop shopping is gone. To prep to make a dish, on average we make about 5 stops through the market. However, the freshness of everything is incredible. No processed loafs of bread, we have a bakery that makes fresh bread everyday. There is not much consistency with what is available when it comes to fruits and vegetables, they sell what is being harvested, as agriculture is huge here on the island. (Zanzibar is known as “Spice Island”). 

We did just purchase a Vespa, so it gives us a bit more freedom/range here on the island to venture & check out different markets! 

The New Hog.

The Food. The cuisine here is another big adjustment. (I will have a whole separate blog on this in the future). No quick meals, no drive thrus, no starbucks. There are a ton of beautiful resorts here on the island, beachside, where they welcome anyone to dine with them. A lot of them will have themed nights (Seafood night, African BBQ night, italian night, etc). These types of meals will be a little less than what you would pay for in the states, but will also give you the comfort of your home cuisine. Then there are the local spots, street vendors & night markets where you can get a little more adventurous and eat the local cuisine. Most of the time, these spots are serving African BBQ, Grilled Octopus & other Seafood options, chips mayai (basically a French fry omelet), vitumbua (this sweet delicious rice pancake-muffin made with cocnutmilk, it is to die for!), Zanzibar pizza (which is more like a Crepe filled with different options from beef or chicken to a mango & snickers bar), etc. Swahili food is delicious and here on Zanzibar island, the cuisine has an Indian influence to it. I wish to encourage anyone traveling to Tanzania/Zanzibar to try the cuisine, it is so full of flavors some people may have never experienced before & not to mention the price. You’ll pay around $5 for a massive meal for 2 including dessert! For those traveling to Tanzania/Zanzibar, I would highly suggest Lukmaan restaurant. It is in Stonetown, a very popular & casual spot with over 5k reviews online where you can try the local cuisine & smoothies for a very reasonable price. Lots of tourists & locals dine here. The menu is huge and has options for vegan/vegetarians also! (the smoothies & juices are out of this world!)

One of the excursions here on the island is Mamas of Zanzibar, where you get to go learn to cook the local cuisine! Another resort offers a dark chocolate making course, where you get to make dark chocolate from the raw cacao plant, now how cool is that!?

Lukmaan in Stonetown. Delicious Swahili/Indian cuisine!

Street Vendors / Night Markets

Dinner at one of the MANY beach resorts!

Shopping. I feel like we have a continuous list of things we are looking for: household items, ingredients, personal items, etc) When you find it, you have to jump on it! There is no Amazon shopping, so patience is a must. In fact, there is no postal service here on the island. People ask for our address so they can send us things, but there literally are no addresses here – So it’s nearly impossible to send things here. (Yes, you can find a company such as DHL to send packages that will go to their business for you to pick up, but it is VERY expensive and subject to potential issues with customs). When we are looking for a certain shop or someones place, we simply get the coordinates sent to us and we use google maps to help guide us (and hopefully we don’t lose service!). Most of the shops in the village all sell the same touristy souvenirs so when you are looking for something more practical or household items, we need to plan it on a trip to Stonetown or to the mainland. In between shopping trips, we adapt & just learn to make do with what we have.  You can barter in certain shops, in fact, a lot of them want you to, as this Is their common practice. Bartering Is also an excellent way to learn Swahili too! 

The bakery, one of the many stops we make

Power outages. Back home, we may have lost power 1-2 a year, at most. Here the power source is a major struggle. It is very common to lose power. Sometimes just for a minute, sometimes for 8-10 hours. Our new home does have a generator, so this is a huge help for us while we are running a business. Although power outages can be frustrating, we have learned to just adapt & focus on the positive: Look at the power outages as a gift to soak up the surroundings, our new environment, take a break from working. 

Muslim community. The mainland of Tanzania is predominantly Christian, whereas Zanzibar is 98% Muslim. It is VERY different than the mainland! Paje Beach where we are living, is heavily a touristy beach spot with lots of expats from all over the world. They have become a bit more accepting of the tourists style here, where other parts of the island may not appreciate women coming off the beach in tiny bikinis. It’s very easy to throw a coverup on when leaving the beach, so it isn’t that big of a deal. The Mosques here have prayer 5x a day, on the loud speaker. If you are in a spot like Paje, you will more than likely hear the Mosque, but it is actually beautiful to hear. If you are at an all-inclusive at the northern part of the island, you may not hear the Mosque at all. 

Paje Beach Village

Expat life. One of the reasons we chose Paje is because of its fast growing development. It is much more built up than some of the other beach villages, which gives us more to do and options-for everything. Lots of expats have settled in Paje & Jambiani so we get to meet people from literally all over the world. At our gym, we are beginning to make friends & getting invited out to local get togethers. A few of them are business owners, starting up boutique resorts where they may host a happy hour for the locals expats and some may even host a dinner  for a reasonable cost at their boutique resort. The other night we went to one gathering and sat at a table with people from Poland, France, South Africa, Austria, UK & Germany. We enjoyed a delicious meal some local chefs came to prepare (this is very common to hire chefs to cook), and literally talked for hours! We have come to realize we are one of very few American expats! 

Being an expat, you have the understanding you are signing up to be the minority. Between being American in a foreign land & having 2 small dogs that look NOTHING like the local strays or guard dogs, we have realized we stand out quite a bit. The majority of the locals have never seen dogs that look like ours before; we feel like we have aliens on a leash at times. Lots of stares or locals taking photos. The Maasai (local tribal men) love the dogs, they get a kick out of playing fetch with them on the beach. The locals seem to be fascinated by the dogs, but are so used to strays they are afraid of them a bit.We get lots of stops from the locals, Maasai & children about the dogs, so again, it’s a great way for us to practice our Swahili.

Wondering the Village, Paje Beach.

Some of the local children waiting for us & our dogs outside of the store for us.