The rainy season is here! Between November and January it’s called ‘short rains’ whereas March to May promises ‘long heavy rains’. Something must have gone terribly wrong in my early education on the meaning of words though, because when I think about ‘short rains’, I don’t think about pouring madness from 5 in the morning to 2 in the afternoon. I could have literally taken a shower in the rain yesterday, which would’ve actually been more comfortable than most showers I’ve taken at home, since a severe water shortage in Dar es Salaam for the past two months (in historical terms probably more like two centuries) has made me an expert on bucket showers and saving water.
I remember the first week I got here we also had no running water for showering (and a flushing toilet is merely a distant dream I’ve already given up on). The water stopped coming one late evening, and as me and my flatmates didn’t know where to get more of it our landlady’s young niece who speaks little English took me behind the parking lot of our compound, behind a little banda, sat down on the ground, dragged up a pipe and placed a bucket for the non-pressurised water to drip into the little container. There I sat in complete darkness squatting on the ground waiting for the bucket to be filled, when my Tanzanian neighbour shows up next to me saying “welcome to the African water problem”, smiles, laughs and goes back to her own buckets. Now the maid who cleans our landlady’s apartment cleans ours once a week and also fills up our big backyard containers with water making life just a little bit easier.
Even though the area we live in hosts many government ministers, Mikocheni doesn’t seem to be a priority area for water rationing. The simple fact that there is water rationing came as a small surprise to me as well. My colleague who lives nearby had called up Dawasco (Dar es Salaam Water and Sewerage Authority) a month ago and argued with them over the water problem and was told that they’ll get water on three particular days per week, then that pipe is closed and another area will get water. This whole scheme is also explained in a The Citizen article. Currently however it seems more likely that, if we’re lucky, we get running water three days a month. The rains came late this year which has made the problem even worse. The situation isn’t as bad all over Dar though, and people who exercise a bit of wallet stretching with the water officers at Dawasco have few problems with this. Expats and upper classes living on the Peninsula and some strategic other areas are used to having water every day, if not through Dawasco then through the huge 500-5000 litre water tanks present in most affluent gardens. Even the ministers in our neighbourhood probably have direct water lines from Dawasco to their homes, and those pipes stay open all the time.
Coming home from work and Swahili class around 6pm one evening last week, we experienced another infrastructural incident. The whole neighbourhood was pitch black, the only lights available came from the huge mansion opposite ours, apparently owned by a professional big-time thief who even the President knows by name, and the oil lamp of the little wooden roadside vegetable stall that never used electricity to begin with. That evening was a boring one, couldn’t even go to a nearby bar since the lights were out there too, so me and my flatmate sat at home on the sofa, in the light of the only small candle we had, eating all the melting ice cream from our freezer. Tanzania has a huge problem with power too, and Tanesco, the government provider of this necessity, is no saint either. The problem isn’t just at home but even at work. For example, last week I sat in a two hour meeting at the European Commission during which four power cuts occured, and no one so much as blinked their eyes or paused in their talking, as the meeting continued naturally in the light of the small green emergency exit signs above the table.
A month or so ago I read in the newspapers that the plan is to extend coverage of electricity for 75% of the Tanzanian population by 2033. It’s sad to think that the target is quite unrealistic and probably won’t be met in the next 23 years, as only 14% of the population has access to a power supply currently. And then I complain about not having electricity for one evening. It’s at these quiet moments that you come to think of all the modern amenities we take for granted every day. I now know that the joy of seeing water coming out from the toilet sink tap (that I test every day full of hope), is cause for a much bigger celebration dance than being able to charge my laptop. But still, I and surely no one else would either want to think about which they prefer, clean, running water or electricity, maji au umeme.