Two months ago I read Julia Child's memoir My Life in France. It narrates the story of her life after she married Paul Child who was a Public Affairs Officer with the State Department and was sent to Paris for his first assignment. It's a love story of how she fell in love with the country of France and most importantly, its cuisine, which, as we all know, made her the person as we know her today. Prior to reading it I had never been drawn to her recipe book Mastering the Art of French Cooking mostly because I am still working on the basics like how to grill a steak and not burn the beans. But after seeing the movie Julie and Julia, Julia Child's narrative resonated with me, myself being an expat wife with idle fingers.
Thanks to my niffty Nook e-reader I downloaded the book and got to reading. In only the first 50 pages I was struck by how much Julia's life in post-World War II France resembles mine in 21st century Tanzania. I have never been to France but I have ideas of what its like (chocolate, art, bread, Eifel Tower, cheese, wine, chocolate, cycling, pastries) and for the most part I liken it more to the U.S. than a developing country. But Julia was there just after WWII and what a different country it is from today (although the culinary part is probably very much still the same!) yet so much like our life in Tanzania today. Cases in point:
On a budget, she kept cash for fixed costs in separate envelopes: seeing as its purely a cash economy here and no such thing as online banking or electronic payments for our local costs, we pay everything in cash which quickly depletes the cash in your wallet. So as to not be caught off-guard by the recurring payments (water, electricity, internet, diapers, gas, groceries etc) that whiddled the balance in my purse down to zero, I started maintaining individual envelopes and just took as necessary. Sophisticated, I know.
Wanted to make native friends, but Paris overrun by Americans: As much as we'd like to connect with local Tanzanians, we have found it hard to cultivate any meaningful relationships. Most all our close friends are either American or European although Roger is fortunate enough to connect with a huge cross section of nationalities at his work and especially Africans from all over the Continent. I think we were prepared for this eventuality based on our Peace Corps experience. Regardless of nationality or socioeconomics, friendships are based on shared experiences (past, present and future ones) and that was hard to come by in Honduras, Togo and now Tanzania between us and the locals. In Julia's case, as time went on, the woman that co-authored Mastering the Art of French Cooking was French and one of Julia's closest friends.
Mixed feelings about having domestic help: Don't get me wrong, I LOVE having help in the home and fully acknowledge my great fortune for having this lifestyle. And naturally, I have become more comfortable with it as time has gone by and we've all fallen into natural roles and rhythms. But still feels weird at times having the guard salute me every time I drive the car into the property. Furthermore, there seems to be an unspoken expectation that I'm not only their employer but also their caretaker between the hours of 9am - 5pm meaning I should provide food for their lunch, a stove to cook and offer interest free loans. And its one of those situations where it's not about the money, it's the principle of the matter. We come from a culture in which you're given a salary and certain benefits and after that, you're on your own. So this becomes difficult territory to navigate at times.
Five visits by bureaucrats to get a phone installed: I thank my lucky stars that my experience with this kind of thing in Tanzania is very limited. In fact just the other day I paid a local man (who I know and trust) to go and renew our car registration and license because I had so much anxiety over having to deal with Tanzanian bureaucracy as a foreigner.... wouldn't be pretty. However, I have been in situations where you're sent from one desk to another (including waiting on their respective lines) just to get a stamp or signature so your very simple transaction can be processed. This kind of thing, provided it doesn't take too much of your time, can be comical.
Lack of holiday commercialism: this is very apparent here during Christmas. To be sure, businesses put up lights and Christmas decor over the holidays but its very difficult to get into the spirit when its boiling hot outside and I'm lying by the pool. Surely, this is perfectly normal for Australians and all other Southern Hemisphere dwellers, but for me and my Northern roots, it just ain't the same. And sure, we all complain every year how the holiday craze is over the top and starting earlier and earlier, but you know what, I like it! It gets me in the Spirit - those holiday cookies aren't going to cook themselves! Just something about red noses, hot cocoa, sweaters and stores open til midnight that really say Christmas is here.
Will I eventually pen Mastering the Fine Art of Tanzanian Cooking? Probably not (it would only be about five pages long anyway!). But despite the difference in age, should Julia Child still be around today, I'm sure we'd have a good laugh or two over coffee and sweets (I'll bring coffee, she can make the sweets) over our shared experiences.