Dec 022012

4 days in Nairobi, our new city.  Still feels strange and not as real yet.  I start my first day at work tomorrow; I can’t believe I haven’t worked in 9 months!  Time flies when you’re having fun. =)  I remember when Mike and I first started on this crazy adventure/move in March.  Back then, it felt like it would be a long time if you didn’t work for 9 months.  Everyone says, “you’re so brave, I wouldn’t be able to do that.”  But really it’s much easier than you think to take that leap.  A leap of faith that everything will work out fine.  I’m sure I’ll look back and it will be a minor blip in my work history but such an amazing, fulfilling 9 months.

Anyhow, more on Nairobi later, but I wanted to post a reminiscing post about Dar and what I’ll miss most about it.  The beautiful beaches and the ocean!  There are two main islands off the coast of Dar that people can go to for the weekend, or you can head down to the southern beaches too.  The two islands are called Bongoyo and Mbudya.  A few weekends ago, Mike and I went to Mbudya Island with some friends.  Mbudya is further north than Bongoyo and smaller, but it has a larger beach area where you can hang out.  We took a bajaj up to White Sands Resort, which is about 20-30 minutes north of the Peninsula depending on traffic.  At the White Sands entrance, you pay for the 30 minute boat ride and the marine reserve fee ($25 USD each for reserve fee plus round trip boat ride).

After you arrive on Mbudya, there are two beaches on either side of the island to hang out on.  We didn’t get there until late in the afternoon and the whole first side was full, so we headed to the other side.  We got one of the last bandas on that side, thank goodness!  It costs 10,000 Tsh ($6 USD) to rent a thatched banda hut for the day.  We spent most of our time in the water since it was so hot and the water felt so nice.

Clear Turquoise Waters at Mbudya

Our Banda Hut

From the banda, you can order food and drinks, so we got our ocean delivery of warm beer (no refrigeration on the island sorry!).  No matter, it was fun anyway just to hang out on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Cheers to Warm Beer in the Ocean

Our Sunday Crew at Mbudya

After we came in from the water, our fried fish and chips (fries) were waiting for us.  I don’t know what it is about swimming in the ocean, but it always makes me hungry!  The fish was delicious and we devoured it in a heartbeat with our salty fingers.  We stayed on the island until it was close to sunset time and took the last boat back to White Sands.

Crispy Fried Fish with Lime

We had so much fun at Mbudya that Mike and I went to Bongoyo Island on our last Sunday in Dar.  We couldn’t leave Dar without checking Bongoyo out too.  We were staying at the Slipway serviced apartments and conveniently, the boat to Bongoyo leaves right from the Slipway dock.  It costs the same to get to Bongoyo as Mbudya.  We took the 1:30pm boat there with a Chinese group (there are a lot of people from China here in East Africa doing a lot of the construction of roads and buildings).

Boat to Bongoyo

Bongoyo has just one small sandy peninsula on the northern end where you can hang out.  Mike and I rented a banda with some wood and rope reclining seats.  Very relaxing.  I think there is a trail you can go hiking on through the middle of the island, but it was again SO HOT that day, that the few yards I went down the trail was literally steaming and also swarming with bugs.  Turn back to the water!  It was really cool to see some big baobab trees along the trail though and there are some right on the cliffs of the island.

View of Bongoyo from the Boat

It’s quite stunning to stand out on the edge of Bongoyo and have turquoise water on all 3 sides.  I think after being to both islands, Mike and I prefer Bongoyo.  It’s more convenient to get to, and the beach is just as nice.  It doesn’t feel crowded even though you are all in one area, there’s just not that many people there.

Looking Back onto Bongoyo, Water on all Sides

Off of Bongoyo Beach

There is one corner of the bay where there is a rocky tide pool.  I saw some people standing over there so I decided to check it out.  It gave me a little shock when I saw tons of slithering eels coming in and out of the shallow pool.  Ahh!  I’ve never seen eels this close to shore and in such shallow water, only when I’m diving.  Turns out the food hut there throws their crab scraps out there and the eels wait there to fight over the scraps.  While I was standing there, sure enough they threw a crab in and I swear there were at least 30 eels scrambling around in the water.  Creepy!

What would you do if Flotsam and Jetsam were swimming towards you?

Swarm of Eels! Can you count them?

And so we ended our last weekend in Dar together with a great Sunday on Bongoyo.  I will miss this so much, but I’m sure we will get to know and love Nairobi in time as well.  Wish me luck on my first day at work tomorrow!

Goodbye for now, Dar!

 December 2, 2012  Posted by at 10:29 pm Dar es Salaam, Tanzania Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Nov 272012

This was my first Thanksgiving away from my family, and it wasn’t the same without the usual comfort foods that you have with your family.  When you grow up in a Chinese household, there’s certain things that you grow up with that you don’t know is not the norm.  For example, Thanksgiving stuffing.  My whole life, I grew up thinking stuffing was made of sticky rice!  Imagine my surprise when senior year of college rolls around and I’m having a Thanksgiving meal at my sorority house.  I stop at the stuffing platter and say, “what’s this?”  My friends gaped at me in disbelief and were like, “C, you’ve never had stuffing before?!?!”  “Huh?  This isn’t stuffing, stuffing is made of rice!”  Side note: I also grew up thinking everyone put soy sauce on their hard boiled eggs or fried eggs for breakfast.  Anyhow, I was missing “Lin style” Thanksgiving and it made me jealous to Skype with my brother and sister in New York where they were cooking up the usual feast.  The past 5 years, my sister always came up from DC to New York to visit me and my brother for Thanksgiving.  My poor mom was battling a cold, but she did end up making turkey and stuffing a few days late!

It hasn’t felt like Thanksgiving or holiday season here because it’s been so incredibly humid and hot; it feels like we’re in the dead heat of summer.  Hard to get in the usual holiday mood.  On actual Thanksgiving day, Mike and I went over the Heather and Griff’s apartment for some roast chicken.  It was a last minute thing but so nice to celebrate with some friends we’ve gotten close to here.  We had two roast chickens, butternut squash, (bread) stuffing, green beans, and corn.  It certainly was a feast!  It’s tough cooking here since the ovens are so small, so you really can only cook a couple things at a time.  It was late by the time we finished, and of course no one has Thanksgiving off here!  We were definitely groggy the next day.

Roast Chicken Instead of Roast Turkey

Me, Mike, Heather, and Griff with our Thanksgiving Spread on a Kanga Tablecloth

On Saturday, we had another Thanksgiving gathering at our friends Jacie and Dan’s house.  Around 15 people were there and we each brought a few dishes.  They ordered a 22 lb (!) turkey from a butcher here and it indeed was enormous.  They roasted it for 6 hours.  There was so much food that night as everyone had brought a ton.  Turkey, mashed potatoes, homemade gravy, stuffing, cornbread muffins, salad, pasta, chili, cranberry sauce (from Nairobi since they don’t have cranberries here!), pumpkin pie, and more.  Needless to say, we were stuffed.

Massive Counter of Food

Expat Thanksgiving

Then we hooked up this guy’s laptop to the projector screen since he has NFL pass and watched the recorded game of Detroit vs. Houston.  All the ladies were getting bored near the end so we switched on to Just Dance and played on the Wii for a bit.  THAT was hilarious and we even got the guys to join in for a few rounds.

So I am thankful for this incredible adventure Mike and I are on, thankful for the good friends we’ve already made here, and thankful to be able to chat frequently with my family back home.  It’s been a great two months so far, and we actually have more news to share!  I recently accepted a job and we are going to relocate to Nairobi.  Since Mike’s job is regional, he was able to get a transfer approved from his company.  My job is in digital marketing with a large mobile carrier there, so I’m incredibly excited that I was able to get a good job here.  We will miss Dar a LOT (especially the ocean), but we are looking forward to getting to know Nairobi as well.  I start work next week after a 9 month hiatus!  Will I remember how to do it?

 November 27, 2012  Posted by at 8:49 am Dar es Salaam, Food, Tanzania Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Nov 212012

Mike and I are totally hooked on Ethiopian food.  I often get cravings for it, it’s so good.  So far, we’ve been to Addis in Dar and Habeesha.  The other one that’s often recommended here is Rohobot, which looks like the front courtyard of someone’s home.  It’s run by an Ethiopian family and their little boy is often running around with a toy.

We went with our friends Jacie (American) and Dan (British but Africa-born) after grabbing some drinks at the Waterfront restaurant at Slipway (where we are currently staying).  It’s on Ali Bin Said, a dirt road off of Haile Selassie Rd, close to Wonder Welders.  Rohobot is cheaper than Addis in Dar, so probably more sustainable choice if you wanted your regular fix of Ethiopian food.  We got a ton of food and it only came to $13/person including drinks. Addis in Dar usually comes to $20/person with drinks.  Funny again how our restaurant “expensive” scale changes so quickly in a different environment, compared to what we used to pay in NYC.

Jacie and Dan have been in Dar many years, so we let them do the ordering.  We got some beef tibs (grilled cubes of meat with onion and rosemary), beef in berbere sauce, chickpeas, lentils, cheese, tomato salad, and shiro wot (peas).  Each “dish” comes out in a small bowl that your pour over the injera bread.

Pouring deliciousness onto the injera

Here’s what our injera platter looked like before we put the shiro wot and beef tibs on.  The shiro wot you pour near the cheese and eat those together.  Dan got these chili peppers filled with tomato salsa that were SPICY.  Woo!

Clockwise from top: Tomato salad, chili peppers stuffed with tomato salsa, beef berbere, lentils, cheese, chickpeas. Doesn’t include the beef tibs and shiro wot.

Needless to say, we devoured the entire thing.  So we’ve actually been back to Addis in Dar a second time and the food actually wasn’t as good as the first time we went there.  I’m not sure if it was inconsistency, or if it just doesn’t work as well with two people since you don’t get as much variety?  We still love the ambiance there, it definitely has the best atmosphere with all the tables on the deck under the starry sky (what do they do in rainy season?).  But in terms of food, we decided Habeesha in Nairobi was #1, Rohobot second, and then Addis in Dar.   So I guess I should re-title my Addis in Dar post since I had proclaimed it best Ethiopian food of my life.  Ha!  I do love when it just gets better and better.

Full Platter and So Excited About It

Nov 202012

From Friday – Sunday, every evening comes alive at Coco Beach.  It’s where the young locals come and have fun.  There are plastic chairs set up along the sand where you can get beer and food.  A lot of people had warned us about going there since there tend to be more muggings there.  It usually is okay if you try to stay inconspicuous and the usual “don’t carry a bag.”  I almost never carry one anymore—phone and money always in pockets.  Which reminds me, I need to make sure everything I buy now has pockets!  Big ones!  None of this tiny girl pockets thing.  Also, long shirts help to cover my phone when it’s peeking out from my jeans pocket.

Anyhow, one Friday, we go to Coco Beach for a few beers while the sun sets. The sunset is actually on the other side in the bay, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. We park at Mike’s office which is across the street from all the action at Coco Beach.  Whenever I visit the office, I always gape at his view out the window.  I would definitely daydream too much if I had that view!

I’d Stare at this View Allll Day

There are a ton of locals on Coco Beach, playing in the water, playing soccer on the sand.  Some guys are doing handstands over and over again, getting completely covered in sand.  There’s some fun music playing on the speakers and we grab some Tusker beer.  It’s nice to do something that’s not a usual “expat” thing.  I do wish it were more integrated here.

Beach Soccer at Sunset

After Coco Beach, we went to Jackie’s Pub, which is also another more locals spot on the Peninsula.  They are known for their mishkaki, which are beef skewers.  You get them with chips (fries).  Mike and I got a few skewers to split and they definitely were the best we had!  A great Friday evening.

Nov 192012

I’ve been pretty much the cliché of an expat wife in Africa and going to a lot of the yoga classes here.  Ha!  Well, I’m grateful that the yoga teachers are good and there are classes every day if I wanted.  Most of them are during work hours though, so that shows you who they target.  Not for working people!  I met a friend here, Heather, at one of my first yoga classes and we became friends because I overheard her saying she does Jivamukti yoga, which was my studio in New York!  Small world.  She’s from Chicago and lived in New York for a while so we have a lot in common.  We even arrived in Dar on the same day.  So she is my daily yoga and errands buddy.

Satya is the main yoga teacher here and he has classes every day except Sunday and you can find his schedule online.  He teaches a class on Mondays at 5:15pm at the Golden Tulip Hotel with an amazing view overlooking the ocean.  The style is hatha/vinyasa mostly and there is a good Iyengar class at Nanasi studios with Toni.  Iyengar is not as intense but focuses more on alignment and I always feel amazing afterwards.


Satya’s Class Overlooking the Ocean

Yoga is pretty much all my exercise, so I should probably try to go for runs or do other things to balance it out.  It’s just so hot to go running here!  Unless you go at 6am or 6pm, which are prime mosquito hours (who also happen to be more attracted to you when you are exercising and emit more carbon dioxide).  My friend Karen teaches a hip hop class on Wednesdays from 6-7pm so I try to go if I’m free.  It’s a ton of fun but not exactly strenuous exercise since it’s a beginner class.

Nov 182012

I haven’t posted in a while and it’s been a nutty couple of weeks trying to figure out my job situation.  But hopefully I will do a post on some job news soon!

A couple of weekends ago I got to go surfing at Coco Beach with some expats I got introduced to through one of Mike’s coworkers.  Alex and her boyfriend Brad both surf and had an extra board, so I tagged along with them on a Sunday.  Brad’s American but Alex grew up in Spain but spent 10 years in the US for undergrad + work.  The surfing season is normally May – October, so we are at the end of the season now.  You can only really surf when the tide is right since the tides are so extreme here.  The best is usually in the early morning on the weekends (no late night partying for surfers!) on a falling tide.  We met around 8am and some people were already out.  You can park at the Oyster Bay Shopping Center and walk across the street to the break.  All the masai guards at the parking lot know the surfers, so you just give them 1,000 Tsh (less than $1) to hold on to your car keys while you surf.  There is actually a contingency of Japanese surfers here and they are committed to going out every weekend.  Alex tells me there is one Japanese man who has been here a long time and has a lot of boards.  So if you’re Japanese and you come live in Dar, Sensei will give you a board and teach you how to surf.  Pretty awesome!

There are about 10 of us in the water (half Japanese) so it’s not crowded at all.  The day we went, the waves were pretty small and not really strong enough to stand up on.  There were a lot of teases: the wave would be coming and you think it’s going to break, but then it just dies down.  But it was really nice just to be in the water.  Water temp was perfect; a little chilly when you first get in, but totally fine once you’re in.  Most people wear booties since there are a lot of sea urchins here.  Not my favorite thing to wear, but I’d rather not get sea urchin needles in my foot!  Luckily, Alex had a spare pair of booties that were about my size.

We stayed out about an hour and a half and I was happy since I caught a few waves.  That’s all you really need!  I didn’t have a rash guard with me, so I just went in with a T-shirt—I noticed all the women wear rash guards and board shorts.  No surfing in bikinis here, you might get a few raised eyebrows on the beach.  I noticed that too when the locals are in the water—no bikinis, most women wear shirts and shorts over their swimwear.  No photos to share since I didn’t bring the waterproof camera along, maybe next time!

 November 18, 2012  Posted by at 10:41 am Dar es Salaam, Tanzania Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Nov 082012

Today I spent the afternoon ironing laundry and yes, ironing underwear.  Now, why would you ever in the world iron underwear you ask?  Seems silly!  I will explain…

Well, the laundry situation here is that usually most people don’t have dryers.  This is due to a combination of electricity being very expensive and it’s plenty hot outside, so most people just dry their clothes on racks or lines on their balcony/yard.  This is totally fine so far, right?  Sometimes if it’s especially humid, your clothes might get a little bit of that moldy smell.  Not pleasant, but tolerable.  The real reason you iron EVERYTHING after it’s been drying outside is because of something called the mango worm or fly.   After reading the linked wiki article, I also see it’s also known unpleasantly as the skin maggot fly.  You see where I’m going this!  The flies like to lay eggs in damp places, such as clothes hanging out to dry.  That’s a perfect spot for them.  The eggs get into your clothes and then the larvae hatch and burrow into your skin, creating a type of cyst.  One of our friends here had this once and he said it just looked like a big whitehead pimple on his shoulder.   The larvae attaches to your skin with little fangs and feeds off of the pus that forms in the pimple.  To get it out you usually cover the hole with Vaseline to suffocate the maggot and it will let go and come up looking for air.  Then you can squeeze out the worm.  Our friend didn’t know what it was so he tried popping the zit and a maggot came squirming out!  What a traumatic experience, right?!

Heat will kill the eggs of the mango fly so that is why you iron everything after it’s been dried outside.  And everything includes ironing your underwear.  The housekeeper of the woman whose house we’ve been staying at usually does our laundry and ironing (amazing!) but tomorrow we are moving back to the hotel so I had to do some ironing today.  It’s lucky that you can get help with all the laundry and ironing because the process just takes so much longer here.  No more drop off wash and fold like we had in New York!  We did drop off our laundry once here at a store and it cost a small fortune so I don’t think we’ll be trying that again.

You Never Know What You Might Find In Your Clothes!

 November 8, 2012  Posted by at 5:50 pm Dar es Salaam, Tanzania Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
Nov 072012

Last night before we went to bed, none of the returns had started coming in yet.  I knew that statistics aficionado Nate Silver had predicted an Obama victory, but there was still I think doubt and worry in everyone’s mind.  At 4am, I woke up and immediately checked my phone.  No news yet.  But it was really hard to go back to sleep, knowing that everyone else at home was probably up watching the returns!  I kept waking up every hour or so to check on the updates and telling myself to go back to sleep because it was just making me nervous.

And then it was OFFICIAL!!!  Obama victory.  So happy and the flood of updates in my Facebook news feed just made me feel a little bit more connected with home.  Mike had already gone to work, so we couldn’t share the moment together.  But I did give a high five to the housekeeper who takes care of the woman’s apartment we’re staying at.  I think the US Embassy here had a breakfast reception and tons of people were there but we haven’t met anyone who works at the Embassy yet.  Not sure how you get invited.  I kept trying to watch the live stream of Obama’s acceptance speech on CNN and NY Times, but the Internet here is too slow to stream.  That was a bit frustrating but I just waited for the transcript to come out and the speech was amazing.  As usual, the first family looked fabulous.

What a great morning!  Things are looking up.

 November 7, 2012  Posted by at 11:31 am Dar es Salaam, Tanzania Tagged with: , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Nov 052012

Probably the food I might miss the most over here is good sushi.  We had heard that there was decent sushi at Osaka here on the Peninsula.  While we were viewing apartments with our broker, he mentioned it was going to be torn down and relocated (to build an apartment complex) so we had better go eat there soon.  Osaka is one the pricier side, but we had decided that we should do one nice date dinner a month, so this was our date night. =)  It’s located further down on the Peninsula closer to Oyster Bay near Toure Drive.  There’s a yellow Savannah Cider ad on the street you have to turn on off of Toure Drive with “Osaka” on it.  It’s hard to find if it’s dark and looks like you’re pulling up to someone’s gated house.

Inside, it’s a big thatch roof covered outdoor area with red and white Japanese lanterns hanging.  Very nice ambiance.  They actually had 4-5 teppanyaki stations in there so I felt like I was at Benihana!  I love Benihana growing up and we used to go every year for my birthday.  Good memories.  We didn’t sit at a teppanyaki station since it’s better for a big group or you have to wait for other people to show up to share the station.  There were several big tables having teppanyaki though and they put on a show just like at Benihana!

Inside Osaka Restaurant

Once a Month Date Night

We started with a shrimp and avocado salad, which was good and fresh and had a miso-like dressing on it.  The avocados are good here and remind me of home in California.

Yummy Shrimp and Avocado Salad

We ordered a sushi combo with nigiri and one roll.  The fish was actually really fresh and tender, didn’t taste fishy at all!  Very impressed.  The only thing was these were definitely pre-made and put in the fridge—you can tell since the rice was cold and stuck together stiffly.  You know, I can’t complain, the fish tasted good, so maybe sashimi next time versus nigiri?

Sushi Combo – Nice Presentation Right?

For our other entrée, we got a teppanyaki grilled steak with garlic sauce that they cook in the kitchen.  The meat was really tender and had great flavors.  It came with a side of sautéed vegetables too.  Overall, we enjoyed the dinner and will definitely check out the new location when it opens up.  It is pricier than the other restaurants here though.  Our bill with two drinks came out to about $60 USD, which I guess is nothing compared to what we used to spend in NYC, but a lot with our new adjusted budget for living here.  Glad we tried it though and I got my sushi fix in.

Nov 022012

Mike had a work conference in Nairobi last week so went along with him.  I was really excited and curious to see what Nairobi was like since it tends to have polarizing reactions here.  People either love it or hate it.  People who love it are say: “It’s so cosmopolitan!  Malls!  Culture!”  People who hate it say: “Even more traffic than Dar!  Too busy!  Not safe!  No ocean!”  It’s only about a one hour flight, pretty quick.  We left Dar at 6:30am for an 8:30am flight and it takes about 30 min to get to the airport with no traffic.  But once you’re at the airport there are countless security screenings and a long line to get through immigration.  By the time we got through everything, we got to the gate just in time as they were boarding!  I got a window seat so I took some nice pics of Dar as we took off.

Flying Over Dar

Glittering Harbor of Dar

Further inland into Tanzania, we passed some really red plains.  I couldn’t capture the deep red in the photo but it was like passing over red clay.

Dry Red Plains in Tanzania

We weren’t sitting on the Kilimanjaro side when we passed it, but Mike managed to lean over and get a shot of the mountain as we passed it.  A lot of people think Kilimanjaro is in Kenya, but it’s all in Tanzania.  We are thinking of hiking it some time next year.  Anyone want to come with?

Kilimanjaro Peeking Through the Clouds

When we got to Nairobi, I couldn’t get over the weather!  Because it’s at a higher elevation, it’s MUCH cooler than Dar.  Weather was around the low 70s, and sometimes I needed to wear a jacket because it got chilly!  So nice after the hot humidity of Dar.  We had a shuttle pick us up at the airport and there was massive traffic near the hotel (everyone was going to church).  The roads aren’t very good either.  It took us an hour and a half to get to the hotel, longer than our flight!  I had been warned by friends to be careful in Nairobi because it’s not very safe.  While in Dar, you can get mugged and the motive is just theft, there can be more violence accompanied with theft in Nairobi.  I’ve gotten used to walking around without a purse really quickly.  Both places you shouldn’t walk around at night at all.

First thing we did in Nairobi was check out the mall at Junction!  Flashback to our first world Bangkok day after trekking in Nepal.  Ha!  Not quite like the Bangkok malls though.  It was a medium-sized mall, we probably walked around it in less than 30 minutes?  But there was a frozen yogurt shop there and it was essentially Yogurtland so that made me happy.  We had lunch at Artcaffe which is a really cute restaurant with great ambiance.  The mall was definitely popping on a Sunday.  You can see there’s a lot more integration here between expats and locals since there’s a much bigger middle class in Nairobi.  That was really nice to see.

The traffic is definitely way worse in Nairobi than it is in Dar.  Since it’s bigger and the neighborhoods are a bit more spread out, it can take a while to go between them.  There aren’t really that many traffic lights to help direct traffic so everyone just crowds together to fight through.  If I were to compare Nairobi and Dar, it would be like comparing New York City to San Diego.  Fast paced city life vs sleepy beach town.  Very different, but both have their good and bad points!  The job opportunities are definitely better in Nairobi but I think Mike and I prefer the lifestyle of Dar for a change from NYC.  I had some interviews in Nairobi set up so we shall see what happens…