Friday, August 12, 2011

Fuel Crisis

It seems like every part of the world is experiencing some sort of devastating crisis right now. With all the talk of debt ceilings, rioting, and famine, I bet none of you have heard of the fuel crisis in Tanzania. I don't blame you; it's hard to make the news these days.

Fuel prices have been rising significantly in Tanzania, along with many other places in the world. As you probably know, rising fuel costs lead to higher costs for food and other items that are processed or transported aka EVERYTHING. To put this into perspective for you, the cost of sugar 6 months ago was 1500Tsh. Today it is 6000Tsh. That's a 300% markup! You might be thinking, 'Come on Christina, that's still only $4. What's the big deal?' Well, let's remember that over 80% of the population lives on less than $2 a day. (Maybe my data is slightly outdated because they haven't done a proper analysis in almost 10 years, but you get the point.)

People are really struggling with the increase in fuel costs. Especially because there has been an energy crisis going on at the same time. Tanzania's power supply is mostly hydroelectric, and insufficient rains in the last year led to a 230MW deficit in the power grid. To put that in simpler terms, they could only produce 2/3 of the energy needed to supply the nation. They started this practice called "power rationing" which is just as inconvenient as it sounds. Around February, the power companies began to supply power whenever they felt like it. For a while it was consistent--power one day, no power the next. But things always got crazy and unpredictable. I'm very fortunate to be living on the same line as a major University and Hospital, so the power company tries not to take away my power so often. We're not so lucky at the office or my classroom where we work by lantern (when they can afford fuel).

That brings me back to the main point. Many of the wealthier people were dealing with the power rationing by starting up their nifty little generators every evening. When fuel prices kept increasing, they realized they couldn't afford to watch tv or keep their AC running. I'm not sure if you can sense my lack of sympathy... but it did become a major issue for the tourism industry, which brings in the most revenue to the country. The hotels were spending over $10,000 each day to fuel the generators that they needed to keep the kitchen and laundry facilities running, along with adequate power for each room. Major problems. We wouldn't want the rest of the world complaining about their terrible vacation to Tanzania... it would seriously hurt the economy.

Once the government recognized the extent to which people were suffering with the power deficit along with a steady increase in fuel costs, they decided to put a cap on the price of fuel. Good Job Government! I'm happy to say they actually intervened in a problem. Though you can see how this may have upset the fuel companies. Some of them were so mad about the 91Tsh (6 cents) per liter reduction that they stopped selling fuel altogether.

Let me be more clear about that last comment: For over 4 million people living in Dar es Salaam, there was one day this week that only 2 stations were selling fuel.

I can't take credit for this photo, as I refused to get within 5 miles of any working petrol stations. I heard the lines were backed up for 4km this day, which doesn't surprise me one bit.

As each day passed, there was uncertainty as to which petrol stations would be selling fuel. Most said they didn't have any fuel available. When they were open, they would only supply 10 liters per customer. Priority was given to anyone who showed up on foot with containers. BP still hasn't opened any stations throughout the city... even more reason to love them, right?

I'll admit that this hasn't proven to be a major inconvenience to me just yet... I try to live simply here, so I'm not traveling too much (except walking) or using fuel for any other reason. They anticipate the cost of public transport to increase with the current situation. They also expect that the cost of food will rise significantly over the next few months. If these predictions are accurate, I'm sure you'll hear me ranting and raving through this blog. There's still no end in sight.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Today I was talking to my friend Regina outside her soda/carving supply shop while waiting to eat lunch. This woman walks up and asks Regina for something. She had an adorable little baby with her, so I obviously admired it and touched its pudgy little hands. So cute. It couldn't have been more than 3 months old. Just sitting there like a little chubby lump on her hip. The mother looked at me and told me the baby likes me. Then she handed it to me and walked away! I didn't even know where she was going or who this woman was! Regina and a few of the carvers were confused about why I looked so surprised. They just told me "It's ok. She'll come back later." No big deal...

So I amble around the carvers' area with my new friend. We were a hit. Everyone loved looking at me and my little Tanzanian baby. I asked them all "unapenda mtoto wangu?" (Do you like my baby?) and they would all burst out in laughter. But no one thought it was strange for me to walk around with this mystery baby.

The mother came back about fifteen minutes later. What a relief!

I told a few of my friends about the baby incident and how I couldn't believe she just left her child with a stranger for so long. They didn't understand what was so shocking. "Well, did the baby like you? It wasn't crying, right? Then you should've given it back." I admitted that I liked having the baby for a little while. Then they said "Do you want it again? We could go get it for you to play with." Then they began yelling to the mother to bring her child over to me. So I said "No, that's ok. It was really small... not the kind of kid you play with anyway. But it was cute." Then they said, "oh, ok, I understand. You want a bigger baby. Would you want like a 5 year old? They're fun. I can bring one of those for you tomorrow. Actually, just tell me what age. I can bring some kids everyday if you want."

Tanzanians are so generous...