Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Survival Stuff We Brought to Mtwara

Now that we have been here for a year here are some thoughts about a few items that I'm glad we brought with us. Some are difficult to come by, others were good to have at hand for immediate use.

Katadyn Water Filter. This is a Swiss-made filter that works so well it purifies the water with no need to boil first. You just pour water into its upper container. After some time the water percolates via gravity down into the lower container. I clean and check the filter once a month, which takes about fifteen minutes. The three ceramic elements -- some people call them "candles" -- are recommended to be replaced after six months, but they are supposedly good for 50,000 liters. At an average of eight liters per day, which is roughly what Diane and I use, that means the elements could last for more than fifteen years! I would be very pleased if they actually hold up just for the three years we expect to stay.

Mosquito bednet. As things turned out there was already a mosquito net provided for our bed, but it's been good to have an extra for guests and one that is treated with permethrin.

DEET insect repellant. In a tropical area like this there are mosquitoes year round. Malaria is endemic. I don't use repellant all the time but I find DEET works well in keeping the bugs off me when I need it. It's part of a multi-layered defense against getting bitten, together with mosquito wire on the windows, taping up the gaps in outside walls, wearing long pants, using a bednet, and rarely going out at night. Even so, I've probably been bit at least a thousand times. You cannot eliminate the risk but you can manage it and reduce it quite a bit.

Flashlights, solar- or hand-powered. With frequent power outages in our neighborhood and non-existent power in some places, having good flashlights is a must. Diane has a HybridLight, which is solar-charged and has a battery backup. I have something with no name that is hand-cranked. Both are used regularly and work well. They avoid having to purchase and dispose of batteries.

Power adapters, voltage converters. In Tanzania there are two kinds of power outlets: the round two prongs used in Germany, Spain, and other countries; and the square three prongs from the U.K. Likewise, appliances and equipment come in both flavors. For that reason alone, adapters are needed. Add into the mix our two flat prongs from the U.S. and you really do have to have adapters. They are available locally but it's good to have several when you arrive. Also, the local ones are sometimes of questionable quality.

If you bring anything electrical that only runs on the U.S. 110 volts, such as Diane's SonicCare toothbrush, then a voltage converter is also needed because the electricity here is 220. Luckily, our laptop charges on either voltage. I understand that's the case with most portable computers.

Rechargeable batteries with charger. These are for our digital camera, which takes two AA batteries and consumes a lot of power. Again, having rechargeables means avoiding buying and disposing of regular batteries. They don't last forever, though. After one year the ones we brought with us pretty much stopped holding a charge. We had to get new ones.

Swiss Army knife. I like the Tinker model, which has two blades, a bottle opener, three screwdrivers, an awl, etc, all of which I have used. This model is a nice balance between size and function.

Small water bottle. There is lots of good bottled water sold, so you can always reuse the bottles. I prefer something that is more durable, like the Nalgene one-pint made of Lexan, pictured here.

Ear plugs. They don't block noise but they do reduce the intensity quite a bit, enough to make a difference when you are trying to sleep on long airplane rides, at noisy airports, and through late-night music, speeches, and gatherings in the public field near our home.

U.S. currency in large denominations. $100 and $50 bills get a much better rate than the smaller ones. We changed some dollars for Tanzanian shillings as soon as we cleared immigration. The rest is stashed away in case the ATMs stop working for withdrawing cash from our U.S. bank account.

Dark Chocolate. For chocolaholics like me, this is a basic food group, if not a survival item. Just kidding. 8-D Actually, I've had very little good chocolate like this since arriving. But thanks to Patti in L.A. we received this particular bar a few days ago. If you ask anyone to mail chocolates to you, have them put it into a closed plastic bag. There's a good chance it will melt on the way.

There are other extremely useful items that come to mind -- such as sturdy zip-lock plastic bags, duct tape, materials for learning Swahili and about Tanzania, etc -- but they are not as immediately needed. I may comment on a few of those in another posting.

- Earl

Thursday, August 5, 2010