Pole Pole

Writing from 3.387° S, 36.683° E

I have mastered the art of doing nothing. That may sound ridiculous — who doesn’t love relaxing? — but constant relaxation after being raised in the fast-paced United States took some getting used to. “Pole pole” (pronounced “pole-ay pole-ay”), a Kiswahili term that Tanzanians use often, means “slowly slowly.” It is the perfect word to describe life here: deliberately calm, super chill, and the epitome of leisurely. I can personally attest, after having read several books and spending most of my time in silence on our balcony taking in the views, that extensive relaxation is ridiculously therapeutic (and the US should take note).


View from our balcony, feat. Mt. Meru

The interesting thing is that while still remaining slow and relaxing, Arusha is also a crazy busy place full of activity. The streets are packed with people selling everything from passionfruit to t-shirts to safari tours. Everyone walks everywhere, paying little attention to whether they are in the way of the countless motorbike taxis (“pikipiki”) weaving in and out of traffic. Efficiency is seen as packing as much into one trip as possible, whether it be a conductor fitting 29 people into a 12-seat minibus (“dala dala”) or a Tanzanian woman transporting 100 eggs by balancing them on her head.

There are two polar opposite sides to the spectrum, and both are perfectly wrapped up into this one city of 400,000 people.

It’s crazy, calm, and I love it.

That being said, I haven’t loved it every minute of the 19 days I’ve been here. I had a 3(ish)-day-long period when I was verging on miserable — homesick, exhausted, and wondering if five months would end up feeling like five years. I was naive enough to think that because I haven’t really experienced culture shock in any of the places I’ve traveled, then surely a move to Africa wouldn’t mess with me too much.

I was wrong.

There is a difference between the initial adrenaline that can smother shock on a short trip and the realization that this is permanent (for the time being) and you’d better get on board with your new life. Considering the sheer lack of similarities between Tanzania and the places I’ve lived for the past 22 years, I should have known there would be an adjustment period.

(I’d like to note that one of my pet peeves is when people create a false show of constant happiness online regarding their travel or their lives in general. It’s not always perfect, and I’m not going to pretend that it is. Moments of hardship don’t diminish how grateful I am to be doing this or how much I love experiencing new places and new people, so I’ll be honest when those moments do come up.)

Now, the adjustment period probably won’t end the entire time I’m here — it is a completely different continent, after all. After those few days of struggling, I am back to loving this beautiful place. I love that I can always find my way home as long as I can see Mt. Meru to the north. I love the small feeling of victory I feel when I say something in Kiswahili to the kids at the Pippi House and they understand me. I love the people I’ve met, the foods I’ve tried, and the new places I’ve discovered.

Most of all, I love that even the writing of this blog was done in true African fashion: on my balcony, in sweatpants, on a lazy Saturday afternoon…

Pole pole.


Up next: My encounter with a herd of cows and goats in a ravine, plus other “only in Africa” stories.

3 thoughts on “Pole Pole

  1. Carol Swartzendruber says:

    Lauren, I love your honest blogging style. I can picture much better the lifestyle and realities of living there. You are a brave one, dear granddaughter…looking forward to hearing more! Love you…Gram S ❤️


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