Intern Spending Final Days in Tanzania

Leishara Ward, 2015 UANews Student Columnist
July 29, 2015

Working in the U.S. Foreign Service at an overseas mission is very different than working in the United States, for reasons that you may not have expected.

My day starts at 5 a.m. when the alarm goes off to tell me that it's time to get up and exercise. 

I like to think of myself as a morning person, and I know that I always feel good after a bit of yoga in the morning. So I ponder this a bit as I lay in bed waking up, reminding myself – nay, convincing myself – that I really do want to do this. I even brought my yoga mat from home as incentive. 

In the six weeks that I've been in Tanzania, that yoga mat has been used exactly once.

To be honest, I'm exhausted from staying up way too late the night before looking at Facebook photos, and then being woken up at 4 a.m. when my daughter calls to talk because she forgot that Dar es Salaam is 10 hours ahead. Ugh.

The snooze alarm on my cell phone rings loudly for the fifth time, jolting me from the inner argument with myself and I realize that I no longer have time to exercise. Thank goodness. I jump out of bed and into the shower, rushing to get ready before the shuttle comes to get me at 6:45 a.m. I brush my teeth with water from the distiller in the kitchen because, although we do have municipal water, it is intermittent and therefore stored in large plastic tanks in the backyard. My daily anti-malaria pill is consumed instead of breakfast as I rush out the door to meet my fellow interns and other colleagues waiting in the van. 

View images of Ward's travels in the eastern region of Africa in a photo gallery presented at

On arrival at the embassy compound, I head straight to the American Club. This is basically a small restaurant with a swimming pool that embassy employees and their families can use (with a paid membership, of course). The restaurant serves espresso—to my delight, it keeps soy milk on hand for non-dairy folks like me. Twenty minutes later, I am finally headed in to the USAID Tanzania Program Office with my not-quite-Starbucks-but-will-have-to-do mocha in one hand and a breakfast sandwich in the other.

I have spent the last six weeks working in the Program Office, learning about how this particular USAID mission functions and how it differs from other missions. I am only now starting to get a grasp on the complexities that these Foreign Service employees deal with every day. Most of my time has been spent getting up to speed on the acronym soup that is federal government and unique to each agency, diving into the nitty gritty of tracking dollars with lots (and lots) of spreadsheets and learning about the program cycle, which is basically the mechanism used by Congress to transfer funds to USAID.

The Program Office does long-term strategic planning for the mission, negotiates contracts with the Government of Tanzania, designs projects and oversees a $334 million annual budget. It is at the helm, so to speak, of this very large ship that we call USAID Tanzania. Staff work closely with the Executive Director's office and are focused on complying with headquarters in Washington D.C., ensuring funds are being spent appropriately, and monitoring the impacts of projects to ensure that our efforts are not wasted. 

Technical offices, on the other hand, put boots on the ground. These staff specialize in particular sectors, such as maternal and child health, economic development, democratic governance, or food security. They are also the ones who administer contracts with our "Implementing Partners"—nonprofits and non-governmental organizations—that work directly with recipients. Together with the Program Office, USAID is able to deliver quality programs that address extreme poverty, malnutrition and gender equality, as well as access to prenatal care, potable water, elementary education and electrification.

USAID Tanzania uses what my supervisor lovingly refers to as "forced flex time," meaning that four days out of the week, we work nine-hour shifts with the fifth day being only four hours. Of course, once the shuttle commute and lunch is added in, I typically will have dedicated almost 12 hours to my workday.

Being a temporary worker, I do not have a car of my own and must walk or take a taxi or Bajaj, which is a small, open-air, three-seat/three-wheeled vehicle that feels somehow like a motorcycle with a cage. I really like taking a bajaj because it feels very exotic with the wind in your hair. They are also quicker than a taxi. Their speed, though, is usually due to the fact that they bob and weave precariously between cars using the opposing lane and non-existent sidewalk in order to avoid a traffic queue or pothole, invoking the sort of tension one feels when faced with a constant life-or-death scenario.

Recently, my roommate, Christina, and I decide to go to our favorite restaurant for dinner. The Waterfront Café is about two miles from our house in a Western-style shopping area. The restaurant faces west and sits right on the water of Msasani Bay, an inlet of the Indian Ocean. It's situated on a part of the peninsula that provides spectacular sunset views over the water, with the city lights of Dar es Salaam sparkling in the background and romantic sailing dhows resting in the harbor. 

When we arrive home, we are greeted by the askari, or security guard, hired by the embassy to keep watch over our compound. Our compound, like most in East Africa, is surrounded by a six-foot cement wall with layers of barbed wire along the top. Providing your own security here is essential because the emergency response system that we rely on at home, 911, is not reliable and generally non-existent.

I really enjoy talking with the guards because, for the most part, they are wonderful people and it gives me a chance to practice my Swahili skills. Most of them speak very limited English, so it forces me to work hard to say what I mean. Luckily, they are patient with me and help fill in the gaps when my vocabulary is lacking. I recently spent 45 minutes chatting with Mzee about politics, marriage and family, university education and working with the Embassy. It was slow going at points, but we had a great time together.

But on this particular day, we are in a hurry.

Ten minutes after the shuttle drops us, we are off again. Christina and I walk toward the main street, Haile Selassie, and within minutes, a bajaj is speeding by honking its little horn, sounding more like a child's bike than an adult-driven vehicle. After negotiating the price in Swahili (Tsh 3,000/=, or about $1.50), we hop in and we are whisked away. We prepare our money in the privacy of the cage in back in order to keep the driver from seeing how much money we have or claiming not to have change. On arrival, we pay and walk down to the café.

Dinner is, of course, delicious: rice pilau with beef and banana, and a Kilimanjaro to wash it down. The sunset is amazing. We snap pictures of ourselves sitting under the banda on the patio.

Returning home again takes some finesse. It is dark by now, even though it’s only 8 p.m. in July. We are again at risk. Although we feel more comfortable taking a bajaj together, we must still keep our wits about us.

Luckily, the first bajaj to arrive has a driver that we have used before. The familiarity gives us some confidence. We feel good jumping in and letting him drive us swiftly home.

With my belly full of Swahili sweetness and my mind relaxed, I have visions of exotic sunsets as I drift off to sleep. Another day is finished as I count down my time here in Tanzania. I will be happy to be home in a few short weeks, but I will surely miss this place.

Photos courtesy of Leishara Ward

Leishara Ward, who is in the Master's in Public Administration program in the School of Government and Public Policy while working toward a certificate in collaborative governance, is one of four students selected as a 2015 UANews student columnist. The columnist initiative was launched in June by UANews and provides students the opportunity to share insights about the work and research they will be doing over the summer in various parts of the United States and abroad. It is the UA's 100% Engagement in action, and the students' experiences will prepare them to be real-world ready upon graduation.


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