HGTZ: Kitchen Remodel, Tanzanian Style

Construction Methods (1)

Throughout his service, Christopher will share photos and comments on construction methods in Tanzania. Join him as he discusses huts, skyscrapers, and everything in between during his HGTZ: Homes and Gardens of Tanzania posts. 

In Tanzania, late-night snacks have a different meaning. Detached kitchens keep the smoke from charcoal jikos away from living areas. You’ll need to put on shoes and cover up your pajamas for a midnight ice cream run.

Oh, and there’s no fridge, so you won’t be eating ice cream. Hopefully you’re craving a banana.

Our homestay family did something different with their kitchen set-up, and we witnessed the renovations first-hand. As an HGTZ addict, this was a perfect opportunity for me (Christopher) to bond with Baba Kathi and learn about home remodeling in Tanzania.

To start, Baba Kathi showed me the ropes. Or more like the bubbles. Levels have bubbles in them… Anyway, the countertop below was made of concrete block, mortar, and inlaid steel rebar for reinforcement and, “reducing the bubbles inside the counter,” as Baba put it.

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Baba gets very happy when he has his tools. Tanzanians rarely smile in pictures.

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After Baba installed two concrete countertops, he added small blocks beneath them. He then sealed the blocks in place with mortar, laying the groundwork for future cabinets.

Next, Baba ordered overhead cabinets. He had a fundi (craftsman) build them off site and deliver them in sections via pikipiki (motorcycle). That’s right, a motorcycle. The fundi installed the cabinets by nailing scrapwood into the walls for support.

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The cabinets are supported by spare cuts of lumber on the bottom and in the top corners of each cabinet.

Next came my favorite part: the tiling! Unfortunately, we were in Njombe when the tile was laid, so I didn’t get pictures of the process. Note how every vertical surface was tiled except for the cabinets. The calico colors and textured tile were also a nice touch.

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The final additions were the double sink and granite countertops. Because Baba enjoys Western culture, he enjoys granite countertops.

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Any true home improvement enthusiast knows that you never truly finish. The job is always 95% complete. Baba will put doors on the low cabinets soon, and when he finishes the sink it will be connected to a gravity-fed rainwater tank rather than the tap. Why use gravity when a tap is available? Dodoma’s piped water comes from a distant pump that sends thousands of pounds of pressure through the city’s underground infrastructure. When water usage is low, this pressure can build up and damage the pipes. Because fewer people use water during the night, the Dodoma government shuts off the taps overnight. This means only gravity-fed sinks – like the one Baba is building – can dispense water at night.

This was an unusual renovation for a Tanzanian family. Our parents’ dual incomes mean they can afford a gas stove for indoor cooking rather than a smoky charcoal jiko. Watching them create a Western-style kitchen from Tanzanian materials was fascinating for a home improvement enthusiast like me.

I had a small impact on their brand-new kitchen:

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I suggested the utensil hangers seen under the cabinets.

But even with these kitchen renovations, we never saw them eating ice cream at midnight.

Speaking of carpentry, the next segment of HGTZ will feature the construction of furniture! For roughly 200,000 TSH (a little under $100 USD), we ordered a 5’x6’ bedframe, two chairs, and a desk for our new home. There will also be a short post on how to build shelves and make closet space when all you have to work with is concrete walls and low rafters.

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