Friday, September 21, 2007

Oswin's Village - Monday

Getu and I arrived back in Songea town just before 2pm, giving us a couple of hours to help Oswin finish sorting out the questionnaires in time for the 4 pm bus to Mpandangindo.

We had been given the questionnaires by COCO, the charity hopefully paying for the Vocational Training Centre (VTC): one for children both in and out of school, one for the teachers, and one for the local community.

We waited for Oswin in the building that houses the Internet cafe, and when he arrived he greeted me in characteristic style.

"Mr Bomba, karibu!" he cooed, and gave me a big hug. "Let us go through to the Hoja office."

I had had no idea that there was a Hoja office. He led us through further into the building and turned left at the end of the corridor, to a door with an A4 piece of paper stuck on it, reading "HOJA PROJECT".

Inside, we were introduced to Grace, who was working away on a laptop on one of two tables. On the walls to the left and right were photos: on the left, photos of Hoja events; on the right, all of the pupils who are being sponsored through secondary school.

Oswin told me that we currently have 42 sponsees, most of them in Form 1 and a few in Form 2. They go to Lupunga Secondary School in Tanga village (Oswin's village, Mpandangindo, is one of six villages in Tanga ward), as well as a few sent to another secondary school on the way into town.

The contribution made by their sponsors is 74,000/- per year, which pays for their fees and some other costs, leaving the pupils' families to pay a small contribution themselves. 74,000/-, at the current rate, is just ₤30.

I was told that some of the pupils have been replaced as they have dropped out of school through not performin well enough, or in one case leaving through pregnancy.

This year the children will be selected not only on the basis of poverty, but also on ability, and all applicants will be required to sit a test. It is not unknown for primary schools to cheat on behalf of their pupils in the national tests at the end of Standard 7.

Two more Hoja volunteers arrived now, both wearing Salam Condom t-shirts. One of them is called Emilian and would be helping out a lot over the week, and the other's name I forget.

Getu checked Oswin's Swahili translation of COCO's questionnaires and, happy with them, we took them round the corner to be photocopied. While we were waiting a small boy appeared in the doorway, took one look at me and burst into tears.

When we were finally ready to leave (after running a bit late and asking the bus to wait), we headed for the bus. It was a brown daladala with what appeared to be a drunken jazz singer painted on the side, and covered in tiger stickers.

"This is the Mpandangindo bus," said Oswin. "We only have one bus per day."

"But it's better than Nundwe," I added.

Nundwe was Oswin's placement village for SPW, and its local bus service was laughable. They went through three different buses in six months, all frequently breaking down. The last was a small daladala whose door fell off whenever any of the passengers breathed.

I remember sitting on its roof and nearly falling off when a tyre blew out. The last I heard, the Ihalimba bus diverts to Nundwe instead, as the old Nundwe service no longer exists.

Oswin and I climbed aboard, remembered Getruda wasn't coming with us, got off again, gave her a hug and boarded once more. We were on our way. About half an hour later. No hurry in Africa.

On the edge of town we stopped to pick up more passengers.

"Main industry in Tanga ward," said Oswin, pointing at a man carrying a large sack of charcoal.

I noticed a man stood outside wearing a hat that read "subiri, kuwa mwaminifu au tumia kondom" (wait, be faithful or use a condom), which is the slogan of the Ishi (live) campaign in Tanzania.

"That guy's wearing an Ishi hat," I said to Oswin.

"What?"

"That man," I repeated, making sure I made each word clear, "he is wearing an Ishi hat."

"Oranges? You want some oranges?" asked Oswin, completely missing where I was pointing. I eventually managed to get my message across.

I discovered that the lad sat next to me was a Form 2 pupil at Lupunga School - one of the children Hoja are sponsoring. I was very impressed with his English (I decided to make the point of letting secondary school pupils in particular practise English with me) at such an early stage in secondary school.

At Tanga another sponsored pupil climbed aboard, but she was rather too shy to speak to me. All at once, the Hoja Project felt like something much more tangible.

When we arrived in the village we unloaded our bags and a couple of young men took them for me.

"They are members of the Hoja Performance Group," Oswin told me. "They will carry your luggage to Mwenyekiti's house. [Mwenyekiti means chairman] You will stay there."

Before leaving the village square we first greeted two of Oswin's uncles (whom in Swahili he would call his fathers), and his mother.

"Have you come all this way just to see me?" she asked.

"Yes, of course," I told her, and she burst into laughter.

Within about 50 yards of starting the procession to Mwenyekiti's house, the performance group burst into songs of welcome. The lyrics were largely along the same theme of "Welcome, our guest/Welcome to Mpandangindo/Our guest we welcome you" and made me grin like a lunatic.

My arrival had brought a number of curious people out of the wood work (curious about me, not curious as in "strange"): the adults greeting me, the children running from their homes shouting, "Mzungu! Mzungu!", and one drunk who joined in with the singing.

After a good 15 minutes the songs were starting to grate a bit, and they were clearly running out of ideas. I commented to Oswin that it was quite a long way to the house.

"Not so far now," assured Oswin. "Only maybe seven more minutes."

Thirty seconds later a small crowd were gathered ahead, and a man with greying hair and a big grin ran out front with a camera.

"That is Mwenyekiti," said Oswin.

When we reached him he gave me an enormous bear hug and led me inside. I was shown into a small room with table and chairs on a compacted mud floor. Oswin, the village leaders and the performance group piled in after me. My bags were taken through another door to where I would sleep, while chickens and pigeons were chased outside.

The group once again sang their welcome, then I introduced myself. Oswin added that they could also call me Mr Bomba, due to my tendency in Ihalimba to reply to any question after my wellbeing with "Bomba!"

All of the children and people gathered in the courtyard of the house were sent away and I was asked whether I wanted to eat or wash first. I elected to wash before it became dark and cold, and Oswin showed me around the back to the straw-screened cubicle.

Brick flooring for good drainage! Soap provided! Hot water! I never had any of this in Ihalimba. Especially the hot water. We never had the time or fuel to heat water for washing. And this was properly hot too, with cold water provided for mixing to the right temperature.

I could get used to this. When I returned to dress, food was ready. Typical Tanzanian fare - rice, beef, green veg and a sort of gravy.

I popped into my room to get my torch so I could see the food better to eat, and noticed that there was still one chicken in there - a large black hen sat in the corner, not moving. I wondered if it was dead. And, if it was, whether I should say anything.

When I had finished eating two platefuls, Mwenyekiti opened another pot full of rice.

"Add more!" he insisted.

"No, I am very full," I insisted.

"I want to be oo-mungus," announced Mwenyekiti, chuckling to himself.

"Do you remember 'Humungous Cock'?" asked Oswin, referring to an in-joke of the Ihalimba ward volunteers, about the massive rooster that lived by our house.

When the food was cleared, Oswin said he'd come at 8am so we could set off by 9. We would be cycling to six schools in three villages on Day One of our work.

Mwenyekiti asked if I wanted to watch television. So the table was taken into the yard, the generator was started and the TV was set up. He handed me the controls and asked me to choose a channel.

I resisted the urge to pick something in English and settled on a sports report about Saturday night's football. The small crowd that had gathered seemed pleased with the choice.

It went on to other reports and everybody seemed as bemused and intrigued as I was by the sight of Tanzanian body-builders on the beach in Dar Es Salaam.

Ater a while, clearly wanting to go to bed himself, Mwenyekiti reminded me that we had such a long way to cycle the next day, and so I went inside, said goodnight to The Dead Chicken, climbed into bed.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Songea

After about three hours' sleep in the early hours of Sunday morning I was woken by the call to prayer from the nearby mosque. It was still a couple of hours until my 6am bus so when I came to the station I was ready for a bit of a kip on the bus.

Unfortunately that option was closed to me, as I discovered when we set off. The two sliding panes of the window just in front of me had been installed the wrong way around, channeling the freezing cold morning air in my direction, and I spent most of the first three hours of the eight our journey shivering.

Although Oswin had told me the bus usually arrives around 3pm, I found myself in Songea town by about half past one, and I texted Getruda to let her know I had arrived.

She replied that she'd get herself on the back of a motorbike straight away, and so I waited for her in a nearby bar. But not before snatching my bags from under the eyes of the tens of people who were offering to carry my bags for me.

I sat drinking my Coca-Cola a little nervously. I hadn't seen Getu in the three years since our short-lived relationship ended because I went home.

I passed the time flicking through the accommodation listings in my Rough Guide and found a couple that looked reasonable. I made a mental note of the map and where I needed to go to find the OK Hotel and Yapander Lodge.

When Getu arrived I was very pleased to see a friendly face, as I was still a bit jittery about being on my own. And happy and quite relieved to find that it was nice to see her again, but that it didn't seem to be dragging up any old or confused feelings.

In fact, lovely as she is, outside the realm of SPW volunteers, I found it quite awkward to find common interests to talk about.

In the afternoon we visited her friend, Julia, outside the town by daladala. We sat down in a living room bedecked with religious icons, and Getu turned on the TV to some Christian music.

After a little while she invited me to find something I wanted to watch. I wasn't too bothered, but found a repeat of the England-Israel match and watched at least three minutes before Julia came in and changed it back.

We did spend a nice afternoon there, although I wasn't in the most sociable mood ever and occasionally found myself staring up at the clouds making up stories in my head, while a small boy with an apparent shoe fetish wandered in and out of the house carrying a different pair of sandals each time.

When it became dark the three of us went into town by daladala. It was refreshing to climb aboard one of these minibuses and for there to be only the three of us as passengers.

Then 200 yards down the road some very loud singing signified that we were about to be joined by about fifteen very drunken women and their bucket of local pombe. More loud singing continued inside the dala and Getu left the bus with a skirt smelling strongly of alcohol.

Despite being Sunday night, the town was very busy and consequently felt much safer than Iringa does after dark. We went to the hotel and had dinner before putting Julia in a taxi home (she tried to insist on waiting for a daladala) and then watching yet another badly dubbed badly made soap opera. It's called It Might Be You and I think it's Indonesian.

I was a bit worried Getu might want to stay but when the soap finished she went round the corner to stay at a friend's house. I was a bit torn between walking her there and not wanting to walk back to my room on my own. It was probably far dodgier for me to be on my own, and a compromise was easy as where she was going was very nearly within direct sight of the hotel, so I didn't have to stray more than 20 yards.

In the morning I woke feeling very depressed and lonely. I hadn't slept very well for two nights, and despite seeing Getu I still didn't really have anyone I could talk to properly.

Once the day got going and the sun came out, however, things did start to feel a bit brighter. I was off to the village later in the day, I'd see Oswin and I'd have a purpose instead of my aimless rambling.

Before meeting up with Oswin, Getu took me to Peramiho, the village where she used to go to secondary school. It was quite prosperous because of the work of missionaries there and I understood a little more why she is so religious when I saw how much they'd helped her and those around her get to where they are today.

We caught the daladala there and waited for it to fill up while various people tried to sell us various pieces of crap at the bus stand. I'm always intrigued as to why they attempt to sell certain things to people on buses.

And I'm always intrigued as to who would be traveling on a bus, look out of the window and think, "Ah yes! Spoons! That's just what I need on my 8 hour journey!" Shoes are another thing that must be very difficult to sell through bus windows. They must have developed very efficient measuring and trying-on processes.

So while we waited to set off, I watched a very desperate man attempt to sell lingerie to Getruda and I became sorely tempted to buy myself an utterly hideous pink, green and yellow beaded cowboy hat.

Once in the village we mostly wandered past the various facilities that had been built there. The library, the vocational training centre, the church, the secondary school, the hospital. In fact the hospital is one of the best equipped in the country.

[Edit] That was all cut off a bit early - the Internet connection went down towards the end and so I spent a lot of time copying what I'd written before it came back and I could post it anyway.

We visited the missionaries' graveyard. Getu told me some of them are considered saints by the local community, including one of her friends. People come and take a little bit of soil and use it to pray for things. Her friend's grave is full of little holes as a result.

After stopping for tea and a cake we caught the daladala back into town to meet Oswin and sort out the questionnaires we needed to take to the village.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Meanwhile, the following morning...

Indeed I did feel rather better when I awoke. Sort of. Although I hadn't slept at all well. I went straight to Hasty's and was pleased to discover that not a single member of staff had changed in three years.

I grinned at them all but I doubt they recognised me. I'd have been a little surprised if they had, despite my adoption once again of the beardy explorer look.

After a yoghurt with honey, a cup of tea and some French toast (they have now resolved the "does French toast come with syrup?" debate by listing two different prices), I went to sort out a 15000/- ensuite room in the Ebalasasa Hotel by the bus stand.

I spent most of the day between the Internet and wandering aimlessly, taking in the familiar yet slightly odd-feeling sights. It felt a little wrong to be in Iringa on my own.

I wandered past the market, down past where Mustafa, the tailor Nick and I had employed so many times, used to sit. I was disappointed to see the building by which he worked had been demolished, so he was no longer there.

Later I spotted him on the other side of the road, a short way up. I would say hello to him just as soon as I'd gone for a browse in Premji's, the "wazungu shop" that traded in lots of excited wares like chocolate, ice cream and Duracell batteries.

Premji's was in a bit of a sorry state. I don't know whether they were waiting on deliveries but most of their shelves were bare.

There was a group of four Americans in there and I found myself chatting to them. I told them how I was on a trip down Memory Lane, and that I'd been a volunteer in Iringa. They informed me that the SPW vols had left just a week before.

They were from Peace Corps and were going to meet up in Saju's, the local Chinese and Indian restaurant, later with friends and as I was on my own they invited me to join them.

They were in the process of stocking up on alcohol for the event, as they figured that it would work out cheaper. Jimmy demonstrated this by showing me his bottle of Teacher's that he was carrying in a brown paper bag. I criticised his choice of whisky but he didn't give the impression that he had bought it for the wholesome flavour.

The girl told me her name was Jenny Taw, and asked me to say it quickly so that I wouldn't forget.

"JennyTaw," I said at moderately high speed.

"Jennitaw," I repeated again, much faster and louder than before, but I still didn't get the joke. It was only when she prompted me with "genital!" that I realised she had said Tall and not Taw.

Some parents can be utter bastards.

I continued on to the completely refurbished Shooter's Pub & Cuisine, which had until recently been Bottom's Up Bar, forgetting completely about Mustafa.

I found the place utterly soulless. It had been repainted lime green and no longer were there any decorations or posters on the walls, leaving the room feel about as cosy as a village hall.

The L-shaped pool table was gone and furniture was sparse. Maybe it will take on more character as it establishes itself. Having hoped they would be showing the rugby (they weren't), I had one soda to kill some time and left.

On my way back to the hotel I passed the tie stall by the market and decided to buy myself a more unpredictable sort of souvenir. I found a nice brown flowery number for 6000/- and haggled him down rather feebly to only 5000/-.

Most likely I paid at least double what the locals pay (despite his unconvincing claims of "I give good price!" when I greeted him in Swahili), but for a couple of quid I returned to my hotel room pleased and amused.

Not wanting to walk out to Saju's on my own in the dark, it being off on a sidestreet past the cheap hostels, I went out slightly early. I asked them to let the Americans know when they arrived that the Englishman would be next door, and I went into Twister's for a drink.

Again, Twister's seemed quite soulless. Most of the tables and chairs outside at the back seemed to be gone, and I noted that the sign Twister's Pub & Cuisine was painted in exactly the same way as Shooter's.

I had a beer and the bar and watched a whole sequence of programmes about the qualifying for the African Nations' Cup. Tanzania would be playing Mozambique at home that evening and if they won by a half-decent score they stood a good chance of qualifying if other results went their way.

I hoped we would get to watch the game. Though England were playing Israel in football and the USA in rugby the same evening, somehow I didn't think we'd get to see any of that action.

When the Peace Corps lot turned up I went next door and had a lovely meal and evening, debating whether it was the Austrians or the Germans who idolised David Hasselhoff in Dodgeball, and (with Jimmy) whether or not Candle In The Wind (the lame Princess Diana version) was a worthwhile addition to one's record collection.

Sadly, watching Tanzania play football was not all that dissimilar to watching England, and an uninspiring performance saw them lose 1-0 to an early goal. Disappointment was lifted somewhat, however, when I discovered that England had won 3-0.

Afterwards, some very drunken Americans carried on to the cattle market that is Ruaha International Night Club (and Guest House), and I went to bed, anticipating my 6am bus to Songea. The walk in the dark on my own back to the hotel was not a particularly fun experience, and I ended up running much of it, but I arrived back safely and tucked myself in.

Arrival in Iringa

I arrived in Iringa just before 6pm on the Friday, ignored a couple of taxi drivers touting at the bus stand, and headed for the familiar budget hostels.

I planned to stay in the Lutheran Centre, it being the most comfortable and secure of the three I knew.

On my way I passed the SPW office, Top Internet Cafe (now closed, I found) and the cafe Hasty Tasty Too, the three venues about which we had all tended to gravitate when I was an SPW volunteer three years ago.

The timing of my visit was a little unfortunate as the working day was over and I would be leaving on Sunday, so the SPW office would be closed for the whole time and I would not be able to pop in and say hello.

Once I passed the dairy a short way further on, a young boy came up to ask me for money. I had forgotten, but it was a very common occurence on this short stretch, and I now became more aware of how few other people were around.

In Dar I had been okay. Vende had been more wound up about the robbery than me, and once we returned to his residential area I had felt much safer. It wasn't a place frequented by wazungu hence it wasn't a place frequented by so many thieves.

Iringa felt different though, especially as I was on my own just a day after having been robbed. On the road down to the Lutheran Centre there were just an odd few young people hanging about, and my paranoia imagined them to be waiting for someone to rob.

As I reached the guest house I relaxed a little, although I noticed the pile of rubble on the way in was a little larger than it had been three years ago, and a young lad was adding yet more to it from a wheelbarrow.

He looked slightly confused as I walked past, and replied a little absently when I greeted him. He stood and watched me until I reached the door and noticed that it wasn't as white inside as it used to be.

I asked if it had closed down (or at least something that approximated to it in my limited Swahili) and he told me they were being refurbished. I think.

I quickly scanned the windows to see if there was any sign that some rooms were still available but the whole place had been gutted.

I thanked him and braved the paranoia once more, heading back up the hill to Ambassador's. Not a guest house of which I was particularly fond, but it had eventually won favour over the Kilimanjaro across the road after belongings had been stolen from people's rooms there, and we had suspected an inside job.

I was pointed upstairs by two men drinking beer as I went in, noticing they had a rearranged the bar a little. There seemed to be more room than there used to be.

I asked the woman upstairs for a single, and she showed me to room number 5. As it was starting to get dark, I had already resolved to take what I'd got, and only remembered as an afterthought to check the price.

"6000 shillings," I was told.

"6000?" I repeated.

"What price did you think it would be?"

"Three years ago it was 2500 shillings," I told her.

"Ah," she said. "But now it looks so much nicer."

I glanced about the cold-looking cell and noted they had repainted fairly recently. And fairly badly.

"... and there's a TV now," she added.

I looked over my shoulder at the empty corner of the room, where I imagined her to be looking, wondering how I could have missed such a detail.

I hadn't. She must have meant the TV downstairs in the bar. On which I remember watching a Switzerland match during Euro 2004.

I grumbled a little to illustrate my reluctance but paid the 6000/-, signed the guest book, and pulled out my soap and towel for a shower after the long bus journey.

As usual, I found there was some building work going on in the showers. In all of the showers.

One night. Tomorrow I would find a new hotel.

I had decided to eat dinner at Lulu's Cafe. It was only around the corner but it was going dark and one or two people were hanging around, making me feel a bit nervous. At least they all looked like they had something to do and were there for a (good) reason.

Lulu's had just opened when I arrived, and when I entered I saw a large American family were already settling down in their seats.

They were a very cheerful looking bunk and for a short time I imagined they would see me alone and invite me to join them. They didn't, and they were also using all of the menus, leaving me alone with my thoughts.

Another happy group of Tanzanians and wazungu arrived and sat themselves down on the next table, and before long I felt compelled to move to the cafe tables and benches at the front of the shop, for at least some semblence of solitude.

I felt utterly miserable, and cursed Oswin for making Getruda wait for him in Songea, leaving me along in Iringa.

It did not help that the Greek owner of the cafe was absent. I had always found him to be very friendly and I'd been hoping to greet him. The waiting staff I was left with were in contrast inattentive and painfully slow and bringing even a simple drink.

I went to bed a bit miserable, hoping I'd feel more cheerful by the light of day.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Road to Iringa

Now, this all happened about a week ago, and since then I've been to Songea, I've spent a week in Mpandangindo village and I've learnt a whole lot about what the Hoja Project is about. I'm now back in Songea, and tomorrow I'm off to Mbeya. I'll get back up to date as quickly as possible, but there's going to be an awful lot of blogging to do that.

So anyway...

Vende did not sleep at all well the night after the robbery. Consequently my sleep was a little mediocre too. I was still remarkably calm about the whole sorry event, in contrast to my partner in (victim of) crime.

In the morning he was conjuring in his mind various scenarios in which we returned with our belongings intact and the bandits in traction.

"If only we had a knife/gun/The Incredible Hulk..."

I felt a bit guilty that I was still quite smug about how lucky I'd been. Amongst everything else I'd lost a pair of old knackered trainers that I was given for free in the first place, and a spare pair of glasses I never wear any more anyway, and I'm going to get insurance money for both of them.

We went together to get my bus to Iringa. Vende had learnt he could go to the mobile network's head office to retrieve a new sim with his old number, along with any credit the thieves might not have used, and the office was near the Scandinavian Express bus depot.

We caught a daladala when we got off the ferry (the first time I'd got in one this visit), and arrived over an hour early for my bus. Vende waited with me and we both marvelled at how much the company is struggling.

Gone are the nice big modern coaches I remember from three years ago, and come are the rustbuckets with rattling windows and saggy seats. When the bus was called, I left Vende with 10,000/- in case the nearby cash machines didn't work for him.

The highlight of the journey was the second film (I don't remember the first one), which was a curious choice for a bus full of black Africans. It was called Savage Harvest, which immediately makes it sound like a sequel to a certain rubbish 1990s pop group, and played for its entire length with no sound, a technical hitch that could only add to its charm.

It started with an old dying man in an African village being carried by a younger bodybuilding relative into a hut. Tragically his dignified end was snatched away from him when a lion jumped through the grass roof in the middle of the night and dragged him away, knocking over an oil lamp and burning down the hut in the process.

The aftermath of this scene was for some reason investigated by a kindly-looking khaki-wearing middle-aged white man, who inevitably bought it next when his Land Rover broke down in the middle of nowhere, and he was set upon by an unseen beast or beasts.

His vehicle was soon discovered by the moustachio'd father of a white family, while at home his youngest daughter was playing tennis against a wall outside and Expendable Native Servant Girl called her in for tea. Daughter ignored the calls, all the while being watched from the trees above.

As you have probably already guessed, Expendable Native Servant Girl came outside to bring Daughter in, and a doll of her was promptly mauled by a lion. Luckily, Father arrived in the nick of time to haul Daughter into the house.

Suddenly there were about 15 lions kicking their heels outside the house, and the family busied themselves with locking gates, doors and windows. Inexplicably, Father wouldn't let Son shoot any of the dangerous beasts, nor would he shoot any himself.

Not willing to let spirits down, Father courageously persuaded Mother to play the piano and soon they were all enjoying a good old fashioned sing-song.

Little did they know, however, that at that very moment a lion was climbing down the chimney and killing Expendable Native Servant Man in his bed. Only when the beast dragged his meal into the living room to continue eating did the family become aware of this tragedy.

Further turmoil was to follow when Daughter foolishly opened a window to see better, necessitating Father to wrestle a giant cuddly toy before it was shot dead by Son.

As the lions encroached further into the house room by room, the family built a rudimentary cage out of iron gates, window shutters and bendy straws. Once inside (just in the nick of time, I might add), they used it to walk to their car, wherein they drove away to live happily ever after.

The film was mostly shown while we passed through Mikumi National Park, and I found myself torn between the widely spread wildlife outside, and the ridiculous beasts on the small screen.

I mostly opted for the small screen.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Bongo, Baraka and the Beach

It's been an eventful few days. If you want to skip the more mundane stuff then scroll down and I'll put a big bold bit where the fun starts.

On Wednesday I got up, procured breakfast from a very grumpy old man in the Safari Inn in Dar Es Salaam, left my big rucksack in reception and set off to explore the big city once more.

Having actually read my four-year-old Rough Guide on the bus the day before, I had a plan. I walked up Samora Avenue and then Ohio Street to the Nyumba ya Sanaa (or Nyerere Cultural Centre), next to the hotel I shall stubbornly continue to call the Royal Palm (it's now the Mövenpick).

On searching for the entrance I met a smartly dressed fellow Manchester United supporter called Sumi (sorry City fans, but once again they were referred to merely as "Manchester"), who pointed me towards the way in.

It's a lovely air-conditioned building (it was very hot and sticky outside) containing some truly brilliant artwork. I particularly liked the slightly-disturbing coloured monkey paintings, which I discovered are the work of a specific artist, rather than any kind of traditional style that people copy. There was an article about him the paper today, he was called George Lilanga, and he's getting more and more popular.

I didn't buy anything, it's rather pricey compared to the tat you get on the street, but I may go back in there before I leave - it's still not all that expensive and there's some fantastic stuff in there.

After coming out I stopped at the bar outside for a Pepsi (my first Pepsi product since arriving in Tanzania - Coca-Cola own Moshi) and toyed with a couple of massive ants that were running around on the table.

It was easily getting to lunchtime by this point, and Vende had assured me that he would be getting back to Dar at 4pm, so I casually wandered off to the Salamander Cafe, which turned out to have closed down, before grabbing a snack elsewhere.

When I texted Vende at 3.30pm to check how he was doing, he told me he was "just about to get on the bus", so I arranged to meet Bongo and Baraka at the bar next to the ferry terminal on the other side of the water (Kigomboni).

Bongo arrived there shortly after I had been adopted by a couple of Tanzanians who had told me to keep my bags right at my feet so no one could grab them and run off. He's a man of leisure at the moment, having finished his degree and planned to take a break before working.

I told him how all our British friends are doing, and we ended up chatting largely about politics - I discovered he has a keen interest in the effects of global warming.

Baraka texted to say he'd be over at 8pm, as he's started a new job and is currently playing the role of the ever faithful employee. An accident on the road in Dar though meant Vende didn't get back until 8.30, long after Bongo had gone, and Baraka turned up at nearly 10pm.

Baraka's still the same ultra-smiley happy person he ever was, and immediately told me I hadn't changed a bit. He turned up with one of his mates and we were later joined by Vende's neighbour, who is upset about another neighbour taking a picture of a politician turning up at his house to apologise for marrying his daughter and then denying he'd done so. The neighbour then sold the photos to a newspaper.

THURSDAY WAS THE EVENTFUL DAY

I desperately needed to wash my clothes, so did so while Vende made omelette for breakfast. This drew the usual comments from the woman next door that, unimpressed with my efforts, she might have to step in and help.

Everything hung up, Bongo turned up and we set off for the city. The plan was that Vende would lead us round the computer shops for Bongo to buy a printer for his business plan (he wants to set up a small shop) and then we'd go to the beach.

The first part of that went pretty much to plan. We acquired one of Bongo's friends as a companion on our trip, before he found his printer and after a couple of trips into offices for Vende to tout for employment, and a shop called Philtec just because it amused me, we set off back for Vende's house.

It was lunchtime by this point, and Bongo found himself carrying around a computer, wearing a shirt and smart trousers, and deciding it was most practical to just have lunch with us and then take his new acquisition back to his place.

So we had lunch at the New Medina Restaurant (the one round the corner from Vende's place which I could never find when I tried) - liver and rice, utterly delicious - and then Vende and I set off for the beach.

It wasn't too long a walk; on the way there Vende explained that there are two parts of the beach. One part has a bar and various other facilities, but you have to pay 1000/- for the privilege, and the other part is free but there's no bar or anything.

Being tired and hot and having wandered around all day, I couldn't really be bothered making a decision, so we walked past the entrance to Mikadi Beach, and walked down the path to the free part of the beach. It's a gorgeous beach, where small local fishing dhows are anchored along the shore.

We sat ourselves down near where we came out, and before long someone had come to speak to us. He told us we were sat too close to the pay part of the beach, and we should either move within full sight of it and pay the 1000/-, or we should move further down the beach.

"We're coming," Vende told him, remaining seated.

"Okay," said the man. "You say you're coming yet you're still sat there."

"I said we're coming," repeated Vende.

The man walked away, clearly hoping we'd follow shortly. We didn't. Neither of us could really be bothered moving. I took my shoes off, and took a couple of pictures. Vende suddenly remembered he'd forgotten to bring his camera.

A few minutes later the man returned. "You said you were coming. You either pay or you move up the beach. The guards cannot watch you here to keep your belongings safe. If you want their benefit you go and pay."

"Okay," said Vende, "We'll move up the beach," still remaining seated.

"Are you moving or not?" the man demanded.

Vende stood up and I followed suit. I really couldn't be bothered arguing with anyone. I would have been quite happy going to the pay beach, as I'd probably want a beer later, but I went along with Vende.

We wandered up a couple of hundred yards, and as we did so I felt a bit uncomfortable. There were very few people about, and I was regretting having my Visa card on me. I quietly took it out of my wallet and moved it to my back pocket.

As we went to sit down a man walking in the other direction seemed to take rather more interest in us than I liked. He carried on walking and then two women walked in the other direction.

The wind was coming up the beach, and sand was blowing in our faces, so we moved down onto the harder sand. A couple of young men were walking away from the pay beach towards us. I started to feel a bit more paranoid, and a bit more vulnerable. I put my foot through my bag strap. In a minute I'd suggest we move.

The two men approached closer and then were walking directly towards us. As they reached us one walked infront and one behind.

Vende shouted, "Shit!" as two more appeared from the other side and I saw one of them pull out a 12 inch knife. I shifted in the direction the first two men had come from, and moved 15 yards from them in no time at all. I could see I'd been much quicker than them and turned back to see where Vende had gone.

One of them had him held by the shirt and was carelessly prodding the knife towards his back. I had been ready to run but now I couldn't. They seemed as surprised by us as we had by them, and didn't seem to know what to do next.

I pulled my camera out of my pocket and removed my memory card - the bastards weren't getting my holiday snaps as well. One of them, without a knife, ran over to me. I kept my distance as much as possible to hand over the camera.

"Money!" he shouted, looking utterly terrified by what he was doing.

I handed over my wallet. He looked down at my trousers.

"There's nothing more!" I shouted back at him, "I've given you everything. Nothing more!"

He looked down at my pockets again, disbelievingly. My shorts are quite stiff material, which must have helped, but my Tanzanian mobile still created a fairly blatant bulge. I hadn't even thought about it, I gave him one thing from each pocket and in my mind for a moment that had been everything.

He can't possibly have believed me but, still looking terrified, he looked back to his friends and then scampered back towards them. They picked up my bag by its base and shook out its contents. I saw them take my UK mobile phone and my trainers whilst another still tried to get more out of Vende, still poking the knife towards him.

They ran off, arrogantly slowing to a walk and looking back gloatingly after 50 yards or so. Vende cursed them, vowing to go after them and retrieve our belongings, in particular his mobile phone. He was itching to go after them, and I reminded him they'd still have the extremely big knives, and it wasn't worth risking our lives for the sake of stuff.

We packed my things back into my rucksack, and set off to leave. I felt like such an idiot for not having listened to myself, and now I'd have to walk back with bare feet. Two lads a short way down the beach must have seen everything seemed not to have a care in the world.

Vende told everyone he could on the way home what had happened. He was furious, particularly about his mobile phone. He had been waiting for an invitation to interview, and now they had no way to contact him.

I was just thankful I still had all my limbs, and grateful that it had been left to a frightened idiot to determine whether I'd given him everything I had. I still had a mobile phone, and a way of contacting people as I travel round meeting them. I was happy I'd forgotten to check how much money I had before going out, and not added to it. And that I still had my Visa card in my back pocket. And that they hadn't just taken my whole bag.

We dropped in at the police station on the way. They were mopping so had to wait a couple of minutes to see anyone. We were told to go up to the counter. The room behind was quite empty, just one desk off to the side. Along the left were two cells. Three motionless fingers were wrapped around a bar from inside the nearest cell. Vende made his statement at the desk, while I went into an office round the side to make one in English.

I sat on a bench next to a man who I think was being read his rights. After a few minutes the policeman turned his attention to me. He seemed quite sympathetic and transcribed what I told him reasonably accurately. I just wanted a statement of what had been stolen for my insurance, and to go and have a beer.

"Would you recognise these men if you saw them again?" he asked me.

No. I wouldn't. Most of the time I'd been watching Vende, and keeping my eye on what was being taken, rather than the bandits' faces.

When we were done, we left and went outside. We were led to a pick-up truck. "We getting a lift back, are we?" I asked Vende.

"No. They're taking us back to the beach."

I was ordered into a seat near the cab, and two askaris armed with AK47s, another policeman and two policewomen climbed in with us. One of them, in a blue sports top, was waving his gun around a touch too carelessly for my liking. The other askari was resting his on the canvas above my head.

We drove out to the beach, past the point where we'd been robbed. When we passed people in bars who didn't look like they'd moved, they were asked if they'd seen anything. We stopped at a resort, and most of the passengers climbed out.

The driver spoke to Vende, and he again seemed to come in for all the criticism, being told we shouldn't go on the beach in the week when it's quiet, only on the weekends when it's busy. A little unfair, as I should recognise a dodgy situation as well as Vende, though he hadn't really taken into account the fact he was with an mzungu.

We stopped again at a resort closer to where we'd been, and this time they took Vende with them, leaving me alone like a hopeless leper. This time Vende recognised one of them, hanging around with his mates, but they ran before they were caught.

We went back in the truck, the askari in the grey shirt joking with the others whilst swigging Konyagi from a bottle he'd been keeping in his pocket. When we got back to the station, they gave me a copy of the statement and we left.

Determined to drink some beer to round off the day in some positivity, I washed my feet and we set off for the shops. And beer we did buy. But not before Vende had dragged us round to his policeman friend's house to put some pressure on them to solve the case, and then round to the police station, where his ideas to trace any calls made from his mobile phone were met with an icy response.

"Maybe in America," he was told, "This is third world country. How do I trace these calls?" Although to be fair, Vende's idea was quite a good one. It only involved contacting the network and then phoning some of the numbers dialled. Not rocket science.

We acquired a couple of warm beers from a young Chagga called Juma, and then went back to Vende's to drink them, watching a dubbed Venezuelan soap called "Mis 3 Hermanas" (My 3 Sisters), starring a Dom Joly look-a-like in the main role, with some truly atrocious acting and even worse dubbing from the voice artists.

Fans of La Mujer Da Mi Vida (The Woman Of My Life) will be sad to know that it finished long ago.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Austrian Restaurants, Massage Cream and Ceiling Fans

My last night in Moshi got a bit interesting. In the day I'd been quite pleased with myself. I bumped into the Irish people again, had lunch with them in The Coffee Shop, and read the paper.

Then I went to the market in search of tat to buy. I was spotted by a Rasta who had seen me earlier in the day, pointed out his shop, but judged correctly when his presence was no longer required, and left me alone.

He showed me that he was also involved in a small shop in the market, and then let me have a quick look at a couple of places until I got to it. I picked up a few Maasai necklaces and the prize for the "how many steps" sweepstake (I'll let you know the result for that later), and asked him how the system of street sellers works.

Often you'll be stopped by someone, and he'll go in search of things to sell you. I asked him what they get out of the deal. What they actually do is work in a cooperative, so several shops will work together to bring in custom - and they all share the profits of the group of shops.

I got a reasonable price off him and also a nice chat and learnt a bit too, so my impression of Moshi improved with it. I told him how his approach was better because he didn't scare potential customers away by pressurising them.

In the evening I went to the Salzburger Cafe, which a few people I'd met had been to. It's a bizarre Austrian themed place full of VW memorabilia. From the articles on the wall I think the original owner was a guide/cook with a tour company and his son later took it over.

I presume he must have taken predominantly Austrian people on tours, or he's been to Salzburg. Behind where I sat there was even a Sound of Music poster next to a quote from the Bible in Swahili.

It was almost empty when I went in - there was one Tanzanian waiting to eat when I arrived, and it added to the surreal atmosphere. As I approached the table a sign above my head reassured me, "YES... YOU ARE IN KILIMANJARO..."

Motivational quotes adorned the walls from such Austrian luminaries as Mother Theresa. Three old-fashioned trunks suitcases sat on small tables, various Austrian stickers and event flyers plastered over them. And a whole collection of VW enthusiast magazines were leather-bound together.

When I got back to the hotel, the roof bar was empty, and I was tired so didn't fancy drinking on my own. I went to my room and started to feel a bit unwell. I'd been having random stiffness and pains down my left hand side for a couple of days, and started feeling a bit queasy and feverish.

I kept falling asleep to BBC World on my TV (not that unsual in itself), and I was a bit wary of having to travel to Dar the next morning if I was unwell. I went down to reception and asked if they thought I had enough time in the morning to see someone. After a couple of misunderstandings about whether I wanted them to arrange a lift to the bus station, they thought it would be alright.

When I woke up I felt a little spaced out, but mostly alright, so I thought I would just wait until Dar. Then about an hour and a half before my bus was supposed to go I started to feel ill again. The chap on reception still thought I had time, so I went to the Kilimanjaro Hospital, as it was nearest the Scandinavian Express depot.

Luckily I didn't have to wait long to see the doctor. He was a calm, slow-moving chap with grey hair, and listened very patiently while I explained what was wrong. He immediately asked whether I was taking anti-malarials and I said yes. Malaria had been my first thought - although I didn't feel that bad, I was a bit fluey, with joint pains, and anti-malarials can dull the symptoms.

He dismissed this though, as I was taking anti-malarials, and started writing down a prescription for something to kill the pain (I couldn't read what it was, he is a doctore after all), and then asked if I had any cream or ointment to massage my shoulder. When I said no, he wrote something else down instead.

I asked if he didn't think it could still be malaria - it was clearly his first thought, but seemed to assume that anti-malarials are 100% effective, when they're nothing of the sort. He sighed, and asked me if I knew where the laboratory was, then sighed again when he had to lead me there.

The chap in the lab took a few drops of blood from my finger, onto a microscope slide that he had already cleaned with disinfectant. I waited half and hour, by which time I felt pretty good anyway, and unsurprisingly it came back negative.

I still had plenty of time to catch the bus to Dar, which turned out to be less than half full. I had heard that Scandinavian Express aren't as good as they were, as they had been caught not paying taxes, and as a result were struggling. It showed when instead of a glass bottle of soda I received a plastic bottle of Azamto Black Currant Drink, the ingredients of which were: water, sugar, citric acid, colour and artificial flavouring.

I didn't mind though if it meant everybody had a double seat to themselves. I met a few people to share a taxi with and stayed at the Safari Inn. Our bags were carried to our rooms, and when I got in I turned on the light and ceiling fan.

The man who had brough my bag looked up at the fan, and adjusted the setting, which I had turned to 5. He turned it to 3, and it went a little faster. I looked from the controls, to him, to the fan, and thanked him.

He turned it to 2, and then to 1, and it span faster still, and still he stared up at the fan. He seemed more satisfied now and I thanked him again.

And he looked up at the fan. And he looked. And he looked some more. And I thanked him. And he looked. And I thanked him again. Reluctantly he sighed and edged his way out of the room.

I ended up going to Chef's Pride again for dinner, with Alan and Sophie, two vet students in Liverpool. It was much more busy than I'd seen it before, and they had the barbeque going. We adopted an Aussie called James, who had been traveling in South Africa, then didn't want to go home so had been working for a safari company in Botswana, before taking a break and traveling a bit more.

Today I went to the Nyumba ya Sanaa, which has artwork from very talented artists, many of whom are from the villages and often disabled. It's not cheap, but it's vastly superior to what people on the street try to peddle onto you, many of them have their own style, and it's much much cheaper than what you'd pay at home. I may have to pick up a thing or two before I fly out of Dar.

Later I'll see Bongo and Baraka at Vende's when he gets back from Morogoro - he's had a job interview. Id better have some lunch now - I was going to go before Internet, but the place I was going to doesn't seem to be there any more.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Moshi

I was a bit fed up in Moshi earlier today. I have now bought lots of tat though, and have met some nice people, both Irish and Tanzanian, rather than just getting annoyed at the Moshites bothering me to buy stuff.

I have a change of plan too. Oswin texted me yesterday to tell me that we have to change the date I'm visiting Mpandangindo. I was rather worried he'd mess up my plans completely, but I have his email now and it will make things easier.

So now I'm going back to Dar tomorrow, as planned, seeing Vende, Baraka and Bongo at the very least, then to Iringa on 7th to see Getruda, and then Songea on 10th to go to Oswin's village, rather than Mbeya beforehand.

He had wanted me to go on 15th. Now I can go to Mbeya after and get the train back to Dar on the TANZAR line from there, and hopefully have a day or two extra spare in Dar as a result. Which will probably be spent on the beach.

Hurrah!

Unfortunately the research in Mpandangindo will involve cycling to six different villages to carry out the survey with Standard Seven students (top juniors, about 13-16 years old).

I feel more purposeful now anyway.

Photos Up To The Summit

I've uploaded all the photos (the best ones) up to the top now. Click on the pic.

Kilimanjaro Day 5 (Summit)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Uhuru Peak & The Descent

I'd got as far as Stella Point earlier when I'd had enough and went up to the bar so I'll carry on from there.

To say I got a bit over-excited when I reached Stella Point would be a touch understated. I felt completely overwhelmed, felt far more energetic and enthusiastic, and didn't shirk at telling anyone that, whether they wanted to hear it or not. I'm not sure there's ever been anyone so talkative at nearly 6000m.

A few photos were taken, including some brilliant sunrise ones, which I'll upload tomorrow, and then we set off for Uhuru Peak, with only Jim not continuing. I don't blame him - he started with the next group today.

It was an hour and a half to Uhuru, but it felt like much less. I'm not sure why. I held back for several rests, with Joan and Simon (the Scottish one, not the RAF one), and stopped for the toilet again. Every couple of hundred yards required me to breathe and lean heavily on the trekking pole Zach (the assistant guide) had borrowed for me from Simon (the RAF one) earlier in the trek.

This trek did serve to remind me how much heights freak me out. Zach had lent me the pole at the very beginning of the walk, when we were walking up sloping rock, and I was a bit lacking in confidence and hence unsteady on my feet. It served to be very useful later walking up the volcanic ash and then again on the descent.

The walk from Stella to Uhuru was relatively straight forward - some of it was on uneven ice, but it's only a gradual climb of about 200m between the two. When we got to Uhuru we found a circus of people trying to get in the next photo by the sign. Generally people were quite polite about getting out of the way but also quite dopey and exhausted.

After about half an hour at the top, we started to come back down. The fun started when we got back to the volcanic ash, which we pretty much ski'd down. It had taken about 8 hours to get from camp to Uhuru, and it took about two hours to get back down. The last bit of walking down the sloping, slightly gravelly rock was horrible though. My legs were weak and I was very wobbly coming down there.

After a couple of hours rest and our first food in over 12 hours, we went down to Millenium Camp, which should have taken 2 hours but took the front few of us one and a half, camped there overnight and then waked to Mweka Gate on the next and sixth day. Again, it should have taken 5 hours but the front few of us got down in three and a half.

I annoyed a few sellers at the bottom by appearing interested and then not buying anything, and we had a buffet lunch put on before going back to the hotel. After removing a metric tonne of dust in the shower, we then waited for Zach to turn up, as he had kindly offered to show us where to shop for souvenirs in Moshi.

Although this was very useful, the fact that there were about ten of us all being led around by a Tanzanian to his friends' and family's shops, did rather attract a lot of attention from other street sellers, and all the hassle that goes with it.

The really annoying thing was that when we got back, it felt a little like our room wasn't quite how I'd left it, and then Simon discovered he'd had some money pinched. Later I found that whoever had stolen it had gone as far as unzipping my sterile emergency medical kit to see if I'd hidden anything in there. Luckily they hadn't delved into the lining of my rucksack, or they might have stolen from me too.

It's quite annoying to find that belongings aren't even safe in a posh hotel.

Now I'm staying in the Kindoroko Hotel in Moshi itself, I've largely hidden from the street sellers in cafes and on the Internet, and rested as much as possible. I've befriended a handful of randoms and I'll be off back to Dar on Tuesday to see some more of my Tanzanian friends.

A Busy Week

I can't start this post without mentioning what happened after the last time I blogged. I was a bit fed up with being bothered on the street, and as I got back to the Holiday Hotel, some bloke sat just outside with a blanket full of jewellery on the ground said hello to me.

I gave him a cursory reply and continued towards the hotel gate. He shouted after me that we don't rush in Africa, so I stopped to chat with him. I can't remember off-hand what his name was, so I'll call him Nelson for the time being, and he was absolutely lovely.

He didn't pester me to buy anything, he just asked me what I was doing in Tanzania, where I learnt Swahili and all the usual questions. He told me about how he was a singer, and showed me a folder full of photocopies of articles in which he'd featured, in both English and Swahili. He gave me a listen of his CD and I bought one off him for 10,000/- (about 4 quid).

I did end up buying something off him, but he'd just shown me what he had to offer, and didn't try and pressure me into it. It was really nice to meet someone pretending to be nice but clearly with a hidden agenda. I'll go and look up what his name was on his CD, which isn't half-bad.

Other than that, this post will be largely about Kilimanjaro - the bus journey up to Moshi the next morning with Royal Coach was fairly uneventful, unless you count the Jean-Claude Van Damme video and compilation of Michael Jackson videos as "an event".

So I'll start with a picture. Of me. On the third day of climbing the mountain.

Kilimanjaro Day 3

I arrived at the Ameg Lodge near Moshi to find I was in a group of 14 trekkers, plus the leader, Jim, and the doctor, Raj, from Discover Adventure. We had three guides, Alex and his assistants Zach and Bruno, 28 porters and 2 cooks from Ahsante Tours, whom I'd highly recommend, if anyone's considering going up themselves. I was sharing a room in the hotel and a tent on the mountain with a sharp-witted RAF pilot called Simon.

I won't go into huge long details about each day. We took the Machame route up the mountain, a trek of 6 days, reaching the top on the fifth. The first day started at Machame Gate at 1800m, and finished at Machame Camp at 3000m, passing mostly through rainforest. It was a bit misty and cloudy, nice conditions for a walk and pretty straight forward.

At the camp we ate dinner (the food throughout was excellent) at a long table inside a bright yellow football shaped tent. We were in bed pretty early, as it gets dark at 6pm every day here, and the more sleep we could get at lower altitude the better.

When we woke up in the morning we were greeted by clear skies above and a thick blanket of cloud which stretched out from the lower slopes, Mount Meru in the distance poking out above the cloud in the distance.

This was the first day I'd seen the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in the other direction too. On the bus and the previous day it had been obscured by cloud, but now I could see the icy and rocky rim around its crater.

The second day we climbed to Shira Camp at 3860m, and got well and truly fried in the process. It was mostly the sides of my neck, my hands, and the inside of my forearms that suffered, where I'd missed out the suncream a bit. By the end of the day my face felt hot from the sun and wind, and at altitude the air is very dry, which only adds to the effect.

The third day involved a climb to the base of a huge lava tower at 4600m to help with acclimatisation to altitude, and then a descent back down to 3950m at Barranco Camp. By this point we were already heading into the dusty volcanic terrain in which we'd spend most of the rest of the trek

One of our group, Mel, didn't carry on to day 3, as she was quite sick already and at any further point if she wanted to drop out, she would have to go up before she could go down the mountain.

We stopped for lunch below the lava tower, at 4200m, and again we had an excellent lunch at the long table, with the usual soup, pasta, chicken and vegetables in a sauce. Like I said, I'd highly recommend Ahsante Tours:

Kilimanjaro Day 3

Days 3 and 4 were both quite tough, and involved what seemed like an awful lot of climbing, only to find you were still at the same altitude as a couple of hours before. We were mostly making our way around the mountain to get to the point from which we'd make the final ascent.

Day 4 finished at Barafu Camp, at 4700m, and I have some great pictures of the camp, which unfortunately you'll have to wait for, as I haven't uploaded them yet. Wehad made pretty good time, so could get to bed early for an 11pm wake-up call. At 11.30pm we had porridge, and then set off the summit at midnight, in temperatures that dropped as low as -15C. The idea is to reach the summit at sunrise, and not be exposed too much to the sun at such high altitude.

It was really hard going early on - hands and feet became numb with the cold repeatedly, and just as I'd gone through the pain of warming them up so I could feel them again, we'd stop and rest for some reason or other. It was nobody's fault, Sam and Michelle both struggled and dropped out, and stops happened for various other reasons, but it made things inevitably difficult in a fairly big group.

It was clear we were struggling on time, and Jim suggested that the group might have to split in two, one group stopping at Stella Point, where we would reach the crater rim, and one group continue round to Uhuru Peak, which was a further hour and a half's walk.

Most of us at this point seemed to feel they probably wouldn't make it past Stella Point - it was cold, dark, and we were walking up steep volcanic ash, like the world's most ridiculously unpleasant sand dune. Every step forward was accompanied by a backslide almost as long, and I was intermittently suffering from headaches, though thankfully I didn't get any sustained effects from the altitude.

It didn't help that I started to need the toilet, and it's a lot of effort to go through the thought processes involved in such a task, and then to do it, when you're over 5000m and there's not much oxygen going begging.

I eventually succumbed, and when I re-emerged from behind my rock the group was a bit fragmented, and I couldn't tell whether it was all our group or included people from another. I had to stop for some water - we'd all been getting dehydrated - our water was freezing and no one particularly wanted to stop to drink (or pee) when we were cold enough.

I felt a bit better with the water and climbed a bit faster now - it was getting lighter, and I found myself encouraging someone who seemed to be struggling. It turned out to be Jim, and getting slightly delirious, I rattled off and nonsensical account of my toilet stop to him. I passed Vicky and Simon and and held Jean's hand to help up the last bit as a glacier started to appear on the left and the sun on the right.

A few yards further and we reached Stella Point - suddenly it was daylight and there were beautiful icy views all around. Immediately we all felt much better, and decided to carry on to Uhuru. I only have a couple of minutes, so I'll stop there, and pick up in the morning.

Photos

I'm just uploading photos now.

You can see what I've uploaded so far by clicking on the picture below:

Sunset over Dar Es Salaam

Friday, August 24, 2007

I Can Speak Motherfucking English

Shortly after leaving Vende's place this morning I had what has been so far and probably will be by the time I leave the best conversation on this trip. I was off to find the place round the corner where Vende and I had eaten yesterday evening, and got as far as the corner of the street before someone said hello to me and asked me, "How are you?"

I gave the usual reply in Swahili and returned the greeting, and before long one of his friends had cut in, asking where I was from, if I support Arsenal or Manchester (sorry, City fans, apparently they don't know about you) and who my friend I'm staying with was. Then came the inevitable question, "Do you have an email address?", to which I naturally lied, "No," which he pretended to not understand until I said, "Yes."

Then he fished a piece of paper out of a folder of seemingly random documents, and asked me to write it down. Neither of us had a pen, so he went off in search of one while I waited. When he got back another man appeared out of nowhere, said hello, realised what we were about to do, and decided he'd make a much better arbiter of the situation.

"I know motherfucking English," he announced, snatching the paper out of the other man's hands. "You, what is your fucking name?" he said to me.

"Philip," I replied, which he duly wrote down.

"What is your fucking father's name?"

"John," I said truthfully, which he also wrote down to read Philip John.

He hesitated for a moment before giving me the paper and pointing at it to signify he wanted me to write down his email address. So I wrote: philipjohn@yahoo.com.

My work done, I started to walk away, and he asked after me, "Where are you going? The fucking ferry's that way." I explained I was going somewhere to eat.

Remembering I was supposed to turn left, I walked down the road a hundred yards before deciding I'd clearly taken the wrong left. So I had to walk past them again, and explain I'd gone the wrong way, before going up three more wrong roads and realising I wasn't going to find the cafe. I was sure I was in the right area, I just couldn't seem to find the right stretch of road. I made my way back to the house, passing the men I'd met by using the other side of the road as inconspicuously as I could manage (not easy for an mzungu).

I picked up my bags from Vende's, having given up on breakfast, and went to catch the ferry. I ineptly negotiated the purchase of a pair of flipflops from a stall near the ferry, effortlessly whittling down a price from 6000/- to 3000/- whilst trying to explain I wanted the cheapest crappiest pair I could get. For which they tried to charge 2500/-, and I was too tired hot and sweaty from my bags to bother getting the price reduced beyond 2000/-. Ripped off to the tune of 80p.

On the ferry a chap called David started to speak to me. He was impressed with my Swahili, and started to jabber at me at phenomenal speed, before slowing down when he realised I was all that good. I learned that he makes Masai jewellery amongst other ornaments and, er, stuff, and his brother lives in London.

When we got off he asked me where I was going. I told him, "The Holiday Hotel."

"Ah, the Holiday Inn! That's where I'm going!"

"No no," I replied, "The Holiday Hotel. It's different."

"Yes," he said, "The Holiday Inn Hotel."

"No," I repeated, "The Holiday Hotel and Holiday Inn Hotel are two different places." I used my index fingers to demonstrate "two", and moved them away from each other to signify that they were "different".

"Well," I said, not really wanting to be lumbered with this new friend for too long, "I'm going to get a taxi."

"No, you don't need to take a taxi, it's very close," he said.

I explained that I had carried my heavy bags far enough, and contemplated explaining that yes, the Holiday Inn is close, but the Holiday Hotel is much further away. "Oh look, a taxi!" I said, and prepared to get in one and explain I wanted to go to the Holiday Hotel.

The taxi driver wanted 3000/- for the journey, and I started to negotiate before David jumped in and whittled it down to 2000/-. And then promptly jumped in the taxi. I didn't really feel I had much choice at this point, as my bags were already in the boot, and so I got in and made it abundantly clear that if he wanted to go to the Holiday Inn, he was in the wrong taxi. This taxi was going to the Holiday Hotel.

He stayed in, and as we took the first right, I thought to myself, I'm sure this isn't the quickest way. It's almost as if we're heading towards the Holiday Inn. I explained again as the Holiday Inn loomed into view, that I was going to the Holiday Hotel, and not the Holiday Inn.

The taxi driver pulled over, clearly vexed. He told me that it was 2000/- to the Holiday Inn, and then 3000/- fron the Holiday Inn to the Holiday Hotel (which, by now, I'd changed to the Jambo Inn, just around the corner, in a vain attempt to simplify things a bit). So I owed him 5000/-. He quickly agreed that he'd accept for, while I campaigned for 3500/-.

He then pulled into the Holiday Inn and David, realised he'd batted himself into a corner, got out looking a little crestfallen. I agreed to pay the 4000/- then, as I had little choice, and apologised to the taxi driver for the cretin who'd got in with me. For some reason the taxi driver then took the least direct, busiest route to the Jambo Inn. Maybe he just wanted me to get my money's worth.

The Jambo Inn only had a double room left for 20000/-, so I walked round the corner to the Holiday Hotel, who charged me 15000/- for a very small single. Prices seem to have gone up a lot in three years. Not that much changes though. I still came back to my room after eating a couple of hours ago to find that the padlock didn't seem to be in the right place on the door any more. All my money was either on my or hidden very well in my large bag, though, and nothing else had been taken.

Tomorrow morning I'm on the 7am bus to Moshi. I'll be getting on outside Royal Coaches' office in town, and then it will go to the main bus station in Ubongo and sit there for two hours. Not the most pleasant prospect, but I've decided I don't really want to brave the chaos of Ubongo bus station.

I'll get to Moshi at about 5pm and meet up with the other Discover Adventure trekkers at the hotel. I may or may not get to get on the Internet again before the trek. I'll see if I might get photos up next time.

I'm going to go back to the room now and look through my guides to decide where I might go when. I'm now going to be doing some research for COCO in Oswin's village, so I'm not sure how long I'll be there for. I'll will be dropping into Iringa and Mbeya at some point, as well as Songea, but I want to do one leg of the journey all the way on the train. It looks like I may be doing it on the way back to Dar.

All Hail Mozilla!

I very nearly couldn't bore you with a long post today. The computer I started on wouldn't show Blogger properly, and then this computer wouldn't either. Then I noticed that this computer has Firefox, so I can post now. All hail Mozilla, the large organisation that is less evil than Microsoft because it is smaller than Microsoft!

I ended up going to the museum yesterday, which is much better than I remember it being. I think last time I was with Lauren and Althea, and I was very tired and couldn't be bothered reading all the entries. This time I was very tired and I wanted to keep out of the way of all the people trying to sell me things on the street, so I read most of the entries in the "History of Tanzania" section, and it was quite interesting.

I particularly like the end of the description of John Hanning Speke in the section on Western explorers:

"Speke started his exploration of inland and coastal regions of East Africa because of an invitation from Sir Richard Burton. During his quest to find the source of the Nile, Speke traveled through East Africa via old trade routes in Tanzania and Uganda. He is responsible for the naming of Lake Victoria, after the Queen Victoria of Britain. In September 1864, Speke accidentally shot himself while hunting."

It reminded me immediately of the first episode of Blackadder the Third, when they rig the by-election, and the only voter "accidentally brutally cut his own head off whilst shaving".

I followed the museum with a visit to The Honey Pot, where I indulged in a couple of samosas and maandazi (deep fried doughnut-y bread things), wowed them with my Swahili (I was getting more confident by this point, and it's easy to impress people who expect you to know none), and asked them where the toilet was (no, I'm fine, regular as clockwork).

The toilet was supposedly down the alley and round the back, but when I got there some chap stopped me, claiming no one was allowed down the alley without telling him what they were doing there. Then he decided that a visit to the toilet would cost me 500 shillings (the same as half an hour of internet here), and told me he would go an unlock it for me. At which point I decided it would be sensible not to bother.

I met up with Vende and we caught the ferry back, then drank beer on the beach while the sun went down on the city over the other side. We stopped off at a cafe round the corner from his house and had rice with meat and beans, and little bit of green stuff, before going back to Vende's and dropping onto the armchair and dozing off while CNN went round and round and round in circles.

I'm really tired now so I think I'll just leave it there 'til later. I met a couple of very interesting characters this morning and it wouldn't be right to leave them out.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Back in Dar

I landed in Tanzania yesterday at about 2.30pm. The flight was, as flights go, not too bad. We had a bit off unpleasant turbulence on the second leg from Dubai to Dar Es Salaam, and I wandered like the undead around Dubai International Airport for ages in the early hours of the morning, but apart from that there's very little to say about it. So I won't. Apart from recommending "The Year of the Dog" as a film worth watching, and not recommending "Spider-Man 3".

My bag must have been one of the first to be put on the plane in Dubai because it took over half an hour to come out in Dar. The fact that I could see several other people from my flight still waiting for their bags only went a very small way to calming my nerves while I looked over my shoulder to see if Vende (my placement partner when I was an SPW volunteer) was waiting for me in the crowd outside. I didn't want to spend the next two days trying to negotiate the return of my clothes and sleeping bag.

When I came outside I quickly scanned the meeters and greeters to see if I could spot my old companion, before I heard a voice from somewhere in the middle shout, "Hey, Mister Philip! Bwana bomba! Vipi mambo!" and I spotted his head stretching over the shoulders of the people stood in front of him. I made an equally enthusiastic albeit stumbling and inaccurate greeting and dashed round the barrier to meet him.

We took a taxi to the Stanbic Bank on the outskirts of the city where he works as an IT technician, and the familiar smells and erratic driving of the city brought with it a wave of nostalgia before I was hit by the wave of exhaustion from the 20ish hours of purgatory known as air travel.

I sat on the comfy chairs in the bank intermittently dosing off and watching the soundless Marseille vs Nancy French football match whilst waiting for Vende to finish up his tasks of the day. I then tried to cash a traveler's cheque and signed it infront of the cashier before she told me that I could only cash it if I had an account with them.

Before leaving Vende made me say hello to his boss, the first of several slightly awkward introductions where I wasn't really in the mood to chatter and it took a lot of effort to remember any Swahili. I realised immediately upon arriving that while I still know quite a lot of the language, I'm not tuning into it easily and I don't feel as confident speaking when it takes a while to access the knowledge which is now stowed away in the deepest parts of my brain.

We then got on the bus across the road to get the ferry across the harbour (, trying to kill as few people as possible with my big rucksack as we did so. We met another of Vende's friends on the bus (we'd happened to sit infront of him), and he asked me all the usual questions about where I was from, what the weather is like in the UK, and what I was going to do in the country. I couldn't understand half of what he said though. He was speaking very quietly in English below the engine noise.

When we got to the ferry Vende and I squeezed our way off with my luggage, while twenty-odd people outside waited patiently, before scrapping furiously to get on once we were out of the way. The large mini-bus with dolphins painted on the window was already mostly full, but I wouldn't be surprised if most of them still got on. When I glanced back I couldn't help noticing that on the back it had been decorated with two Swastikas either end of the number plate. I can only imagine that someone once saw one and thought it was a nice pattern.

We paid for the ferry and waited under a large enclosed shelter, while a boy with a basket tried to sell us nuts and a group of South Africans on a safari vehicle nearby gazed into the enclosure as if it was part of their holiday. Vende introduced me to another friend, a girl whose computer he'd fixed and who still hasn't come to pick it up from his home. Partly because she doesn't know exactly where he lives.

He told me that there are two ferries, and for quite a while not long ago, one of them was out of action, and the other wasn't working properly and kept on breaking down in the middle of the harbour. Both are, he assured me, now working fine. We boarded and perched ourselves between two pick-up trucks while one of the ferry workers desperately tried to wash away the thick yellow greasy lubricant that had pooled near the engine a couple of yards away, using a small bucket of soapy water.

On the other side of the water, apart from the best beaches, is the Tanzania that seems a little more familiar to me. There is no tarmac and many people are trading from stalls by the side of the dirt road near the ferry port. A little further along the road, and it becomes largely residential, and homes are rather more basic. Vende lives in a relatively nice house with concrete even in the courtyard.

He's in just one room around the courtyard, but hopes to save a bit and rent somewhere nicer once he gets offered a permanent position at the bank in a couple of weeks time. When we walked in I recognised immediately his mark on the place, before he even pointed it out. He's not the tidiest of fellows, and his room is in a bit of a mess and he could probably do with washing his dirty dishes.

He does have electricity, which makes it so different from having previously lived in a house in a village in the middle of nowhere. He has an electric hob, kettle for boiling water (very handy), a TV, a fridge-freezer he doesn't turn on because he doesn't really ever get anything to put in it, a computer that works but isn't his, and a computer that's his but doesn't work. And a deep fat fryer, which no self-respecting Tanzanian should be without.

The people who live around Vende all either came in to meet me (the boys, mostly) or hung around just outside repeatedly walking past and giggling before eventually being enticed in by Vende (the girls, mostly). We chatted and flicked through the papers and magazines I'd brought out to him, before going round to see his brother just around the corner.

His brother wasn't in, but his sister-in-law and her friend or sister, both of whose names I now forget, were. We watched some trashy TV, including a Congolese programme about Tanzanian music which featured a bizarre music video which Vende thinks he can acquire for me. I felt much more comfortable about being in someone's home with a friend than I think I would if I were a tourist here, and staying in a nice hotel and not having any idea at all how the people from Dar really live.

I have been getting odd and sometimes slightly suspicious looks from some locals, particularly across where Vende lives, because they're wondering what an mzungu (white man) is doing there. And then on this side of the city, particularly near the hostels where I am now, I get loads of hassle from people who want to sell me something. This is the reason I was never particularly fond of Dar - you're never quite allowed to feel comfortable. And where you are supposed to feel comfortable, in the really (relatively posh) touristy places, it all feels a bit fake.

Vende ordered in chipsi mayai (chip omelette) from the food place round the corner and somehow he persuaded them to bring it to the house. Chipsi mayai was always a bit of a treat in the village, so it was nice to have some for dinner. We then went back to Vende's, watched the England-Germany friendly, drank some Kilimanjaro beer (It's Kili time, time to kick back and relax with your friends), and berated Steve McLaren's misuse of players' talents until about midnight and then went to bed.

I eventually got up at about 10 o'clock this morning, made a vague attempt at washing and left for the ferry. I just missed a ferry and so had to wait for the next one. It was odd to see the city and the large buildings of concrete, steel and glass (mostly Government buildings infront of the water) on the other side, in complete contrast to what stood behind me.

I boarded the next ferry when it came, and when we got to the other side, the other ferry was sat in the water near the ramp, empty of passengers, with a rescue boat milling around and four men trying to fix the engine. I walked along Kivukoni Front which follows the estuary, and noted how as long as the government buildings lasted, there was not only tarmac on the roads, but pavements with proper paving stones laid on them. Even the Kilimanjaro Hotel has crazy paving on its driveway. I find it a little ironic that in a city where paving is relatively rare, that someone would choose to pave a surface badly, on purpose.

I spent most of my time here today traipsing round looking for a bank that would change my travelers' cheques. And I couldn't find anywhere. I eventually took some money out at the Barclays ATM, which as the only ATM in the city when I was last here. Now they're all over the place. Sometimes you even get two next to each other. I'll save my travelers' cheques for a town without ATMs. Then a bank might accept them.

Decidedly hungry, thirsty and exhausted by this point, I decided to wander over to the part of town I remember reasonably well, near the Holiday Hotel and Jambo Inn. There I knew I'd find some food and an Internet cafe. I knew there was a place that was nice and simple for ordering food, with a proper menu (even with pictures, if I remember rightly), and it didn't seem at all dodgy. Unfortunately when I got there I found it half demolished. Now it is merely a concrete shell with wooden scaffolding all around it.

I decided to see what there was round the corner, and was immediately joined by a chap called David who wanted to befriend me, show me around and presumably get a tip into the bargain. I mentioned the restaurant, and he told me I wanted to go to the Chef's Pride round the corner, and took it upon himself to lead me there.

Which amused me, because I was just about to see if I could find it. The first time I went to Dar, I was with Adam, Stuart, Jenny and Sandy and we went to Chef's Pride because it was recommended in the Rough Guide, only to find it was being renovated. At which point some chap appeared out of nowhere and led us to the restaurant that has now been demolished. I'm tempted to presume that it's the same chap.

The food was okay and nothing special. But I've been here for two hours now and I'm going to go. Because you're pretty much up-to-date. I have to go and find out about a bus ticket to Moshi.

Monday, August 20, 2007

WIN!!! (...something)

Well, travel time comes around again, and this time I'm returning to Tanzania for the first time in three years. I'll be righting the wrong of not having climbed Kilimanjaro last time around, the highest mountain in Africa, I'll be seeing old friends Vende, Getruda, and hopefully a few more others, and I'll be visiting Oswin's home village of Mpandangindo.

Mpandangindo is the village helped by the Hoja Project, a charity of which I'm a trustee. So far we've helped furnish and equip the local secondary school that the Government recently built, and we have donors who sponsor some local children through the school. Research has also been carried out to determine the community's needs and an accredited vocational training centre has been approved, for which I'm told the money will be provided by the charity COCO.

I haven't been to Oswin's village before so I'm really looking forward to going and seeing in person what's happened as a result of friends, family and people I've never met making the effort to help make a difference on the other side of the world.

I'll be walking up Kili with the organisation Discover Adventure, and I'll be taking a pedometer up with me to see how many steps I take from the bottom to top.

And this is where you can win something. I'll be buying or acquiring something interesting and unusual while I'm in Tanzania, and I'll send it to the person who predicts closest to the final pedometer reading I take.


So if you go to the Hoja Project's donation page (CLICK HERE) and donate at least £2 (that's the minimum the site will allow), and take a guess at the final pedometer reading in the comments box, you could win something interesting. I'll let you know when I acquire the prize. I promise I'll make it something "a bit special". There may even be more than one.

Make sure you put your guess in the comments box, and have some way of my contacting you if you're someone I don't know.

All of the money (aside from the small justgiving.com admin cut) goes to the Hoja Project, none of it goes towards what is largely a month-long holiday for me. I've paid for the cost of flights, the trek, insurance and everything else myself.

I fly tomorrow night, and I'm rather excited, dontcha know. See you all again sometime after the 24th September.