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:

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 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.