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Africa, Destinations

A day in Arusha

January 19, 2009 • By

Since you are all anxiously awaiting the coming of the Lord, I thought I could skip a day writing. I had a 2 hour meltdown at the computer and decided downloading photos in Africa is just not possible. I made it back from safari and the Ngorongoro crater. Tanzania is a beautiful country full of wildlife, scenery and the most sincere and down to earth people. I don’t quite understand their sense of time or their lack of get up and go but those who work earn way below their means and those who don’t live off the land and don’t know what they are missing. I’m struck by how Americans and Europeans think they can solve poverty here in Africa. For the most part, you can’t even identify where the people are living. The 120 tribes here in Tanzania are peaceful and most keep to one area (Mt Kili, Lake Victoria etc) but others move from place to place so it would be difficult to enforce education, health and wellness. They don’t have electricity. They don’t have water and they manage fine. Today, I ventured to the grocery store to refill my basics. No less than three minutes from leaving my hotel, I was accosted my a street seller. I informed him right away I would not be buying his junk and he responded quickly saying it was Sunday and very slow so he would just walk with me. (I guess suckers only come out Monday- Saturday). I’m still not moving fast or I would have left him in the dust but I decided to make light of the situation and have a chat with him. He thinks all tourists are rich and will want to buy his crappy paintings. The conversation we had follows: I can afford to buy that painting yes but I am not going to buy junk. You need a better product to sell… Something unique to Tanzania or interesting to Africa. I pointed out things I liked along the way. Also, I was stern telling him not to follow people because it instantly turns people angry (primarily me). In his poorly spoken English, I learned: he bought that crap artwork from someone else in order to try to sell at double the price. This is his only job. He has 2 children with some woman and 1 with his wife of a year. (Men have custody of the kids and are responsible for support). Originally from Dodoma (country capitol) his parents are still living there and he is expected to send money home like all Tanzanian sons. I tried figuring out how many years he attended school and I got many different dates for various things but I worked out he went to school until 1980 and he is my age (I saw country card). That means he likely has the education of a first grader. He understands there aren’t jobs but he didn’t quite get working or business. After asking a few questions about street selling, I found out the police give fines to those who try to lay out their merchandise. To own a “store front,” you must get permission from the government and pay cash for the space. Those people who sell fruit in the markets (farmed by tribes in key locations) make the most money. His wife doesn’t work because she cares for the children and most days he does not sell anything. At $5 a painting, he would probably be in good shape if he sold 2 a week. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of him on the streets of Arusha. It was a long 45 minutes but I got far more out of it than he did. He has a serious foot injury from when he was 10, which means any physical work is difficult for him. We compared our scars. It is also the reason he gave for just getting married. His wife who he met at church is considered old for marriage at the ripe age of 28. I don’t understand how defective he could have been if he fathered 2 children already. Men and women here concern themselves very much with the ability to produce children. Anyway, we arrived at the Shop Rite. I tipped him 5000 shilling or $4 and I told him to make sure his son went to school. I know it will never happen but what I did is what many aide organizations do too. I made myself feel better by giving him that money knowing his kid will never go to school. I hope he can at least feed the kids for the week. Back to my original mission….the grocery store. I had grand illusions that I would find baby and facial wipes to replenish my depleting American supply and I was in desperate need for nail polish remover. (It was a rough safari). The Shop Rite is massive. If I had to describe it, I guess I would say it’s like an abandoned warehouse. I mean there were several birds flying in the rafters. Stocked with fruits and vegetables and plenty of beverages -an entire aisle of wine- what I found is that it lacks food. The shelves are empty. It’s pretty hysterical. I walked down the convenience aisle and found canned beans, minced meats and tuna fish–nothing else. The cereal aisle had toys in it and the toiletry aisle had a few rolls of toilet paper and a whole lot of hardware and tools. I decided it was more about finding what I will never need rather than finding things that could supplement my American amenities. Then, I had an idea. Babies…..I darted over to the baby aisle which had shampoo and conditioner for African women and a few jars of vaseline and food for babies. Ok so much for that. I had to rethink my strategy and improvise. I bought baby shampoo, napkins (definitely can serve as kleenex), some revlon conditioner and nail polish remover and even nail polish. I was pretty psyched. Last on my list, I needed a needle and thread. I found the thread but there were needles of all different sizes and none that looked remotely familiar. I settled on a set of 4. To make matters worse, the Shop Rite closes at noon on Sunday and the guards were hot on my trail to finish. Good thing I’m eating out while in Arusha. Before signing off, I want you to know I’m not likely to be a domestic woman anytime soon. I took that needle and thread and tried for several hours to sew my hat and shirt and after a temper tantrum, threading and re-threading and many jabs that drew blood I gave up. I’ll happily donate my needle and thread and nail polish to my housekeeping ladies who incidentally gave me the kiss kiss welcome back.

Africa, Destinations

More Animals and Even More Food

January 16, 2009 • By

I left the coffee plantation amply fed as I had pancakes (the huge American kind), eggs, banana muffins, mangos and pineapple. All the goodies were homemade of course.

We left Lake Manyara and headed to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the crater I’ve been dying to see. The crater was actually created about 2 million years ago by volcanoes and a shifting of plates. What I got to see was a huge hole about 5,000 feet above sea level (I was standing at 7,000 on the rim). It was dry other than a few pools of water and quite vast. It’s home to the black rhino which I had to settle on seeing with binoculars but many other species of animals like the buffalo, cheetah, leopard and some elephants.

I had a picnic lunch my myself as my guide picked up 2 friends and the plopped me on some stool and went off chatting in Kiswahili without me for an hour. Why is it when you are literally in a car for 10 hours a day do these safari people feel the need to feed you like a hippo? I mean a sandwich, chicken, apple, cheese, biscuits, juice a chocolate bar and a hard boiled egg is not a boxed lunch. It’s a feast.

>From there, we went to a Maasai village and here’s where it got interesting. I made a donation of about $60. The community chief greeted me (on my crutches) and I was escorted to the village. As I turned the corner, a wall of women on one side and men on the other busted out in some chant-song. The men were jumping up and down. I was told to build muscle but it looked like they were going up for a lay up (check spelling). The women looked old and decrepit. This particular village had 120 people. Many of the women have 7 children and the men 4-8 wives.

After the “performance” was over, the leader took me to a house to learn more about the Maasai. They are nomads so often build dwellings quickly. The women are the builders and the houses cannot be taller than 4 feet and probably about 5×5 in size. The floor is mud, the roof and sides are grass and there are 3 “rooms” in most homes. I found most of the Maasai to be tall so I hope they don’t sleep much. The spot where the husband and wife sleep looked like a puppy’s first bed. The children are in the other room and that was about the same size regardless of the number of kids.
The children are apparently being forced to school by the government but this leader told me when the government comes to check the kids run and hide in the bush.

The entire time I was at this village I wanted to learn but I also wanted to leave. There were flies everywhere. The people have these crazy holes in their ears for decoration. They are filthy and their dwellings would be too small for a midget. Yet, I was fascinated by their existence.

Remember those two “guides” that we picked up? After the Maasai village, my mysterious men and I turned off a barren path which none of the other trucks were taking. I was gravely concerned for my life and kept asking where we were going and why weren’t any other vehicles on this road. I didn’t know what to think as the 3 merry men were going on and on in their native tongue. We were stopping to look at animals which I took as a good indicator I was not about to be kidnapped or raped but I wasn’t entirely sure. My exit plan would not have been effective either since I can’t run and I was in a enormous field with nowhere to hide.

I managed to get an sms through to Jack to tell him I was in a big field in Ngorongoro in case I was never heard from again. And then, my GSM went down and I never got to tell him I was ok. After a tumultuous ride, I arrived at my tented camp in one piece. I immediately took my guide aside and said don’t ever take me somewhere again without telling me where I am going. Secondly, I’m on a continent where you hear everyday about rape and kidnapping and you picked up two people you called guides. I have no idea who to trust (those men later served me dinner. Ooops) and the entire afternoon I felt uncomfortable nauseous and was not able to enjoy the animals. Herman felt very bad so I ended with don’t ever take an American down that path and if a woman is alone you should never pick up any other people. It is not safe and certainly not acceptable.

My GSM went on briefly– I told Patrick and Jack I was fine and I ate another massive potato and meat dinner before retiring to the sound of hungry hyenas and another sleepless night in the bush.