Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hello from Moshi

November 24, 2008

It is Monday morning 6am as I write this. I’ve been here in a village several km from Moshi now for 2 days.


The flight from Boston to Amsterdam was pretty awful. I was ready to puke when we landed; the turbulence was really bad. It was compounded by the snowstorm that peaked about an hour after arrival. On a more positive note, I did see something exciting at the newsstand before I left. I thought I was hallucinating but the cover of GQ magazine was definitely moving like those movable pictures from Harry Potter. Upon closer inspection, I discovered it was the first commercialization of E-Ink! How exciting. I’ve heard about it for years, but never saw it out on the street so I had assumed they were still years away from it being practical. It’s a bit thick – the cover feels like a flexible CD. The actual display is super thin, but I was somewhat disappointed by the thickness of the circuit board inside. It was really hard not to buy a copy and take it apart. I have to stay and pack light. Hopefully the board will also flex like the display soon? Okay I will shut up and stop being a technophile now.

Its been a really long time since I’ve been at Schipol Airport but honestly, I am somewhat disappointed by it. Virtually everything is in English. It is so Anglicized and Americanized. The guy who sells coffee to you speaks perfect English. You have to hunt to find the real Dutch, even on the signs it’s a bit obscured. It really feels a bit like walking into an Ikea. Okay I guess for American travelers and there a shitload of them. Even the KLM flight on the way down is chalk full of them and a bunch of annoying pushy French people. A lot of white people on the plane to Kilimanjaro. Not so many black people. Almost no asian people. Some middle easterners.

KiliAirport02 By the time we get to Kilimanjaro, it is pitch dark. And you can see nothing. KLM lets you disembark from the plane straight onto the ground like the good old days. It’s the only major aircraft that’s sitting on the runway. It is hot and humid. We get our luggage and the driver collects us into a van. It is really dark outside. The major road between Arusha and Moshi is this 2 lane road that’s not lit at all. It’s kind of like the main road to Gerlach, NV. No, nix that. This 2 lane road is the equivalent of 101 or I 95 in the usa. Stars everywhere outside at night. We drive past a row of trees and it smells incredible. Everyone’s asking what kind of tree, and we find out that its called a “Christmas tree”. There are a lot of these in town.

We’re taken to a really nice house. I mean, the house here is really nice. It’s off a dirt road, but completely westernized. It reminds me a bit of, south east asian architecture. There are actually 2 houses in this compound. We stay in the back. Cell service works here. And it’s really strong, with iPhone Edge access. Unlike what AT&T told me the internet is getting pushed here. I’m impressed. I don’t even get a cell signal in Gerlach, NV.

The first night is always really hard after any trip that takes you more than 8 time zones away. It usually takes me about 1-2 weeks to adjust when going to south east asia. Here we are 10 hrs ahead of Pacific Coast time in California. Even though I was on the east coast for a week cutting 3 hrs off doesn’t really make a dent. I feel wasted. But I can’t sleep. There are a ton of really loud animals here that come alive in the middle of the night. The dogs are out of control. They’re mostly wild dogs and are bone thin, scrawny with fleas. We learn later that the dogs are always at odds with the bush babies that come out at night.

The elder women here in Tanzania are called Mamas, whether they have kids or now. Our house Mama is called Mama Lilian. She gives us the scoop on how to behave here. And I’m about to fall asleep as she drones on about the rules and what we should expect. Half way through, oh the irony -- We’re told not to use drugs here. Or we’ll be booted from the premises immediately. And just as she says that, there’s a waft of sweet smelling pot that floats by. It’s smells sweet. Not like American stuff that’s rolling around and a bit bitter. We all really try hard to keep a straight face.

About half the house is full when we arrive. They are mostly younger volunteers between 18-25. Some students, other young people on a gap year. A lot of them are teaching at nursery schools or working with young kids in elementary schools. In Tanzania, it is required by law for all children to go to school through 7th grade. It is paid by the government, but the parents have to pay for the uniforms and some other small fee (I think). Sorry I don’t know if my facts are all straight because I was too tired to pay attention. There are a lot of information sessions the first couple of days. Thankfully there are only 5 new people to get to know. There are about 8 volunteers that are already here from the previous session; many of them are here for the maximum duration of 12 weeks.

We’re given a tour around Moshi town. We almost run over a tiny dog. It is SO loud. These tiny scrappy dogs. On our way to town some bus cuts ahead of us. The back of it is covered with Chinese characters. Apparently a lot of buses and older cars from Asia and Europe are just imported here and driven as is. People drive scary fast here and lots of people hang off the edge of daladalas and trucks.

The driver takes us away from the town because the kids want to visit an art market. They are set up in little stalls. The art is pretty good. We even see a bob marley flag. People certainly know how to do business here. We are told it is low tourist season, so expect more hassling and haggling. One of the volunteers here mentions that its really hard to say no to locals that hassle you repeatedly. After a while you just cave in and buy something.

Downtown there are lots of little stores. Most of the smaller vendors are on dirt floors. Higher end stores have concrete on the base. I figured correctly not to bring a lot with me; you can get a lot of goods here. In the supermarkets, a lot of the goods on the shelves are imported from the Europe, UAE, Doha, Japan, China, etc. What else do you expect? Not much US imported goods comparatively. There’s basically M&Ms and Coca cola.

I’m so exhausted by the end of the first full day here I even miss dinner. I sleep from 3pm until 6am the next morning. By the end of the first day ankles are super swollen. I am really terrified. I’m not sure it’s from a blood clot or from the airplane or whatever. My dad had the same thing happen before his quad bypass.

I have two roommates here. They are really nice. One is in her late 30s, Chandra, and was formerly a teacher. The other, Louisa is a former nurse and in her 60s. Everyone is pretty poa (cool). I’m actually really happy that I’m not sharing a room with anyone who is a pain. Chandra is from the bay area just like me. I dig her, we are both here with iPhones. She is crazy she even brought a laptop and all the rest of the electronic junk.

I actually make it dinner the 2nd day we are here. The jet lag is especially awful because I am already sleep dep’d from D.C. and Boston. Towards the end of the 3rd day my ankles begin to reduce their swelling, thankfully. And I’m ok to get up and walk around. I am getting kicked off the computer now.

Till next time, Kwa Herini.

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