Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Out East and Down the Coast

Moshi - through Jan 3 - 2009

I spend NYE with the volunteers from my house here. We have a grand old time. I feel like I've returned home. I left my heart in Moshi. Michelle isn't feeling well and then some, so I leave her to recuperate for the next few days before she starts work in Moshi.

I learn a couple of new things here in Moshi.

Dar es Salaam is a bad place to import goods to. The locals would rather drive to Mombasa and then cart it over the border. Damn socialist government.

Remittances from abroad is difficult. Most citizens don't have bank accounts or credit cards. Bank transfer fees are ridiculously high. Money going out of the country is easy, money coming into this country not so simple. I spend some time trying to educate a few on import/export business, but I don't know if it is worth my effort of time. Does my effort even matter anymore? I realize I am getting jaded. I need a vacation.

When Africans want to move FAST - haraka haraka - they really do move FAST. No Pole Pole Normally you can a ticket from Moshi to Dar the day before or the morning of. After the New year, there weren't any tickets, not for two days after. And its not just Mzungus (foreigners) traveling. These are locals. Apparently most of them go back to Dar for work and return to Moshi for the holidays. There is a line in front of me of natives trying to get tickets the day before and they are also turned away. It is early in the day and I actually have a local Tanzanian do the asking for me, but that doesn't even work. My suspicions are confirmed when I visit a bookstore in Dar es Salaam the next week and hear the same story from the fellow work manages the store; his hometown is also Moshi.

Dar es Salaam - through Jan 5, 2009, & Jan 11

Originally I was going to join two volunteers to make the trip to Zanzibar but I miss getting a bus ticket. Perhaps that's fate. Because I went solo, I decided to stop in Dar for a day and see the commercial capital. From the 12 floor of downtown dar - city centre. It is a mess. I show someone the picture and she says it looks like Mexico City. I'm not sure what that looks like but Dar downtown has lot of buildling that are about to fall apart, completely ruined crumbling. Actually some of them have already crumbled and are just lying there. And people live in the ruins. Then you have interspersed some really new high rises, mostly banks and government buildings that are shiny, new and towering. They don't care about restoring old arabic looking architecture here. Later I find out why - the Arabs ruled Zanzibar in the past and they don't restore buildlings - because of the corrosion from the sea, when buildlings get old they just tear and rebuild. I would hope that they do keep the world heritage sites in tact but you can also see that some of the less important ones aren't really maintained and falling apart in Stone Town.

On my way back from Zanzibar, I stop again through Dar. The airline booked this hotel for me because my flight to Jo'burg is so early the next day, and the commuter flight from Zanzibar does not flight earlier than 6:30 am. This hotel - slipway- is far from the downtown and the lower residential old town that I visited on my initial pass through Dar. It is a completely different town north of the city centre. Two to three lane streets, major beer industries, toyota dealers. I saw it all at 5 am, but had it been a picture I could have almost placed it in the industrial area of hong kong. The Embassy/UN section is well built out, nicely developed, a far stretch from the town. A completely different city. I'm only at slipway for about 12 hrs but I don't like it. It is a hotel/mall. It is way too americanized. They even play NCAA basketball on the TV in the pub in the mall.

Onward to Zanzibar - through Jan 10, 2009

One word: Unsettling.

I had to hunt for tickets at the ferry in Dar and got harrassed a lot. Thankfully with a little rudimentary swahili I was able to tell the touts off. If you know how people are here, you can get them to go away, but that's only after spending a month in this country, AND it still takes work to get them to stop. They keep asking, also how do you know Swahili and want to know everything about you. How awful for travelers otherwise. I saw two americans backpackers staring straight with this look of fear on their faces while I walked through the streets of Dar and tried to say hi to them. I think they were experiencing culture shock and didn't even say anything. Oh, and another thing you won't see in a 1st world country - on the ferry to zanzibar, they all laze about on the floor. Hardly anyone sits on the seats, not matter how well off they are. they like to hang on the rails or nap on the floor of the ferry. Clearly jeans are a status symbol here. Most of the tanzanians who travel have some money and they all wear jeans. Some designer, others not.

Side note about clothes - if you think you are doing good by donating your clothes for charities here in Africa. Think Again. The donated clothes aren't being given away to the people who really need it. They are being resold to exporters who then sell to resellers and resellers and resellers here in Africa. Profits are made in between for various qualities of used clothes. Lots of people here are sporting t-shirts from various univerities or rock concerts or cafes. They don't know what it means. Don't ask them if they went to University of Alabama. They got the shirt from some 2nd/3rd/4th hand store. And yes the items here are resold again and again. Aid can be dirty.

The first few nights in Zanzibar I had a hard time. I stayed at this place which was next to a disco and I completely regretted it. It made me miserable. And I got ripped off by the brit that was running the place. It was worse than the cheapest place in Moshi. I moved to Stone Town just to get some sleep at a good place run by Indian folks who know how to do it right. With my plane leaving south in just 4 days, I had to decide between going north to Kendwa or to stay in Stone Town. I opted for the latter on advice of a local and also because I can see beach anywhere in California.

Stone Town is a veritable maze, filled with tourists, vendors and then some. Lets just say that my time in Moshi has equipped me well to deal with the hassle on this island. I HATE the hassle, and no where worse is it than here in Zanzibar. I was insulted several times by locals because of my race. I was ready to slap on a burka just so they couldn't see my face and think I am local, just to avoid the harrassment.

The longer I have been in Tanzania, the lower my respect for european tourists became. I don't mean to say this for all european tourists, but especially germans started to irritate me more and more the way they treated the natives. In one shop I literally was moved verbally and physically to the side by some germans. And its not just here, I've heard worse stories in Moshi; one of the American girls I was living with wanted to punch the lights out of European who treated the natives like shit. They are just reinforcing how the colonialists treated people.

It is also disappointing how few locally made goods are sold here. I really had to hunt for Tanzanian made goods. A lot of what is being sold are imports from Thailand, India...South Africa.

I did an nice tour of the architecture and the spice plantations. The plantations were touristy but neat; to get there I get a ride on the back of a vespa. So much safer and different from Kampala. It's actually clean on the streets here. And a lot less scary. Architecturally it really is a beautiful town, some of it is crumbling and others still OK. I wandered into some of the residential areas just to see how people live. In these areas there is less hassle and off the tourist trap. Some of the natives stop to chat with me. We have a good, friendly discussion. I discover that there is a lot of mixing of bloodlines here. Several of the young men were half oman, half zanzibar, others half indian, half zanzibar. A lot of muslims; in my confusion in the heat, I almost stepped into a mosque improperly dressed once, thinking it was a museum; I was called quickly out thankfully before any damage could be done. Mindless hassling aside, it is otherwise a beautiful place.

Maputo, Mocambique - through Jan 15, 2009

Before I arrived I heard from various Tanzanians that Mocambique is a rough place. I was not going to take any chances, especially because I don't know a word of portuguese.

The place I'm staying at is good, near the UNDP and its cousins. A really quiet comfortable B&B running around 50-60 USD. Really quiet. No hassle. Nobody staring at me. I find it ironic that I can actually rest here in Maputo. It is more peaceful than Zanzibar and I'm getting more sleep. My favorite place so far. The owners are really nice quiet portuguese.

I haven't been to the downtown area of maputo, but will tomorrow. Just walking around yesterday, there isn't much hassle on the major streets, compared to Tanzania. And yes, relatively little hassle from the street vendors. Then again I probably don't know what hassle is because most people speak Portuguese here, but very few people ask me to buy things, and they certainly don't follow you and pressure you to buy like the Tanzanians do.

The local food is GOOD, compared to the bit of fare I ate in the Jo'burg airport on a stopover -- the food from a chain cafe was atrocious. In Maputo, they actually flavor their meat well here. Most of the goods in the supermarkets are imported from Italy, Spain, Venezuela, a lot of Brazil, and of course South Africa. In general it appears that they like to trade with their Latin sisters.

Unlike Rwanda, most people here in Maputo don't speak English. I have to work to find people who do. The signs are all in Portuguese. The owners of the patisserie where I ate lunch didn't speak a word of english and neither did their staff, except one black guy who apparently was brought in over the South African border from Koomatiport. They know how to cook here.

There are a few individuals staying here, not families or couples. I'm not sure what their business is, but they don't bother me, and I really like that. It seems like some are here to do NGO/UN work. The NGOs here are really wealthy. The cars are really new and nice here; you don't see a lot of broken down cars like up north.

For once, it is nice to have some down time and to do nothing, just sleep, eat, laze around, watch movies, and most importantly not feel hassled!!


Next Stop, Jo'burg.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Rounding out East Africa: Rwanda, Uganda

Kampala 057
Animals symbolizing districts of Uganda
Its been a while since I wrote. Funny how when you stop writing, you also stop hearing from people. Bummer. Does that mean when I fall off the face of the planet, nobody will remember me? Even on my birthday in 2 weeks? Scary depressive thought.

Throughout this entire trip, I've been debating if the some of the crazy throughts are the effects of depression and dementia caused by malaria prophylaxis. Everyone says that Malarone shouldn't have any side effects but for an extremely drug sensitive person like me, anything will have an effect. Some of you even know that after 1 benadryl I can't even drive a car straight. I hate how drugs f*** with my body. Over the past two months, I notice that I get weird dreams and mild stomach cramps, depending on what time of day I take Malarone. It also seems to have more of an effect during different hormone cycles. I'm just really glad I'm not on Mefloquine, because people who are on that have experienced much more severe effects - hallucinatory, depression etc. The way I've been coping is to keep myself extremely busy, but since I've been traveling alone, and taking a break its been a little difficult.

I've mentally checked out since I left Moshi. A lot of the stress of traveling with another person and living with other people are gone, but I can't say if it's any better by yourself, especially because I've suddently become a bigger target for hassle.

Backlog to Kampala, Kigali -- I'll try and make this as short as possible.

KIST, Kigali, Rwanda
Chalkboards covered in partial differential equations at KIST

Kigali, Rwanda - Dec 27, 2008

The plane ride from Kilimanjaro to Kigali was ok, except the landing was a bit rough. Propeller planes and cross winds don’t do too well together. When we get to Kigali, everything is shut when we try to visit, even the genocide memorial. You know what is funny is that I am not here just to visit the memorial. I’m not a fan of miserable sites. I don’t like to come in with high expectations either, because that just creates disappointment. We are wandering the town and the university teaching hospital is there. We try to get a tour but can’t. There isn’t anything there until Monday, and I’m trying rudimentary French to get us by.

The fact of the matter though is that most people speak English. The only place where we heard French spoken widely was at the hospital. Everyone on the street, the stores, etc were speaking English. We are told the streets that we walk on are were the horrors happened. People’s bodies were strewn all over and dogs started eating them. They had to shoot all the dogs later because they had developed a taste for human flesh. Because the memorial was closed we went to Hotel des Milles Collins, where many refugees were hidden in the pool. Part of this hotel is being renovated, including the pool area. It has a 1960s architecture. Nothing mentioning the genocide. But everyone here is affected by it in someway. Even our bartender at the hotel who is the only surviving member of his family. I find the stories from the locals fascinating and telling of what happened here.

KIST's Original Old Building.

We stumble across KIST. I remember seeing this briefly in some lonely planet guide and we walk on in. The place is open, thankfully. KIST is the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology. I was curious to know where the current standards were. The first few buildings we saw were old and decrepit. There is sign above one that says the institute was funded by UNDP and was started in 1997. We wander around and pass by a cafeteria. Some of the students are still hanging out watching football in the cafeteria. A student follows us out and we say that we are just visiting, looking at the grounds. He is a 5th year civil engineering student here. As we walk further into the grounds the buildings change rapidly. There are giant, new buildings, that rival some of the largest research buildings I’ve seen at Stanford university, and in silicon valley. The newest building has not opened and was built by a Chinese construction company. The building was financed by the UNDP and the land was donated by the government. The land was previously military compounds and you can still see remants of buildings around the campus. Within the next few years, a new stadium will be built and another tract of land has been allocated for building dorms for students.

The new research buildling will be dedicated for research in the pure sciences: bio, chem, physics. Most of the labs here are closed; we only have a peek through the cracks of the doors. But what is most telling is what is being taught here. There are both science and engineering departments at KIST. The blackboards are covered with the last set of review material before exams a few weeks ago. Just looking at the math told me a lot. This is definitely NOT a toy technical school. They mean serious business. I see applications in multivariable calculus, partial differential equations, summations and statistics at a level I did not even study. They had a food science technology program, electrical engineering, civil engineering and more. Our student guide, Francis tells us that many of the professors are expats, from Russian, Bulgaria, America, India. They are given research opportunities in addition to teaching and many visiting professors also come to exchange ideas. KIST is Approaching World class. And I was impressed. Not even 10 years after the start, they are well on their way to moving Rwanda forward with this institution. They have multiple campuses spread out throughout Rwanda. This campus sits above the prime minister’s house and supports 2000 government sponsored students and about 3000 private students and night school students. To me, this paints a positive outlook for the country.

We go to this place called Heaven restaurant on the last night. The view is beautiful. From reading a bit about the restaurant it sounds like an american funded it and trains locals to deliver a restuarant/bar to NYC standards. While we're eating a chinese guy approaches me and starts chatting it up with me in Shanghainese! It is a little spoken dialect of chinese and I can't read or write it. About 7 million people only speak it worldwide, and its mostly concentrated near the city of Shanghai, China. He isn't the first one I met on the street that day; 3 others cornered me at a store to ask me where I'm from and other sorts of questions. They don't get to see many of their native people here in Rwanda. But most of them are from Chinese road, infrastructure and construction companies that are under contract to build for Rwanda. (I'm assuming something like the UNDP financed buildings at KIST).

Kampla, Uganda - through Dec 31, 2008

The Parliament, Kampala Uganda
The Ugandan Parliament

We get tickets for the bus to Kampala. It costs 8000 Ugsh for an 8 hr ride. That's about 16 USD. It leaves at 5:45 am, so we really have to scramble to get there on time. There is no announcement when the bus leaves. It just jerks and takes off whenever it feels like it. I have trouble remembering where my ticket is, and they come by and check it several times. Its really hard to dig for things in your bag with a cup of coffee and while the bus is swerving 180 degrees to 180 degrees every 20 seconds. Harrowing. Along the way we see a few accidents. The driving is madness. They bypass cars on curved roads.

When we first get on the bus, we run into a guy who is a money changer. He was in the back wearing a suit and so I thought he was the Kampala coach bus employee. So wrong was I. I hold out tanzanian shillingsand ask him to change it. I ask him for the rate, and then hand over some 200,000 TZSh and 10,000 RwFr. I get back about 190,000 Ugsh. Which is not good, but at 5:45 am, groggy, I know that it can't be that far off. She then hands him about 60,000 TZSh and says nothing, he hands her 32,000 Ush. Only 2 hrs later after a bone jarring swerving ride through the Rwandan mountains when we get out at the border I realize something is NOT right.

2 hrs later, we get out and form a line for the Rwandan exit border. You have to walk across the border to Uganda, and the bus waits for you on the other side. During the walk across I am hounded by Money Changers. I hear them yell out the exchange rate. I mention TZSh and one guy says I give you UgSH 1 to 1 for TZSh. SHIT. I start freaking out. I didn't think of it this morning but now it registers that Ugandan is 1700, and Tanzanian is 1300 to 1 USD. That means I got SCREWED. How much I don't know and I am groggy as all hell. The guys hound me. One has a calculator. I trying to do math in my head and think about if i did get screwed or not. I look in my pocket and there is only about 28000 USH. Did the guy actually give me only 10% of what I am supposed ot have?? Panic starts to set in. We are yelled at by the Bus staff to move it and get our visa at the Ugandan border. They are yelling at us. I am yelling back still stupidly thinking that the money changer was one of the staff. I'm realizing now that it wasn't. The bus staff are angry we aren't moving. I get in line. Michelle is begging for money from me because she doesn't have enough cash for her visa. I can't think straight. The bus driver is yelling at me at the VISA booth and telling me to go. He looks like he is going to punch me. I forget my passport, but Michelle is right behind me. Thankfully the customs agent gives it to her and we get back in the bus.

Kampala markets
Outside one of Kampala's Markets
Back in the bus, I count all of the money I have and I realize I am probably only short about 20 USD equivalent. But the exchange was not as bad as 50% exchange rate that Michelle got. As we cross the border, we get internet access on the iphones. There is no Edge internet in Rwanda. The landscape also changes dramatically. Rwanda has dozens of densely packed hills close together with very small valleys. Uganda is better farm land and you can see it change quickly. The hills are further apart and the valleys are ripe with irrigation and agriculture. The land is truly rich. It goes from hilly and spaced valleys to plains and rain forest all within a space of 6 hrs driving to Kampala.

 As we get closer to Kampala, more people board the bus. Michelle and I get split up and two natives sit between us. One of them is a parasitologist from Kampala. He gives me an informative tour of the country as we pass it. There is a lot of really rich land here but a lot of people don’t really want to do more than what they have to, according to him. It is sad, but he says it is part of the culture. And culture is hard to change in the people. We pass through several national parks on the drive. I have my own personal tour guide! He tells me about the problems with the Congo. The land there is exceptionally wealthy and he thinks that it will never be developed because everyone is always fighting over it. Kampala is full of slums on the edge. This is the dirtiest city I have seen yet here in East Africa. It is ridiculous. How much garbage and sewage there is here.

Kampala 054
Mosque in Kampala, Uganda

We see bulls with giant horns that local to Uganda. And then lots of Mzungu cows. It similar in many ways to Tanzania, but also different in small ways. The land is really green lush and rich for the most part. Along the road, we even pass the equator; there is a giant ring to mark the spot. Along the way we see an overturned truck full of wood. The bus ride is not an easy one. Several times I felt like it was going to tip on its side. Lots of by passing but the driver also doesn’t seem to have much concern for the bumps. The speed that he went over several of the bumps sometimes threw us up out of our seats in the bus.

Market in Kampala
Driving is crazy here in Uganda. It makes Tanzanian driving look nice. There are also motorbike taxis here like those in Rwanda. I brave my guts and actually get on the back of one these. They're called boda bodas. It costs about 2000 Ugsh to get to town from the 5-7 km where we are. Actually I'm terrified so I make a deal with the driver to pay him more if he drives safely. Some of the worst accidents happen on these bikes; there are women who ride them in skirts - sitting SIDEWAYS - on the bikes - extremely dangerous. The daladalas here all have a blue T marked on them. Unlike the ones in Tanzania, there is no sign for the destination, so its up to the money collector/caller to yell out the destination continuously; a very tiring job.

At the hostel, we meet a couple of German boys who are down from Yei, Sudan for the holidays. They just arrived and are looking to bargain a price for a city tour. The three of them are working for a German missionary in Sudan. Two of them are building houses and the third is working in accounting in the offices. Yes you heard that right they are on the Southern part of Sudan. We split a city tour of Kampala with them and visit the mosque, the parliament, a few markets and lake victoria - the source of the nile. The mosque we visit is huge.
Kampala, Uganda
Shopping in Kampala
What's interesting is this - Yei is on the southern border of sudan and is tightly protected by UN helicopters and other armed vehicles. The area of conflict is isolated to a part more east, but not very far away at all. In fact in the daily papers, there is a map of the conflict area and you can see that Yei is also on the map within a few hundred kilos or perhaps less. They have been living in Yei for more than 8 months and will stay for almost another year. From the pictures I've seen, a lot of the village looks like every other village in east africa. The same kind of mud huts, markets, the same kind of dress. More of the houses are grass thatch instead of corrugated metal. Even a sign says "Karibu" so we know that Swahili can extend that far north. As dangerous as the media makes of Sudan, it's not the whole country. And parts of it where these fellows work are tightly protected. The Southern part of Sudan is also experiencing a good amount of grown lately, people from Kenya and Uganda have been migrating over is masses to open more commerce there in the region.

Don't believe everything you read. hehe

Kampala, Uganda
Sitting inside the Ugandan Parliament

After a few days, Michelle is not feeling well and wants to fly to Kilimanjaro, so We don't make it to Nairobi. Durn. I would have like to see big bad Nairobi but maybe next time. We make a bee line for Moshi. On the flight, we are joined by the national Tanzanzian soccer team. Their head coach and assistant coach is importo from Brazil. Pretty cool. I have a neat chat with the old man and learn a few things. Their team is young. They are scrimmaging with other east african countries and recently with Sudan. One of the young fellows taps me so that he can borrow the newspaper I'm reading. This is typical of Tanzanians. Papers are for sharing, even with Mzungus. If you're holding it and not reading it, you'll get poked to share it. Same thing happened on the ferry to Zanzibar.