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.

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