September 2007 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

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Meru again.

30/9/2007 - Back to Consciousness

On Saturday evening I had ventured out briefly to look at a plot of land that one of Rehema's neighbours, who works for the municipality, knew about. Prior to that we'd seen a couple in Njiro 'A' block with Rehema's brother, that looked like possibilities. The one from yesterday made it three.

Today I felt I was back in the land of the living. In the morning we went to get Adia a ticket to Dar on Tanzanian Airlines so she could go in the morning and get herself registered for her internship as a lawyer. Now I think Tanzania is a great place, but there are certain areas where it definitely needs to get its act together. This is the national airline I'm talking about. The bookshop next door takes Visa cards, but the airline does not take cards at all. We had to go and find an ATM that was working, and stand in line to get cash to buy an airline ticket. OK, vent over.

In the afternoon we went out with Rehema in Ali's CRV, which I was allowed to drive to see if I liked it, and he's considering selling it. Once we'd ritually driven from the tarmac Njiro road to each of the plots, it was clear that the latest - let's call it #3, although a tad smaller than I'd like, certainly had the most of that elusive quality 'location'. It's only about 200m from the main road, down a good level track, has a good view of herself the mountain, and the neighbourhood is better. There's are still two better pieces of land that I've seen, but at the moment I have not discovered who they belong to, or if they are available for sale.

It was good to drive again, and I managed the automatic transmission better than last time I made the transition - it always scares me not having a clutch. However I'm not sure about the CRV. I want to look at the Nissan X-Trail, and the Isuzu Bighorn, and would prefer a diesel engine as they are usually more economical and last longer.


Ramadan Adia making chuppaties.

28/9/2007 - Now You Tell Us

Yesterday Adia called the office at the place where the apartments are, as part of a policy to pester them until they threw someone out to give us one. Not surprisingly, the answer was no, but, said the man, we are working on some smaller three bedroom houses that will only be $50 a month more than the two-bedroom apartment. They were expecting to have one ready by the end of the first week in October - would we be interested in that? The words "gormless twit, why didn't you mention that before" flashed through my mind, but all was rapidly forgiven, and we said yes. So today, the first order of business was to go there again to see the premises, and to sign up and give them a deposit. The house was fine - still bigger than we need - but actually a better layout from our point of view, with a large combined kitchen and living area. There was one bad moment when I discovered a clause in their contract that said 'no pets', which looked like a show stopper. But the man said this was aimed at dogs, and the cat would be OK, so we breathed again.

We went into town to do odds and ends, then Adia went back to Rehema's where she'd arranged to meet someone to do Ramadan things. I went to Via Via to have a couple of Kilis in a vaguely celebratory mood. The mood did not last long. Adia had said she would come and meet me when she was through, but took ages. As the afternoon wore on I began to feel distinctly crappy, and OK, it wasn't just the beer. Kili is only 4.5%, so I'm not blaming that - didn't have that much anyway. By the time Adia came I decided that we'd better just go on back home. I felt very weak, and my left ear was uncomfortable. When we got home I had no appetite - much to Rehema's consternation. Some ear drops were obtained and applied, and I went to bed after dinner, and stayed there until Saturday evening.

I had taken pictures of a variety of things, including the house, but they don't see to have survived. Usually this means that the camera got accidentally adjusted to some obscure setting when I pulled it out of my pocket. Must do better.
24/9/2007 - On Hold

Nothing much to report but more wasted time. We did not hear from the cable company as promised on the Friday. On the Saturday after a little pestering, we got an SMS that said the cable extension would be difficult and expensive. We replied asking if this meant they would do it or they would not, and if they would, what would it cost. There was no reply. Being somewhat desperate at that point, and not wishing to turn down work I was slated to do for R2K, I suggested that we revisit our living arrangements. A couple of weeks back, we had seen some furnished two bedroom apartments that were less than we had been paying in Bangalore. The snag at that point was that there were none of them available. So on Monday morning we phoned the man we had spoken to about them, and he said that he had in fact just got a quit notice, and that one of the apartments would be available on the 1st of September.

We dashed round there immediately to nail it down before anyone else got in. He showed us the apartment, and there was the promised Internet connection connected to the guy's computer, with its modem lights twinkling away presumably downloading an OS update. On the way there, Adia had got a message from Barclays bank to say that her account had been opened. It seemed like the day was on the up and up. We went to Barclays to get the paperwork, and Adia got her debit card there and then - another positive surprise. We pressed our luck and went on to see Rehema at work to break the news about the apartment. She did not want us to leave, but reluctantly accepted the logic of it.

We then had to zoom back to the apartment to get the info I needed to call the bank back in the US to find out how I could do a wire transfer to the new account. On the way Adia noticed that her name was misspelled on the new account paperwork, so she went back to Barclays while I went to TTCL to make the international call. My call was a success, I discovered that there was no great complication to it. Barclays advised Adia to leave the spelling as it was, and just use that spelling for any matters relating to the account.

It seemed like it had been a good day. We set off to pay the man a deposit on the apartment, and called him to say we would be a few minutes late. He said he was sorry, but the man currently renting the apartment had decided to stay on. There was no vacancy. So I have to tell R2K that there's no immediate prospect of me being able to work on the expected project, which is a loss.

As a small bright spot, on the way home we met a man on the bus who runs the security for the UN Rwanda Commission here in Arusha. Gerald, as he's called, took us up the road where he lived to show us his house and plots available in that area. His house was on the other side of the main Njiro road where we had never been. There's a ridge that runs north/south on that side of the road, and as we reached its crest, there in the distance, in all its snow capped splendour, was big brother Kilimanjaro sticking his head above the clouds. Both volcanoes in good view like a family group.

Gerald is an amateur miner, and has a couple of claims he's working for gem stones at the moment. He has a blasting license and everything - was an artillery major with the Tanzanian army, commanding a Katushka regiment. All being well (if my foot is sufficiently recovered) he will take me to see his current mining activities on Saturday morning. I'm quite excited - he has some interesting stones.


African sky on a lazy afternoon.


Masai jumping.

20/9/2007 - On Hold

The question of immediate living space was finally resolved when Rehema's brother Adam came to size up the situation. He reckoned that one of the downstairs rooms in the annex was large enough to make into a bedroom with a small but perfectly functional en-suite bathroom. That would be cheaper than the alternatives. The idea was adopted by all, and a suitable payment regime was worked out. So now Adam's lads are at it, making this so.

On Monday I had gone into town with Rehema in the morning to have some illicit breakfast, and to try and get an Internet connection sorted out. I went to a company that Samuel had recommended, and they told me that I should either come back at 09:30 next day, when there would be a technician present, or I should phone in the exact address so he could come and determine whether it was feasible. That kind of put a stop to activity in that direction for the day, so having nothing better to do, I figured I'd walk back to Njiro. This was fine as general aerobic exercise - maybe 8km - but in the new boots, it also made my feet rather sore. As a result, I changed into my brown cowboy boots when I got back to see if they would be any more comfortable. Then later I went back into town with Adia, stepped on a stone in the road with my boot heel, and turned my ankle. Not too badly, but enough to require general immobilization the next day if it was going to get better quickly. Also, in the evening, it transpired that Ali and Rehema already had a TV cable connection from the same company. They had got it in February, but not used it, and never paid for it, which created something of a hiatus, since having the technician come would likely stir things up. So consequently on the Tuesday I was constrained to doing as close as possible to nothing, though I did take the pictures.

On Wednesday, the uncertainty about the Internet connection persisted. I went into town with Rehema, and had some breakfast again, then for want of anything else to do I went and got my hair cut. The barber saw me coming and grossly overcharged me, so I shan't be going there again, especially after getting a bollocking from Adia and Rehema later for being so gullible. But if you don't know what it should cost, and you don't speak the language, what do you do other than pay up and grimace. Adia came into town later and we looked for entry-level legal type jobs at an Internet cafe - there weren't any, only jobs for people with years of experience. No further progress was made again.

Today, Rehema finally relented, and took us to the cable company. It seems that the Internet Connections and the TV are dealt with separately, so maybe they won't notice. If they do I've said I'll pay the back months. They are going to string up about half a kilometre of extra fibre to extend their backbone to me, and I'll have to pay for that. They should be able to get me on-line within three days at about 256kBits. That will probably do for now, particularly if I'm hooked directly to the fiber.

Ramadan is killing life as I know it, just as it did last year. Hopefully we'll repeat last years feat and come out of the 30 days without a divorce case. Then we can spend a couple of months getting to know each other again.



Rehema and Ali's house.


Masai with his charge Tariq.

15/9/2007 - Or Maybe Not

The extension at Rehema's house had seemed like a good idea, but overnight it spawned another. It was not clear that it would be simple to build the bathroom in another storey of the annex, and also the extension would involve Ali and Rehema in expenditure, which Adia and I wanted to avoid. Also Rehema's place is not Cali proof, being separated foam the next property only by a large thorny hedge. It occurred to me that if we bought our own plot, we could build a similar studio apartment on that just as quickly as it could be done on top of the annex. Of course this is an oversimplified assumption. Life in Africa being what it is, we'd have to build the wall around the property first, and get water and electricity laid on, and install the septic system, so of course it would take longer, but not that long, and in the meantime we could stay in the spare room as we would have done with the annex extension plan. At the end of the day, the studio apartment could be rented out to provide a little income, an idea that quite appealed to me.

Other than come up with this scheme, which I think is now the preferred plan, we didn't get much done today. By the time we'd got organized and into town, we were too late to do anything else at the bank, or in terms of cable Internet providers, so most of the day was spent looking at the shops in Arusha. There are lots of hardware shops, as you'd imagine given the rate of property development here, but there's pretty much everything else you need as well. I revisited the supermarket, and discovered that as well as the cheddar cheese, I could get tomato paste and tahini, which I had never found in India. There was also some French brie, as opposed to the tasteless Danish stuff that was all you could get in Bangalore. Another place, actually a restaurant called McMoodys had some pretty decent looking bread available, including French sticks. The only thing I could not find that we've got used to recently was rye crispbread, but I'm sure I'll find it somewhere.

I bought some tahini, a can of chick peas, and some extra virgin olive oil, and made humus and a tomato and cucumber salad as my contribution to the evening meal.

We went to bed early, but were not to escape scot free. The family woke Adia at 23:00 for the same prayers as last night, and of course she's not about to decline under the circumstances.
14/9/2007 - Destiny?

It is Friday night, and tonight will probably be the first time for quite a while that I don't go out somewhere, though that's not an absolute at this point. I am somewhat exhausted. I did OK for the first couple of days, but now I think the 40 hours without sleep on Tuesday/Wednesday has caught up with me.

We packed up this morning with light hearts, not homeless this time. Adia took the traveller clause again for our expensive breakfast, but tomorrow will have to be the real thing. I checked that my mountain was still there, and sure enough she was, though veiled coquetishly in mist. Rehema picked us up at ten and took us home.

There the story unfolded further. We had offered to pay during our stay, but this had been turned down as inappropriate for guests. Now she showed us the size of the annex. Another floor could be added on top of this, she said, and we could make a guest bedroom and bathroom - it would only be a little building work. Then they could accept a little rent to pay for the extension, we could have some privacy and space of our own, and we could stay until the house building was sufficiently advanced. A home with friends and a place of our own for $100 a month. I could have cried with joy and gratitude - did a little actually, soft old bugger

Ali appeared for the first time ready to go to work shortly afterwards, and welcomed us. He seems to be as nice a guy as Rehema is a woman. He works as an official concerned with the import of cars at the border post where we came in from Kenya. He can get new vehicles at rock-bottom prices. He knows people in customs, and called someone at the airport to tell them to keep an eye out for my computers which will arrive tomorrow. He knows a lawyer who works with the East African Community HQ, and will introduce Adia to him with a view to getting some work. He knows a man at the drivers license office, and will get that sorted for us on Monday.

Rehema dropped us at Barclays bank to see about opening an account, then went to work. Samuel said he would fix us up with the paperwork Adia needed for the bank. We had lunch at the same place as the day before, and then went to try to sort out an Internet connection at the house. I shall want a demo to test the real connection speed, and we could not do that today, but we'll get there. We looked around some of the shops, and found a little supermarket where I can get decent mature Irish Cheddar cheese. My nose is much improved, and I could actually smell some things today, like petrol, exhaust fumes, and food in the kitchen. I am carefully looking over my shoulder for the proverbial double-decker bus.

Rehema picked us up and took us home where we again shared the Ramadan evening meal. I wrote some of this and then walked the whole of 60m up the road to the little shop that sells beer and has a table and some chairs outside, and had a Safari. The Masai security guard who seems to double as Tariq's nanny opened the gate for me without being asked as I walked back. The two women are still talking. We must sleep soon since breakfast must be before six, and there'll be no lunch tomorrow - when in Rome, do as the Romans.

The family and Adia are at their prayers, their mats spread on the carpet before me. It's a long business, and a couple of mosquitos do a job on me as I sit in the corner as a silent observer, laptop on my knee, unable and unwilling to leave without disturbing their devotions. Now they are through, I shall go and sleep. Personally I'll settle for a nod toward Meru with who I feel a strange connection.
13/9/2007 - The Kagera Mafia

On Thursday Rehema had to go to work, and we had decided that we would look into opening a bank account and find out how to get a Tanzanian drivers license. I had woken ridiculously early with all sorts of thoughts racing through my head, so I got up and went down to the hotel lounge to write some of this. Ramadan started today, but When Adia emerged she had decided to take the travellers clause, so we went to eat our expensive breakfast. As we were eating he got a phone call from another Arusha resident that Amina had teed up. I have christened this system the Kagera mafia. The man who called was a family friend called Samuel (keeps things simple). He runs a tourism outfit here in the city, and said he would come round to the hotel to see what he could do to help us get settled.

Samuel speaks English, but for the sake of rapidity, he and Adia had the customary breakneck conversation in Swahili - some of it is bound to rub off on me in time! Then he said he would show us some hotels where we could go when our two days at the Ritz were up, and then we'd look at some more rented accommodation.

He certainly came through on the hotels. He showed us everything from a $10 room favoured by the safari backpackers, to a nice room at the four star Impala hotel that with his discount would cost us $75. So although we would be homeless again on Friday morning, we had plenty of options.

Then he picked up another agent who took us on another tour of rentable properties. Once again, nothing quite right. Outside the last one I found a piece of road stone that caught my eye because of a sparkle. It had some yellow/green crystals in it that I didn't recognize, and it was very dense. Foolishly I let my curiosity get the best of me, and broke it with a larger rock. It shattered into many small pieces, and I collected a few and wrapped them in a bit of tissue. Looking at them later I saw that the had some gold coloured inclusions that are probably just pyrites, but if they aren't could be something much more interesting! Moral of story - if you find an interesting rock sample, take the whole thing home and examine it later. Of course, since it was road stone, it could have come from miles away, an I'll never know where.

After that we went and had some lunch at a restaurant that does traditional Bukoba food - you can guess, green bananas with beans and Tilapia fish in gravy - very good. Then Samuel had business to do, so we went back to the hotel to consider options.

Just before she finished work, Rehema called to say that her cook had prepared a traditional Ramadan evening meal, and that she would pick us up to come to her home and eat. The continuous conversation between her and Adia resumed, and it was clear to me that there was some definite bonding going on. As we ate the evening meal she told Adia that she had discussed the situation with Ali, and that they had decided that we should stay with them until we found some suitable rented accommodation. She would pick us up from the hotel in the morning.
12/9/2007 - Destination

As I said, we arrived on Wednesday morning at about seven. When we arrived we were to call a man that Adia's mother had fixed up as a contact in Arusha - a friend of a friend of a friend who owed her one. He would take us to a suitable hotel and help us to find our way around. Adia phoned but had no luck, so we stood and waited for some time and chatted to a man who worked for the bus company. Contact was finally made, but the man was not able to come at that time. He said he would send his sister in law. That did not seem to be working either, so after some time we called her and told her that we'd just get a taxi to Arusha's one five star hotel. She said she would catch up with us later. I was ravenous by then to the point of being very snappy, and I figured that after the two bus rides we owed ourselves a couple of days of relative luxury, so I steam-rollered Adia's objection that it was too expensive. The hotel is called, not that originally, the Arusha Hotel. Except for the bar, which is a bit of an afterthought in the basement next to a small casino, it probably lives up to its five star rating. Well at least it certainly did to me at the time.

I paid up, and our bags were carried up to our room in the garden annex - two days reprieve before being homeless again. It was a pleasant room, better than the one in Dar, as it should have been, since it was more expensive. We had a quick rinse, then went immediately for breakfast, and I ate everything in sight. Back in the room, the sister in law called while I was in the bathroom. She was downstairs, so Adia went down and told me to come when I was ready. Rehema, as it turned out she was called, is an attractive Muslim woman in her mid thirties. She seemed very pleasant, and she and Adia rattled away in Swahili for some time, while I sat and listened with occasional translations from Adia. Finally sufficient explanation had been made, and Rehema took us off in her Suzuki 4x4 to look at properties in Njiro to give us some idea of what could be done. She took us first to her home in B block. It is a pleasant single storey, three bedroomed house, with the characteristic surrounding wall and a double steel plate gate surrounding the house, a car park, and an annex which is destined to be Rehema's husband Ali's office and a utility room of some sort. There is a border of garden next to the front wall, and a patch of vegetable garden on the far side of the car park with the statutory small clump of banana trees. They had bought the plot of land a couple of years back, and had the house built by Rehema's brother, who is a builder. She reckoned that in total that had spent about 40,000,000 T-shillings, about 16,000 pounds. This was heartening news, since I think in time we will be able to do something similar.

After Rehema's, we went to see a house that her brother is building for her sister, and then we met a man she knew, and he showed us some land plots that were available for purchase in the area. I saw one I rather liked with reasonably mature eucalyptus trees down two sides that he thought would be about 5,000,000 T-shillings.



The lady materialized out of the haze.


As we toured Njiro, I'd been looking at a decent sized hill to the north of the town, thinking it must be Mt Meru, but as the day went by a haze to the north cleared, and the lady herself materialized. It should have been accompanied by the bit of Richard Strauss's Alpine Symphony where the sun rises and illuminates the mountain. The fair size hill became a mole-hill with Meru several kilometers beyond it dominating the skyline of the city. I found it quite an awesome sight, and could barely take my eyes off it all day. The still picture does not do it any justice. I'll get the video camera to it later and I think that will give you a better impression of what it is like to have a bloody great strato-volcano in your back yard. She's been pretty benign now for a long time, but 8000 years ago she blew her side off to the east, and the pyroclastic flow reached as far as he south slope of Kilimanjaro about 40km away. Hopefully she'll stay quiet for a good deal longer and leave us in peace, since there are no signs to the contrary.

A more immediate problem was to find somewhere for us to live in the short term. Anther man was picked up, and we did a tour of various appartments and houses that were available for rent. There were all sorts of possibilities, but most of them were too big and too expensive given that it would probably take six months to get a house to the stage where we could start to camp in that.

Eventually we went for a very late lunch. I split off briefly to find a beer, since I was gagging, and then ate some veg samosas, since by the time I'd found a bar (I was in the wrong part of town) they were just about finished eating. After 'lunch' we went to see some furnished houses and apartments. There were some that would have fitted the bill, but we were told it might be up to a month before one was available. Rehema organized all this like a pro over her mobile. I reckon she's in the wrong line of business. She works for a Vodacom delership, but I think she belongs in real estate. Finally, exhaustion set in. Rehema took us to her home again, and sent me up the road to a little shop where I could get a beer with her four year old son Tariq as an escort, while she cooked me sausage and chips. She took a day off work to do what she did for us, and I was mightily impressed by this degree of hospitality from a complete stranger. She and Adia talked non-stop throughout the day.

After I'd eaten, she took us back to the hotel, and we collapsed into sleep.

11/9/2007 - The Journey Resumed

Sunday was as lazy as or even lazier than Saturday. My nose calmed down and my body recovered from the cramped-up bone shaking ride. In the evening we went to Bukoba's only N star hotel. I can not honestly recommend it. Bukoba to me is about simplicity. I suggested to Adia that we should invent the Bukoba stress relief holiday. You would go there and spend two days living in a simple brick walled, corrugated iron roof hut, with a squatter toilet, a tiled wash area with a cold water tap and a big bowl and a jug for your ablutions. There would be a simple bed with a stiffish mattress and an ITBN, with a pot to piss in by the side.

In the morning, just after dawn, a woman would come and heat some water for your shower. Then she'd make you a breakfast of bread toasted on an iron skillet, hard boiled eggs, honey, passion-fruit juice and coffee or tea. Then you'd go for a walk for an hour or two. At eleven or so, you'd have a couple of visitors. They would know your name and where you came from, and would speak your language, and would come as pseudo family members. They'd tell you honestly how their life had been going, and you would tell them honestly about yours. Then you'd go to a little pub down the road where you'd have a couple of Kilis or a glass or two of chilled South African white wine, and pay for some food - no choice, just green bananas with beans and either meat or fish in gravy.

By then you'd need a little rest, so you'd go back to bed for an hour or three to let the heat of the day subside, and then ...

After a couple of days of this you'd be thoroughly spaced out and then it would be a joy to get back to your stressful, over-complicated and high paced normal life. It would cost you, mind you, but hey, you get what you pay for - franchises available at britseyeview.com.


Family group.


And then? Well it was Monday. We had to finish off our bit of business in Bukoba and get on with our lives. The business went OK - a couple of little heart-stopping hiccups and some waiting to begin with, but then plain sailing, followed by a couple of Kilis at the New Bamboo and so on. Then I had to beat Adia over the head to jolt her out of Bukoba mode, and finally after canvassing the options, we went and bought some more bus tickets. Our options were:
  • Wait for the next ferry to Mwanza (Wednesday), then arrive too late for the bus on Thursday and have to stay in a hotel for the night before catching it for a 15 hour cross-country across the Serengeti and Ngorogoro to Arusha.
  • Fly, but that would cost another arm, and we'd still have to stay a night in Mwanza as there were no seats available for the second leg the next day.
  • Do another 24 hour bus ride with two border crossings through Kampala (Uganda) and Nairobi (Kenya), then back into Tanzania to Arusha. That we could do at 06:45 the next day, and arrive on Wednesday morning, the same as we would if we flew.
We chose the latter, figuring that 24 hours should be a cinch after the previous ride, and this was. after all, the 'good' road.

We packed in sombre mood then took a shower before bed. Once again we had to leave friends, family, and familiarity to push off into the unknown. Packing reminds you pointedly that you are homeless, and of no fixed abode.

We were tired, so slept well enough, and in no time it was five in the morning. Coffee and toast, and then off to the bus station - Mama Azizi and Ibrahim came with us and saw us onto the bus. The sun came up, and we were off up the winding north road toward the Ugandan border which is not that far away. As the Tanzanian border official stamped my passport with an exit stamp, it dawned on me that I only had a single-entry visa. Too late, I would have to take pot luck when we re-entered. Then at the other side of the gate we discovered that Uganda had increased the transit visa fee from the $15 we'd been told at the bus station to $50 - an East African Community decision we were told, and a leaflet was produced to validate this assertion. I grumbled, but there was no choice, so we coughed op the 50 bucks and I made the man give me an actual visa, which was the same price, to add to my passport collection. Then it was off to Kampala, which we reached quite quickly at around noon.

There was a cafe by the bus stop where we got chicken and chips and sausage and chips respectively, with a side order of liver. The liver was really good. If I pass there again I'll dispense with the sausages and have a whole portion of my own, and I suspect Adia will too. We ate it from the aluminium foil take-away packs on the bus, and washed it down with some rather over-sweet fruit juice. Then the serious part of the journey began. The trip from Kampala to Nairobi took thirteen and a half hours. The crew graciously stopped once along the way to allow us all to pee, men and women, jeans or hajib, in the ditch at the side of the road. At the border crossing it turned out that the Ugandan statements about the $50 transit visa being a community decision were bullshit. It was just highway robbery as I'd said in the first place. The Kenyan border official gave me a transit visa for $20, and with a smile!

The 'good' road - which it had been mostly so far - then soon expired, and at least 50 miles of the trip was over the construction site of the new highway, which had already obliterated the remains of the old road, but was nowhere near finished. My lower back is still telling me about it. We were hoping that when we reached Nairobi there would be a break for a drink and some food, but by the time we got there it was two in the morning, and there was nothing doing. The crew pushed on mercilessly for Tanzania.

We got to the border just before dawn. From the high plain there, the stars were magnificent. I have not seen the milky way so clearly for longer than I care to remember. I must have been looking shell-shocked. The Kenyan border officer stamped my passport, and asked me if I was OK, I said "I think so", and he grinned. The Tanzanian official took pity on me, and accepted the theory that all I'd done was catch a bus at Bukoba - in Tanzania - to travel to Arusha - in Tanzania. He stamped my existing visa and wished me karibu. Asante Kenya, asante Tanzania, Uganda, hmmm - I'll give them the benefit of the doubt - the liver was good.

We hauled off to the south, still hungry and thirsty. The dark mass of Kilimanjaro towered over us to our left in the first light of the dawn, but was quickly covered by low cloud as the sun came up. In another hour and a half, bang on time, we were dragging our luggage of the bus at the stand in Arusha.



Bukoba International Airport.

8/9/2007 - A Lazy Saturday

OK, so I have a well-deserved hangover, but more uncomfortably my left sinus is blocked somehow, which is causing some discomfort and making that eye water and my nose run like a tap - yes I just know that you want to know that. So after breakfast I went back to bed to see if I could sleep off either or both, but no such luck.

Having returned to the land of the living I tried to check a bank account on line. No luck with that either, it did not seem to be able to cope with the slow connection. I phoned them to see if they had any suggestions, but having sat in a queue for some time, by the time I got through to someone in Internet banking the money I had on my phone gave out. Obviously it's one of those days. I shall remain in blissful ignorance of what's happening in the world, eat some lunch, and then maybe go and tramp around the town in the new boots I bought yesterday. On the other hand, the sun is cracking the flags today, so it would be wiser to stay in the shade. Mama Azizi says, in rough translation, that I should succumb to the inevitable, and get a couple of Safari beers down my neck so I'll feel better. There speaks a good Muslim girl. But the protestant in me insists that I should suffer for my sins. Maybe I'll go to one of the Internet cafes in the village and check my bank account there.

7/9/2007 - Friday Already

Adia had to get up at seven to go back to the DC office to pay the cashier for yesterdays work. She (the cashier) was not there yesterday. Adia was supposed to be there to pay at eight am, and she was, but the cashier did not appear until ten. She apparently got delayed by being eight months pregnant - not sure exactly how that works. Anyway Adia knew her from high school.

I made further attempts to send some e-mail replies to R2K, which I'd failed to do yesterday, and which I initially failed to do today. Thunderbird was failing to connect to my SMPT server. I'm having similar problems with the India VPN connection. Finally I resorted to my long dormant Yahoo e-mail account, though that might get treated as spam at the other end. Later in the morning with no changes in settings the e-mail went through using the CelTel modem. Maybe I just need to get a bit closer to a tower - either that or it's just the 'Heart of Darkness' effect, everything goes pretty slowly here. The modem says it has connected at around 110kBytes/s, but in practice the data transfers run at about 3 on average - a bit like a 9600 baud modem back in the 80s. Ah well, not to moan, I could try for a landline connection here, but by the time we got it we'd be off to Arusha, which I want to reach on Tuesday so we can start the process of looking for somewhere to live.

In the evening we went to Bukoba's night club - actually Bukoba's 24hr club, it's open all the time. It was pretty good, particularly in contrast to the place we'd gone first to get something to eat, which was dire. In addition to that it was down by the lake, and sitting outside the temperature was surprisingly low. Consequently when we got to the night club I proceeded to have a couple of large scotches to 'warm me up' and got suitably wrecked.

6/9/2007 - Some Progress

After a good night's sleep we both felt quite chirpy. Cali the cat seems to be in her element. Mama Azizi's house has a walled yard with a solid steel gate that goes right down to the ground, so it's an ideal spot for our sheltered-life apartment cat. She'd be in a fight with one of the many other cats out in the street in a heartbeat, but she seems content here. Her universe has in fact expanded. She sits in the yard with a smile on her face as if to say "This is all my patch - life is good." Her preferred food in Tanzania appears to be boiled beef. She had that at the hotel in Dar, and has since turned her nose up at everything else. I can live with that. Pressure cooking a bit of shin or some other cheap cut is no sweat. She's a bit of a celebrity in Bukoba now, the cat who travelled from America to India and now to Tanzania, who had her own ticket on the coach from Dar, and who gets fed on cooked meat. Most of the cats here just fend for themselves. Nobody is clear where they go, or sleep, or what they eat.

This morning we went to the District Commissioners office and filled in some paper that is a step on the way to normalization. Everything is much more relaxed and easy in Bukoba, where most people seem to know either Adia or Mama Azizi or both, and don't seem much inclined to put obstacles in the way. In the afternoon, Adia had her hair waved again in what I call the 'Dorothy' (Wizard of Oz) style. That took some time so I walked around the town for a while until I got hot and thirsty and wanted a pee, at which point I retired to the New Bamboo pub and waited for them.

In the evening I accidentally dozed off while Adia went down the road for an extended chat with her mum. In consequence I got eaten by mosquitos in the dark house. Adia says I'll have malaria in no time if I go on like this. For the rest of the evening I did nothing, but the time passed quickly enough, and I was up 'late' - didn't get to bed until ten thirty.

5/9/2007 - In Bukoba

So, what a bus ride! 1650km and 30 hours over roads that varied from decent to atrocious - mostly the latter. There is a lot of work going on to construct a Kampala to Dar Es Salaam road - a World Bank loan I believe - and in a couple of years the journey will probably take 3/4 of the time, and be much more comfortable. But today, it's what it is, and that's a bone shaker. Our coach was the 'luxury' version. I'm not too sure what that implies, but I will think twice before embarking on such a journey in the 'ordinary' variety, indeed, before embarking on the journey again. There was no A/C, and the seats were packed like a 1980s Toremolinos holiday flight. The bus stopped for 15 minutes every 6 hours or so so you could find somewhere to take a pee if you were lucky, and get something to eat if your queue was less than the 15 minute time slot after you'd peed. On the rough sections of the road any other traffic filled the bus with a cloud of dust, so I don't have any pictures. I kept the camera firmly in my pocket.

I come off the trip with an increased respect for the quality and robustness of Japanese engineering. It was a Nissan diesel powered unit, one of those with the high passenger cabin and a big luggage/parcel hold underneath. Just a single pair of double back wheels, and it was amazingly good over the rough roads. It rattled so you thought there would not be a window left by the end of the journey, but in fact we only lost one, because someone threw a stone at us. But it never fluffed a curve or lost traction - a feat largely attributable to the excellent drivers.

It seemed like the last straw of the trip was when the bus stopped for the driver's statutory rest period at about 10:45 at night. We just managed to find a bar that was still open and get a bite to eat and a drink before everything in the town closed. Then we had to either spend the night sitting on the bus, or on a wooden bench outside. Either choice and you got eaten my mosquitos for six hours. Finally, through plain exhaustion, we got a couple of hours sleep in the bus before the journey recommenced.

We had a bit of good road for a while then, but soon we branched off the main road to Rwanda to go north into Kagera, and that was the road I described last year - rutted red dirt. You can judge the levels of vibration from the state of our laptops when we arrived. Both were still functional, but where they had had anything standing on top of them in their bags, like their power cord or whatever, the silver trim was worn through to the metal.

Finally after counting down the hours, we arrived in Bukoba. Mama Azizi and Ibrahim were there waiting for us with two taxis. The luggage, even tied up inside plastic bags, was coated in a thick layer of brown dust. Mama Azizi fed us, gave me a beer, and removed the dust. Ibrahim and daughter Aziza, and even the somewhat reticent Azizi greeted us like truly long-lost friends. We stopped by to see Adia's mum, who looked much healthier than she had done back in December. I established that both laptops were still working. A new bedroom had been added to the house for our benefit, and there we slept. It was bliss - I could have cried, maybe did, I was too tired to remember.


Dr X's house.


Family extensions.


A family meal.


Light and Martin by the fish farm pond.
5/9/2007 - First Words from Tanzania

Finally I'm somewhere where I can take stock, and have some sort of Internet connection. We are at Mama Azizi's house in Bukoba, the kids seem to have gone off somewhere, and all is quiet save for the chirping of birds in the garden, the occasional cock crow, the chattering of the two sisters elsewhere in the house, and the gentle whirr of the refrigerator.

The visit to Dar Es Salaam was almost a complete waste of time. The principal mitigation was that we got to meet Adia's brother Geoffrey and his family, who turned out to be a delightful addition to my extended family. I also managed to get a cellular USB modem that should give me some degree of connectivity anywhere in the country.

We had arrived in Dar uneventfully on Friday afternoon, a little later than expected, since some work had to be done on the plane in Nairobi to fix up for a stretcher case to be picked up in Dar later and taken to hospital in Mumbai.

I got my 90 day visa without any fuss, and the only brush we had with officialdom was when we went through customs with the cat. Adia was pulled over, but escaped after a little special pleading about not having understood how to interpret the regulations. Cali had her vaccination papers and a certificate of good health, but apparently these were supposed to come from a Tanzanian vet. I'm not quite sure how you are supposed to organise that when you are entering the country. The man came from Adia's home town so was sympathetic. We'll get her vetted shortly then she can be a kosher Tanzanian cat.

However, it turned out that this was not to be the only influence that Cali would exert on our visit to Dar. After we had phoned about five hotels it became clear that in Dar, the hotels are not pet-friendly. Eventually on the seventh attempt, the girl on the phone said it would be OK - hakuna matata. When we got there though, the decision was reversed - she was a new employee and didn't know the rules. Adia and I pulled suitably long faces and expressed distress, and after a little pleading it was agreed that Cali could stay in her cage in the hotel's workshop area. So at least we had somewhere to stay for the night, though they only had the room available for one night. We got something to eat, and went to bed early, having had little in the way of sleep for 24 hours, with our bags still packed and ready to go god knows where in the morning.

Fortunately we got a reprieve, as someone cancelled, so we were able to leave the bags in the room, and go off to see Adia's patron, as vaguely arranged. Dr X, shall we say, had a fairly senior government position at one time - an ambassador or similar. Adia's father had talked with him, and it had been left that he would help us with things like getting me some sort of immigration status beyond a 90 day visa, and would give us other help with various things such as trying to find a house in Arusha.

We had an amicable discussion - he is quite a personable fellow, and he talked in general terms about immigration and what could be done, house prices and ownership, and how straightforward it should all be. He knew a man who could take us where we wanted to go on Monday - no talk of arrangements mind you. Then in the afternoon he had some business to do, so he left us, and his wife - who Adia knows reasonably well - made us a pleasant lunchtime meal. I ate, and the women talked at some length, then we eventually got a taxi back to the hotel with a diversion to find an ATM machine and get some money, older, but no wiser.

On the next day, there being no progress to make, we went to see Adia's brother's family. We got a taxi to the western bus station, and there we caught a Dala Dala (a mini-bus packed with extra seats, people, luggage, chickens, etc). Geoff's family consists of his wife Sunday, elder daughter Leah, son Martin, and young daughter Light. They live in a small village about 30km west of Dar, and I think that it would have been impossible to get a warmer welcome anywhere. The family has been in bad times for a couple of years since Geoffrey was involved in a road accident and badly fractured his femur. He was immobilized for months, and there was no income, and Sunday had to do the best she could with the kids out of school from the garden, a tiny fish farm they have, and what she could rake together by selling things. However they all seem to have survived more or less emotionally unscarred. Things are improving now, and they are back to having a TV and education.

In the mix that is African family life Geoff's family are Christians, in a family with a fair proportion of Muslims. So people can get on with their lives without religion getting in the way. More people should try it! As such it was OK for me to go to the shop in the village and get some beer. In fact it would have been OK in the Muslim houses of the family also as long as you were not offended if they didn't drink it. Actually I didn't get to go for the beer, Leah was dispatched for it - thank you Leah.

So we had a pleasant meal of green bananas, vegetables and beef, and I had my Kilimanjaro beer while Adia chatted away in Swahili and got all the family news. The visit to Dr X was discussed, and Adia, Geoff, and I agreed that given the absence of any definite arrangements, we would do just as well with Geoff's lifetime friend Musassa, who's a computer technician, and apparently knows his way around the government departments pretty well. We would do some rounds the following day to determine if there was any point in us continuing to juggle hotels any longer in Dar. Then we got another Dala Dala back to the city, where the same taxi driver took us back to the hotel. We got some cooked meat for Cali to eat and let her out of the cage for a while down in the workshop to eat it. Then we secured our bags again so we'd be ready to leave in the morning. There were no promises, but they would see what turned up.

In the morning, Geoff and Mussassa turned up, and said that initially they would just take off and ask some questions. We kicked our heels until eleven thirty, at which point we got another reprieve, so we could stay another night. The hotel housekeeper, a blond Russian woman who has apparently lived in Dar for some years, was by now (along with every other member of the hotel staff) aware of Cali's presence, and she said Cali could stay in the room as long as we made sure she didn't make a mess, and didn't let her escape into the corridors. Geoff and Mussasa returned at about one o'clock with a view that we could not accomplish anything quickly in Dar that we could not do elsewhere, so we spent the afternoon arranging to get to Bukoba, and getting my USB modem.

Getting to Bukoba was going to be slow. There were no flight seats available until the next day, and then we would have to fly to Mwanza, and spend a night there before getting a flight over Lake Victoria to Bukoba. To make this arrangement sound even less attractive, it would be quite expensive, since we had the cat, and lots of excess baggage, and the airline office didn't take cards. We decided to tough it out and take the bus that goes through central Tanzania to Bukoba. The cat and the excess baggage were a problem there too, though not such an expensive one. The seats were $60 a pop, and Cali had to have a seat since there was nowhere else to put her. Our big bags also counted as another person. When we'd fixed that up I had to spend another couple of hours touring Dar to find the modem, and to find an ATM that would take my Mastercard and had some cash, since the phone place didn't take cards either - aargh!

By then it was time for a very late lunch, and then back to the hotel to secure our bags again ready to go to the bus station for five in the morning. We went down and I had a couple of beers, and we talked to a Scot who had just married a Tanzanian girl and was also in the process of settling in Tanzania - coincidentally the nephew of the Greek man who owned the hotel. Oh what a tangled web we weave.

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