East Africa, July-August 2004:|
What's Swahili for XP, DVD, and CD?
Updated October 25, 2004
Ordinarily I don't schedule tasks on departure day, but today, due to Paul's recent trips out of town that made it impossible for me to take care of some key items earlier, I'm going to his house in the morning to prepare his ThinkPad for our trip to Africa. I also have a big bag of goodies for him: new promotional pens for WilmaFund, lightsticks, an airtight container for packing pressure-sensitive items, and other useful items for our work in Africa. It takes me less than a half hour to complete my work, and when I'm finished, Paul asks if he can run a new idea by me. Without waiting for an answer, he begins to detail a new marketing strategy. Obviously this is a complex scheme that he's been working on during his recent vacation in the Galapagos, and I have no time to consider anything significant right now. I tell him that I have no time and that we'll have to discuss it in Africa. By the time we get there, he'll have revised it entirely anyway.
Soon after I get home, the airport shuttle arrives. The driver loads my heavy hardside suitcases in the back. Worried about baggage space for the six passengers he'll pick up before heading to the airport, he suggests I keep both carry-ons with me. There's not much room, but I manage to squeeze one under my legs and keep the other on my lap. We pick up the other passengers and get to the airport without delay.
I check in and wait for the security staff to inspect my checked luggage. The inspection station at Dulles has changed since my last departure, and I appreciate the upgrade: the inspection now takes place at an open window so that the owner can watch and even help. With their triple locks and ever-interesting inventory of electronics, mine keep the inspectors busy for a while. Between the wait for my bags to reach the front of the line and the actually inspection time, it's about an hour before they're finally locked up and sent down the loading chute, and I'm finally able to pass through passenger security and enter the gate area. I get something to eat at one of the restaurants and then settle into the British Airways lounge for a last-minute e-mail check.
When boarding time arrives I take my seat. The flight attendant surprises me by announcing that she has special seafood meals for me. Although I've ordered seafood meals on previous trips, I specifically checked "no meal preference" when I booked this flight online. I'd begun to suspect that I've never gotten a last-minute upgrade to first class because of the special meal request (British Air wouldn't want to serve my reserved business-class food in first class), so I decided to try booking without a meal request to see if I'd get a surprise upgrade. When I tell the attendant that I didn't request the seafood (but without revealing why), she informs me that once a passenger requests a special meal, the request is registered in his profile so it can be applied to future bookings even if he "forgets" the request. Ah, the benefits of gold-level membership in the Executive Club!
The flight proceeds uneventfully to London. I only have a few hours here before my next flight, so once in the airport I proceed directly to the British Airways lounge for a shower. There's a wait, and I'm issued a beeper to inform me when a shower room is available. I amuse myself by looking over the magazine supply. Most of them are luxury-travel-related with articles like "Eat Your Way Around the World" and "America's Most Luxurious Hotel Suites." Either article is an excellent resource for the traveler who's reached his wit's end trying to figure out how to spend $5,000 per day. My beeper brings an end to this important research; I take my shower and board the plane to Nairobi.
As usual, I find sleeping onboard a plane impossible. Even in a fully-reclining seat on the quiet upper deck of a 747, I simply can't fall asleep, and I amuse myself as best I can with BA's disappointing selection of movies. As on the previous flight, seafood meals are reserved for me. Lunch is an excellent poached salmon fillet; the evening meal is tuna with chopped tomatoes and peppers on soft white bread. The attendant and I immediately agree that this doesn't sound very appetizing, and one bite confirms our suspicions. The attendant apologizes and assures me that she'll write it up in her report.
We land in Nairobi around sunset. As I disembark, the flight attendant tells me that she's written "some particularly nasty things" about the offensive sandwich. I thank her and trudge toward the Arrivals area. By now I'm so fatigued that I can hardly manage filling out the visa application. In preparation for this trip, Paul and I had both applied for multi-entry business visas for Kenya and other African countries, but due to a delay in processing my Russian visa application, I wasn't able to complete the Kenyan or Ugandan procedures. I apply for a single-entry visa at the airport. Most of the planeload of tourists already have visas and overwhelm the passport desks, so ironically I complete my application, receive my visa, and am waved through before most of the travelers who were better prepared than I.
The same throng of tourists keeps the customs officers busy, so I'm waved through without a single question. As I emerge into the public area, I look for the friendly and reliable driver from the Safari Club hotel holding a sign with my name on it. He isn't there; I give him five minutes and then take a taxi. The taxi driver wants to have a friendly conversation. I'm not really in a talkative mood, but I am intrigued to hear the driver report that the city's hotels are all full of tourists. Apparently the tourism slump that ensued after the bombing of the American embassy has ended, and the local economy is on the upswing as a result.
We turn onto University Way, and I'm struck by the long row of banners on the median strip advertising IBM products. Big Blue has come to Nairobi, and they want everyone to know about it. We travel only about a half mile along the street before we turn into the Safari Club; from here the banners still stretch as far as I can see.
Upon arrival I check in and complain about the absence of the hotel's shuttle. The staff check their records and find that my reservation for both room and transportation are properly recorded. They assure me that they'll investigate, but I've reached the limit of what I can do without sleep. I take my key, go to my room, and turn in.
I'm a bit hung over from the trip and resolve not to fly such a distance again without a break long enough to check into a hotel and get some sleep. Paul should be on his way to Harare by now, a destination required by the limited availability of seats purchased with frequent-flyer miles. He won't be joining me until tomorrow after a night in the Harare Sheraton. I send him an e-mail message and a text message by phone to let him know that I've arrived. During the rest of the day I get some work done on a new contest based on the upcoming Summer Olympics, and I attend to a few WILMA-related matters as well.
In the evening I try the Safari Club's Brasserie restaurant. It's Russian buffet night, and I'm not surprised to see nothing at all on the buffet table that looks Russian. There's a beef-and-gravy dish labeled "beef stroganoff," but it could just as accurately be labeled beef stew or beef masala. I take some along with a selection of vegetables, and it all proves to be tasty if not authentic. Some properly brewed iced tea, albeit in a glass that's much too small, completes a satisfying meal that's a big improvement over most that I've had here. After a little more work, I turn in for the night.
I don't have much WILMA work to do, so I continue designing my new Olympic contest. I make good progress and expect to have it online soon. My daily e-mail check reveals a message from Russia: the paperwork for my multi-entry visa has finally arrived in St. Petersburg. I was notified of a delay in the processing a couple of weeks ago, so I applied for and received a single-entry tourist visa shortly before my departure, but I can use this paperwork to apply for the visa I really want when I get back to the USA.
In the evening I dine again at the Brasserie, where tonight's beef-and-gravy dish on the Swahili buffet is labeled "beef masala." It's the most appealing of the buffet selections, and I enjoy it more than last night's fare because I've finally recovered from the long flight.
There's no e-mail from Paul, and my phone displays a notification that my text messages to him are undeliverable. Wherever he is, he must not have turned on his phone. Since there's no news to the contrary, I assume that he'll arrive this evening as scheduled.
The computers in the hotel's business center are riddled with "adware." As I try to send and receive e-mail, I'm constantly interrupted by pop-up screen advertising non-prescription Viagra, 4%APR mortgages, and other dubious deals. The lady operating the center commiserates with me: she spends half her time closing unwanted windows when she's processing the hotel's mail, and she's quite enthusiastic when I offer to clean the machines. I tell her I'll come back later with the proper software.
I make more progress on my upcoming online contest, working all the bugs out of the scoring program. The contest and my travel writing take up most of the day until, encouraged by two good meals in a row, I go to the Brasserie once again for dinner. Tonight there's an international buffet, and one look gives me the impression that it's a mix of leftovers from the Russian, Swahili, and other theme buffets of the preceding week. The place occupied by beef-and-gravy dishes on the previous two nights now features "beef stew, country style." Which country? Why, all of them, of course! I bypass the stew and find a few acceptable items, but I think I'll skip the international buffet the next time I'm here on a Saturday.
After dinner I stop by the business center with my cleanup tools, but both computers are being used by other clients, so I tell the manager I'll try again tomorrow. Close to the time that I expect Paul to arrive at the hotel I go down to the lobby only to be informed by the front desk that he's just gone up to his room. I arrive at his door just as the bellman closes it and leaves. When I knock, Paul quizzically opens the door as if expecting to find the bellman with some forgotten item, and he's surprised to see me. He invites me in, and as he does a little unpacking we swap travel tales. I ask if he's brought Inno's mail, and he shows me the inventory that includes some DVDs that Inno ordered on my behalf. Among them is Bad Santa (the unrated "badder" version) that Inno is eager to see. I leave it with Paul and advise him to watch it soon; once Inno gets his hands on it, we probably won't have access to it for the remained of the trip.
Paul's assessment of Harare is grim. Both the Sheraton hotel and the flight to Nairobi were nearly empty, indicative of the city's fearful environment and depleted resources. His stay was reasonably comfortable, but he's glad to be in Nairobi, which by international travel standards says all that needs to be said about Harare. Since there were so few passengers on the plane, he was well fed. We're both fatigued, so we say goodnight and agree to rendezvous at breakfast.
Paul and I discuss work and travel over breakfast. He's been thinking up refinements to our fundraising program, and this early in the trip I'm still able to look alert and interested as he rambles on. I'm much more interested in his travel on British Airways: it turns out that no seafood meals were reserved for him, yet he did not receive any upgrades. I'll consider canceling my seafood reservation the next time I'm near a BA office since I still suspect that such meal requests prevent us from getting last-minute upgrades.
We spend the day working and planning some future parts of the trip. Christine K. comes to visit, and we all discuss the future of the Women's Community Enterprise Centre (WCEC), our National Managing Partner in Kenya of which Christine is executive director. As is so common in Africa, the government is taking months to process what should be a simple application to register a nonprofit organization. Until it is registered, WCEC cannot open a bank account, rent office space, or perform other mundane but necessary functions. Apparently five government departments must sign off on the application; Christine estimates that the process is 80% complete and expects that it will end in success.
Paul gives Christine some of the new WilmaFund pens. She asks if we have a bag to hold them, but Paul is at a loss. I look around his room and find a bag of suitable size in the bathroom. Christine puts the pens neatly in the bag, which is marked DO NOT FLUSH. I believe that this advice pertains to the pens as well as to anything else that might be put in the bag.
Later in the day more representatives of WCEC come by, each adding his or her own knowledge of recent WCEC activity. Just about everything is still in the planning stage thanks to the government's slow processing of the application, but Paul feels confident that the organization is ready to move in the right direction.
In the evening I stop by the business center again. One of the computers is free, so I sit down to clean out the adware. However, the CD-ROM drive fails, and my software is on CD, so I can't do anything. I tell the manager that if she'll have the drive repaired before I leave Nairobi I'll be happy to try again, and she agrees to attend to the matter directly.
Later Paul and I dine at the Grand Regency, where we're recognized and warmly welcomed back. The staff remember how to make iced tea properly, and there are plenty of tasty items on the buffet. The staff also remember Paul's fondness for Castle beer, but he joins me in iced tea as part of his plan to reduce his caloric intake. We enjoy an excellent meal and then return to the Safari Club.
Paul begins making appointments. He's unable to book time with any of the key players at the local aid institutions, so he decides to call his friend Joe K. After I give him a quick review of how his mobile phone works, he calls. "Hey, Joe, it's Paul," he exclaims when the call connects, and the person on the other end of the line graciously invites him to lunch at the Fairview Hotel. Paul invites me to come along, but I'm reluctant to join in what promises to be a long conversation when I expect I'll have little or nothing to say. We agree on a couple of tasks that I should accomplish while he's away, and then he takes off.
I get some information from the internet and then settle down to work on my contest. Paul's "lunch" extends well into the afternoon, and undisturbed for several hours I make good progress. When Paul finally returns, he reports that he must have dialed the wrong number: when he arrived at the Fairview, it wasn't Joe K. but Joe W. who greeted him. Fortunately, the documents Paul took to discuss were relevant to either Joe's interests. As I suspected, the conversation continued for hours and rarely, if ever, strayed toward topics on which I could have made some useful comment.
In the evening we go to the Brasserie. Today's prolonged lunch has diminished Paul's interest in an evening meal, but he decides to take a look at the menu and order something small. It's Asian Night at the buffet table, and I ask the waitress to bring me a menu while I inspect the buffet to determine if anything there that interests me. It only takes a second for me to spot a bowl labeled GIZZARD CURRY - and recoil. Not only do I not want anything from this bowl, I no longer want anything from the entire buffet. From the menu I order chicken cordon bleu, which turns out to be quite well prepared.
Paul spends much of the day in meetings outside the hotel. He's packed a suit for this trip - something he usually doesn't bring to Africa - and he makes good use of it visiting the local aid institutions. He also digs into our large supply of souvenir pens, presenting them ceremoniously to anyone who ought to have WilmaFund's address handy at all times. While he has me prepare a few documents, he isn't taking much of my time, so I make good progress on my contest and travel report.
Inno calls from Dar. He's been trying to reach Paul on his cell phone without success. He asks if Paul has forgotten how to use the phone or if there's some equipment failure. I assure him that neither is the case (although I'm not quite sure about the first point) and advise him that, unlike so many of our African colleagues, we are not owned by our phones. If we're in a meeting or otherwise find it inconvenient to talk on the phone, we don't answer. That's what messaging services are for!
I find time to clean up one of the computers in the hotel's business center: I remove 200 adware-related objects (a new record for one computer) and clean up several hundred configuration errors diagnosed by Norton Utilities. The increase in performance is immediate and obvious, and the center gives me as much free time as I want to catch up on my e-mail correspondence and check the latest news on some favorite websites. I can't fix the center's other computer because its CD-ROM drive has now failed, and my attempt to send the required files from one computer to the other through the hotel's network results in the mysterious loss of the software somewhere in the circuitry.
Over dinner I tell Paul about Inno's question regarding his cell phone. He notes with some disdain how many times his meetings over the past couple of days have been interrupted by one of the other parties taking a call. It's a bad habit that neither of us is likely to adopt: me because I find such interruptions so annoying that I usually turn my phone off at a meal or meeting, and Paul because by the time he remembers which button to push to receive the call, the other party has usually hung up.
Today we fly to Dar es Salaam. I take the precaution of sending Inno a message: I have cookies. This should ensure that he arrives promptly at the airport to drive us to our hotel. After breakfast I attend to my packing; Paul goes to his room to do some writing and - I hope - pack as well. Dividing my belongings into "things that go to Dar" and "things that stay in Nairobi" takes more time than I'd planned: my first two attempts result in baggage that exceeds Kenya Airways' weight limits, so I reconsider the necessity of some items that were in the first category and relegate them to the second. When this process reaches its limit I'm still concerned about checked baggage weight, so I decide to violate the only-one-carry-on rule and lug two cases aboard the plane.
I call Paul and tell him that I'm headed to the front desk to check us out. He says he'll join me soon. As always, checkout at the Safari Club takes nearly a half hour, but I start early enough that I have my receipt in hand a full 15 minutes before our airport shuttle is scheduled to depart. I take a seat in the lobby and wait for Paul.
Departure time arrives, but Paul does not. I call his room, and he assures me he'll be down shortly. A quick check reveals that we're the only passengers booked on the shuttle, so the driver is happy to wait for us. Ten minutes later Paul shows up, and in a flash we're in the van on the way to the airport.
We go through security where I'm asked to unpack the computers in each of my carry-on bags. Cell phones, keys, and even Paul's shoes (which have a metal component) go into the X-ray machine, and it takes us a few minutes to get reorganized before we go to the check-in counter. My checked bag weighs in at 29.5kg, just a half-kilogram below Kenya Airways' limit for members of the KLM/Northwest Airline frequent flyer club. I get my boarding pass and grab both my carry-ons in one hand so that to the casual observer they appear to be one bag. With two computers, cameras, and other heavy items inside, they're a bit of a chore to carry this way, so as soon as I'm out of sight of the KA agents I change to carrying one bag in each hand.
To my amazement, Paul's checked baggage, stuffed with ledgers, reporting forms, and 200 WilmaFund pens, weighs in at 36kg. To make matters worse, there's no record of his KLM/Northwest membership, and he doesn't have his card (which is probably sitting in his mailbox at home). The agent only allows him 20kg, but she rounds the weight down and only charges him for 10kg excess. Paul pays, we fill out our departure forms, and then we head to the passport check.
Two windows are open, so Paul and I both step up and hand over our documents for inspection. The officer handling Paul's passport finishes first, but instead of going through the gate he walks over to me and starts a conversation. The officer inside the booth glares at ME, as if Paul's action were MY fault. I tell Paul, "just go through the gate." He takes the hint and passes through; I join him a minute later.
For reasons unknown KA is calling passengers on our flight to the departure gate even though the flight time is nearly 90 minutes away. We unpack our computers, phones, and Paul's shoes again as we make another trip though metal detectors and X-ray machines and join the throng in the packed departure lounge. We find a couple of empty seats and wait, but I see a potential problem: we have seats near the front of the economy section, and KA always boards economy passengers from the rear. If we want to get to our seats without having to squeeze past everyone else, we should get on first. Paul agrees, and we stroll nonchalantly toward the exit. Paul unexpectedly finds a seat by the door, but I'm content to stand.
As we wait, it becomes obvious why the lounge is so full of people: KA has summoned passengers for all its afternoon flights to the same lounge at the same time. Mixed in are travelers to Entebbe, Zanzibar, Mombasa, and other locations. I can hear the gate agents calling someone on their radios and asking, "what are you doing?" The response is lost in the crowd noise, but I'm not sure that anyone could convince me that some actual logic lay behind this concentration of diverse passengers.
All the other flights are opened for boarding before ours, and when our turn finally comes, Paul and I are among the first out the door. We walk to the plane and head straight for the economy-class door. Another group climbs the stairs to the business-class door. Once aboard, we move forward only to encounter the other group coming back: they entered in the front and have seats in row 30, while we entered in the back and have seats in row 6. Usually KA assigns someone to prevent people from entering through the wrong door, but today apparently nobody is on door patrol. Our two groups effectively block everyone else from taking a seat until we get past each other.
The flight is uneventful, and shortly after landing I quickly pass through passport control. Paul takes much longer as the officer thumbs through every page of his often-enlarged and frequently-stamped passport. It really does make for interesting reading. When he comes through the gate, we collect our luggage and go outside to find Inno and Bushako waiting for us. They load our bags into Inno's car and take us directly to the Holiday Inn. On the way we check our mobile phones. Our provider, Vodacom, has made some changes to its network since our last visit that make the network selection menus look a bit strange to me, but I'm able to connect and get a strong signal in only a minute.
The staff remember us and welcome us with an invitation to an evening cocktail party. We go to our rooms, and I give Inno some equipment he requested as well as a bag of cookies. Since Bushako came to pick us up as well, I figure he ought to have cookies too, so I give him a bag. They depart for Paul's room and leave me to unpack.
Later Paul and I attend the cocktail party. There's a drawing for some small prizes that all go to other people, but we get our fill of gin and tonic at the free bar. Afterwards we agree to meet for dinner in an hour, and in the interim I go down to the business center to check e-mail on a high-speed connection. While I'm there, Primus of DIT walks in. He greets me and hands me a computer case: it's Richard's ThinkPad R50, another victim of Windows XP. Richard, director of studies at DIT, has had the computer for over a month and still can't get it to operate for more than a few minutes without crashing despite the efforts of every technician in Dar es Salaam. Although I generally refuse to work on XP systems, Richard is an old friend, so I've already agreed by e-mail to attend to the sick machine while I'm in town. I thank Primus for bringing it and gravely tell him that I'll do my level best to restore it to health. He leaves, and I join Paul for dinner.
I resurrect Richard's ThinkPad. There's no sense presenting all the details here, but I find that the main problems lie not in the installed software but in the installation program itself. When I extract the long routine that's designed to install many programs in one long process and instead install the programs one by one - rebooting after each - the problems disappear. Well, most of the problems disappear. I have to fix a few XP quirks manually and get some updates online, and due to a slowdown in the business center's internet connection I can't get one important file, the new 33Mb driver for the video card. I also inadvertently omit one key program in my manual installation: the standby/hibernation routine. But the machine works fine, and Richard needs it to take on a trip to China, so I pack it back in its case to present to him in the morning.
By Friday night I feel I've earned a special treat, so I suggest to Paul that we eat at the Royal Palm hotel. I'm hoping for one of the themed buffets - seafood and Italian are my favorites - at the Serengeti restaurant. Tonight's theme is Indian fare, so we go to the adjacent steakhouse which to my delight has expanded its menu far beyond steaks. Paul orders the tuna (OK, it's technically a steak) and I have shoulder of lamb. Both are excellent, far better than anything we've had previously here. If they'd only serve proper bread and butter instead of thin toast with raw garlic and tomatoes on the side, we'd probably come here more often.
Richard joins us for breakfast. He's elated to have his machine in working condition, and he starts it up at the table just to make sure that my claims are true. I advise him of the missing pieces, and I tell him that he can get the updated video driver and install it himself when he has access to a high-speed connection, but he shakes his head: nobody updates this machine but David. He has lots of things to do before his trip to China, so he thanks me, bids us goodbye, and leaves with his ThinkPad.
Bushako shows up a little later. His ThinkPad 600X has a problem: he converted it from Windows 98 to Windows XP a few months ago and it hasn't worked properly since. I have no intention of trying to fix the current configuration; I told him not to upgrade, and since this machine isn't even designed for XP there's no reason to believe that any of my efforts would make it work properly under this operating system. I tell him that I'll return it to Windows 98; he protests that he doesn't want such an old operating system, but I insist that this is the one that works. He leaves it in my care.
I carry the manufacturer's disks for machines that I've brought to Africa so that I can rebuild the operating systems if necessary. A rebuild is necessary, but I realize that I haven't brought the disk for the 600X. I try a 600E disk, but it won't load. I tell Bushako that the work will have to wait until my next visit in October, but then I perform one last check: I search my own ThinkPad's drive for images of other computers. Sure enough, taking up nearly 2Gb of valuable space is a 600X image that I copied as part of another rescue and then neglected to delete. There are many differences between the other 600X and Bushako's, but I'm sure I can adapt the configuration manually. I tell Bushako that the process will take some time but should be successful. He takes the hint and leaves me to wrestle with the problem. I work on it until dinnertime, when I meet Paul and ask if he's done anything interesting today. No, just WILMA work. After all the nonstop computer work of the past three days I'm a bit fatigued, so I suggest that we have breakfast an hour later than usual in the morning. Paul agrees to meet me in the restaurant at 9:00.
Paul has invited Zhiguo to come over for some accounting work at 9:00. I observe that it might have been useful to tell me this when I suggested we have a late breakfast, but he responds that it didn't seem worth mentioning at the time. I had planned to have Bushako's computer ready this morning, but the likelihood of my completing the task depends upon how quickly we can finish the accounting.
Zhiguo arrives, and Paul and I sit down to a hearty breakfast while he waits. He's already had his breakfast, but he agrees to have a cup of coffee. I'm not sure who's more uncomfortable: me eating during the time that Zhiguo had set aside for work, or Zhiguo feeling that he's intruding on our breakfast time.
Paul feels no discomfort at all even as Zhiguo details his tight schedule: he wants to be back at his mushroom site north of the city by noon to prepare for an afternoon reception for Paul and other WilmaFund folks. Paul is sure that we can pack everything into the time allotted. When he finishes his breakfast he invites Zhiguo and me to his room to begin the accounting.
Accounting is not Zhiguo's strength, so as I sit at the computer ready to type numbers into a spreadsheet, Paul guides him by asking for specific amounts on specific dates. It takes some time for this process to yield useful results. It begins something like this:
Zhiguo eventually produces a detailed record of all his transactions. Paul and I have no concerns whatsoever about his diligence and honesty, but we're dismayed to find that among all these records is not one actual balance. He hasn't brought his bank statements, so we have to rummage through a stream of debits and credits to work our way back to the end-of-year balance. Eventually we arrive at the correct number, but by then Zhiguo is behind schedule to begin the preparations for today's reception. Inno arrives, and they all head off to the mushroom site. I spend the afternoon finishing the configuration of Bushako's machine and my contest, which I post online and advertise through my contest subscription list.
Paul returns from a long but thoroughly enjoyable afternoon at the mushroom site. Zhiguo prepared an excellent meal of chicken and several kinds of mushrooms, and the group discussed mushroom marketing at length. While I've been working up an appetite all day, Paul has been satiating his, so he's not interested in going out to dinner or paying for the seafood buffet in the hotel's upper-level restaurant. So we head down to the ground floor restaurant, not my first choice, but I notice a chicken breast sandwich that looks mildly appealing. It turns out to be a delightful surprise despite the Thousand Island dressing poured with abandon over meat, mushrooms, and bread; I'll order it again for sure, but with the dressing on the side.
There's not much to report today. Paul returns the DVD of Bad Santa that he watched the night before and advises me that it may be "inappropriate for Inno, but perhaps you should watch it and decide yourself." Inno, Bushako, and Paul go to meetings all day while I do computer work. In the evening, Paul and I are nearly the only patrons in the hotel's upper-level restaurant, and we have a marvelous time joking and flirting with the staff.
Inno joins us for breakfast, and shortly thereafter we get to work. Paul and Inno have been preparing some important documents, and we all feel that the rough-draft letterhead that I quickly prepared during our last trip isn't good enough now. I design a new, more dignified one and apply it to the documents. There are many pages to be printed, more than my little portable printer can handle, so we take diskettes to the WilmaFund office to use its new laser printer. Before we can print, however, I have to attend to the situation I am beginning to dread: a computer suffering from Windows XP.
This one is asking to be "activated," and while I understand what this request entails, many end-users - including Inno, the owner of this new Dell computer - do not. I go through the various panels associated with the activation process until I reach the point where I can click on NEXT and everything should turn out OK. I click. Nothing happens.
After a few minutes a panel appears saying that activation failed. The internet connection is working, but the computer doesn't want to communicate with Microsoft Central. I know how it feels. I backtrack through the process, find the panel for activation by phone, and find the number for users in Tanzania. Since this is Inno's machine and I'd rather charge the call to his phone bill, I turn the process over to him, saying, "just dial the number on the screen and read this 60-character alphanumeric code when asked." He dials, and somebody answers and offers to connect him to the appropriate party. [click.] The call just exceeded the credit on his phone. He takes a good look at the number and says, "this must be in South Africa."
I hand him my phone, which has enough credit to dictate the WilmaFund business plan to Hong Kong. He dials again, and he gets connected to the appropriate party, who asks for the long number currently on his screen. I hold my breath and motion for Paul to keep silent as Inno reads the characters. He gets through them without a mistake. Then the person on the other end of the line begins reading a 42-digit numeric code that Inno must type into a field at the bottom of his screen.
Inno types. Nothing appears on the screen. The Microsoft technician continues reading. "Wait, wait, this isn't working!" exclaims Inno. He tries clicking with the mouse and pressing the numeric keys, but nothing he types shows up on the screen. I reach over his shoulder and press NUM LOCK. The next digit he presses appears. He asks the technician to repeat the sequence from the beginning and enters the code correctly. When the "Thank You for Activating" screen appears, the technician asks if he'd like to hear about special offers from Microsoft. I want him to ask if they have a version of XP that actually works, but he checks the readout on the phone and replies, "no thanks, this call is expensive enough already."
I print the documents, and I print some of them again when Inno realizes that he put the name of someone in a foundation's New York office on a letter he's sending to their Nairobi office. Fortunately, we check these things. Paul and Inno then go to a meeting while I continue to wrestle with the recalcitrant machine, which Bushako tells me has the Blaster worm. I have a program specifically designed to remove the Blaster, so I run it. When it finishes, there's no sign of the Blaster, so I begin a general diagnosis and repair.
The first thing it needs is a full does of Norton Utilities, which I install with little trouble. However, when I try to get the latest updates from the vendor's website, the machine displays a daunting message: "system will shut down in 60 seconds, save your work now."
Bushako points at the screen and says, "see, it has Blaster!"
"No," I reply, "this is just a Windows XP bug. It's what I'm here to fix." More panels appear telling me the memory address and module name of the responsible bug. If you know where it is, why don't you fix it? I wait for the 60-second shutdown to complete (it can't be hurried) and then reboot. When I'm able to work again I run the utilities without online updating and correct nearly a hundred errors. The internet connection has slowed to the point that I can't download anything, so I forget about updating and turn my attention to a problem that Inno reported earlier: the Canoscan scanner produces incomplete images.
I know my way around Canon scanners and figure that I can fix this problem quickly. I go to the Programs panel to check the properties of the scanner software. I can't find any scanner software. After rummaging through the hard drive for a few minutes, I come to the conclusion that no scanner software is installed, and after rummaging through Inno's shelves I can't find an installation disk. Because the internet connection is still performing poorly I can't download the software, so I decide that I've had enough Fun With XP for the day and go back to the hotel.
At the hotel's business center I process some e-mail and explain my online contest to some staff who find the rules a bit confusing. John A. from Holiday Inn management in South Africa unexpectedly walks in and greets me. He's here to oversee the development of the ground-floor restaurant, and he remembers me from several conversations we had when he was an assistant manager here. He asks if everything is to my liking, and I give him my one and only complaint about this hotel: the bathtubs are simply too short. My inability to soak comfortably is even more of a problem than it was in the past since I have some minor foot problems, and nothing relives them like a good long soak in a warm tub. John says he'll see what he can do, and he also promises to take a look at my new contest. Since he's one of the few Africans I've managed to get to enter a previous competition, I'm reasonably hopeful he'll participate in this one.
I head out to the mezzanine overlooking the lobby to wait for the elevator. Before the elevator arrives I see Paul, Inno, and Bushako walk in the front door, and instead of going to Paul's room or to a restaurant they stand and talk for a while. I compose a text message on my phone and send it to Inno. I watch as he shifts his computer case from one hand to the other to pull his phone out of his pocket. On its screen is my message: LOOK UP. He complains to Paul that he just got a really strange message and shows it to him. Paul knows how to follow instructions: he looks up. Inno and Bushako look up, and from my elevated position I join in the conversation. I tell Inno about the scanner lacking the required software, and he replies that the scanner is attached to the Dell, but the software is installed on the IBM. Don't make me come down there.
We spend the afternoon attending to various WILMA work. In the evening Peter of TAYOA comes by to take Paul and me to dinner. He's soon to be Peter of PATH, a nonprofit organization funded by the Gates Foundation, and he brings Honesta, the director-to-be of TAYOA, with him. Paul joins us in my room where Peter presents us with some fine African shirts; we give him and Honesta some new WilmaFund pens. Peter reveals that Honesta is not only his replacement at TAYOA but his fiancée, and the evening immediately takes on a celebratory mood.
Peter drives us to Oyster Bay. As we approach the Sea Cliff hotel, famous for the views from its position on a point of land jutting into the Indian Ocean, I'm a bit disappointed. I really don't care much for their restaurants; one has Indian cuisine, which is far from my favorite, and the other is out on a terrace so windy that food tends to blow off into the ocean. However, just as we reach the hotel, Peter turns into the new Sea Cliff Village, a complex of shops and restaurants that would look at home in any American suburb. He takes us into the Spur steakhouse. It's decorated in amusing faux-American-Indian style, and the term "steakhouse" doesn't capture the cuisine very well: while they offer several steaks, there's much more on the menu. Paul is particularly taken with the names of the menu items, commenting on "Ladies Ribs" (a smaller-than-average portion of ribs) and the "Big Rump" steak. Peter recommends the most expensive items on the menu, a pile of jumbo shrimp sautéed in garlic and butter, and I call his bluff; Paul opts for the "Succulent Breasts" (chicken, of course). Peter and Honesta choose items with far less interesting names, neither of them steak.
All the food is of excellent quality, and the service is friendly and efficient. We all have a grand evening, and afterwards as we pull up to the Holiday Inn, Paul and I thank Peter and wish him and Honesta all the best. Their wedding will be scheduled for sometime next year.
Zhiguo joins us after breakfast, and we continue the accounting work. Today he has brought more records. We make better progress than before and complete the day's work within a couple of hours. Before Zhiguo departs, Paul makes a suggestion: "David, why don't you take a look at Zhiguo's ThinkPad and see if it needs any maintenance?"
I'm happy to comply and start up Zhiguo's machine. Suddenly I'm unhappy: I see a Windows XP screen. What's more, I see a Chinese Windows XP screen! Various panels appear on the screen, and I recognize them as the kind that Windows uses to report problems, but they're all in Chinese - there's not one word of English anywhere on the screen.
Zhiguo informs me that he took his ThinkPad to the Chinese embassy to ask that some Chinese-language software be installed. The technicians there gladly provided the assistance, and while they had the machine they also helpfully "upgraded" the operating system from Windows 98 to Windows XP. As is so often the case with technicians in the part o the world, they didn't even tell Zhiguo, so he's been wondering why his screen looked so different ever since he got the computer back. He also wonders why it doesn't work very well and why error messages constantly appear.
I can't work on this machine, so I try to shut it down. Even though I can't read a word on the screen, the shutdown icon is clearly visible, so I click on it repeatedly. All I get in response is a series of Chinese error messages. Zhiguo can read the Chinese characters, but he doesn't understand computer terminology, so he doesn't know what these messages mean either.
After about ten minutes of desperate clicking we finally get the ThinkPad to shut down. I ask Zhiguo in as calm a tone as I can manage under the circumstances, "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!?!" He really doesn't know the answer: all he wanted was some Chinese language support and trusted the technicians to take good care of his computer. Like Bushako's, this model isn't designed for Windows XP, so I offer to convert it back to Windows 98. Zhiguo's happy to have me do anything that will make it work, so he agrees. I tell Paul that this task will take most of the day, and I leave to go work in my room.
My strategy is to preserve Zhiguo's personal files by copying them to another disk, reformat the hard drive, load a fresh copy of Windows 98, and then copy Zhiguo's files back to their original folders. The first complication is: what Chinese character represents "My Documents?" Fortunately, the qualifiers that distinguish Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and other user-generated files are the same on this machine as they are anywhere else, so I'm able to locate Zhiguo's data and collect it on a spare drive. This part of the process still takes hours, though, since I'm (a) using Chinese Windows menus to do everything and (b) battling adware pop-up windows and Chinese error messages every minute. When I'm finally certain that I have all of the files I need, I turn the machine off, reboot with a Windows 98 installation disk, and complete the restoration. An hour on the business center's high-speed internet connection gets me all the critical updates for Windows 98 (there have been quite a few since my installation disk was produced), and by dinnertime I have Zhiguo's machine ready for use.
I'm too tired at this point to go out for dinner; I need a small meal and sleep. Paul and I go to the ground-floor restaurant, and while he tries something new, I order another chicken sandwich. I remember to ask for the dressing on the side. The waiter brings dressing in a glass bowl on the side. There's almost as much dressing in the bowl as on the sandwich. Next time I'll remember to specify "on the side and NOT on the sandwich."
Paul flies to western Tanzania tomorrow while I remain in Dar. In anticipation of our communication needs, I ask if he knows how to use the text-messaging features of his phone. He doesn't, so I take his phone to give him a demonstration and immediately notice that he has a text message waiting in his inbox. I display it: "from Inno: Hey, Pooh, do you know how to text-msg? I bet you needed help to read this one!" The jocular message gives me an idea. My instructions to Paul are simple: "when you see the little envelope on your screen, it means you have a text message. To read it and/or reply to it, hand the phone to Inno."
Paul, Inno, Bushako, and Zhiguo are all headed west today. Inno's driver is already on the way; he and the car will meet the group in Bukoba, from where they'll drive to Ahakishaka and then Kampala, where I'll meet them in a few days. It may seem like a complicated way to get around Africa, but it's the best way to ensure that a reliable - and affordable - vehicle is available to take them through remote areas.
Inno arrives for breakfast, and almost immediately his phone rings. It's his driver: he has damaged one of the tires and needs a replacement, but he doesn't have enough money to pay for it. The Tanzanian bus company has a money-transfer service whereby one person can depost funds and another can withdraw them at any station. The driver can get to a station, so Inno hurries through breakfast and leaves for the downtown station to send some money. He soon returns, and I give his ThinkPad - mercifully still running Windows 98 - a quick tuneup before it's time to take a taxi to the airport.
I give Paul Zhiguo's restored ThinkPad. I give Bushako an Ethernet card for his ThinkPad. I give Paul plenty of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers. I also entrust him with two DVDs - Time Bandits and Animal House - and advise him: "I'm giving you two, I want two back." Paul always returns movies promptly, but I need to ensure that he also collects them from the others if he circulates them. Paul tells me to see Englebert.
Englebert, a manager at the hotel, is seated at a desk in the lobby. He's been talking with John and will try to upgrade me to a room with a larger bathtub. Nothing is available today, but he expects a room to be available soon. I thank him and return to my room as the travelers drive off to the airport.
The remainder of the day is devoted to some overdue housekeeping: backing up and cleaning my computers, non-critical e-mail correspondence, and the polishing of some graphics for recently-drafted website (sorry, not yet ready for public inspection).
I spend a lot of time at the business center researching leads for our mushroom venture. Although I was originally looking for potential buyers, I also find various nonprofit resources for food producers in developing countries, and then the search results broaden into resources that would be valuable for our other ventures. The internet connection is performing well, bursting at speeds over 200Kbs, so I start a job on my ThinkPad to download the complete contents of several sites. The process takes about 90 minutes, and I go back to my room to sift through the results.
My feet hurt. Since I'm expecting to have surgery to correct a minor injury to my left foot in a little over a month, I'm not surprised that it hurts a little, but why do both hurt? I take off my shoes and find a mild rash on the soles of both feet. It doesn't look like much, but it's rather irritating. I rub it with an alcohol wipe from my first-aid kit, and it feels much better after a bit of stinging. I return to my work and spend much of the day in and out of the business center alternately downloading promising websites and rummaging through the contents at leisure in bed.
My feet are in worse condition than yesterday. Now the rash, covering most of both soles, looks as bad as it feels. A soak in the tub makes them feel much better, and I walk to a nearby store for some medicated foot powder. That's about all the walking I feel like doing, so the remainder of the day is spent much like yesterday: downloading and rummaging through the results. I find plenty of interesting information, but no likely foreign mushroom buyers. By bedtime the powder has begun to take effect: my feet look much better, although walking is still rather uncomfortable.
The left foot is nearly back to normal, but there's still a small patch of rash on the right that's resisting the medication. I resolve to continue the same treatment as long as it seems to be improving, and I hope that the hotel I'll be staying in tomorrow near Kampala has a big bathtub: nothing makes my feet feel better right now than a good soak.
I continue the work of the past two days, but the speed of the link in the business center varies wildly. For a few minutes I can download at better than 100Kbs, and then the rate drops to nearly zero. I get some time to gaze out the window while I wait for files, and it doesn't take long for me to notice that internet speed drops every time the shadow of a big cloud encroaches on the hotel's parking lot. In my search for mushroom buyers I spend several hours downloading and watching the shadows, and by the time I'm finished the correlation is clear: the hotel's internet satellite dish is hampered by clouds, and the density of the cloud corresponds to the amount of blockage. A small puffy one knocks the speed down to the 50-70Kbs range, while a huge black one drops it to zero. Once I figure out the formula, I time my visits to the business center with the gaps in the cloud cover over Dar es Salaam, and I consistently get high-speed connections all day. The result: one promising buyer for our mushrooms to whom I send an introductory e-mail, and two more on my hard drive for future reference.
The work continues into the evening, interrupted only by rain. No, not rain outside - rain inside! The business center's ceiling begins to leak suddenly and steadily: several buckets are required to contain the flow. There are several floors of guest rooms above us, so it's not a leaky roof problem, and staff bring in ladders and flashlights and remove ceiling panels to search for the source. Fortunately, none of the leaks are directly above any of the computers, so the other clients and I continue working while the problem is corrected.
My morning is dedicated to packing for this afternoon's flight. Since I've given some equipment to Inno, my luggage should be a bit lighter, so I pack my second computer inside the big hardside case. I put most other heavy things - many CDs, two cameras, spare hard drives, and other assorted hardware - into my carry-on just to make sure I make the 30kg weight limit. Once everything is packed, I make one last visit to the business center, where cloud cover has slowed the transmission speed to the point that I can just barely collect fresh e-mail during my allotted half hour. I say goodbye to the always cheerful and helpful staff, then go back to my room to slip my computer into the carry-on and head down to Reception to check out.
While I'm looking over the bill, John A. comes by. He apologizes for the hotel's failure to get me an upgrade during this visit, and he offers me a small gift: a traditional African fabric wrap. Oh, great, where am I going to put this? I mention to him that my bags are filled to bursting, but he insists that he wants me to have it, so I manage to stuff it into the carry-on. John tells me that he doesn't expect to be at the Dar es Salaam Holiday Inn when I visit again in October, but he'll tell the folks here to be sure to give me an upgrade then. When John tells you something, you stay told!
A taxi gets me to the airport quickly despite heavy traffic, and I'm first in line to check in for my Kenya Airways flight. I put my hardside case on the baggage scale. It reads 30.0kg. The agent tells me that they have no record of my NorthWest frequent flyer number and will allow me only 20kg; I'll have to pay for the excess.
There are many ways to deal with this situation, all of which I've used successfully on past trips. I could use the Sympathy Approach and tell the agent about WILMA's good work in Africa and how this struggling little nonprofit organization will be stressed by an excess-baggage charge. Or I could use the I'm An Important Customer Strategy and tell them that the agent in Nairobi allowed me 30kg (easily verified on the agent's computer) so why shouldn't you? But I decide to make this one simple: it's time for the Dumb Tourist Ploy. I wave my Visa card in front of her. Oh, yes, I'm obviously over the limit; please charge whatever I owe on this card. I already know that the KA staff in Dar don't like to handle credit cards, and when they do, the process takes nearly a half hour to complete. The agent looks up and sees me, my card, and - most importantly - a line of 100 passengers behind me who will all be irate if she makes them wait for a credit card payment. She hands me my boarding pass, tells me the baggage charge "has been taken care of," and wishes me a nice flight.
The flight to Nairobi is uneventful although it arrives a bit behind schedule due to a delay in loading all the luggage. When I walk out of gate 4 I immediately spy my flight to Entebbe loading at gate 5. I check in and take a seat in the departure lounge. More passengers collect, filling the lounge. Finally an announcement comes through the speakers overhead: "Kenya Airways flight to Entebbe now boarding."
Everybody gets up. Eveybody goes to the door. We're all moved in such unison that we could have poured into the plane like a giant amoeba if it weren't for one little problem: the announcement is wrong, and the plane is not yet ready! Two KA agents stand before the surging passengers and are nearly knocked down by the crowd's momentum, but we all manage to come to a halt without breaking any limbs or furniture. Some grab nearby seats, but there's no move to disperse through the departure lounge: most of the passengers remain standing in the positions where they stopped until, about ten minutes later, the plane is really ready and the agents let us through.
In Entebbe I must purchase a visa, so I go to the Visa Office. There's a line, and by the time I reach the desk, all the passengers already holding visas have already been processed and proceeded to baggage claim and customs. I can see the baggage area from here, and my hardside case is in full view, so I can keep an eye on it while I wait for my visa. The visa officer looks over my passport and asks a few questions. He notes that I've written "systems analyst" in the OCCUPATION field of the entry form.
"Systems analyst, eh? That would be information systems, computers, I suppose?"
"That and more," I reply. "I handle the computers, cameras, travel arrangements, printing, and even the souvenir pens."
"Ah, you have a souvenir pen for me?" inquires the officer.
I'm compelled to reply, "actually, no, they're in my checked luggage."
My appointment with the visa officer is extended long enough for him to inform me of his largely thankless job; how nice it would be if someone brought him a little present once in a while. I commiserate with him and offer my opinion that all the most important jobs are the ones that get the least recognition and reward. Having nothing better to do until he stamps my passport, I chatter away at the trials and tribulations of working for WILMA and about the good work that we're doing in Africa. He listens for a while, but unaccustomed to the volume of - hmmm, let's say "baloney" - I can generate on short notice, he tires quickly, stamps my passport, and wishes me a pleasant stay in Uganda.
I walk toward the spot where my suitcase is… was… isn't! There's only one suitcase left by the conveyor belt, and it doesn't look anything like mine. A quick walk around the claim area shows that it's been moved by someone who thought it was just too darned big to be sitting out in the middle of the floor. You never know - a plane might hit it. I retrieve it from a corner and move on.
I'm not the last passenger to clear customs, I'm the second-to-last. I point this out to the driver and porter from the Ridar Hotel who have been waiting anxiously for me. They're as relived to see me as I am to see them: I don't know exactly where the Ridar is located, so I would be hesitant to simply grab a taxi at random and ask to be taken there. By now it's about 8:00 in the evening, and we have to peer into the darkness to distinguish the Ridar's van from others in the parking lot. When we find it, we all pile in and take off for some point near Kampala.
To get to wherever we're going, we have to travel for nearly an hour on unlit, unmarked, and sometime unpaved roads before we pass through downtown Kampala, where it's always rush hour. Uncontrolled intersections are the place to play chicken with an oncoming van or SUV, and the perpetual staccato start-stop-honk melody is accompanied by the drone of small motorcycles weaving Spiderman-like through ephemeral gaps in the four-wheeled traffic. Bicyclists, sometimes burdered by one or two passengers or the equivanelt weight in cargo, labor along the curb as rear-view mirrors gently massage their arms and shoulders, and running and leaping pedestrians dart perpendicular to all the other movement and ensure that nearly every square inch of road surface is covered by a moving object.. Occasionally a double-tanker-truck brandishing a DANGER - PETROL sign parts the smaller vehicles like a blue whale slipping through a school of krill. Once it passes, a blur of headlights (some working, some not) signals the attempt by hundreds of drivers to take advantage of the few openings left in the giant's wake.
Our van works its way through metal maelstrom and finally reaches the eastern suburbs. We continue into the night until we reach what impresses me as a purely arbitrary turning point off the paved road onto some dirt. The space we're trying to occupy is filled with pedestrians, and we inch forward as they grudgingly give way. We dodge holes and ruts until the Ridar Hotel, surrounded by a great iron and concrete wall, looms into view. An armed guard opens the gate, we pull into the courtyard, and then the gate slams solidly behind us.
I climb out of the van and go inside while the porter attends to my suitcase. Yes, the hotel has my reservation. No, Paul and the others haven't arrived yet. I make a strategic inquiry: "do you take credit cards?"
"No, we don't."
I remind the clerk that I inquired about credit cards by e-mail when I made the reservation, and the answer was "no problem." The clerk advises me that our partner Wilson had made reservations for us as well. When the hotel recognized the duplication, they cancelled my request and retained Wilson's. Since Wilson hadn't asked about credit cards, the staff were confident that there would be no problem. I'm tempted to agree: as long as you don't expect to be paid, there's no problem.
The clerk hands me my key, and I set off for my room - one flight up - with the porter carrying my suitcase. He complains about having to carry it up the stairs. Hey, it's not MY problem you don't have an elevator! We get to my door. I insert the key. I turn the key. The door does not open. I try the other two keys on the ring. Neither works. The porter tries all the keys. He tries them repeatedly. None work. He goes to get some different keys while I wait in the hallway.
The porter returns with a working set of keys. He quickly shows me around the room - it's clean and spacious - and then he leaves me to unpack. Unpacking proves more difficult than usual: a single closet with four hangers and two tiny desk drawers are all that's provided for my belongings. I leave most things in the suitcase and simply hang up a sportcoat and a couple of shirts. At this point I hear the sound of engines in the parking lot (which my room overlooks), and I peek out to see Paul, Inno, Bushako, Zhiguo, and Wilson. I shout at them to keep the noise down. After a minute's confusion they finally think to look up (didn't they learn anything at the Holiday Inn?) and see me. I go downstairs to join them.
The others have had a far more tiring journey than I. They've just driven from Ahakishaka, Tanzania, and had to pass through downtown Kampala traffic as well. After a few minutes to freshen up, we gather in the hotel's Masaba restaurant, which is serving a buffet. Gourmet fare it isn't, but none of us is in a picky mood. We swap travel tales over dinner, then retire to our rooms for some much-needed sleep.
We all meet in the hotel's Masaba for breakfast buffet, where the juice comes from an undetermined but bitter fruit, the omelettes - prepared well in advance - are piled in one of the chafing dishes, and the boiled eggs have impossibly firm yolks surrounded by slightly runny whites. We're going to the WOLICAMI office for a meeting this morning, but not before Inno makes an important phone call. He finds that he can't make outside calls from his room phone and uses the front desk phone instead. I encounter him there and find him trying in vain to hear what the other party is saying. The line is noisy and the connection breaks; Inno needs to make this call, but he's reluctant to try the hotel's phone again. I hand him mine and get a quizzical look from the desk clerk, who's obviously not pleased to see me divert some of her phone business.
I explain, "I have a very powerful phone."
The clerk looks as me with a wide, forced smile and says as sweetly as if she were the runner-up in a beauty pageant congratulating the winner, "well, GOOD for YOU!"
Inno finishes his call (and squeezes off a couple of quick text messages before I snatch the phone back), and then we all pile into two cars - Wilson's and Inno's - to go to WOLICAMI. There we make introductions, get a tour, and then sign a management agreement between WILMA and WOLICAMI. My main contribution to the morning is the taking of pictures, and once the signing is complete there's no more for me to do. The others head off to another meeting and drop me off at the hotel along the way.
I go up to my room only to find my way blocked by the cleaning crew. The room is CLOSED, sir! All I really want to do at the moment is drop off some papers and the go to the business center. I toss the papers on top of the desk and then retreat to let the crew finish their work.
I take a seat in the hotel's small business center. A staff member connects to a local ISP through the dial-up service and turns the keyboard and mouse over to me. I can't connect to WILMA mail. I can't connect to WILMO mail. I can't even connect to Laughton.org mail to see if anyone has entered my contest. The attendant apologizes and explains that this happens "all the time." I remember that my e-mail reservation inquiry was neglected for an entire week due to such problems, so I am not hopeful about getting the current problem resolved quickly.
Since my room is being cleaned, I can't go back upstairs and work on my own computer right now. I go to the front desk and ask if there's an internet café within walking distance. The eyerolls alone tell me the answer is no, but the ever-helpful staff give me a complete rundown of the geographic distribution of reliable internet cafés and explain the futility of trying to reach any of them. There's not much I can do other than sit in the lobby. I wait a while and then ask if I can have my key. No, the room is still closed for cleaning. I wait some more.
Once per hour I try the business center again to see if the connection has improved. On my first try, the opposite is true: the dial-up service can't even establish a connection. The result is the same on my second and third retries, at which point my room is finally declared clean. I go up and elevate my feet for a while. The left one has completely recovered from the rash that developed in Dar es Salaam, but the right is still a bit irritated. And yes, the room is sparkling clean!
I make one more visit to the business center in the afternoon, but the computer still can't connect. When Paul returns in the early evening, I explain the dilemma: he's put his computer guy in an internet-free zone. I suggest that we find a nice place for dinner that's next to an internet café if one of our local colleagues knows of such a place; I also note that if nobody has a better suggestion, the Sheraton fills these requirements. Alas, Paul is too tired from his day of meetings to even think about eating outside the hotel, so instead we decide to ask Inno's driver Nohu to take me to the nearest recommended internet café, after which I'll return to the hotel for dinner with the rest of our party.
We ask at the front desk about internet cafés. The clerk says there's one on the main road "in a big building just past the Caltex filling station." Just to be sure we don't miss it, one of the bellmen comes with us, clad in his scarlet jacket with black-and-gold epaulets. We head down the road through busy but briskly-moving traffic until we see the brightly lit Caltex sign. There's a big building right behind the station, so Nohu slows down to get a good look at it, a move that's immediately accompanied by honking from behind. Everybody on this road but us is in a hurry. We all scan the big building, but it's obvious that there's no internet café in it (it appears to be strictly residential), and everything else in sight is either a filling station or a small shop selling produce, shoes, or other necessities.
To the relief of the line of drivers behind us, Nohu pulls over to ask in one of the local shops. Both he and the bellman jump out and run toward shops in different directions. The bellman gets immediate attention from all the locals; they seem to be a bit wary of anyone in uniform, but once they spot the Ridar Hotel logo on his jacket they're put at ease. He gets the answer he seeks and returns to the car: it's in the big building after the second Caltex station.
I honk the horn to get Nohu's attention. He's across the street, and it takes him some time to cross the busy traffic and get back behind the wheel. We start again and soon come to another Caltex station. This time there's a sign advertising an internet café. We pull up, and the friendly locals direct me and the bellman to two different cafés in the same building. The one on ground level looks reasonable, so I take a seat. The connection is slow, but it works, and when I connect to WILMA mail I find that no responses have arrived to any of the important messages I sent from Dar es Salaam. I pay the equivalent of less than 50¢ for my half hour of 'net surfing and return to the hotel.
Our group is rather disorganized tonight, and I'm not even sure who's in our group at the moment. John N., whom I met on a previous trip, shows up and joins me, Inno, and Bushko at a table outside the hotel bar. The others drift in, and we repeatedly add more and more settings to our pair of tables. We're practically elbow-to-elbow by the time the last person joins us. Space is limited since the bar is the only place on the hotel grounds serving dinner tonight, so we try not to jostle each other too much as we have a buffet dinner before turning in for the night.
LAUNDRY IS RETURNED IN 48 HOURS. I observe this notice on the laundry form in my room and warn my colleagues, "soil yourselves accordingly." I pack a bag with my own laundry and call to have it collected. The porter arrives as quickly as if he had been standing outside my door waiting for just this opportunity. I hand him the bag and the completed laundry form, which he stares at as if he's never seen one before. He asks if he can bring the clean clothes back at 8:00 this evening. I tell him he can, but there's no hurry.
It's so difficult for me to get any work done without an internet connection that Paul suggests I join him in his morning trip. "We're all going out to some place in the country this morning," is all he tells me. A drive in the country sounds better than another stretch in the lobby, so I agree. After breakfast I hop into the front seat of Inno's car, Paul gets the front seat in Wilson's, the others pile in behind us, and we take off for parts unknown.
It's a long way to wherever we're going. We cross the equator and about 8 miles south of it come to our first stop, one of the WOLICAMI community project areas. We're greeted by singing women wearing paper hats with the WOLICAMI and WilmaFund logos, and we're given hats and flags with the same designs. Good sports all, we don the hats and wave the flags.
We're taken on a tour of the animal husbandry efforts designed to increase the incomes of local residents. There are cow pens, pig pens (elevated to prevent the spread of parasites), goat pens, and chicken coops. Project leaders explain how their methods are a change from those used previously and how the end products - meat, eggs, and milk - are marketed.
One of the women promises us a taste of fresh milk from her own cow, a gift from the Send A Cow charity. I've heard this promise before: Paul and I have visited dairy farmers before, and they've often promised us fresh milk, but to date we've never actually received any. To my surprise and delight, after a lengthy tour, we're invited to sit on some sturdy chairs and benches surrounding a big pitcher of milk and a tray of glasses. We relax in the shade and enjoy this unexpected treat, but after only a few minutes we have to be on our way - there are other sites to visit.
Our group moves on from site to site looking at handicrafts, fish ponds, and other animal husbandry areas. After a while it all starts to blur together, but when we start to drive away my mind suddenly clears: I need to visit an internet café, and I saw one at the equator as we drove south. Wilson and Paul are ahead of us, and I want to let them know that my car is stopping at the equator, so I call Paul on his mobile. Actually, I'd like to simply send him a text message, but I know he can't read it because Inno is in my car. I don't want to bother Wilson with a text message because he's driving, so I decide to use the phone the old-fashioned way and talk to Paul. I dial his number, and after many rings he answers, but he can't hear me over the noise of Wilson's car, which comes to a stop. So does ours, and I get out to tell Paul about the internet café, but it turns out that this is a planned stop at yet another project area. So I tell Paul that whenever we start back toward the hotel, I'd like to surf the 'net a bit at the equator.
I'll compress the next few hours for you: we continue with site visits. All along the way we receive gifts - sometimes huge bags or baskets of fruit - and fill the cargo space of our car with them by about 2 in the afternoon, when we pull into a schoolyard where the children line the road and sing as we enter. We're led to a building where a big lunch is spread out for us. I already suspect that I won't be getting online today. We spend an hour over lunch, and then we're led outside to a canopied area for some entertainment. There's a children's choir and a women's choir and a couple of entertaining skits, with most of the content mixing Christianity with socioeconomic development.
Then the speeches begin. I don't really know how much time is taken up by entertainment and how much by speeches; all I know is that by the time all the festivities end the sun is nearing the horizon, indicating a time later than 6:00pm. We're all anxious to get on the road, but there's one last obligation: pictures. Everybody but everybody wants to have his or her picture taken with Paul and me, and large group shots give way to small and smaller groups until individuals are lining up to be immortalized between the two of us. The photo session threatens to continue well past sunset, but I wave off the remaining WILMA groupies, determinedly make my way to the car, and get safely inside. Once I'm in, the others make a break as well, and in a few minutes we're headed north.
I must teach Paul how to use text messages. Since I know he can't hear his phone in Wilson's car, I wait for a stop at an intersection, jump out of the car, and let Paul know that the occupants of Inno's car have decided it's too late for any stops at the equator. We drive on into the darkness and through Kampala's evening traffic, much the same mix of frenzy and torpor as I encountered the day I arrived in Uganda. We pull into the hotel's parking lot well after 9:00, and my feet are hurting so much from the day of heat and constant walking that I skip dinner and go directly to my room for a soak in the tub.
After breakfast the others begin an all-day series of meetings while I stay behind to do some work on the internet and rest my feet from yesterday's long hot walk over uneven terrain. Before going to the business center I stop by my room to pick up my computer. The housekeeper stops me and asks for my key so she can enter and clean it. For some reason she explains the cleaning procedure in extraordinary detail. From the amount of time required to clean yesterday, I get the feeling that even though her description is quite involved, she's not even telling me half the story. Assured that she knows how to clean every last molecule of my room, I grab my computer, hand over the key, and go downstairs.
No, the computer in the business center still won't connect. The staff have called for technical support, and they seem to have their fill of other problems as well: the copier is in pieces all over the floor. I leave them all behind, find a comfortable seat in the lobby next to an electrical outlet, plug in my ThinkPad and get to work. I get in several hours of writing before I'm finally notified that my room is cleaned and ready for my use.
I go upstairs, put my feet up, and relax. Without an internet connection there's not much I can do for WILMA, and Paul hasn't acquired a critical mass of information for me to process anyway. So I lean back and watch Bad Santa. I've never seen such an oidous bunch of reprobates populate a move since A Clockwork Orange. I decide that Paul was right about this one - it's hilarious in a I-can't-believe-they-did-or-said-that-on-film sense, but it's well below the minimum decency standards that I apply to movies I lend to Inno. If he has some free time and wants a DVD, I can lend him Time Bandits or Princess Mononoke.
After watching Bad Santa I need a bath. I go into the bathroom and notice that there's no soap. During my entire stay at the Ridar the staff have collected all the typically small bars of hotel soap and replaced them every day with brand new ones, even if the bars next to the tub or sink are hardly used. I call housekeeping and notify them that there's no soap in my room and ask that some be brought. The man who answers puts me on hold, then a woman comes on the line. I repeat my request. She says she'll bring some right away.
A few minutes later there's a knock at my door. I open it to find a man standing there with a box of soap bars. He explains that he's here to give me soap. He explains and explains and explains; I can hardly understand what he's mumbling, but he really seesm to be talking about soap. Is he telling me how it's made? Is he describing its use? I tell him that I just want some soap in the bathroom. He says, "I will give you," and proceeds into the bathroom. He puts one new bar by the sink and another by the tub. Then he turns and looks at me.
"Thank you," I say. He doesn't leave. He begins to explain something else, something about plumbing, engineering, architecture - I'm not really sure. As far as I can tell he earnestly wants to provide some other service for me but I simply cannot fathom what he's trying to communicate. I thank him again and hold the door open for him. The open door and my gradual approach into his personal space from the proper direction persuade him to exit the room, but not without continuing his explanation of some apocryphal product or service that he's ready, willing - nay, eager - and able to provide. I close the door as soon as he's a millimeter clear of it, lock it, and go take a bath.
Later in the evening the others return, and we all dine once again at the hotel, which opens a different-sized restaurant depending on how many diners they're expecting. Some more guests have checked in for a conference, so we're in the biggest restaurant. It has comfortable tables and chairs, but the buffet is little changed from previous nights: goat, chicken, tilapia, grossly overcooked vegetables, rice, and bananas. I'm really tired of this fare, but I make the best of it because it's simply too much trouble to try to go anywhere else.
Paul suggests that I should join him for meetings tomorrow morning with the East African Development Bank (EADB) and Mushroom Africa. I don't think that I can add much to any conversations with these groups, at least in the early planning stages, but I've nothing better to do, so I agree. Then he tells me that the first meeting is at 8:30 - we'll have to leave the hotel by 7:30 to fight our way through downtown traffic to get there on time. I grumble about not getting any breakfast, but Paul assures me that there'll be no problem: "the hotel serves breakfast starting at 6:00, so you'll have plenty of time."
At 7:00am in the hotel lobby I'm waiting for the restaurant to open for breakfast. The doors finally unlock around 7:10. I go inside and take a seat, but there's not much to eat: the staff are still just setting up. I get some tea and wait. When the fresh fruit appears I have some of that, and at 7:25 I'm finally able to put in my order for eggs. Paul arrives at 7:28 (I'm just ticked off enough this morning to count every minute go by) and expresses concern that I'm just receiving my eggs as he's sitting down to a glass of juice. There's no hurry, though: Wilson's car hasn't arrived yet, so I have plenty of time.
Paul suggests that making some improvements to the WOLICAMI website might be a better use of my time than attending this morning's meetings. I agree wholeheartedly but observe that, without a working internet connection, there's no way I can even look at the website. Paul ponders the matter for a moment for a minute - really, a whole minute - trying to figure out some way I can work on the website without actually having access to the website. Finally he sees my point and say I should come to the meetings anyway.
We all finish breakfast by the time Wilson arrives, at which point I'm in a more relaxed mood and stop watching the clock (it must be somewhat past 8:00). We grind through the morning rush-hour traffic and wind up at EADB. I point out to Inno that the EADB building is attached to the Grand Imperial hotel, where I'd originally made our reservations but which Paul overruled in favor of the Ridar.
We all go inside and stop at the ground floor reception desk. Phone calls are made. Messages are conveyed. We are told that our meeting has been rescheduled for 11:00; "didn't you get the e-mail?" As we depart, I observe to anyone who will listen (and I think that half of Kampala can hear me when I say this) that SCHEDULE CHANGES WITHIN 24 HOURS OF AN EVENT ARE CONVEYED BY PHONE, NOT E-MAIL!
We drive to Mushroom Africa, which is not far away and doesn't require negotiating heavy traffic. A presidential motorcade blocks our way briefly, but we get to MA pretty quickly. As luck would have it, Paul has overscheduled his day (and mine) again, but since our first meeting was postponed, we arrive at MA right on time. Once all the attendees are present, the chairman suggests that we begin with brief introductions. We all take turns giving our name and saying what we do. The seating arrangement puts Paul in the penultimate position, and when it's his turn to speak, he gives his name and then begins describing WilmaFund's operations. He goes on and on, even walking around the table handing out both his and Inno's business cards and explaining the difference between WILMA and WilmaFund. He threatents to take us through the entire business plan, but I interrupt and remind him that we're still in the "brief introductions" phase. He takes a seat, and then Wilson finally gets a chance to tell a little about himself.
We have some encouraging talks with this organization of mushroom growers. We could have gone on all day, but at the two-hour mark we leave for our rescheduled EADB meeting. I suggest that my time would be better spent at an internet café only a hundred feet from the EADB, but Paul and Inno figure that having me at the table would add more "weight" to their cause, so I tag along.
This time the receptionist sends us up to the meeting room. There we meet with the director general and a research economist. Once again we have encouraging talks, and Paul gets some new ideas about financing arrangements for WilmaFund. Mostly, Paul and the director general do the talking: I have nothing to add, and neither do most of the others, but we leave with e-mail contacts and issues to be further explored.
Once we reach ground level again, Wilson helps me hire a taxi to go back to the Ridar. There are more meetings in the afternoon, but I'm definitely not needed at any of them. By now the traffic has subsided, and the driver gets me to the hotel quickly. I ask for my key - no, the room isn't quite ready yet - and take a seat in the lobby. When the housekeeper finally brings the key, I go upstairs and put my feet up. At this point they feel almost normal, with the left completely healed and the right only suffering from a bit of the rash in one stubborn spot. I'm getting accustomed to typing sidesaddle on my ThinkPad, lying on my bed propped up by pillows (the Ridar's pillows are thin and hard, rather uncomfortable for sleeping but adequate for leaning). I work for a while, then watch a DVD I've been carrying for a long time: The Lathe of Heaven.
Wow, what a change from Bad Santa. The Lathe of Heaven was produced in 1979 for PBS, and if you can look past the shortcomings inflicted by the shoestring budget, it's a though-provoking fantasy about a man whose dreams come true - whether he wants them to or not.
Our usual dinnertime of 8:00pm passes without any word. At 9:00 I try to call Paul on his mobile phone; it rings and rings, but there's no answer. I try to call Inno, but I can't connect; he doesn't have the roaming service like Paul's and mine, and he must be out of range for the SIM he bought locally. I call Bushako, who also bought a local SIM for his mobile phone, and I manage to reach him. "Hello, David, we're having dinner!" he exclaims.
"Tell Paul," I growl, "that our flight is tomorrow afternoon, and I've already reserved the hotel shuttle to the airport for us." Bushako says he'll tell him. I go down to the restaurant for dinner.
Tonight's fare is much the same as before, except that there's no goat. I look around for a place to sit and find the largest table in the room set for ten people and sporting a large sign reading "WOLICAMI." The waitress explains that this table is reserved for my party.
"I am my party," I explain. She invites me to take a seat at the big table, but I tell her that I'd feel silly sitting alone among so many empty places. She insists: the table is reserved for me, so I must sit there. OK, I may as well embrace the situation. I sit at the head of the table with a view past all the unneeded cutlery and elegantly folded cloth napkins. The waitress brings me a drink, and I've hardly had a sip when my phone rings. Well, actually, it doesn't ring, it plays the Toccata from Charles-Marie Widor's Organ Symphony No. 5, which gets the attention of a few other diners. Their phones all play interesting melodies as well, some popular, some classical, but mine never fails to turn a few heads.
It's Paul calling. He informs me that he won't be needing the shuttle to the airport tomorrow. Instead, he's going somewhere in the morning to work with Wilson, who will drive him to the airport later. I give him a big OK, you're the boss but have no intention of canceling his shuttle reservation. I finish my dinner and go to bed.
After breakfast I go to the hotel's front desk to pay our bills. I've become accustomed to spending a lot of time on this process in African hotels, and today's checkout is no exception. The clerk adds up all our various bills in Ugandan shillings on his calculator, consults with several colleagues before ascertaining the current US dollar exchange rate, compensates for wind and temperature, and hands me a bill. The dollar amount is what I'm expecting, but the figure ends with .97; I round up and tell the clerk to keep the three cents.
While I've been handling the payment, Paul has been sitting in the lobby waiting for Wilson, who should have arrived an hour ago. I advise Paul that I've reserved a place for him on the hotel's airport shuttle, and he's glad to hear that I've planned ahead. Zhiguo arrives, and he and Paul work on some last-minute plans until the time arrives to depart for the airport. The hotel staff load our bags into the shuttle, and just as we're saying goodbye to Zhiguo (who's staying a few more days in Uganda), Wilson arrives and explains that he was delayed by car trouble.
Paul still wants to discuss some things with Wilson, so he gets into Wilson's car. Paul also wants to discuss something with Zhiguo, but not while he's talking with Wilson, so Zhiguo takes Paul's place in the shuttle. The plan is for all of us to wind up at the airport at about the same time, where Paul will get in his last few minutes of conversation with Zhiguo, who will then go back to the hotel in Wilson's car. I have no objection to any of this as long as (A) my shuttle leaves at the appointed time and (B) Paul takes his own suitcases in Wilson's car. At first Paul sees point B as unnecessary, but then he agrees with me - there's no telling what may happen between here and the airport - and we move his bags to Wilson's car. Both vehicles pull out of the hotel's parking lot, and it isn't long before Wilson's car disappears somewhere behind the shuttle.
Zhiguo and I talk about mushrooms and other WILMA business on the way to the airport. When we arrive, I say goodbye to him and leave him at the entrance to wait for Paul. As usual, I pass through security with only a slight delay as the officer inspects my phone and computer. On the other side of the security barrier I make a couple of sharp right turns to get to the Kenya Airways check-in desk and wait in line within sight of the security officer who just inspected my bags.
I see Paul arrive and approach the same officer. However, instead of passing through the inspection point, he walks over to an opening in the security barrier and calls my name. I turn, but I don't move from my place in line. Paul shouts that his computer battery is low - can I do anything about it? Not from here, Paul. The now-agitated officer is motioning to Paul to step away from the opening, but he's completely oblivious to these instructions. Only when I tell Paul to step back and point to the officer does he get the message. He goes back to the public area and spends some more time with Zhiguo before finally joining me in the departure zone.
Paul's in the mood for a snack, but he's completely out of local currency. I've finished my shopping, so I hand him my few remaining dollar's worth of shillings and point him toward the restaurant. When the gate agents arrive and invite passengers to enter the boarding area, I walk over to the restaurant and tell Paul that I'm going ahead. He tells me that he's ordered some French fries - they cost exactly the amount I handed him - and that he'll join me when he's finished. I go through the final security check and take a seat near the gate.
The gate area fills with passengers, but Paul is not among them. I can't go back through the security check to find out what's keeping him, so all I can do is wait. Eventually, just before boarding begins, a disgruntled Paul appears. He recounts his experience in the restaurant: while French fries are a standard item on the menu, nobody working there seemed to know how to prepare them. So the entire staff disappeared into the kitchen and labored for a half hour trying to fry some potatoes, and when they finally produced some, the results were awful. How awful? He's still hungry and looking forward to the Kenya Airways economy-class meal that awaits us.
We board. Paul and I are assigned to window and aisle seats in the same row, and for a while it looks like we'll have an empty seat between us. Our luck runs out, however: an African gentleman arrives with a boarding pass in his hands. He looks at the middle seat, looks at me, looks at Paul, sighs in resignation, and squeezes in. I make a joke about what good padding Paul and I provide during turbulence, and with smiles we all make ourselves as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. Our center seat-mate politely glances back to see if there are any vacant seats, but it's a full flight.
Once we're aloft the attendants bring meals and drinks. I decline the food but have some spring water. The man in the middle asks for a beer, and Paul - ever the sociable one - says he'll have a beer as well. Squeezed between me an Paul, our new friend has barely enough room to move his arms, but he manages to grip the tab on his beer can - and break it off. He signals the attendant, who can't do anything about the defective can but does hand him another, which opens properly.
We're in bulkhead seats, which means there's nothing to look at but the blank wall a few inches in front of us. The unopened beer can becomes the focus of our attention. The man in the middle tries to pry it open with the plastic cutlery that came with his meal, but he makes no headway. Paul leans over - nearly crushing our seatmate - and asks me if I have any sharp objects. If I did, would they let me on the plane? The man continues to work on the can without success.
I know how to open the can. I see that the tables holding our food and drink have little metal tabs on them that are the prefect size and shape for pressing against the removable part of the can. I do not tell this to anyone. The perfect tab is in the worst possible position: in order to press the top of the can against it, it has to be held pointed at ME. I'm not about to arrive in Nairobi liberally sprayed with beer. I could suggest that we use the tab on Paul's table, but I'm not that mean, and I simply take too much space to make the tab on my table reachable (and I'm also not eager to spray the flight attendant). The man finally opens a tiny hole in the can from which beer dribbles for the remainder of the flight, and he nurses his drink until the attendant comes through and collects trash prior to landing.
We land and pass through immigration and customs quickly. Paul asks my opinion on the chances the Safari Club driver will be here to meet us. I tell him 100% - after the stern e-mail I sent them, they'd probably pick us up at Heathrow. Sure enough, the driver is there waiting for us, and he drives us through light weekend traffic to the hotel. I collect my stored luggage (Paul tends to take everything with him on every leg of the trip, but then he travels much lighter than I), and we spend the evening sorting out the results of the trip thus far.
We're beat. The long days have finally caught up with us, so we spend the day relaxing in the hotel. Strangely, we find it impossible to simply watch a movie or spend time by the pool; we compulsively rework our program and get a lot of work done, but we do it at an easy pace and break early for dinner at the Grand Regency.
Today we fly to Lilongwe, Malawi. Over the past week I've received several e-mails from British Airways (the nominal airline for this leg of the journey, although the plane is operated by Regional Air) adjusting the departure and arrival times by no more than an hour, and I've kept our man in Lilongwe, Lyton, apprised of the changes. When Paul and I get to the airport, I notice that the arrival time - but not the departure time - has changed once again. I ask the agent who checks me in about this, and she assures me that the time in my latest e-mail, not the time on the wall, is correct. As we wait to board the plane, I mention to Paul how much I'm looking forward to the peach juice that the Capitol Hotel serves both at breakfast and at check-in. It's different from - and in my opinion, much better than - peach juice I've had in the USA.
The flight is uneventful, and as always we pass through Malawi's visa-free immigration and customs without a hitch. I precede Paul through the exit and immediately start scanning the arrivals area for Lyton. A woman walks up to me and says hello. I say hello back and continue scanning for Lyton. The woman looks a little miffed and asks, "don't you remember me?"
Ah, it's Alice, Lyton's wife! I apologize for not recognizing her, but I decide to explain the limits of my visual acuity later. Paul comes through the exit and exclaims, "Alice!" and thus makes a far better impression than I. Alice explains that since our plane arrived an hour later than the time I sent to Lyton (which means the sign in Nairobi was correct), he had to go teach an aerobics class and asked her to pick us up in his stead. We thank her for coming and pile into her truck, and she drives us to the Capitol Hotel.
Alice gives me Lyton's computer. He's been experiencing severe problems that have made it almost useless. From what he's told me via the internet, I suspect it's a problem in his display settings, but with the Windows control almost invisible, I couldn't tell him how to fix it himself. I tell Alice what I tell every computer user in need: "I'll do what I can." She thanks me, ensures that we're safely in the hands of the hotel staff, and departs.
As we fill out the customary forms, a waiter comes up behind us with glasses of juice. I eagerly turn and reach for…
"Would you like some orange juice, sir?" asks the waiter. Orange juice! I did not come to Malawi for orange juice! I politely decline, and the waiter's resulting dismay equals mine at finding no peach juice at check-in. Paul salvages the day by taking the orange juice.
Bellmen take us to our rooms. We diverge as Paul's is down the hall to the left, mine to the right. The bellman opens my door, I enter, and I exit. "No way," I say, and point to the offending feature: two small single beds. The bellman takes one look at my large frame, one look at the beds, and shakes his head vigorously, saying "no, no, no, no, no…" He phones the front desk, and in a minute another bellman arrives with the key to a suitably-furnished room, and it's next to Paul's. The arrangement makes it convenient for us to work on some documents until dinnertime, and I even find a spare 90 seconds to fix Lyton's computer. Even though the contents of the screen are illegible, I know Windows well enough to click on the proper locations to reset the display, and the familiar images appear immediately. Lyton joins us in the evening; he's happy to have his computer working again, and we discuss progress and plans over dinner at the hotel's restaurant.
I have breakfast with Paul and Lyton in the outdoor restaurant. I'm in the mood for peach juice - a lot of peach juice. At the buffet I find only tiny juice glasses, so I ask one of the staff if I can have a big glass. He seems puzzled by my request, so I explain that I want to drink a big portion of peach juice and don't want to walk back and forth between my table (outside) and the buffet (inside) repeatedly for three-ounce portions; I'd rather have one big glass of peach juice. "We only have small glasses here; the big glasses are in the other restaurant. You go sit and enjoy your breakfast," he replies, "I'll bring you a big glass." I fill my plate and return to the table outside.
A few minutes later the fellow from the buffet appears with a big glass. "Here you are sir, a big glass!" Yes, it is a big glass - a big EMPTY glass. I look disdainfully at the glass through my ink-black sunglasses for a couple of seconds, and then the man gets the message: "ah, would you like some juice in it?"
"Yes, I would like peach juice in it," I reply. He races off and returns in a minute with a big glass full of chilled peach juice. I thank him and enjoy my juice at leisure as Paul and Lyton go off to do some work. After another glass of peach juice, the three of us go to the World Bank office.
After a short meeting with Dunstan, I leave Paul and Lyton to continue the discussion while I go downstairs to connect my ThinkPad to the high-speed internet line. The Bank has plenty of bandwidth, and it seems like I'm the only one using it. My week without internet access in Uganda has left me with a long list of online tasks, and I find I can get them done here at record speed. As is usually the case, the result of completing one task is another task, so I spend the day researching mushroom marketing opportunities and other subjects either assigned by Paul or inspired by online search results.
While I'm working on the computer, Paul goes off to meet people and see things. He gives me a summary of his adventures over dinner. It's all work-related stuff, not really the material I like to put on my travel pages, so to see what we're doing officially in Malawi, check out the WilmaFund website.
Paul spends the day visiting a village north of Lilongwe that Dunstan thinks is a good place for WILMA to do some development work. Dunstan provides a car and driver and estimates that the trip will be about four hours each way. There's not much point in my going, and I'm making splendid progress on my online projects, so Paul takes off early and leaves me to have breakfast by myself. I get my fill of peach juice, then I collect my ThinkPad, head over to the World Bank office, tie into their network, and spend the rest of the day working online.
I return to the hotel and wait for Paul. He arrives much later than Dunstan estimated but about as late as Paul expected (we're beginning to understand African time). In short, the visit was a lot like a visit to Ahakishaka: it's a remote area that seldom gets visitors, and the locals treat Paul like royalty. They want to show him everything in an effort to convince him that their village is a good area for mushroom cultivation and other enterprises that WILMA might support. Paul, suffering from the effects of his morning coffee and a four-hour drive, only wants to find a bathroom. He finally manages to bring the subject up diplomatically to his guide, who informs him that they don't have any. Now you know why I stayed in Lilongwe. As he's taken on a out of a banana farm, Paul selects one of the larger, leafier trees and relieves himself behind it as his hosts politely examine cloud formations. He's informed later that this is the customary method for dealing with such situations.
My day proceeds much like the previous two, and by evening I have compiled a great, well-organized collection of mushroom marketing information on a CD. I did the same type of work in Dar es Salaam, but that effort only resulted in 25Mb of useful information. With the World Bank's high-speed line, I've now compiled 501Mb information that will require some time to organize into an easily browsable form.
Lyton joins us in the evening, and Margaret arrives with a colleague. We discuss dining options; Paul and I are nearly out of local currency, so we want to go someplace that takes credit cards. Few restaurants in Malawi take anything but cash, and we nearly wind up in the hotel's restaurant again, but halfway to the entrance Margaret says she'd really like to try a nearby restaurant recommended by Dunstan. It's an upscale place that caters to expats, so - she reasons - it must take credit cards. We go about a mile down the highway to a modern complex of shops and eateries.
I go in first and ask about credit cards. No, we don't take them, but we do take American dollars. Paul has dollars, so we take a table. It's a nice, rustic-looking place whose architectural style doesn't evoke any particular era or location, and the extensive menu has something to appeal to everyone. We spend the evening eating - the food is good, not exceptional - and talking. The only hitch comes when Paul pays with a $100 bill; his considerable change comes in the form of Malawi kwacha, and the bundle nearly exceeds the capacity of his pockets.
Lyton picks us up and takes us to the airport. We check in early as required by the regulations for international flights, and then we're stuck in Lilongwe airport for two hours. There's not much to see or do here, so I respond with enthusiasm whenever something breaks the monotony such as an unexpected, random request to see my boarding pass or the standard procedure of identifying one's luggage among those lined along the runway. Eventually it's time to board; I've reserved some comfortable bulkhead seats, but the agent declares "open seating" as she calls us for boarding, so I make sure that I'm one of the first on the plane to secure some legroom.
Back in Nairobi, I work on some end-of-trip tasks. My new collection of marketing information is so valuable that I want to compose a nice browsing function, put it all on a CD, and send it to Inno in Dar es Salaam. By evening I've produced the CD, but at this time there's nobody in the hotel who can tell me how to ship it to Dar, so I leave it in my room and have dinner with Paul.
I spend most of the day trying to get my new CD shipped to Inno. Someone knows how to send souvenirs to the USA and Europe, someone else knows how to send letters to African cities, but nobody seems to know how to send a package to Dar es Salaam. A few brief sessions of packing and various short tasks for Paul occasionally interrupt an otherwise dawn-to-dusk nonstop process of trying to find someone who will send the CD. It's nearly dinnertime when someone finally says she'll do it, and for arranging the shipment with a local express company she charges me $40 cash. Under other circumstances I'd refuse to pay such a price for this service, but I believe that the information will immediately prove valuable enough to justify the cost. Paul and I have our final dinner at the Grand Regency, where the iced tea is perfectly brewed, the cheese sticks (long rolls topped with cheese) are freshly baked, and the main course of pasta and salmon is entirely satisfactory.
Paul and I discuss final travel plans over dinner. He's is booked on tomorrow's early morning flight to London, but I'm on the evening flight. No, I didn't make these arrangements just to be mean: Paul is going to Washington on a ticket purchased with frequent flyer miles, and I'm going to St. Petersburg, Russia, on a cash ticket, and we each got the best connections available. I say goodbye tonight and ask him not to disturb me when he leaves the hotel before 6:00am, and he promises to let me sleep.
There's a knock at my door around 5:30am. I roll out of bed, trudge to the door, and open it to find a harried Paul. He explains that he needs me to verify to the front desk that I'll pay for his room when I check out later today. We've checked out of the Safari Club this way many times before, so we're both surprised there's a glitch this morning. After pointing out that Paul could have simply paid for his own room with the Visa card I gave him specifically for this purpose, I call the front desk and confirm the arrangement. Paul disappears, and I go back to sleep. Later I get up, have some breakfast, and work on my travel report (delayed by my nonstop internet sessions in Malawi and a rush of last-minute tasks from Paul) until early evening, when I dash over to the Grand Regency one more time for iced tea, cheese sticks, and a main course that's quickly forgotten.
I return to the Safari Club, collect my belongings, and go to the airport. The agent takes a look at my ticket and asks, "shall I forward your luggage directly to St. Petersburg?" Before I can answer, he grins and remarks, "I don't think I've ever asked anyone that before!" I nod, and he tags the luggage accordingly. He looks over his computer screen for a moment and then asks, "would you like to sit in first class?" Has anyone ever answered 'no' to this question? I do, of course, and he takes my business-class boarding pass for seat 64K and exchanges it for a first-class pass for 2A. I thank him and head to the British Airways lounge.
Once in the lounge, I take a comfortable seat and relax. I'm soon joined by some other Americans, the Hendersons from Missouri. They've been here visiting their daughter, who's doing charitable work. We talk for a while; they describe their daughter's teaching efforts, and I describe our program to help people start small businesses. They like the sound of it and ask if I'm with a Christian organization. "Oh, no," I reply, "in fact, I was once associated with the Devil himself."
I suppose I deserve the look they gave me: mouths agape and eyebrows raised not inquisitively but accusingly. I explain, "I was with the IMF and then the World Bank." Their expressions do not change immediately, but eventually change to one of resigned understanding. We've all made mistakes.
The Hendersons are waiting for their boarding passes. They're escorting a group of girls - from what I can see, both African and American, but not African-American - to the USA. While the girls are traveling in coach, an agent has taken the Hendersons' coach boarding passes and promised to bring business-class passes. Apparently the plane is overbooked in coach, so passengers are being shuffled around to accommodate the load. The Hendersons are getting a bit apprehensive as boarding time nears, but I assure them that British Airways will sort it all out and won't leave without them. Just as the boarding announcement comes over the loudspeakers, an agent appears and presents the upgraded passes. Mr. Henderson shows me his: 64K. He inquires about the route to the gate; it is long and winding, so I offer to lead him there. We all exit the lounge and start walking to the gate together.
At the security checkpoint, the Hendersons are stopped for additional inspection. They're quite unaccustomed to such procedures - they've apparently failed to empty their pockets of metal, and the contents of their carry-on bags look rather suspicious on the X-ray screen, so they're in for a long session with the officers. From here there are no opportunities for wrong turns, so they thank me for getting them this far and wave me on. I wish them a good flight, board the plane, put my bag in the overhead bin, check one last time that the outer pocket has its important contents… and it doesn't. The packet containing my health certificate, tickets for other flights, and a considerable amount of cash isn't in its proper place. Suddenly I remember that I took it out of the bag to show Mr. Henderson my first-class boarding pass. I ask a flight attendant if it can be brought to me. "It's bright red," I tell him, "you can't miss it, although it seems that I did."
The attendant immediately calls the lounge, and in less than a minute he gets the reply that lounge staff have found the packet and are bringing it. It arrives quickly with all contents intact. I buckle my seatbelt, fill out my video request list, and settle back for a long flight to Russia.
|Postscript: I left some key computer parts in Lilongwe, but Lyton retrieved them from the hotel and will hold them for me until my return in October. I left my pajamas in Nairobi, but the Safari Club will hold them for me until my return in November. And the CD that I paid $40 to send to Dar took over two weeks to arrive, but when it finally showed up it turned out to be as valuable as I expected and has already resulted in a number of excellent marketing contacts in Europe.|