Kenya, Tanzania, and Malawi, March-April 2003|
Old Friends, New Beginnings
Updated May 20, 2003
|This trip begins on a somber note. Our friend and colleague Stan, director of Save the World Fund (SWF), died recently. Much of our program in Tanzania is based upon work he started with SWF, and his loss has resulted in setbacks on several initiatives. His son Inno, employed by WILMA for about a year now, is already in Dar es Salaam taking stock of the situation and initiating steps to prevent further deterioration. Before meeting him, Paul and I will stop for a couple of days in Nairobi, Kenya, where we'll meet with our pal Andrew. Last time we saw him, he was the director of the African Centre for Economic Growth (ACEG), but two days before our departure we learned that he's just become the governor of Kenya's central bank.|
I'm dragging five ThinkPads on this trip, two of my own and three for other people. Since we'll be taking at least one flight within Africa, where the limits on the weight and number of bags allowed are far lower than for European and American flights, I've left behind some of the equipment I ordinarily take on these journeys and stuffed just the absolute necessities into one large suitcase and one small dufflebag. With a little luck, once I deliver two of the computers, the dufflebag will fit into the suitcase, and I'll make my way through check-ins without incurring any excess baggage fee.
I arrive at the airport early, check in, and have a meal at T.G.I.Friday's. This is my first opportunity in some time to simply sit and relax. I've been so busy over the previous few months that I've yet to finish the previous trip's report or to post any tales of my recent stay in Russia; I plan to get some work done on these as I also post updates from the current trip.
After my meal I find Paul in the business-class lounge. We sit and talk as we await the boarding call. He has his own collection of equipment in his checked luggage, including a thermoelectric refrigerator and some accounting ledgers. It's unlikely he'll make it through an African check-in without paying the excess baggage fee. To my surprise, he hasn't brought a suit. With a visit to the Central Bank of Kenya likely and a meeting with the president of Malawi possible, I'm sure that a suit will be appropriate and have one neatly packed. Paul's confident that his blue blazer and slacks will be sufficient.
We board the plane and go to our separate cabins. Paul is in business class on the main deck of the 747, but I've managed to snag a seat on the upper deck. As always, Paul gets some sleep, but I do not.
When the plane comes to a stop at Heathrow I'm eager to get to the Hilton for a nap. I've landed here many times now and execute the drill with precision:
Paul eventually shows up. I see him wandering through the Arrivals corridor, pondering which immigration lane to use. I wave to get his attention and direct him toward the Fast Track, where there's an agent ready to receive him. A moment later, he and I are on the same side of the arrivals barrier and heading toward the exit. We've both learned to ignore the airport signs that direct hotel-bound passengers to the escalator. That escalator only takes you to the elevator, and the same elevator stops on the arrivals floor, so we take the elevator, walk through the tunnel that snakes around the airport, and enter the hotel. Unlike our experience on some previous trips, check-in takes only a moment. The clerk asks the time of our next flight, and when I tell her it's 10:30pm she asks if I'd like to extend the check-out time for our day rooms past the normal 6:00. I decline; we'll be meeting Margaret (computer recipient #1) in the lobby. She's going to take us somewhere interesting for dinner, something Paul and I are looking forward to because the Hilton's Brasserie, while serving excellent food, is simply pricier than any restaurant - even considering the convenient location - ought to be.
I sleep. I wash. I check out. To do so in comfort is all I expect of an airport hotel day room, and that's what I get. I await Paul in the lobby. He's been out walking, and he tells me that he's observed workers removing stands of trees that surround the airport. He guesses that this action is prompted by terrorism concerns: the trees could be used as cover by someone firing a weapon at a plane. We sit and wait for Margaret. 6:00 comes and goes.
A little after 6:30 Margaret arrives. Traffic and subway problems have gotten the best of her, and she greets us not with her usual cheer but with an outpouring of ire over London's transportation woes. It's not our fault! None of us are willing to test the congestion by leaving the airport only a few hours before our flight, so we investigate the hotel's selection of restaurants. The Zen restaurant offers a selection of Asian dishes that we find appealing, so we decide to give it a try. Margaret seems quite eager - she strides right past the sign and into the restaurant - but I recall her and note that the sign says, "Wait here to be seated." The host appears and takes us to a booth where we find places for our many bags and then for ourselves.
We peruse the menu, which is full of curiously- and philosophically-named specialties from various Asian cuisines. Paul makes up his mind when he spots an item with twice as much Zen goodness as any other, pork chops zen zen. Margaret engages the waiter in a discourse on the evils of MSG, and he suggests that she have the fresh sea bass seasoned with little more than its own karma. I choose prawns accompanied by tightly-wound spring rolls.
There's much to discuss: the Imatong Institute (somewhat adrift due to recent political changes in Sudan), movies, travel, Iraq, and Margaret's new computer. Margaret shows me the movies she's bought at my request: The Plague Dogs on DVD, and three on VHS tape: Ghostbusters, Hot Shots, and Police Story. The tapes are for our friends in Ahakishaka; who requested a martial-arts movie. I don't know much about the genre, but I've selected Jackie Chan's Police Story with confidence after reading several reviews. I chose the other two tapes as likely candidates for a non-English-speaking audience to enjoy. The Plague Dogs is an animated film I've wanted to own for years. The producers have no plans to release it on DVD in the US, so I asked Margaret to get the UK version for me. I have no plans to play it during the trip, so I ask her to hold it for me until I return and suggest that she watch it herself if she's interested. Having read some reviews, she says she will, and I recommend that she have a handkerchief or two when she does - it's a sad story.
Paul feels a little left out when Margaret and I discuss films. He's seen far fewer films than we have, and has rarely ventured into some of the more disturbing reaches of cinema. Thus he's surprised when Margaret opens her new ThinkPad, checks the configuration, and finds that I've named it ERASERHEAD. He's even more surprised when Margaret says she'll leave it that way. I tell him I'll get him started on a remedial cinematic education during this trip.
We finish our dinner and continue our lively conversation until it's time for Paul and me to board our next flight. Margaret leaves with her new computer, and Paul and I go to the departures area. There I get a little last-minute shopping done and then head for the gate. This time Paul and I have adjacent seats; this arrangement gives us a chance to check out each other's special meal: his kosher, mine seafood. I win the appetizer competition with a generous serving of excellent smoked salmon. The main courses impress me as roughly equal in quality, although I get real butter for my roll and real milk for my tea while Paul gets margarine and non-dairy creamer.
I mention that I have a couple of gifts for people in Dar es Salaam. The hostesses in the breakfast room have always brightened up our mornings, so I'm bringing them some Russian chocolate. Paul immediately responds that he should have brought something for the staff at ACEG and regrets that's it's a bit too late to buy anything now. I counter that the in-flight duty-free shopping is designed precisely for this situation, and he takes me up on my suggestion that I help him select something from the catalog. I flip through the pages: silk scarves for $150, watches for $200, perfume, jewelry - nothing seems quite right until I spot an odd device, a battery-powered frother. It's the perfect gift for the traveling cappuccino addict who can't face the day without whipped milk atop his coffee. This hardly describes the staff of ACEG, but Paul is taken with the idea of demonstrating the device to them even though we know they're tea rather than coffee drinkers. He even proposes a new frothed tea (chai in Swahili) concoction, cappuchaino. We buy a frother.
After dinner Paul puts his seat into full recline and falls asleep. I put on the headphones and watch Star Trek: Nemesis, but not so much for entertainment as to drown out Paul's snoring. I get some work done on my computer, try out the video games on the British Airways personal entertainment system, and otherwise amuse myself until breakfast. The smell of food awakens Paul, and he leans on the control button until his seat grinds into more-than-fully-upright position. His kosher meal includes cereal and a plastic container of creamer that's separated into components resembling clam juice and fresh tile grout. I advise Paul not to use it, but he insists, "it's OK - it's artificial!"
We land at Kenyatta Airport and clear immigrations and customs with reasonable speed. After we collect our bags, we find the driver from our hotel. He loads us and our bags into the car and speeds us into downtown Nairobi. Paul is rested and ready to phone and meet people in the city. I ask if he needs me for anything right away, and he says he doesn't; with no active WILMA projects in Kenya, there's little need for computer support. When we reach the Safari Club, I'm relieved to check in and go to bed immediately. I sleep most of the day while Paul checks in with friends and colleagues.
When I awaken, Paul gives me a diskette. He's been working on a new proposal for an organization in Kenya, and he wants me to look it over and print it. I've worked up quite an appetite, so I tell him I'll look at it after dinner, and we head off to the Grand Regency. The staff remember me, but they're divided on the correct formula for iced tea. After some argument, the waiter gingerly approaches our table and inquires, "is that with fruit or without?" I tell him to make the tea without fruit, and his reaction tells me that he was the one who remembered my instructions correctly and suggests that he may have had a few shillings riding on my answer. When the tea arrives, it's not too strong, not too weak, and served in a large glass, just the way I like it.
Paul updates me on his day. He's made little progress contacting people in the city. Most of them have cell phones, but they've all been busy when he called. He did manage to meet some people by visiting their offices, but overall the day has been far less productive than he'd hoped. During dinner he repeatedly refers to our hotel as the Holiday Inn, to ACEG as SWF, and makes other mention of Dar es Salaam people and institutions as if they were in Nairobi. My suspicions are immediately aroused, and I ask him if he's on Lariam. Paul just smirks - I often ask him this when he makes a mistake.
By the time we finish eating, he's quite fatigued, and we head directly back to our hotel where he goes straight to bed. Energized by my all-afternoon nap, I look at the document Paul gave me earlier and am boggled: his writing is usually rather focused, but this document is just a grab-bag of topics and ideas that we've recently discussed. There's little I can do to clean it up, so I get some work done on my travel report and go to bed.
I give Paul my blunt assessment of his document over breakfast. He wants it cleaned up and printed in time for our morning meeting at the Ford Foundation, so I agree to correct the grammar but insist that he take out the many superfluous quotation marks. There are at least a dozen terms enclosed in quotation marks in the page-and-a-half paper, and when he takes a fresh look he decides that only one actually needs them.
We take a taxi to the Ford Foundation. It's in a tall building on a hill, and the taxi only gets us to the foot of a long and winding staircase that ascends to what the guards call "ground level." Once at this level, high above most of the roofs in the city, we sign in and take the elevator up to the Ford offices. We're served tea and then shown into the office of Milagre, a Ford program manager. She gives us her card, we give her ours. With her card squarely in front of him, Paul speculates aloud that she must be married to someone from a Scandinavian country and asks her if her last name is pronounced "Knudsen." Her last name is an African name spelled nothing like Knudsen; she replies, "no, that's the name of my assistant."
Paul apologizes and then begins explaining why we're here. I interrupt for a few seconds to note that I'll be silent unless a technical issue arises, and then Paul continues for about an hour. He goes into a bit too much detail on some points and wanders off into a couple of irrelevant issues, but mostly he stays on-target and explains our aims fully. At the end of the hour, Milagre thanks him for the information and succinctly advises us that, due to the falling value of its investment portfolio, the Ford Foundation has less money than expected to devote to charitable efforts and is not currently considering any new ones. She does, however, suggest that new initiatives may be considered in the future, perhaps in October, the beginning of their fiscal year, and invites us to contact the foundation then.
When we return to the hotel, Paul walks to the nearby ACEG office and delivers the frother that we bought on the plane. I'd hoped to be there to see the demonstration, but he soon returns and reports to me that it went well. He tells me that the staff weren't sure about its use for tea, but they were enthusiastic about whipping milk or cream for hot chocolate. It had never occurred to me that people even drank hot chocolate this close to the equator.
I take a ThinkPad over to ACEG. There the new director, the successor to Andrew (who has already assumed his position as Governor of the central bank), greets me takes me into his office. I give him a short tour of the new computer, and when he asks me if he can do anything for me, I suggest that payment of the price that I'd previously negotiated with Andrew would be nice. He agrees. Specifically, he agrees that it would be nice, but prompt payment is out of the question. Now that Andrew is no longer with ACEG, he cannot sign a check, and the new director has yet to get his signature authorized at the bank. The situation won't change before my flight to Dar es Salaam tomorrow, and I know that ACEG is trustworthy, so I propose that they simply pay me on my next visit. The director doesn't want me to wait till July for my payment, so he offers to wire me the money if I send him the account information when I get home in April, and I agree. I diagnose a few minor problems on ACEG's older ThinkPad, start an optimization routine on it, and advise the staff to reboot the machine when the routine is complete.
Back at the hotel, I relax in the tub. We'll be staying at a hotel in Dar es Salaam with small bathtubs, so I enjoy the Safari Club's full-size facilities while I can. My soak is interrupted by a ringing phone, conveniently located on the wall next to the tub. It's ACEG, and after we settle the reason for the static on the line that sounds like running water, they inform me that the optimization routine has entered an endless loop of processing for about 10 minutes and then restarting. I tell them to terminate it and wait for me to return and check it. I also tell them I won't be over right away - my soak has priority. When I'm ready, I go to the office, disable a database routine that's been making the disk drive busy, restart the optimization routine, and go back to the hotel.
At 7:00 Paul and I wait in the lobby for Wilson, the computer guru for ACEG. I've brought some software for him from the US, and we sit and talk computers for a while in the Safari Club bar. Paul mentions that he's discovered the reason why all cell phones in Nairobi seem to be busy: the hotel has informed him that there's a city-wide problem that prevents land lines from connecting with cell phones. Unfortunately, the failure-to-connect signal sounds exactly like a busy signal, so there's no way for the caller to know that this is a technical failure, and Paul's a bit miffed at having wasted so much of our meager time in Nairobi redialing. Wilson offers Paul the use of his cell phone to call Andrew so he can confirm our meeting with him tomorrow morning. There's no answer on Andrew's mobile number, but Paul goes up to his room to try calling Andrew at home. Wilson and I continue to talk computers, in much more detail now that we don't have to explain things to Paul. After about a half hour we decide that Paul must be having a long and detailed discussion of his own with Andrew, so Wilson goes home while I wait in the lobby for Paul to return.
Another half hour passes, and Paul has still not returned. I go up to his room and knock, but there's no answer. I return to the lobby and wait. I go up to his room and pound. But there's still no answer. I return to the lobby and wait. At this point I have no idea what's happened to Paul, but I suspect he's met one of his many colleagues and was obliged to leave the hotel while I was in the bar with Wilson or in the elevator. I go back to my own room, write a note for Paul telling him that he can find me in my room, walk to his room, and slip the note under the door. Just for good measure I knock one more time, and to my surprise I hear some low grumbling from the other side. Paul sleepily opens the door and peers at me. It's obvious that he has no idea what I want, and he asks me if he was asleep. I respond by suggesting that we go out to eat.
We enjoy excellent Italian fare at the Inter-Continental and then return to the Safari Club for the night. Paul expects that he will awaken very early in the morning because he is still not acclimated to the local time zone, so I suggest that he borrow a movie from my DVD collection and watch it if he has nothing better to do. Since he's a Jack Nicholson fan, I give him The Witches of Eastwick, which he's never seen, and then retire to my room.
Today we're scheduled to meet Andrew at the Central Bank of Kenya at 10:15. Shortly before our usual breakfast of 8:00, Paul phones me: he's still watching The Witches of Eastwick and says he'll call me when it's over. I get some work done while I wait for him, but at 8:30 I begin to worry about the time left for breakfast and the trip to the Bank. I walk over to Paul's room and find that the film is just ending. He puts on his shoes and joins me on the way to the restaurant to - as he puts it - "build up his immune system."
Shortly after we sit down to eat, a waiter brings a phone. It's the Bank calling for Paul. They inform him that our appointment has been moved up from 10:15 to 9:45. I grumble about the interruption to my leisurely breakfast routine (to which Paul has become resigned simply because he doesn't have the strength to pry me from the table), but I'm not going to risk being late for this appointment, so I eat quickly. Paul doesn't know where the Central Bank building is; nonetheless, he estimates it will take thirty minutes to get there. That's my cue to ask him one more time if he's taking Lariam, and this time he doesn't evade the question. Yes, he admits that he's on the anti-malaria medication that's known for its side-effects of psychosis and hallucinations. He explains that he has some old pills and wanted to use them up. I'm sure that he chose this moment to tell me because there's no time for me to give him a full measure of castigation.
We catch a taxi to the Central Bank. There are several layers of security to be negotiated, but we're expected and soon ushered into the inner sanctum. The waiting area is spacious and furnished with sturdy Eduardian furniture, and Paul and I find comfortable seating in throne-like chairs. Andrew arrives after a few minutes. He enthusiastically embraces us and corrects our attempt to congratulate him on his new position: as with most government appointments, the proper word is "commiserations," not "congratulations." We go into his office, no larger but significantly grander than his old space at ACEG, and talk for a while about the recent elections that put a new president in office (which led to his appointment) and Paul's plans for WILMA in Kenya. Andrew's a busy man, so we can't stay long; soon we say our goodbyes and reverse our course through the security gauntlet.
When we get outside we realize that we're not in a good location to hail a taxi. Rather than walk through the risky streets of Nairobi in our Central Bank best, we go back inside and ask if someone can call a taxi. The receptionist asks where I'm going, and I tell her the Safari Club. She asks Paul and me to wait in the lobby while she summons a taxi.
A few minutes later the receptionist approaches us. She asks whether I'd booked transportation to the hotel in advance. I say no, and she advises me that the hotel is willing to send a private car for an outrageous fee in about an hour. I clarify my position: I only want a taxi - any taxi! Ah, now she understands. She directs me to a taxi stand on the other side of the building. Paul and I walk there and take the first taxi in line; minutes later we're back at the hotel.
We have a few minutes to pack for our afternoon flight to Dar es Salaam before Gracie, the head of a Kenyan NGO and wife of Andrew, arrives for lunch. Paul thinks that she, like the wives of several of our African colleagues, is a good candidate to participate in the organization that's the subject of his latest proposal. A trip to any other restaurant would jeopardize our scheduled 2:30 departure for the airport, so we decide to eat in the hotel's Brasserie. A long line at the door takes us by surprise: evidently a group has arrived for a special luncheon, but we find that there's a table available for us. When we get inside we find that the line that extends out the door is not waiting to be seated but rather working its way slowly through the buffet; we elect to order from the menu.
There's much news to share about recent developments both in Kenyan elections and in WILMA's efforts, and we've hardly covered all we want to talk about by the time we go our separate ways. Paul and I retrieve our luggage from our rooms and turn them over to the bellman. I check us out - always a protracted procedure at the Safari Club - and note that while my invoice is, as usual, simply a total of the room charge and meals, Paul's contains a lengthy detail of phone calls and a few minibar items: a pack of nuts, a can of beer, and a miniature of gin.
I pay and board the airport shuttle with Paul. I mention the gin on his invoice because it's an unusual item for him. He denies having taken any gin from the minibar, but he observes that the mineral water bottles are smaller than he remembers.
At Kenyatta Airport we arrive two hours before the flight and approach the check-in counter clearly overweight. Hey, I'm talking about the luggage! While we were allowed over 60kg of luggage for our British Airways flight from the US, the limit on Air Tanzania is only 20kg. Even though we've taken care to minimize our weight, we're each more than 10kg over the limit. I try to schmooze our way out of the excess baggage charge by describing our good charitable work in Africa and citing our nonprofit status. I even loudly ask Paul if he happens to have our nonprofit certificate with him. He gives the wrong answer: "sure, want me to pull it out?" No, actually, if they see it they'll know it's not valid in Kenya.
I surrender at this point and agree to pay the fee. Checking in early, however, has its advantages: the agent who handles such payments has not yet arrived, and the ticketing agents don't have the authority to collect excess-baggage payments from us. They ask us to take a seat near the desk, which we do. Confident that I'll keep an eye on his carry-on bag, Paul falls instantly asleep. About fifteen minutes later the ticketing agent approaches us, wakes Paul, and tells us we can go to the gate; the fee agent will find us and collect what's due. We thank her and go to the departures area.
Kenyatta Airport has been going through serious renovation over the past couple of years, and the results are impressive. It's clean, bright, and has all the services you'd expect of a major airport, although some, like an internet café that charges $8 per hour, are beyond the means of most local travelers. We hang out in the waiting area, taking care not to make ourselves too easy to find by the fee agent. When the announcement comes for our flight, I go through security and wait for Paul, who shows up shortly after. There aren't many people on our flight, so although the comfortable exit row seats are taken, both Paul and I manage to get entire rows to ourselves and stretch out.
We land in hot, steamy Dar es Salaam. The driver from the Holiday Inn is waiting for us as expected, and we move quickly through early-evening traffic to the hotel. Almost every member of the staff remembers us and greets us warmly. In my room I find a letter offering me a free bottle of wine with dinner at the hotel's new seafood restaurant. The only requirement is that I show my Priority Club card. Although I've been a member of this Holiday Inn (and other properties) club for years, I've never actually received a card; my membership number is in the reservation system, so I've never needed it. I set the letter aside and unpack.
Inno has already checked in, and soon he appears with Francis, the new acting director of SWF. We all try the buffet in the new seafood restaurant. Our opinions vary: I find it a bit disappointing, but the others seem pleased. Of course, they only eat the food; I get to wear it. While I'm standing at the buffet table, a chef with a big bowl of seafood bisque walks right into me and splashes a full serving on my shirt and pants. The staff are horrified and recommend that I change my clothes so they can send the soiled ones to the laundry. Before I go to my room to change, I stop by the table to let my companions know what I'm doing. Paul takes a look at the bisque streaming down my side and insists that a change isn't necessary. I go to my room, get into some clean clothes and send the others to be washed.
I return to the table, stopping by the buffet table to warily fill a plate. The four of us talk about SWF at length, with Paul droning on in a Lariam-induced trance for hours. I try in vain to stop him, but he repeatedly ignores my efforts and continues until Francis sums up all of our feelings in one succinct line: "thank you for the speech!" We have dessert, and Francis leaves us.
As we wait for the elevator, Paul and I suggest that Inno adopt our breakfast routine, which is to meet just in front of the elevator at 8:00. Inno asks if I mean at the elevator on our floor (we all have rooms on the 5th), and I tell him, "no, right here," and point at the spot where he's standing. I explain that the seafood restaurant is where we'll find the breakfast buffet. We agree to meet here at 8:00; the elevator arrives, and we go to the 5th floor and return to our rooms.
Where's Inno? In the morning Paul and I wait outside the elevators near the breakfast room, but there's no sign of Inno. Eventually he comes up the stairs, having waited for us on ground level. We go in, and the hostesses and other staff are delighted to see us once again. I've brought some chocolate from Russia as gifts for the two hostesses I know best, but only one is on duty this morning; I keep it hidden in anticipation of giving it to them the next time I see them together.
Inno has contracted with a driver to provide our transportation needs for the coming week. We don't have far to go today, but in the swampy environment a ride is certainly welcome. At the SWF office I perform a little maintenance on the computer and spend some time conversing in Russian with Patrick, who spent seven years in Leningrad and speaks the language fluently. A couple of ladies from the local widow's organization arrive, and I regale them with tales of my latest trip to Russia.
When our business is finished at SWF, Paul and Inno go to the bank to make some inquiries. I walk over to the beauty parlor/internet café, where the ladies recognize me after my long absence and point me to the closest free computer. It's a new Windows XP machine, and within five minutes of my beginning to work, it crashes. The screen turns solid blue, with not even an error message visible. I'm assigned to another machine; it also crashes after a few minutes, its blue screen displaying a short, cryptic message.
I begin work on a third machine, and this one survives long enough for me to view a few webpages and send some e-mail, but the performance is so slow that I have no hope of accomplishing the day's tasks. I pay for the time I've used - they don't charge me for the crashed machines - and walk back to the hotel. The rest of the day is taken up with computer work, and in the evening Paul and I get dinner in the ground-floor restaurant.
Paul and Inno are off to meetings around Dar today; I have appointments with the two Peters, one the director of TAYOA and one the engineer who has been working with SVI. Neither shows up at his appointed time, so I get some time to do some writing and assorted internet/housekeeping tasks.
Peter from TAYOA does eventually show up in the early evening with his colleague Emmanuel, and we discuss his latest anti-AIDS efforts. His visit lasts into the evening, when Paul returns. He's much too tired from his meetings to spend any time with us, and he asks me to wake him later. Peter and Emmanuel leave, promising to return tomorrow with fresh material for their websites.
In the evening, Francis arrives at the hotel, and we go to the Regional Commissioner's house for a meeting. Paul, Inno, and Francis have been there before, but this is my first visit. We all take off our shoes and go inside, where we're invited to sprawl on some of the largest, sturdiest, and most comfortable furniture in east Africa. Although the meeting takes over an hour, I have little to say: the topic is the reform of SWF, a matter in which computers play only a minor role. The others, including the prospective new SWF chairman, make some strategic decisions, and before we break we agree to meet the prospective chairman again at the hotel in the morning over breakfast.
We return to the hotel. Francis and Inno have other plans and disappear into the night. Paul and I try the seafood restaurant again. There I see Josephine, one of the hostesses for whom I've brought Russian chocolate. She tells me that due to schedule changes I'm unlikely to see her working alongside the other hostess for whom I have a gift, Rahiba. I give Josephine her chocolate and tell her that I'll give Rahiba hers the next time I see her. Paul and I eat and come to the conclusion that this new restaurant isn't as good as the old ground-floor restaurant. I give him another movie to watch, Being John Malkovich, in case he has a few spare hours over the next couple of weeks.
Francis, now the likely future chairman of SWF, joins us at the breakfast table, and I give him a quick tour of the contents of our "CDV Funds" CD. He's particularly impressed by the virtual trip to Ahakishaka, and he assures me that he'll be attending computer lessons soon so he can make full use of the material. He leaves with the CD, and Paul and Inno also leave to spend all day with the widows' groups that we're helping locally. Theirs will be a long, hot, all-day trek, and there's no need for computer support, so I get to stay inside and get some work done on the internet.
Well, at least I try to get some work done. Performance is poor, downloading is impossible, and after a half hour I've accomplished almost nothing. A fellow sufferer tells me that a Kenyan ISP failed to pay the rent on its intercontinental cable, and the European owner simply severed the connection. The result: all traffic between east Africa and the rest of the world is being funneled through some lower-capacity lines, and data packets are being delayed or lost. There's little I can do online under these circumstances, so I return to my room.
I have one more computer to deliver. This one is for Zhiguo, our mushroom expert. He's requested that I install some Chinese-language software, RichWin, on it. I've brought the software with me, but because the instructions both in the printed materials and on the disks are exclusively in Chinese, I can't install it until he arrives. He comes by in the late morning and we get started.
We turn out to be less-than-perfect partners for this task. I know no Chinese, and he doesn't understand many of the poorly-translated technical terms in the installation routine's control panel. Many of our choices from the program menus are simply my best guesses based on patterns remembered from the installation of English-based programs. We work for hours, and when we finally get the software loaded, Zhiguo asks for one change: the default coding system for Chinese characters is something called "Big5," and he prefers the "Gbk" system. Whatever this means, I'm not able to convert from one system to the other because the disks only contain Big5 fonts. I tell him I'll look for a Gbk font on the internet and install it later.
Before he leaves, I show Zhiguo the thermoelectric refrigerator that Paul brought from the US. It's a recent invention that requires far less energy than a conventional compressor-based refrigerator, so much less that it may be feasible to power it with a single solar panel and a storage battery. Zhiguo is impressed and says he could use such a device in his mushroom laboratory, where delicate mushroom "spawn" requires protection from the tropical heat. He leaves without his computer but confident that I'll get it working the way he wants.
Peter and Emmanuel from TAYOA arrive around noon. We spend a few hours working on their new websites, one in English and one in Swahili. An intern from the US, who has recently returned home, drafted the new websites on Peter's ThinkPad, and I copy them to mine so I can finish the work. The websites are designed and coded strangely, and it's difficult for me to separate one from the other since their underlying files are all mixed together in one directory. I concentrate on getting the specs from Peter about exactly what he wants as the final result, and when I have them, I tell him that I'll tackle the complex task of bringing the websites up to my personal standards later - and alone. It's now 3:30, and I rise to thank my visitors for their time, but Peter surprises me with an unexpected announcement: "Doctor is expecting us at 5:00."
"Doctor" is the family nickname for Peter's brother Richard, who earned a PhD in engineering from the University of Budapest. He's recently built a house in Dar es Salaam, and I knew that he planned to invite Paul and me for dinner, but we're unprepared for a visit right now. Paul may not return for hours; on the other hand, he may walk in at any minute. I inform Peter that there's no way to tell if we can arrive for dinner on time or not. He phones his brother and relays the news, and then announce to me that he'll just wait in my hotel room for Paul.
I try to think of a way to keep Peter and Emmanuel amused for what could be a very long afternoon. Letting them watch me decipher the website materials isn't my first choice. I have a computer game with me, The Longest Journey; I start it for them and let them explore the games fantasy universe. They play enthusiastically, at one point knocking my little alarm clock of the desk as they romp through the futuristic adventure. They pass the time until Paul arrives, at which point enough time has passed that the clock reads well past 7.
Inno has other plans, so Paul and I get into the car with Peter and Emmanuel and head off to Richard's house. Along the way Peter calls ahead on his cell phone. It's a long drive, and Richard calls back to ask about our progress. After 8 we finally pull up, and we're impressed by the finished structure: it's a large and well-designed house by any standard, built from Richard's own plans. We're escorted inside and up to the terrace, where dinner is served and has been served for hours. Richard and his wife Neema keep us fed and entertained with grilled fish and cognac (an old Swahili custom), and in response to Paul's inquisitive stare, Neema announces that's she's pregnant.
There's plenty of other news to talk about, not only the grim matters that currently dominate headlines worldwide but developments at DIT and The Kambona Foundation, for which Neema plans to do some research in London. I explain some related work I've done in Washington, and we agree to meet in London in April to continue our efforts.
My alarm fails to ring in the morning. Fortunately, I wake up within a few minutes of the set time and notice that the clock's LCD dial is blank. It takes me a few minutes to figure out why: it's a clock/radio, and when Peter knocked it on the floor last night, the fall switched on the radio. There's no local station on the frequency to which the dial is set, so although the volume was turned up loud enough to completely drain the batteries overnight, it made no sound. I could buy more AAA's in the hotel lobby, but I decide to rely on the hotel-provided electric alarm clock.
I have some work to do at the hotel, work that includes spending some time on the internet. Since I'm in no hurry today, I take a walk around downtown Dar es Salaam and look for an internet café that offers a good price and performance. I find three likely-looking establishments, but all of them turn me away, telling me that their connections aren't working. I return to the hotel's business center, whose slow connection is better than no connection at all. It takes about an hour to transmit a couple of e-mails that should have taken only a couple of minutes; transmitting files to update my webpages proves impossible, and under the circumstances I don't even try to download Zhiguo's Gbk fonts today. Although I'm finding time to write my daily travel reports, I decide to stop trying to post them online due to the high cost and technical problems I'm encountering at the business center.
In the evening, I join Paul and Inno for dinner at the local Thai restaurant. We agree to talk about something other than work. We talk about movies, one of my favorite topics, and we compare the various films we've seen. Although Paul and I sometimes joke that we've never seen the same film, I'm surprised to learn that he's seen one of my all-time favorites, Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. He can't recite General Ripper's deranged soliloquy about communism and water, though, so I advise him that he hasn't seen it quite often enough.
Inno is quite interested in movies and wants to hear more recommendations from Paul and me. Paul hasn't seen as many films as I, and he isn't as ready as I to nominate specific additions to Inno's must-see list. He does, however, reminisce about some of his early filmgoing experiences, which include nights at the drive-in. Inno wants to know more, and Paul obliges, describing drive-in dating in detail.
The conversation - no, the soliloquy - deteriorates. In an unwitting impersonation of General Ripper under the influence of Viagra and No-Doz, Paul delivers dating advice as if it were marching orders. Mission-driven, goal-oriented dating advice. Inno and I listen, he with rapt attention, me with increasing dread. I'm hoping that none of the other diners get wind of what Paul's talking about as his language becomes increasingly indelicate. By the time our food arrives, Inno has a pretty good idea of how to, if I may use military terms, designate, acquire, and service the target.
My main mission today is to arrange transport for Paul, Francis, Zhiguo, and Inno to western Tanzania. The situation is complicated by Inno's giving the travel itinerary to Rehema of SWF. She's begun making arrangements, but Inno can't tell me with whom, and I can't get Rehema on the phone. I drag myself over to the SWF office through particularly high heat and humidity only to find that Rehema is out; nobody knows when she'll be back.
I walk to the nearest travel agency and give them the details of the trip. It's the same agency I've used before and from whom I've gotten satisfactory service, but none of the staf on duty today are familiar to me. As we talk, I find that staff turnover has indeed been 100% since my last visit. Assembling the itinerary proves to be a daunting task for them, particularly because Paul wants to fly across Tanzania from Dar es Salaam to Mwanza, Bukoba, back to Mwanza, and then directly to Blantyre, Malawi, with a return to Dar es Salaam a week later. I wait patiently while the agent consults numerous printed schedules (some of the airlines involved are too small to show up in her computer) and queries airline offices by phone. After an hour, she suggests that I come back tomorrow, and I agree.
On the way back to the hotel I stop by the SWF office. Happily, Rehema is in, and she gives me a printed itinerary of the reservations she's made. The dates on the paper do not match the dates Paul gave me, the reservations are for three people only, and Blantyre does not appear anywhere. I tell her I'll take care of everything. I check two nearby internet cafes. Both are closed due to "bad connections." The hotel business center is open, and I manage to download one Gbk font for Zhiguo. I load it into Zhiguo's computer, then spend the remainder of the day taking care of various tasks for Paul.
I return to the travel agency. Paul's detailed travel schedule does not take into account the local airline schedules, which do not include flights to the destinations he's specificed on the dates that he wants to fly. I adjust the dates accordingly; the best itinerary I can come up with still uses three different airlines; combined with his lack of a Saturday stay in Tanzania, this raises the cost considerably, but there's no way we can omit any of the stops.
When I meet with Paul later at the hotel, he reports that he's made good progress picking up the pieces at SWF. The Dar regional commissioner has taken a personal interest in our efforts and agreed to become the organization's patron. It's a position without strict legal definition but one of great importance; his prestige and influence will go a long way toward smoothing the road before us. Paul, Inno, and I go to his house for an informal meeting; there we meet some of the prospective SWF board members and discuss developmental and governmental matters (may they rarely cross paths) into the evening. Afterwards, the three of us have dinner at the Courtyard.
After breakfast, Paul and I go to the SWF office. He's attending a meeting; I'm here to work on the local ThinkPad. I take a minute to exchange a few words in Russian with Patrick, but I have to concentrate on my work. It takes a while for the staff to bring the computer. As is so common in Africa, the batteries aren't charged; I don't know if this is due to use in the field or the frequent power blackouts in Dar es Salaam. Or maybe the problem is in the building's wiring: I have to go to another room to find a single working outlet. When I power up the computer, I find myriad disk and Windows configuration errors, which I suspect are the result of hard use and an inventory of poorly-installed software. It's good to know that the equipment we bring to Africa is actually used, but this one must have been used as a combination sport-utility vehicle and artillery target. It takes me hours to clean it up, but when I'm finished, the sturdy ThinkPad is once again ready for the worst that SWF can dish out.
We all return to the hotel. Paul has scheduled a SWF board meeting for the afternoon and arranged a meeting room through the concierge. As we walk back from the SWF office, we discuss whether I'm needed at this meeting or not. While my opinion is negative (information technology is not on the agenda), Paul wavers and eventually decides that he'd like me to attend. We prepare some documents on his ThinkPad, completing them only minutes before the meeting begins.
Paul asks me to make some copies in the business center and then come to the meeting with Inno. I get the copies made and go down to the lobby to meet Inno. He doesn't show up, but that's not my only problem: Paul didn't tell me where the meeting is being held. I ask at the front desk; nobody seems to know, but they're all helpful and ask more staff, who ask more staff. Within minutes I have every employee of the hotel looking for the meeting room, but they ask in vain: nobody in the building knows the location.
The answer arrives from the Regus building down the street: a young lady walks in and asks if I am Mr. David. I am! She escorts me to her building and up to the meeting room, where Paul is glad to see me but somewhat concerned about Inno's absence. He's also had second thoughts about the necessity of having me attend this meeting, so he suggests that I simply drop off the papers and introduce myself. I do this and ask if anyone on the board has any questions or comments about information technology. Nobody does, but they express a sense of security knowing that I'm taking care of the technical details for them. I take my leave just as Inno arrives.
I go to the nearby travel agency to pay for our airline tickets. Although this agency has previously let me pay with a credit card for assorted baskets of domestic and international tickets, today they want cash. Cash? The total comes to more than $2,000, and while I can just about provide that much cash from a combination of my strategic reserve in the hotel safe and my ATM cards, I'm not about to drain all my resources this early in our trip. It's only when I point out that the agency is an American Express affiliate that they agree to accept my American Express card, and I insist on using my VISA card (which accrues British Airways miles) for the international tickets.
In the evening, Paul and I go to the Royal Palm for dinner. We're in the mood for steak, and the steakhouse at the Palm is the only place in town to get a good one, but we stop by the main restaurant to take a look at the buffet. The seafood looks good, especially the lobster Newburg, so we take a seat there instead. The Newburg is a disappointment - it contains mostly chunks of fish rather than lobster - but the other dishes more than make up for it.
Paul's in a good mood. He woke up very early and used the extra time to watch Being John Malkovich.. Still chuckling over some of its mix of surreal and slapstick humor, he gives me some clothes to have laundered while he's away, then takes off for the airport. I stuff my dirty clothes in one laundry bag, his in another, leave them for the staff to pick up, and go downstairs to enjoy a leisurely breakfast.
In the middle of the day Zhiguo comes by. We try configuring his Chinese software to use the Bkg font, but a surprising message pops up: TRIAL PERIOD EXPIRED; BUY LICENSED VERSION TO CONTINUE USING RICHWIN. I've been hornswoggled by the supplier in New York, and there's nothing I can do about it here. Even if I find a download site for the legitimate version, there's no way I can get it through the poor local connections. I apologize to Zhiguo, who tells me he thinks he can get a good copy during his next trip to China. He's happy to have a working ThinkPad even if it only speaks English, so he thanks me for my efforts and heads home.
In the evening, Peter and Emmanuel of TAYOA pay a visit. When they finds that I'm all alone, Peter invites me to dinner. He tells me the name of the restaurant, The Euro Pub; I'm not familiar with it, but he assures me that it's not far. On the map, no, I wouldn't call it far from the center of town, but it's an interesting drive down some particularly dark, isolated, and pothole-ridden dirt roads. Eventually we wind up at a friendly-looking brick pub whose clientele this evening includes both expats and locals.
We take a booth, look over the menu, and order some foreign-sounding dishes, stroganoff and teriyaki. I'm sure what arrives would seem foreign anywhere: it's not authentic, but it's tasty. Peter and Emmanuel ask me questions about Russia and the US stock market. I explain both in detail, a process which takes up most o the evening. Serves them right for taking me to a place that isn't air-conditioned. We're all exhausted, me from the heat, them from my discourse, by the time Peter returns me to the hotel.
I briefly consider checking the nearby internet cafes, but torrential rains make venturing outside impractical, so I spend the morning in the hotel's business center. Both wilmo.net and laughton.org are having problems, and while I can do some primitive diagnosis through the hotel's slow connection, I can't actually fix anything. The best I can do is send e-mail to the respective hosting companies and hope they'll do whatever is necessary.
The weather abruptly clears, and Zhiguo, Jim, and Ding, our mushroom-growing "tech team" from China, pay me a visit in the afternoon. Zhiguo has a couple of questions about his computer; the other two don't speak English, so they're just here to watch. I can't help but grin at the first question: Zhiguo didn't write down the instructions on how to shut his computer down, so he's simply closed the case, which puts it into hibernate or minimum-power-consumption mode, and brought it to me. It only takes a minute for me to show him the correct procedure and for him to write it down.
Zhiguo also has a Video Compact Disc (VCD) that he wants to play on his computer. I never anticipated his using a VCD, so I didn't install any VCD software. After verifying that none of the installed software will play it, I have to tell him that I'll search the internet as best I can for a VCD program that I can download. How I'll do it through the current communications bottleneck I can't predict, but that's my job.
Zhiguo, Jim, and Ding leave for home. It's about an hour by bus from the hotel, and that's about how long it takes for the storm clouds to reappear. More rain pours down throughout the afternoon, so hard that it would be difficult even to walk through it. The street in front of the hotel has good drainage, so as each cloudburst subsides the road clears quickly, but there are periods when the rain falls faster than it can drain through the sewers, and sometimes the road is covered with six or more inches of water. The weather also interferes with the sattelite link upon which the business center relies for internet access; I can't communicate with any of the sites I need.
The storms return. During a brief clear spell I get online and find three promising free versions of VCD software. I download them and try them out on my own ThinkPad. Of the three, one seems reasonable; the other two perform poorly on my fast high-capacity machine, and I have no confidence they'd run at all on Zhiguo's older model.
Peter comes by. We have a lot to talk about, and we take much of the day to settle the strategies for his TAYOA website and for a couple of new online ventures.
The rains subside. I take advantage of the break to visit the local office of CARE. It's really Paul who needs to visit these folks - I'm just the computer guy - but I can give them enough of an overview of our program that they can see some opportunity for collaboration. The man I'm meeting with tells me that he's not really the one WILMA should meet with anyway, and although he's not CARE's computer guy, he does have a computer. His computer isn't working as well as he'd like, and when I tell him how to fix his most pressing problem, he asks if I'll come back with my full diagnostic kit and give him a complete tune-up. I make an appointment for Paul to meet with his superior next Monday, and I promise I'll come back at the same time to attend to his computer.
I get back to the hotel just as the heavy rains return. I spend the remainder of the day at the hotel dealing with websites. The hosts of my problem sites have not responded. I do some testing to make sure my other sites are functioning. Despite the complaints of local users, they are; all apparent problems are due to communications problems, not the servers. All I can do about the two sites that aren't working is to send more mail to the hosting companies and hope for the best.
Paul, Francis, and Inno return from western Tanzania. Paul gives me a couple of disks with pictures he's taken and briefs me on his adventures over dinner. It's been a period of constant work punctuated by opportunities to express his condolences to Stan's relatives and friends. He doesn't have much time to reflect on it: he's already preparing for our work in Malawi, and we spend the evening packing our belongings into various cases, some to take with us, some to leave behind in Dar es Salaam.
Paul and I eat breakfast early, check out, and head to the airport. We've been advised, as always, to show up two hours in advance for an international flight, but the ticket counter isn't open yet when we arrive. Security doesn't want us to hang around inside the airport, so there's nothing for us to do but take a seat outside. We have to walk around a bit to find a place to sit: plenty of other passengers are in the same situation, and they've already filled the few available benches. There's space for us on some concrete steps, and we make ourselves as comfortable as possible.
Paul wants to work. Paul always wants to work, and I don't have a problem with this, but he wants me to work too. He pulls out his ThinkPad, boots it, and asks me to take a look at some documents. The type is small and the lighting is terrible; I can barely see what he wants me to change. As we labor, the manager of a nearby café invites to come get some breakfast and/or coffee. We hardly look up from the screen as we politely refuse, but he politely persists, repeatedly enhancing the offer with descriptions of comfortable seating, better lighting, and a table to work on. Moving at this point would involve closing the ThinkPad, and Paul's on a roll, so we decline with an air of finality that the manager understands and accepts. A few minutes later, we see the other waiting passengers starting to enter the airport; we finish up and join them.
Our flight to Lilongwe, Malawi is uneventful. Our 737 jet touches down on time, and we go through immigration to the baggage claim. I retrieve my bags first and continue to the customs desk. There the customs officer asks me about our work in Malawi. When I give her a short explanation, she asks for a longer one. She seems more curious than official, especially when I mention that we're working with the country's president. Paul finally gets his luggage, and when he arrives at the customs desk, I just point at him and say, "his story is the same." This seems to satisfy the officer completely; she waves us through the gate to the domestic departure area.
Paul can't abide extraneous tags hanging from his luggage; I, on the other hand, don't really care. He pauses to pull off the tags from our previous flight, so I arrive at the domestic counter to check in for our flight to Blantyre a full minute before he does. That's all the time the agent needs to give me my boarding pass. Since the area isn't crowded, I wait beside Paul as he checks in. But Paul doesn't check in; he can't find his ticket to Blantyre.
"I just had it a minute ago," he mutters as he goes through all his pockets. He opens his computer case and checks every compartment. He rifles through all his papers.
Now a line forms behind Paul, and he's obliged to step aside so the other passengers can check in. He repeats the search of his pockets, case, and papers. He checks the floor. He tries to check me, but I step out of reach. I ask him where he last saw the ticket. "In my hand," he snaps, "I had it in my hand just a minute ago!"
Suddenly the answer becomes clear.
"What did you do with your tags from the last flight?" I ask.
"I threw them away, of course - they're no good any more."
"Check the trash can."
Protesting all the way that he could not have throw away the ticket along with the tags, Paul makes his way back to the trash can. Yes, the ticket is in there. Luckily, nobody has thrown anything memorable on top of it, so he's able to retrieve it unscathed.
A chastened Paul returns to the check-in counter. As the agent prepares his boarding pass, he looks as me askance and says, "you're going to blame this on Lariam in your travel report, aren't you?"
Yes I am.
Soon we're instructed to board the twin-engine propeller plane to Blantyre. The small group of passengers lines up outside the plane, each of us identifying our bags among those arrayed outside. As Paul and I are about to climb aboard, a long black Mercedes flying a World Bank flag pulls up next to the plane. Out steps our colleague Dunstan. I have to repeatedly point at Dunstan and shout "Paul!" and point at Paul and shout "Dunstan!" before they finally become aware of each other's presence. Maybe Dunstan is on Lariam too. Paul and Dunstan happily greet each other and take adjacent seats on the plane; I go to the front where there's plenty of legroom and not so much Paul and Dunstan.
A tall traveler, nearly as tall as I, walks to the front of the plane. He looks at me as if I've taken his seat. In his mind I probably have, but this is an open-seating flight, so whoever's mind arrives first gets the seat. He takes the aisle seat next to me and begins talking. Usually I prefer quiet seatmates, which is why I always ask that agents put Paul and me in separate sections, but this one is more interesting than most. He's been traveling around Africa doing various kinds of exporting and importing - all legitimate - and he may be someone we can contact to help us with shipping mushrooms and other products once our CDA ventures start producing. But don't take this as an invitation; if you should find yourself next to me on a future flight, remember: I prefer quiet seatmates.
We arrive in Blantyre. Dunstan - who has all sorts of local connections - arranges our transport to the hotel. Even though Paul and I left half our luggage in Tanzania, we still can't fit ourselves and everything we're carrying into one car. We split up into two and head for the luxurious Le Meridien hotel. Somehow, someone else who was counting on Dunstan for a ride gets left at the airport, and a car has to return for him. That car has some of our luggage. Dunstan checks us all in as we wait for the car to return, and eventually it does. We go to our rooms; mine's on the second floor, Paul's on the third, and Dunstan is on the fourth (top) floor. Paul and Dunstan immediately want to have a meeting, but I'm not needed, so as I exit the elevator they bid me enjoy a bath and a nap while they talk.
The bellman opens the door to my room and steps inside. Obviously, something is missing: he peers about the room, opens the closet, looks in the bathroom, and checks every corner, but his initial suspicion is confirmed: there's no bed. We go back down to the lobby, and as long as I'm changing rooms, I ask for one on a higher floor. They assign me one down the hall from Dunstan. As one would expect from the Le Meridien chain, the room is large, clean, and elegantly furnished, and to my relief after the long day of travel, there's a big pitcher of cold water waiting for me atop the minibar. I drain it and then call Paul before he goes to meet Dunstan in the lounge to advise him of my new room number. I settle in for a shower and a nap before dinner.
We dine in the hotel's rooftop restaurant. Dunstan has invited Margaret, the executive director of the Bakili Muluzi Institute (BMI), and we have some drinks in the lounge while we wait for her. Dunstan chides me for drinking bottled water and encourages me to have a "real" drink, but I'm more concerned about dehydration than sobriety. Margaret arrives; we order dinner and then take a table. Service is slow, and Dunstan repeatedly calls the waiter over and insists that the next course or drink be brought promptly. Despite his efforts, dinner drags on into the night, and by the time we break up it's time for bed.
Paul, Dunstan, and I meet for breakfast. Paul and Dunstan arrive first and take a low table. I can't get my legs under it, so I have to eat sidesaddle. Dunstan is amused at my discomfort, but he admires my suit. Paul and I are dressed in our best (or in Paul's case, the best available since he didn't pack a suit) because a television crew will be covering this morning's meeting of the BMI board of trustees, of which Paul is a member. Dunstan leaves for another appointment while Paul goes back to his room to go over the notes for the presentation he's making to the board. I linger over breakfast and have a couple extra cups of tea.
Margaret sends a car to pick up Paul and me and take us to BMI. It's only two blocks from the hotel, but we don't know which two blocks. The driver drops us off at one of the newest buildings in town, and we make our way through an eager but polite phalanx of sidwalk vendors and upstairs to the BMI offices. The interiors are quite modern and comfortable, although the air conditioning doesn't cool all of the rooms.
Margaret greets us and introduces us to her staff. The television crew is already here and ready to interview Paul and Margaret. They all discuss strategy and find a good place to work while I unpack my equipment. I get a couple pictures and listen in as Paul gives a long, rambling answer to a short question. How long and rambling was it? Even Paul concedes only a few minutes later that he was "all over the place" in his attempt to describe his role at BMI. Margaret's interview is next, and she asks the crew to set up in her office so she can be taped at her own desk. After getting her picture, I set up Paul's presentation. I'll be using my ThinkPad and a projector to show some slides; since there's no room to set up the equipment in the board's meeting room, I prepare a room across the hall. The camera crew leaves without asking to interview me.
The board meeting gets underway. I wait in the other room; after about an hour the board arrives to see Paul's presentation. Paul presents his material in an organized and entertaining way, and the presentation is well received. By the time he finishes, it's time for lunch, so we all pile into various waiting cars and go off to "the club," as Dunstan puts it. "The club" is indeed a posh private club in a large and elegant colonial-era building, the sort of place that makes you look for a "Cecil Rhodes slept here" plaque.
We're ushered into a private dining room. There we find a large round table prepared for us, comfortable seats, and air conditioning. My relief at finding working air conditioning for the first time today is exceeded only by my angst upon hearing one of the board members ask that it be turned off. This is not my party, so I silently defer to the majority, who obviously are accustomed to higher temperatures than I.
The menu features many appealing dishes. Dunstan recommends the guinea hen. Although nobody else does (not even Dunstan), I follow his advice. Our group engages in easy, rambling conversation about a variety of topics as we eat our appetizers. When our main courses arrive, talking gives way to serious eating. The guinea hen is splendid and strange: two delicious pieces of tender breast meat and one dark piece. But a piece of what? Because the serving is large, accompanied by steamed vegetables and fried potatoes, and I prefer white meat to dark, I eat all the breast meat and side dishes before tackling the dark. The texture is strange - the surface looks more like rock than meat - and I find it impossible to cut with a knife. After examining it further, I'm not sure if it's really part of my meal or part of the kitchen equipment. I leave it, and it disappears when the waiter comes to clear the table.
As we're finding everywhere in Malawi, service is slow. We'd planned to have dessert, but we've used more than our scheduled lunchtime just getting the appetizers and main course, so Dunstan requests the check. He has to request it again before it finally appears, and then some mysterious and laborious process transpires before the account is finally settled. We return to the BMI offices to finish the board meeting; since I've finished my technical duties in the other room (and I'm dressed appropriately), I sit in on the afternoon session.
In recognition of his instrumental role in the foundation of BMI, the board presents Paul with a small token of appreciation. Margaret points out that the gift is actually indicative of the problems BMI intends to address: while the gift depicts scenes of Malawi, the label indicates that it's made in South Africa. She expresses hope that BMI can develop industries in Malawi so that the next time the board gives someone a present, it will be something of high quality produced in their own country. Paul thanks the board and shows the present around, a set of glass candle holders with portraits of Malawi wildlife; Dunstan likes it and subtly mentions that he participated in the foundation of BMI as well, but the board seems to have run out of candles.
The meeting ends, and Dunstan (who has complained that all I write about on my travel pages is eating) invites Margaret, Paul, another board member (a former ambassador), and me to dinner at one of Blantyre's best restaurants. It's some distance from the center of town, so he offers to send his car for us in the evening. We have some time to change into something less formal and relax before then, so Paul and I head back to the hotel.
In the evening, all of us but Margaret assemble in the hotel lobby. Dunstan says that Margaret will come to the restaurant on her own. We can't all fit in one car, and the ambassador doesn't know the way to the restaurant, so Paul and I get into Dunstan's car, expertly driven by his chauffeur Grayson, and the ambassador drives his own car with Dunstan navigating.
Grayson takes off with the ambassador in hot pursuit. We're quickly out of the well-lit city center and onto dark rural roads lined with tall trees. Few lights or landmarks are visible; even the lights of the ambassador's car fade into the distance. Grayson takes a right turn and immediately stops so that the ambassador will see him. The ambassador doesn't seem to notice; Grayson sees the car whiz by in the rear-view mirror and intones, "they missed the turn."
We turn around and follow them down the road. Grayson increases his speed in an attempt to overtake them, but the ambassador, having lost sight of us and assuming that we're somewhere in the darkness ahead of him, also accelerates. This strange game of - well, not chicken, since we're heading in the same direction; it's more like duck-duck-goose on a global scale - continues for a few minutes, but Grayson wisely decides that further increases in speed are counterproductive and potentially fatal. He pulls to the side of the road and calls the ambassador on his mobile phone. Paul and I can only hear half the conversation, but we're quite sure that Dunstan is on the other end.
"You missed the turn."
This pattern repeats until Grayson manages to convince Dunstan that we are behind him and that he - not we - should turn around. They agree on a place to rendezvous, and Grayson turns his car back toward Blantyre, which is now many miles behind us. We drive until we reach an isolated church, an unmistakable landmark in this otherwise forested region, and pull over once again. I look at the roadside and see that Grayson has stopped next to the only NO STOPPING sign within ten miles.
I nudge Paul and point at the sign. He grins. He nudges me and points at the church. Huh? We make small talk with Grayson. We watch the few cars that pass. We have to pass the time somehow because there's still no sign of the ambassador and Dunstan. Grayson calls again.
"I am at the church."
Grayson receives a detailed description of the location of the ambassador's car. He starts the engine and drives down a winding side road. A long truck with an oversized load is plying the same route, and we're stuck at a speed of about one mile per hour until we can safely pass it, which takes about a half mile. At the next intersection, not particularly near the church and not on the road where we last saw them, we finally encounter our colleagues. Grayson bids them follow him, turns our car around, and leads them back past the church, back to the intersection where we first lost them, and down to Green's Restaurant.
Green's looks like a nice place. It's full of foreigners, so it must offer good food to draw them so far from the center of town. Dunstan has reserved a table, but we sit at the bar and wait for Margaret. Dunstan calls Margaret. There's some discussion about who was supposed to give a ride to whom. I don't know the details, but Grayson takes the car and disappears into the night.
Since we arrived late and Green's kitchen closes at 10:00, Dunstan suggests that we order. The bartender hands us menus. Dunstan decides to order for Margaret and asks me what I think he should select. Oh, sure, blame me. I tell him what I want and let him decide if he wants the same for Margaret. He does, which makes it necessary for the waiter to come back and tell both of us that it is no longer available. I choose something else; instead of duplicating my order for Margaret, he chooses something completely different despite my admonition against chicken Stroganoff. Lots of other things are also no longer available, so Paul has to change his order as well. The ambassador gets his first choice.
Dunstan grows tired of sitting at the bar and requests that our party to be seated. The bartender points to a table and invites us to sit. This table is bounded by the bar, two busy aisles, and a wall. Dunstan complains. He tries to get me to complain, too, as if my size will make a difference, but I point out to him that every other table in the restaurant is already occupied. What's more, the other parties seem determined to linger well past closing time, so we have no choice but to take the centrally-located table.
We're midway through our appetizers when Margaret arrives. She takes a seat and, in the only act of promptitude that I've ever witnessed in a Malawi restaurant, is served an appetizer right away. She doesn't like it. She asks what I'm having, but she doesn't want that either. She asks for soup. Soup is brought after a period of time in which soup could have been made. When she finishes it, the plates are taken away. When the plates are washed, dried, counted, and placed in their cabinets, our main courses arrive. Margaret doesn't like hers. She asks what I'm having, decides that my chicken cordon bleu sounds better than her chicken Stroganoff, and orders the same. Enough time passes for the rest of us to eat most of our food even though we're all trying to be very diplomatic (especially the ambassador) and not finish before she's served, and then her food arrives. By the meal's end we're all finally in synch when we order desserts and coffee.
Dunstan will pay for this. No, really: we're Dunstan's guests, and he'll pay the bill as soon as the waiter brings it. He has to ask for the check again and again; the waiter mumbles some sort of excuse for the delay, but that just irritates Dunstan even more. As soon as the check arrives, Dunstan pays and ushers us out to the waiting car.
Margaret returns to town with the ambassador. Grayson drives Dunstan, Paul, and me. On the way we talk about assorted non-work items, and Dunstan takes particular interest in my intention to buy several suits immediately upon my return to the US. I describe the suits in detail, and Dunstan says he wants me to take him to the store where I buy them the next time he's in the Washington area. I must disappoint him: "Sorry, Dunstan, but you're not qualified. This store is for my people." My people, as those who have met me already know, are the Big and Tall, and they have stores dedicated to their needs alone; Dunstan, alas, is of Normal proportions. Grayson drops Paul and me at the hotel and drives off into the night with Dunstan.
I go downstairs to meet Paul and Dunstan for breakfast. Again they've chosen a low table (higher ones are available nearby), and I grumble to them about it. I'm not feeling my best this morning; nothing specific is wrong, but somehow I feel a general unease of unknown origin.
Paul's had better days as well. He reports that his room has been cut in half. To my surprise, what he said is exactly what he means, and it's true. The hotel overbooked its rooms, and Paul's large room, which has a lockable door between the sitting area and the bedroom, has had its interior door locked and a bed installed in the former sitting area. Both areas have their own doors to the hallway, although I'm not sure that they both have bathrooms. Paul's in the half that definitely has one, so although he's cramped, he can manage, although he suggests that Dunstan get a discount on the rate he negotiated.
In response to my sullen mood and Paul's griping about the room, Dunstan proposes that he and Paul drive to Lilongwe. He elaborates on the many tasks the two of them can tackle at his home and some key people they can meet with in Lilongwe, but I know that this is all just a reaction to my pointing out last night that he is not one of "my people." Since my assignments over the next two days are strictly technical matters for BMI, their departure won't hamper my efforts, so I bid them farewell until Sunday, when Paul will come back to catch the return flight to Dar es Salaam. Paul puts an unneeded suitcase in my room and disappears with Dunstan.
At BMI I find much to do. Both their local machines and their website need some work. Margaret and I discuss IT strategy, and I demonstrate my digital camera and some interesting software to the technical staff. One of their ThinkPads has a bad system board; repairing it will cost more than replacing it, so I collect it for spare parts. Margaret asks me to look over a long document that has a number of grammatical errors; it's a big job, so I tell her I'll tackle it tomorrow. I head back to the hotel for dinner and a little CNN.
I get to sit at a regular-height table at breakfast today! Afterwards I go to BMI and spend the entire day correcting minor and major errors in the document Margaret asked me to review. Margaret appreciates the help, and she tells me she'll send a car to take me to the airport tomorrow. Although taxis are cheap, Margaret's car is far more spacious than the average taxi; I give her my departure time and my thanks.
I'm feeling a bit worse than I did yesterday, so when my work is finished I return to the hotel and go straight to bed.
I don't have much of an appetite today despite skipping dinner last night. My only other symptoms are general fatigue and queasiness, so I hope this is just a minor travel ailment that will disappear shortly. Still, I don't feel like doing any work. Even though I have free time, I don't even have the energy to write my travel reports. Packing for this afternoon's flight is about all I can handle; I nap and watch a bit of television until Paul arrives.
Paul comes up to my room. He appears concerned and asks if I have the suitcase he left behind. I tell him I do and point to it. Paul seems puzzled and hands me something, saying that the bellman didn't know what to do with it. It's a receipt for left luggage. It's the receipt from the Holiday Inn in Dar es Salaam. I explain it to him, hand it back, and advise him not to throw it away at the airport.
We discuss plans for tomorrow. It'll be our last day in Africa, and Paul wants to accomplish as much as possible. He tells me about the series of meetings he's planning: he's scheduled the entire day, beginning with a breakfast that ends early to make a quick stop at SWF to negotiate new office lease terms. I advise him that he'll be behind schedule by the time he sits down with the landlord, and I also note that he hasn't even accounted for travel time between meetings, but he insists that "this is business as usual in Africa." Funny, I thought that's what we were here to fix.
We wait for the car from BMI. Paul doubts that it will arrive: "'I'll take you to the airport' is pretty much the local version of the American 'let's do lunch' - it's just another way of saying goodbye." When we feel we've waited long enough, we go downstairs and catch a taxi. The ride to the airport is quick; we check in and walk into a secure area where we do not belong, but the friendly guard points us in the right direction. In the international departure area there aren't many passengers, so the guard has plenty of time to inspect us. He asks us to open every compartment of every bag and to turn on our computers and cameras. After showing him my collection of CDs, explaining the workings of my Kanguru microdrive, demonstrating that my flashlight and umbrella are non-exploding, and displaying and counting my money for him, he gives me the most thorough body search possible without disrobing and then lets me pass.
Paul joins me in the waiting room. He asks me if the plane is going to Nairobi. I tell him it is: first Dar es Salaam, then Nairobi - don't forget to get off at the first stop! Paul asks me if the plane goes to Nairobi first and then Dar es Salaam. I tell him no. He asks me if I'm sure. I ask him how many Lariam tablets he's taken today. I don't really want to know or expect that he would remember; it's just my way of stopping the ridiculous questions.
We're soon buckled into our seats aboard the jet to Dar es Salaam. Paul asks me again about the plane's destination. I tell him it's Kampala. He stops asking.
Upon arrival (in Dar es Salaam) we retrieve our bags and catch a taxi to the Holiday Inn. There the manager has arranged a special treat for me: the only way to satisfy my request for a larger bathtub is to assign me a suite, and he's done this at no extra charge. The suite has a large and well-equipped living room, two work areas with desks, a huge bedroom, and two bathrooms, one of which has the all-important large soaking tub. Paul also gets a complimentary room upgrade, although his quarters aren't quite as palatial as mine. I call him when I get to my suite and invite him to come up for a visit. He says he'll be there as soon as he takes care of a little business with Inno. I put a CD into the stereo, settle down onto the sofa, and wait for his arrival.
Inno calls. He checked in earlier today after staying with family while Paul and I were in Malawi. I invite him to come up after he's finished with Paul. He's eager to see my elegant digs, so I settle back onto the sofa and wait.
Peter of TAYOA calls from the lobby. I invite him up and give him my room number. A minute later I hear a faint knock on my door. I open it to find a bemused Peter. He had taken one look at the broad double doors of my suite and assumed he had come to a conference room or ballroom by mistake, but he knocked anyway. I show him in, and we sit and talk while we wait for Paul and Inno.
The CD I was playing ends, which means that it's about an hour since Paul said he'd be here shortly, so I call him again. He assures me that he's on his way, more or less. Half an hour later, more or less, they finally arrive. I give them a tour of the suite, then we head downstairs to dinner. There we meet Francis, and we all take a table in the main restaurant. We have plenty to talk about, but I'm still feeling tired and out of sorts, so after the main course I excuse myself and turn in for the night.
I'm sick. Fever, chills, and diarrhea are my agenda today. I go to breakfast and have a little to eat and drink, and I tell Paul that I'll try to attend as many of today's meetings as I can, but I'm fading fast. Paul needs a little information from the internet, so I go to the business center and take care of this small assignment. I also send mail to Richard telling him that I'm not sure I'll make our meeting. My condition worsens by the minute, so by the time Paul comes by to get the information I retrieved for him, I have only one goal: try to get back to bed. Paul wishes me the best and heads off for his first meeting. I go back to my room and crawl under the covers. A few minutes later, CARE calls. I inform them that I'm too sick to visit today, but Paul and Inno are on their way. They wish me speedy recovery. I sleep much of the day.
Richard calls in the afternoon, and I confirm the obvious: I cannot attend our meeting. We always enjoy getting together, but we can conduct most of our business online, so we agree to meet during my next visit to Dar.
The next thing I know, Paul is back. The day is over, and I feel a bit better, so I ask for a summary of his day. He explains that he assumed that CARE was not expecting him; therefore, he spent much of the morning at the SWF office and showed up more than an hour late for the appointment I'd made for him. I wonder whether what I'm hearing is the result of my fever or his Lariam. He continues to describe the other meetings he attended, all of which ran beyond their allotted times; he also mentions a few that he skipped.
I'm not up to a real meal, so I suggest that he and Inno have dinner without me. After a soak in the big tub, I pack and get a snack from the minibar. Paul and Inno come by to settle some equipment and budget issues. I bid Inno farewell - I won't see him again until we're both in Washington - and give Paul a "see you in the morning," then go to bed.
I'm feeling much better. Paul and I discuss the source of my ailment over breakfast. We guess that the big pitcher of cold water in my room in Malawi may not have been for drinking. It looked rather inviting to me, especially since the pitcher was accompanied by two drinking glasses, but I'll stick with bottled water there from now on.
Paul goes to his room to finish packing; I get my bags and go down to the front desk to check us out. I have a few small items in a plastic bag for Inno; I label it and ask the clerk to give it to him later today. When Paul arrives, he also has something for Inno: two bottles of mushroom wine that Zhiguo gave him. He figures that Inno can make better use of it in Africa than we can in the US, and besides, neither of us wants to lug two bottles 14,000 miles. He puts the bottles on the counter and looks for something to pack them in. I have plenty of space in the plastic bag, so I reach for a bottle; Paul wants to write something on the label, so he reaches for the bottle. Our hands reach the bottle at the same moment, but neither of us gets a good grip: the bottle topples over and shatters on the desk, and the wine pours down my pantsleg.
I apologize profusely to the desk clerk, but he shrugs it off and tells me not to worry about it. He summons someone to clean up the mess. I go to the nearest restroom and clean my pants as best I can. Fortunately, the wine does not have a strong odor; with the windows rolled down, much of it may dissipate during the taxi ride to the airport. I come back from the restroom, and Paul looks at me blankly. "Did you get any on you?" he asks. I give him a "well, duh" look and turn sideways so he can see the stain running from waist to ankle.
We go to the airport. I'm paying the taxi driver, and as a safety precaution I prefer that Paul stand by me while I'm handling money. Paul starts to walk away, and I ask, "Paul, wait please." I say again, loudly, "Paul, wait please." Once more with feeling: "Paul wait!" The driver is laughing hysterically. I shout, "PAUL WAIT!" He's ten feet from me but completely oblivious to my plea. I pay the grinning driver, put away my money, and follow Paul to the departures entrance.
We check in for our morning flight. In the lounge we watch a little CNN, and Paul rants about the war. "This is a stupid war!" he exclaims. OK, show me a smart war. He's been ranting about the war throughout the trip, and my reaction has generally been to nod and say "yes, Paul," but I'm a little worn out from being sick yesterday, so I get up and take a seat in another part of the lounge.
When our flight is called, we board; the 9-hour flight proceeds uneventfully, although I am asked an odd question when our afternoon snack is served: "would you like tea with your tea?" The reference, of course, is to the traditional British afternoon tea, and passengers have a choice of tea or another beverage. I answer, "you can't have tea without tea," then wake Paul so that he doesn't miss out on a meal.
In London I
I sit within view of the Immigration counters. After a few minutes, Paul wanders into view. He's looking around, as if the big FOREIGN PASSPORT HOLDERS ENTER HERE sign were obscured. I wave and mime the message, "here you are foreign." He sees me, understands, and passes through. We descend to the luggage carousel, retrieve our bags, and head for the exit. Paul stops to tear off his routing tags and throw them away. I look to see that he hasn't thrown away anything else, then step through the exit - there'll be no going back to this trash can to retrieve anything important. Paul and I part company. He rolls his luggage toward the Undergound entrance; he'll spend over an hour riding the rails to his hotel. My waiting driver greets me and takes my bags; he leads me to the waiting car. He whisks me to my rented house on the Thames in the Docklands where, although the coming week is something of a vacation for both Paul and myself, I'm already working on preparations for our next trip.