Tanzania and England, February-March 2002|
The Road to Ahakishaka
Updated April 12, 2002
I'm carrying an extraordinary amount of computer equipment on this trip, and my luggage is well over the British Airways per-passenger weight allowance. I dress well, partly because I have no room left in any of my bags for my sportcoat, and I arrive early at the check-in desk, where I engage in a little banter with the agent about WILMA's good work in Africa and how we have to stretch every dollar. I don't gain enough sympathy to earn a free upgrade to business class, but I do manage to evade the extra baggage charge.
Dulles airport has new signs prominently posted claiming that prices at the shops and restaurants here charge the same amounts as they do in their downtown locations. The signs further advise that if a patron discovers otherwise, he can write to the airport for a refund of the difference, and one may infer from the fine print that the offending establishment will be in big trouble. I decide to investigate whether the claim is plausible, picking at random the T.G.I.Friday's restaurant for a pre-flight meal. The food, service, and price are, as the sign promised, the same as their other locations that I've tried, which is to say satisfactory - if not a gourmet feast worth describing in detail - and affordable. This is a welcome change from most airports, where food tends to be mediocre and overpriced, and I hope it signals the beginning of a trend.
I get an exit-row seat, and next to me is an English lady with whom I have a bit of conversation about our various travels. The flight is particularly rough across the Atlantic due to a strong tailwind, and she looks to me for a bit of reassurance. I tell her that our Boeing 777 is a sturdy craft, but I probably nullify any comfort she takes from that claim by then describing a few flights I've been on that were much, much worse.
I've ordered the seafood meal on this flight, and the results far exceed my humble - nay, pitiable expectations of airline food. The appetizer is good-quality smoked salmon, and the main course is a delightful shrimp-and-rice casserole. Toward the end of the flight, my breakfast, clearly labelled SEAFOOD, turns out to be a croissant stuffed with turkey, bacon, and egg. Fine print on the bottom of the tray, which I can only read once I've finished the food, explains that British Airways' definition of seafood includes anything that is raised or produced within 100km of a seacoast.
The powerful tailwind continues to buffet the plane through most of the journey and gets us to London a half-hour ahead of schedule, so we have to circle 15 minutes before the airport is ready for us to land. We touch down a little after 6am.
Upon arrival at Heathrow I make the long walk to the Hilton, where my room is ready for me. The clerk advises me that the Hilton is not obliged to provide day rooms until 9am, and he waits for me to acknowledge this before giving me my key. When I thank him profusely, professionally, finally bordering on pretentiously, he gets the hint and waives the standard check-out time as well, giving me an extra hour to sleep.
Once in my room, I quickly log onto the internet and check the progress of the Winter Olympics, update my current contest results, and then go to sleep. What contest, you say? Well, if you haven't entered by now, it's too late, but you can take a look at it here anyway.
I sleep well at the Hilton, and have an excellent, if preposterously overpriced, dinner in the first-floor Brasserie. The smoked salmon - always one of my favorites - on the buffet table ranks with some of the best I've ever had, so I make a heroic effort to get my money's worth. I complement the chef on the salmon - the Hilton claims it is "house smoked" - and the chef seems indeed pleased to hear my opinion. He serves me a generous portion of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, done in proper English style, and for dessert he offers me unlimited fresh Chantilly cream with my small slice of chocolate cake. I call his bluff and walk away from the buffet table with a pile of cream that completely obscures the cake. Don't try this at home unless you, like me, have absolutely no cholesterol problem. Did I call this meal overpriced? Well, yes, all things considered, it was, but for a meal eaten alone, it was delightfully memorable.
The plane to Africa boards at Heathrow's gate 10, which has a waiting area capable of holding only about a third of the passengers. There is no line, there is no order, the announcements are inaudible, and so when the door to the plane finally opens, the passengers board en mob. Ordinarily British Airways maintains a reasonable order in its boarding procedures, but today I'm amazed that nobody gets injured in the crush.
I make my way through the gate and find my exit-row seat. A few minutes later, a gentleman of similar height and girth to myself, which is to say HUGE, plops down next to me. It's going to be a long flight.
It is a long flight, and because the fellow next to me is in a middle seat, and therefore can only sit absolutely upright between two other passengers, I am compelled to lean a bit toward the outside of the plane so we can both breathe. The armrest won't let me bend in a place where I'd naturally bend, and the strain on my back is simply too much: I spend more than half the flight standing and would have spent nearly all of it standing if the FASTEN SEATBELTS sign hadn't come on frequently due to turbulence. I am so relieved when many of the passengers get off in Nairobi, and I can move to an empty row.
At the immigration desk the officer recognizes my one-year business visa and sends me through without delay. I collect my suitcases, which are among the first to emerge from the chute. Heavy as they are, I've had to invent a new way to move them: by slipping the sturdy but flexible handles of my carry-on bag through the handle of my rolling hardside, I get both an extension that allows me to walk in a normal position and a shock absorber to relieve the strain on my shoulder. If you're tall and weary of crouching to pull your rolling suitcase through airports, give this a try.
The customs officer waves me out of the green line (nothing to declare) and into the red (something to declare). Oh, joy. The last thing I want to do is unpack these cases, which due to the amount of delicate electronics therein are actually full of cases packed within other cases, just the sort of thing someone would pack to disguise bombs, drugs, or other contraband. The last thing I want to do is open them up and then try to get everything packed in again (it took me more than a day at the start of the trip).
The officer looks over my cases, cautions me about going through the green line when I may actually have something to declare, and then begins to list all the items that the government wants to know about. When he gets to "wine," I exclaim, "oh, you're right, I did forget about that - I do have something to declare!"
I pull out a miniature bottle of wine that I got with my dinner on the plane. I don't plan to drink it, but instead give it to Paul when I see him. I apologize remorsefully for forgetting to declare this item, and the officer laughs, "well, if that's all you have, go on through!"
Once through customs, I step outside into the Tanzanian midsummer heat and humidity. It's like walking though a vat of freshly-baked custard, and with my heavy bags I feel like I'm dragging an open umbrella behind me through that custard.
I wait a few minutes for one of my colleagues to appear and give me a ride to my hotel. There's no sign of him, but this is not a problem. He's a busy man who's always getting last-minute calls to important meetings, so as usual I'm prepared to take a taxi instead. I arrange for one at the usual reasonable rate, and the driver goes to get the car. When he pulls up, another fellow standing around just for this purpose grabs my cases and starts loading them into the car. Or at least tries to load them. I usually decline this sort of help, but I've had enough of lugging this weight around, and I stand back and relax while the driver and helper deal with the load. Eventually they get them into the trunk, and I give the helper a tip.
The driver quickly gets me to the Holiday Inn, where I pay him while the hotel staff deal with my bags, another exercise in teamwork. My reservation is ready as expected, and I verify that Paul's is ready for his arrival tomorrow. I go to my room only to find that the air conditioning there has not yet been turned on, so the room is stifling. The bellman turns it on for me, and the blast of cool air from the vent lets me know that it won't be long before the room is reasonably cool. One of the hotel staff knocks on my door only a minute later to ask if the air conditioning is working normally, and I advise her that I'll have to let her know once the room has had a chance to cool down properly.
While the air conditioner does its work, I walk down to my favorite internet café and say hello to the ladies there. They remember me, and they get a big laugh from my description of the air as freshly-baked custard. I send some e-mail to let people in the US know I've arrived, but the connection is so poor - and I'm so tired from another sleepless overnight flight - that I can't do anything more. I trudge back to the hotel, unpack my bags, do a quick check for any damage (the bags seem to have taken some severe hits along the way, but the contents appear intact), and go to bed.
I didn't plan to sleep continuously from yesterday afternoon to this morning, but I do (and it feels soooo good). What wakes me up is the room's temperature and humidity, only a bit below conditions outside. I turn the thermostat down to its lowest setting, take a shower, and go to breakfast. The Holiday Inn buffet isn't as large as that of some other local hotels, but the food is all fresh and well-prepared: there are none of the typical chafing dishes full of brown/gray food that's been standing over a flame for hours. I take my time and sample a lot of dishes, half expecting Paul to walk in and join me - his flight is scheduled to land at 8:25am. A little after 9, I've had my fill and go back to my room to get some work done.
The air conditioning is still barely working, and I report the problem to hotel management. After getting some files prepared, I walk to the internet café. Heavy cloud cover keeps the outdoor temperature down today, but not by much. At the café, I update some websites and then check my e-mail. To my surprise, there's a message from Paul: he's missed his plane and now plans to arrive on Sunday. The connection is a little better than yesterday but still woefully slow, so I send some web addresses to him and ask that he investigate some solar-energy-related sites through his high-speed line.
I walk back to the hotel along Garden Avenue, along which have sprouted many construction projects in recent months. The street is lined with newly-strung barbed wire, most of it only an inch or two above the ground, to prevent illegal parking on the cleared land. In some places the wire blends in quite well with the road surface and shoulder, especially some stray strands that seem to have been left over from the planned installation and simply left lying near intersections. This will be a tricky place to walk after dark.
In the hotel lobby I confirm Paul's new arrival date, then go up to my room, where the maintenance staff knocks on my door almost immediately and asks to come in and fix the air conditioner. I invite them in and watch as they disassemble the machinery and find the offending component, an electronic device that links the cooling unit to the wall thermostat. Just tapping it sets it right, and within seconds I can feel the cool air rushing from the vent. It's not long at all before the room meets even my rigorous environmental demands.
Later in the afternoon, a message appears under my door. The Holiday Inn is new and hasn't been properly "opened" yet, and the president of Tanzania is coming tomorrow to do the honors. I now know the reason for the meticulous cleaning that I've observed all through the building. The message warns of elevator delays and other inconveniences as the president tours the hotel, and it asks that guests finish their breakfasts promptly so the staff can clean up and make final preparations for the visit. The event shouldn't be much of an inconvenience to me and may even present a good photo opportunity.
What is inconvenient is Valentine's Day. It's apparently well known and celebrated here in Dar es Salaam, and the tables at the hotel restaurant are all booked by couples. The manager is most apologetic when I show up looking for a table for one, and though he has his assistant scour the room for several minutes to see if there's any place for me (during which time he also turns down several other parties without reservations), he must concede that he can't serve me in the restaurant this evening. He's obviously uncomfortable turning down a hotel guest, so he offers me dinner in my room without the usual room-service surcharge. I look over the menu and pick out something inviting, the lobster ravioli in saffron cream sauce that was unavailable on my previous visit three months ago. I go back up to my room; the ravioli and a Caesar salad follow only minutes later, and for the first time in my many years of staying in hotels, I have a room-service dinner. It's good stuff - too bad I don't have a Valentine to share it with!
After breakfast I make my daily visit to the internet café and take care of e-mail. Yesterday's cloud cover is still with us thanks to a storm off Madagascar, and today it keeps the temperature down to a bearable level. Or maybe I'm just getting used to it. I return to the hotel and get to work on a new application for SVI. The coding is a bit more complicated than I had expected, but I'm making good progress when Stan, the head of SVI, calls from the lobby. I invite him up.
Stan arrives followed by our TAYOA colleagues Peter and Charles. I show Stan the prototype of his application, which is still in a primitive state, but I'm not ready to turn it over to him yet, so after the demo he leaves. I install some new software on Peter's ThinkPad and perform some minor maintenance on Charles' Dell, and we discuss TAYOA business briefly before they leave for another meeting.
I return to my work, planning to pause at 3:30 to witness the hotel's official opening ceremony at 3:30. I work right up until 3:29, then go down to the ground floor with my camera. Unbelievably, the ceremony has occurred ahead of schedule: the official plaque is already unveiled on the building's façade, and the president is inspecting the interior. I wait a bit to see if he'll reappear, but I have plenty to do today, so I settle for a picture of his car.
After dinner I search in vain for any significant Olympics coverage. Alas, the local sports channels are filled with soccer, rugby, cricket, and snooker. The only Olympic reports I get are brief highlights on CNN and the BBC. The Winter Olympics are covered in depth in this part of the world, but the Holiday Inn doesn't subscribe to the right satellite services, so I'll have to see if the lounges in either of the other big international hotels are showing them.
The day is devoted mostly to computer work. Peter comes back to have me diagnose some problems with his CD writer. I go over the software installation and see that everything is in order, although the performance is inexplicably slow, and the device works perfectly when attached to my computer, so I'm perplexed. I delete a few extraneous programs from Peter's machine that could possibly interfere with the CD writer and reboot. That's when I notice the boot message: 32Mb of RAM OK.
32Mb? He should have 128Mb. Now I know why his machine is running a bit slower than I expected. It turns out that when he had a complete hard drive failure a month ago he took his computer to two service companies here in Dar es Salaam. Each one returned the computer, saying that they could not retrieve any data from it. However, it looks like one of them successfully retrieved his RAM modules, substituting two 16Mb modules for his original pair of 64Mb's. Peter can't possibly identify who took the modules and doesn't know what chance he'd have of recovering them if he could, so I retune his operating system a bit to cope with the meager RAM available and make a note to bring him some more modules on my next trip.
And just in case you're interested, Peter sent the failed hard drive to me after the local technicians gave up on it, and I was able to retrieve everything on it and copy it to a new drive.
Paul arrives after I've finished breakfast. He's had a long flight via Paris and Zurich with little sleep, the best schedule he could arrange on short notice after missing his original flight, but he bravely holds a series of meetings with local colleagues and representatives of aid institutions. He holds up far better than I during one afternoon meeting, where the conversation stays well out of my area of expertise and my brain assumes that it must be time for a nap. No, I don't actually fall asleep, but it's pretty obvious that, as Paul puts it, I'm "zoned out" for a while. Paul manages to restrict his zone-outs to naps between meetings, while I work on my computer, so he maintains an alert appearance throughout the day.
In the evening Peter takes us, along with his colleagues Paulo and Sebastian, to the Florida Pub, a little place that we'd never have found on our own. It's tiny, with space for only about ten tables, but delightfully cool thanks to some industrial strength air-conditioning equipment that was obviously meant for an airplane hangar or building of similar size. We discuss a number of TAYOA projects and have an excellent meal - the seafood is particularly good - and there's even a television there with cable channels, but they're not showing the Olympics. I've already reached the conclusion that I won't be seeing them while I'm here other than a few highlights on CNN and the BBC.
Colleagues come and go all day, and I skip one meeting to make a quick trip to the internet café to collect e-mail. The heat and humidity remain high, and after the walk back I'm ready for some proper iced tea. The Holiday Inn's lounge serves something they refer to as "iced tea," a cinnamon concoction that immediately separates into clear water and a thick sediment that looks like road paving material and offers about the same amount of refreshment. Fortunately, the rooms have tea-making facilities and there are ice machine son several floors, so I make a big pitcher of good iced tea and rehydrate myself before setting out with Stan to visit a local mushroom magnate.
Paul, Stan, and I have been interested in the possibility of promoting mushroom growing as a means for some disadvantaged Tanzanians to make a living, but we know little of the process. A local company claims to have developed a new and cost-effective method of raising mushrooms that's particularly well adapted to the local climate and resources. We drive about an hour to the company site, where we have some discussions with the head of the company, see a video presentation explaining the growing and harvesting process, and take a tour of the various work areas. The building interior is sweltering, and if it were not for the entire pitcher of tea that I consumed before the trip and the heat-stress pills that I've been taking since I arrived in Africa, I wouldn't have been able to stay for the entire meeting, but I manage to persevere (and shed a couple of pounds by the time we depart). Overall, the methods perfected by the company, packaged and delivered more-or-less in kit form with training and ongoing technical support from the company experts, seem to have potential, so we plan to continue our investigations in this area.
In the evening we meet with Peter who brings several more of his colleagues to the hotel. We spend considerable time in the outdoor lounge brainstorming a new TAYOA membership plan. Afterwards, Paulo, one of the key TAYOA staff members, invites us to his house where he treats us to some real Tanzanian home cooking, a meal of kingfish in a delicious sauce with rice and vegetables. Several of his friends and associates from other pursuits are also there, and for the first time today, we get to converse about some topics that aren't directly work related. We're particularly intrigued to learn that two of the guests are familiar with a paper Paul wrote in the 1960's: it's rather well known in economic circles, but these fellows have encountered it in their business courses.
After dinner, Paul - to my complete surprise - suggests an impromptu game. He proposes that he and I try to guess the ages of our host and his three African friends. As always, I'm ready for a game, although I wouldn't have suggested one based on personal information. Paul and I pull out some business cards and write down our guesses, and when we're finished we reveal our answers. One by one our subjects reveal their true ages; the first tells me that I'm exactly right, while Paul's guess is a couple of years too high. After that, however, Paul charges into the lead and never looks back. By the time we get to our host (whom I underestimated by 10 years), I have accrued a total error of 19 years. Paul wins handily with a total of 11 - not bad for four guesses! If Paul proposes a game, I have to propose one as well. I suggest that our subjects turn the tables and guess our ages. I'm going to regret this. Those of you who know the truth will find this amusing, and those of you who don't, well, you may as well. The guesses for Paul range from 35 to 59; I am estimated anywhere from 33 to 58. It's our host who thinks I'm 58 (after I was polite enough to underestimate his age by 10 years), but in absolute terms that's still better than those whose numbers were far too low, and his guess for Paul is much closer than anyone else's, so he wins this round, and Paul awards him an elegant WILMA pen.
I make my morning visit to the internet café while Paul meets with Christine of SWF to discuss mushroom farming. To my surprise, they're gone when I return. I make a quick check of the hotel's public areas, then go to my room to continue with my computer work.
In the early afternoon Stan comes by to pick up Paul and me for our meeting at the United Nations World Food Programme office. I have no idea where Paul is, nor do I know what to say in this meeting (I'm just the computer guy!), but when another check of the hotel fails to reveal any hint of Paul's whereabouts, I suggest to Stan that we go to the office and ad lib our way through it. However, what could have been a highly entertaining segment of my travel report is abruptly cancelled when we encounter Paul rushing in the hotel's front door just as we're walking out. It turns out that he'd scheduled a visit to a local school with Christine but neglected to tell me about it, and his attempts to contact Stan's cell phone had been repeatedly stymied by failures in the local circuits.
We meet with a programme officer at the UNWFP, where Paul inquires about the possibility of the organization's purchasing some of the vast food surplus produced in the Ahakishaka area, home of SVI. I had no idea that's why we were here. The officer indicates that such purchases are indeed possible, although only through a rigid tender procedure (similar to a blind auction, in which no bidder knows anyone else's bid, with additional rules to bias the operation in favor of the buyer). Paul's has reservations about the rules of this game, which favor better equipped, more experienced bidders (hey, what game doesn't?), but for once I'm relieved to encounter a bureaucrat who gives a straight answer on what we need to do and how we need to do it.
The officer shows us what he's up against in his mission to buy tons of food for millions of destitute refugees. He hands us two bags of beans. The first, a sample provided by a prospective bidder, is pure perfection. If Norman Rockwell had painted beans for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, they would have looked like these: smooth, shiny, unblemished, and in a gorgeous array of colors and patterns. The other bag is representative of the product that was actually delivered: brown, broken, dirty, and insect-infested. Roadkill beans! He assures us that if we can supply a reasonable volume and meet quality standards and other requirements, we can do business. Stan thinks Ahakishaka has the potential to meet the requirements, so as we drive away from the office, he's quite enthusiastic about the possibility of raising money through sales to UNWFP despite Paul's intermittent tirades against some of the regulations.
We take our leave of Stan at the hotel and enjoy a few minutes of quiet work in our rooms before it's time to go on an excursion with Peter. He's taking us to Kigamboni, across the harbor from Dar es Salaam, where he has plans to use some acreage for youth-related activities. Neither Paul nor I are sure of what awaits us across the water, but Peter has been quite eager for us to make this trip ever since we arrived.
A small ferry takes us across the harbor. It's cramped, and our small car is squeezed between the side of the ferry and a large truck, and I can't even get a decent picture. On the other side, we drive along the coast, stop to pick up one of the local residents, then pull into a small hotel/restaurant. There we meet some local officials for drinks and light snacks and have a long discussion well into the evening that begins with the land available to Peter and strays into diverse tales and opinions of travel, politics, and other topics. We break briefly to walk through the parcel of land in question, dimly lit by the setting sun and bristling with barbed wire and cactus, then return to the restaurant.
Late at night, and after a half-hour wait for the return ferry, Peter returns us to the hotel, but not too late for dinner in the restaurant. Along with some tasty seafood we sample the milkshakes - good, not great - and then turn in for the night.
I spend the morning with Peter helping him organize his vast collection of documents and pictures pertaining to TAYOA projects. When we're finished, I'll be designing a CD that will allow the user to explore TAYOA's programs, but the final product is still a long way away. For now, we concentrate on taking inventory and getting his paper documents into machine-readable form.
When Peter takes off to gather more files, I make a trip to the internet café. Upon my return, Paul has already departed for a meeting, so I work in my room until he returns in plenty of time for our appointment at DIT. The driver shows up a bit early, before we leave our rooms for the lobby, and he has misspelled Paul's name, so the hotel staff inform him that the party he seeks is not registered at the hotel. Convinced that he's nonetheless in the right place, he takes a seat in the lobby.
I exit the elevator at lobby level and wait near the window. I know the DIT cars, so I watch for one to pull up in front of the hotel. Eventually the driver notices me and perceives that I'm waiting for something, so he approaches me just as Paul arrives. That's Paul Harmington according to his instructions, but we set him straight. The hotel manager is so concerned about the mixup that he insists on verifying his records (and our identities) before we drive off to DIT.
At DIT I take a seat in the waiting room at the suggestion of the receptionist. Paul stands. The receptionist makes it clear that it's no longer a suggestion: "PLEASE TAKE A SEAT." Paul sits and looks over the stack of newspapers on a nearby table, most of which are in Swahili. A young lady seated next to me reaches over and helpfully pulls an English-language paper from the middle of the stack and puts it on top. Paul equally helpfully (because our purpose is entertainment, not information) puts a Swahili paper back on top of the stack.
Paul looks at the young lady and advises her that his command of Swahili is undiminished despite his advanced years. He points to a headline about the president of Tanzania and sounds out a word he recognizes: "Mkapa!" With increasing pride he points to some other words and pronounces them as well. I join in, seizing on "uk." The young lady points out that "uk" is an abbreviation for the four-syllable Swahili word for "page," which explains why it appears in the upper right-hand corner followed by a number. I counter that Russians only require three syllables to say their word for "page."
Just as the receptionist picks up the phone to summon security, Richard emerges from his office and invites us in. Paul bids farewell to the young lady with a cheery "Mkapa!" and I take my leave with "Slipway!" Richard gives us both a look of gentle concern but makes no comment. He takes us down to the principal's office.
We discuss recent events and plans. Projects have not gone as smoothly as we'd hoped, not even as well as we'd expected, but we all still perceive many opportunities and great potential for our collaborative efforts. Before we break up, we move on to some lighter topics, including the curious disclosure that Richard was required to take a swimming course as part of attaining his PhD in engineering. The university where he was studying was concerned about the possibility of a student's falling into water while working on a bridge, so the requirement was instituted to lessen the chance of losing a valuable engineer. Paul glumly notes that there is no such requirement for economists.
After we return to the hotel, we have less than an hour to relax before our scheduled dinner with various people associated with the mushroom-growing project. Paul has booked an outside table since it's the only place we can expect to have a quiet conversation; the indoor restaurant is usually crowded and somewhat noisy. Our guests arrive only a bit behind schedule, and we take our seats outside. Over the course of dinner, Paul explores the range of possible variation in the plan offered by the franchiser. "There are rules" is the key phrase, but at the evening's end there seems to be enough flexibility to us to continue planning and discussions, but not enough for us to make any firm commitments.
As our guests leave, Stan pauses to give us our tickets for the trip to western Tanzania. We'll be traveling from February 24 to March 3, and I can't count on getting internet access during that time, so there may be some delays in updating this report.
Since we're only staying in Dar es Salaam about one week, then heading west for a week, then coming back to Dar, we've effectively turned one long visit into three short ones, and it looks like each will have its own Last Week Syndrome. Paul and I split up to deal with diverse demands on our time: Paul to a meeting with a large group of widows who hope that we can assist them in developing some income-producing industry, and me to the TALENT office to work on projects for Peter and Stan.
My first task is to get Peter, assisted by Rehema of TALENT, started on scanning his collection of documents and photos. The computer in the TALENT office is woefully slow, and it has no CD writer or other means of transferring large quantities of data, so I suggest that we connect the scanner to my ThinkPad. Making the connection is no problem, but Stan has taken the scanning software CD home for safekeeping, and we can't work without installing it on my ThinkPad, so after ascertaining that Peter's documents, many roughly cut and pasted onto heavy paper, will feed reliably through the scanner, we agree to postpone the process until tomorrow, when Stan will bring the needed CD. I also advise TALENT that if they'll get their malfunctioning CD reader fixed by the time I get back from Ahakishaka, I'll give their slow computer a tuneup that should at least double its speed
I return to the hotel and spend much of the day working on a new brochure that we'll be distributing in Ahakaishaka and other locations during next week's trip. This work continues until early evening, when Paul and I rendezvous in the hotel lobby for a meeting with the private secretary to Tanzania's vice president. He's interested in WILMA because the vice president's office is responsible for all nonprofit registrations in the country, and he has been reading about us in the course of reviewing TALENT's registration status.
The secretary arrives along with Peter and Paulo of TAYOA, and we all take a quiet table in the hotel's outdoor café. Paul and I have some concerns that this meeting is a harbinger of some new complication in the registration process, and the secretary asks us a lot of detailed questions, but in the end he expresses confidence that the correct procedures have been followed and that registration should proceed smoothly. He also expresses particular interest in the word "leadership" (the middle name of both WILMA and TALENT), and observes that leadership development is a critical element in successful socioeconomic development. The meeting ends with good feeling all around and expectations of future cooperation.
I go back to the TALENT office and find that Stan has delivered the scanning software CD. It's easy to install, and I quickly have Peter busy turning his paper documents into files. While he works on that project, eventually letting Rehema take over when he has to leave for a meeting, I get Stan started on revisions to the Swahili text in the new brochure. Final typesetting and a few scanning problems take more time than I'd expected, so neither task is complete before Rehema and I have to pick up Paul and go to a meeting with the African Development Foundation. There we discuss some of our current projects that we think will interest ADF, and one of them does, although not immediately. They encourage us to keep in contact regarding a coming initiative that may be aimed directly at one of our projects.
We enjoy a little downtime before dinner, Paul in the pool and me soaking in the tub and enjoying a big pitcher of iced tea. The tub isn't really big enough for me, but after ten days of work and tropical heat, it feels good to stuff as much of myself as I can into it and just zone out. I give Paul a call when dinnertime is near, and he invites me up to his room. There he shows me a packet of mushroom tea that he's gotten from a local grower (although this packet is imported from China) and some brochures left for us by the secretary to the vice president, who dropped by while we were out. The brochures describe a nonprofit Christian organization that's active in Tanzania, and the secretary's note simply indicates that he'd thought we'd find them interesting, so we're not sure what exactly we should do with the information. The note goes on to say that we may see the secretary again this evening, so we figure we'll find out soon. The packet of mushroom tea is, Paul tells me, highly recommended by his mushroom expert as a health supplement. I suggest that it may be a good item to give away as the top prize in my current contest; Paul, whose team is currently in the lead, suggests that surely something else must be available (after all, he already has his own packet).
Paul and I dine in the hotel restaurant again; its good food and reasonable prices give us little incentive to go elsewhere. We decide to try the grand seafood platter for 2, a bit more expensive than other items on the menu. The platter turns out to be well worth the price, a generous selection of prawns, calamari, lobster, and other delicacies with fries, rice, and salad. We can't finish it, but not for lack of trying; it's a far better value than either of the all-you-can-eat seafood buffets we've tried in nearby hotels on previous trips.
Just as we're about to leave, the vice president's secretary arrives and joins us. We find that he left us the brochures simply for our information about other good work being done in Dar es Salaam, which is convenient for us since we're not prepared to take on any new affiliates during this trip. He expresses interest in our work and backgrounds in general, but the conversation meanders through various topics with no particular agenda or conclusion, and we part a little later with promises to get in touch after our return from Ahakishaka.
Paul and I walk to our usual internet café and find it inexplicably closed. We need to check our e-mail today for a response from Kampala, so we walk to another nearby café, which also turns out to be closed. I know of another a few blocks away that's open when most others are closed, so we trudge toward it in what must be one of Dar es Salaam's hottest days this year. It's also closed, but at least a passer-by notices our confusion and informs us that today is a holiday on which even business that ordinarily operate on Saturdays are closed closed.
We return to the Holiday Inn and find that its internet business center is open. A quick check of our e-mail accounts shows no mail from Mark, who we'd hoped would make us economical hotel reservations in Kampala. Since this is our last chance to use the internet before our flight tomorrow morning, we make some rather expensive reservations at the Kampala Sheraton through an online travel site.
Late afternoon is time for packing and resting from the previous week's work. Paul takes his weekly Lariam tablet and gets in a little nap; I backup my hard drive and perform one last check on all the equipment I'm taking to Ahakishaka.
In the evening we have dinner with Stan and our local mushroom-farming expert, Zhiguo. We order our food, and then Paul begins explaining the structure of the local widows' organization that's expressed interest in starting a mushroom business. The structure is fairly complicated: ancillary functions such as building the mushroom houses, making the substrate on which the mushrooms grow, and packaging the finished product may be distributed among distinct parts of the widows' organization. While Stan and I have heard all this before, and we feel that Paul is going into a bit more detail than is absolutely necessary, we know that Zhiguo needs to understand the whole operation in order to advise us on the best way to organize the work.
Zhiguo is very polite. Even when the food is served, he sits still and listens attentively as Paul describes the widows' organization in exquisite detail. I - not nearly so polite as Zhiguo - manage to interrupt Paul and persuade him to eat his appetizer, giving Zhiguo a chance to do the same, and we all finish just as our main courses arrive.
Once the main courses are set before us, Paul begins explaining the structure of the local widows' organization. Yes, again. I suggest that he's told Zhiguo enough (Stan and I have long since stopped listening) and that he should eat his food while it's hot. Paul nods and continues, and Zhiguo, ever polite, sits with his hands in his lap and listens patiently.
Paul is obviously in the grip of De Lariam Tremens. I suggest again - a bit more emphatically - that he and Zhiguo should eat. Stan respectfully echoes my sentiment. Paul soldiers on as the detail evolves from exquisite to excruciating. I grab Paul by the shoulders, shake him, and tell him to "stop talking and start eating."
Paul responds, "in a minute," then returns his attention to Zhiguo and resumes the explanation at the point where I had so rudely interrupted him. Stan and I realize that there's no stopping this socioeconomic juggernaut now, so we eat our dinners. By the time Paul is finished, so are we. I'm ready to ask Paul to step outside if he starts the process one more time, but he and Zhiguo dig into their dinners. While they eat, Stan and I have our own conversation on other topics, chief among which is the need to get Paul off Lariam once and for all.
Over dessert, Zhiguo gets a chance to talk. He tells us about the various types of mushrooms that will grow well in Tanzania. One variety in particular is known in China for its AIDS-suppression attributes. Paul thinks this reputation could be the basis for a marketing campaign, but I advise against making any claims that haven't been scientifically proven. Paul dismisses my concerns: "we'll just run some clinical trials, publish the results, and then we're in business!" I signal for the check. We say goodnight to Zhiguo and Stan and head back to the hotel.
Well past midnight I'm still packing. The volume of equipment I'm taking is difficult to fit into one large suitcase and a carry-on, but two large suitcases will probably be impractical on our excursion into remote western Tanzania. Missing out on a full night's sleep doesn't bother me, since after our early flight to Kampala I should be able to take a nap at the Sheraton. I work on the packing puzzle into the wee hours of the morning, finally managing to fit everything I need into the cases I've selected for the trip, then get a couple hours' sleep.
We get up early - no time for breakfast - and head to the airport, where we meet Stan. I manage to snag an exit-row seat, and our Boeing 737 gets us quickly and uneventfully to Entebbe airport. We get our visas - by far the most decorative in our well-travelled passports - and get a taxi to the Sheraton. My first task is to check for e-mail from Mark. The hotel's computers are in pitiful shape, but I manage to connect and find nothing from Mark. To my dismay, there are no messages from anyone in either Paul's mailbox or mine, and there haven't been for several days. In our business, this situation borders on the impossible: my account alone often gets more than 10 messages each day, and Paul's is also generally active every day.
A visit to my hosting company's website (AT&T) reveals all: they've sold their small-business internet operations to another company. Obviously, the transfer of our e-mail server has been botched. The performance of the computer I'm using is so poor that I can't even submit a request on the AT&T's support page, so I find Paul and tell him that I'll have to devote my time to this situation until further notice.
The Sheraton offers in-room internet access, albeit at a high price. Because the computers in the business center are in such poor shape, I decide that it's worth the expense to connect my well-tuned ThinkPad to the in-room circuit. I plug in, but I do not connect: the circuit doesn't respond. The guest service card lists a phone number for technical support. I call; the fellow who provides technical support does not work on Sundays. My own diagnostic skills are of no use. As far as I can tell, the socket in my room simply isn't connected to anything. I decide against tearing into the wall to trace the wiring and instead try the keyboard attached to the television.
I log onto the Ugandan equivalent of WebTV. Welcome to Internet Hell. The display has preposterously low resolution, the response times are stupefying slow, and there is no mouse: all selections are made with the Tab and Enter keys. No, there's no manual to explain how this is done, and the fellow who answers questions like "how do you click on anything?" doesn't work on Sundays, so I just hit keys until I figure it out. As bad as it is, the performance of the TV connection is better than anything in the business center, and eventually I manage to submit a request to AT&T. I also dig into one of my auxiliary mail servers and find some new messages. One tells us that Mark made reservations for us at the Speke Hotel for less than half the cost of the Sheraton, but it's too late to switch hotels.
At this point, I expect there'll be a delay while AT&T composes a response to my request, so I join Paul and Stan in the poolside restaurant and have some lunch. Paul has phoned Mark, who expressed his surprise at not receiving any acknowledgement of his e-mail but nonetheless invited us all to dinner at his house. Paul and Stan want to make some other plans for our brief remaining time in Kampala, but I have to tell them to leave me out: until I get the e-mail problem solved, I can't devote time to anything else.
I return to my room and check for incoming messages. AT&T has sent a reply: we are no longer your host. Send your query to your new host, Interland. I do this, and while I wait for a reply I investigate the Interland site. I may as well get to know them if they're going to be my web and mail hosts. I spend quite bit of time looking over their website, and I am not favorably impressed. By the time Mark arrives to take us to his house, they have still not replied, so I go downstairs and try to forget this problem for a while and enjoy dinner.
Mark packs us into his four-wheel-drive vehicle. As usual, I'm in front because that's where I fit. Paul and Stan are stuck in the back. As we leave the Sheraton, the road conditions deteriorate steadily, and we're soon bouncing along the badly-rutted dirt roads of the highlands at the fringe of the city. Once at the house, we're greeted by Mark's wife Ulli and taken to the rooftop deck for drinks. We're also treated to a splendid panorama of the city lights below. Paul and Mark get into a protracted discussion of a potential road-building project for Ahakishaka. Mark, an engineer, knows a bit about road building, and he savages Paul's proposal for managing the project. Paul, braced by gin and Lariam, is undeterred, and the argument continues as we head downstairs for dinner.
Once Paul and Mark finish their heated discussion of surface compaction, drainage ditches, culverts, and other road matters, we get to hear from Ulli about her music teaching. She's had great success finding organizations to donate pianos (some of very good quality), and the local people have demonstrated great enthusiasm - and in some cases great talent - for learning and performing classical music. Our short visit doesn't afford us time to hear any of the results, but if we spend more time in Kampala in the future, we're eager to catch a performance.
Mark drives us back to the hotel, and I check for a reply from Interland. None has arrived yet, so there's little I can do but check again in the morning. I'm quite fatigued by the day's events, and I must continue to devote my efforts to the e-mail problem, so I tell Paul and Stan that I won't be joining them for some visits to local colleagues in the morning. Instead, I will sleep in an entire hour, and then I'll work on the problem until it's time to leave for Ahakishaka.
I get up. I check for a response from Interland. There is none, so I send another query, this time using words in all-capitals like URGENT and DISASTER. I shower. I check for a reply. There is none. I go downstairs to breakfast. Breakfast is quite good, as it usually is at Sheratons, but I can't enjoy it much while I'm preoccupied with the e-mail problem. I return to my room and check again: still no response from Interland. I check my auxiliary servers and find no new messages, which is not surprising since we've warned people that we'll be offline for a few days. There's nothing more for me to do about e-mail until my next opportunity to access the internet, and I don't know when that will be.
I begin to pack, not a big task since I hadn't done much unpacking upon arrival at the Sheraton. One thing I want to bring is the bottle of water from my room, since I don't know how long or hot our drive will be, nor how many stops we'll be able to make. However, the attendant has already made up my room, and he's taken my remaining half-bottle without leaving a full one. I go out into the hallway and find the attendant's cart. He's nowhere to be seen, but my half-bottle of water (it has a distinctive torn label) is on top of the cart. I grab it, then have second thoughts. I put it back, grab two full ones, and return to my room to finish packing
I check out and settle down in the hotel lobby with my bags. Soon Paul and Stan return, and Stan joins me in the lobby while Paul goes up to his room to make a few more calls. I remember that there's one special thing that I want to buy: Ugandan tea. I first had it a couple of years ago, and I was impressed with its full-bodied flavor, a bit heavy for iced tea but excellent hot with milk and sugar. I could have bought some at the airport, but airport store prices are about the same as hotel lobby prices, so I didn't bother getting any yesterday.
Stan keeps an eye on my bags while I check the lobby shops for tea. The last time I was here, two years ago, the Sheraton had several brands of highest-quality Ugandan tea for sale. What do I find here today? Twinings of London. There's one dusty old box of "Ugandan economy blend" on a shelf, but that's hardly what I had in mind. I stroll down the Sheraton's corridor of privately-run shops, but the few that have tea have only Twinings of London brand. I mention my disappointment to Paul when he returns to the lobby, but we have no time to go tea-shopping in downtown Kampala. However, Paul and Stan have both left their bottled water in their rooms, so we'll be making one stop to buy more at the beginning of our drive south. With a little luck, wherever we buy water will also have tea for sale.
Our driver arrives shortly after noon. Our bags are a bit big for his car, so Paul and Stan have to sit in back with a bag between them (as usual, I'm in front), and we begin our trek south. Our stop for water turns out to be a gas station with a cooler full of bottled water in front - sorry, no tea, not even Twinings of London. Thanks to some Indy 500-style maneuvers through Kampala's chronic traffic congestion, we're soon beyond the city and any chance of buying good Ugandan tea.
The wide highway out of Kampala leads to smooth paved roads that branch off toward several southern destinations. Traffic gets sparse once we leave the city limits, so we make good time. As we're cruising along, a flock of birds flying high overhead suddenly bombards our car with droppings; the windshield is completely splattered. I'd like to take a moment to personally thank whoever invented the windshield. Stan says that this is a good omen; I'd hate to see a bad one.
We cross the equator, where's there's a little "Equator Café," but at our cruising speed it appears and disappears so quickly that I can't even get a picture. It's just a little tourist trap in the middle of nowhere - well, technically the equator is the middle of everywhere - but it would be fun to stop and get our picture taken there. I'll suggest this for our next trip along this road, probably only a few months from now.
At the border, we exit the car to process our passports at the Ugandan border post, then get back in and drive into the narrow frontier area between the Ugandan post and the Tanzanian post. There we meet our Tanzanian colleagues. After introductions, they transfer our baggage to their car, then drive us another short distance to the Tanzanian border post, where we process our passports again. While we wait for the necessary stamps, we chat with a young American volunteer who's working in this area. He's impressed by the number of stamps in our passports. I summarize our adventure for him: once we get to Ahakishaka, we will have been everywhere. Paul and I give him our business cards - along with my saying a few words in Russian, they lend an inexplicable air of plausibility to my claim - and then we resume our journey south.
On the Tanzanian side of the border, the roads get rougher. It's not long before we leave pavement for gravel, then smooth dirt, then not-so-smooth dirt. By nightfall we arrive at our guest house in Kayanga, a simple but comfortable place with toilets that don't flush very well and decorative - as opposed to functional - showers. I'm offered a bucket of hot water for washing, but I decline and instead ask for one in the morning. The attendant says she'll knock on my door at 7:30 to let me know it's ready.
We have dinner with our local colleagues. They can see that we're tired from the trip; they depart and let us turn in early. Paul and I try to use the mosquito nets in our rooms, but they're not properly mounted, so we rely on our anti-malaria compounds and mosquito repellent to protect us while we sleep.
I await my morning bucket, which should be heralded by a knock on my bedroom door. At 7:45, still in my pajamas, I peek outside. Here, bucket, bucket! I hear Paul splashing inside the nearby "shower" room. He has my bucket.
Paul emerges, and the attendant goes off to get me a fresh bucket. I go into the "shower" room, close the door, and battle grime armed only with a bucket of hot water and a bar of soap. I achieve a moral victory at best, dress, and take a seat at the breakfast table. After some tea, fruit, and toast, it's time to load our belongings into the truck and begin the final leg of our journey to Ahakishaka.
The roads continue to deteriorate as we approach Ahakishaka. The ride is rough, and we're all bounced around inside the truck. As we approach the central village, we pass along a stretch of road that's been greatly improved since Paul's visit a few months ago. Paul tells me that back then it was strewn with boulders, some weighing hundreds of pounds, but today we can see where those boulders have been dug out and dragged aside to make a mostly clear, albeit still quite rough, path. It's an amazing feat that was accomplished without benefit of machinery or explosives.
"Ahakishaka" refers both to a region in western Tanzania that encompasses five distinct villages and to the central village in the region. Our arrival in this central village is a major event. The villagers have been expecting us, but they were expecting us tomorrow. There's plenty of construction underway: five new huts, one for each of the region's villages to display their handicrafts and produce. The huts are each lit with a single high-efficiency lightbulb connected to a long cable strung from the solar panel atop a special VIP hut being prepared especially for us.
A photographer with a video camera joins us and begins recording all of our activities. We're warmly greeted by local dignitaries and shown into one of the village huts. As we're introduced to even more people and shown the handicrafts inside, the hubbub outside continues as the villagers rush to finish the preparations they'd been making for our arrival. Women pass by carrying our mattresses, a luxury item in this part of the world, and others rush by with armloads of thatching material for roofs and reeds for walls.
Accompanied by the photographer, we're taken on a tour of the village. We hear "jambo" and "karibu" hundreds of times, and we reply "asante" at every opportunity. Paul has taken this tour before, and he's looking forward to sampling the banana beer and liquor again. I decline politely, explaining that I'd prefer not to drink any alcohol, but someone calls my bluff and offers me a freshly squeezed glass of unfermented banana juice. I amuse the onlookers (our every move draws a crowd) by toasting in Russian, "na zdroviye," and downing it quickly.
Our quarters are finally ready, and we're taken over to what Paul and Stan call the "campsite," a complex that includes our sleeping hut as well as a dining hut and a private latrine. The sleeping hut's walls are made of mud spread over a reed frame; the floor is dirt covered with a thick layer of straw. The mud comes from a nearby anthill, now reduced to a large hole in the ground. Ant saliva is a natural cement that holds the mud firmly to the frame. Because Paul advised them of my size and weight, the villagers have built a long and particularly sturdy bed for me; Paul has a similar bed, but not quite so large or well reinforced. We both have private bedrooms separated by reed curtains from the main room, where a mattress has been placed on the straw floor for Stan. Just outside the front door is thatched cubicle where one person at a time can stand and wash in privacy; our private latrine is a quarter-mile downhill.
We unpack. My room lacks a suitable armoire, so my unpacking is limited to laying out my critical supplies where I can find them in the dark: my flashlight and chemical lightsticks. Yes, our hut has a lightbulb; no, I'm not going to depend on it, especially if I need to visit the latrine at midnight. I also unpack the equipment that I brought for the Solar Village Institute: a computer, printer, camera, and laminator. The computer, printer, and camera are battery powered and can be recharged from the solar panel; the laminator is a hand-cranked model that uses cold adhesive and requires no electricity at all. Paul wants SVI to issue membership cards, and he's told me to be prepared to make about 25. I have supplies for more than 200 cards, so we'll have plenty of material for practice as I train SVI staff.
I suggest that we begin the training, but the villagers are still in the middle of introductions and giving us the tour of the campsite. After that, there's a short musical presentation to welcome us to Ahakishaka. It's all in Swahili, of which I only know a few words, but Stan tells us the general message is "welcome, we're glad you're here." One of the villagers presents the singers with a small donation, much as passers-by give to public performers in American cities, so Paul and I donate a few shillings as well. Paul struts in time to the music as he presents his donation, and I do the same; both of us get the crowd's raucous approval.
Dinner is served, and we sit down to a feast of local plants and animals. The plants range from the comfortably familiar (potatoes, carrots, rice) to the invitingly different (papaya, baked bananas). The animals range from the unadventurous (some kind of bird) to the, um, what part of what beast did this come from? Nonbird meat tends to come with lots of gravy. Gravy on rice and potatoes is good.
After dinner, I get a chance to start training some SVI staff on the equipment that I brought. The primary person I have to train, Aristedes, has a fair knowledge of Windows, so the lesson proceeds smoothly. I rely on Aristedes to share his Windows knowledge with my other two students, Jacqueline and Evelyn, after I'm gone. What I'm teaching is rather specialized and complicated, so while the three of them learn quickly, the lesson drags on past sunset. We run out of light just as we're getting to the part where we take pictures and make photo-ID membership cards. The printer also develops a minor glitch that prevents us from printing the few photos that we've managed to take, so I decide to carry all the equipment back to my hut and figure out the problem before continuing the lesson.
When I return to the campsite after dark, I find that a television has been set up just outside our sleeping hut. It's powered by the large truck battery that's been charging all day from the solar panel. The villagers have gathered to watch the videos of us taken by the photographer. To be blunt, it's pretty boring stuff: long stretches of unedited tape showing Paul and me walking around the village or - worse yet - standing around the village looking at things. Paul watches with them, but I'm tired and go to bed. Even though the television is just outside my bedroom wall, where the villagers clap and cheer whenever something interesting happens on the tape (which isn't terribly often), I'm soon asleep.
Our communal bucket of hot water arrives at dawn. Paul, Stan, and I take turns washing in the thatched cubicle, then we have breakfast. I'm moving slowly: my bed is constructed of rough-hewn beams laid lengthwise and spaced about 6-8 inches apart, and I've been sleeping more in the spaces than on the beams themselves. My joints are recovering from being twisted and clamped in various strange positions overnight, and I can just barely loosen them up enough to limp to the choo, which is a hole in the ground. It has a lid and is surrounded by a thatched screen for privacy - no roof. To quote Forrest Gump, "that's about all I have to say about that."
Paul, Stan, and I are scheduled to take a tour of the outlying villages, but I have to fix the glitch that showed up last night. Paul, Stan, and a group from SVI drive off while I wait for the sun to rise high enough in the sky to power the solar panel. That doesn't take long at all at the equator, so after only a short walk around the village I can get to work.
The glitch disappears. All of the equipment works perfectly, and I can find no sign that anything was ever amiss. I disassemble and reassemble every component. Everything continues to function perfectly. I need to know what caused yesterday's problem so I can be sure it won't return. With no clue where to concentrate my search, I start a comprehensive series of diagnostics including a disk surface integrity scan that should run for a couple of hours, then I sit and wait for my colleagues to return.
As I relax in the shade, one of the village officials comes over and wants to give me another tour. I really have nothing better to do, so I go with him, but he winds up taking me on the exact same tour that I took yesterday, and I'm not sure that I can decline the banana liquor a second time. I profusely apologize for cutting the tour short and excuse myself to return to work on my computer.
My guide has nothing better to do, so he accompanies me. He wants to know what I'm doing on the computer. Now it's my turn to call his bluff. I explain the workings of the Norton Disk Doctor surface integrity scan, block by block. As the screen displays the progress of the program, miniscule blocks of color appear and disappear. I can explain every one, and I do. Eventually he can't take it any more; he suddenly remembers an important appointment and exits the hut. I'm sure he tells all the other villagers, "beware - there's a NERD in there!" because nobody else comes in. I relax in the shade until my colleagues return.
When they arrive, I suggest that it's a good time to complete the lesson, but the villagers have other plans. This is the day they've been anticipating for so long (as opposed to yesterday), and there's much to do. First, we're taken on our official tour of the five huts that showcase the products of the individual villages. Inside them, we meet some key people who contributed to the effort, far too many for me to recount. As we walk from hut to hut, the crowd, augmented by visitors from the outlying villages, surrounds us, yet it parts easily whenever we move so that our progress is never impeded.
The children are particularly fascinated by us. On several occasions I look down to see a tiny child holding his hand against mine to compare size (and probably color). Often I find myself ringed by a group of children simply gazing up at me in amazement. A tiny one held by his mother is particularly intrigued by the hair on my arms. He repeatedly tries to pluck some, but his grip isn't sufficiently developed for him to obtain a sample.
Eventually we're led to the performance area. We VIPs get sturdy chairs in the shade; the villagers grab some turf. For about four hours we're entertained by singers and dancers. Most, if not all, of the songs were written especially for this occasion, and the quality and variety of the performances is quite impressive. All they need is a few handmade instruments and vivid costumes to put on a grand show. The amplifier is completely superfluous.
Yes, I said amplifier. Our visit is about bringing solar power to this remote region, and the villagers are determined to use what little technology they already have. The performances, however, need no amplification, and the equipment suffers from continuous problems that require the technicians (and technician wannabees) to stand in front of us and make some adjustments. Someone blocks my view about half the time, but that still leaves me two hours of photo opportunities.
As evening approaches, we have to leave. There are plenty of performers waiting for their turn, but this evening is our only chance to meet with some prominent district officials in Kayanga, so we simply don't have time for any more entertainment here. We also don't have time to complete the computer training I began yesterday, so we agree to resume the lesson when we return tomorrow. As the villagers are still partying and preparing vast piles of food for a communal feast, we pile into our truck and drive away.
We have our own feast planned in Kayanga. We return to the same guest house where we stayed two days ago, and we're joined by the district commissioner, the head of the chamber of commerce, and other key local officials. They engage Paul in exhaustive discussions of our programs and SVI's potential. I have to fend off some questions by reminding everyone, "I'm just the computer guy." As the computer guy, I'm still preoccupied with our website problems, and I inquire of the group whether there's any chance of my getting online during the next 24 hours. The answer begins as a hesitant ndeo, but as various guests analyze the complexities of arranging a connection for me (who in this district has a working phone line? who has an internet account? can we get them together?), they eventually arrive at a consensus - apana.
We have our dinner, after which Paul, fueled by beer and Lariam, gives a speech. He talks about our progress thus far with SVI and our plans. He addresses the commissioner as "councilor," and he explains the uses of "short-term radio," meaning shortwave, but everyone but me has had a few beers by this point, so nobody minds.
Our photographer puts the tape he's been recording all day into the VCR and begins playing it. Once again, I excuse myself and go to bed, but as president, Paul is obliged to watch, at least for a little while. As I retire, Stan assures me that he'll make sure my morning bucket is ready at 7:30.
"Where's my ndoo?" I wonder. I peep out of my bedroom at 7:30, but there's no sign of my hot water. I get dressed and sit down to some breakfast in the main room. Stan and Paul join me shortly. A hard, steady rain is falling, which may explain the delay in the water delivery: it's heated over a fire outside. Eventually the rain subsides, and we all get our baths.
We leave the guesthouse and start toward Ahakishaka, but we stop along the way at the residence of a former Tanzanian ambassador to China. We have a long talk in his comfortable and spacious living room. Like most of the Tanzanian officials we've met, he expresses a mix of enthusiasm for our effort tempered by a wariness that stems from witnessing many well-intentioned but mismanaged development projects.
After we take our leave of the ambassador, we make an unscheduled stop at a local bar. Our truck needs some repair, so the driver leaves us here to enjoy some refreshment while he visits the service station. The delay stretches over an hour, so we have plenty of time to talk. One of our colleagues tells me that I'm a good dancer. I tell him that he's had quite enough beer, and I ask how he could possibly know about my dancing ability, or to be more precise, my complete lack of ability.
"When you and Paul contributed to the singers on Tuesday, you were dancing," he replies. He's referring to Tuesday's short concert, when Paul and I stepped forward to give the singers a few shillings. That was dancing? "You moved in time to the music; the crowd really enjoyed it."
I explain that he has now seen the full extent of my dancing prowess, which is usually limited to tapping my foot or nodding my head slightly to the beat. "In Africa, that is dancing too!" he insists. His complement is one I'm unlikely to ever receive again, so I accept it and thank him courteously.
The truck returns, and we resume our drive to Ahakashaka. To my surprise, the hard-packed dirt roads have completely shed the heavy morning rain. They're no worse than they were yesterday, and we make good time. Upon arrival, Stan takes us to his mother's hut. She presents us with a sheep. No, it's not a pet. We sit and talk with her for a while (Stan's mother, not the sheep), but then we have to resume our busy schedule.
We unpack once again in our VIP hut and then go to the SVI center for the first SVI board meeting. I'm the only attendee who's not a member of the board, but Paul brings me along to take a picture and for another reason that'll be revealed later. The meeting drags on through the afternoon. There's an occasional mention of lunch, but no food appears. Hours later, when some key financial plans have been settled, Paul announces that WILMA will make a modest initial contribution to the SVI bank account. Then he looks at me and proclaims, "if the spirit should move anyone else, they're welcome to make a contribution as well. That's my cue. I toss in a few dollars. The "spirit" moves one of the local members too, and he makes an unexpected contribution.
Paul issues a challenge to the board to register all the prospective members and issue membership cards before our next visit. That's over 400 cards. I only brought them materials to make 200. Meeting Paul's challenge means securing another, larger contribution to the SVI account. I immediately increase my contribution to include a quick shipment of more printing supplies.
We finally break for lunch sometime after 4:00. The menu is the usual assortment of vegetables, a big bowl of corn on the cob, and fresh sheep. The corn is amazing: the kernels are easily twice the size of the largest that I've seen in the US. They're also easily twice as firm. Stan asks if my teeth are strong enough to eat this inayotafunika corn. Paul gets a laugh from this question; he already knows that my teeth are strong enough for me to eat the bowl. I tell Stan, "no problem," and I suggest that this variety of corn could be a source of paving material for the local roads.
Aristedes, Jacqueline, Evelyn, and I take the truck over to the SVI center to continue our computer lesson. As soon as we arrive, we discover that some of the electrical equipment is missing. Someone has borrowed it to set up the television and VCR for tonight's show. We try to get some work done, but in the waning light it's difficult to get a good picture. I can operate the battery-powered equipment myself in darkness, but I find it impossible to teach the procedure to anyone else. I tell them that we can try again tomorrow, my last day in Ahakishaka.
I return to the VIP hut well after sunset. Stan appears with Evelyn and Jacqueline, who have brought tea and cake. Stan, Paul, and I dig in; it's delicious cake, more spicy than sweet, and we all make a point of complementing it. If you say you like something here, you're likely to get more.
The villagers gather again outside our hut to watch the day's raw video footage. Paul and I join them for a while, but we don't find the video - mostly of us - particularly interesting. We slip back into the hut and prepare for bed. I discover that my pajamas are missing and recall that I left them in the guesthouse in Kayanga. I prefer to wear pajamas when sleeping in a strange place (and few places are stranger to me than Ahakishaka), but it's not a problem. I keep my pants within reach-in-the-dark range in case I need to exit the hut during the night.
Sounds from the video outside and the crowd keep me awake a little while, but the show is soon over. When all is quiet, I drift off to sleep for a few hours, but then a sound awakens me. I hear the rustle of something crawling through the straw on the floor of my room. I grab my flashlight and look for it, but it evades me by crawling under the bed, still obscured by the layer of straw. The creature and I play hide-and-seek for several minutes, but it shows no interest in crawling onto the bed, and I have no intention of going under, so we call it a draw. I go back to sleep, warily.
Heavy fog sweeps in. I can hardly find my way through the grass, soaked by overnight rain, to the choo, and when I finally reach it, I find that our VIP roll of toilet paper is also soaked. I claw my way back through the fog to the hut, grab my personal roll of paper, and go back downhill. Just as I, as the villagers say, tundu la choo, the rain resumes in earnest. I am not a happy camper.
I return to the hut, snarl at Paul, and then find that we have cake and eggs for breakfast. My mood is improved. It's the same kind of cake we had last night. SVI's electrician, Peter, joins us. There are only a few eggs; Jacqueline wants to hold one for Stan (who's away from the hut on SVI business), but Paul sneaks the last egg to Peter anyway when it becomes apparent that Stan won't be back any time soon.
After breakfast I go to the SVI center one more time to resume the computer lesson. I bring the equipment in its case and give Aristedes his first test: unpack and assemble everything. He gets most of it right without any help; I only have to point out the subtle difference between two very similar connectors. We turn on the power (the center has its own solar panel) and pick up where we left off two days ago: taking pictures and printing the photo ID cards. The photography is fun: we all take turns as the subject while Aristedes perfects his technique, and we draft anyone who walks by to stand in front of the camera as well.
It's not long before Aristedes has a set of good photos. We load them into the computer and try to print ID cards, but the process is interrupted by the same glitch that stopped us two days ago. I spend about an hour trying to fix the problem, but my final assessment is that the printer has been damaged somewhere during our bumpy trip to Ahakishaka. I cannot fix it. I encourage Aristedes to practice taking photos and loading them into the database, and I tell him that I'll give Stan my own printer when we get back to Dar es Salaam in a few days. Stan should be able to get it to Ahakishaka in time for all the cards to be printed according to Paul's challenge criteria.
We return to the VIP hut, where Aristedes becomes the center of attention with his digital camera. Villagers line up to have their picture taken. None of them know that he's only practicing and that their portraits will only go into the computing equivalent of a black hole. He continues until we're all called to the performance area. The singers and dancers who didn't get a chance to appear two days ago are all ready to put on another show for us. This time there's no amplification, so we have a much better view, at least until the afternoon sun peers under the canopy and makes it almost impossible for us to see any detail. Until that point, though, we thoroughly enjoy the show, and without the electronic interference I'm even able to capture a few movie clips.
The performers present us with an array of gifts. There are some eggs and other food, but most are utilitarian or decorative items that are too large to take with us. The bounty becomes property of SVI for use in the center or in the VIP hut, which we hope will soon see more visitors interested in supporting their electrification project.
At the end of the show, Paul and I are called upon to say a few words. The amplifier is turned on and a microphone provided, which we need to address this crowd of hundreds. Paul begins, and Stan translates into Swahili sentence by sentence. When it's my turn, I take advantage of the opportunity to poke a little fun at Paul, but my quip must lose something in the translation and doesn't get much of a laugh. Switching to a different brand of humor, I briefly recount some of experiences traveling in Africa. The crowd bursts into a great round of laughter and applause when Stan relays to them the defining attribute of my visit to Ahakishaka: sikuvunja kitu hata kidogo! Stan wraps up the affair with a short speech of his own and lets everyone know that we'll be back soon.
As the sun sets, the villagers gather once again outside our hut to watch videos of the day's events while Paul, Stan, and I take a short trip to visit some people who have been tending to the villagers' spiritual needs for many years. One is a local priest; he's not at home when we arrive, but his housekeeper serves us coffee and cake Ahakishaka style, which is to say relentlessly, while we wait for him. As soon as any of us clear our plates, another slice of cake appears, and by the flickering light of an oil lamp she sits with knife and fork poised, ready to dispense before anyone can say, "enough!"
Only when the priest appears does the cakestorm subside. We have a short talk with him about WILMA and SVI, then move on to our next stop, the home of a Danish nun. She invites us in and listens to Paul describe our work. Years of unfulfilled development promises from various institutions have left her rather cynical, and she expresses her reservations about our plans in rather barbed terms. We all try to convince her of the sincerity of our intentions and our resolve to bring the plan to fruition, and by the time we depart she seems to have softened her stand, if only just a bit.
Back at the VIP hut, Jacqueline and Evelyn bring us our last dinner in Ahakishaka. We're not especially hungry after all the cake we've had, and we're soon finished. Afterwards, Paul and I drag a couple of chairs to an open, level area away from the hut and spend a little time looking at the clear night sky, hoping to see a meteorite or satellite. I get the feeling that the villagers find this activity a little peculiar; they look up and see nothing unusual at all. Paul and I both think this would be an excellent time for a cigar, but neither of us has brought any. We act like tycoons anyway, debating potential locations for the Ahakishaka Lodge, Ahakishaka Fishing Cabins, Ahakishaka-Bukoba Monorail, and other much-needed local improvements.
Since we've had reliable electric lighting in our hut, I've not needed any of my chemical lightsticks. I light one of them - vivid aquamarine - just for fun, and give it to one of the villagers, who seems really delighted to have it. I give away some other colored lightsticks and my last few WILMA pens and luggage tags to some of the people who have made such an effort to make our visit a success, and I distribute my ten industrial-strength white lightsticks to the chiefs of the five local villages. Once all my superfluous equipment is in the hands of people who can make use of it, I retire to my bedroom.
In the little bit of free time that remains before I go to sleep, I try to get some work done on my travel page. I plug my ThinkPad into the electric socket. The power fails immediately. The interior of the hut is plunged into total darkness except for the glow of my ThinkPad screen. Peter the electrician has already left, and there's no way Paul or I can repair the equipment. Without any more lightsticks to illuminate my working area, I decide to turn in early.
My pocket flashlight is sufficient for my remaining illumination needs before bed. During the night, I toss and turn as usual; my limbs tend to get jammed in the spaces between the beams that make up the bed frame, and it takes a lot of torque to wrench them free. During one particularly vigorous turn, I roll toward the fresh mud wall of the hut and plant my face firmly in it. I kujikwaa, but I do not kuvunja.
In the morning I inspect the wall, expecting to find an impression of my face. I do, although the surface is rough enough that it won't be noticed by anyone who isn't already looking for it. I also find a creature that may have been the previous night's straw-crawling visitor: a spider. A pana spider. No, a nene spider, about the size of a Quarter Pounder® (with cheese). It looks as if it plans to make a home of my facial impression, but even though I'm about to leave, I evict it through the window.
We say our goodbyes - lots of goodbyes - and stop by the priest's house one last time to leave the housekeeper two bags of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish® crackers. Paul thinks she ought to have this extra treat since her duties prevented her from joining the crowd watching videos last night. A stop for pictures at the SVI center takes only a few minutes, and then we're back on the bumpy dirt road again with me and the driver in front and Paul, Stan, and Peter stuffed in the back seat. Our route takes us back through Kayanga, where we visit the guesthouse to pick up my pajamas and a shirt that Stan left there; the staff have not only kept our belongings safe, they've even laundered them. We thank them and resume our drive to Bukoba on the southwestern shore of Lake Victoria.
The roads from Kayanga to Bukoba are particularly rough, but the farther we get from Ahakishaka, the more we see crews and heavy machinery working on improvements. Constant detours around construction sites slow our progress, as does a flat tire, but eventually we pull into downtown Bukoba. Stan directs us to an attractive motel, but we're not staying there: he hasn't made any reservations, and there are no vacancies. He guides us toward "the place where we stayed last time." Paul elaborates on this terse description with variations on "it's not as bad as it sounds" until we pull into the parking lot of the New Upendo Motel.
Stan goes to the front office to see if rooms are available. The desk clerk comes out and guides us to see some rooms so we can judge if they are acceptable. We reach the first room; the clerk, Paul, Peter, and Stan all wait anxiously for my verdict. What am I going to do - insist on the Bukoba Hilton? I inspect the room and declare it adequate; my companions all breathe easier.
Among the few gifts from Ahakishaka that fit in the truck were some eggs, about 50 eggs in an opaque blue plastic bag. We bring the bag - unopened - to the restaurant and ask if the cook will make some omelets for us for dinner. She agrees, and Paul and Stan make arrangements for a meeting tomorrow while I take a shower - there's no hot water, but a real shower stall beats ndoo any day - and a short nap. Later, we all meet for dinner; the omelets are served as an appetizer. They're quite good, with an assortment of local vegetables mixed in, but these few omelets seem to have used up our entire supply of eggs. None of us dared to look inside the plastic bag before we handed it over to the cook, and considering the hours it spent bouncing around in the back of the truck from Ahakishaka to Bukoba, we consider ourselves lucky to have gotten an omelet apiece out of it. We have a selection of fish and meat dishes as the main course.
We retire to our rooms. There's only one electric socket in my room, so I have to unplug the television to charge my ThinkPad's battery. My bed has a mosquito net, but with so many tears that it presents no barrier at all to mosquitoes. Relying once again on the efficacy of my anti-malaria compound, I climb into bed and am soon fast asleep.
In the morning, to my surprise, there's plenty of hot water in the shower. I say "plenty" with some certainty because I use all of it enjoying my first proper shower in days. I join Paul and Stan for breakfast, then return to my room. It's been cleaned and the television has been removed. Apparently the staff's attitude is, if you're not going to watch it, we'll give it to someone who will!
The widows begin to arrive for our meeting, and we take over the motel lobby as our conference room. There's much to discuss, and it's well past noon when Paul suggests that he treat everyone to lunch. Only three hours remain until our flight, but since the airport is only five minutes away, we're confident that we have time for a meal.
We take our seats in the restaurant, order, and continue discussing work-related matters. The widows describe their situations; most have several children of their own and have taken in children of deceased relatives, so their meager incomes, primarily from selling vegetables, are stretched far beyond what Westerners consider the poverty line. As we talk, we lose track of just how long the kitchen is taking to prepare our meals. When we finally make an inquiry, we find that the food is still in the early stages of cooking. Paul, Stan, Peter, and I can't wait; we must depart for the airport, but we don't want to inflict any financial burden on this little motel even though the delay is their fault. We pay for the food and instruct them to pack it for the widows to take home to their families.
At the airport we check in, make use of the official Waving Bay (all except me, of course - somebody has to take the picture), and say goodbye to Peter, who'll be going to Dar later in the week. We resist the urge to wave in other areas of the airport, tempting as it is to wave to The General, a passenger whom we don't recognize but who gets the VIP treatment from the airport staff. All the other passengers are held back as he's allowed to walk to the airplane by himself, greeted at every door with "good afternoon, general" and "have a nice flight, general!" When he's aboard - in the exit-row seat I wanted - everyone else is allowed to walk to the plane. I jam myself into a standard seat with insufficient legroom, but I can tolerate it for the short first leg of our flight to Mwanza.
We take off from the bumpy dirt runway. The flight to Mwanza lasts only about a half hour, and we disembark - The General first, of course - and take a seat in the lounge as we wait for our next flight. This plane is larger and has plenty of empty seats, so although the exit row is taken, I can sit at an angle and stretch my legs. We touch down briefly in Shiyanga, where the runway is dirt but rather smooth, a sure sign we're heading toward the coast. Many passengers disembark, and I'm able to take an exit row seat and stretch out in comfort.
At Dar es Salaam airport we wait for our bags. Paul and I get ours rather quickly, but Stan's fail to show up even after most of the other passengers have claimed theirs and departed. The General is waiting too; his attendant scans the luggage belt anxiously for his bags. After a long wait, the remaining bags emerge from the chute; The General marches off to his waiting car with the attendant toting his luggage. Stan goes home, and Paul and I return to the Holiday Inn. We have dinner and then go to our rooms for a comfortable night in comfortable pana beds (all the nene beds were already taken).
My first priority today is to check on our webhosting situation. I walk to the internet café and find that Interland has still not responded to my queries and that our e-mail service is still down. I check Interland's own site. No, I won't provide a link on this page - there's no need for any of you to visit them. There I find the e-mail addresses of their sales, advertising, employment, and several other departments and send my urgent request to all of them. My auxiliary server, which I set up some time ago to create a permanent correspondence archive, allows me to see our incoming mail, which at this point consists mostly of "where are you?" messages. I send replies and then return to the hotel.
Paul drafts a new brochure (4 pages, folded) that describes the widow's program in Bukoba, and I turn it into a flyer (front and back, unfolded). I make this conversion partly because I want to vary the style of our products but mostly because the text doesn't have distinct sections that lend themselves to a 4-page layout. We meet with Peter of TAYOA at our hotel; as usual, he is full of new ideas, and a large part of our effort is dedicated to convincing him to concentrate on just the few most promising ones. Later we go to DIT for another meeting; the shiny new signs at the entrance - emblazoned with the school's new web address - give us the impression that we've made some impact here.
In the evening Paul and I dine once again at the hotel restaurant. Its good food and reasonable prices give us little incentive to eat anywhere else, especially when we're tired after a long day of work. Today the staff test our loyalty by delaying Paul's glass of wine until well after the main course has been served. Paul enjoys it for dessert while I finish with a milkshake.
Stan comes by, and I give him my Canon printer for SVI. I've managed to get the HP working again, but aside from the HP's battery-power option, the Canon is superior in most respects. Since Stan is certain that SVI can rely on having solar power available for printing, we both think the Canon is a better choice for them. I tell him I'll arrange a shipment of more Canon ink cartridges.
At the internet café I find that a reply from Interland has finally arrived. They tell me how to get to my new mail service, and I relay the information to all my WILMO mail users. The service is adequate, not as good as AT&T's but usable. I've already decided to switch hosts as soon as I get back to the US, where I can get online and research my options for hours.
Neema from The Kambona Foundation picks us up and takes us out to her property. I'm going to shoot pictures of - as Paul puts it - "four generations of Kambona women." It's late in the day by the time we get there, and the light is fading. While Neema and her mother-in-law get Neema's tiny daughter Malika ready, Paul sits with Bibi and amuses her with an explanation of how Wagner's Ring of the Niebelungen illustrates certain macroeconomic theories. She doesn't speak a word of English, so she'll never know if I'm making this up or not. Bibi doesn't get many visitors and thoroughly enjoys Paul's company. When Malika is ready we try to assemble quickly in the garden, but Bibi moves rather slowly; by the time everyone is ready the sun has already set. I get a few flash photos, but they're not up to my usual standards. We agree to try again on Thursday in sunlight.
Neema's husband, Richard from DIT, joins us; he and Neema and Paul and I drive to the Courtyard hotel for dinner. The restaurant 's air conditioning is set to an unusually low temperature: perfect to me, tolerable to Paul and Richard, and utterly just-thaw-me-in-the-microwave chilling to Neema. I'm obviously so comfortable sitting directly below one of the vents that Neema generously says we can stay where we're originally seated, even though Paul suggests that she'd prefer a table in another area. As long as Neema can sit in the chair furthest from the vent - and has plenty of steaming hot food in front of her - she's fine.
Paul works on another flyer for a group of widows in Dar es Salaam. The text and layout are similar to the flyer for the Bukoba group, so it doesn't take me long to finish the typesetting. Paul is leaving tomorrow, so we have lots of other last-minute tasks that keep us busy most of the day.
Paul hosts a dinner at the hotel for several of our colleagues, including Stan and his wife and Peter from SVI, who has just arrived in Dar es Salaam. After weeks of work, we're finally able to relax a bit and talk about home, family, and games, although habit and business needs repeated turn the conversation to work. After dinner, I take care of Paul's hotel bill, which as usual is going on my Visa card. He has to get up early to catch an 8:00am flight, but I'm planning to sleep in, so I make sure he can check out without having to disturb me. We say our goodbyes and head for our rooms.
I wake up about the same time Paul's plane takes off. After a leisurely breakfast, I return to my room and attend to a few unfinished tasks. First of these is to correct the spelling and grammar of some AIDS awareness playing cards that TAYOA is planning to distribute. It's a standard deck of playing cards, each of which has a question and answer about AIDS prevention; people can player poker with them or have a quiz game, Trivial Pursuit® style. They can, that is, once the text is fixed: almost every card contains a gross misspelling or grammatical error, some so bad that they make the sentences unintelligible.
Stan arrives to take me to a local widows group. My sole purpose for going there is to take pictures of the widows, whom I meet at an elementary school. After taking the pictures, Stan and I visit the school itself, which is in session, and the children put on a little impromptu performance for us.
Stan returns me to the hotel, and I walk to a local handicraft shop to buy the prizes for my latest contest. I pick out a handwoven basket and, because the winners are cat lovers, a wooden carving of a cheetah. Back at the hotel, I relax a bit and even find some time to work on my seriously behind-schedule travel report as I wait for Neema to call. Much later in the afternoon than I'd expected, she finally does and tells me that she's on her way to pick me up to take some more photos of her family. Only an hour or so remains until sunset, and we have to negotiate rush-hour traffic, so there's a good chance we'll have no better light today than we did before, but I tell her I'll wait in the lobby.
She arrives, and we take off immediately. As expected, rush hour traffic keeps us stalled on the main road. By the time we arrive, the sun is just touching the horizon. Neema rushes to get Bibi outside and her daughter ready for the photo. Neema's mother, Flora, helps with Malika, and everyone is assembled in a remarkably short time. The four of them pose for some good pictures just before the light fades completely. We're all quite pleased with our success.
After Neema's driver takes me back to the hotel, Peter from TAYOA comes by, picks up the corrected playing cards, and delivers the scanned images of his huge collection of documents and photos. I'll be turning them into a CD later. We discuss plans my next visit and, and he offers to drive me to the airport tomorrow. We agree on a schedule - he's always surprised at how early I want to hit the road - and then he leaves me to watch a little CNN (I have no idea what's been happening in the rest of the world) before dinner and bed.
My first stop today is the British Air office at the Royal Palm hotel. This is one of the hottest and most humid days of our current trip, and the half-mile walk leaves me soaked with perspiration. I relax and dry out for a few minutes in the hotel lobby, then go to check in for my evening flight. The ticket agent recognizes me - she's checked me in for almost every departure from Dar es Salaam over the past two years - and she asks me about my previous flight. I tell her about the unexpected seat change and the trouble with the adjacent passenger, and she is concerned; if one of her passengers is moved, she should be notified about it, and she heard nothing about my seat change. She makes some calls, but can't get the information she wants, so she tells me she'll investigate and let me know what happened - and what can be done - on my next visit. She reserves an exit-row seat for me and assures me that there should be no recurrence of the problem.
I walk to the internet café, check my e-mail, then walk back to the Royal Palm. I'm so thoroughly soaked that I must look like I've just run a marathon, or perhaps swum the harbor. I relax again for a while in the hotel's air conditioned lobby before I take a seat in the restaurant and enjoy the lunch buffet. The food is as good as when the hotel was managed by Sheraton, but while Sheraton lunches were always crowded, there's hardly anyone at the Palm's. With room rates more than twice the Holiday Inn's, I'm not surprised that the Palm always seems empty. After lunch, there's plenty of room in the Palm's lobby (much larger than the Holiday Inn's) for me to while away the afternoon until it's time to walk back to my own hotel and meet Peter.
Peter picks me up within a few minutes of our agreed time. Predictably, we soon find ourselves stuck in downtown traffic. Peter begins to understand why I insist on an early departure. We arrive at the airport in plenty of time for my flight, although no longer unusually early. We say our goodbyes, and I'm quickly through final check-in and customs. The agent who checked me in earlier gives me a pass to the business class lounge, which has comfortable seating and a big-screen television full of bad news, mostly about Palestinians and Israelis. I enjoy a soft drink there, but it isn't long before I leave and sit in the general waiting area just to get away from the television. When my flight is announced, I board and settle into my exit-row seat for the long flight to London.
Upon arrival at Heathrow airport at 5:00am I pass quickly through immigration and customs and am met by a driver. He's been sent by the company that's providing my apartment, and it's great to be able to turn my heavy bags over to someone else to drag through the airport. He leads me to a roomy luxury car, loads my luggage, and whisks me through mostly empty streets to my apartment. It's located just a short walk from Oxford Street, conveniently close to shopping, dining, theatre, and all the other things I go to London for, but it's on a quiet residential street. I take advantage of the quiet immediately by taking a nap (as usual, I got no sleep on the flight), and wake up in time for dinner.
I try to take a shower. I turn the faucet, but no water comes out. I turn the faucet in the sink and get plenty of water, both hot and cold. I turn the shower faucet on while the sink is running, and the water works perfectly. I shut off all the faucets, then turn on the shower. No water. Jet lag has never affected me this way before. I discover that the apartment is serviced by an electric water pump that reacts to a drop in pressure inside the pipes. The shower, with its long vertical pipe to the raised showerhead, doesn't cause a sufficient drop in pressure to start the pump when its faucet is opened. However, opening the sink faucet starts the pump delivering water to both sink and shower, and it continues to run after the sink faucet is closed. Ahakishaka plumbing was never this interesting.
I walk to the vast Selfridges store for groceries. Just inside the front door I encounter the umbrella-wrapping machine, a device that shrink-wraps a wet "brolly" so as not to sully the meticulously polished floor. We're in Britain now - musn't drip. Confident from my victory over London plumbing, I'm eager try it out, but there's been no rain today, and I'm not sure the machine is designed to work on a dry umbrella. To avoid the risk of fire and/or injury, I walk by and attend to my shopping.
As always, Selfridges has plenty of delicacies to choose from. In addition to a selection of foods, I pick up some interesting blends of tea: two to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's jubilee (50th anniversary of her coronation) and one especially for Londoners, specifically formulated for brewing with London tap water. I take it all back to my apartment and fix myself a sumptuous feast. The food is marvelous, but the "London Cuupa" tea is a big disappointment. I set aside the jubilee teas as gifts for folks back in Washington.
I visit some of the large video stores in downtown London. Paul (now in Zurich) and I think the people of Ahakishaka should have something more interesting to watch than videos of the two of us, so I'm going to bring some tapes on my next visit. Peter of SVI (now in Dar es Salaam) suggested a couple of subjects: boxing and rap music. I have an idea of my own: a tape of the musical Blast! which I saw live in Washington last year. Blast! has no words but plenty of good high-energy music; many Ahakishakans do not speak English, so it's a better choice than most American or European movies.
I'm no expert on boxing or rap, so while the stores have a variety of tapes, I walk through these sections without a clue as to which to select. Space is limited; my suitcases will be stuffed with clothes and computer equipment when I leave for Africa again, so I only plan to carry three tapes. Blast! isn't on the shelf, and the lingering fatigue from my recent adventures makes a decision difficult. I walk out empty-handed and go back to the apartment to do something I can handle when my mental powers are diminished: laundry.
Thanks to a free local internet account, today I conduct business as usual online. Much of the day is spent handling e-mail and various computing tasks, but I find time to visit some more video stores. I'm still undecided about which tapes to buy, although if I can't find Blast! I'll substitute Lord of the Dance, an Irish dancing extravaganza that's filmed with far too many lighting and camera tricks, but the performances are so stunning that they survive the questionable filmmaking.
I call a retired Cambridge University professor who has some tapes and documents related to the Kambona Foundation. My mission is to collect the materials, take them back to the US, and convert them to digital form. Leslie is looking forward to my visit and promises to take me out to a proper pub lunch while I'm in Cambridge on Thursday.
I call Margaret of the Imatong Institute. Not only do I want to install her wireless network, but I also want to ask her about the movies I'm picking up for Ahakishaka. She teaches screenwriting, so she has plenty of opinions - far too many considering that I only have room for three tapes. She has no more insight into the boxing and rap genres than I do (no screenwriting involved), but we take plenty of time to discuss other possibilities both by phone and e-mail. At least she can recommend the best video store in town, one that I'd not heard of before; she assures me that if anyone has Blast! or can order it for me, they can. Our mismatched schedules prevent my installing the network, so just as we did the last time I was in London, we agree to save this task for my next visit.
While out shopping for groceries and other necessities, I pass by a stationery store. WILMA needs a good supply of A4 paper, which is hard to get in the US but the standard size in both Africa and Britain. The paper I've found in African stores is usually so thin and porous that any image printed on it tends to run due to the high humidity in Dar es Salaam, so I stock up on high-quality paper in London.
After a day of various computer tasks and browsing the local CD stores - for myself, not the Ahakishakans - I meet with my colleague Miguel to discuss work. We meet at Vecchia Milano, a restaurant we visited last December. Then it was crowded with holiday revelers, and the staff was stretched a bit thin. Today there are few patrons, and we can have a leisurely discussion while our waiter brings us good food and ridiculously overpriced bottled water. Our project, alas, has not progressed nearly as quickly as we'd hoped; various unexpected problems have required much time and effort to surmount. On the bright side, Miguel has completed his own tasks at a faster rate and to a higher standard than required, and we've had plenty of assistance from the generous wizards of Genesis. We're confident that our modest beginnings will grow into a serious tool for socioeconomic development.
I take the express train from Kings Cross station to Cambridge, and then a taxi to Leslie's residence, which is a significant drive from the university and city center. He greets me and takes me inside. We talk a bit about the late Oscar Kambona, former vice president of Tanzania, whom Leslie knew quite well, and he shows me the tapes and documents that have been in his care for years. It's an extensive collection of newspaper and magazine articles, memos, papers, and letters, many in Kambona's own hand, and a set of twelve one-hour tapes of interviews Leslie conducted with him. To someone doing historical research on Tanzania, it's an extraordinary resource, and I promise to take good care of it.
Leslie is apologetic: the local pub is closed today for maintenance work, and there's no other good place to eat nearby. I shrug and say that I can get something to eat later, but Leslie insists. Not that he's planning to have anything; he has a medical test scheduled later in the day, so he can only have a soft drink, but it's the principle that counts: he offered me lunch, and therefore he shall provide me lunch. He takes me to the kitchen, opens the freezer, and tells me to pick out whatever I'd like from among the "box meals" therein.
I seize upon a package of chicken Kiev. Leslie preheats the oven while I brush away the frost that coats the outside of the box to reveal the word VEGETARIAN. This chicken is entirely synthetic. We put the soy-protein slabs on a baking sheet along with a big pile of French fries - also vegetarian, but that's the way I like them - and slide it into the oven.
Leslie offers me a choice of several fruit drinks, and because I'm a pana - no, nene - guy, he gives me a one-liter glass. I fill it with orange, he fills a smaller glass with lemon, and we sit in the living room while the food cooks. The inevitable happens: I mention Russia. It's particularly inevitable because Leslie has also spent a lot of time in Russia and studied the country as part of his research and teaching experience at Cambridge, so if I didn't mention it, he would. We reminisce about our experiences there and find that we've walked the same streets and marveled at the same sights; he while it was Leningrad, I after it became Saint Petersburg again.
We even know a few words of the same famous song, Pod Moskovnie Vechera, translated into English as either Moscow Nights or Midnight in Moscow. He begins to sing the refrain, loud and flat. He is obviously not a professor of music. I take a big swig of my "orange squash" and join in, louder and flatter. He raises his voice and lowers his tone; I see his 10 decibels and raise him another 10. He retaliates in kind, and we find ourselves locked in a duet to the death; neither of us is willing to retreat, but neither can we remember the next line of the song. We're saved by the bell, literally: the oven timer chimes to let us know that the mock chicken Kiev is ready. We retire to the kitchen in silence.
Leslie and I take a seat at the table, and he finishes his lemon squash while I eat. The ersatz chicken isn't as bad as it sounds; it has plenty of real butter and garlic, which can compensate for many shortcomings. By now I've guzzled nearly the entire glass of orange drink, yet I'm thirstier than when I began. Only when Leslie refills his glass do I notice that he takes a small amount from the bottle of lemon and then fill the glass with water. This is orange concentrate. No wonder it had such full-bodied flavor and intense color! I dilute the small amount remaining in my glass and down it quickly. I feel much better.
We talk a bit more about Africa and Oscar Kambona after lunch, and I give him a present from Neema. Then I pack the documents and tapes into my carry-on bag, which is just barely big enough to hold them, and we call a taxi. It shows up in only a few minutes, and Leslie walks out with me to give the driver some instructions. Cambridge has an unsually large airport in comparison to the city's size; it's a maintenance facility for jumbo jets, so the hangars and runways are, well, nene. Leslie tells the driver to make sure that we go to the train station along the road by the airport so I can get a good look at it. I thank him, slide into the back seat, and then we're off. The driver dutifully takes me by the airport, and he even points it out and says, "there's the airport" when we come within sight of a big complex with lots of hangars and airplanes. We arrive at the train station where he finds that he can't make change for a ten-pound note, so I can't tip him for the travelogue. The express train soon has me back in London.
I visit the video store Margaret recommended. They tell me that Blast! is not yet available on tape in Britain. With that matter settled, I quickly decide on the three tapes I'll take to Ahakishaka on my next visit:
In the evening I go to the Peacock Theatre to see the Russian State Cossack Ensemble. They specialize in the vigorous jumping and kicking style that most Americans think of when they think of Russian dancing. The performance is not polished: there's a lot of buffoonery, and ensemble dances are anything but in synch (they kujikwaa but do not kuvunja). The solo dances, however, wow the spectators, and they give the performers a rousing ovation at evening's end.
This morning I pack and take a taxi to Paddington Station to check in at the British Airways desk. My large supply of A4 paper puts my bags over the weight limit, but not by much, so I don't have to do any fast talking to avoid a surcharge. No amount of fast talking will get me an exit-row seat today: there are simply none available. The agents acknowledge that an exit-row seat would be a good choice for a person my size, and they advise their colleagues at the airport that if one becomes available they should give it to me.
At the airport, I ask at the service counter and then at the gate if an exit-row seat has been freed. There's actually a ray of hope at the gate: the agent asks me to take a seat behind her while she watches the seating diagram on her computer screen. Various blocks of color flicker on and off, but by the time most of the passengers have passed by, she has to inform me that I'm stuck with the seat already assigned to me.
I board the plane and jam myself into my assigned seat on the aisle. This is the new improved economy seat: it has a footrest. Unfortunately, the footrest is too high and close to me to be of any use. There's no way I can bend my legs in such a way as to put my feet on it, so its only effect is to push my shins back and cramp my legs even more than usual.
Once in flight I stand and walk as much as possible, but during takeoff, landing, and any turbulent periods, I'm required to squeeze back in. By the time we land, my tendons are badly inflamed. I hobble to the luggage carousel, grab my bags, and then take a combination of bus and Metro home. My mobility has improved much by the time I reach my front steps. I manage to get myself and my bags inside, but at that point I'm completely spent. Even though it's only late afternoon, I turn in for the night. Unpacking can wait till tomorrow.