Tanzania, November 2002|
Eeyore's Adventures with Pooh
Updated May 19, 2003
This report contains language which some readers may find offensive, but only if they understand it. I found the proper terminology to describe some particularly unpleasant experiences in a specialized reference book: Depraved and Insulting English, by Peter Novobatzky and Ammon Shea. Explanatory notes are provided at appropriate points in the text.
My suitcases are heavier than ever before. I've packed computers, recording equipment, and other hardware for use in remote areas of Africa, and the batteries alone weigh several pounds. Under most circumstances I'd roll my wheeled luggage down to the subway station early, giving myself plenty of time to spare, but today I'm sitting on my front step waiting for the Airborne Express courier. He's bringing me a check that I must deposit today; I've already written and mailed a check of my own against it. The company sending me the check assured me that it would be at my house by 10:30am, but at 3:00pm I'm still waiting.
The courier arrives. I have just enough time to walk a few blocks to the bank, deposit the check, and call a taxi on my cell phone as I walk back. It pulls up just after I get back and am already hauling my bags down the front steps. The driver's clockwork timing continues on the long ride to the airport: we catch all the green lights, and the traffic jams all seem to be blocking lanes other than ours. I arrive at the airport in time to relax in the restaurant for nearly an hour before boarding.
Paul meets me in the British Airways lounge. We sit and talk for a bit, but we're both in the mood to walk around for a while before our two days of sitting in airline seats, so we leave the cocoon of the lounge and stretch our legs in the airport hallways. The airline agent announces a short delay, a common occurrence on the early-evening flights to London, but to our surprise the delay really is short this time, and we take off on fifteen minutes behind schedule. As usual, Paul gets some sleep. Tired as I am from several recent 20-hour workdays, I still can't get a wink of sleep on a plane; I'm too tired to work on my computer, so I sample the in-flight movies. Regrettably, Eight Legged Freaks is the best of what's offered.
Paul and I walk to the Heathrow Hilton as dawn lurks somewhere behind the dense gray clouds over London. It feels good to walk the quarter-mile from the gate to the front desk. At the desk, the clerk can't find a record of our reservation. I pull out my brand new ThinkPad T30, boot it, and bring up the reservation on my screen. At the same moment, the hotel's computer also inexplicably displays the reservation. It knows who's boss. We get our upgrade coupons validated and take the elevator up to the 4th floor (Executive Level), agree to meet a couple of hours before our next flight, and go to our "upgraded" rooms. When I get inside, I don't notice any difference between my room and the standard rooms I've gotten on previous trips, but I'm too tired to care. I set my alarm and am asleep in minutes.
When I get up, I shower, dress, pack, and check out. I ask about the difference between Executive Level rooms and standard rooms. The clerk explains that the upgraded rooms offer free breakfast and access to a free bar. Gee, it would have been nice to know about the breakfast eight hours ago. When I relay this information to Paul, he mentions that he saw a bar near his room, but the prominently displayed price list suggested that it was anything but free. Neither of us makes much of our "upgrade," and we proceed to the airport for some shopping for our friends in Ahakishaka. Paul gets a couple of VHS tapes; I pick up some comestibles from Fortnum and Mason.
I notice that Signs is playing on the flight to Dar es Salaam and advise Paul that it's worth watching. He slumbers through the first showing, and continues while I - to my surprise - enjoy the second feature, K19: The Widowmaker. Bad title, interesting movie, and better than reviews had led me to believe, the film engrosses me due to my interest in all things Russian, although the hokey accents by the American and British actors are a constant annoyance. Paul wakes up in time to catch the second showing of Signs and enjoys its quirky things-that-go-bump-in-the-night story.
Upon landing in Dar es Salaam early in the morning, we glide through immigration, and while Paul continues unimpeded through customs, I get stopped. The customs officer wants to know what's in the bag from Fortnum and Mason. The round tins of jam and biscuits look suspiciously like liquor bottles, and while I assure him that they're harmless sweets, he interrogates me about the contents of my cases, always inquiring about liquor. Finally, he's satisfied that I'm not bringing in any corrupting (or taxable) substances, and he lets me pass.
It takes three people to stuff our suitcases - Paul's carrying more than usual as well - into the compact taxi. The front seat is filled with luggage, so Paul and I squeeze yet another case between us in the back seat as we ride to the hotel. When we arrive, I relinquish all my bags at the front door to the bellman; I've had quite enough of hauling them around. We check in; Paul is well rested from sleeping on both flights, but I am exhausted. I tell Paul that I'll take a short nap and get some work done in the afternoon. The nap lasts twelve hours, and I wake just in time for dinner. Now that I'm rested, I unpack all my suitcases and work well past midnight, catching up on CNN news as I work on my ThinkPad.
Paul and I have plenty of tasks planned for the next three weeks, so we have a big breakfast and get to work. Paul writes a paper. I look it over, suggest a few changes, and then take it on diskette to our favorite internet café. As I step outside the hotel, I'm immediately overwhelmed by the heat and humidity; recent rains have saturated the ground and left numerous puddles, and the blazing tropical sun turns downtown into a steambath.
I trudge toward the internet café only to find that it has closed. This news is quite disappointing: this café was always reliable and pleasant, much better than many I've worked in, and I'm not looking forward to searching for a replacement. I walk a bit farther to the SWF office. It's also gone, but at least it hasn't closed; it's merely moved to the top floor of its building. I go up to find the staff busy preparing their new quarters, and I keep my visit short so as not to interefere with their busy schedules. My only assignment here is to pick up a pair of defective computers. With a little luck, I can put parts of them together to make one working machine. Only one is currently in the office; I take it, and Rehema assures me that I'll have the other soon.
I work my way back through the viscous haze to the hotel, where I give Paul the disappointing news about our favorite internet café. He asks me to print a document before I go out to find a new café, but when I try I find that my printer driver is incompatible with my new operating system. It should be a simple matter to download a new driver form the manufacturer's website, so I tell Paul I'll print the document later and head off into the steam again.
A new internet café near the British Council catches my eye. It's clean, spacious, and air conditioned. I take a seat at one of the machines and start work. It takes me a few minutes to locate the driver I need; the manufacturer's file server is currently down, so I have to search for a copy of the file on another site. The first site to show up on my Google search is in Russia (with text in English), and there's a page dedicated to my printer with drivers for every imaginable operating system. The file I need is several megabytes, so I begin downloading it to the computer's hard drive, from where I will split it into smaller parts and copy them onto the diskettes I'm carrying. The download process proceeds slowly, requiring nearly an hour to receive less than 4Mb, but I figure it's still quicker to complete the process here than try to find a café with a better connection. While I wait for the process to complete, the power fails in the building three times, but the backup power, supplied by individual devices on each of the ten computers available, kicks in immediately and allows the download to continue without a hitch. The power devices all chirp incessantly during the outage, making the café sound like a pond full of tiny frogs.
Eventually the download is complete, and I try to copy the file onto several diskettes. The diskette drive won't work; Windows sends a message saying that it is not attached. I call the attendant, and she calls the technician, and the three of us recite the official Microsoft troubleshooting litany:
The technician finds that he cannot copy any files from the computer to any of his own diskettes, so he begins to believe that the problem is in the computer, not my diskettes. All of the computers are managed by a central console, so he tries to copy my file from one to another from a panel on that console. This process fails, so he suggests that I download the file again on another computer; naturally, he offers me the time without charge. Before I begin, however, I check whether the second machine will copy any files to its diskette drive. It won't, and neither will the next, nor the next, nor the next.
To my surprise, there's one Windows 2000 machine in the room, and I find that its diskette drive works perfectly. What's more, the technician successfully copies my driver file from the first machine to this one, so it only takes a few minutes for me to split the file into diskette-sized chunks and make my copies, a process which the technician watches with amazement. I take the diskettes back to the hotel and install them, whereupon I discover that the driver is mislabeled: it's for a scanner, not a printer. I hurry down to the hotel's business center, which I usually avoid due to its high prices. It has a fast connection, so in only a couple of minutes I'm able to check the printer manufacturer's file server, find that it's still down, switch to the manufacturer's Canadian site, find that its file server is working, and download the correct driver. I install the driver, advise Paul that I'm back and am beginning to print his long document, then turn my room thermostat down to Arctic level and relax while the printer does its work.
The phone rings. Stan is in the lobby; I invite him up to my room and call Paul to join us. We have plenty to discuss, both in terms of current activities and plans for the next three weeks. As we talk, the printer slowly produces Paul's 43-page opus, and we give it to Stan for review. After we settle the most pressing matters, Stan gives me the second defective computer to work on. He also informs me that the beauty parlor that housed our old favorite internet café as not closed but moved, computers and all, to another nearby location. Since I'm dissatisfied with the new café that I found this afternoon, I'm glad to hear this news. Stan leaves, Paul returns to his room, and I sit down to write my travel report.
The phone rings. Peter (the electrical engineer who installed solar equipment in Ahakishaka) is in the lobby; I invite him up to my room and call Paul to join us. We don't have any particular business to discuss, but it's good to see him, and we expect he'll be with us when we travel to western Tanzania later during this trip. We go downstairs to dinner and talk about our adventures and plans; afterward, he comes back to my room, where I give him some equipment I've brought for him from the US. When he departs, I resume work on my travel report until it's time for bed.
After breakfast I lay out the two defective computers from SWF and begin the process of combining their useful parts into one working computer. I also hope to scavenge a few parts for a needy computer back home. I begin by completely disassembling the older computer, whose system board is burned out. There's no hope of salvaging it: getting the system board replaced is more expensive than buying a good refurbished computer. I extract all the parts I can from it, but I cannot get the one I really want for myself: the screen, which requires engineering skill far beyond my own to remove without damaging it. Most of the other parts separate easily, so unless the second computer's system board is also defective, I expect that I can bring it back to life.
I test the second computer to determine its problem. There doesn't seem to be one; the machine boots and operates normally. Just to be sure, I run every test I can think of, and I even make up a few new ones, but it performs perfectly. There's no clue as to why SWF reported a problem, and I give the computer to Paul to take back when he visits their office later in the day.
Paul has a new document for me to review. It's only one page long, and after I suggest a minor change, he asks me to get some copies made that he can distribute to local colleagues. I print one on my own printer and head off to work on the internet.
The heat and humidity are stupefying, so I'm relieved to find the beauty parlor exactly where Stan described; this is no day to go walking around searching for anything. The proprietors are happy to see me even though I give them a facetious rebuke for "hiding" from me. They have all new machines running Windows XP, and while the hardware is faster than before, the "upgraded" operating system slows them down so that performance is worse than it was under Windows 98. Their copier is also broken (I am too polite to ask if it also runs on XP), so after I complete my online work, I walk to another internet café to get some copies. Their copier is also awaiting repair, and I've had quite enough of the tropical heat, so I walk directly back to the hotel and get the copies made in the business center for the outrageous price of ten cents each.
In the afternoon I work on logos for the new Bakili Muluzi Institute in Malawi. Even though I have no art training, I enjoy this sort of work when I'm not rushed, and I come up with a few designs that seem to conform to the Institute's request. When Zhiguo, our mushroom expert, arrives with his new colleague Jim, Paul and I take them to dinner in the hotel restaurant. Jim speaks no English, so although Zhiguo translates a few sentences for him, in general he can't participate in our conversation. Paul has plenty of questions for Zhiguo about the local mushroom farming project that WILMA is supporting, and I have to stop the interrogation so that Zhiguo gets a chance to eat. Dinner continues till about ten o'clock as Paul and Zhiguo settle myriad details of budget and schedule. Fatigued by the long conversation and my earlier walks in the tropical heat (made tolerable by taking heat stress capsules), I turn in immediately afterward and am soon asleep.
Paul and I have separate agendas today. He will be visiting various colleagues in both the city center and outskirts; I have to finish several computer tasks. We go our separate ways after breakfast, not knowing exactly when we'll meet again later in the day. My work begins in my air-conditioned room, so it's not until after noon that I have to venture out into the steamy streets of Dar.
I go to the beauty parlor and settle down for a long session at one of their new computers. My first task is to "unzip" some compressed files. One fills a single diskette, the other spans two, and I expect it will take me about a minute to process each. However, this is my first attempt to unzip a file on a computer running Windows XP; my expectation turns to consternation as the procedure drags on more than ten minutes.
Slow performance continues to be a problem as I use up the entire hour of internet time I've bought uploading the first file; I use another hour in a futile attempt to upload the second. I can't estimate just how many hours the entire process will take, and I have other things to do today, so I pay for the time I've used and return to the hotel. There I make use of the fast machines and internet connection to upload the larger file in less than 10 minutes and take care of all my other online tasks.
It's now late afternoon. I go upstairs to see if Paul has returned; he hasn't, so I go back to my room to relax a bit. As afternoon turns into evening, there's still no sign of Paul, and I eventually slip a note under his door and get some dinner in the hotel restaurant. Shortly after I return to my room, Paul calls to let me know that he has finally returned. I join him to hear the story of his long afternoon. It's been a productive day with many meetings that he simply couldn't cut short, and he has several new tasks for me. I make notes of what has to be accomplished tomorrow, show him the results of my day's work, and then turn in for the night.
Torrential morning rains moderate the temperature, but the humidity seems to be rising past theoretical limits. Fortunately, the rainfall is intermittent, and I take advantage of a break in the weather to visit the SWF office. I pause to clean the condensation off my glasses as soon as I step outside. Huge puddles make the terrain hazardous; after seeing a few of the locals get soaked by passing cars, I select a circuitous route through the highest ground available. When I arrive at the office, I get a membership-card production process started that's been long delayed by technical problems, and once I'm satisfied that work is proceeding smoothly, I head back to the hotel. A few minutes of full sunlight is enough to bring the temperature back to its southern-hemisphere-summer norms, so the humidity-temperature index (or "humiture," as US weather forecasters say) is higher than ever; even though the SWF office isn't air-conditioned, my glasses still fog as I leave the building. I need to check e-mail, but I haven't found an acceptable internet café yet, and I'm not about to canvas the area in this weather, so I go directly back to the hotel.
Paul and I work on some documents, and then I settle down in my room to do some website updates. The work goes smoothly until I begin the last webpage. Usually Paul gives me the exact text to appear on any page, but for this one he has instructed me to use my own judgment in adapting text from an existing document. I review the document and am not convinced that it's well suited for this purpose, but I plow ahead, cutting and pasting paragraphs where I can, rewriting where I must. By dinnertime I'm finished everything that I'd planned to accomplish today but this one page, and I tell Paul that I'll complete it after we eat. He's puzzled and wants to know more about the difficulty. It's not long before he exclaims, "That document? No, I meant the other document!" Rather than begin the page again so late in the day, I instead go to the hotel's business center for a little internet time, then go to bed.
The humidity continues to climb. This morning's paper reports that a gazelle drowned yesterday; it had run into the sea in a desperate attempt to dry off. I notice that some recently planted saplings are missing from the hotel's courtyard. The staff informs me that they dissolved during the night.
Paul has been having positive meetings with various colleagues, and now we have several projects active at once. Our day is filled with lots of little tasks: website updates, document revisions, airline reservations, and keeping tabs on developments abroad via the internet. We try to minimize our local travel time by making one long circuit to all the offices we must visit, so we find ourselves at midday in a travel agency, booking a flight for Paul to Nairobi. The schedule isn't entirely convenient, but Paul chooses the best flights available for a short business trip, and I make the payment.
The travel agent asks for my passport when I hand her a credit card. I don't have it with me, but I offer to return later and show it to her. Since I've purchased tickets here before, she accepts the deal, and she even suggests that I simply fax the front page of the passport to her to save some walking time. I tell her that I circulate through downtown Dar es Salaam so often that it will be no trouble to return, but Paul advises that I take the fax number anyway, just in case. I do, and we walk a short distance to the SWF office.
Stan is in, but he has other visitors, so we wait and converse with some of his staff. When we're finally invited in, we find that all three of us have several important items to discuss, so our visit drags on into late afternoon. We conclude a lot of business, then head back to the hotel. Our planned stop at the internet café is way overdue; I'm concerned about some important issues that may be languishing in our mailboxes, but my first priority is to get the passport to the travel agency. There's no time to walk back, so I go down to the hotel business center and fax it. With that accomplished, I log onto one of the center's computers and find that, yes indeed, there's a message from the USA about an issue that may have benefited greatly from earlier attention. I let the sender know that I'll do what I can (always a good first response), and relay the problem to one of my local colleagues.
We walk over to the Royal Palm for dinner, where the Serengeti restaurant is offering "English Pub" night. I remember from a previous trip that the selection of food served for this occasion, while not entirely English, was quite good, and we need a change of pace from the Holiday Inn's restaurant. My description of my previous dinner at the Serengeti piques Paul's interest and appetite; he isn't disappointed, but I am. Few of the evening's offerings could be considered English, and the plausible few are grossly overcooked and poorly seasoned. Still, there are enough appetizing items for me to have a satisfying dinner, and in the spirit of forgiving the occasional shortcoming, I suggest that we try the Serengeti again for next week's Italian night. If nothing else, I should get my fill of garlic bread, a rare commodity in east Africa.
After dinner, I take care of some minor computer tasks and go to bed. Paul has a lot of documents and files that require updating before he leaves for Nairobi on Monday morning, so I know the weekend will be packed with work.
We stay in the hotel almost all day working on various documents and preparing presentations. I keep the television turned on most of the day for breaking news of the humidity crisis. There's a run on sponges at the local stores, and waifs wander the streets begging tourists for the packets of silica gel that were packed with their cameras. In the darker alleys, junkies sniff cans of dry compressed air stolen from local computer stores.
The travel agent calls to say they she did not receive my fax. I have a transmission confirmation in my hands, but she insists that she didn't get it. I wonder who did; perhaps it simply disintegrated due to the humidity. She asks if I'll come by on Monday to show her my passport. I agree and return to my computer. Paul and I work until nearly midnight, breaking only for a brief dinner, then call it a night.
Paul puts it succinctly (a first for him): "what a way to spend a weekend." We stuff ourselves at breakfast like camels preparing to cross the Sahara, then begin work. Only a short break for dinner interrupts our production of documents and files until after 2am, when we finally declare the project complete. Not only have we produced an impressive collection of presentation materials, but we've also discovered several previously unknown bugs in Microsoft Office and a remarkable "enhancement" to Adobe Illustrator that erases websites as quickly as I can create the graphics for them. Fortunately, I make frequent backups of my files, so I don't have to repeat more than about 10 minutes of work.
While Paul packs his bags for his 7am flight; I take a few minutes to catch up on the news. Kenya Airways has been bringing relief to the city in the form of enormous crates of dry air from Nairobi. The first few imploded upon arrival due to the extreme water vapor pressure differential, but during the day they've begun to have the desired effect. The humidity has abated slightly, and crews are already scrubbing the mold off the outer walls of the hotel in anticipation of the return of "normal" weather. I set my alarm for a later-than-usual breakfast and go to sleep.
The day begins strangely. I survey the aftermath of our weekend work marathon. Among the remnants are two diskettes from Paul: one is labeled "blank" in Paul's handwriting, the other has nothing at all written on its label. Which is blanker? At breakfast, the hostess takes a good look at me and declares that my eyes are "too small." This comment echoes a question once posed to me by a passport photographer, who peered at me through his viewfinder with a puzzled expression and hesitantly asked, "are your eyes always this small?" I explain that the illusion is a result of my powerful eyeglasses, and I remove to them show the hostess that my eyes are indeed properly proportioned.
I spend much of the morning making phone calls. With Paul in Nairobi, I'm concentrating on setting up appointments to make efficient use of the little time we'll have left in Dar es Salaam, and I also need to contact the IT suppliers for the Bukoba project. I don't make as much headway as I'd hoped: I get mostly busy signals or perpetually ringing phones, but I manage to make some key appointments and get some technical information.
Des, a contractor with SWF, calls. He's having a computer problem and needs my help. I stuff my passport in my pocket and walk to the office. The problem is an intermittent one I've seen before on SWF computers: the shutdown routine proceeds all the way to the beginning of the last step, displaying the message "Windows is shutting down," and then stops.
I reboot the computer with the on/off switch and check memory for active programs that may interfere with the shutdown procedure. On the list I find an odd entry: Desire. I find the program file and check its properties. It turns out to be an ordinary phone dialer with convenient memory features not offered by the standard Windows dialer. Stan says he never uses it, and I suspect that it's the program that won't cooperate during shutdown, so I agree to remove it.
Silly me: I nonchalantly double-click on the "Uninstall Desire" icon. This Trojan horse's attack is unleashed not by the main program but by the uninstall routine! Immediately the screen is filled with advertisements for pornographic websites, and they continue to open at an accelerating rate. It takes all my speed-typing skills to stop the cascade. I use a Norton utility to properly remove the program, and the shutdown routine then works perfectly.
I stop at the travel agency to show them my passport, the fax of which was never found, and then head back to the hotel. The remainder of the day is dedicated to making phones calls and visits to various IT suppliers as I look for a good deal for our group in Bukoba. In the evening I walk to the local Thai restaurant for dinner, where the staff, who haven't seen me for months, try to figure out whether I'm "Mr. Paul" or "Mr. David." They address me only as "sir" until I order a drink. My request for iced tea is a dead giveaway, and every member of the staff soon passes by my table to wish Mr. David a welcome back to Dar es Salaam.
One of the local IT suppliers comes to the hotel to drive me to his office shortly after breakfast. I've described myself to him by height and beard, and he spots me immediately in the lobby. Getting into his car is a tight squeeze for me, and when we arrive at his office, I see that's it so close to the hotel that it would have been almost as quick to walk. We go upstairs and discuss equipment, and I'm favorably impressed with his expertise and attitude. He agrees to give me a quote on a proposed configuration that I'll submit to Paul for review.
I forego the offer of a ride back in favor of getting some exercise. I've made better decisions. Halfway to the hotel a sudden downpour begins, and while I duck under an awning for cover, the spray from raindrops hitting the pavement is still soaking me. The owner of a little café motions for me to come in out of the rain, and I accept his invitation. He speaks no English, but I know enough Swahili to thank him with asante sana. As he spots other passers-by in need of shelter, he beckons (or drags) them in as well, but he makes no attempt to sell any food or drink to us. I find myself an object of curiosity here; the café is not frequented by mzungus, and would hardly even be noticed by most tourists or businessmen. But the curiosity is friendly, and when the rain ends only a few minutes later, everyone smiles and waves to me as I depart, as if they all anticipated telling their friends later about the giant mzungu who briefly passed through their hole-in-the-wall hangout.
In the afternoon I visit another supplier, whose office is in the tallest building in town. As part of his sales pitch he takes me up on the roof to see his satellite dish. For a moment I wish I'd brought my camera, but when we get outside I see that the continuing cloud cover and haze would prevent any worthwhile photography. This products and services we discuss impress me as worth further investigation, so I collect technical and pricing information for Paul.
Back at the hotel I try to attend to some computer work, but I'm constantly interrupted by visitors. Word has spread that Paul and I are in town, but since Paul has taken a side-trip to Nairobi, I'm left to deal with all the well-wishers, colleagues, and just plain curious folks. It seems that everyone who comes to see me today is either from Bukoba or has relatives there, so mentioning the project I've been researching leads to prolonged conversations. When my visitors begin to have visitors of their own, I decide that I've spent enough time in the lounge and excuse myself to resume work in my room. A little later, I discreetly make my way to the restaurant for a quick dinner before wrapping up work and going to bed.
Paul arrives shortly after I've had a leisurely breakfast, and we resume the hectic pace that preceded his trip to Nairobi. We make revisions to the SWF and WILMA websites, and I head off to the internet café to upload them. I choose the same café in the beauty parlor where the Windows-XP-infected machines ran so slowly a few days ago. Since the café has its own satellite link, and the file transfer program for uploading websites hardly uses any system resources, I figure that I should get reasonable performance even on an XP system. I don't: after two hours of transmission, I still only have ¾ of one website, just a few megabytes, loaded. File transfers, once started, don't need any manual intervention (and no amount of prodding will help), so I make good use of my free time by helping a German couple wrestle with the idiosyncrasies of XP. With me to lead them through the morass of errors, debugging panels, and occasional Blue Screen of Death, they're able to send e-mail home.
I return to the hotel for an iced tea break. It's well timed: shortly after I enter the front door, another tropical downpour ensues. Once I'm refreshed I go to the hotel's business center and finish updating the SWF website to the sound of tropical rains beating against the window. The slow performance of the hotel's computers, while not as sluggish as the beauty parlor's, convinces me not to try updating WILMA's much larger site from here. Unless I find a better connection in Dar es Salaam, I'll wait until I get to London.
The rain stops in late afternoon, and in the evening Paul and I go to the Serengeti restaurant for Italian Night. Paul greets the hostess with "bona sera." She checks the reservation sheet but doesn't see anyone named Sarah. I'm about to ask for "ciao" but am dumbstruck when I observe that there is NO GARLIC BREAD on the buffet table. The staff seem confused when I point out this grievous omission, but they go next door to the steak house and bring us some slices of lightly toasted bread and some garlic cloves. I admire their desire to please (if not their success) as we improvise bravely with the ingredients provided. Fortunately, the rest of the meal proves satisfactory, highlighted by a bowl of pasta wilmo. It's not a complicated recipe, just a bowl of assorted pasta and carbonara (Italian for "cream of bacon") sauce with a big spoonful of crushed garlic mixed in. Paul declines to try my creation.
Back at the hotel, we make preparations for Paul to go to Dodoma tomorrow. While he's away, I'll be making preparations for our trip to western Tanzania, which means making the airline reservations and testing all the video and audio equipment I've packed. Yes, there will be pictures and sound in this report eventually!
The mezzanine level of the Holiday Inn has only three rooms of any size: the business center, the exercise room, and the breakfast room. They're all easily spotted from my position in front of the elevators, where I'm waiting Paul to join me for breakfast. One of the breakfast hostesses steps outside, greets me with a cheery good morning, and asks why I'm standing in the hallway. I ponder her question, put on my best befuddled look (which I learned from Paul), and mutter, "I know the breakfast room is on this level somewhere, but I can't seem to find it," and wander dangerously close to the balcony overlooking the lobby. She peers at me with genuine concern for a moment, then realizes that I'm pulling her leg. She returns to her duties with a laugh and a backward glare.
Paul appears, and we settle details of our excursion to western Tanzania over breakfast. Soon he's off to Dodoma by car with Stan, and I wait for our long-neglected colleague from TAYOA, Peter, whom I promised a revised website during our previous trip. When he arrives, I'm glad I didn't already complete the work: he has all new ideas for the website, and he even has an employee organizing all the documents on which it will be based.
We discuss the website and other WILMA/TAYOA matters for a while, but like me, he's soon distracted by technology. He asks to see all the recording equipment I've brought, and I happy to show it to him. Peter experiences love at first sight when I unveil the AKG microphones, and he immediately asks if I can get him a similar pair, but when I advise him of the price his ardor wanes. I show him the rest of my new audio and video equipment, and he identifies TAYOA's need for each item as I pull it out of the case. Once the technology show is over, we conclude our business, and he leaves.
I walk to the travel agency to book our trip to Bukoba. The four of us -- Paul, Stan, Zhiguo, and myself -- plan to leave about 48 hours from now. Paul and Stan saw no problem booking at this late date, but the travel agent does: all flights to Bukoba are already overbooked to the point that she won't even put our names on a waiting list. We explore various options and finally find an inconvenient route via Kenya Airways that takes us first to Nairobi, then to Kampala; from there we have to drive to Bukoba. Economy class is sold out, so we'll have to pay a high price for business class, but it's the only available itinerary that even barely accommodates our needs.
I go to the SWF office to call Paul on Stan's mobile phone. When I advise him of the sold-out flights and the reservations I've made, he tells me to go ahead with the booking. Fifteen minutes later I'm back in the travel agency. Business class on the Kenya Airways flights is now sold out. I spend the rest of the day trying to find another route to Bukoba, even exploring the possibility of hiring a 4-wheel-drive car and driver for the entire trip, but by evening I've found nothing suitable.
In the afternoon I attend a meeting at the Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology. We discuss recent developments, both WILMA-related and otherwise, but John and Richard are pressed for time. We cut our meeting short and agree to resume tomorrow. Richard also asks me to take a look at his poorly-performing laptop computer, and I agree to give it a checkup.
Back at the hotel, I attend to some computer work that should have been done during the wasted afternoon. Someone I've recently met, Renatus, calls from the lounge downstairs and says he has someone with him whom I should meet. I come down to the lobby and find Renatus and Fidelis having tea and coffee. Although I have no time for refreshments with them, I spend a few minutes talking with them. Fidelis is from Bukoba, and his specialty is IT, so we have a lot to talk about, but while Fidelis has my ear, Renatus catches my eye.
Renatus opens the small teapot and drives his spoon down into it, crushing the teabags against the bottom of the pot. He grinds and pummels the teabags with such ferocity that I'm amazed not to see a plume of pulverized leaves erupting from the teapot. The battering continues, and I begin to wonder if something in the teapot is fighting back. Eventually, when he's certain that these teabags will never again threaten humanity, Renatus pours their essence into his cup and enjoys the flavor of victory.
I go to the business center to catch up on e-mail and other work. After a few minutes, a voice behind me says, "hi, Dave." It's Inno! He's a young Tanzanian who recently graduated from an American college and has been working with WILMA over the past few months. I haven't seen him since we sent him to Dar es Salaam in September, and although we've kept in touch by e-mail, we have a lot of news to share.
Among Inno's news items are his travel misadventures, which arose mainly due to my efforts to make his travel easier. To start with, when Paul and I travel to Africa, we generally take an overnight flight to London, sleep in the Heathrow Hilton during the day, and then take another overnight to our African destination. This is a far less punishing itinerary than making the entire trip in one day. Thinking of Inno's comfort, I booked him on a similar route and reserved a room for him at the Hilton. Alas, Paul and I are US citizens and welcome in London anytime; Inno is a Tanzanian citizen, and the immigration agent asked to see his visa. As a transit passenger, Inno hadn't bothered to get a visa, and I hadn't thought to advise him to get one. The officer refused to let him pass the gate, but after some explanation and an examination of his WILMA employment documents, Inno was allowed into London.
Inno's other complaint pertains to the credit card I obtained for him. He's had some trouble using it in Africa, and when he relates the details, I instantly understand why. In the US, the card is accepted without question. It's attached to my account, so Inno gets all the benefits of my long and extravagant credit history. The problem is, the credit rating is too good. When Inno tries to use it in Africa, the merchant takes a good hard look at him and wonders, "this young fellow from an impoverished country has a PLATINUM card?" The usual assumption is that the card is stolen or a counterfeit (albeit a really good one), and merchants sometimes refuse to process the transaction, although Inno is getting better at convincing people that the card is legitimate. He should have no problem using it once he gets back to the US, which will be in a few weeks, and then I'll see about getting him a less flashy card for company use.
Before bed I give Richard's computer a thorough examination. His complaint is slow performance, but since it's a Compaq running Windows ME, I'm amazed that it runs at all. I find a directory problem and 105 Windows configuration errors and fix them all. I can't replace the operating system, but I install Netscape so that he doesn't have to rely on Outlook Express for e-mail any more.
My only task today is to book passage for four people to Bukoba and back. I call Stan, still in Dodoma, on his mobile phone and find that he has been relaying instructions to Inno and Rehema (in the SWF office) about making reservations. He also has talked to someone at Precision Air, the only airline that regularly services Bukoba, and says that they have added another flight due to the increased demand.
I ask to speak to Paul. I suggest that the amount of trouble we're having with this excursion is not worth the benefit, but he overrules me: WILMA is committed to a conference in Bukoba, and if there's any practical way to get there, he wants to go. He's even willing to take the bus; that's a 2-day ride from Dar es Salaam, if the bus actually makes it all the way. At this point I accept that the trip is inevitable.
My first priority is to contact Inno and Rehema to discover (a) what instructions they received from Stan (which may not coincide with the instructions Stan remembers giving them) and (b) what progress they've made thus far. The risk of double-booking flights prevents me from making any headway myself, although I'm able to contact both a travel agent and Precision Air, both of whom debunk the "additional flight" rumor. By noon I've talked with both of them and instruct them not to make any further effort on the reservations: this is a one-person job, and I'm the one doing it.
After one last check for cancellations, I decide that the only way we're going to Bukoba over the weekend is by private charter. I check the price of a private four-wheel-drive car; at nearly $5,000, it's beyond our budget. However, since I can get space on a flight to Mwanza, only a couple of hundred kilometers away from Bukoba, I ask about chartering a plane for the last leg of the trip. This option turns out to be much more reasonably priced, and I ask my travel agent to reserve it plane while I try to contact Paul.
A couple of hours pass before I can connect with Stan's cell phone. During this time I begin a project that I've been meaning to take care of since I got to Africa: testing my new audio recording gear. There's a lot of it, and I'm using it for the first time, so I want to have a little practical experience before I start any "real" recording in Ahakishaka. The hardware performs well, but the software is rather cantankerous; I have a lot of problems with the installation routine, and it takes some manual adjustment of the drivers before I can finally get everything working. I only have the television for a test signal, but even from such a low-quality source I'm impressed with the results. Best of all, I find that it's easy to repack everything into its padded case.
I finally get through to Stan after many attempts. When he passes the phone to Paul, I tell him it's decision time, and he agrees to foot the bill for the charter. At that point I say I'll see him in the evening (he's six hours away and still hasn't started the trip back), go down to the travel agent, and finalize the bookings. I still have a couple of hours before a late afternoon meeting at DIT, so I walk briskly over to a local handicraft shop to buy a few gifts. There's just enough time when I get back to the hotel for some iced tea before the car from DIT arrives.
At DIT I take a seat in Richard's office. An earlier meeting is running behind schedule, so I make myself comfortable and read a newspaper. The secretary brings me some more material to read, and I finish it. I ask if I can use her computer to check my e-mail. She says no. Occasionally people enters the office and greet me. I'm not always sure I've met them before. They're not always sure whether I'm David or Paul. Afternoon drags on into evening. Eventually Richard sends a note: his current meeting looks as if it will continue indefinitely, so he apologizes and says he'll see me later at the hotel. The driver takes me back to the hotel.
I get some computer work done, eat dinner in the hotel restaurant, and then begin preparing for our trip west. Although packing the audio gear in its case was easy, I now pack that case inside a rugged hardside case which must also hold my clothes, most of my computer equipment, and some bulky presents. This configuration is necessary to ensure that my cargo will pass muster with any transportation agent, ground or airborne, and will survive the rigors of the journey to Ahakishaka.
At night, while I'm still packing, Paul arrives. He takes a seat and mentions that he's been in the hotel for some time. I ask why he didn't come by sooner. He has a really good reason: he's been cleaning his ThinkPad case. He explains why, and I pass along the unpleasant details to you here:
I can't even imagine how Paul managed to carry the case inside. I don't ask, nor do I inquire about his cleaning technique. However, one disturbing fact cannot be overlooked: Paul has not had dinner, nor does he want any. I give him a bag of crackers to take back to his room in case his appetite returns. He leaves, and I finish my packing and go to bed.
Stan's driver told Paul he'd come to the hotel to pick us up for our morning flight to Mwanza. We're skeptical. Paul had told Stan earlier that we should all rendezvous at the airport, but we wait a bit in the hotel lobby anyway just to see if the driver shows up. He doesn't, so we hail a taxi. On the way to the airport we pass by the SWF office so Paul can drop off some papers, and there we receive one of our few strokes of luck on this trip: Rehema just happens to be outside the building and save Paul a quick dash up and down four flights of steps. We also encounter Stan and Zhiguo on the street, and we remind them that flight time is approaching as we pull away.
At the airport we check in with Air Express, a new airline that flies jets nonstop between Dar es Salaam and Mwanza. Flight time is estimated at 90 minutes, a big improvement over Precision Air, until recently the only scheduled carrier on this route, whose propeller planes that make two or three stops along the way. I ask for an exit-row seat, and the agent cheerfully assigns me one. Paul checks in, and we're feeling rather confident except for one little glitch: I still have Stan and Zhiguo's tickets, and only passengers with tickets are allowed into the check-in area.
Paul takes the tickets and goes back outside to intercept Stan and Zhiguo, who slip through the entrance just as Paul walks out the exit. I still don't know how they got past the guard, but suddenly I have to get Paul's attention and bring him back in. Trying not to make too much of a scene (which would attract unwelcome attention from the local guards), I manage to signal Paul, and he returns to check-in and gives Stan and Zhiguo their tickets. They check in, and we all go to the final security check.
The security officer X-rays our carry-on bags. Paul and Stan and I pass through security without a hitch. The officer stops Zhiguo and asks him to open his bag. Zhiguo complies. Zhiguo has a knife. Zhiguo has a big, sharp, dangerous-looking knife in his carry-on bag. Bad Zhiguo, bad! I scold him, waving my index finger at him menacingly. The officer consults with his fellows, and for a moment it isn't clear whether Zhiguo will be allowed to continue with us or not.
Zhiguo explains that the knife is for preparing mushrooms. Oh, yes, that makes everything all right. The officer agrees that he can continue and take the knife if he'll put it in the checked luggage. Stan and Zhiguo go back to check in, get the agent to retrieve one of the suitcases, which fortunately has not yet been sent to the plane, put the knife in the suitcase, recheck the bag, and then return to the security zone. Another X-ray reveals nothing sinister, so all of us are waved through, and we take some seats in the departure area.
Several other flights are announced, and we wait patiently. Suddenly the departure gate opens and a number of other people get up. The four of us hesitate, waiting to hear whether it's our flight that's boarding. No announcement follows, so we have to ask, and yes, our flight is the one that's inexplicably boarding in silence. We head through the gate and march toward the plane.
Aboard the plane, there is an announcement, and I'm not happy about it: "take any seat you like." Hey, I already reserved the seat I like. Somebody else is sitting in my assigned seat. I ask nicely if he'll consider moving and explain my need for extra legroom, but he's not budging, so I turn back toward the front of the plane where I see a vacant bulkhead seat. Paul calls out: a pair of ladies who have much more legroom they need in some other exit-row seats spontaneously volunteer to give them to us. Paul and I thank them profusely, and we settle into the seats in - by economy standards - comfort.
The flight is short and smooth, and we soon touch down in Mwanza. There the local taxi drivers fight (almost literally) for the right to take us downtown, and Stan has to intervene to keep a couple of them from pulling a suitcase apart as they each try to load it into their own cars. It takes two cars to transport all of us and our belongings anyway, and we head off along the rough dirt road to the New Mwanza hotel.
Rooms are available despite our lack of reservations, and when we get upstairs we find that they're quite nice. In particular I appreciate the generously oversized window air conditioner. Its capacity is sufficient to chill my room in minutes. Paul comes by and asks to borrow my… my what? Paul wants to borrow my knob. His air conditioner has been stripped of all knobs, but the metal shafts are undamaged, so he figures that he can pull a knob off mine, push it onto his, and turn the thermostat to his desired setting. I pull off a knob and tell him to give it a try. A few minutes later he's back, reports that he was able to make the adjustment with ease, and returns the knob. I turn my own thermostat down a few degrees more just to make sure the knob still works.
I call the local travel agency office and arrange for a ride to the airport for all of us at 8:30 tomorrow morning, then relax until it's time for dinner. We rendezvous in the hotel restaurant in the evening. Zhiguo tries a mushroom dish. He pronounces it unacceptable by his own rigorous professional standards: the mushrooms are old and canned, fit only to be thrown out. However, he's unwilling to waste food, so he eats all of his meal anyway. Then we all go to bed in anticipation of our early charter flight.
We rendezvous for breakfast at the same table where we had dinner last night. Zhiguo joins me promptly at 7:30; Paul and Stan drag in closer to 8:00. Stan wants to get some copies made and see a few colleagues, and he asks me if it's OK for him to leave the hotel. I tell him it's OK as long as he's back in time to meet the cars coming for us at 8:30. He looks at his watch, which reads 8:05, and sits pondering the best method of accomplishing all his pre-flight tasks. Paul finally helps him out by observing that today is Sunday: not only will the copy center be closed, but so will the other offices he wants to visit. Stan decides to continue with his leisurely breakfast.
I go up to my room, collect my bags, and go down to the front desk to check out at 8:15. Apparently I am the first person to ever check out of the New Mwanza. The front desk staff seem hopelessly confused, unable either to find the correct forms or to compute the bill. Hmmm… one night at $40 per night - anybody got a calculator? Behind the desk the ever-growing staff raise a ruckus opening drawers, checking computer screens, and examining tariff tables. In front of the desk, I keep an eye out for our driver. At 8:30 there's still no sign of him, but I'm not concerned; the charter plane will wait for us, and the checkout process is nowhere near completion.
At 8:45 I ask Stan to call the travel agency and check on the car. I'd do it myself, but I'm still guiding the hotel staff through the checkout procedure. They've come close to printing my bill several times, but one clerk insists on helping the paper through the printer each time it starts to move, and his action invariably causes a paper jam. The driver finally appears along with the local travel agent just as I finally get a proper form to sign; the hotel staff only need a few more minutes to process my cedit-card payment, and then I can join my colleagues in the parking lot.
The travel agency has provided one small sedan, much too small to hold the four of us and our considerable luggage. It only takes a minute for a second car to appear once the travel agent makes a call on his mobile phone. This guy should be in charge of the hotel, or at least of checking out. We pile in and are quickly on our way to the airport.
At the airport we find the Auric Air office and sign in for our flight. An agent takes our luggage and packs it into the small twin-engine Piper that will take us to Bukoba. We have a friendly chat with the pilot; the plane has room for five passengers, so he's using the spare seat to give his little daughter a ride. Paul, Stan, and Zhiguo board through the passenger door. The pilot assigns me to the co-pilot's seat, which means I must climb onto the wing and enter through the rather snug pilot's hatch. It's a bit tricky: I make it inside after a bit of twisting and turning, and my bulk leaves barely enough room for the hatch to close.
The pilot invites me to wear the co-pilot's set of headphones, and since there's no place for them by my side or at my feet (which, I suspect, is the real reason he suggested I wear them), I put them on and find that the pilot and I can converse comfortably with little interference from engine noise. The passengers in back have to raise their voices to be heard by each other, and it takes a hearty shout for any of them to get our attention through the headphones. This is the only way to travel. I turn on my camera, set the lens to wide angle, hand it to Stan and ask him to take my picture while I put my hands lightly over the controls as if I were flying the plane. As we taxi toward the runway, I maintain my pose while Stan tries to frame the shot just right. Take the picture, Stan. He checks all the buttons on the camera and rechecks them, as if he actually had to do something about them. Exposure and focus are automatic, and I've already set the length. Take the picture, Stan. We reach the runway; the pilot lines us up for takeoff and gets clearance from the tower. Take the picture, Stan. The pilot politely waits as I maintain my pose. Take the picture, Stan. Everyone in the plane, even the little girl, is motionless, waiting for Stan to press the button. Finally, he does, and he hands the camera back to me. I check the viewer and find that he's completely left my hands and the controls out of the frame so that there's no visible evidence that I'm in a plane. It's not even a particularly good picture of me, so I erase it. During the flight I experiment with the camera; it's new, and I'm still just learning how to use it. Most of my shots aren't worth keeping either, but I get a couple of satisfactory ones.
The Piper only needs a tiny portion of the jet-capable runway to take off, and we're soon climbing rapidly over Lake Victoria to about 5,000 feet. Thick cloud cover and rain provide few photo opportunities, but I take a few shots just for practice with the new camera. The pilot is a bit puzzled by the rate at which his windshield is steaming up, far faster at this temperature than usual. It's probably my fault; I never fail to steam up car windows in cold weather. I don't tell him about this habit, but I do volunteer to wipe the steam off the windshield while he concentrates on flying the plane.
We land at Bukoba. The pilot gets our luggage out of the plane in about a minute, and airport staff carry it up to the parking lot where we meet Jacqueline of SWF. She's brought a taxi for us, but only one, so she goes off in it to get a second so that we can all go to the SWF office. There Paul and Stan attend to some paperwork before we begin the trek to Ahakishaka. Stan has contracted with a local van driver to take us there, and as we approach the van Stan feels obliged to reassure us, "it will make it." The luggage gets stuffed in the back, I take my usual seat in front, everybody else squeezes into the middle, and we're off for the five-hour-plus drive to Ahakishaka. As usual, we stop to pick up supplies - beer and soda - along the way. Where they put it, I have no idea.
The van rattles and wheezes as it climbs to an altitude a bit higher than we'd been flying only an hour ago. The sun is just setting as we arrive in Ahakishaka, and we get our usual warm welcome. We're just in time for dinner, and after we stash our luggage in our huts we make our way to the improved dining hut. It now has a painted interior with traditional designs that brighten the interior almost as much as the new high-intensity bulb.
Stan lets someone know that I've brought my recording equipment and hope to capture some CD-quality sound from the local singers. Paul checks out a new large building designated the "conference center." He thinks it has good potential as a recording site, and he helps me test its properties by singing a snippet of Gilbert & Sullivan. I only need a few seconds to determine that the acoustics would enhance a small vocal group or band of instrumentalists, but the full-bodied sound of the large choir I want to record would be hopelessly muddled by the prolonged and powerful reverberations inside the space.
The entire recording project is rendered moot when Stan receives a report: the singers are scattered over an area the size of a US county, and there's no way they can be rounded up over the next couple of days. If we'd let them know by radio that we wanted to do this… I see no point in discussing the matter further; there will simply be no sound recording during this trip.
It's going to be a long day, Paul tells me. We're going to visit all of the hamlets in Ahakishaka. He's done this before, but it's my first time to make this trek. The usual hearty breakfast of eggs, fruit, bread, and tea awaits us in the dining hut. I pack my new camera - which I'm still just learning to use - and pile into the truck with Paul, Stan, and a contingent of locals.
Some dirt roads and footpaths meander through Ahakishaka, but much of our journey consists of driving through the bush in the general direction of the next hamlet. When we have to cross a creek, we all get out of the truck and walk over the primitive bridge of loose tree limbs. The driver takes the truck across; we get back in and ride until we get to a point where the path follows a narrow gap between the trees and a steep slope leading down to the lake. This is also too risky a place to transport anyone carrying a checkbook, credit card, or digital camera, so we pile out and walk the last quarter-mile to the first hamlet.
At the hamlet we get a tour of the sole Solar Home System (SHS), which belongs to the village leader. He makes a short speech welcoming us, and Paul makes a long speech thanking him and explaining WILMA's and SVI's current program; Stan translates. I take pictures, and the rest of the hamlet's population watches and listens. As part of his remarks, Paul mentions that I've brought audio recording equipment, and he expresses the hope that some singers will perform for me. Considering that we expect to spend all of today visiting hamlets and that we plan to leave Ahakishaka tomorrow, I have little faith that such an event can still be arranged. There's no reaction, positive or negative, from the crowd or local leader on this point. We walk along the lake to the closest point where the truck can meet us, pile in, and head for the next hamlet.
The drill is the same at the next hamlet, although this one is situated on flatter land; we're able to drive all the way to the central meeting point. Once again, Paul mentions my recording equipment, but there's no indication that anyone has any intention of performing. Visiting two hamlets has used up the entire morning, so we head back to our VIP quarters for lunch. Along the way I ask Paul to stop mentioning the recording equipment; it's obvious that nobody is prepared to perform. Beyond that, not only is our schedule too tight to allow reasonable time for recording, but I would need to have some microphone stands made from local materials, and there's no way to tell how long that process would take.
After lunch, we visit the remaining three hamlets. Hospitality and speeches seem to take more time in the afternoon, and we conclude our last visit well after sundown. Paul continues to mention the recording equipment; I remind him once more that I have no intention of trying to record anything, then give up. At the last hamlet we're invited into the local chairman's house for refreshments. The only illumination inside is a single 7-watt bulb hanging from the ceiling. I decide to test my camera's low-light capabilities, and it's variety of noises and blinking lights monopolize the attention of the chairman's young daughter, who probably has no idea that I'm taking her picture. After several rounds of soft drinks and banana booze, we return to our quarters for dinner, and Paul gives Ernest, the local equipment manager, a couple of VHS tapes: Ice Age and Monsters Inc. I hope one day to report on the reactions of people who have no closets to a movie about monsters in closets.
As Paul and I enjoy another hearty breakfast, an ominous sound wafts into the dining hut: singing. Stan arrives and says that the choir is ready for me to start recording as soon as I finish eating. I glare audibly at Stan. My batteries are not charged, my recording equipment is packed in my suitcase, I have no microphone stands, and we're planning to have an important meeting and then leave Ahakishaka before noon. It's impossible for me to do the CD-quality sound recording I'd hoped for when I arrived, but I don't want to turn the singers away without letting them perform, so I offer to record a short video of their performance with my new camera. Stan likes the idea and rounds up a few people to help me set up. With a couple of tables as a makeshift tripod and a sturdy chair to sit on, I take a position facing the lake and wait for the singers to assemble.
Ten singers assemble. The choir is much larger, but only these few were available. Stan tells me they have only one song prepared, which is just the first evidence that this group had other plans for this morning. I position the camera, ask for silence from the small audience that's gathered behind me, start recording, and signal the singers to start. Their performance is unenthusiastic, far from the spirited and energetic show that I'm accustomed to from the full choir. Although most of the song is in Swahili, there's a section in the middle that thanks their visitors in English for supporting the SVI program. After this obligato section the song resumes in Swahili and then concludes with one of the singers announcing, "we're finished."
I turn off the camera and remove the memory chip so I can transfer the recording to my ThinkPad. The singers begin their next song. The singers begin their next song! I signal them to stop as Stan whispers to me, "they told me they only had one song!" Having loaded the memory chip into my computer and needing to change the camera's batteries, I ask the singers to wait while I reset my equipment. This is my first time to transfer a high-resolution video from camera to computer, and I'm amazed at the amount of time it takes - nearly twelve minutes. The look on the singers' faces expresses something other than amazement as they sit on the grass waiting for me to get ready to record again.
Eventually I'm ready and signal the singers to begin again. They sing my favorite of the songs I've heard here over the past few years, which I've dubbed "Ahakishaka-Wa-Wa-Wa." Alas, this song doesn't work nearly as well with just ten singers as well as it does with the whole choir, and the group has trouble with the footwork (they always move when they sing), words, and key. It's obvious to me that they're only doing this because Stan told them it's my favorite song, and they do the best they can with insufficient numbers and preparation. When they finish, I lead the audience in a round of applause, thank them, and then apologize for being unable to play the recording for them due to low battery power. They depart, and Stan goes off to join Paul at the SVI meeting; I retire to my hut to pack and catch up on my writing until the battery in my ThinkPad is drained completely.
To my surprise, we depart Ahakishaka roughly on time. Before we depart, I reveal a surprise that I've brought from London for Stan's mother and Evelyn and Jacqueline, the two ladies in charge of our care and feeding. I've have samplers of tea, jam, and biscuits for each from Fortnum and Mason, but I waited until this moment to give them their gifts because I want them to enjoy the treat with their friends and family. I'm sure that if I they had them earlier, they'd simply serve Paul and me the goodies for breakfast. All three ladies seem to like the gifts; they thank me, and then it's time for us to leave.
The drive to Bukoba is long and bumpy as usual, but otherwise uneventful. I've asked that we try the Edan Hotel since I've never been completely satisfied with the place where we stayed on previous trips, the New Upendo Lodge. I've also suggested making reservations, but Stan assured me that they won't be necessary. We arrive and inquire at the front desk; they have two rooms available. Our party requires five rooms, but since we don't know yet if the New Upendo has any rooms, Paul and I claim the two available at the Edan and send the others off to try their luck at the New Upendo. They succeed in getting the last three rooms available there. It turns out that both buildings are full due to a big conference in town this week: our conference!
The Edan doesn't take credit cards. I ask if we can pay in US dollars. Paul chides me a bit for wanting to pay in dollars since rural hotels generally take a big commission when changing money. I counter-chide that I do not want to pay in dollars, but I need to know if we have an alternative method of payment if we don't get to a bank before we leave Bukoba. This possibility amuses Paul, and he assures me that we won't need a contingency plan. We get our keys and take our bags to our rooms.
My room is superior to any I've had at the New Upendo. It has a large, comfortable bed and a fan. The bathroom configuration is typical for this region: the toilet, sink, and shower hose are all in one tiled room, although this one is more spacious than most. The toilet seat isn't securely bolted on: only gravity keeps it in position, but it stays put as long as I don't bump it the wrong way. I unpack, plug in my ThinkPad for recharging, and check on Paul. His room is similar to mine and has a refrigerator.
We convene at the SWF office, a short walk from either hotel, and discuss our strategy for the conference. The regional government has been making plans in our absence, and their vision of the conference is grander (and more expensive) than ours. Our original intent was to explore the potential for growing mushrooms in Bukoba, but we now find ourselves preparing for a complex examination of a proposed mushroom industry throughout the Kagera region of northwestern Tanzania. Although Paul had envisioned an informal planning and discussion session of perhaps a dozen people, he agrees to foot the bill for a larger two-day session because he perceives that it will accelerate our program in the region and elicit enthusiastic support from local government and business. Stan arranges a meeting tomorrow at the regional commissioner's office to settle the final details, and we all work on our presentations (to my surprise, I'm assigned a topic) until dinner time, when we return to the Edan, which has better service, if not better food, than the chronically slow New Upendo.
We go to the regional commissioner's office. It's in a large, fenced government compound, and we take almost a half hour identifying ourselves and getting visitor's passes at the front gate. The guard tells us where to find the office. He tells us wrong. We follow some signs, ask for directions, and finally wind up in the right place. It's the right place, that is, to stand out in the hallway for nearly an hour until someone is ready to see us.
"Someone" turns out to be the Regional Administrator, which is different from the Regional Commissioner; for our purposes, the pertinent detail is that he's in charge of organizing and authorizing local government-sponsored events. Under his guidance our short, informal planning conference has evolved into a 2-day workshop with a formal plan to be presented and discussed. He takes us on a tour of the meeting room: it's a spacious and well-ventilated separate building near his office, and it will easily hold a hundred attendees, a number that Paul and Stan hope we won't actually see. With invitations already issued to VIPs throughout the region, there's no opportunity for us to reduce the scale of the event, so we spend the morning discussing practical issue like lunch and seating arrangements. There's no time for serious debate: for every problem, a solution is proposed and quickly agreed to by the group.
Paul manages to prevent further escalation, but as we lake our leave, it's obvious to us that we have a lot of catching up to do if we're going to be ready for the workshop. We head back to the SWF office and start writing. My presentation is the shortest, and I'm the fastest typist, so I help the other organize and polish their texts. In addition the to writing, there's much copying and collating to be done so that all the workshop attendees, which may be more than 50, can get a copy of the papers.
Stan turns over the copying work to a local shop, and we take advantage of the pause in our efforts to grab some dinner at the New Upendo. We call ahead to make sure the food will be ready when we arrive, but as usual it isn't. With all the work ahead of us, we really need some fuel, so we wait for the food, eat, and then return to our various assignments. At this point there's no need for further computer work, so I take the opportunity to make a quick run to the local internet café. The service is poor, and I can't do much more than determine that there are no e-mails requiring immediate attention.
On the way back to the SWF office, I encounter Stan. He's come downtown in the van to pick up the freshly copied pages. I suggest that we stop by a local convenience store to check out the snack foods. Paul plans to serve samples of mushroom beverages at the conference tomorrow, and while he's assured me that our meager supply of Goldfish crackers will be sufficient, I'd like to be prepared just in case more than ten people show up. The store doesn't have much in the way of crackers, but they do have big tins of sugar cookies. Not being a connoisseur of appellation champignon, I'm not sure if they'll be a good match or not, but there's nothing else to be had this time of night, so Stan and I pick up two big tins.
Stan and I pick up the huge stacks of copied pages and return to the office. While I stash the cookies in a corner where they won't be stepped on, an impromptu collate-and-staple brigade emerges from our eager crew. Two of our colleagues, Zhiguo and Josephat, have excellent organizational skills, and while each has a good plan for completing the task efficiently, their competing efforts threaten to submerge us in a maelstrom of mismatched sheets. Paul distracts one so that the other can direct the entire process; since I'm at the tail end, putting the collated sheets into folders, I'm not sure which one gets distracted, but we quickly turn a huge pile of loose paper into neat stacks of bound presentation papers. Around midnight we close up the office and go back to our hotels.
Paul and I have an early breakfast at the Edan. The service is slow and haphazard; I request a bottle of water and have to wait nearly a half hour before it arrives. We eat our eggs and toast and drink our tea, then spend another five minutes dealing with the payment for the water. It's not a standard part of our included-in-the-room breakfast, and apparently I'm the first person to ever ask for such a thing this early in the morning, so half the hotel staff gets involved in determining what kind of bill to issue for it and how to account for my payment.
We walk to the workshop site where we meet our colleagues, who have already arrived in the truck with the supply of papers, folders, and pens. The potential number of attendees has us a bit concerned: we brought 24 distinctive WILMA binders in which we'd planned to distribute the papers, but many more invitations had been issued. After consulting with the local government officials, we decide to reserve the binders for "VIP" guests; that is, people who have known influence or stake in the region. For the others we load the papers into generic plastic envelopes. When that process is finished, I look for a place to set up my ThinkPad and camera. The Regional Administrator suggests that I use a small table at the front of the room. On a dais that separates it from the main conference table where our group has settled, it's obviously for ceremonial purposes only and not the sort of thing we'll be using for our workshop. I find a good place for my equipment and deploy it for quick and easy access.
As the starting time approaches, Paul is cautiously optimistic. A reasonable number of attendees, perhaps about twenty, has arrived, and we may not have to discriminate in our distribution of the papers. But the guest of honor, the Regional Administrative Secretary, is late, and until he delivers the opening address we can do nothing but wait. As the morning wears on, more people arrive, many of whom were not invited. Local and national press show up with still and video photographers.
By the time the Regional Administrative Secretary arrives, more than 50 people are in the room. They all stand as he walks in. We finish distributing the papers, and the Secretary takes a seat. He takes a seat at the small table on the dais, directly behind my equipment. No, that's not a gift, sir. Stan and the Regional Administrator take the other two seats at that table. Everyone else takes a seat; I grab a vacant one next to Paul and wait for an opportunity to discreetly move my equipment to a more convenient location.
Everyone listens attentively to the opening address, which, thanks to our having a hand in drafting it, is over in a few minutes. The Secretary apologizes for leaving early due to another commitment but expresses interest in returning in the afternoon. He leaves amid applause, and I take advantage of a minute of hubbub to reclaim my camera and ThinkPad. The next item on the agenda is Stan's presentation, an overview of the proposed mushroom industry. It's a novel concept to people in this region and needs a lot of explanation: Stan needs 90 of his allotted 60 minutes to cover everything.
After coffee break, Zhiguo delivers a technical paper on mushroom cultivation and marketing. This presentation has every disadvantage possible: Zhiguo speaks in English with a moderate Chinese accent, the English-language abilities of the listeners vary, and the paper contains a lot of technical details and foreign words. But Zhiguo compensates by enunciating each word loudly and clearly with obvious mastery of the subject and contagious enthusiasm, and the audience's reactions unmistakably indicate that the message is received and understood. By the time he's finished, everyone is ready to start building mushroom sheds, and his effort is rewarded with profuse applause and cheers.
We have a hearty lunch of chicken and vegetables. Paul uses most of his lunch time finalizing a series of questions to be posed to the attendees in the afternoon. I use some of my lunch time to proofread and print them. Some more of my lunchtime is taken up with the tracking of the snacks and beverages. Someone goes in the truck to retrieve them but returns only with the drinks. Someone else goes and returns with the two bags of Goldfish crackers but no cookies. Finally I go with him to the SWF office, pick up the tins of cookies - which are in plain sight - and bring them to the workshop.
In the afternoon the attendees separate into small groups to work on different sets of Paul's questions. Paul makes sure that he, Stan, Zhiguo, and I wind up in separate groups to dilute the effect of our "outside" influence. He advises us not to be too eager to express our opinions, but there's no need to worry about me: I don't have any opinions on most of the questions. Unless someone asks about information technology (in which case I'll be happy to supply the One True Answer), I'm planning to do a lot of listening. My group tackles its questions without much need for my expertise, but when the session ends I assure Paul that I gave them all the "right" answers.
It's been a long day, so we unanimously agree to delay discussion of the answers produced by the various groups until tomorrow. Zhiguo puts out a display of mushrooms and mushroom products, Paul starts pouring mushroom beverages, and Stan lays out the snacks. The attendees enthusiastically start sampling. Paul and Stan can hardly keep up with the demand, and I have to stop taking pictures to replenish the bowls of crackers and cookies. The mushroom beverages are a big hit: both the taste and the marketing potential elicit praise from the crowd, and several people even assure me that the cookies are a splendid accompaniment. Within the tins the cookies are plastic-wrapped in stacks of five; those that aren't opened and eaten at the conference are taken home as souvenirs.
Paul, Stan, and Zhiguo want to schmooze with local officials over dinner at the New Upendo, but this isn't my kind of party, so I excuse myself and go back to the Edan. It's really my dread of the Upendo's slow service that keeps me from joining my colleagues, but service at the Edan's outdoor restaurant turns out to be nearly as slow tonight. When a waitress finally brings me a menu, I only need a few seconds to choose an item, but she tells me they are out of the beef Stroganoff. They're also out of my second, third, and fourth choices. Rather than let me vainly continue through the whole menu, she explains that the chef is away, and therefore the kitchen canot prepare most of the menu items. Only two are available: baked chicken with rice and fish sticks with rice.
I choose the chicken and wait. Several orange sodas later, my chicken and rice finally arrives. It's not hard to believe that the chef is away: this chicken has simply been tossed in a pan and cooked without any seasoning. It glistens with grease in the moonlight, but it looks no less appetizing than anything else I've eaten here, so I sprinkle a little salt and dig in. I make quick work of it, wait another half hour for the check, sign for the meal, and then go to my room.
After a little CNN, I review the workshop materials. Satisfied that I'm as prepared for the second day's sessions as well as I can be, I go to bed.
|Obscure and offensive terms are underlined and boldfaced; if you are not of delicate disposition, you may reveal their definitions by clicking on them.|
I awaken a little past midnight. Something is wrong. Something is very wrong. As I will learn much later, there's a word for what's happening to me; in fact, there are two particularly apt words: lask and sporge. I jump out of bed and run to the bathroom, but I am too late. I rinse my sharny pajamas in the sink, hang them up to dry on the shower head, and go back to bed, pausing to gulp the contents of one of my water bottles. Alas, I sporge anew, and I am compelled to run to the bathroom several times every hour until sunrise. By then I am exhausted from incessant tenesmus and prolonged meteorism, but I manage to take a shower and drag myself to the breakfast room.
Paul arrives and finds me slumped in my chair, elumbated and zowerswopped. He's accustomed to my being a glump when annoyed, and when I describe my predicament - omitting details that would be infandous over a meal - he suspects that I am merely egroting due to my general dislike for long meetings and my limited prospects for actually contributing to the second day of the mushroom conference, which is certain to focus on growing and marketing procedures. I assure him that I am no pathodixiac, and since my encopresis has subsided for more than an hour, I express my intention to attend today's session.
I don't carry anti-diarrheal medicine because I've never needed it before. Paul has some, and as a safety measure he brings me some tablets. I take them, and we finish breakfast - for me, a cup of tea and a bit of toast - before going back to our rooms to collect our papers. We leave the hotel, and I follow Paul along the road on the way to the SWF office, but after walking about a hundred feet I suddenly stop and shout a word that - even under the current circumstances - does not appear on my webpages. Paul turns to me and intones, "it happened, eh?" Yes, it happened. I ask him to convey my regrets and make my way back to the hotel as quickly as possible; Paul continues toward the office and the conference. When I get to my room, I hang out the DO NOT DISTURB sign and bolt the door.
The scorocrasia returns with such intensity, frequency, and - worst of all - abruptness that there's no sense wearing any clothes. I spend the morning sitting naked on the toilet, drinking bottled water as often as possible. Well, I sit for about half the morning, just until the my stomach begins to wamble. In a condition worthy of one of Dante's rings of Hell, I find myself suddenly needing to turn to vomit into the toilet, and then just as suddenly needing to sit again. In my fatigued and weakened state, I can't perform this ritual with any accuracy, so it isn't long until I bespew the toilet seat with such force that it clatters to the floor. I stare glumly at the mess and am suddenly glad that the entire bathroom is a shower. I turn on the water full force and send the gleet down the drain.
I take more anti-diarrheal medicine and repeat the room-flushing procedure as needed throughout the day. The emetomania subsides; the scorocrasia abates but doesn't stop entirely. It finally occurs to me that my electrolytes must be out of balance, and I down a few heat-stress tablets that are full of essential salts. Within an hour my symptoms disappear, and I'm able to fall into bed and get some sleep. Paul comes by during the conference lunch break and knocks on my door. He's glad to hear that I'm feeling a bit better, and he brings me some more bottles of water. He returns to the conference; I'm in no shape for food or company, so at the session's end he goes off to dinner at the New Upendo without me. Late in the evening I'm feeling well enough to wander over to the Edan's restaurant, inquire about the chef, and then order one of the specials. It's not bad, obviously the work of a professional, and I let the waitress know that it's not the chef's fault that I don't eat more than half of it.
Paul returns from his dinner and comes by my room. I express optimism that I'll be able to make tomorrow's flight. He gives me a summary of the second day of the conference and guesses that I would have been terribly bored during the discussions of mushroom farming and marketing, little or none of which pertained to information technology. I'm so tired, I don't have anything to say in return other than "see you in the morning."
I awaken weak but otherwise ready to travel. I take more anti-diarrheal and heat stress tables just to be sure. Paul and I eat breakfast - again mine is meager - then return to our rooms to collect our bags. Neither of us has had time to visit the bank, so we ask if we can pay in US dollars. The answer can best be summarized as "yes, but." I'm not up to keeping track of all the hotel staff who visit the desk and confer with the clerk about our situation, but I'm pretty sure it was all of them. None of them can determine the correct exchange rate for our dollars. If we had to catch a scheduled flight, we'd have a problem, but Paul and I know that our charter pilot won't leave without us. Paul's grumbling evolves into a rant as the checkout process reaches the one-hour mark. Finally, someone decides on an exchange rate; the clerk returns the Magic 8-Ball® to its vault and charges us an even $200.
Paul pays the bill, and we roll our suitcases over to the New Upendo. There we meet Stan and Zhiguo. They're also checking out, and when they finish we hire a couple of taxis and go to the airport. There our pilot is waiting for us, and he takes our luggage to the plane. He advises us that there's an airport fee in addition to the cost of the charter, and sure enough an airport agent comes asking for payment. We check his identification - various snollygosters have been known to feign authority here - and pay the modest fee. The pilot assigns our seats, and with me in the copilot's position again we take off for Mwanza.
Upon landing we thank our pilot for the smooth ride and find our way to the Air Express check-in counter. We check our larger bags, receive our boarding passes, and head toward the boarding area. Paul, Stan, and I go through the metal detector and send our carry-on bags through the X-ray machine. This time Zhiguo passes both the metal detector and the X-ray test.
We board the plane and enjoy an uneventful flight to Dar es Salaam. Zhiguo and Stan take off for their local residences; Paul and I check back in at the Holiday Inn. Shortly after we get into our rooms, Peter the electrical engineer shows up with his wife. They want to thank me for the great deal I got for them on some computer equipment. Peter must have had a few drinks before he came over; he's a little unsteady on his feet and steps on my foot repeatedly. I wouldn't really care if I hadn't had surgery on that foot eight weeks ago, and I ask Peter to watch his step. He clobbers my foot one more time, and then I move to a position where he can't reach it.
Peter of TAYOA comes by as well with Emmanuel. I call Paul and tell him there's a party in my room. His arrival puts us over the occupancy limit of my small room, so we all move downstairs to the restaurant for dinner. As always, the food is good and the conversation ranges over a variety of topics, business and otherwise. After dessert we say our goodbyes to our colleagues then turn in for the night.
I'm feeling a little stronger and have no fears of a recurrence of my recent illness. There's not much for me to do, so I relax during the ride to the airport and in the business-class lounge. When we board the plane, I settle down in my roomy seat and - for the first time ever - get some sleep in the air, perhaps as much as 15 minutes of sleep during the nine hour flight to London. Although I always enjoy my stays there, I can hardly think about the upcoming week in London because I'm already preoccupied with my next trip: five weeks in St. Petersburg, Russia. I'll post some stories and pictures from that trip eventually, but I'll be far too busy with intense language classes to post day-by-day reports.
As much as I like the word glump, I have to agree with Novobatzky and Shea, who write that groak is "one of the finest all-around words" in Depraved and Insulting English. Although Paul and I have been the object of some stares when we've eaten outdoors or by windows in Africa, I can't say that we've ever been groaked because the starers were looking for handouts of money, not food. I can't find a word that describes this specific activity, so I'm going to coin one right now in the hopes that the authors will include it in the next edition of their wretched and wonderful opus. I dub this hybrid of groak and panhandle proak.
Those with delicate sensibilities should avoid Depraved and Insulting English (A Harvest Original, Harcourt, Inc., 1999, ISBN 0-15-601149-2) altogether. It contains many words far fouler than any I've used in this report. Some are so repellent that the authors, whose sensibilities have obviously been tempered by years of trekking through the world's linguistic sewers, periodically mention what a sorry statement it makes about the human race that such words were ever deemed necessary.