Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Africa photos

Here they are:


The first ones of the 36 hour bus may seem a little dusty and depressing. Zanzibar was paradise. Africa was fascinating, fun, mind-blowing and I can't wait to go back someday - it exceeded my expectations in every way!

I couldn't take my camera out at night very much - afraid of theft in some places. But we did go out every night we could.. Sorry the Masai guys we hung out with aren't on here. I may be able to post a video of it in a few days.

Africa: A few youtube videos I made

The quality isn't good - They look better in my camera. Anyhow:



Sunday, January 14, 2007

Africa: Time for this Mzungu to go home

I'm just killing an afternoon here in Melville. It really is a pleasant place to spend a few days just meandering around. Last night I had some fancy thai food. For lunch I'm trying some ethiopian. I even bought a Frida Kahlo purse from a mexican store - that has nothing to do with Africa, does it?

I'm very sad to leave. I may have been homesick for an hour at the Zimbabwe border - but I always get the opposite of homesick towards the end.

So here's a little rundown of best and worsts:

Best meal: the treehouse restaurant in Nungwi. We ate pili pili chicken barefoot on pillows up in a tree to middle eastern music. runner up - the royal palm hotel in Dar!

Best Beer: Kilimanjaro. Only beats Tusker because it has a cute giraffe on the bottle. Either beer was a pleasure to find COLD, which was sort of rare.

Best beach: Nungwi, Zanzibar. Kendwa was gorgeous too.

Best Bar: Cholos in Nungwi or Mayoka Village

Favorite random person:
The man who tried to carry Kathy's bag for her in Stonetown at the dock. "I'm a strong man..with ONE EYE! I'm a strong man with ONE EYE!" sure enough, he had one eye. Kathy just kind of shooed him away.

Favorite comeback to a pushy salesperson:
"I eat with my hands" - guy on the minibus in Lilongwe to a guy selling spoons through the window. also Kathy to the pushy CD salesman in Stonetown "I already have that one. Track 4's my favorite"

Favorite flashback to the 70s: Dar es Salaam, for the body on tap conditioner for sale in the store and for the decor at the Peacock hotel

Favorite meal: Vegetable curry and rice. I had it at least 15 times. It was safe.

Favorite accomodations: Mayoka Village

Best celeb themed restaurant: Freddy Mercury's in Stonetown. It was also our only celebrity themed restaurant.

Worst bathroom: The Mbeya train station. Bathroom had an evil, ungodly, rank, vile, putrid stink. Since we spent a good 6 hours there, I got the pleasure of going in there a few times. I always came out gasping for air, eyes watering, frantically covering myself in purell and gagging.

Dirtiest moment: getting off the two day train in Dar

People in Africa that hated me: the man at the internet cafe in Nhakata bay. Boy, did he hate me for putting my diet coke on the wooden table and for taking too long and asking questions. The next day he just looked at me in disgust. And the man in the indian restaurant in Stonetown. Yeah, they hated me.

People in Africa who were nice to me: Everyone else. The people in Africa are fantastic. Malawi, Tanzania, everyone in Melville - they are just so warm and friendly.

Favorite nickname: "Mama". Not in a maternal sense. Hello Mama! man in airport: "can you give this change back to Mama?" Only in SA. Everywhere else it's "Hello sister!" I like Mama. It has a 1970s ballad sound to it. Hey mama!

Bye Africa! Asante sana for the good times

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Back in South Africa

We had to spend the night in Dar after Zanzibar in order to catch our 10:30AM flight back to South Africa. It was a little sad leaving Tanzania, it meant that the long adventure of taking public transportation from Joburg to Zanzibar was over. But it's nice to be back in Melville for a few nights.

For one, I can walk down the street without saying hello to everyone. I actually have to supress the urge to say "Jambo, Jambo, Jambo...no thank you, I don't need the CD, no thank you, I'm allergic to nuts, Jambo Jambo Jambo.." We stayed back at our Melville guesthouse, 33 on First, and had nice long showers. The streets are paved so it really cuts down on the constant dust and dirt that sticks to you. It may take a few more days to get all the dirt out of my fingernails but I'm making progress on that. And the beer is cold! And clocks are all set at the correct time. Not since being in Joburg last time did I see a working clock that was anywhere in the three hour vicinity of being correct. And I don't have to shoo flies off my food all the time. And water comes in bottles that are smaller than 1.5 liters. In Tanzania you have to lug around a 1.5 liter of water all the time. The taxi that picked us up from the airport had gas in it. And I feel allright eating meat again. I had been avoiding it as much as possible since Malawi because I was horrified and grossed out by what a peace corps girl told me. I'll spare you but if you want to know, come ask me when I get home.

Kathy and I had been talking about Mc Donalds since the train ride. Obsessing about it. I am embarrased to say that I had a Mc Donalds binge this morning, having the big breakfast AND hotcakes. It was fantastic! Am I so weak that I can't go three weeks without Mc Donald's? I'm pathetic.

We bought newspapers yesterday. Kathy bought the British one and I bought the Zimbabwean one. These are the headlines in the Zimbabwe paper, for real:

Strike cripples public health sector
Zim nurses flood South Africa

(both about lack of doctors, health care and how they are all fleeing to other countries)

No happy new year

(just a sad letter to the editor about the state of things, salaries vs bus costs, poverty, etc)

(Zimbabwe) Dollar drops as demand soars

(I remember the peace corps workers in Malawi telling me that the goverment just prints more money when they need it - there's no Greenspan-like guy here..)

Education for all - a distant memory

(kids can't afford school)

the paper was all sad articles - I felt like I was reading the onion, not in the sense that they were funny but in the sense that the articles weren't real. I've always been one to give a concerned read or nod to poverty stories, then I pretty much go on my way. I always respected what Bono and Oprah do, but I never got all carried away about it. And not to sound like a cliche, but going to Africa has sort of changed my perspective. Sometimes you have to see it for yourself, It's just unbelieveable what happens here. I always thought "I could go into the peace corps, no problem - sure, send me anywhere..." but after hanging out with the Peace Corps workers in Malawi, I have so much more respect for what they do. I'm not even sure I could deal with it for two years.

Kathy left for a short safari today. I wish I had time to go on a little safari too - I'm jealous - but I'll have to save that for next time. Safari wasn't really either of our main reasons for coming here, we wanted to see Africa, whatever that was going to mean. And I feel like we sort of did. It's funny, when I told people I was going to Africa, most people said "oh, so you're going on safari!" and were confused when I wasn't. Come to think of it, if someone comes all the way to Africa and does a fancy all-inclusive safari, has ALL meals and transportation taken care of, you aren't really seeing Africa, you're seeing exotic animals and some scenery. Still a very cool thing to do. But take a 4 hour minibus of 28 people, and have to ask for directions, and figure things out, and then talk to me about Africa. And there is so much more Africa to see. I mean South Africa is nothing like Tanzania which is nothing like Morocco or Egypt, which I've never been near and know nothing about. It's just such a huge and fascinating continent, and deserves like 6 months and not the paltry 3 weeks I gave it.

Today I went to the Apartheid museum, which was great. It was a LOT of information, so I had to buy a book when I was done just so that I understand it better. There were great videos and photos at the museum. Hard to believe all of this happened such a short time ago. Sort of like the 1950s and 60s in the United states - but in the 80s and 90s.

Well, tonight for my last night I think I'll have some thai food, maybe try the south African wine too. Last night Kathy and I celebrated with some mojitos and went out to a few places here in Melville. We talked to a few South African guys about why they have such big security fences here. I still don't entirely understand - I mean the security/electric fences here are just out of control - but maybe SA Michael can explain that to me when I get home.

Africa: Dar es Salaam - no me gusta

The only downside in going to Zanzibar is the inevitable stopover in Dar es Salaam. The biggest city in Tanzania, on the east coast. I really knew nothing about it except that Lonely planet calls it "the music capital of Tanzania" and "watch your belongings!"

The first time, after the two day train ride, we had to take a taxi from the train station. In Africa, you can't say "I'd like a reputable, clean taxi with air conditioning, some guy who won't rob or rape us". You just have to go with what's there. And we never had any problems, actually. We just got in the unmarked 1987 toyota corolla with (always) an empty tank and ripped out casette player - and went on our way. Surprisingly and unlike a few times in Europe, the price was the price and no shady business ensued. He took us to the Harbor Suites hotel - which was actually much more expensive than quoted in LP. At $150 a night, we each got our own WING of the hotel suite, with two bedrooms, bathrooms, a living room (to watch non-stop coverage of the Sadaam hanging on CNN - it always seemed to be on) and a kitchen. So on this trip, I've spent as little as $4 a night and as high at $150. Oh well, after the train we were filthy and tired of being so hard core. The hotel people fell over themselves helping us out and giving us advice.

Unfortunately, in Dar there isn't really a "cool neighborhood", one with cafes, bars and shops that WE would shop at. If you needed a dusty foam mattress or car parts or 30 papayas, you could find it in Dar. Used bookstore or coffee shop - oh, hell no. But still, we weren't going to stay in the hotel room just because Dar was lame. We walked down the deserted street - the MAIN street of Dar, mind you, 4 blocks to an indian restaurant. It was super shady. Dark figures literally lurked in the shadows. But we never got more than a half hearted "..jambo". We never were harassed in Dar, actually. After dinner we walked 2 blocks back to one of the 4 bars in town. That's right, 4 listed in the book. the "Florida pub" was listed as a "friendly british pub near the waterfront!". Well, it was sort of a knockoff pub. And no women drinking together, really - just guys. We sat down at the bar anyway and had our usual Kili and Tusker. The bartender put on "Madonna's greatest hits" - we think for our benefit. And we drank in peace to no stares, no heckling.

My theory is that the people in Dar are pretty religious and were probably just respectful of us. I've been heckled WAY more on Clark Street on a weekend night that I ever was in Africa. Stonetown, same thing. People tried really hard to sell us things but we never got so much as a sexual comment. We probably were pushing our luck there for a week and going out EVERY night, but luck was on our side.

The next time through Dar we decided to try another hotel, the Peacock. This hotel "caters to the downtown business crowd" and was decorated in what I describe as 1979 wood panel and mirror/travelling salesman chic. My hope was that since it was near the backpacker ghetto of Libya street, there might be a cafe or some other people around. Nope. Just a dusty street of depressing bicycle and car repair shops.

After Kathy had to take a taxi to an ATM she met me on the unatmospheric 7th floor bar where we had another beer overlooking the dusty, hot city.

"hey Kathy, I've got a GREAT idea"


"I say we taxi over to the Royal Palm resort and eat at one of the three restaurants there and drink at their bar tonight"

The Royal Palm had to be somewhat nice, afterall it cost $270 per night and had a golf course. Yes, I know what you are thinking. This is SO un-Sara-like of me. Taxi over to a fancy resort for some fun? Oh, we were desperate. We had reached our limit in Dar. And the resort was beautiful. And there were other tourists in the lobby. People who talked to us! People who weren't sweaty! And the beer was cold and there were no flies around! It was like something out of Conde Nast. For dinner we inhaled the fancy buffet. It was so good! And clean! And not in the temperature danger zone! I had pumpkin gratin, some sort of thai chicken, onion rice and four desserts. We both tried 4 desserts. I couldn't stop chewing long enough to talk, we just shoveled it in and made annoying eating sounds. I was like Rachel Ray, rolling my eyes and constantly saying "OH MY GOD THIS IS SOOOO GOOD!" "MMMMMGHGHHHGHH!"

I'm a little embarrased for going to the Royal Palm - but it was so much fun. And well deserved, don't you think?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Africa: So why did we have to leave Zanzibar?

Check out my 4 photos, isn't Zanzibar the greatest?


Once again, I can't upload photos from the internet cafe but I was able to put 4 of them on kodak gallery. We spent three days on that beach.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Africa: I sleep like a bush baby

We have settled into a little routine here in Nungwi, Zanzibar, Tanzania. Eat the free runny scrambled eggs for breakfast, walk slowly to the beach, wonder why anyone would buy any of the thousands of tacky orange and yellow paintings for sale, swim (me), start drinking Kilimanjaro beer (me) and Tusker (Kathy) at around 5PM, go to Cholos bar after dinner of Vegetable curry (me) or pizza/chicken (Kathy).... And it really is so beautiful here. I am glad we came north, it was worth it. Stupidly, we've missed having actual DINNER at Cholo's, where tonight we are going to eat up in a treehouse.

We see the same people every night at Cholos, but strangely we haven't been our 4AM selves. The other night I was talking to one of the young local bartenders, and yawned. "I think I'm going to bed soon" I said.

"bed!. You sleep like a bush baby!"

yes, I do sleep like a bush baby. Somehow the bush baby name made it's way to another restaurant - they overheard us talking - and the waiter bid me goodbye "goodbye bush baby!"
We managed to stay up until 2:30AM last night - not from lack of action at Cholo's, but just because I'm such a damn sleepy bush baby.

One thing that amuses Kathy is how hard of a time I have understanding people here. They speak fine english, but that African accent is just so hard for me to understand.

Like my 22 year old admirer/bartender last night, Malek.

"I am a basket!"

"huh? you're a basket?"

"today I am a basket - is my basket!"

"huh? basket?"

"My is basket! I am 22!"

"oooooooooooh. Happy birthday, I mean happy basket!"

They were playing good music and I started dancing a little with the bartenders. I started to regret it when little Malek kept coming over and putting his arms around me.

"Where did you get your beauty? From your mother or your father?"

Poor little harmless Malek with his tattered two-day-in a row yin/yang t-shirt. I resorted to an old time-tested tactic of mine.

"Malek, when I go to the toilet, I have the diarhhrea!"

Malek gave me a puzzled look

"You know! Diahrrhea! When I go to the toilet (I sit down on invisible toilet and point to my behind)...bad smells and lound sounds come out! Bad, bad smells and sounds. And it is a liquid! No solid! Wow, actually I should really go to the toilet now. Hey, Kathy can I have some of your toilet paper?" (I hopped around gingerly for extra effect)

Malek left me alone for the rest of the evening. Actually I don't have diarhhrea, but I have enough experience in the area to make for a convincing display. I first used that little trick in Saugatuck, Michigan when someone asked me to dance and I didn't feel like it. It works like a charm.

Late last night we bid goodbye to our friend and neighbor, Marybeth. She had actually rented a house here for a month, and knows a lot of people in town, we've had some laughs the last few nights. We talked about that coming home feeling, hers a lot worse because she was here for 3 months and did some hefty and interesting volunteer work. How do you come home and explain all of that to people? Her family wants to throw her a party. "I mean, I saw people die, I'm not in the mood." She had great times in Africa too - it's just a lot of adjustment to come home, the good and bad. Like those people who travel for a year and come home and people say "so, how was it?" what do you say to that?

We also had more converstaion with Tarek, the Bosnian UN worker. He told us about living in the Congo. Basically, rainy jungle, not many roads and being stuck in a compound with the same 7 people for months at a time with shared bathrooms and no TV. They play games at night and only have eachother for company. The UN work is hard but addictive, he said. Once he brought some medicine into a village where most of the people had never seen a non-villager. They gave him a live chicken and were so grateful for the measles medication. He was on a little vacation by himself, probably happy to talk to the outside world for a bit. I told him about our other UN friend, Michiel in Nairobi.

Just like in Brazil, Kathy found some TV show she likes. we don't have a TV at our hotel, but most of the restaurants have one. She's managed to follow the storyline of some bad, public-access-like Nigerian TV show with plenty of baby-daddy drama. If Kate were here, I'm sure she would be watching it with Kathy - just like the two of them managed to follow the telenovella "Bang Bang". The TV here is funny. Aside from the CNN (which is MUCH better than our CNN at home), we have watched a bad chinese western, Kathy's Nigerian show and a program that appeared to be only a man getting a haricut to some WNUA-like smooth jazz.

Well, it's back to the hammock. Thanks for the comments guys, see you soon. Too soon. Wish you all were here to hang out with us tonight to hear about the basket and the toilet troubles.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Africa: The Slowskis

This morning Kathy said "I feel like those turtles in that commercial - you know, the Slowskis".

I feel like a slow turtle too. Africa makes me really lazy. After stonetown we negotiated a taxi ride up here to Nungwi. It's 60 km north, on the northern tip of Zanzibar. We picked a place from Lonely planet and were too lazy to look elsewhere. We came up here for the beaches. They are indeed nice. The water is like a flourescent turqoise and the sand is white. The town is completely devoid of personality after stonetown, but there is still freaky African music playing sometimes and Massai walking around. We have a nice place right on the beach - at high tide the water comes under the stilts of the room. Last night I ran out there and went swimming. The crowd is nice - there are no asshole cancun-esque spring breakers or package tourists that sometimes accompany a beach this nice. Just a lot of volunteers, a few UN people, European families, lots of stoners and locals. It's sort of hard to get up here - the road is really bumpy. Actually the Massai are everywhere! They all seem to have the huge earlobes and the traditional face burns under the eyes. Yosef told us about it the other night - at a certain age they get branded somehow.

Kathy and I have developed a complete fascination with the Massai. We bought a book in Stonetown, the one about the white woman who marries one, and Kathy is reading it now. I'm saving it for the plane ride home. Apparently it's really good because she's always reading it and says "are you sure you don't want me to ruin the surprise?!".

Last night we went to the one bar in town that was happening - some outdoor place called Jolos, which looked like a treehouse in a sandy palm stand on the beach. We just followed the Michael Jackson (from the Wiz - "ease on down! ease on down! ease on down the rooooad!") and pot smell. There were a few people passed out in hammocks and a busy bar. Every other song was reggae, of course. We drank with our next door neighbor, Marybeth - who was a volunteer in Moshi but later lived in this town for 5 weeks because she just never got around to leaving, and the UN Congo worker Bosnian Tarik who we met in Stonetown, and another guy from Stonetown who's name I can never remember. Every once in awhile a swahili song would come on and he would sing every word like it's his favorite song. "that's your JAM!" I kept saying.

Later we met another guy in the UN training program from South Carolina. We talked about how few Americans come here and how we might want to climb Kili, but maybe just to brag about it and do we really want to do it for the right reasons. I'm sorry but if I climed Kili I would never stop bragging about it and I would be so annoying.

Well, today we have to figure out when low tide is because we want to walk to the next village 3km away. I'm just not wise to the ways of the ocean.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Africa: Night out with the Massai

One of the places I wanted to see most in Africa was Zanzibar. It's an island in the Indian ocean just east of Dar es Salaam - spices are grown here, the whole island is lush and tropical, the main town is a mix of Muslim and African. After some of the places we've been - well, actually all of the places we've been so far in Africa, Stonetown is really touristy. I forgot about menus with dollars AND shilling on them, and seeing tons of other tourists walking around with huge cameras. But still, getting lost in the crumbly streets is awesome, and the town just has so much ATMOSPHERE.

After another early morning call to prayer, we woke up in our riduculoulsy posh hotel in Dar and bought boat tickets - which was chaos. They have different prices for locals and for tourists, and everyone pushes and shoves. It's so annoying. Our 1.5 hour boat was 3 hours, which actually was no time at all to me. Of course when you get off the boat you are bombarded with dozens of shady new "best friends" all wanting to take you somewhere or God knows what. We found the coolest hotel - Baghani palace. The decor is very "18th century opium den" - dark furniture, hookah pipes and tea pipes for decoration - mosquito nets on the beds, pillows on the floor in the sitting room, walls all different colors... it's totally cool. The vibe in Zanzabar so far is exotic and just what I expected.

I wandered the streets and was lured in by some middle eastern-sounding music, "taraab" music, which is from Zanzabar I guess - and saw $25 hour massage so of course I had one. When you get a massage in a new country, you just never know the protocol.

"do I take off this? all of my clothes? huh? Under sheet? OK"

I left my underwear on and the lady who told me what do didn't really speak english. She didn't really look at me either, and she was kind of fumbling around the room. Another lady came in and asked me what kind of massage I wanted and told me that Asan - my masseuse - was blind and only spoke swahili. I communicated "hard massage!" pretending to knead something hard with my hands - "hard massage in shoulder!" She communicated this to Asan and she went to work on me with Lemongrass oil. There were only curtains separating me from the street so I heard people yelling in swahili and kids shouting. I must say, the blind lady did a good job. She found her calling. Definitely a good place and not like the brothel I accidentally went to in Hanoi.

Later that night we ate on the beach at a place that had a little band - everyone in the band was wearing matching pajama-like outfits. Kathy and I had really underestimated the muslim-ness of stonetown. We get wierd looks at night when we wear our usual tank tops so I have had to wear one of my two t-shirts that cover my shoulders out at night and the same skirt that isn't rediculously short. This is the opposite of Brazil, where you can walk around in your underwear day and night and nobody bats an eye. There are a lot of veils and I even saw a burqua or two. But we're travelling, so wearing the same outfit two days in a row is fine by me. I'm also getting a little tired of everyone saying hello to me every day and me having to say hello back. It was the same in Malawi.

"Hello sister! hello hello hello hello hello! how are you? hello hello hello!"

Here, it's

"jambo jambo hello! jambo hello! where you from jambo hello hello hello!".

It's getting old. But still, I'd rather be here than home. Yes, I am dreading going home.

We sat at the bar and noticed, to my delight, that there was a Massai at the bar. Massai are a tribe that live in Tanzania and Kenya - they wear colored robes and beads, and have big stretched out earlobes. I've seen a few here and there but never at a bar. I tried to be sly and film the bar on my $20 CVS disposable video camera - but really zooming in on the Massai guy. A guy from Rotterdam came over to ask us to join them all at the other side of the bar. We drank with some Dutchies and British people, and flash forward a few hours and I'm buying the Massai guys beer and playing with their earlobes. They were really friendly. They actually initiated converstaion with US. You'd never see a Massai woman in a bar, but these guys own a shop in town that sells the beads and stuff to tourists. The one guy, Yosef, had a high pitched old man voice. I can kind of imitate him. If Kate A or Kate C had been there, we would have of course had the conversation "I dare you to make out with him!!!" hahaha...

We hung out with some people we recognized from the train and a couple from Connecticut, Tony and Lauren. We had the usual travel converstations "what malaria meds are YOU on?" "have you had a.b. yet?" "what animals have you seen?" "where else have you travelled"? "people in my home think I'm crazy too!" "Yeah, I also don't know what I want to be when I grow up!" Other travellers are great to talk to - people who come all this way are bound to have lots in common. When you are in a place like this, it's so easy to meet people. At a bar in Chicago, you can't just walk up to people like that, but here all the tourists see eachother and band together. It's very social. I've talked to a lot of people who climbed Kili and their stories are always good. Man, Kili sounds HARD. Inca trail was a walk in the park compared to that.

The Massai twisted their earlobes in funny ways for my video camera. They should be out again at the same bar tonight so we may have some good pictures. I've been hesitant to bring my camera out because it's SO shady here at night - but I might be able to swing it. For you guys.

Today we took a spice tour which was super interesting. We saw clove, vanilla, cardomom, annato, ylang ylang plants. They let us taste and smell everything right off the vine. For a foodie like me it was a great experience. We took the tour with an Italian, a swedish couple, and American couple (the guy reminded me of my dad with his comments and questions.. they would have been BFFs), a Czech guy, a japanese couple and a prissy German chick who wore a headwrap. I talked to all of them in the water. The Japanese girl and Czech guy were the friendliest. I think the Italian guy and German girl didn't like us at all. Actually I think the Italian had the hots for the german girl and I kept waiting for him to ask her out. Kathy and I eavesdropped on their conversations in the minibus. After that we saw a scary cave that was a slave prison and went to the beach for an hour. The water was so warm and crystal clear! It reminds me of Thailand here - white sand and palm trees. Tomorrow we're going up the island to a smaller town with a nice beach. Hopefully the doxyxycline-induced sunburn won't be too bad.

One other funny, random thing here. Africa uses the minibusses - the vans that 28 people crowd in a vehicle made for 6 or 8 people. But a lot of the busses have japanese writing on them. They are all old Japanese busses that Japan was finished with - they ship them through Dubai and Africa gets them second hand. It's just odd to see so much Japanese writing on the vans. Oh well, recycling.

again, I've tried to upload photos but the internet here is not having it.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Africa: Giraffe day!

In Mbeya, we agonized over whether to take the 2 day train to Dar es Salaam, which would be a scenic, long train through the entire country, and supposedly you see plenty of safari animals out the window. Or we could take the quick 11 hour bus - that's right, I said quick. 11 hours is "quick" to me now. The catch was, if we couldn't get on the train, we could be stuck in Mbeya another day, because when the train station opens, the busses have left for the day. We gambled, and actually Kathy talked me into the train. Actually that's good because I was too cheap to actually take a full blown safari - actually I figured there wasn't time to do one. I have to take animals where I can get them.

We got there as soon as the ticket office opened, to try to get first class tickets in our own cabin. African trains are not like Amtrak, they are sort of like Italian trains but much, MUCH smellier. After waiting in the ticket office all day long (with no real restaurant, just a few guys selling pop and cookies outside), we were stuck in 2nd class in a cabin with a whole family. Fortunately, they separate cabins by sex so that you are never stuck in a cabin with any leering or stinky men. We stuck it out for a few hours with the family (3 ladies and three children) - then, luckily after dinner we were able to upgrade to our own cabin. They pull out musty sheets, blankets and pillows for you and deliver your food in first class (always chicken and rice). I actually slept pretty good once I put my earplugs in - the train is LOUD, maybe built in the 1930s. It had some faded elegance into it - like 50 years ago it was progressive and classy, but it was still totally ghetto. We agreed that it was a cool train ride - AFTER we got our own cabin. I have no idea how we would all sleep together in the old one. Still, definitely one of the most memorable train experiences, if not the most memorable I've had.

I laid down on my musty bed and went to sleep over the clack-a-clacka-BANG BANG-SCREEEEECH!-clack-a-clack-a-clack!!!.

The next morning we were really eager to see the animals we would supposedly see when we went thorough the game preserve. I have always loved giraffes - they are my favorite at the zoo. Kathy and I kept our eyes peeled and ran from window to window.

GIRAFFE!!!! SARA!!!! GIRAFFE!!!! Kathy yelled


All of the sudden, for the next two hours, we saw tons of giraffes, impalas, antelope and a few zebras. Oh, and the biggest anthills I have ever seen. Every time we'd see a herd of giraffes, we would run to the window and try to take pictures. It's hard, taking pictures through a moving train window. I got one good giraffe picture and Kathy got a couple. The only other person on the train who seemed as excited by animals was an older Japanese guy. There were about 8 other backpackers on the train - a few from England and a bunch from South Africa, none of whom were that excited, and preferred to stay in the old-fashioned, grubby red velvet decrated first class lounge, watching a chinese western that was mysteriously playing on the one TV, or reading.

The train pulled into Dar es Salaam at around 3PM and we tried to resist hawkers, got into a taxi and took it to a posh hotel, where we have a nice suite. After two days on a train, where my hygeine has really reached some new lows, I don't care. Plus, Dar is kind of dodgy and we need some air conditioning.

Through Tanzania, I've seen more and more gradual signs of the muslim world - more and more headscaves, islam symbols and mosques. At about 5AM in Mbeya, I was awakened by a call to prayer - If you've ever heard one, it's really eerie/spooky but sort of pretty at the same time.

Tomorrow - Zanzibar

sorry - I tried so hard to upload pictures to this one - the internet place just isn't very good. You'll have to imagine the giraffe and the train.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Africa: New Year's at the hippie village

Mayoka Village is my kind of place. Thatch huts, ($8 per night) and thatch hut dorm ($4 per night) were shockingly cheap after New Year's last year in Brazil. Turquoise and purple walls, a purple pool table, poetry painted on the wall - it was perfect. I ate two huge meals per day, downed more than my share of Carlsberg and Kuche Kuche beers, slept there for 4 nights and my total bill came to only $69. Everything you consume goes on some sort of mysterious tab and you don't really know how much you've spent until the end.
I met a lot of travellers from South Africa, Holland, England, Germany. Everyone kind of sunburned, sweaty and happy. There is a crowd of about 10 local guys who work/hang out there - all of them pool sharks. They all go by names like "Special", "Benjy", "G-Unit" and my favorite, "Happy Coconut". I thought about what my Africa name could be, I kind of like "sweaty Mango".

Normally I like to have a little more action in my days but I did absolutely nothing but lay around by the lake, in hammocks, on a rock, on my hut porch, for days. I entertained myself with the local Malawi newspaper, which had articles about how corrupt the Shire bus company is, and how the vice president is going on a hunger strike, (well, he's only consuming fanta). I read about Saddam's hanging and there were also enjoyable mysoginist articles such as "my point of view - Malawian women must remember their place in society" and a dear abby column that featured a lovesick teenage boy - "I miss her so much, I feel like a grasshopper who has lost his wings". The personals are good too - "22 year old man looking for god-fearing woman to live in rural area". well sign me up.

Every day I would go into town, down the path in the blazing heat to buy water from the grocery store. I line them up by my bed and go through 4 or 5 per day. I searched desperately for sunblock - a terrible thing has happened, the nurse at northwestern was correct in saying that my malaria medicing, doxycycline, would make me sensitive to the sun. I had to be cheap and buy the doxy instead of the more expensive Malarone, and now I'm burned where by now I would have already been a nice shade of burnt sienna. No sunblock in the dusty market of nhkata bay, but you can buy dried fish or tomatoes from a woman nursing an infant right at the food stand or a brown muumuu, or some "fair and lovely" cream.

One afternoon I heard singing and wandered into a little church for awhile to watch the choir. It was nice - I wanted to take a picture but felt conspicuous. Actually, there have been so many times I've wanted to photograph something but felt like an insensitive jerk - or bait for a thief. Sorry I couldn't post pictures on this one - hopefully next time.

One thing that I've noticed about Malawi that's pretty morbid - coffin shops everywhere. we passed one on the bus and I had to appreciate it's name - the "time will tell coffin warehouse". We passed several coffin shops on the way to Mzuzu and sometimes when I'd go into Nhkata bay town, a woman would be sanding away at a coffin. Death is close to these people's minds. I remember the taxi driver in Joburg was making small talk with me - I said "I'm jet lagged but I feel good!"

"as long as there is life in your body, you feel good!" he said.

Also, women here in Africa can carry anything on their heads. Everywhere they do it. Picture going to Jewel Osco, stocking up on your lean cuisines, diet coke and ice cream, then carrying it all home on your head. If you were African you would. Mostly women do this. Actually, it's the women that I see toiling away in the fields and carrying heavy loads. The men don't carry much. I kind of think the women might be doing all the work around here.

New Year's eve eve I hung out in the restaurant/bar for the buffet supper of curried beef and rice. I met Daniel and Tobias from Germany. They are travelling around Africa, camping. We had several beers and fun converstaion. We ripped on our respective countries and eachother's music a little bit and entered a pool contest. They matched each traveller up with a local, surprise surprise... And we all got our asses kicked. Later I played each of the Germans and won.

For New Year's eve, the owners suggested that everyone go into town and by a crazy african outfit, but spend no more than 450 kwatcha (about $5). I had my eye on a brown muumuu but I was so sweaty and lazy I couldn't bring myself to try it on and buy it. People started festivitites in the bar/restaurant at around 7PM. A crowd of funny peace corps volunteers adopted me and I hung out with them for a few hours. One girl, Laura from L.A, had some really funny stories about Zambia. We compared signs on the roads we have seen.


"Hygeine is important...drive safely!"
The Praise Jesus foto shop and barber
two vans with "Why God Why" painted on the front

she had a good one:

"Tiling your roof without Murphy tiles is like going to hell without your savoir"

Laura also had a man try to sell her a baboon tied to a tree, for eating. The next day she noticed the baboon was gone. She also told me some animal slaugher stories, I was thoroughly wide-eyed and entertained by them, but I will spare you. Africa is not good for the animal rights crowd, that's for sure.

Kathy arrived at around 8PM - hooray! We drank and danced with everyone, I have some really good pictures of us with some of the locals. It was a festive, happy, sweaty, perfect hippie New years. At 5AM from the dorm I could still hear Michael Jackson being played down in the bar while the roosters crowed.

I don't know if it was a hangover, or just the damn malaria meds but I woke up early to a chicken clucking outside the door, but I thought it was my friend Rob Murray. The chicken reminded me of his laugh, and I thought for a second "Oh! Rob's here!" before I came to my senses.

Finally this morning Kathy and I had to leave Mayoka Village or I was just going to stay there forever, or try to get a job there. This is one of the hardest parts of the trip - we had to get to Mbeya, Tanzania (our hotel is a hole) and tomorrow we take a (supposed) train to Dar. Supposedly it's this great train where you can see animals out the window. God, I hope I see a giraffe. We took a minibus today and talked about how much we miss McDonald's. The minibus, of course, was filled to the brim with people squashed together - and a man bought a live chicken through the window. The Tanzania countryside is beautiful - mountainous and lush. I have only eaten a luna bar and some cookies all day - we were dumb and couldn't figure out how to change money at the Tanzania border. Women pushed bananas in my face, and delicious looking pineapple, and I couldn't eat them. It sucked. The music on the bus was fantastic though. Traditional african singing, it was really catchy. The Tanzania border is filled with shady people. "Hello sister, hello friend, where you from? you have money for me?" I devised a brilliant tactic where I just say "No EEENGLEESH" "soy de costa rica!" "habla espanol?" Then I point to the costa rica patch on my backpack. It worked twice today. As if Kathy or I look Costa Rican. Oh well, if you can just get them to give up, it works.

From Dar es Salaam we will go over to Zanzibar - I hope to have some internet there.

Kathy and I got two separate rooms in this hotel that looks like a horror movie, or where a depressed person might come to commit suicide. We accidentally walked into a room where an indian guy was napping and listening to indian music. There is a cinder block bar attached to the restaurant with about as much atmosphere as the downtown DMV office or an elementary school cafeteria. We have high hopes for the "sombrero restaurant" and the "octopus bar". This town is lame. It's just a stopover though. Tomorrow morning we're back on the road.

allright, I need a beer desperately. see you all on Zanzibar