Dar Samachar

Pictures: http://veenag.webhop.net/Pictures/morogoro/

A carpet of green covered the gently sloping hillsides, dotted here and there with rectangular, brown, mud and wood huts, with thatched roofs. The greenery was partly natural, partly a human creation. Apart from mango, coconut and a host of trees, corn, banana, cassava, millet and vegetables grew cheerfully on the slopes, on gently terraced farm plots. Streaks of a deep brown-red earth showed through some of the crops. Farmers, reduced to stick figures, could occasionally be seen, among their fields. Earlier we had passed a group working together, singing and shouting lustily.

A plume of smoke arose from the fields and the words “stairway to heaven” came to mind. One does not have to be a rock band member on designer drugs to get lyrical in so eye-pleasing a setting! The peaks around us were mostly rounded, but those around the highest point, Mt. Lupunga (2,650 m), which we were to see later, were quite pointy.

Dramatic, grey-white clouds advanced slowly, like majestic chariots, overhead, casting large, but muted shadows on the land: nature’s chiaroscuro. The slopes cascaded down to startlingly flat, sunlit plains, also verdant, displaying farms and the outlines of concrete city dwellings far away, somewhat hazy in the distance.

At the edge of the mountains was the large brownish Mindu lake; man-made, the guide told us, which supplied water to the town of Morogoro, which we had left behind just hours ago.

We had taken a bus to Morogoro, at the foot of the Uluguru Mountains, and two-and-a-half hours from Dar, on a Friday morning. Taking an out-station bus from Dar means braving the central, tout-infested bus station of Ubungo, which even turns a nice guy like Marc-Antoine positively surly!

However, since we knew exactly which bus service to use, we side stepped the touts rather skilfully and took a very comfortable bus that cost us 3000 Tsh each (under US $3) to Morogoro. A nice young man, who was heading in the same direction, helped us as well. He is a food science student at the Sokoine University in Morogoro; particularly know for its agriculture program. In fact, Morogoro is a university town. A branch of the Open University also resides here. This is not common in Tanzania, as there are a total of 3 state universities in the country, though there are many private colleges. The bus service, incidentally, is called Hood, which I believe is a Muslim last name, hence not to be muddled with American gangsters!

A large woman with a small, made-in-Korea plastic bag jumped on the bus at the last minute and spent a good 10 minutes talking about Chinese herbal medicine. Of course the spiel was in Kiswahili. At first it seemed like she had had little impact, but then we saw that a handful of passengers buying, at least, bars of lemon soap. And she in turn managed to bring forth quite a number of products from her small bag. Chinese medicine is gaining ground here. However, recently the press carried a government statement warning people about it; questioning its efficacy.

The enterprising lady jumped off soon, but there were other salesmen to contend with. Like in India, young men, bearing aloft trays of bottled water and drinks, packets of cashew nuts and crackers (biscuits), wooed the passengers at the infrequent bus stops. Some of them managed to jump on the bus as well.

At Morogoro, we headed straight to Sofia hotel, in the heart of town, where we had booked a room. The room was AC, with shiny, good-looking new furniture, and mountain views. This perked me at once since we had landed up at a much more rundown establishment on our last getaway, in Zanzibar.

Most hotels here provide mosquito nets; this one did not. The owners claimed that they sprayed regularly, but Marc-Antoine was up for four hours on the second night, a period during which he claimed to have killed 5 mosquitoes! (For some reason, mosquis make a beeline for MA.)

My eternally resourceful colleague, Elisabeth, had provided me with a write-up on Morogoro and the Uluguru mountains, written by two Swiss travellers. This had helped me book the services of Charles, a guide with the Chilunga cultural tourism program.

The Tanzanian government is consciously promoting cultural tourism. What it entails, at least in theory, is developing a tourism program in consultation with, and covering, local communities. Apart from offering conventional pursuits – “sight seeing”, hiking, camping, mountain climbing, safaris – run by locals, these programs also offer visits to local villages and communities, to see how people live.

On day 1, we lazed around town, and made plans with Charles, who turned out to be energetic, lively, knowledgeable and helpful. Hailing from Mwanza, on Lake Victoria, he started working as a guide after finishing secondary school. He hopes to study international development, with an environmental twist, at university. We wish him luck!

We took an instant liking to this well-located, spacious town as well, and the people, who seemed relaxed, helpful and friendly. One often gets this feeling when one departs from a big city to a smaller one. The fact that escaped slaves, led by a Wa Luguru chief named Kisabengo, settled in nearby Simbamwenni, may have something to do with this as well. (The Wa Luguru is the dominant, if marginalized, tribe in the region.)

Our guidebook presents the Kisabengo story as legend, not history, and Simbamweni (meaning Lion King) has since disappeared. However, there is more to Morogoro history than this. The African National Congress (ANC) set up a base here, after Tanzania became independent, and ANC fighters were trained in the very same Uluguru mountains that we roamed. In 1969, the ANC held the Morogoro Conference, attended by revolutionaries from Mozambique, Angola and Zimbabwe. It was here that Oliver Tambo announced the beginning of ANC’s armed struggle against apartheid.

Having explored the orderly and well-stocked market, we headed to the touristy, wazungu joint – Mama Pierina’s, passing a Shia mosque check-by-jowl with a Hindu temple. Coming from an increasingly “communalised” India, where peaceful Hindu-Muslim relations are not a given, such a sight is always heartening for me.

Mama Pierina was an Italian woman, who is no more. She passed on her welcoming hotel, with a nice if buggy veranda, to her half-Greek daughter Dimitra. Dimitra was a talkative woman and told us she had been married at one time to a Brazilian. She warned us to take care at night, as crime was on the increase in town, mostly consisting of tourists being robbed at knifepoint. Later we were to meet another woman hotel owner, Zahra, from the Kilimanjaro region, the owner of Princess Hotel, located opposite out own. We tucked happily into a starter of tatziki, a dish that we had not had since leaving Canada.

Soon after we were joined by M, a Danish woman who had settled in London, and who had lived for 4 years in the high passes of Pakistan. (It was amusing to meet someone who used typically Brit. expressions in a North European accent!) She had been married to a Pakistani. Dimitra, M and myself, I figured, made a romantic and adventurous trio, all of us having “risked” foreign husbands. I also noted that mine was still around!

M was studying horticulture in London, and was in Morogoro to do some sociological research, on the new species of bananas being developed and disseminated at the university. Her aim was to find out what people liked (or did not like) about these bananas, how they cooked/used them, etc. I thought this was a good idea, as bananas are central to life here.

M agreed to come hiking with us the next day, but did not show up, nor was she answering her cell. So we set out without her.

Three hours of walking, from the foot of the hills, first on a gently winding, broad, dust track, motor able for a 4-wheel drive and then on steeper, narrower, paths, brushing against tall grass, going by an occasional stream, through villages with corn and banana fields and the inevitable children, greeting us and posing for pictures, we arrived at Morningside (1200 m).

In the lower parts, we met women and children, or youths, going to or coming from the market in Morogoro. They usually carried a load of vegetables on their heads on their way down and a big sack of corn flour on their way up. Some of them were fetching water in large, plastic buckets, also carried on their heads.

At one point, Charles had asked if we would liked peaks named after us! I had asked him the names of certain peaks. For the most part, he said that they were nameless. But for one peak, he gave the name Diana. Apparently, a mzungu woman hiker had asked the same question and finding the peaks “unclaimed”, had claimed one for herself! Charles seemed keen on a naming ceremony, so we suggested that he name the adjacent peak to Diana, Charles! I pointed to a small hill far below, on the plain, and suggested it be named after me. Marc Antoine modestly declined!

Morningside used to be a weekend retreat during German times. Now it’s a dilapidated building, with tumbledown vines and red flowers at the entrance. People come here for the view, which is lovely. And a group of people was already there.

We had met them as we had ambled up – an assorted group of adults and children. The adults were doing a Swahili language course in Morogoro. They were clergy, belonging to the Lutheran, Catholic and possibly other denominations. All where white, save for an Indian couple, from Bangalore, who were there as Catholic missionaries.

We ate some of the food we had brought along and were soon ready to go. We passed through Mgete village, where the guide paused for a chat with the headman, and an old woman, who were removing cob from a heap of corn, seated in a small clearing, in front of their house. They asked us to join them and soon, we were “cobbing away” energetically, having been shown the technique. (Yes, there is one!)

With Charles as the interpreter, the chief informed us that the poor rains had produced food scarcity, though they had continued to get water from a couple of sources in the mountains. Asked if any of the government food aid had reached the village, the chief replied, not yet.

Charles had promised to take us down by a different route, which would allow us a dip in the Ruvuma river. He had asked if we could handle a bit of a steep descent and we had said yes. What I had taken as a half-an-hour or so of downhill walking, turned into a strenuous 2-hour plunge into the valley, on a distinctly challenging path. I shudder to think how this would be after a heavy shower…

Already tired, we were also hit by the afternoon sun, which had been gamely hiding behind clouds most of the time, and ran out of drinking water. My cheap, new, made-in-China, walking shoes did not do too well, causing my nails to pinch, scrape and ache (as happens on steep declines anyhow). Every step was painful for the last half-hour or so… In fact, I developed a mild infection in the nails on reaching Dar.

Finally, we arrived at the river. The rocks had created a chest-high pool in which a group of secondary school students were frolicking. I was particularly impressed by the gay abandon displayed by a couple of 14-year-old girls, as free and exuberant female behaviour is not in evidence, at least in public, in these parts. We plunged in ourselves, not fully clothed like the locals, but in our swimsuits. The water was deliciously cool; the river bed sandy and pebbly.

We took care to stash our back packs where we could keep an eye on them, mindful or a rasta-type guy sitting up on the incline, staring down. (There are quite a few rasta guys here.) Later we learnt from Charles that our would-be thief worked for the government, had come to collect the tsh 1000 forest reserve fees, and in fact had hung around as a guard!

Another hour’s walk on mercifully flat ground brought us, at sunset, to a point from where we could take a cab. We had walked a total of seven hours! As happens at the end of almost every hike, we told ourselves that our travails had been worth it.

On reaching our hotel we found a note from M, saying that she had not come in the morning, because she had been robbed of her cell phone at knifepoint, the night before! Dimitra’s warnings had specially been directed at M, the night before at Mama Pierina’s, as M had been going out alone at night on her bike. M had said then that she had done this all along and never had a problem, citing London as a city not without danger.

We had made loose plans to go dancing at a hotel near Mama Pierina’s with M. that evening. However, we found ourselves rather tired after a hearty dinner at an Indian restaurant, and were wondering what to do next, when M appeared at our room door.

We received her with exclamations and condolences. She told us that as she was walking back to Mama Pierina’s, from a hotel just three doors down, at midnight, when a man jumped out of the bushes and seized her. He was young, strong and carried a large farming knife. He had only found a cell phone on her and had become quite frustrated. “Come,” he had said, after having searched her, at which point she had protested and he had shoved her away. She did not think that she would be able to identify him, nor could she have provided a description to the police.

The law and order situation in Tanzania gives cause for alarm. There have been quite a few armed bank, restaurant, money exchange bureau and house robberies, in Dar, in the past months. A notorious incident that provoked public outrage involved a highway car robbery, in which policemen in civvies robbed a man, who was transporting some money! He and the driver were killed. Other cops have turned robbers too. President Kikwete recently sacked the Commissioner of Police and is seriously looking at reforming the system. (I call K Kick-ass Kikwete because he is talking tough and really rallying his ministers and government officials to deliver.)

M was understandably shaken up and had taken the decision to live in a hotel, for the year she was to be in Morogoro, rather than renting a house. We were happy to see her join us the next day, on a visit to the nearby Nugutu village. Here we were met by the articulate ALC, who works for a local NGO and who is a CCM (the ruling party) supporter.

Nugutu consists of about 300 people who are mostly farmers, growing corn, cassava, millet and bananas. Among these, cassava withstands drought best: a condition which the villagers have experienced for the past three years.

ALC told us of a reforestation scheme that is starting in these parts, in July this year. It sounds typically short sighted. Instead of working with the villagers who have “encroached” on the mountains to farm and developing an integrated community reforestation program, the government plans to relocate the villagers. They will be compensated and given land elsewhere, says ALC, adding that they must sacrifice for the national good. Another hackneyed idea that has failed in the past, globally.

Along with Charles, we tried our hand at making pottery. The silky smooth clay had been collected at a place on the mountain, we were told. “This is the clay from which Adam was made,” pronounced Charles, who has a proselytizing spirit. A devout Pentacostal, he had invited Marc-Antoine to go to church that morning, and had invited M to go again, after she had left half way through the service the first time. He had also tried to quote the Bible to MA, who had refuted him and joked, telling him he was a non-christian not out of ignorance, but from too much knowledge! Taken at another level thought his words are not so far from the truth, as Tanzania is undoubtedly one of the birthplaces of humankind.

Soon we turned to admire the handiwork of a carpenter who skilfully carved and split a block of camphor wood into a coconut scraper. These scrapers, which I had seen elsewhere before, used to be a speciality of Nugutu, but some other villages have started making them now. We hung out at the Maka Muzi, a traditional drinking club, which comprised of a couple of rough-hewn benches and tables, under a tree, sipping millet beer. The beer proved once again that alcohol is an acquired taste, since it may not be inherently tasty.

The Wa luguru are supposed to be a matrilineal society, where inheritance is from mother to daughter. A son may inherit from his mother, but upon his death, the land passes to his sister’s children. Nugutu is a mixed village, that is, people from different tribes and religions live here. As the Wa luguru men see patriarchal ways, this custom is being increasingly resented and questioned, said ALC. “The women have the land, but the men have the money,” he said, meaning that the men are the ones who are in the productive, cash-oriented jobs. One of things that they are trying to do, in the face of deforestation, said ALC, is promote non-traditional jobs among the men.

ALC was of the firm belief that with growing urbanization, and the mixing of tribal groups, the coming generations were going to lose traditional languages and practices. “That’s what the government wants,” he added. I suggested that perhaps tradition and language couldn’t be broken down and lost so easily, while Marc-Antoine suggested someone should record the languages the tradition so the Luguru’s descendants could have something to remember.

After the millet beer, we went back to the reception area, where we had been introduced to the dignified and quiet village chief. Here, among a gathering of the villagers, we witnessed music made with drums, xylophones, whistles, home made castanets and some group singing and dancing, by the village youth, children and teenage girls. Sitting under a “romantic sky” (it drizzled at some point) it was charming to witness the spirited dancing and drumming. Predictably, Marc-Antoine and I got into the circle for a short stint.

The last stop was lunch, cooked by a village woman, comprising of the national corn flour dish ugali, a chicken curry and vegetables made with potato leaves (yet another innovative green here) and okra and small, sour eggplant. This delicious, fresh repast was consumed under a pretty, blue sky.

The visit had cost us 20,000 tsh (a bit less than US 20)) and we were happy that the money had gone to the village. True the trip was “artificial” in one sense and M and Marc-Antoine wondered how “authentic” the old woman potter had been, but at least we had interacted somewhat with the villagers, even if through interpreters.

The piri piri (toffees) I had bought at the market that morning were distributed and gladly received. I was told that it was not often that visitors brought them gifts. An exchange thus took place, however mediated. We left Morogoro that evening, feeling sated.

Recently returned from Bagamoyo

Greetings Friends and Family from sweltering Dar es Saalam,

Summer is at its height here, a drought threatens the land, the difference between shade and sun being the proverbial distance between heaven and hell. Tanzania is rain starved these days, though a few, stray, late showers have lately brought some hope.

Fruit Fiesta

The season has its compensations however. It seems to yield luscious fruit that would tempt the most austere, fasting sadhu to sin! The pineapples are massive and sweetly succulent; red watermelon flesh deliciously breaks loose in the mouth; fragrant, delectable mangoes are akin to ambrosia! And there’s familiar, adorable fruit from India – purple, sweet and sour jamuns, creamy custard apples – which alas do not travel to the great Canadian marketplace – but which I can now buy, the former in cute, woven, leafy containers which later serve as pen holders!

And let’s not forget the ever present, but always pleasing, coconuts and bananas! We have lately invested in a blender and plan to make wicked cocktails, lassis and milkshakes. Today heralded the inauguration, with a banana, almond, cinnamon milkshake.

The veggies are truly yummy as well – various types of greens, okra, really juicy cucumbers, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, cassava, green beans, peas and so on. Though our maid makes the simplest of dishes, they still taste really good though, thanks to the freshness and quality of the veggies.

The heat is enervating, but I do find it a treat, and a comfort, to live in the tropics again! The skies are almost always blue, the clouds fluffy, a light wind is usually a-blowing, the plants and trees are green, glowing, and flowering most of the time, though most of the grass and bushes in the neighbouring coastal town of Bagamayo, visited recently, had dried to a sable colour. Living by the sea is another blessing.

Lessons Learnt

The year has commenced well on the professional front. We now have Swahili-speaking Tanzanian manager to replace me in the Information Access Unit, so that I can revert to my original job description – writing, editing, developing print production and distribution related management tools, and so on. A former managing editor of a business newspaper here, he is really nice and very competent. I have also been intimately involved with drafting the 2006 work plan, along with all my colleagues in my Unit. This means ownership from the start, rather than having to execute a plan that was made by others, as happened when I first arrived here.

That said, feelings of being an “outsider” do come up. The trick is to acknowledge and accept them, without wallowing. I seem to be doing OK on that front. Many Buddhist lessons to be learnt here as elsewhere. At the same time there’s no doubt that both I, and Marc-Antoine, are much more settled in now. I am quite conscious of passing time and making the most of our stay.

I got to edit some interesting publications in 2005. For example, we have a two-book series called “Making Education Work” where we document lessons learnt from the community projects we had in two districts in Northern Tanzania. The projects introduced trained community information volunteers who catalysed change in schools. They also made available small funds for implementing positive measures. For e.g., some schools bought music or sports equipment and school attendance soared as a result of introducing music and sports.

The first book poses questions about the shortcomings of the education system, like building schools without training teachers, routinely delaying paying teachers’ (the salary is meagre enough when they get it), committing a small financial allocation per student, then not delivering it, etc. It also questions practices like the low interest in educating girls in an ethnic group called Kurya.

There are stories of individual and group initiatives to improve education in both the books. Some students became active and vocal in their school communities promoting debate on topics like corporal punishment; others started various kinds of clubs – for writing, dramatics, and so on. Others actively participated in school committees, a tool to promote democratic decision-making at the school level.

The introduction of a simple device like school notice boards enhanced information exchange, as did study tours between different school communities; two community members set up libraries in their villages; a school rewarded a disabled pupil for his attendance record, pushing up school attendance in general. These efforts may seem small; but they do add up.

Another nice booklet I put together, with a colleague, was a media guide for the Friends of Education. It was done in English and then translated. The Community Engagement Unit at HakE works full-time on expanding and promoting a network of education activists called Friends of Education. Friends come from various walks of life and include students, teachers and parents. In fact, one of them was recently elected MP! They have been trying to get their message into the media but having problems. Hence this simple media guide with tips on writing letters to the editor, getting on radio talk shows and cultivating media contacts.

The government changed in December. It’s still the same party – CCM, with an even more overwhelming majority than before, but with a new and seemingly more progressive President – Jakaya Kikwete. The Minister for Education also changed leading to a collective sigh of relief at HakiElimu. The former Minister was not happy with us, but the current one, a woman who has headed the Teacher’s Union in the past, is an ally and sympathizer.

It was funny how efficiently the shopkeepers, restaurants and businesses replaced the framed photographs of the earlier President, Benjamin Mkapa, with those of Kikwete! The second photo, which remains constant in these places, is of course that of the revered Julius Nyerere.

By the way, we voted in the Canadian elections. Our ballots were couriered to us with impressive efficiency after we had faxed in a form and we sent them back in the Canadian High Commission courier bag.

Bagamoyo Beat
In the second week of January and I headed North with my colleagues, for the neighbouring city of Bagamoyo, for our annual planning retreat. We stayed at a pretty beach resort and worked hard during the day, but evenings were given over to reading, socialising, and beach walks. Some mornings I also dipped into the rather muddy and all too calm sea, and the tiny swimming pool. The full moon did manage to whip up some larger waves for a couple of days and it enlivened an outdoor dance party we held on our last day.

It’s instructive to see how one falls into a natural rhythm when one is by the sea, or a lake, or in a mountainous terrain; particular landscapes offer individual pleasures and beckon one to shape one’s diurnal activities around them. This brings me to the book I read in Bagamoyo which I highly recommend – “Sahara, the life of the great desert”, by Marq de Villiers (South African-Canadian) & Sheila Hirtle (also Can.) Harper Collins.

Marc-Antoine arrived there on Saturday morning and we spent that day and the next exploring this once-great town. Once among the richest and most important cities in east Africa, its ill-begotten wealth was based on the ivory and slave trade. They slaves were brought here, at times travelling thorough Kaole, a few kilometres away, now a picturesque ruin, en-route to the definitive slave markets in Zanzibar.

The small but lively museum at the Holy Ghost Mission provided us with the history of the town in a nutshell. Called Bwagamoyo, which means throw off your melancholy, it became Bagamoyo, crush your heart, a more likely sentiment for the slaves brought here. The German’s made Bagamoyo their first capital and some ruined buildings attesting to this can be found here. However, they shifted their capital to Dar es Salaam in a few years as they found the harbour here too shallow for bigger ships.

I bought a little booklet, which is based on interviews of the descendents of former slaves and slave owners, who still live in the town. The following information is extracted from there.

One historian gives the population of Bagamoyo in 1890 as 10-15,000, comprising of 400 Arabs, 1000 Indians and 1000 domestic slaves. German records of the early 1900s shows a total of 150-200 freed slaves in the town. (Slavery was abolished in Tanganyika in 1922.)

The two main categories of slaves is given as: domestic or plantation. The latter (ijara) had some autonomy and paid rent to their owners. They lived in independent villages, under their own elders and could run their own business. Domestic slaves were sometimes hired out to others, by their masters. They included skilled craftsmen, guards, porters and inevitably concubines. Female slaves were more expensive for this reason and also because they were concerned more docile.

Called surias, concubine slaves were considered of higher rank and could be resold before delivering a child, but not after. Regarding relations between slaves and their owners, the answers of the descendents of slaves and slave owners differed markedly. The latter saw the relationship as that between “parents and children” while the former decried the utter inhumanity of the situation.

A descendant generalizes the horrific plight of slaves from the story of his slave grandmother: “You are working with your mother in the fields… not far from your home village. You are preparing the field for planting… You know your children are safe… you talk and joke with your mother. Suddenly you hear strange voices. You see yourself surrounded by men you have never seen. They grasp you. You try to escape but they are many and strong. You get an iron collar around your neck. Your hands are chained. You cry. Your heart is shivering. Your body trembles. Under slaps, you are forced to march, chained to other slaves.

“You do not know where they are taking you. You do not see your mother in the long line. Now you know you are a slave. You experience what slavery means. You are forced to carry a heavy load of ivory on the long, long march to Bagamoyo; four months long. At one stop you witness how a co-slave is handed over to another slave trader… You do not know whether your husband or children are alive… Now you know you are a slave. With a deep, horrible shock in your heart you understand what slavery means.

“One day your eyes are blindfolded… You are led because you are chained to others.. Anxiety crawls into your heart. They make you stop at a noisy place. You feel that you are pushed forward. You feel a hand touching your body, examining all parts of your body. You hear someone bargaining. Money is exchanged, Now you are the property of a man whom you have never seen. Now he is your master. Now he can give you any order he wants to give…”

Slavery seems to have died inch by inch. According to the museum, the sale of slaves to India and French Mauritius and Reunion was banned in 1822. 1845 saw the banning of slave trade between Zanzibar and Oman; 1873 the export of all slaves was prohibited while in 1876 the approach of slave caravans from the interior was banned. In 1890, the European Anti-Slavery Conference in Brussels granted slaves certain rights such as religious freedom, freedom to marry, right to possess property (?!) and inherit the masters property, right to a salary, two days off a week, free food and lodging (?!).

However, slavery persisted into the 1920s in Tanzania and many forms of slavery persist worldwide, till today. The Sahara book mentions, for instance, that some Tuaregs still own slaves.

In 1868, a “Freedom Village” was established on the mission grounds. This housed the freed and runaway slaves. The museum claims 614 children were baptized but not forced to convert. During the 1889 Bushiri war (Bushiri was a local freedom fighter who launched an unsuccessful revolt against German rule) and again during WW II, when the British attacked the town, people took refuge in the Freedom Village. One of the descendants of the slaves interviewed in the book grew up in the village and speaks well of the life there, as well as the opportunity to learn a trade that it afforded.

The church alongside the museum is the oldest Catholic building in East Africa and quite beautiful. Here we heard a choir practising earnestly and tunefully while a few young boys, played drums outside. We wondered if they were also an official act, waiting their turn to get in.

One interesting feature of the Bagamoyo beach is a small stand of mangrove forest. Since we stayed at the other end of the beach we did not get a chance to explore it actively. A short cab ride along a broad dirt track by the beach, with a view of swaying palm trees, a turquoise blue sea, and villages with houses marked with Muslim symbols like the crescent moon, brought us to the Kaole ruins. Kaole means “go and see,” and the site, with its small but informative museum, is worth a visit.

This once-prosperous settlement was created by the Shirazis, in the 13th century. They were traders who came from Iran and who spread Islam. They were among the many foreigners to colonize the coast. There’s a continuity of conquest, trade, intermingling of cultures, influences and peoples here, seen in Zanzibar and further up and down the coast. Combined, this constitutes what is termed as the Swahili culture. And the link language that developed here and is spoken to this day is of course Swahili.

The museum informs us that this part of the coast was first settled 2000 years ago, and a people who could smelt iron lived here from the 2nd to the 9th century, but this industry died because of competition and deforestation. Maybe a 1000 people lived here during the Shirazi reign.

The site shows the solid walls of a ruined 13th century mosque, made of coral, lime and sand mortar. Some 22 tombs are spread across the site, some plain, some decorated, others with “pillars” and one with an Arabic inscription. One tomb contained incense and offerings. This belongs to Sharifa – a holy woman whom the local woman still pray too, informed out guide. Most recent excavations reveal stone houses. The site is not yet completely revealed, further adding to its charm.

The place had a distinctly “good vibe” and we enjoyed walking around (there were not too many tourists). A big fire scorched parts of it sometime ago, creating a dramatic landscape of black earth and yellow and maroon trees, reminding us of course of Fall! There’s also a gorgeous 500-year on Baobab on site, still fertile, under which we spent some time, admiring its ample girth as well as the delicate beauty of the fallen flowers.

There were some disappointments in Bagamoyo. The tourism industry is doing nothing with the old Arab fort there, a site where slaves were kept, a rip off at 1500 tsh for a visit, considering that you pay only 500 (less than US 50 cents) for Kaole! The town is also touted to be an arts centre (it has an arts college), but we were not too impressed with what we saw. More impressive was a visit to Salum Kambi’s studio last weekend. This is a Dar artist I met at the Alliance Française, which holds interesting cultural events here.

Salum is a self-taught artist, who uses broad, diffused brush strokes to capture faces, children playing, children on bicycles, fisherwomen, night and harbour scenes. His paintings, with their abstract quality and muted colours, have a modern, universal look. They are refreshingly original. A lot of art here seems to reproduce traditional motifs in a sterile fashion for tourists.

Sad. These artists likely have more original work tucked away somewhere. And there is some beautiful functional, ethnic art to be had for sure. Not to mention the dazzling patterns on the fabric!

An enterprising, young Tanzanian woman runs a lovely little gallery which is a 20 minute walk from our place, hence quite downtown. She showcases local artists and some craft as well. She is not making enough money to be self-sustaining yet. She comes from a well-off family. I think her effort is very laudable and the art movement here will slowly grow I’m sure. As happened in India. The painters will come into their own as well. We bought a painting at this gallery lately and it enlivens our living room now.

Dear Friends and Family,

Hope you’re all doing well despite the seemingly endless news of hurricanes, bomb blasts, bomb threats, earthquakes, business as usual in the various « war zones, » and the equally unending machinations of various politicians, governments, corporations! May your spirit triumph over political and personal woes (if any…)! I would also like to wish you all prosperity and plenty in the wake of the Hindu festival of Diwali and more specifically, Laxmi puja – the worship of the Goddess of Wealth and Abundance.

Karibu Marc-Antoine!

The major event since I wrote last was the much-awaited arrival of my better half – Marc-Antoine. Some of you have already got a news update from him. I kid you not when I call this guy my better half! He has so far displayed more patience in dealing with the ups and downs here.

By thwarted expectations I refer to “petty things” such as a steady electricity supply, things in the house working, shops always stocking the same things, workmen showing up and doing what they promised, being able to buy whatever you want easily and at a reasonable price, restaurants always being open (Discovery: they can shut during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan) and so on. It’s incredible how attached I am to these notions, though they fail me on a daily basis. The fault of course lies with me – I need to evolve into Marc-Antoine…!

After MA’s arrival, I do laugh much more about these things… It’s been an immense relief and joy to have him here. MA himself is much as before. He remains very attached to his newish, notebook, Mac computer who is called Gimli after the character in Lord of the Rings. He is still to be found staring into it a lot of the time, lost to the world. He downloads new programs from net cafes and fiddles with them. He tries to convert me enthusiastically to new software.

He has turned himself into a somewhat absent-minded house-husband (views differ on the absent-minded bit…) and now deals directly with the maid after I abandoned scribbling instructions for her every night in Swahili. One of the things that happened lately is that he told the maid to buy brown rice. I got the following sms at work from him the next day: “My attempts resulted in rice paddy.” Our maid, being very smart, had turned up with rice husks! (This was after MA had spent some time trying to figure out how to say brown rice in Swahili.)

The relationship is not particularly different either – we disagree, “purr” and laugh about the same things as before. We have set up a comfy house with a few pieces of furniture, mostly bought at discount, at a nearby furniture chain store. (The perky shop girl is planning to immigrate to Canada where her fiancée is working.)

A source of comfort in our home is a small, basic Buddhist shrine. The batiks and posters we I brought with me from Canada have definitely enlivened our walls. The very tangible objects of desire (to paraphrase Bunuel) now are CURTAINS!

I have never given curtains much thought in the course of my life. Have you? Now however my dreams belong to these perfectly forgettable pieces of cloth… We have HUGE windows and glass doors (as mentioned before), which simply have to be dressed up. It meant buying an entire roll of cloth at an afore-mentioned, Swahili-speaking market called Kariakoo, one hot, Saturday morning. Then we went to a tailor and explained the sizes etc. The guy was all smiles but lo and behold – he made the door curtains way too long! Now we have to go back and get him to right them, hopefully for free! We also had to buy more cloth as a result but what is the use of all this when the rods are not yet up?!

We had finally managed to get the fundi to come to put them up after weeks of cajoling. He was replete with reasons for his absence ranging from the ill-health of his various relatives and himself, to the drill not working! One fine day he showed up, with drill, but by then Dar was in the throes of a two-week power breakdown (situation still not fully normalized).

Everything is not discouraging, however. We have managed to eat out at a few nice restaurants, spend a whole day at a beautiful beach nearby, as well as gone on our first short hike in a forested area called Pugu Hills. We lounged around in a very pleasant resort there, with a panoramic view of the countryside, in the company of three supremely self-confident and chatty 8-year-old girls and their parents. Thanks to our guide, Omari, on the hike we saw an owl (yes, in broad daylight), a monkey perched atop a far-off tree and a thick snake, sensed more than seen, at least by me, under a thick patch of twigs. We may also be enroute to making some friends.

We have a good relationship with our jirani’s (neighbours) with whom we exchange food in a typical Indian fashion. When we drop in, we end up talking about politics (I suspect because they are Indo-Tanzanian and Indians tend to be such political animals). They are a joint family, the parents, their son, his quiet and pretty wife, and their two daughters – 2 and 7. They own a cosmetic and perfume shop, run by the parents and the son. The latter travels abroad on business. They are devout Muslims and the women wear hijabs in public. In fact Ramadan was such a big thing here that MA and I planned to fast as well (oh for a day or so) but never got around to it somehow… Next year perhaps?

From austerity to extravagance – contrasting with Ramadan – Muslims dressed in chaste white going to pray in the mosques, was the Hindu festival of Navratri – Nine nights of communal dancing. This is a major event for the Gujarati’s (the majority community which has immigrated here). The women really deck up in shimmering, colourful chaniya-cholis, a full skirt, short blouse and elaborate chunni (long scarf), with tons of jewellery of course. Men and women danced to live music, in a circle, in a temple courtyard – the beat got fast and quite hypnotic. I felt a thrill run through me as I watched (the last time I had witnessed this was around 1978 in India).

Political ploys

(This part is based on my nascent understanding of politics here… with info. gleaned mostly from my favourite weekly newspaper here called The East African. It has a pro-business agenda but some good analysis nevertheless.)

Politics has been claiming everyone’s attention here lately. You may perhaps have picked up on election violence in Zanzibar. The national elections were scheduled for October 30th but the death of one of the vice presidential candidate’s (not from the ruling party) caused an official postponement to December 18 and then a slight pre-ponement to Dec. 14.

The main party here CCM (Chama cha Mapinduzi) is the old Nyerere party and has been in power since 1965. Post independence, socialist Tanzania had a single party system, which went multiparty only in 1992. Nyerere orchestrated the change, just as he had been the designer of the earlier single party system. Most shops and offices here carry a portrait of him, as well as current president – Benjamin Mkapa. Nyerere is the FATHER OF THE NATION. He is always respectfully referred to as Mwalimu (teacher). I had occasion to read some of his later speeches as HakiElimu, my organization, is putting together a second volume of these.

He was a forceful speaker, a visionary and idealist who expected individuals, particularly the educated elite, to sacrifice for and contribute towards the education and betterment of the lot of poor peasants. He was a proud nationalist who wanted Tanzanian’s to be totally self-sufficient and develop everything indigenously, while being open to ideas from other countries. Today 45 percent of the country’s GDP is made up of foreign aid!

Anyhow, the other important political parties, besides CCM, are CUF and Chadema. What are their platforms? I can’t really say because when I asked a colleague he was of the opinion that apart from paying lip service to the idea of delivering social services to people, there was not that much difference between them. Meanwhile they are definitely on a neo-liberal path. The CCM has held as many as up to 95 per cent of the seats in the past, and moreover, some of the key political posts are appointed not elected.

Zanzibar decided to go ahead with the 30th Oct. election. The mainland and Muslim-dominated Zanzibar has had uneasy ties from the start. Though the divide is articulated as more cultural than religious. A CCM candidate has won there since 1995 but always amid cries of foul play, and the people there have never fully accepted CCM. In `95 Shariff Hamad of CUF lost to Salmin Amour of CCM by 0.48 per cent! (Does this remind anyone of the Quebec referendum by any chance?!) Major irregularities were cited in the 2000 Zanzibar elections and violence followed – 23 people died on the nearby island of Pemba then.

In 2001 CCM and CUF signed a reconciliation agreement. But to no avail it seems. Seemingly the CCM won comfortably this time in Zanzibar but CUF won in Pemba. Supposedly there were election observers, but they seem to be partisan and allegedly there was foul play in this election as well. And there was election violence.

The latest is that CUF representatives boycotted the inaugural parliamentary address of the Zanzibar President. The CUF council is calling for an in-depth investigation of the polls. Some 100 supporters of CUF have escaped police violence by taking boats to Kenya. They say that some people have been beaten senseless after the death of a security officer.

In terms of the mainland election the CCM is expected to win and even a small loss of seats to the other parties should be viewed as a victory, a colleague of mine said. In any case Jakaya Kikwete, the CCM presidential candidate is supposed to be very charismatic and very savvy to have even got this far in the complex CCM hierarchy. One newspaper columnist said that though he is popular, his popularity is not helping other CCM candidates and that the mood of the voters is defiant. Time will tell.

Work challenges

I am learning the ropes. HakiElimu is a very interesting organization. The Information Access (IA) Unit where I work is basically the printing and distributing arm or this non-profit. We produce a range of “popular” publications and then must find innovative ways to distribute them in this infrastructure poor country. Some distributions channels already exist of course.
IA also runs a really well-stocked and impressive resource centre mostly used by the staff at this point and we maintain the website.

The other Units are Media, Policy and Advocacy and Public Engagement. I have good colleagues. The main problem is that there is far too much bureaucracy for my liking. We had been warned about this at our orientation in Canada, which was superb incidentally. We were told to expect greater levels of bureaucracy and hierarchy in the workplaces and in the society. Something has to be different right? Otherwise where’s the challenge?!

The other challenge is that the organization has fallen into the bad books of the Minister of Education and Culture here and he has the backing of the President. As mentioned before, we compiled a report from the government’s own reviews of PEDP – the Primary Education Development Policy – which was very critical of the government’s implementation of this policy. This document was the trigger, but HakE’s generally critical and activist stance, its savvy media messaging, including public service ads urging people to action, have angered the Minister who wants to treat NGOs like government ministries – if he mouths a decree he believes they should adhere by it!

He has decreed that we cannot go to schools to do any research work and schools, and district and regional (state/provincial) level government departments seem to have taken his message to mean that they cannot receive any publications from us as well! The latest development is that the Minister has banned our public service ads. Will the Dec. 14 elections change any of this?

You can google HakiElimu and I am sure things will come up as alternative news websites outside the country have carried stories on this issue and NGOs have written in our support. It has certainly triggered a debate around civil society’s role and freedom of expression. The media and local NGOs here, as well as citizens, have been very supportive of us.

To end on a positive note, a couple of days ago I got the news that a literary mag in the U.S.A called “Cerebration” is going to publish one of my short stories in its December issue. Hurrah!

Hello Friends and Family,

Hope you’re all in the pink of health, or a glowing brown, black, gold, or whatever colour most becomes your complexion!

Here’s the 4th issue of Dar Samachar – a bittersweet chronicle. So if you are looking for a fun read you could turn away right now!

I am writing this from my new apartment on India Street, City Centre, Dar es Salaam. CUSO and HakiElimu had to pay an entire year’s rent in advance to finalize the deal. Yes that’s how it works here.

Around me are buildings, buildings and more buildings, some under construction, quite a few with « character.» Many look like gracious, old buildings in certain parts of Bombay, and no wonder, coz they have been built by Indians or Indo-Tanzanians, as the Canadians would call them! I hear Gujarati all the time, a language that I understand well but cannot speak beyond a few words and sentences. I also hear Hindi at times, which is music to my ears, and Swahili has a pleasant sound too.

This is a swanky pad with large, glass windows, blue-tinted and meshed, and in two of the rooms one wall is practically all glass doors! I fell in love with the flat because it is so well lit and airy. The floors and doors are nice; the kitchen walls are tiled, as are the two washrooms. I am very lucky to have such a nice place.

My immediate neighbours are mostly devout Muslims – educated, well off and English speaking – the women are veiled in black or white when they go out, though their faces are exposed. They are wives/mothers/ daughters/mothers-in-law.

At first the askaris (doormen) and fundis (carpenters) who hang around the building which is new and hence some of the flats are still being finished, found me very curious with my western, and occasionally Indian clothes, and short hair (I have had a drastic cut!) and stared and gaped and one even leered, but now they are used to me. I have been loudly proclaiming my married status (!) and draping myself in the two chunnis (long Indian scarves) I have brought with me.

I used to walk with eyes downcast coz I got worked up about all the staring all over the place (public space here is male dominated and there are many un or under employed men hanging around plus most of the shopkeepers, etc are male) but have now regained my composure. I do answer their greetings, particularly if they call me dada (sister). Only the poor African men greet me, never well off African men, or any sort of women, nor the Indians, and definitely not the wazungus (whites). The women do smile at me sometimes and at times I strike up conversations with them in shops or restaurants.

I have never lived right in the commercial, hustling bustling heart of a city, with a ferry terminal a stone’s throw away and a clock tower that seems to hurry time! There are innumerable internet cafes nearby and many computer stores. Other shops sell hardware, lamps, electric and electronic goods, kitchenware, cell phones, travel services, furniture, clothes, groceries, everything really. There are also many restaurants selling mostly Indian or Indian influenced food. I get authentic dosas and other South Indian food at a « pure vegetarian » place and chaat (spicy snacks) and mithai (sweets) at another place and drink divine coconut water (my favourite drink along with watermelon juice) for 20 cents from roadside vendors and then scoop up the tender, melting, white flesh and eat it up greedily!

It’s interesting living in such an “urban” neighbourhood; it will be for two years anyhow, though I long for trees, water too. After all I have been living in lake-filled Canada, and river and canal crossed Ottawa! I am dealing with the absence of growing things right now by buying green plastic chairs and dustbins and have been eyeing some green fabric for curtains! I hope to get houseplants later. As for water, there is the sea. The stroll-able beaches are about half an hour away but well worth the daladala (local mini van) ride.

I can see two different mosques from the two balconies, which are active by day and night (yes siree!) and I also see a church tower from a window. There are muted bell peals on Sunday mornings. A frequent sound in the evenings is car alarms going off and right now I hear strains of Bollywood music.

The area where the ferry dock and church are is called Mchafukoge (you kind of bite down on the m in Kiswahili and pronounce the next alphabet more clearly.) About a 12 minute walk from here is Kisutu street with many Hindu temples. And a 10 minute walk from my office in a wealthy, Indian-Tanzanian dominated neighbourhood called Upanga, is a Sri Lankan Buddhist temple complete with small white stupas and colourful, fluttering prayer flags.

So mungu (God) is readily to be found here, and people are obviously religious, there are Kiswahili sermons on the radio (I was told) but despite that I felt I had descended into a kind of hell, when I first got here from Arusha, after my Swahili course!

The first problem was the landlord. He had coolly pocketed the one-year rent advance and given away the flat I had originally seen to someone else. There was another flat just opposite but it was completely bare, lacking a wall cupboard, kitchen sink and platform, etc, which we had paid for in the flat which was no longer ours! So began a cat and mouse game with the landlord, which I found very stressful, with him wanting me to move in at the earliest, and me and CUSO/Haki holding out for him to complete work on the flat.

Finally not on August 1, but August 11, the flat was ready, and the landlord even changed the front door lock at his expense! Haki helped me hire a truck and a few pieces of furniture from a former CUSO cooperant were loaded up in it while the Haki car had my luggage from my hotel and we embarked on the move. But India Street is one way (symbolic?) and neither the Haki driver, nor I, nor the truck driver knew the area well (I knew just one way to get here, the way which was illegal) and so we drove around in circles!

At one point I forced everyone to get out of the vehicles and look at a map, to no avail! Meanwhile the truck driver ran out of gas and refuelled and we finally managed to enter India street from the right side but there was no parking to be found!

The Haki driver paid a couple of car owners to repark their cars and the truck backed up into the vacated spots, climbing right onto the pavement. I went up to the flat and instructed the driver to stay down with the furniture. But now the truck driver and the men doing the moving declared a strike, as they had lost time, so the price of the move had to be renegotiated.

Finally the thing was done. Everyone went away smiling (I tipped the folks who had moved furniture) Obviously they found what to me was undesirable chaos quite normal! I however collapsed on the newly acquired sofa (I had skipped lunch) and it took me some time to get up again!

I was stressed for a week for so as the dealings with the landlord, my taking up the temporary Manager position at the Information Access Unit at HakiElimu, the move, trying to set up house, all came together. And there’s culture shock.

My bank card was endlessly delayed and I have no local credit card and no one deals in credit anyhow (!) My bank is not conveniently located and I have to go to this one place to get money out. There was a learning curve on other counts, for e.g. I had to learn about the luku system – where you buy your electricity in pre-paid units.

Again not a problem as such but I went to one place and then was sent to the head office where I was given a bill I could not understand, and so on and so forth! Also shops open here from 9-4.30 on weekdays or then 9-12 on Saturdays (Sundays they stay closed) and my work finishes at 4.30 (if I am lucky). Which meant I had only Saturday mornings to set up the place.

The staff at the Arusha office are very nice and try to help, but they have not systematized useful information in a handy reference manual, for example. They could put together lists of comparatively reliable house agents, good medical centres/doctors/ schools, explain things like this one-year rent advance and the luku system, instead they rely on the local NGO and cooperants who are already here, to deliver everything, which is impractical.

I was helped unstintingly by a cooperant (bless her soul!), who told me that they had had a very stressful time too, in the beginning. This was despite the fact that she is originally from Dar, her mother lives here, her husband is Kenyan, and both are fluent in Swahili.

My NGO too was helpful but there were still many gaps. What CUSO needs to do is negotiate at least one week off after the cooperant has found a house, so the person can go out and buy the basics, and settle down, before resuming work. I believe there will be a chance to give all this feedback to CUSO.

I have now been setting up house for 3-4 Saturday mornings and the flat feels almost like a miracle with its gas connection, kitchen equipment, clothes line built by a fundi (carpenter) who works in the building, who also made a shower rod for the washroom, a water filter which leaked initially and the tap broke (!) but which has since been replaced, a mosquito net which hangs from a hook in the ceiling installed by the same fundi, etc.

There is no Canadian Tire here (!) and everything has to be made from scratch and people want to work 9-5, on weekdays, but I have managed to persuade this man to work in the evenings and weekends and the same goes for the once a week maid. (Incidentally the fundi’s wife had a c-section and he disappeared for about 10 days!)

The first piece of toast, the first cup of tea, the first garlic I sliced here (fragrant as a rose!), the first candles I lit when the lights went out, the first time I slept under the mosquito net, which, given its flowing lines, renders the bed romantic (all it needs now is Marc-Antoine!) have been remarkable. As have been the first bottles of filtered water (I was buying water rather expensively before that) which caused me to gag on the made in Switzerland chemicals (!) the first white rice meal with the glutinous mess of grains as the stove from the CUSO cooperant does not simmer food when commanded to do so, have all brought the focus firmly to the basics of survival.

So intense was this focus that I could not, in those early days camping out on India street, imagine a life before, or a life after, so when a colleague asked me: do you miss Canada? I stared at her and almost said – pardon? Canada, huh?

I miss all my friends, of course, and dear Marc-Antoine, but I feel valued at my workplace and believe I can learn a lot and contribute, though of course there are challenges there as well.

The Minister of Education and Culture “attacked” HakiElimu recently, because we released a report that pointed out the shortcomings of the governments’ primary education development plan implementation. Ironically, the report is a compilation and analysis of reports put out by the government itself! The media has really blown up the Minister’s words and our answer, and that of a NGO network called FemAct, that we belong to. It has denounced the Minister as undemocratic. With an election looming, the party is probably quite displeased with him!

Among allies here I count Mary, my single mom housemaid, Abdallah, the fundi with magic fingers, my colleague Elisabeth, my Swahili teacher, Rose, who lives in Dar when she is not teaching in Arusha, the aforementioned CUSO couple, and other emerging acquaintances who will perhaps become friends. The people here are basically helpful and gentle.

I am ending with words of wisdom from Pema Chodron, a Shambhala Buddhist nun and teacher: “Wherever you go for the rest of your life, you’re always in he middle of the universe and the circle is always around you. Everyone who’s walked up to you has entered that sacred space, and it’s not an accident. Whatever comes into the space is there to teach you…

“… you can manipulate your world until you are blue in the face to try to make it always smooth, but the same old demons will always come up until finally you have learned your lesson, the lesson they came to teach you. Then those same demons will appear as friendly, warm hearted companions on the path.”


MS TCDC, near Arusha

Hello all,

I look forward to hearing from you even if you don’t have the time to read these, BTW!

Here’s the promised update. After this, you’ll have a (welcome?!) respite for a while, as I will return to Dar and work, plus, either I’ll be settling down in a flat that I may or may not have… or then looking for one.

I wanted to talk about Kiswahili while I am still learning the language at this idyllic retreat. I better understand the pull of the scholastic/ monastic life of routine and study, order and quiet achievement, amid a beautiful, green, natural, setting, now. For one thing, here, someone else cooks and cleans for you and in fact you don’t have to do anything save study. (Tho. in my case I’m also hustling for that coveted flat in Dar but at least it’s a bit removed.)

OK lemme give you a little lesson. I know you’re simply dying for one. Greetings – Habari is news so you can do Habari gani – News? How are you? But you can also launch into a rapid fire rat a tat tat – Habari za kozi (news of the course) habarai za asuhubi (news of the morning) habari za watoto (news of children?) and so on and so forth. There’s also the saying karibu (welcome) every so often as well as asante sana (thank you very much). These endless greetings can certainly help you buy time, and you can employ part of your brain to formulate a halfway decent sentensi.

There are other redeeming features and one of them is that they have these cho chweet words like sentensi for sentence, pinki or pink, ofisi (yes office), etc. There are also other cute words like zungunza for conversation. To say you’re in/at some place you do this ni business again like soko – market – becomes sokoni, darasa, classroom becomes darasini.

I do have some help from Hindi and even Marathi. With that link from Hindi and possibly other North and North Western Indian languages to Urdu, spilling out over the Indian ocean and touching Arabian shores, we arrive in a many hued dhow, which has been picking up words and sounds all along, to East Africa. Our teachers are telling us insistently that this is essentially a Bantu language (and that itself is a family of languages) which has imbibed multiple influences. I can tell the Bantu and Arabic derived words apart almost 100 per cent of the time.

It’s Kiswahili (ki is a prefix for language so Eng. is Kiingereza) BTW not Swahili, which literally means of the coast. I recall reading somewhere that it dates back to the 6th century. To give some examples of the Indian influence (or vice versa too?!) embe is mango in Kiswahili (amba in Marathi, aam in Hindi) gari is car and its gadi in both those languages, swali is question in Ki, its sawaal in Hindi/Urdu, Kubali is to agree in Kiswahili and Ka-bool is the same in Hindi/Urdu.

There have been some interesting gaffes, and in our class of 4 (the 13 basic students are further split into smaller units) an Aussie guy called Steve tends to stumble across these words where a slight misspelling can get you ejected from polite company in no time at all! Poor Steve has so far led us to a word for “an insult to the mother “ ( as the dictionary coyly put it), a verb for washing the behind and genitals (man, how specific can ya get?!) and of course inevitably the F word.

Still you definitely need at least some light relief to keep going. We were absolutely hysterical the other day in the dinning room recounting our f—ups with Ki, particularly enjoying Maria’s plight. This is a Swedish woman, wife of an NGO type with 4 children. She had a maid with whom she attempted to communicate with in Ki. Now in Ki time day starts at 7 am so 7 am Eng. time is 1 (asubuhi, morning) Ki time and so on. So Maria was translating from Eng. to Ki time when she asked her maid to come at a particular time the next day but the maid was helpfully translating as well in the opp. direction! In fact they went around like this for a while switching back and forth till they thought they had reached an understanding and then the maid turned up at the wrong time (acc. to Maria anyhow!)

Our teachers here are splendid and called mwalimu singular walimu plural. This is a front end kinda language and not only are singular and plural manipulated this way but also verbs. The nouns are worse than the verbs as they are in 8-9 classes (living creatures, non-living objects, nouns which remain the same in sing. and plu., nouns for abstractions, nouns for place, etc) and each class has its own agreement rules for adjectives, pronouns, etc.

For e.g. if I want to say You (Wewe) are working hard today its Unafanya kazi leo. Leo is today but to deconstruct Unafunya kazi (no grammer after this I promise!) U stands for wewe so you can dispense with wewe, na is as they call it the tense market for the present tense and funya is the verb root of to do, and kazi is the noun for work. Got it? We now know 4 tenses – past, present, future and perfect.

To my mind this perfect tense should be gotten rid off from Kiingereza as well. Three tenses are plenty! After learning these people should get out and chill, drink bia baridi (beer cold) or something. The feature that could actually drive one to drink is something called the object prefix which they introduced today. (It was anticipated and it rolled in preceded by thunder and lightening!)

So in Kiingereza you’d say I will give this book to you, right? In Ki you say Nitakupa kitabi.huyu (the last two words are simply this book) but in the Ni (I) ta (future) pa (give) one has to cut and paste the subject infix – ku which stands for you.

But I can say that overall I have learnt a lot, and enjoyably. As for putting it into practice, I am taking baby steps. Let’s see how it unfolds in the future.

Let’s go on a safari now! Yeh!!

We visited Arusha National Park two weekends ago, and even though this is not one of the bigger parks, it was an absolutely fantastic experience.”You’ll see all the usual animals there,” said L, a Swedish course participant who lives in the bush. By that he meant three types of monkeys – including blue and colobus – warthogs, a deer species, giraffes, zebras, elephants, buffalo, lovely butterflies and birds, including a massive flock of pretty in pink flamingoes by a salt lake (Momela).

It’s the sheer abundance and easy accessibility of wildlife here which astounds and delights. “How many are there, how many?” this Spanish classmate D, who had come as well, kept exclaiming. Soon after entering the park in a four wheel drive (the roads are rough) whose top raised up, so we could stand up and look around, we came to a large plain where we saw giraffe (gifies), warthogs and zeberas (zebies). The warthog for those who know it, think of a bearded pig with a longer than usual snout!

I had found them really ugly when I had seen their pix in the guidebook, but they looked much better in the natural setting, specially with gifies in a sitting position planted among them, like so many lamp posts! The giraffes have these sweet traingular faces and walk quite gracefully. (Their brains are small compared to their bodies and the way their heart and some vital organs are placed in their necks they can’t bend down so they’re fine catching 15 minutes of sleep each day on their feet.

We saw the giraffes and zebras quite close up, like a few feet away at some point in our travels and there was usually one animal who would pose and preen for the camera! The zebras are a designer’s delight, their stripes are just so lovely (no two have exactly the same pattern they saw) and I kept thinking of them as horses who had pulled on tights! As for the giraffes, Val, a really fun black American gal from Atlanta Georgia speculated that they were perhaps related to llamas… (Probably not a scientific observation but I liked the idea.)

We were passing through the beautiful, tangled green forest (the tress themsleves leave you gasping so old and beautiful are many of them), having seen a crater basin with a swamp from a lokout point, and I was getting into a dreamy daze when someone shouted “tembo” and there was a herd of elephants crossing our path! The big tusker turned towards us in typical “threat display” warning us off his comrades, specially the young, and then they walked on.

Right away we realised that there were more elephants trying to cross so we backed a little and 6-8 baby elephants (tres cute of course) walked by flapping their ears. A tusker led them and a female completed the parade. Huge though they were they disappeared fast into the bush with loud thrashing sounds and we fell back into out seats gasping. My heart was racing as if I had been running uphill a long distance!

The colobus monkeys are very attractive too, with white tails and black faces fringed with black trim and swing from tree to tree in packs. The blue monkeys (bluish –grey) were more reticent, but we did see quite a few of these as well.

We drove around the picturesque Momela lakes (we picnicked on their shores) where we saw salt on the foamy waves and on the shore as well. The salt is what attracts the flamingoes in droves. It was really wonderful to watch them through binocks and see them flying in a formation of four, in perfect symmetry. I have been wondering about salt lakes since then – how common are they? How do they form, etc? If anyone has this info., please send!

We saw the buffaloes on a plain, from a high point (the terrain was hilly) and they were still there when we descended. There were a large number and they did not look that different from their domesticated Indian cousins. Their skulls are quite spectacular with their big horns and are commonly displayed at hotels here.

We also had a chance to see the elusive Mount Meru summit, as well as the even more elusive, Mt. Kilimanjaro (Kili). Meru is a more sloping mountain and I for one really like its shape. There it stood, serenely wreathed in wisps of cloud, its summit bare. It had been playing hide and seek from around the training centre for 2 weeks. As for Kili I did not spot it at first as I was looking far to the right and not high enough! Duh! Above the clouds rose the peak with a bit of snow on it. Somehow poor Kili reminded me of a balding old man! He is losing his snow fast (global warming) spelling disaster for the coffee and other plantation in its foothills.

MS TCDC, near Arusha (Pictures)

Hiya all you folks out there… hope you’re still having a blast…!

This is a follow-up to my post Zanzibar, honeymoon story. As things usually go, I fell from paradise to earth, and even seemed to be tumbling to lesser depths, for a few days back there. But hold on, for this story has a happy ending!

Woe Number One had to do with being forced to acquire a cell-phone. I typically bought the cheapest cell phone on the market (a Nokia no. something or the other for 70 American bucks) which someone later told me was probably not even the real thing i.e. a pirated version (it certainly looks cheap!)

There was no user manual for it (they had run out) but my guardian angel in Dar, Elisabeth – the Swiss cooperant colleague at HakiElimu I have mentioned before) had one.

These cell phones here have to be fed vouchers that they munch up gleefully in no time at all. So mine for e.g. seems to use up 5 bucks for 3 short local phone calls! Also, there’s the matter of feeding these junkies electricity every so often, even daily if you have them on all day.. (Yes, yes I realize this is all old hat to many of you out there in the real world, but still a shock to a cell phone virgin like me – and here I have to confess that another pal has provided that catchy coinage – cell phone virgin!)

At first I had no adapter for the local sockets. After I acquired one, I discovered that the switch was unreachable, tucked as it was behind my very heavy hotel bed. I instructed the reception to move my bed, but not too much, as this would have rammed it against the opposite wall and I’d have to leapfrog over the bed all the time, and you know what? I am too old for that! Finally, I was able to plug the adapter into the socket, and also the cell into the adapter, but not a peep out of my F+&^%$#@! phone. Meanwhile it was signaling me that it really, really needed an electric fix and FAST!

Next day my cell savvy colleague (and everyone and their dog and dog’s uncle is cell savvy here) told me I’d probably got a dud adapter from China. (I notice this guy has great contempt for Chinese products.) He advised me to junk the 500 Tsh (Tanzanian shillings) adapter, for a German or British 1500 Tsh gizmo. Anyhow, he managed to plug my phone directly into the socket and I discovered that this could actually be done if you took a ball point pen and kinda twisted it into the top hole of the socket which kinda opened up the lower two holes for the F*****ing plug to enter! Otherwise there was just no way of forcing the thing in. Why they make such impenetrable switches here, I know not, save perhaps to send us some sort of a message about reconsidering our neurotic dependence on all this STUFF??

It set me wondering if this fiddling with a ball point pen around a switch could perhaps, just maybe, lead to electrocution and trying to reminder what substances are good and bad conductors of electric current!

The parallel story to all this unfolds thus: did I mention already that my hotel was in a very lively part of town? That meant loud music practically every night. One night I got into bed at 10.45 thinking, oh, its soooo quiet today and I swear the music started up the next second! It’s good dance music – I will credit these folks with taste – but not really conducive to getting up the next day at 6.30 am (yes a night bird like me actually managed that for 2 weeks – oh what we will do for our so-called careers!). After the music dies down the mullahs start up, around 4.30 am, with their calls to prayer. All this had me seriously reconsider the freedom of expression, which I have defended now for decades!

My nerves were positively shaky with insufficient sleep, when Woe 3 stepped into the picture. This is the housing situation in Dar. It’s an unregulated market run by unscrupulous house agents- known as dalalis – and greedy house owners. At first Haki was trying to find a house for me through these dalalis. But having seen only one house in a far-flung suburb in the first week I decided to grab the bull by its horns. I marched to the Haki Media department and started scanning the English newspapers there for apartment ads. I wanted to live in a flat, not a house, as a house involves a night and day guard and a maid, which amounts to something like 250 US a month – the kinda moolah I don’t have. Coz it seems you have not only to pay this royal retinue, but also feed them, and pay for their medicine! This last bit really freaked me out, for in my mind’s by now paranoid eye, I saw this ailing, would-be guard doing me out of my small CUSO allowance!

Of course what the locals and the expats pay these folks varies widely and wildly and I was getting these “Oh, but how can you exploit these folks” and “But oh how can you spoil these folks” vibes from the two camps. I decided that I wanted to avoid these folks altogether – at least the guards – by getting a flat that has a common watchman, paid by the owner (tho. of course you chip in for him.)

I stepped into the brave new world of house hunting by calling the cell numbers in the ads which promised 3-bedroom budget downtown apartments. A dalali operates typically like this: He calls frantically on the cell, fails to identify himself and says: Can you meet me at Shoppers Plaza in 10 minutes? One of the things he omits to tell you is whether he means Shoppers Plaza downtown or in Micocheni. (An up-market suburb which could be reached from my office in 10 mins. only with a private helicopter.)

When you meet the guy at the aforementioned Shoppers Plaza, he walks you 10 mins. to an apartment building and then begins an endless wait for the key to the apt. he wants to show you. The guy with the key, who’s in a nearby shop, has disappeared, without telling anyone where he’s going or when he’ll be back. Interestingly, the guy cannot be contacted by cell ph. either!

If the key is available, you could be shown an aging apartment with rusty water pipes in the loo and no water in them, or a flat in an empty building, which is large, but unfinished, with wires dangling here and there, and sacks of concrete and junk piled up at the bottom of the stairs. You are told “The owner will finish the apartment fast if you want it. To which you want to say, “Hey bud, you got it backwards – YOU finish the apartment first and then I may want it.” But you say nothing, at least not at first. For all this, you pay for the cab rides between apartments and US 10 dalali fees.

By Day 2 I was already much older and wiser in the game, laughing when people told me they had a flat for US 500 in Kariakoo, telling them it was far too expensive and Karikoo was much too noisy anyway. I also asked them to identify themselves when they called. “No I could not meet them at Shoppers Plaza in 10 mins. I have work to do. Perhaps tomorrow?”

I did find a good dalali in all this (he came recommended, save that my boss had got his name as John when his name was actually Sam) who would come and pick me up in a nice car driven by a pal, while another pal took a ride downtown in it, and who showed me one nice apartment which we are trying to secure right now. Sam was respectfully yes and no mamming me by day 2 with perhaps just a hint of sarcasm in this voice!

I was thrilled therefore to make my escape to the MS Training Centre near Arusha in northern Tanzania for my 3-week Kiswahili course. I drove up with Eric, Swiss NGO type, in a Ford pick-up. The landscape was varied and lovely. At first we passed through small towns and shambas (farms) large and small – growing corn, bananas, palm trees, sunflowers, fruits. It was wonderfully green and lush, the soil red and the road beautifully paved and straight.

Post lunch the landscape changed to more open grassy, bushy, land with the cutest of baobab trees here and there (these are much smaller than the giants we saw in West Africa) The land turned hilly as we entered the Usambara mountain area (we skirted the ranges) and the villages thinned out even more as we entered the Kilimanjaro district, when we started see some acacias and anthills, amid a hint to savannah. We passed mountains at times rocky, at times green, and always with was a fine, misty line of mountains, on the horizon. The landscape glowed in various shades of green, brown and yellow, under a sky full of chubby grey-white clouds.

Now we encountered an interesting phenomenon. The villages we passed through bore names, but these did not appear on our road map, and the names of the places marked on the map did not appear on the land! So we tried another map from the glove compartment, but it was the same. Yet the road was going in the right direction and there was only one, so we continued, but with some misgiving, as we had no idea how far we had gone. Finally I begged Eric to pull up and ask where we were (coz we know some men – but not the ones who are getting this e-mail of course – will drive to the North Pole rather than seek help!)

The folks by the road, who were nicely dressed and waiting for the bus, told us we were on the right track and about an hour from Moshi (east of Arusha, a large town we’d have to pass) and asked us for a ride. Our back seat was full of stuff and the back of the Ford was covered with stretched plastic to stop kids in Dar from jumping on and off. That is, the pick-up was such in name only. So we drove on – our middle-class priviledge unshared. I asked Eric if he would consider giving people a lift. We discussed it and decided that after some time in Tanzania, yes. But having recently arrived, we were feeling somewhat vulnerable.

The MS training center is a revelation. It was started by the Danes to train their development workers in Swahili and NGO topics, but has since expanded to welcome the world. The basic and intermediate Swahili classes have people from Britain, Spain, Germany, South Africa, Northern Europe, the USA, and a woman from Mauritius. The NGO courses – short and long – in organizational development, development studies, etc – are filled with a pan African crowd – Ugandans, Kenyans, Tanzanians of course, Angolans, folks from Mozambique, Somaliland, Sudan, Rwanda, etc. There’s also a Nepalese woman from a MS Centre in Nepal.

There’s an incredibly rich tapestry of accents, voices, ideas and backgrounds. It’s really quite exhilarating. The atmosphere is very friendly and welcoming. We are well fed (buffets featuring great veggies and desserts and even mango pickle (!), well taught and well housed, though at first they had overbooked the participants, leading to a lot of confusion. After two nights with a mother and baby in the next room, as well as a roommate (I had asked for a roomie to keep the costs down) I asked for a transfer (along with many others) to a swanky, ethnic-style lodge nearby, with a 100 US per person per night rate! Which came for free of course…

This is a beautiful, German-Tanzanian run place, with extensive grounds, complete with a swimming pool (tho. the weather’s like a Canadian spring, well maybe a tad less cold) a stream and mini waterfalls and a fountain, a variety of bright flowering plants and succulents, a small banana tree grove, a grassy, marsh where weaver birds nest and a pond with duckies. They also have guinea fowl, marabou storks and cranes roaming around. The story of the fowl is that a village woman brought three fowl eggs to sell to the hotel. These were incubated in the hotel kitchen, and voila, they now have 45 birds!

The male weaver bird, it seems, builds a nest which the female inspects. If she likes it she moves in. If not, she dashes it to the ground and the hapless guy has to start all over again!

Another fascinating thing was seeing these deadly red ants which really bite hard and who climb on top of each other to build a kind of a gauzy tunnel under which the worker ants scurry to and fro carrying food. The whole set-up has an efficient production line look about it, though it looks prettier (I think) than a typical factory floor.

The MS Centre itself is green and beautiful, with citrus fruit hanging from some of the trees, and vervet monkeys gamboling about. We have our mid morning and afternoon chai and Kahava (coffee) each day under a thatched roof. We had local drumming and dancing, and a bonfire last Friday, and then social dancing, to African music. I had unfortunately to retire at 10.30 pm as this male student was ferrying the ladies gallantly back to the hotel in his car and insisted that I go as well! (We have since relocated to the campus in small, but practical, student-style quarters.) Tanzanian music is rather mellow and not the easiest to dance to (unlike music from neighbouring DRC, etc which is more vigorous and seems very popular here)

In fact, given the unassuming nature of the Tanzanians, and the ever changing weather (this is because we are in the foothills of the Northern mountains here) I have a sense of familiarity…

I had a visit last weekend from the great CUSO officer in Tanzania, who lives in Arusha. He came with his two daughters who, after chasing the monkeys, zoomed in on the children’s playground here, and did not want to go home! Coz this place is tres child-friendly with children ranging from 3-month old babies to 13 year olds, accompanying wanafunzi wazizi (student parents, in Swahili tho. I won’t swear by the spelling of the last word as I don’t have my vitabu (books) here.

Ciao then and tune in next week for: Swimming in a sea of Swahili and wild life…

Hi to all of you… hope you’re well and full `o’ beans. I am now ‘Zanzibar returned’ and a much happier person for it…

The famous spice island (Unguja for the locals) lives up to its myth… even when all I caught was a glimpse of its capital, Stone Town, infamous in history as slave trade centre. I, however, was all a swoon over the graceful, beach front buildings – white-washed, spacious, mostly wood, with arches and latticed windows and high ceilings – more curves than straight lines, and distinctly, elegantly Arabic influenced.

And in front of them was the blue, blue sea, well stocked with fishing boats and small motorboats with rounded, orange covers for the wazungus (white tourists) and a cruiser or two, pointing to the fact that I need to increase my marine crafts vocabulary double quick…! Once I spied a dhow – its triangular sail a thing of beauty and simplicity – crawl ever so sloooowly across the bay and decided that romantic though this boat looks, I’d rather view one than travel in it!

The Zanzibari’s are graceful too, particularly the women, usually in flimsy black hijabs, with their faces uncovered, and wearing, often over their head a gay red tightly drawn scarf, also made of flimsy cloth. One teenager displayed her naval under her hijab, as she was wearing under it the low slung jeans and short t-shirt, popular with all teens everywhere these days! I may invest in one of these rather seductive garments myself..! (May also be useful to gain entry into mosques which are otherwise out of bounds…) The mixing of all that Arab, black African and Asian (Indian) blood has sure produced pleasing results, making me advocate for mixed-race unions yet again and just for that reason alone!

As for the males, the really striking creatures are the tall, slim, graceful Massai men, here on the mainland or in Zanzibar, with red and sometimes purple shawl-like garments draped around them, leaving one shoulder bare, carrying a staff or spear, with the loveliest beaded jewellery on their wrists, ankles, necks and ears. Sometimes they wear headpieces too. It goes to show (yet again) that men in general would be far more attractive if they wore more interesting clothing as well as sported some jewellery… (Hope you guys are keeping an open mind…) I don’t think they could compete with the Massai exactly but still…!

We stayed in a cheapish hotel (US12 per night) which was a nice building of the kind mentioned before with these gorgeous painted and tasseled wooden beds with blue mosquito nets producing an effect not unlike the hijabs on the ladies. In short: Everywhere the eye turns it encounters beauty. (To quote a pal who was perhaps quoting someone else!) Of course there’s garbage flung around in parts and a leaking sewer or two but who cares?

We also walked through the narrow alleys flanked by pealing house fronts and shops – touristy and everyday – that form the labyrinthine Arabic quarters. In the touristy parts we were hustled, though gently. But left alone in the others. It’s customary here (as on the mainland) anyhow to greet people with Karibu (welcome) or Jambo (hello) and the vibe is generally relaxed and friendly. A no is taken quite well, often with a smile.

We had gone there (Elisabeth, a Swiss cooperant working at Haki and local colleagues L and A) to partake in the Zanzibar International Film Festival, which besides movies, showcases music, art, literary readings, from the “Dhow countries or countries of the Indian ocean – and there was also local theatre and craft particularly at the Women’s panorama. What was nice was that there were quite a few free events for the locals, and even the paid events, save for the opening, were TSH (Tanzanian shilling) 500 which is about 50 cents US. In fact, they even tour the villages on the island with the movies and movie equipment.

The opening night was a joyous celebration held in the stone amphitheatre of the Old Fort which is a sturdy and well preserved building right on the waterfront, and featured a Zimbabwe woman singer (Stella Chiweshe) a qawali group from India, spirited speeches from the chair people, dancers from Tanzania’s Iringa region (they wore cowbells!) and CDR (Congo) director’s musical, political satire in French and a local language, called in English, “The Governors New Clothes.”

Saw a few movies (some documentary) about slavery and a rediscovery of roots, two young Dutch painters staking out in Masaai territory drawing with pigments made from local materials (really a zany flick called White canvas, black hyena), among others. We also ate street food – fish and meat kababs, the local version of falafels, etc at the Fordhani garden which is a nice, waterfront hangout area much frequented by the locals with kids and various generations of family, camped on the grass, relaxing, chatting and eating.

The food reminds me that I have been tucking into asli (authentic) Indian food of the sort I really like which comes from South India and Gujarat and even Maharashtra (my state) at the Kisutu street in Dar. I also stocked up on garlic pickle, sweets and snacks. After one such dinner, I felt religious enough to visit one of the many temples there… There was the usual assortment of Gods – Shiva, Parvati, Durga, Ganesh, a banyan tree which was also being worshipped, women sitting in the large courtyard chatting, while kids played. I must say these temples are much nicer in terms of both construction and ambience than anything I have seen in dear Canada – they seem much more organic while the Canadian’s ones seem transplanted by force, somehow.

I prayed for a house (it’s been tough finding one though. everyone’s trying…) Ironically, the very next day after I’d sought protection and good luck I had computer problems all day and other screw-ups ending finally with my sandal strap breaking (though luckily very near my hotel)!

My hotel, pretty basic but middling in these parts I’m told, is in the bustling African neighbourhood of Kariakoo with a veggie market right next door and all kinds of goods and services available around. There’s always layers of sound here from human voices, cars, construction, carts, Muslim calls to prayer (really soulful and haunting though. Somehow not at 4.30 am!) and music – mostly African and at times Indian. Generally it’s very musical here and one comes across people humming or singing as they work at times. They seem to have a different, deeper, relationship to music than in Asia or the West from what I gather. I enjoy all the sounds but insistent disco music kept me up late last weekend… enjoyed the relative quiet of the Zanzibar hotel.

I was advised not to walk around alone and at first I was rather freaked on the security issue (having heard stories and given warnings) but I have now divested myself of my credit cards, camera and my fears and walk to and from work. It’s about a 20 min. walk. I have been taken for Caribbean and Goan but not Indian alas coz I lack the long boring type of hair and clothes that Indian woman seen in that neighbourhood wear! My hair in fact almost borders on an Afro now!

Dar itself is a pleasing, spacious seeming city, not that hectic for chaotic (well compared to Indian cities) and with distinctive neighbouthoods, African, Indian, expat. up market, etc. Have eaten in many garden restaurants by now and dipped my feet in the Indian ocean at Coco beach.

That’s all for now. But I must mention a Roman excess type of situation that I inadvertently found myself in – you know how they used to over indulge and then throw up. My pleasure trip to Unguja was followed by a nightmare ferry ride back, with the boat heaving and rolling like a creature possessed. Barf bags were passed around at the beginning of this 2 and half hour journey and about 80 per cent of the passengers threw up, including yours truly. I could not even contemplate the blandest of foods which is ugali (cornmeal) last evening, but have bounced back overnight. It seems the thing to do is to avoid this 4 pm ferry. Ferries at other times are Ok as was the one we took to Unguja at 10.30 am.

Opps I forgot to mention work! It’s all positive and you’ll hear more about it later….
Ta for now,

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