Two Weeks in Tanzania, a Night in Zanzibar, & a Step Into Congo

7 Jun

I’m alive! It’s been a month since my last post, so let me jump right in.

I spent the last two weeks in Tanzania doing more research on microfinance organizations. So far, the research is completed in Zambia and Uganda, with Tanzania and Kenya left.

First, I met with management teams at head offices to gain approval for the research and then I traveled to branches to collect data via questionnaires completed by loan officers.

As I avoid taxis like the plague due to their cost and waste of fuel, my general mode of transport was motorcycle taxi and tuk-tuk, pictured here.

First stops were Arusha and Moshi, two towns infested with tourists due to a big rock sticking out of the ground in the area – Mt Kilimanjaro. It was too cloudy to see anything, but I remembered fondly my birthday climb of the Roof of Africa in February with visiting OWU students and Prof. Mary Howard.

Next stop: Dar Es Salaam, meaning ‘Place of Peace.’ An old port city with a thriving Swahili culture, Dar is no longer the capital of Tanzania but is its largest.

Tanzanians were quite welcoming, and I built on my Swahili skills out of necessity – in TZ, Swahili is the language of choice, and many cannot speak English. I admire TZ for embracing their culture and learning Swahili first and English second, but it did lead to me eating food that I didn’t order, arriving in parts town I didn’t ask to go to, and the like. Shame on me!

Some other pictures of cities I conducted research in:

Morogoro –

Dodoma (outskirts, this is the current capital of Tanzania) –

Mwanza (Tanzania’s 2nd largest city on Lake Victoria) –

Tanzania is a different animal than the other countries I’ve done research in, and especially different than the most recent one – Uganda. Tanzania is four times the size of Uganda, so distances between cities are long. In addition, public transportation (bus, matatu) is illegal between midnight and 5am. While that may not sound too bad, it made my initial schedule of appointments impossible. Since the distance between cities was so large and buses don’t depart in the evening (when I finish appointments), I had to spend the night in a survey site frequently and wasted several days traveling.

The Tanzanian government makes night travel illegal because they noticed that so many road accidents happen at night. Theoretically, it’s logically sound to ban driving at night, but in practice it makes absolutely no sense. Bus drivers drive like maniacs to reach their destination by midnight, and if they don’t, there is never a formal fine issued – just a good ol’ bribe – kitu kidogo (something small).

Recent good luck with buses turned its ugly head on me, as I endured five bus breakdowns in two weeks. This one pictured below was particularly maddening – the fuel tank wasn’t feeding gas into the engine, so every 1-2 hours, the bus ran out of gas. What you see below is two men siphoning gas from the fuel tank into jerry cans, which are then transported inside the bus to be poured into the engine from the top. The worst part is – and Tanzanians complained about this more than me – the whole time, the driver and bus workers communicated nothing to the passengers. No “We are very sorry about this, but please bear with us” or “We have a problem with the fuel tank, our apologies.” Just silence.

Side note – the name of this bus is ‘Simba Mtoto Video Coach’ – a passenger told me that the owner of the bus likened himself to a baby lion (that is cool?), hence the name. For the record, there were no functional video screens or baby lions on the bus. Where’s my refund?

For all the logistics challenges, the research went well. It just means that another 3 weeks time is needed to complete research in Tanzania.

Now for some amusing anecdotes/pictures.

This is what happens when you don’t trust the strength of rope and you live in a country who’s traffic laws are ignored with lax police enforcement –

While relaxing on a balcony waiting for a credit officer to finish a questionnaire, a man in a truck pulling out on to the road noticed me and didn’t look away – he continued staring at me. This happens every day to me, especially in rural areas, and finally in some small way I indirectly exacted my revenge. While staring at me, the man drove his truck into a ditch in the road!

In Dodoma, stuck behind a bus, I lazily read the writing on the back to be pleasantly surprised – “With Gratitude to: Rotary International, Toledo, OH, USA.” It truly is a small world.

Choo Wanaume is Swahili for Men’s Toilet, but due to an incomplete translation, this toilet is technically for either men or women, as long as they are ‘gentle.’

During my free weekend in Tanzania, I stole away to visit Zanzibar. I took the ferry from Dar to the island and chatted with an Australian NGO volunteer and her mother along the way. She recently had a bout of malaria so bad that she had to be life-flighted to Nairobi to get special treatment.

On the ferry ride, you get a good view of Dar’s huge port, which receives cargo from places like Egypt, UAE, and China. Here’s a massive cargo ship arriving in Dar.

Zanzibar was well worth the visit. Zanzibar City, where Stone Town is located, reminded me of Lamu – it is an old Swahili settlement with fascinating architecture – Arab mansions, Omani forts, ancient mosques, and stone pathways –

I only stayed in Zanzibar for one night, as I needed to be in my next research location by Sunday night. Upon arrival in Zanzibar City (on Unguja Island, the largest island of the Zanzibar archipelago), I made a beeline for the northern tip of the island, where some of the best beaches are located.

The island is big, and in looking for transport everyone told me to hire a private taxi or go with a shared tourist taxi. I was told the trip would take 4 hours in a matatu and 1 hour with a taxi. I inquired about a motorcycle taxi, and I agreed to ride there and back for $15. Problem is, when they picked me up, they told me 1) they couldn’t find a motorcycle willing to take the trip and 2) now, I would have to take a taxi for $30. Sensing that they were trying to make an unfair amount of money off of me, I broke off the negotiation and rushed over to the matatu terminal. Instead of $30, I paid $1 to ride in the back of a truck crammed with fifteen people.

Total trip time? 1 1/2 hours, almost the exact same as private transport! I love Africa. The truck made frequent stops but made up for it by approaching the speed of light while moving.

Being the rainy season, Kendwa was entirely deserted by tourists, with only a few fisherman trying their luck in the ocean.

I went for a swim after waiting for heavy rain to let up, and the water was crystal clear but crawling with jellyfish! It was like swimming through landmines, or water-mines rather.

After my swim, I headed back to Zanzibar City and sampled the fresh juices. The lime juice and sugarcane juice (the juicing process pictured here) are to die for. As a registered sugar addict, I felt like Tony Montana at a cocaine bar.

My favorite part of Zanzibar is something unique to the city – barbequed seafood. You name it, they grill it for you. I met a local who helped me find the stands, so I invited him along to partake! Octopus was the tastiest, and I enjoyed the other delicacies I tried – lobster, squid, and baby shark (moral compass wavering on that last one), all spiced to perfection. It’s also appropriate at this time to offer an apology to my sister Emily, who graduated from high school last week – congrats Em! – and is pursuing a degree in Marine Science from the University of Hawaii in the fall. She loves sharks, especially baby ones!

I also sampled Zanzibar pizza – and opted for the desert form, a kind of crêpe with chocolate and banana inside.

Zanzibar exports large amounts of spice each year, and I found and bought saffron, ginger, cardamom, vanilla bean, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg at the city market.

Leaving Zanzibar, here’s me with Stone Town in the background, and hat hair in the foreground.

I’m looking forward to going back to Tanzania sometime to finish the research and learn more about their culture and language.

While Americans are still undecided on the Obama vs. Romney front, Africans have their mind made up. How do I know? Take a gander at this –

Yes. Obama gum. It’s magical and strawberry, and flavor lasts an entire two………..minutes. The gum, along with Obama brand pens, are manufactured in Nairobi and exported to Tanzania, Uganda, and other countries. Mr Obama could always sue for royalties from this fine product if his presidential bid doesn’t work out in November.

I finished my research in Mwanza, and with a free weekend and being not far from Rwanda, I decided to visit the country again. This is the border of Tanzania and Rwanda.

From Rwanda, I traveled to Burundi for the first time – somehow the 14th African country I’ve spent time in.

With a history of bitter Belgian colonial rule, Burundi’s safety and poverty levels have greatly improved. Similar to Rwanda, Burundi experienced a genocide directly related to jealously created by the Belgians. Upon arrival in Burundi, the Belgians divided people into two ethnic groups – the Hutus and Tutsis, with anyone owning ten cows a Tutsi and less than ten a Hutu. They empowered the Tutsi and treated the Hutus with contempt.

Also similar to Rwanda, Burundi is a hilly landscape and simply beautiful.

I’m not sure which ethnic group this is, but here is a woman dressed like one of Kenya’s Turkana peoples.

Did I mention the landscape is hilly? Bikers zoom down hills and then struggle to climb up them. Sometimes, they hold on to trucks passing by to make the climb effortless.

Approaching Bujumbura, Burundi’s capital, it felt like Bolivia’s ‘Road of Death,’ except the road was adequately wide.

Bujumbura is situated on the western part of the Rift Valley, surrounded by escarpments on both sides. The city is small, noticeably dirtier and less developed than Kigali (Rwanda’s capital), and sits at the northern tip of Lake Tanganyika, the world’s longest freshwater lake – it stretches all the way to Zambia.

Burundi is one of those democracies in theory, but a bit dictatorship in practice. Citizens don’t speak out about problems in the country.

These statues are everywhere – creepy depictions of Burundi’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza. The painting job isn’t that great on the eyes – it looks like he’s seen a ghost.

After my visit to Burundi, I headed to western Rwanda to try my luck on a day trip into the DRC. I’ve always (well, since I arrived in Africa 😉 ) been interested in visiting Congo. Everyone knows the history of its civil wars and instability. I heard rumors that foreigners can visit the country for a day entering through Goma, on the border with Rwanda. So I headed that way.

This is the Rwanda border town, Gisenyi.

A turn around in the other direction gives a much different view – Goma, DRC.

It reminded me of one of Nairobi’s slums. You can tell that many people have migrated to this area to escape poverty and oppression in other parts of DRC, with hopes of sneaking into Rwanda.

It was a rare time I felt unsafe in Africa, more people were staring at me than normal and the Rwandan border officials were skeptical of my entrance into DRC. When I met with DRC officials on the other side, they told me I needed to apply for a visa first at an embassy, or – here comes the bribe – pay $100 on the spot to enter the country for one hour without a visa. I didn’t want to do that and support an ineffective government, so I came away content with viewing Goma. And anyways, I did set foot in Congo to visit the border officials! I won’t count it as a country visit, though, and look forward to coming back sometime 😉

The Rwanda-DRC border is eerily separated by the Parc National des Volcans (both Rwanda and DRC are Francophone countries), where many tourists fork over $1000 to track mountain gorillas and observe them for one hour.

In Goma and Gisenyi, there is a strong UN presence. During periods of conflict, they built houses for refugees. Locals I spoke to resented the UN presence, as they live in prime real estate on Lake Kivu and drive around in expensive cars. While I’m sure a lot of the aid money is squandered, the UN is doing some good things – like bringing in water each day to camps in Goma.

While I was traveling in Burundi, a bomb exploded in Nairobi, injuring 33 people, assumed to be linked to Al-Shabab.

Well, that’s about it for now. I’ll leave you with some pictures of food – hope you’ve already had dinner.

Grapes in Dodoma, Tanzania –

Tilapia, ready to eat –

And my favorite meal in Kenya – Chapati, beans, and sukuma wiki (kale + spinach mixture).

In my last three weeks in Nairobi, I have a lot of work to finish up at Maono and with the microfinance research. Along with that, I am busy applying to several internships/positions in East Africa. I had an interview yesterday and am excited about continuing my career in development work in this region. If I don’t find the right position, I’ll most likely be staying in the US to earn a Master’s degree in Public Administration, a law degree, or both. Either way, I’ll be in the US during the month of July to connect with family, friends, and many a Junior Whopper (with cheese).

It’s been a pleasure managing this blog and thank you for following along with my experiences! In the future, I plan for it to morph into more of an observational blog on development work in East Africa, and less of a travel blog.

Until next time!

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