May, 2019 back to May, 2008: (nothing)
My adventures and frustration at slow Internet made me leave my blog by the wayside for the past few weeks.
I am now back in Canada, and I have uploaded a photo album online. It is massive, only because it squishes eight action-packed months of my life into a mere 70 megabytes.
- Cargo ship captain: stays out of the way after charging the boarding fee.
- Cargo ship crew: become more and more friendly, even calling Adam by his name towards the end of the five-day journey.
- Ex-refugees: populate the village of Moba for roughly a year before Adam's arrival. Tell interesting stories. Are very poor.
- Burundian passengers: take Adam under their collective wing on Adam's trip to Bujumbura (Burundi).
- Congolese workers: load the boat at Moba, chanting to gather strength and resolve.
- Congolese passengers: board in massive numbers at Moba and sleep absolutely everywhere.
- Congolese port officials: collectively extract over $30 through cons and bribes.
- Congolese Important Official, Uvira: swears to get Congolese port officials fired and phones ahead at the Burundian border to allow Adam passage and special treatment.
- Adam: experiences all of this rather passively.
- See Victoria Falls
- White water raft below Victoria Falls
- Go on a cruise above Victoria Falls
- Fly in a micro-light over Victoria Falls
- Defy Africa by crossing from Victoria Falls to Mpulungu, at the complete opposite end of Zambia, in under 24 hours.
I spent five nights in Malawi. This was enough for me to make several oversimplified comparisons to Tanzania:
- Local food: nsima and relish (same as ugali and mchicha in Tanzania).
- Local languages: many, with English the common tongue. As in other African countries, language barriers are probably still a contributing factor of tribalism and discrimination. Tanzania, with its near-universal Swahili, seems more cohesive.
- Roads: fantastic.
- Scenery: stupendous. Mountains tower above Lake Malawi from both sides, resulting in spectacular sunrises, sunsets, days, and nights.
- Backpacking: Malawi is a superb backpacking country. Rates are cheap, people speak English, roads are good.... If you want to visit Africa, Malawi is a great place to start.
- Business: it may just be a feeling, but I get the impression Malawi revolves around South Africa whereas Tanzania revolves around Kenya.
- Politics: when I left Malawi, parliament was dissolving. No difference from Tanzania there.
- In general: I would need to stay much longer to understand Malawi.
Next up: Zambia and Victoria Falls.
Beaches being beaches and white people being rich, some Maasai warriors earn a living making crafts and selling them to tourists. I have a Maasai friend who used to do this.
Saturday afternoon, Alex, Caitlin and I found ourselves relaxing on a beach at Cholo's, an incredibly chill beach-side bar. Cholo's, as Caitlin's Blog explains, is run by what we refer to as impostafarians (Rastafarians minus their religious beliefs). It may be the most relaxed place in all of Africa.
On this particular afternoon, we were disturbed from our relaxing by a raised voice. looking up, I saw a Maasai warrior attempting to sell his crafts to the tourists fifteen feet away. The voice we heard was that of one of the Rasta owners of Cholo's.
It was clear the Rasta was drunk: he began to shout, toka! over and over again. (Toka! is an extremely rude and emphatic, get out!) He had somehow acquired a Maasai stick (a half-stick, half-club just over a foot long). He used the stick to try and rally nearby dogs to his cause: the peaceful dogs were comically unhelpful rounding up the Maasai. We had to turn away and laugh.
Challenge: I never wrote all I could and this is my last Challenge-inspired entry. Include five sentences I dreamed up which I had anticipated publishing (because I thought they sounded powerful and exciting) but which I never turned into blog entries.
I can buy a camera lens with as wide an angle as physically possible, but it will still be too narrow to capture reality.
I could argue that a wider camera lens would actually project less information. A mountain framed by a banana tree; a misplaced Habs jersey; a lopsided dala-dala; a motorcycle hanging from a tree: pictures merely project ideas, not reality. More information would obscure the ideas.
Similarly, my blog can only project narrow ideas: it cannot reflect reality. These Challenges I have been using on my blog have been helpful in reminding me of that.
Challenge: I do not really think like this all the time, and I am certainly not thinking like this now, but there is an element of truth in here. Write only thoughts which occurred to me before I decided to make a blog entry out of them.
From time to time, I go to a fancy restaurant. I spend the average Tanzanian's monthly salary in a single night, savouring a beer and food that reminds me of Montreal. It is refreshing, but it makes me feel guilty. For instance: in Uganda I once ate two meals' worth of steak dinner in two hours; this was the evening after working at a school where the children get one meal a day of beans and ugali (like rice, minus the texture and flavour and cutlery). Even Dickens would be unable to emphasize the poignancy of my social superiority.
I cherish my meal, all the while thinking disparaging thoughts about my dinner companions, every other white customer in the restaurant, every other black or Indian customer in the restaurant, the restaurant's owner, the restaurant itself, and even the concept of restaurants.
No wonder this country is underdeveloped, I ruminate. All the people around me are not developing it! The wealth changes hands between the rich, and the poor get nothing. Even the people in the poverty-reduction business take part in the farce. I should know: I am one.
Challenge: whet the appetite with mention of money in every paragraph.
In Tanzania, much of the business culture revolves around what is called a per diem: a payment for putting somebody out of his way.
For instance, one week I attended some training. I was paid a per diem food allowance for every day I spent away from my home. The concept makes sense: after all, were I not paid, I would have had to finance myself, which I cannot afford to do. If the coordinators had not offered me per diems, I would not have offered my time.
I was also a bit careful. In my week away from home, I managed to horde away the equivalent of $10 Canadian. I did so by ensuring everything I bought was as cheap as possible. My per diems were small, but my expenditures were smaller. I need that $10, and I do not feel that my actions were particularly dishonest—even though, in the end, this $10 which used to be somebody else's is now mine.
Challenge: look at the same thing from two perspectives, alternating on each paragraph.
In my house, on a shelf, there is a row of small, glass bottles containing an herbal liquid. I was told this is a cure for HIV. I was then asked, Adam, do you believe this medicine cures HIV?
In truth, I believe these bottles do not contain the cure to HIV. I believe there are likely many Tanzanians who put their trust in this cure, using it as an excuse to engage in risky sexual behaviour: in this way, this cure to HIV actually helps spread it. I lament the hypocrisy of a household reading an HIV-awareness magazine at the same time as advertising anti-HIV snake oil.
I found out later that it is not hypocrisy. Look from the opposite perspective: why would somebody who owns the cure to HIV read a magazine which claims it does not exist? Simple: the magazine is free and colourful, and a guest is clearly enthusiastic about it. Just as we might discuss various differences between Muslim and Christian beliefs, Canadian and Tanzanian weather, or Western and African television, so might we discuss the various belief systems about medicinal solutions to HIV.
Challenge: write at least one negative and one positive in every paragraph.
The dreams have begun again. I am back home with my family and friends. Everything is normal, yet it all feels wrong. Somebody mentions Tanzania. I wake up, relieved.
I cannot wait to see everybody back home. Yet as the dreams suggest, I am reticent to do so. The reason is culture shock.
It is termed reverse culture shock when returning home. Reverse culture shock is, to me at least, far more difficult to handle than the forwards variety. Regular culture shock is realizing, in Tanzania, this child really could be funded through school for the cost of a cup of coffee a day. Reverse culture shock is realizing, in Montreal, this cup of coffee could be funding that child through school. Every object is seen through the eyes of somebody who does not need it; every statement is heard from people who suddenly do not understand.