Thoughts from Tanzania
Geneve and I are currently in Arusha, Tanzania, where we are visiting Ali, a highschool friend of mine, who is working at the United Nations Rwandan War Crimes Tribunal for the summer.
Some thoughts on our experience here since we arrived on Sunday night after 27 hours of travel:
- I'm not sure what I expected, but I have been pleasantly surprised. Our $20/night hotel is clean, safe, and provides a calming sanctuary with its BBC, ESPN, SkyNews, and five Bollywood channels on satellite TV.
- The people are friendly, including the incessant touts who offer safaris, tanzanite, and Masai paintings every time we walk by. It's often fun to mess with them. My friend Andrew has a line that gets some terribly confused looks: when a tout calls out to you in English, you respond "Sorry, I don't speak English" with a Texan-in-Paris volume and enunciation.
- It's not hot here. Not even close. The days are mid-70s with a nice breeze. The nights here are chilly. This is their winter, granted, but you'd think winter nights in Africa would be warmer than high-40s. Ngorongoro crater, where we will be on safari this weekend, apparently gets down to the low-40s at night.
- Coke often becomes a pleasing substitute in places where it's not safe to drink non-bottled water. You always know what you're getting with Coke. Plus, it just seems more fun to drink Coke from a glass bottle.
- Paranoia about malaria seems very subdued here. We ate outside yesterday evening at Khan's BBQ (auto parts store by day, delicious street meat BBQ by night) and while there were mosquitos out and about, they were not even given a mention.
- Everything catering to tourists here is negotiable. Tchochkes, bus fares, hotel prices, and taxis are all subject to intense debate, wild gesticulations, grandiose bluffing, and even public auction among vendors.
- We arrived in Arusha at night, when the streets were empty. When we walked out of our hotel the next morning, we were surprised to find that they were alive with the hustle and bustle of city life. Touts hanging out on corners, businessmen on their way to work, women in colorful garb cruising around town with huge baskets of anything and everything balanced on their heads. By dusk, the crowds in the streets thin out, and by dark, only unfriendly folks remain. Moving around at night is best done by taxi if you'd like to hang on to your possessions.
- So last night, Geneve, myself, and a British co-worker of Ali's named Fred all caught a taxi back to the hotel from Khan's BBQ. We had just turned onto a main street, about 5 blocks from the hotel, when the car sputtered and died. The taxi driver started giggling and in broken english conveyed that we were out of gas. Now, in my mind, you have two obligations as a taxi driver: first, to get your passengers to their destination safely. And second, to make sure your car is reasonably fueled to do so. The cabbie was well prepared for such an occurrance, as he flipped on the hazards, jumped out of the car, grabbed a big fuel container from the trunk, and took off at a full sprint towards the gas station which was thankfully a block away. We sat there for about 5 minutes, having polite conversation while trying to force the phrase "sitting duck" and thoughts of State Department warnings about how carjackings and robberies were much more likely to occur at night out of our minds. After a quick refuel, and a push from some guy who was hanging out on the street, we were safely on our way.
- There is something to be said for the ex-pat lifestyle. Many UN folks from all over the world congregate for long lunches on the patio at a place called Via-Via. The pace of life away from North America is simply slower, and there is an emphasis on enjoying life rather than getting caught up in the rat race.
- Arusha is a diverse town. Unsurprisingly, there are very few white people here (which gives me a whole new appreciation for being a visible minority, which I've only had when I was last in Harlem), but locals range from Masai in their traditional garb, to muslim women covered from head to toe, to Christians wearing everything from finely-tailored suits to North American hand-me-downs. For example, I've seen many locals wearing Blue Jays, Raptors, Red Sox, and "[Insert small town here] Little League" clothing.
- There are a ton of Indians here, and many of them run successful businesses. Word on the street is that many Tanzanian business owners resent the Indians for their business savvy. Geneve and I had a fantastic experience at a store the other day when the Indian proprietor talked with us for 45 minutes or so about how to buy Tanzanite, a blue gem that is only mined in Tanzania. In contrast to touts on the street, or too-passive owners of other shops we've been to, it was the perfect balance: he established himself as an expert (much of which we corroborated through research on the web) and a nice guy, and made the decision of where to purchase much easier. Doesn't mean we're not going to bargain like crazy, though!
So, that's it for now. Really looking forward to the safari this weekend and the white sand and blue water of Zanzibar island next week.