Bulbul's 2000 Travel Journal

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This is my general itinerary:
  • June 22: arrive in Brussels, take train to Paris. Spend one month in Paris with George.
  • July 23 (?): leave Paris for Brussels.
  • Leave Brussels for Nairobi. Spend one week in Nairobi. Take bus to Dar-es-Salaam.
  • August 30 (approximately): return by bus to Nairobi.
  • September 3: arrive in Los Angeles from Nairobi, via Brussels.

Tuesday, September 5, 2000

Los Angeles, California: I'm back home now, and glad to be there at that. It appears that even the cat missed me.

My trip home was pleasantly uneventful, albeit unpleasantly long. The most memorable part of the journey was undoubtedly the Jomo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi, where the music over the P.A. system was this album of overly peppy American Christian music played over and over. (The melody of Celebrate Jesus, Celebrate! still haunts me.)

I suppose since this is my final journal entry, i should end with some sort of moral or lesson i have learnt. I wish i could say something like Dorothy did in The Wizard of Oz, which was something like "The next time i want to follow my dreams, i won't go any further than my own backyard." But i can't. It's a wide interesting (and tasty!) world out there, well worth exploring. I look forward to my next adventure.

Thanks to all of you readers out there. I hope that i have not disappointed you, and i hope that you too will share your adventures with the world. So long!

(Comments are welcome and can be sent to me at bulbul@ucla.edu.)

Saturday, September 2, 2000

Nairobi, Kenya: It's fewer than fourteen hours before i'm on my plane home now, and i'm getting almost as excited as i did just before i got on the plane to Nairobi.

My stay here in Nairobi has been a bit more positive than six weeks ago. For one thing, the weather has been intermittently warm and sunny. This has a good effect on one's outlook. I've gotten to spend some time in downtown Nairobi during a sunny spell, and it's much nice than my first impression. Much larger, too.

The water situation hasn't improved, but i was able to take a hot shower today. The phone has been on and off. Electricity has been a bit better, but less predictable. There's no way of knowing whether it's going to be off in the daytime or the evening. At least it comes every night (around 10?) and stays on until at least 7 a.m. Having the power off in the evening has helped new-old forms of entertainment to evolve. In this household, the name of the game is Scrabble by candlelight... at which i lost miserably the one time i played it. (I don't seem to know enough words consisting entirely of vowels and semivowels.)

Yesterday i was taken to the Village Market, which, in spite of its name, is an modern open-air mall, complete with food court, which could almost as easily been located in Orange County, California as in Nairobi. The special thing about the Village Market is that inside and out there are large areas where vendors can lay out mats to sell their handicrafts.

I'm having a hard time with my weight here. The food's so good here, where Kamil's mother prepares a fresh Indian meal, with several dishes, every day. She's been giving me lots of cooking tips, which i will doubtless put into practice when i get back to my own kitchen.

Not much other excitement. Other than the obligatory trips back to the bookshops for last minute purchases, i haven't been up to doing much. Ten weeks is a long time to be travelling, and i'm starting to feel quite fatigued.

This seems to be my last entry before i get back to L.A. I'll try to write a little follow-up entry in a few days.

Thursday, August 31, 2000

Nairobi, Kenya: As planned, my last day in Arusha was spent buying last minute gifties and writing postcards. I also spent a few hours with Mashauri.

I had a wierd experience in an Arusha audio cassette shop. I had wanted to by some Swahili music before i left and decided to go to a shop i had seen in the centre of town. The shop is owned by an Indian, and in addition to African and Western music, the shop had a lot of Indian tapes. After buying the soundtracks of two of the Indian films i'd seen in Dar, i hesitated before asking for the soundtrack of this Indian film i'd seen in the States about six years ago. This film, Hoda Gawaa, played in one lone theatre in L.A. for all of two weeks, and it's the only Indian film i know of that has gotten a general release in the U.S. in recent history. Anyway, i asked if he had the soundtrack to this film. He didn't think so (and ultimately, he didn't), but when i asked, him this other customer (in this very small shop) turns to me and says, in very good English, "I just asked them if they had that tape and they said they didn't. If they have it, i want it. I just love that stuff!" She was a young black women in an African-looking dress. It would not have been terribly surprising if she had been Tanzanian or Kenyan, since non-Indian Africans have been known to watch Indian films. But when i asked her where she was from, she said she was a New Yorker. Wow! This obscure film, in Arusha, in this little shop, on the same day... what a coincidence!

I made the six-or-so-hour trip from Arusha to Nairobi yesterday on the Davanu Shuttle (a minibus service). It was smooth and uneventful. Luckily, we didn't have to go through customs at the boarder like we did when entering Tanzania. I guess there was one interesting thing that happened. While the bus had taken a short stop on the Kenyan side of the boarder, various people came to the bus windows to hawk there handicrafts. This one guy selling necklaces was trying to convince one of our passengers to buy something. He somehow guessed that the traveller was Israeli (which he indeed was) and proceeded to conduct business entirely in Hebrew! I cannot imagine how he could learn Hebrew. I mean, it's not as if you could just pick up a textbook in a book shop here. Also, this is at a border post where you couldn't really befriend travelling tourists; the tourists are only there for an hour at the longest. Those vendors are remarkably resourceful!

The electricity situation at Kamil's has been much better lately. Yesterday they had electricity the entire day. That does not mean that the situation in Nairobi has improved more generally. People are just wondering who bribed whom to leave the switch on in our particular area. The phone is also now working. (This makes it possible to update this journal from the comfort of home.) There is still no water in the mains, however.

Sorry to those following my food critiques; i have no avocado milkshake stories or the like to relate today. I am now getting a lot of home-cooked Indian food, though.

Tuesday, August 29, 2000

Arusha, Tanzania: This is my last day in Tanzania. Tomorrow morning the Davanu Shuttle should pick me up at 7:30 a.m. Today will be spent buying the odd trinket, and maybe writing a few postcards. I'm back at the YMCA, but i thoroughly enjoyed this morning's real hot shower, the first one i've had in Tanzania, at the Arusha Resort.

Yesterday i went to two touristic destinations: the Cultural Heritage (Centre?) and the National Museum. The National Museum is in a little building in which the Arusha Declaration, Nyerere's declaration of the Tanzanian self-reliance policy, was signed in 1967. When you pay your admission fee you sign a guest book, from which it appears that i was the only visitor to the museum on Monday, although there had been another visitor on Friday. Not the place to see and be seen, i guess. It wasn't that much as far as museums go, either, but it did have some interesting photos of traditional (i.e. pre-European) houses and metallurgy.

The second spot, the Cultural Heritage, is something of glorified souvenir shop with a nice park area, places to eat, life style mock-ups of traditional Maasai houses, and a very large shop chock full of all different kinds of (overpriced) wooden carvings and other gift items. There were a lot of interesting pieces to look at, and the place had a lot of character, but i didn't buy anything. Not that i could fit anything more into my bag anyway.

Again i must talk about food. In Dar i noticed a few places offering avocado juice, but i never actually ate in a place where i could try it. Well, yesterday i had lunch (and dinner) at the very nice Bamboo Café. Among other flavours, they offer an avocado milkshake. Well, i had to try that! I was a very subtle flavour. Not my favourite, but avocado in something sweet is actually okay.

Clinton, Mandela, and the gang have all left. Mashauri got to see them from his window at work.

I may or may not be able to put in a journal entry from Nairobi. If not, i'll update it for the last time soon after i get back to Los Angeles on September 4.

Monday, August 28, 2000

Arusha, Tanzania: I'm in Arusha again. My trip back from Dar was uneventful. I booked early and chose the first row in the bus, so i had a very nice view of the scenery.

I'm back to eating meat again. Tanzanians eat a lot of it. Throughout East Africa, one of the most popular foods is nyama choma (grilled meat). This is usually goat or beef grilled over coals and then cut into bitesize pieces. It's often very tough to chew, but it's usually tasty. Anyway, i didn't eat this even one time in Dar, because i mostly ate Indian food, and often vegetarian at that. But on the bus trip i broke this fast. Midway, the bus stopped at a rest stop. There, lots of people bought little paper bags filled with nyama choma. I knew i'd eventually get hungry on this ten-hour journey, so i broke down and bought a bag. It came with a half of a lemon to squeeze on the meat, and some salt. Chewy, but tasty. It just seems so odd to buy greasy grilled meat in a brown paper bag.

Last night, Mashauri and i went to eat trupa for dinner, which is this stew made only in Arusha (i think). It contained chicken, sweet peppers, plantains, potatoes, peas, and carrots. A serving big enough for two cost only Tsh. 1700 (US$2). We were both very full afterwards.

In spite of the low prices here, my money has just evaporated. I don't understand where it goes. I mean, don't use any transport, because i walk everywhere, i haven't once been to an elegant restaurant, i stayed at the Jambo Inn for $9 per night, etc., but the money just seems to disappear. I have nearly wiped out the extra $400 i had to have George send me via Western Union two weeks ago, and i've had to have him send another $200. (I've since learnt where i can get a cash advance on a credit card here, which i had read was impossible in Tanzania.)

I've had to leave the YMCA for one night, because it has been fully booked in advance by a group of Italians. So, yesterday Mashauri took me to preview two cheapish hotels. Although clean, they were both depressing, and i found something nicer, if more expensive, where i've taken a room for one night: the Arusha Resort Hotel. It's bright and airy, and it has decent shower facilities and a nice garden café.

President Clinton, and others including Nelson Mandela, are here in Arusha today for the signing of the Burundi peace accords. Luckily, security seems to be concentrated around the building where they're all meeting, so getting around has not been the problem i'd expected.

I've only got eight minutes left, and i've already been here at the Internet place far too long. So, i'll just close saying that my flight arrangements have been fixed and that i've got my shuttle ticket to leave for Nairobi on Wednesday morning.

Thursday, August 24, 2000

Dar es Salaam: Not much to write about today, but i've got some time to kill.

I went in to Swissair today to confirm my reservation, since they handle Sabena business in Tanzania. The agent found an interesting error in my reservation. I was originally reserved to go Nairobi to Brussels to Atlanta to Los Angeles. When the agent looked me up, she found that the Brussels to Atlanta flight number was no longer valid and that i was now booked on a flight from Brussels to Dallas. However, the Atlanta to Los Angeles portion had not been changed. I suggested that Sabena expected me to walk (quickly) from Dallas to Atlanta to catch the last leg of my journal. I am working on getting this problem fixed.

Now my stay here is pretty much a matter of tying up loose ends. I bought my bus ticket to Arusha. It leaves Dar on Saturday at 9:00 a.m., but if i want to leave directly from downtown (where i am staying), it leaves downtown at 6:30 a.m. I'm not looking forward to waking up at five in the morning, but that's travel for you. I saw Nyambona for the last time today, and will be seeing Minani and his wife Sofia for the last time tomorrow. Last minute purchases such as books and Swahili reading materials for people back home are being made.

It so happens that another prominent American will be in Arusha at the same time: President Clinton. He'll be there on Monday. I hope it's not all going to be a big mess. I'm afraid security will jam up the city and make things unbearable. My friend Mashauri works in the AICC building (Arusha International Conference Centre), where Clinton will be visiting. The YMCA, where i'll be staying, is about three blocks away. Mashauri also lives a few blocks away in the other direction. What fun!

Tuesday, August 22, 2000

Dar es Salaam: Well, i'm back from my trip to Zanzibar. There, i didn't do anything more of interest after the spice trip.

Yesterday i went to the new (Indian) flick at the cinema. It was called Tera Jadoo Chal Gayaa (which i have since been told means "Your Magic Works"). It was really good. Although the music wasn't very memorable, the costuming and choreography was really lavish. I've been asked if there's only one cinema in Dar. The sad fact is that when video tapes became popular, all of them except for the Avalon went out of business.

Since my stay in Dar is about to draw to a close, i've been trying to get some shopping and picture-taking done at the same time. The shopping part is proving easier than the picture-taking for me. Today i went on a quest to buy kangas. A kanga consists of two identical pieces of low quality cottom cloth, about 1m x 2m, worn by women, usually with a design in two or three basic colours and a printed message. One of the pieces is usually used as a skirt, while the other is used in various ways as a top, upper wrap, or shawl. I ended up buying three, at three different places. (There are many kanga shops near the Jambo Inn, where i'm staying.) Then i sat with a tailor (sewer?) on the sidewalk next to the shop, who hems the kangas on a pedal-powered machine. All of this gave me good opportunities to chit-chat with various people in Swahili and take a few pictures.

Taking pictures has not been so eassy, because a lot of people just don't want to be photographed (and you have to ask for permission first). My strategy is usually to ask if i can take a picture if i buy something. Well, in one of the kanga shops, where i talked at length with the saleswomen, they allowed me to photograph the shop, but literally hid behind the counter while i did so. (My Swahili teacher here says that a lot of people think that you're going to sell the photos when you get back home.) I also wanted to get a picture of a coconut vendor in the street. Now a coconut costs Tsh 100 (US$0.12). I asked a vendor if i could photograph him if i bought a coconut to drink. He replied that i could if i paid him Tsh 5000 ($6.50). I didn't even want to bargain with him with a starting offer like that.

Not much more of interest. I'm still meeting with Minani every day for his Arabic lessons. I bought a pair of shoes, since the heels on my second pair of sandals have shrunk to the point that some of the pins that hold them together were now pinching my heel if i mis-stepped. (Recall that my first pair of sandals have a broken buckle.)

I'm feeling that relating the condition of the heels on my sandals really means that i've scraped the bottom of the barrel of things to talk about. So, i'll stop there.

Sunday, August 20, 2000

Zanzibar City, Zanzibar, Tanzania: Last night, write after writing my journal entry, i went to a traditional dance performance and barbecue buffet give in the old fortress. It was interesting, if a bit lonely.

I slept very well last night at the Malindi Guest House on the first decent mattress i've experienced in Tanzania. Everywhere but there the mattress has consisted in a flimsy four-inch-thick piece of foam rubber, inadequately protecting you from whatever crossplanks support it underneat. The good mattress (in a queen size bed) was a treat. and this morning i had the first warm shower i've had since i got to Tanzania. The breakfast was also unusually robust, with fresh orange, banana, papaya with lime, good bread, fried eggs, and tea. Well, i can say goodbye to that extravagence since i checked out of Malindi and into the Bottoms Up Inn, which is a real dive. But it's only for one day and it's cheap, so i don't care.

When i checked into Bottoms Up, i found that i had misunderstood the time for the spice tour and that i was about to miss it. The manager found someone to quickly walk with me across town to the travel agent. I was in the truck and off with the tour about one minute after i got there. I'm glad i made it, because it was a very enjoyable experience.

There were two truckloads of us. Each truck had about fourteen passangers, who sat in the back of a covered truck. It sounds uncomfortable, but it was bad, and since everyone sat on benches facing the center, it was also conducive to meeting new people and talking.

The tour took about seven hours. We went to various farms and other areas where we got to see and sample various spices and tropical fruits and vegetables being grown. Visiting the farms was quite pleasant, because most of the agriculture here on the island is very small patches of any particular crop or even crops interspersed in a forest-like area. So, when visiting a farm you're usually protected from the sun by the surrounding vegetation.

Among the crops we got to see and taste are:

  • Black pepper, still in the state of being a green berry.
  • Cardamom, still in the state of little green pods growing on the ground at the base of the plant.
  • Lemon grass.
  • Cinnamon. We got to taste both the leave and bark.
  • Jackfruit. It's like a small watermelon in size and tastes somewhat like banana. Delicious, but very sticky.
  • Coffee. Still in its green state, it tastes pretty much how you'd expect a bean to taste.
  • Turmeric. A root. Bitter.
  • Clove. Even its leaves taste of clove.
  • Cassava. The type grown in East Africa is not poisonous uncooked, as it is in West Africa. We got to taste it roasted (somewhat like potato) and as a fried chip. For those who don't know, cassava is what tapioca is made of.
  • Nutmeg. It's the kernel of a apple-sized fruit (which isn't used). We got to taste it fresh, while it is still soft.
  • Star fruit, one variety of which is very sour and used like lemon in cooking.
  • Vanilla. This isn't in season, but we got to see the vines.
  • Cocoa. This was probably the most interesting thing to taste in its green, preprocessed state.
There were other things, but i'm not going to mention them all. We had a wonderful lunch of a mild (Zanzibari-style) coconut-based curry served with rice flavoured with whole peppercorns and cardamom pods. Other activites included visiting an underground cave, spending an hour at a beautiful beach, and taking roadside breaks for Zanzibar-style coffee and crullers and for fresh coconut milk. This was one of the most interesting things i've done since coming to Tanzania.

No special plans for tonight. I leave for Dar sometime tomorrow morning.

Saturday, August 19, 2000

Zanzibar: Yes, i made it to Zanzibar today. It is quite different here and feels very Arab. There is a huge maze of little streets in the Old Stone City. It's charming in the same way that Moroccan cities are, except that here the people aren't obnoxious. I'm staying at the Malindi Guest House tonight, but the US$30 i'm paying there per night is $20 too much for me, so tomorrow i'm moving to the Bottoms Up Inn, which is located right inside the Stone City. After that i'll be catching the boat back to Dar es Salaam.

The trip over here cost $25 (one way). I took the Sea Star, one of several boats available with different fares and travel times. The Sea Star takes about 100 minutes. The trip was pleasant and uneventful, except for the "in-flight" movie, which i can't not talk about. I didn't catch the title, but it was an American flick about this giant crocodile in some lake in Maine. It eats bears and cows, but especially people. It was sort of like a Jaws, if Jaws had been a lungfish capable of living on land for short periods of time. Anyways, people got their legs snapped off being pulled aboard or got their heads snapped off when leaning overboasrd. I thought it was just a wonderful film choice for a slow overwater voyage! At one point during the film a cow is floated on the water's surface by a heliocopter to lure the crocodile. A choice bit of dialogue ensues: "It doesn't look like she's swimming," says the woman. "She's not; she's just floating," the man replies. "She looks like a giant tea bag," she remarks.

I have not decided what to do tomorrow. The owner of Bottoms Up suggested that i go on a spice tour, which takes you around to the various spice plantations here. (Zanzibar is a major clove producer.) Since it takes several hours, and includes lunch, i may decide to do this. It will give me something to do, and also (perhaps) provide some human interaction. I rather wish that i was not here all alone. And at $10, it could hardly be a waste of money (which is going very fast here in Zanzibar).

Oh, how could i forget lunch? Well, i've finally gotten to try some Zanzibari food. I went to a little restaurant called "Heaven" on the roof of a little hotel in the Stone City. It did not look at all promising, but i was tired, hungry, and especially thirsty and had to decide on something. Anyway, the short menu included two Zanzibar-sounding dishes: fish with coconut and octopus with coconut. Not being particularly fond of squid, i opted for the fish. I was a whole fish in a tomatoey coconut-milk (?) sauce with lots of pieces of cubed coconut. It was slightly spicy and very tasty. Served with plain rice. I was pleasantly surprised.

Food reminds me that i went to the university again yesterday, this time with Minani. I had breakfast there, where i had something very typical that i had not had yet... at least as a breakfast dish. That was boiled goat meat and broth (garnished with salt, lemon wedges, and thin slices of hot pepper). This was eaten with the now-familiar chapatis (Indian flour tortillas). It seems like a somewhat odd breakfast choice, but it was actually very tasty.

Well, all this writing means that i'm not out spending enough time on the streets of Zanzibar, so that's all for today.

Wednesday, August 16, 2000

Dar es Salaam: I'm really in no particular mood to write at the moment, but other plans having fallen through, i can't think of anything better to do at the moment.

The people at the Amrapali restaurant are really nice. Yesterday i wanted to eat there, but found the door locked. As i was standing there thinking where i should go next, the people inside told me that they were always closed on Tuesdays... but that only regular customers (like me) could come and be served. So, i was quite pleased to be given the regular customer treatment.

Minani and i have met a couple of times since i last wrote. He is a Muslim and would like to learn to read Arabic. Unfortunately, when he tried before he didn't have a good teacher and was thus unsuccessful. So, i've offered to teach him this skill. I was lucky enough to find a book here (in Swahili even) which teaches exactly that. Funnily enough, Nyambona has also studied some Arabic.

Tomorrow, Minani and i are going out together to make some purchases i need to make, including an additional piece of luggage. I don't feel at all prepared to haggle over prices by myself, since i have know idea about prices here. Then on Friday morning we're going to go out to the university together. It so happens that he knows personally the two people in the Swahili department which my professor has asked me to greet on his behalf. One of them is even his neighbour.

Saturday morning i'm going to Zanzibar for two days. I still haven't chosen which boat i'm going to take. Making arrangements for that will be one of my main tasks tomorrow.

Sorry, no new films to tell you about. There won't even be a new one this week, i fear. No new foods, either (other than Indian ones). But i have decided that fresh coconut milk, although cheap and readily available (cut just for you by a sidewalk vendor), is not my favourite beverage.

Sunday, August 13, 2000

Dar es Salaam: Well, it's Sunday again, and there's not much to do, so i might as well update my travel jounral while i have time on my hands.

Yesterday, since it was Saturday and i didn't have a conversation session, i didn't know what to do. So, having been told that the University of Dar es Salaam was open even on Saturday, i decided to venture out there on my own, which was my first solo bus trip. It took about an hour to get there, but when i arrived i found it almost deserted. I guess there are things open on Saturday, but certainly most things aren't. One of the main thing's i wanted to get to was the university book shop. It actually was open from nine to one, but i got there at three. Oh well, another day. The place itself is rather nice. It's way outside the city and is set in some beautiful green hills. The facilities themselves looked like they could use some better upkeep. I must remember to take my camera with me next time. A good outcome of this trip is that now i have a lot less anxiety about using public transportation on my own.

Nyambona had me and her neighbour Jacqueline (spelling?) over for on Friday. She lives very near the university. They came and picked me up at my hotel and we took two buses out there. She lives in a small room with no kitchen or even a private bathroom, but it's amazing what meals people can manage to prepare even when they have the most rudimentary facilities. Dinner consisted of several dishes:

  • some type of smallish ocean whole ocean fishes in a sauce,
  • potatoes and plantains in a red sauce (together),
  • mchicha, a local variety of spinach, which is very flavourful,
  • kachumbari, a diced tomato salad,
  • a delicious dish of finely sliced cabbage cooked with onions, oil, and a little bit of tomato,
  • rice cooked in coconut milk,
  • a juice made with both passionfruit and mangoes,
  • diced fresh papaya
It was all very good. Most of the evening's conversation was in Esperanto again, even though Jacqueline doesn't speak it. In any case, we all enjoyed ourselves.

One interesting topic that came up over dinner was that of malaria. Now, i'm taking an anti-malarial medication once a week (and it's rather expensive, i might add). But i was wondering what Tanzanians themselves do to prevent malaria. I was most surprised to learn that, at least according to Nyambona, most people can't go two years without getting malaria. They use mosquito nets over their beds and lots of pesticides, but sooner or later you get bitten and become ill. I thought that was really amazing.

Thing's are looking up in the food department. I finally tracked down a vegetarian Indian restaurant listed in my travel guide, called Amrapali. It's far from fancy, but it's just great. The people, mostly Indian, are really friendly. The food is interesting, good, and plentiful. For Tsh. 2000 (read "Tanzanian shillings", 2000 of which is about US$2.50) you get a complete all-you-can-eat meal with a glass of lassi (yoghurt drink), still-hot fresh papadam (spicy chick pea crisp bread), cabbage salad, two types of stews/main dish, a soup, a rice dish, fresh hot chapati (similar to flour tortillas), and a dessert. Most of these items vary from day to day. Anyway, it's really tasty, and healthy, too. They also play Indian movie music (today they even played the sound track to the movie i saw last week), and i can read there for a few hours at a time drinking tea (Indian-style, as it always is in East Africa, made with milk and usually containing cardamom). It's in the area of town where the numerous Hindu temples and establishments are located.

They changed the movie at the cinema, so, having seen Har dil jo pyar karega (whatever that means) twice, i doled out another Tsh. 3600 (US$4, which, i might mention, is quite a bit of money for the average Tanzanian) and saw Dewanee, which was also three hours. (I think this is the standard length for an Indian feature film.) It was okay, but the music was not nearly as good as the last film (Har dil...). You don't all need to run out to your local Indian video rental place to preorder it.

I plan to go to Zanzibar for two or three days (probably two) Saturday morning. I have yet to make arrangements for that. By hydrofoil, it's a 45-minute journal. By boat, it's two to five hours, depending on the vessel. I haven't decided how i'm going yet (there's a big price differential, and i don't think i can use a credit card). More on that later, i guess.

Other than all that, my main activities are still reading the newspapers with dictionary at hand, reading books (i'm currently reading a book in Swahili about the history and customs of the Zanaki tribe of the Lake Victoria region), roaming the city, and taking my conversation sessions.

Thursday, August 10, 2000

Dar es Salaam: Well, the Esperantists have gone (the non-Tanzanian ones, that is). Nino, his three talian co-travellers, and me all went out to Minani's for dinner. We had a great time. Nyambona, the journalist, has invited me for dinner at her place tomorrow, which i understand is quite a ways out of town.

I've started my Swahili converstaion sessions at the language school. This is money very well spent. Although i have no problem reading a Swahili book or newspaper, i haven't actually been in a Swahili class for three years, and speaking is still very very hard for me. Well, my teacher here gives me a really good workout, questioning me for two-hour sessions on topics of general interest and on what i've read in the newspaper that day.

I've been hitting the bookstores, but no more than one a day. There aren't really as many Swahili books available as i had hoped. But i've picked up quite a few interesting things. Who knows if i'll ever actually have the time to read all of these things.

Food has not been so interesting. I'm still mostly dining at the Jambo Inn restaurant, which is Indian. Today i had lunch at the YMCA. That was pretty boring. One thing that i've been really enjoying every day is fresh passion fruit juice.

I should mention that prostitution is pretty rampant here. I was a bit shocked when, in Arusha, on returning to my hotel we encountered three of them, who approached us and flirted. I'd never been approached by a prostitute before. Anyway, yesterday i was approached again walking home. I just returned a hello and smiled then proceeded to walk on. She was really persistent and wanted me to stop and talk with her, but really wasn't in the mood to talk. If only they knew how wrong a tree they were barking up!

The buckle on one of my sandals broke yesterday. Thank goodness i brought another pair with me. I'm sure i can get this fixed if i can just find a shoe repair shop. I'm sure these exist somewhere, as in poorer countries people tend to repair things rather than replace them. In Cairo shoe repair shops abound, but i haven't come across one here yet.

Oh, yeah. I knew there was something else of interest that i wanted to write about--mosques. Now, having lived in Cairo, i'm quite used to mosques being all over the place and being beckoned to prayer via loudspeakers five times a day. One of these calls occurs around sunrise. Now, in Cairo, they're very polite about that, it may be over a loudspeaker in the street at five in the morning, but at least it lasts well under a minute. Not here. At least where i am, which is right next to Mosque Street, the sunrise call to prayer goes on interminably... for perhaps fifteen minutes. (I've never been quite awake enough to actually time it.) Anyway, it's just an intolerably long early wake up call.

Tuesday, August 8, 2000

Dar es Salaam: Today is a public holiday, so just as on the weekend, most things are closed.

ore Esperantists are in town. Much to my surprise, when i was visited by Minani yesterday, he came accompanied by Nin Vasselli, who is an Italian Esperantist. He also knows Swahili. In fact he has even translated a well-known Swahili novel into Italian and has published an Esperanto textbook in Swahili. Nino and i had a long walk around te city together, and later we met up with Minani (again) and his wife, and with Ms. Nyambona, who is a journalist with Radio Tanzania, Dar es Salaam (RTD).

Nino is here with two Italian women for an Italian charity which benefits schools serving poor children in the village of Ifakara (in Morogoro). This afternoon we are all going to the Minani household for lunch, prepared by Minani's wife. She is a charming woman, full of personality. Fortunately, she only speaks Swahili, which at least sometimes stems our use of Esperanto. Minani is a native Swahili speaker from Eastern Congo (formerly Zaire).

I'm staring private conversation lessons at a small language school tomorrow. I'm hoping that will get me speaking a bit more, since that was my whole purpose for coming here.

On Thursday, Minani is going to take me for a visit to the university.

Oh, one funy adjustment that i wanted to write a word about has to do with crossing th street. In both Kenya and Tanzania, you drive on the left side of the road. Well, i don't drive, but that doesn't keep things from being confusing, since you have to take this difference into account even if you're just an innocence pedestrian trying to cross the street. It's funny how instinctive it is knowing which way to look when you cross the street. That fact only becomes evident when that instinct is just plain wrong.

Sunday, August 6, 2000

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: Well, i haven't done any more planning for this entry than last time, but it's Sunday and things are closed around town, so what better way to pass the time than to update one's travel journal?

Yesterday was Saturday, and most things of interest to me around town were closed. So, last night i decided to go catch a film at the local cinema--the Avalon, owned by the Afro-Indian Cinema company (or something like that). It was a three-hour-plus Indian musical... without subtitles. It still managed to be very entertaining, though. The movie-going crowd here is quite different from in Cairo, where the audience is overwhelmingly young and male. Here there were lots of families and groups of women and children. The audience was overwhelmingly Indian.

Since i have seen my contact Minani again, i can now say a little more about him. He's a (former) refugee from Eastern Zaire (a native speaker or Zairian Swahili) with a degree in French. He's published a couple (a few?) books in Swahili and Esperanto, including a book of Esperanto poetry.

A note to chocolate lovers. In Paris and Belgium, i picked up quite a few chocolate bars of different types and levels of quality to give as gifts to people i might meet here. Well, i have learnt that certain types of chocolate which are quite happy in Nairobi and Arusha turn to the consistency of chocolate frosting in Dar es Salaam "room temparture". Know before you go!

Tomorrow i'm going to check out one-on-one conversation sessions at Language Experts Trust, a little hole-in-the-wall language school next to the YMCA. At $US3 per hour, it's worth a shot.

I'm starting to fear a little cash shortage. I knew that i would not be able to use my ATM here, but i was at least expecting to be using my Visa card from time to time. Well, it seems that only really expensive establishments take credit cards, so even my hotel i'm paying in cash. George is going to be sending me some money by Western Union so that i don't have to count my every penny.

Studying here has not been as easy as i thought. In all the places i've spent a lot of time--Egypt, L.A., Paris--there has been a multitude of cafés in which you can spend hours reading of cups of coffee, tea or soft drinks. That's not really the case here. There are restaurants, but you sort of feel that you should either leave after an hour or two to clear a table for new customers or to keep ordering things to eat. The hotel room is not at all conducive to reading, although there are benches in front of my hotel where i can sit (no table, though). Sometimes i go to the canteen at the YMCA, where i can just order soft drinks and read at a table.

In spite of this problem, i have been doing a lot of newspaper reading. This is something i find really useful and that i can't do in the States. Although UCLA does carry some Swahili-language newspapers, they get in about three months late and i can't write on them. Here i can buy any variety of newspapers, carry them around, and mark them up with notes to my heart's content. I really enjoy this.

I guess i might add a note about what i've been eating. For breakfast, i think i've settle on tea and andazi, which is an Indian (i assume) doughnut-type thing, except that it's triangular in shape, has a sort of pocket iside, and is only slightly sweet. The tea is Indian-style tea with milk, flavoured with cardamom (and delicious). Tiring of bland flesh-based stews, i've been eating Indian things: vegetarian curried peas one day, spicy lamb stew with oven-fresh nan (Indian bread) another day. I've been trying to only have breakfast and one other meal (lunch or dinner) each day, to lose some of the fat that i took on in Paris and Arusha (where i had a few too many meals of grilled goat). Of course, it will help when i give away what's left of the chocolate i brought with me from Europe.

I have been told by certain parties not to even consider coming home if i don't have any photos to show. I haven't done very well in that department. In fact, i have yet to take any pictures since i left Arusha. I'll try to get working on that in the coming days, but i must admit that i feel a bit odd taking pictures of seemingly random street scenes.

Well, this computer session has gone on for a long time (over two hours), and i really should be doing other things. I'll be back soon.

Friday, August 4, 2000

Dar es Salaam: I'm now in the Jambo Inn in Dar es Salaam (Dar hereafter), after having spent two nights in the Dar YMCA. It's very very basic, but i do have a private bathroom and it's costing an incredible US$9 per night.

The trip from Arusha was a ten-hour bus ride which was smooth almost all the way. Dar reminds me very much of Cairo and Alexandria. It's sunny and humid here and the streets are full of busy people.

I have finally been able to meet up with one of my contacts, Minani, who is vice secretary of the Tanzanian Esperanto organization. I hope i'll be able to meet up with another person tonight, as well. Things are difficult when not everyone has a home phone.

Well, i guess i don't have nearly as much to say as i thought i would. I'll try to do a bit more planning for the next entry. Anyway, everything's fine over here.

Monday, July 31, 2000

Arusha, Tanzania: The five-hour trip (including passport and customs formalities) from Nairobi to Arusha went much more smoothly and comfortably then i had expected. There was a bit of a hassle getting off as it was hard to figure out which of the many people trying to be my chauffeur was actually from the shuttle company. Getting off the shuttle, i forgot my jacket, but my taxi driver was able to track down the bus and retrieve it. I'm staying at the YMCA, which is very basic but clean, and the people are very nice. It also happens to be just two blocks away from Mashauri's office. A single, breakfast included, costs US$13. Some places here go for as little as US$6.

Arusha is very different from Nairobi; it's bright, cheery, and quaint. Only the harrassment of the safari organizers detracts from this. It's quite pleasant and safe walking around here, and one doesn't have to be constantly worried about standing on guard as in Nairobi.

It so happens that Mashauri and i were not the only two Esperantists in Arusha. We were joined by a Macedonian Turk with New Zealand citizenship living in South Korea. His quest was to go very cheaply on an unusually short (three-day) walk of Kilimanjaro. And, unfortunately, the better part of two days was spent either trying to find him an acceptable deal here or travelling between here and Kilimanjaro. Oh, well, i did get to see quite a bit of the Tanzanian countryside as well as get to the base of the mountain. One other thing that we all did together was have dinner in a typical Tanzanian household outside of Arusha, at the home of one of Mashauri's friends.

I have not yet been able to speak as much Swahili as i would like, although i've had many more opportunities to do so than in Kenya. However, i have been able to read the newspaper in Swahili every day, which i have been really enjoying. Because i've spent most of the last two days with Esperantists, i've mostly been speaking Esperanto. So, i think i'll be moving along to Dar es Salaam on Wednesday, where i'll probably be a bit more on my own and be in more Swahili-speaking situations.

Yesterday afternoon something unusual happened. After our return from Kilimanjaro, Mashauri and i went to the AICC Club, which is something of a private outdoor restaurant and amusement center. There i was recognized by Mara, an American woman who had been in my Swahili class at UCLA a few years ago. It's a small world.

How could i not talk about food? The cuisine here has also been a bit better than i had expected. I haven't yet had anything i didn't like. The staples here are plantains and ugali (a very thick porridge eaten with the fingers). Grilled meats abound. I'm not usually a big meat eater, but i love goat, which is the most common meat here.

I'm going to sign off now. I'm off to Dar on Wednesday, so i may not be back for a few days.

Thursday, July 27, 2000

Nairobi: I'm in Nairobi now. I'm in a little Internet service office, which are plentiful here, but i'm in a hurry, so i won't write much right now.

The hotel in Brussels was quaint and wonderful. The whole place was full of antiques and chachkas and had a lot of personality. I didn't do much but explore town. I got to eat two Belgian specialties: waffles and mussels.

The flight to Nairobi passed through Kigali, Rwanda. Unfortunately, upon landing a problem was detected in the brakes on one of the wheels, and we were delayed three hours while it was repaired. At least we were allow to get of the plane and spend our waiting time in the unglamorous but roomy Kigali airport. Because of the delay, i didn't get out of the Nairobi airport until about 4 a.m., where Kamil and his wife Jung were cheerfully there to greet me.

In Nairobi, i've done my downtown exploring, and there's not that much else to do here. People here like to speak English, which is exactly what i came not to do. It's also very cold and gloomy here. So, tomorrow morning i'm taking a minibus to Arusha, Tanzania. There i have an Esperantist friend. I'll stay maybe three or four days there then move on to Dar es Salaam. That's all for now.

Saturday, July 22, 2000

I got an e-mail from Kamil, my friend with whom i'll be staying in Nairobi. He's given me a picture of what life is currently like in Nairobi amidst Kenya's current economic crisis. Kamil's area has daily unsceduled power outages that can span over twelve hours, and they have water only once every two weeks. If conditions are unbearable, i'll leave early for Tanzaia, although i expect i'll be able to hold out in Nairobi.

Friday, July 21, 2000

This is my final installment before i leave for Bruxelles on Sunday, then for Nairobi on Monday. Since my last installment, it's largely been more of the same: dinners out with friends and visitors, films, walks, and daily chores and errands.

A word about laundry. Our apartment comes equipped with a small (in American "tiny") European washing machine about a foot wide, which, according to George, gurgles along noisily for two hours for one little load. Therefore, we always do laundry by hand in the kitchen sink or in the bathtub. I decided that to do the linens, i would learn to use a French laundromat. So one day, while George was out on his own having fun, i lugged a load of dirty linens over to the 'mat a few blocks away. Alone in the room, i was so engrossed with figuring out how to run the washing machine and the central payment machine that i didn't really notice that the air was getting smokier by the minute. It turned out that one of the driers was having an electrical problem. Six firemen, four policemen, and one repairman later, my machine, whose power had been cut mid-cycle, was opened for me and i was forced to lug my dripping and now very heavy laundry down the stret in search of another laundromat.

I haven't dared to step on our bathroom scale since we arrived. We have been eating out almost every day for a month, and European cuisine contains incredible amounts of fat. The food seems to get better every year, too, as we find new restaurants we like. Some of my favourite dishes i've been able to enjoy this year are:

  • Cassoulet, made of white beans, sausage, and duck.
  • Salade de chèvre chaud, a green salad topped with toasted goat cheese on on bread.
  • Salade de gésiers de volaille, a green salad with chicken gizzards fried in butter.
  • Lamb chops, prominent on practically every menu.
  • Galette bretonne, a crèpe filled with cauliflower, gruyère cheese, and a whole egg.
A full meal almost always comes with a choice of dessert, which is usually very simple but tasty.

We've seen a couple more films, the best of which was Le harem de Mme Osmane, starring Carmen Maura and set in Algeria in the early nineties. I also enjoyed the French macabre comedy call Serial Lover (yes, that's the original title) on television.

George and i recently visited two museums, the first of which was the Musée National des Arts et Traditions Populaires, which has a very large collection which one might say is focused on everyday life and different walks of life in nineteenth century France. There was also an excellent temporary exhibition on Slovakian folk arts and craftsmanship. This museum is in the Bois de Boulogne, where we spent the following two hours in the amusement park, walking around and going on rides. What fun! The second museum was the Musée de la Publicité (Advertising Museum), where the exhibit was a bit of a letdown. Somehow, i haven't gotten to any art museums per se this year, although i did visit Notre Dame for the first time, as well as return to Sainte Chapelle. That was just enough monuments for me.

I've spent a lot of time in bookshops this year, which i guess i the same as every year. I spent one day combing through the African language sections of four different specialty bookshops looking for material on and in Swahili, Wolof, and Fula for myself and my friends. It's a chore, but a fun one, since such materials simply aren't available in any shops i know of anywhere else in the world.

Well, i should bring this entry to a close. I take the train to Brussels on Sunday morning and fly to Kenya on Monday. I'll be a week or so in Nairobi. Then i take the bus to Tanzania: Arusha for two to four days and Dar Es Salaam and Zanzibar for three weeks. I hope i'll have the opportunity to update my journal soon.

July 8, 2000

I haven't felt much need to update my travel journal lately. When one is in Paris, what does one do? One dines out, talks, walks, sits in cafés, goes to movies and museums. And that's mostly what George and i have been doing. Alone and with friends from here and friends visiting from elsewhere.

I've had the fortune of only having been to one museum, so far: Le musée de l'art moderne de la ville de Paris. (Semanticists should get the two intended readings here.) There we saw a lot of bad stuff, but some interesting things, too, including work from the films The Watermelon Woman and Cremaster II. We also saw an interesting documentary about a woman who was a Communist activist in Albania in the 1970's and reconciling her past with her middle-class Parisian present. One particulary bland installation did prove useful. It consisted of a collection of over 2000 recent phone directories from around the world. You were allowed to handle the books, and i was easily able to find an address in Tanzania that i needed. Who'd 've thunk?

We've seen about seven or eight films to date, of which the best have been Lista de espera, an excellent Cuban comedy by people who made Strawberries and Chocolate, and Le goût des autres, a French dramatic comedy. Other films of interest were: À la verticale de l'été (Vietnam/French), Saint-Cyr (France), Luna Papa (Tadzhikistan/Russia), Civilisées (Lebanon).

On the African front, i have made contact with my Tanzanian Esperantist friend. He's working in Arusha now, so it looks as if i will be spending a few days in Arusha (starting around July 31) before moving along to Dar el Salaam, where he has provided me with other Esperantist contacts. It is nice to seeing the African leg of my trip fall together. I just got my Tanzanian visa, from here in Paris, a couple of days ago.

As usually happens, i am eating a bit too well here. It's hard to order something light here. Even when you think you're ordering something light, it isn't: the salad will be swimming in dressing, vegetables will be drenched with butter, etc. And it usually all tastes good. Then there are all the times that you don't even want to order something light, because there are too many yummy things to try. I'm almost starting to hope that the East African food won't be so good, so i can loose a few pounds again.

I guess i should say something about CAL5, the Afroasiatic Linguistics Conference i attended. The talks were mostly quite interesting, and the number of participants was refreshingly small (40 or 50). There were quite a few talks dealing with templates (or the lack thereof). Many talks on Hebrew, followed by Arabic and Berber. Lena gave a paper, and so did Jamal Ouhalla. Those were the only people i knew there, and given my not-so-outgoing nature, it wa a bit lonely for me.

And what have i been reading? French newspapers and magazines, automaton theory, Swahili fiction, and Dutch... and even Ur Shlonsky's paper on the structure of Semitic noun phrases.

Tuesday, June 27, 2000

Been in Paris a few days now, but i'm still jet-lagged, waking up at 3:00 a.m., then taking a walk and going back to bed at 5. May be coming down with a cold. We'll see.

We've already seen two movies. An interesting and funny Russo-Tajik-et al. coproduction in Russion called Luna Papa, complete with a bull falling from an aeroplane, and an excellent and sophisticated French comédie dramatique called Le goût des autres.

Starting tomorrow i have a three-day conference on Afroasiatic Languages (CAL5) here in Paris.

Thursday, June 22 and Friday June 23, 2000

Wednesday night in Los Angeles, i finished pre-trip preparations and finally made it to bed at midnight. Got up at 4:30 the next morning to catch our 5:30 taxi to the airport. Total flight time to Bruxelles through New York was eleven hours. Fortunately the train from Bruxelles to Paris takes only one and a half hours. Total time from leaving the apartment in L.A. to reaching the apartment in Paris: 23 1/2. I got only three hours sleep en route, so i'm exhausted. But i am glad to say that, except for an exceptionally good dinner on Sabena last night, the journey was uneventful.