Sunday, November 30, 2003
11/29/03 to 11/30/03: The road to Nairobi was a story in itself. Tribalism has been a hot topic throughout Africa, but it seemed get even hotter as we moved through Kenya. Tribalism reminds me a lot of “Special Interest Groups” in the States, except with tribalism your obligations are based on blood, not money. According the locals, a huge proportion of Kenya’s political and economic challenges stem from politicians manipulating public money and influence to serve their individual tribes. We “Felt” this problem ourselves as we moved through the provinces of Northwestern Kenya. When we passed through the province of a tribe with political influence, the road was wide, smooth, and an absolute pleasure to drive on. (It’s amazing what you can find pleasure in after six months on the road…) As soon as we crossed the border into a province of lesser influence, on the SAME road between Kenya’s two BIGGEST cities, the road turned into crappy Swiss cheese. Imagine driving down two hundred miles of steps when every other step is made out of wet oatmeal. It sucked. One of my friends in Tanzania’s Chagga tribe blames Kenya’s problems on the fact that there isn’t enough tribal diversity. According to Emanuel, there is an unwritten law that the Tanzanian President can never come from one of the larger tribes. In addition, no provincial leader can ever hold an office in an area where his tribe resides. This helps minimize corruption at all levels and helps explain why Tanzanians identify themselves primarily as Tanzanians, not Chaggas, Maasai, etc. In Kenya the President comes from the most powerful tribe, and while in office the President does what he can to make sure his family/tribe stays in power. I am still an East African political neophyte and all this information is based on conversations with locals, but it made sense to me. It also made me wonder what tribe I was from. Am I from the Irish tribe because I’m almost half Irish? Not really, although it makes me feel like I have some sort of heritage to claim that I’m Irish. But when it comes down to it, would I feel obligated to bend the rules to benefit Ireland if I was the President? I doubt it. I have friends from my hometown with tribal ties, but most of them are Native Americans. So are tribal ties only for those from 3rd world, afflicted, or minority groups? Maybe corporations are America’s tribes? It sure seems like politicians in the West do what they can to help their former “Tribe” when they get elected, doesn’t it? Maybe we’re not that different from Kenya after all. J Anyway, it was in one of the towns with a CRAPPY road that we ran over a bicyclist. It happened just about as quickly as you read that sentence. We were cruising through the chaotic streets of some nowhere village when a woman on a bike comes out of nowhere and slams right into the passenger side of the Beast. We couldn’t really see what happened, but we heard the awful CRUNCH of the Beast’s back tires chewing up what was left of the lady’s poor 1960’s two-wheeler. Shannon and I were both a little shell-shocked by the whole incident, so I had coasted about a 100 feet before I finally stopped and got out of the car. I had no idea whether we had run over just a bike or a LADY and a bike, and the mob of two hundred locals gathered around the woman made it impossible for me to tell. Just then a truck driver rolled up next to me and told me to go get the police. He told me I better not go back there without the cops because it would be VERY dangerous. I told him I couldn’t just drive away and try to find the police without knowing if she was OK. He told me I was stupid and drove away. Nice. So with my adrenaline pumping once again, I waded through the throng of people yelling at me in Swahili to find out what kind of leftovers the Beast had left in the road. When I got there the woman was crying and holding her leg, but I couldn’t see any injury. Her bike looked like a crushed aluminum can but she was standing on one leg so I was immediately overjoyed that I wouldn’t be charged with manslaughter. Since it appeared that only one man out of the two hundred screamers knew English, he stepped in to be my translator. After considering the option of piling the woman on top of our canned food to take her to the hospital, we decided on an “Out of Court” settlement. She was more than happy with the 500 Kenyan shillings ($6.75) I had in my pocket and we were free to go. When I got back in the Beast I had trouble explaining to Shannon why WE had to pay for getting hit by an out of control bicyclist, but after we described the situation to the police at the next road block they said we did the right thing. Whew! Just as we were settling in for the remainder of the bone-jarring ride to Nairobi we came across one of the most gruesome sights we’ve seen yet. A full sized bus full of passengers had just erased a small Toyota Corolla from the face of the planet. There was already a crowd of people gathered around to mop of the carnage, but we couldn’t help but notice the pools of blood and the empty tennis shoe in the road as we rolled by. Ugh! I’ve mentioned before that this trip is teaching me that there are no coincidences, and I couldn’t help but think that if we hadn’t hit the bike, or if we hadn’t gone back to check on the woman, we would have been the ones spread out all over the crappy Kenyan highway. Either way, the sight kept Shannon and I silent and focused intently on the road for the remainder of our journey into Kenya’s capital.
Friday, November 28, 2003
11/24/03 to 11/28/03: One of the gifts my Mother sent me for my birthday was an exercise band. Since there isn’t exactly a 24 Hour Fitness on every corner over here, I figured the oversized rubber band / overpriced surgical tubing would come in very handy. As it turns out, my exercise band causes more laughter than it does muscle growth. Since Shannon and I had a “Free day” in Rehungeri before our Gorilla trekking adventure, I decided to get up before six to try out my new “Safari workout program”. After about an hour with the exercise band, I moved on to stretching and the hostel workers descended on my “Mobile gym”. They had a tough time containing their laughter when I was using it, but watching them play with it was too much for any of us to handle. I’m not sure if there’s a shortage of rubber tubing in Rehungeri or what, but these guys managed to smack each other, tie each other up, and compete with each other for almost two hours. As Shannon and I were preparing for Gorilla trekking that night we were both a little anxious. My buddy Steve Hilton had warned us that we may have to hike up to eight hours through rain-soaked jungle to find the Gorillas, and even then we might not find them. Luckily for us, our small group of nine King Kong’s had decided to hang close to the road just for us. Our walk from the Beast to the “Beast’s” was less than 45 minutes! Since the two Silverback males, three females, and four babies were in the dense part of the jungle, our guides and military escorts (There is still rebel activity in the area) had to cut through the undergrowth until we were almost sitting in their big, black, hairy Gorilla laps. Even though the Gorillas are used to humans, the Rwandan government is very strict regarding the rules. No camera flashes. No visits longer than one hour. No closer than seven meters (Unless they’re in the jungle). Even with all the rules, viewing this endangered species so close was beyond words. Not only do their faces and hands look similar to ours, but we were so close we could hear them breathing. Since the “Alpha” male weighed over 450 pounds, I almost lost control of my bladder when he charged our guide. Luckily our machete-wielding buddy was pretty quick, so he was able to dive out of the way before the gigantic Silverback could clobber him. With our adrenaline glands still emptying their payload into our veins, our fearless guide led us through the underbrush on our hands and knees in hot pursuit of the disgruntled Gorilla leader. When our sixty minutes was finally up, half of me was bummed we had to leave and the other half of me was thankful we survived. Just as we said goodbye to our new primate friends, we were surrounded with hundreds of young Rwandan children screaming “Gimme my pen!!!” Shannon and I have had some pretty good discussions about this phenomenon. When a tourist attraction employs a significant amount of locals like the Poler’s Trust did in Botswana, all the locals smile and wave as you pass by. When very few locals benefit directly from all the tourist dollars, the children are much more aggressive. I guess it makes sense, but it definitely changes the experience for the casual observer. The worst part is driving behind a group of tourists throwing candy and knick-knacks from their windows at 20 kilometers an hour. At first it might seem nice, but the community leaders in almost every town we’ve been it have tried to stop the “Knick-knack dumping” because it can create a whole culture of begging, rather than self reliance. They told us if we wanted to give pens to someone, give them to the schools so the teachers can give them out based on merit, not street begging. Regardless of what theory you believe in, it’s definitely not easy to drive by a crowd of sore-covered children wearing rags without wanting to give them almost anything you can get your hands on. Once Shannon and I finally made it to the Ugandan border, we were pleasantly surprised that at least one person warned us it was time to switch back over to the left hand side of the road. Apparently they’d had several head-on accidents right next to border post, so they made the driving rules VERY clear. Since we had to be in Nairobi by November 30th to pick up my buddy Rishard, our trip through Uganda was hurried, but fun. One our favorite discoveries of the trip were the greasy, triangle-shaped, meat & vegetable filled pastries called “Samosas” that we tried for the first time during a famished stop at a roadside shack. From the outside they SCREAM food poisoning, but on the inside they are absolute culinary heaven. Especially with some Kenyan chili sauce! We’ll be sure to give you all samples when Shannon and I get our Samosa importing business off the ground. Speaking of culinary heaven, we managed to find a DOMINO’S PIZZA in Kampala, Uganda. I know my more cultured friends are probably shaking their heads at my excitement over a crappy fast food chain, but nothing soothes the pain of holiday homesickness like a greasy cardboard pizza from Domino’s. Nice! By the time Shannon and I pulled into Jinja, we were beat down. Driving at night in Africa with headlights duller than bathroom nightlights is far from our favorite activity. Luckily we made it time to book a white water rafting trip for the next day, down the NILE RIVER! For some reason I had always imagined the Nile river in Egypt, and completely full of sewage, but it’s a totally different story at Lake Victoria, the “Source” of the Nile. The next morning, as the American Peace Corps volunteer from Madagascar, the English military officer, and non-English speaking couple from Holland piled into our raft with our rookie guide, I knew we were in for an adventure. Due to the massive volume of the Nile River, some of the larger rapids can create walls of water up to 15 FEET high! It was mind-blowing! Our wimpy raft and limp bodies were launched like marbles out of a slingshot. Falling out of the raft or being held under by the current wouldn’t have been that bad if our guide hadn’t just finished telling us about the thousands of dead bodies dumped into the river in the 1970’s by the Idi Amen regime. He even told us some locals still dump their dead into the river. He’d even seen a bloated dead body in the water next to one of the rapids during a previous run. Ugh! Our rookie guide was full of fun facts. Apparently if the dam at Lake Victoria were to fail (Which they’re afraid it might), the water level would rise to NINE TIMES it current level for THIRTY DAYS as Lake Victoria drained. Crazy. With polluted river water still draining from my sinuses, Shannon and I charged the border the next morning to make sure we got settled in Kenya in time to enjoy our pepper steak Thanksgiving dinner in the middle of nowhere. Mmmmmm, good. Traveling is incredible, but sometimes I think being home for the holidays with those you love can be more incredible. Maybe next year…
Sunday, November 23, 2003
11/21/03 to 11/23/03: As we pulled up to the border post in Rwanda, we couldn't help but think about everything we had read about this tragedy-stricken country. The fact that in 1994 over 800,000 Rwandan human beings had been slaughtered in less than 90 days made us a little jumpy as we traveled past the first couple armed guards. Even though I'm sure we carried our anxiety on our sleeves, the Rwandan border post was quick and free. Apparently the UN and the US are pouring so much money into the country right now they would feel bad charging us visa fees too. Who knows, I wasn't about to ask any questions. The one thing they did forget to mention was that in Rwanda they drive on the RIGHT SIDE OF THE ROAD!!! For my friends in the US, you're probably thinking, "Yeah, so what?", however; EVERY country we've driven in so far is left-hand driving. So, just to keep things exciting, the first vehicle we encountered driving directly at us was a double-trailer'd semi going downhill! Like an idiot, I waited for a couple seconds to see if he would get back over into what I thought was "His" lane. Then it hit me, "I" was in the wrong lane. Nice. Just to be sure, we drove the next couple kilometers right smack dab in the middle of the road so I could swerve one way or another depending on which lane the other car was in. After about 4 or 5 trucks, we were convinced that Rwanda was a "Right-hand drive" country and we were all good. After the desolate deserts of Western Tanzania, the lush mountains and swollen rivers of Rwanda were a beautiful change. We were still spooked to see hundreds of militia men training in on the highway, but once they started waving to us our heartbeats slowed down a little. As we pulled into Kigali it was just getting dark and surprise, surprise, there were no street signs. Even if there were street signs it probably wouldn't have done us much good considering that everyone in Rwanda speaks FRENCH. There's nothing as humbling as going to a bar in Rwanda for a beer and realizing the only thing you know how to say in French is "Coke". Oh well, my liver was probably thankful. In any case, there we were, lost, in the dark, with a windshield leaking like it wasn't even there, in the capital city of a country still licking it's wounds from a Genocide. Ah, Africa. Considering the day we'd had so far, I didn't feel that sorry that I slammed my window in the face of the ten money changers that rushed the Beast as soon as they figured out we were white. I'm not sure why, but the street vendors in Kigali were the most aggressive we'd seen. They even ripped Shannon's window open and stuck their hands in at one point. One theory is that the UN does almost as much damage as it does good when it moves into a country. While the UN workers we've met along the way have been incredible people, even they are frustrated with the inefficiency and waste in the organization. According to them, the UN is working very hard to minimize the UN impact on local communities. Apparently whenever the UN moves into a country, inflation and prostitution fly through the roof. Since the UN pays their local workers the same as expatriates, the locals become instantly wealthy. In some countries the locals will make more in one year with the UN than they would have made in 30 years working for a local company. Couple this with a bunch of UN workers away from home and you have a recipe that could keep the prostitutes busy for years. Now, I have to admit I am basing this analysis on around ten conversations, but all my informants were unanimous that this is a problem that desperately needs to be addressed. Some people have even claimed that countries may encourage or ignore crisis in order to bring UN dollars into their borders. Ugh, I hope not. Regardless, our Kigali welcome left a little to be desired. After driving past a couple dive hotels with no safe parking and "Working girls" hanging out front, we stumbled into a computer sales shop and asked for directions. The people inside happened to be the owners of the shop and they were amazing. Since there were no street signs we could find or read, our new friend Innocent offered to ride with us to give us directions. Amazing. The place he led us to was perfect, and it was there that we had our first good meal in over two weeks. NICE! The next day was the anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination and it was all over the news in Kigali. It still blows me away how educated everyone is regarding the history and current events of the US. A waiter actually told me that he sees the US as the "Father" of the world now. When I get into conversations like that I feel a mixture of guilt and obligation. On one hand I feel guilty regarding how little I know about the history and current events of almost every other country but the US, and on the other hand I feel like Spiderman. Do you remember that quote "With great power, comes great responsibility" from the last Spiderman movie? The more I travel, the more I begin to think those born into relative comfort have an obligation to help the less fortunate, whether in their own backyard, or around the globe. Some people I talk to think the US already does too much to help other countries, and others think the US has never done anything that wasn't somehow designed to help itself. This is probably a ten page discussion, but the one question I keep asking is "What would I do?" What would I do if I was President? Would I do a better job? Would I choose to cut agricultural subsidies and put six million Americans out of work to help one hundred million farmers in third world countries? Would that be serving the American people? Would I still have my job after the next election? Would there be less terrorism with less world poverty? I know it's not that black and white and I know I just made those numbers up, but I think traveling Americans are a little too quick to jump on the America-bashing bandwagon sometimes. Even though some articles I read on the bbc.com make me want to lead the bashing, it's hard for me to imagine a politician waking up and saying "I'm going to make a stupid decision today!" Maybe I'm too much of an optimist, but somehow, someway, I think our leaders think they are doing the right thing. What do they know that the world doesn't know? Based on the twisted and spun information we get from the media, I'm not sure we'll ever have the information that the decisions are REALLY based on, but it still makes me wonder. Speaking of trying to understand motives, Shannon and I were baffled by our tour of the Genocide memorial. What are you supposed to say as you view room after room of smashed skulls and splintered thigh bones? It was hard to even breathe. I couldn't help but imagine what it must have been like. The rift between Hutu and Tutsi tribes had been widening long before the Hutu president's plane was shot down in 1994, but that one event is credited with sparking the Genocide. (For the most eye opening history of the atrocity I've read yet, cut and paste this link "http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2001/09/power.htm" into your web browser)During the peak of the chaos, the Hutu government was broadcasting messages such as "The graves are not yet full..." over the public radio stations as 8,000 people a day were being massacred. What's incredibly scary is that it wasn't just soldiers and militia men doing the killing. Average Hutu citizens were encouraged to murder their Tutsi neighbors. They used machetes, hoes, shovels, guns, and whatever else they could find to carry out their unspeakable task. It was an indescribably dark feeling to walk on streets that less than a decade ago were filled with piles of rotting bodies. With a cloud of disbelief hanging over the Cruiser, Shannon and I headed for Rehungeri, the land of the jungle Gorillas. As we drove through the lush, mist-covered mountains of Northwestern Rwanda, the haunting music from the movie "Blackhawk Down" came on the CD/MP3 player. It felt strangely fitting...
Thursday, November 20, 2003
11/17/03 to 11/20/03: As we pulled out of Dodoma we were full of hope. Most of our hope was centered on keeping the Beast in one piece, but there was a part of us that was hoping for some edible food somewhere in Western Tanzania. I'm not sure if the accident sucked all the blood out of our tongue's or what, but the food in Morogoro and Dodoma bordered on poisonous. The worst part about it was that it LOOKED great. We would sit there STARVING, and drooling over what looked like an excellent meal, only to discover that someone had dragged our plates through raw sewage on the way to our table. Anyway, after about three kilometers of washboard roads just West of Dodoma disaster struck again. Luckily this time I was only going about 20 kilometers per hour, so when our steering column snapped for the second time we just coasted over to the gutter on the side of road. Sweet. While we were still fairly close to town, neither one of us felt like staying alone with the Beast, nor leaving the Beast alone, so we got creative. Since we had no control of the front wheels, I just had Shannon drive the Beast backwards while I manually pulled the front wheels one way or another to keep us in the center of the road. We must have been quite a sight, because the villagers kept laughing and pointing at us. No one offered to help and I think the mega-semi trucks actually accelerated as they raced past us, so we're not exactly dying to get back to Dodoma. Things turned for the better after about thirty minutes when we found a local machinist who was willing to help us. It took half the day, but he was able to cut the steering bushing we needed from an old tire and get us back on the road. Since we weren't exactly itching to test out our new "used tire" bushing, we decided to crash out in Dodoma and try again the next day. As we were unpacking, we discovered that our precious East Africa maps and several other items had disappeared during the accident. Who knows if they disintegrated under the sliding body of the Beast or if one of the locals grabbed them as a souvenir, but being in Dodoma without a map is very similar to being up sh_t creek without a paddle. You'd think that you'd be able to find a map for a country if you went shopping in that country's CAPITAL, but alas, not in Tanzania. Just as we were starting to get really worried, I stumbled into a private Muslim elementary school begging for some sort of map. The principal was AWESOME. It just so happens that they teach their 2nd grader's off large road maps of Tanzania, and they had PLENTY of extras! He wouldn't even let me pay for one. So with our elementary school road map solidly plastered into Shannon's lap we were back in business. As a final precaution we stopped by a real mechanic on the way out of town and discovered the REAL problem with the Beast. Apparently the impact of the accident had snapped the body mount on the driver’s side, causing the body to bounce freely on top of the frame. The only thing holding the body to the frame was, you guessed it, the steering column. Therefore every time we hit a small bump, the steering column took the brunt of the impact. No wonder it kept getting bent up like wet spaghetti! I know this probably doesn't seem like that big of deal from where you're sitting, but we were ECSTATIC to finally know the cause behind our steering challenges. There's something VERY creepy about driving at any speed knowing that you could completely lose control of your vehicle at any time. I think the best part of the day was watching our mechanic's hook hydraulic jacks to the roof of their shop to mechanically squish the Beast's body back onto its frame. Only in Africa. So once the scarred body of our baby was welded back together, we were on the road. It's a good thing too, because the combination of bad roads and our new weld BREAKING AGAIN kept us from traveling over 20 kilometers an hour for the rest of the day. It took us TWELVE HOURS to go 240 kilometers (+/- 130 miles). Nice. As you can probably tell by now, I was about ready to drive the Beast off the nearest cliff and stake a claim on the insurance money. Luckily Shannon and I took turns flying off the handle rather than exploding at the same time, so the Beast survived. After re-welding the Cruiser's body to the frame AGAIN, and replacing our newly snapped exhaust mounts with bailing wire (A must in any African repair kit) we were ready to turn our backs on the backward little town of Singida. The town wasn't all that bad considering a double room cost less than $3 per night, but the bathrooms were another story. Not only were the ceilings less than five feet above the floors, but when you "flushed" the "long drop" toilet, it just spewed your waste onto the sidewalk next to our room. Mmmmmm, I'm hungry. After long jumping over what was left of last night's dinner, Shannon and I were ready to get the hell out of Western Tanzania. However, the excitement was just beginning. About 100 kilometers from the Rwandan border the roads turned from lunar landscape into asphalt and we really started to make up some time. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea. After the accident shredded our hood latches, I had fastened the hood down with a large bungee cord. What I hadn't planned on was two double trailer petrol trucks passing us at over 140 kilometer's an hour. As we were cruising along an a nice, peaceful 80 k's per hour, these hellions pass us in the other lane pushing a wind curtain that would have knocked Fat Albert off his feet. Unfortunately my bungee cord didn't hold and our hood slammed up into the windshield once again. If you ever want to come super close to peeing your pants in public, just release your hood latch on the freeway someday. Yowser! Luckily we were able to slow down before we swerved into oncoming traffic but it took us about fifteen minutes before we were able to drive again. Whew. Just when we thought our journey through the "Paradise" of Western Tanzania was almost over, we came to a roadblock 25 kilometers from the Rwandan border. They didn't want to see any of our paperwork, they just wanted to know if we wanted to pay for an armed escort. Apparently rebels from Rwanda and the Congo had been very active in this last stretch of road and a soldier had been murdered the day before. Needless to say, we opted for the escort. It was scary and cool at the same time to have some dude with an AK-47 in the front seat of the Beast, but there was a part of us that thought if we didn't pay him to ride with us, he would just race ahead and rob us. Oh well, we made it. The combination of the accident, the hood flying up, and the armed escort really had me thinking for a while. Every day, in every country, we come so close to death. It's all around us, in every on coming car, in every artery clogging cheeseburger, and in every lighting storm. Our bodies are so fragile, it's amazing we all last as long as we do. One way or another, our harrowing last couple weeks have filled me with a completely new sense of gratitude for my time on the planet. Even if things work out great, I'm pretty sure I have less than 72 years left, so I know from now on I'll be working hard to make the most of every moment, of every conversation, and of every beautiful view.
Sunday, November 16, 2003
11/7/03 to 11/16/03: When Shannon and I woke up on our last day in Dar es Salaam, we had no idea what the next few hours would bring. We stopped by our favorite Subway one last time, plugged my new CD/mp3 player (Thanks Mom!) into the Beast's tape player and hit the road for Dodoma, the capital of Tanzania. About two hours outside of Dar es Salaam, just after we passed the small town of Morogoro, tragedy struck. Over the past five months I’ve been getting a little too comfortable with driving in Africa, and it finally caught up with me. I took my eyes off the road for just a moment, but that was enough time for the Beast to drift onto the shoulder, which wouldn’t have been that big of deal if someone wouldn’t have put a four foot high pile of dirt right next to the road. By the time I figured out what was happening, all I could do was slam on the breaks and scream. The Beast hit the dirt launch ramp at around 80 kilometers per hour, instantly bending the right front differential casing, which in turn bent the frame and jacked both fenders to the right. The dislocated fenders ripped the hood latches to shreds, causing the hood slam up into the windshield. The crumpling of the frame snapped the steering column which made my vain attempts at stabilization incredibly ineffective. Since I only slammed the right half of the cruiser into the dirt pile, our momentum catapulted the entire right side of the Beast into the air, and judging the skid marks, it didn’t come down until 20 feet later. As the hood bounced down off the overhanging tail of the roof-mounted surfboard, I caught a glimpse of the road and frantically tried to gain control of our two ton cannonball. Since I had no idea the steering column was snapped, I just spun the wheel to the right, then the left, then the right again as the Beast swerved wildly all over the highway. Finally as the rudderless front wheels locked to the right, the entire vehicle lurched back onto two wheels, and then no wheels as the Beast slammed onto its passenger side and slid for another 25 feet. The impact shattered 11 windows scared the hell out of us as we helplessly watched the asphalt speed past the rapidly disintegrating passenger side door. By the time we finally screeched to a standstill, we could see a toxic concoction of battery acid, petrol, oil, and antifreeze hemorrhaging out of the engine compartment. With images of exploding Dukes of Hazard cars racing through our heads, we quickly popped open the roof hatch on Shannon’s side and squeezed out to safety. Then the real chaos started. Five or six cars and two buses stopped once they saw us, and over 50 people surrounded the carcass of our former chariot. Some locals were telling us to unload our gear, others were telling us to lock everything up, and five others were yelling at us in a variety of incomprehensible languages. About twenty locals rallied around the Beast and tried to flip it over before we realized that if we flipped it from its current position, it would simply roll down the 20 foot embankment on the side of the road. In order to clear some space to flip the Beast back on its feet, we hooked the front bumper to another Toyota and dragged it in a 90 degree arc until we had plenty of room for a soft landing. The whole sequence of events is still blurry, but I definitely remember feeling intense gratitude towards all the people that stopped to help us. Four locals stayed with us for over three hours and three different buses emptied to help us flip the Beast right side up. I couldn’t help but think of the people we’ve passed on the road in the last five months, convincing ourselves that they were fine, that they didn’t need out help, that it was too dangerous to stop. What a lesson. Everyone we met that day was full of compassion and eager to help. No one passed us by. It was almost shaming. To make a long story short, our dedicated local saviors managed to patch out steering column back together, plug our bleeding coolant lines, and escort us back to Morogoro, all before sunset. The next six days were full of regret, depression, and mental self-abuse, but we managed to pull out of it, avoid killing each other, and fix up the Beast for less than $500. After one full day of post-accident travel under our belts we’re still a little anxious, but I think that’s probably healthy. I’m trying hard to believe that everything happens for a reason, but sometimes that’s easier said than done. One thing is for sure, things could have been A LOT worse. Shannon and I both escaped with just a few bumps and bruises, and against all odds, the Beast is running like a champ. In fact, after we flipped it back onto its wheels and plugged all its leaks, IT STARTED RIGHT UP! Incredible! There is a lesson to be learned from everything in life, and I’m working hard to let this week’s lessons sink in. I know I’ll be driving slower, paying more attention, and staying much more aware of how fragile human life can be. Life is good, and we have a ridiculous amount of things to be grateful for.
Thursday, November 06, 2003
10/27/03 to 11/6/03: The drive to Dar es Salaam was a quiet one with the smell of the previous evening’s going-away-party-beverages oozing from our pores. Ughhh. Luckily for us, Shannon’s navigation skills were in peak condition, because she managed to maneuver us through a night mine field of wrecked cars and broken roads all the way to the front door of the YWCA. Our two favorite things about Dar es Salaam were the Subway Sandwiches franchise (The owner is amazing, and he almost had me convinced to open a franchise here with him!) and the YWCA where we spent every night we were in town. Men are only allowed to stay at the YWCA if they are accompanied by a woman (I got over the reverse descrimination :-), and you wake up every morning to hundreds of pre-schoolers playing outside your window. Even with these two huge draws keeping us in Dar, Shannon and I locked up the Beast and hopped on the ferry to Zanzibar as soon as we could. Zanzibar has quite possibly been the highlight of the trip for me so far. My friend Steve Hilton warned me I might never leave, but I guess I never imagined beaches could be so beautiful. The timing of our visit happened to correspond with the Muslim month of Ramadan, during which all Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. This is normally the low season for Zanzibar, since 95% of the local population are devout Muslims and several of the businesses simply close for the month. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since the crowds weren’t out of control, and we got plenty of chances to talk and learn about the religion of Islam. One of our new friends, Amer, a traveling medical student from Spain, who grew up in Nairobi, explained that Ramadan is a time for Muslims to revist what is most important to them. It is a time to purify the body and the soul by fasting, praying, and focusing on rededication to the faith. I was blown away by the discipline and dedication of the fasting Muslim’s I came across. It kind of reminded me of the support runners showed for each other during the San Diego Rock N Roll Marathon. All the Muslims seemed to be looking out for each other, and they seemed to have a kind of pride of accomplishment and belonging in their eyes. While the Muslim solidarity, combined with the call to prayer five times a day could have been intimidating to an outsider, we were overwhelmed with warmth and kindness. Everyone was more than happy to answer our questions and help us understand more about what they believed. Even though Ramadan shut down almost 50% of the resturaunts during the day, the tourist attractions were still up a running, so we took full advantage. In just three days we managed to learn about hundreds of Zanzibars cash crops during a Spice Tour, play with 250 pound giant turtles, snorkle one of the best reefs in the world, swim with Dolphins, and view the endangered Red Columbus monkeys in their only natural habitat. We were also reminded of Zanzibar grim history as we toured the old slave holding area on Prison Island. Each month, thousands of Africans were sold by Zanzibar’s slave traders to eager buyers all over the world. It took my breath away to think that the rooms full of chains I was touring had living breathing bodies packed into them less than 150 years ago. Tragic. Speaking of tragic, we became friends with Sarah, a Swedish lawyer who had just finished a four month volunteer tour of duty with the UN Tribunal on the Rwandan Genocide. We’ve heard a lot about the Genocide during the last five months, but there’s nothing like hearing about it from someone who’s lived with it. Over 800,000 people were slaughtered in Rwanda in less than 90 days, just because they belonged to the wrong tribe. Rwanda is our next stop on the trip, so I’m sure we’ll be learning much more about this atrocity first hand. After all these discussions about religion and politics, Shannon and I were ready for a vacation from our vacation, so we headed North to the paradise, the North Coast of Zanzibar. Nungwe would take your breath away, and it probably will once you see the pictures. The sand is like pure white flour, and you couldn’t find clearer water if you bought it in the store. The scorching hot sun reflects off the white sand to make the water glow flourescent aqua for as far as the eye can see. I was speechless. I ran out of words. Amazing. Incredible. Fabulous. They all seemed to fall flat. Nothing could describe it, so I’ll quit trying. In fact, it was so alluring that Shannon decided that she’s coming back from mid-December until February to get certified as a Divemaster! Crazy! While we were busy soaking up the atmosphere of Shannon’s future home, we met Patrick, a former member of International Red Cross, who now works for the United Nations in the Congo. My conversations with Patrick were mind-blowing. He’s been on the front lines of almost every international conflict in the last 10 years. Bosnia, Iraq, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Serbia, Peru, and many, many more. His stories seemed to make the paint peel off the table in front of me. I’m sure most of what he told me I could never repeat, but regardless, my perspective on world politics was forever shifted in less than 48 hours. While comments like “Oh my god...”, “Are you kidding?”, “How could that happen?”, were coming out of my mouth, my mind kept spinning around the question “What could I do?”. What can one person do? Join the Red Cross? Become a politician? Will war ever end? Will we ever learn our lesson? Who’s behind it all? Are their reasons righteous or sinister? Is there a difference? Does it matter? Do politicians fight for what they think is right? For what voters think is right? For what their campaign contributers think is right? Is it all about money? Will we ever know the truth about anything? Will we ever see past the short term bandaid and find a long term solution? Will we ever quit fighting the symptoms and start to battle the disease? The list goes on forever, but you get the point. Patrick is an amazing individual and I am thankful that our paths crossed. On our last day in Zanzibar, I developed just about every symptom of Malaria you could think of, so we decided it was time to head back to the mainland. My nerves were bouncing off the charts as other tourists filled my head with stories of people who got sick one day, and died the next, so I decided to try to find a blood test in Stonetown before we boarded the night ferry to Dar es Salaam. As I walked into the only hospital in town, I found the lab technician asleep and drooling on her sign-in sheet. Nice. I watched her very carefully as she unwrapped a brand new needle to prick my finger with, since she was still whiping the sleep bugers out of her eyes, but everything turned out fine since my blood came up negative for Malaria. Whew! Talk about a close call. I’ll never forget to put on my mosquito repellant again! When Shannon and I boarded the Wild Horse night ferry, we thought we were in for an adventure, but it actually turned out to be pretty pleasant. The one thing that felt weird was that all the “Non-residents” were put together in the upper air conditioned lounge, while all the locals were confined to the lower floors. It wouldn’t have been so bad except for the fact non-residents are almost always white people, and locals are almost always black people. I’m sure it’s all done for our own comfort, but it still felt like I was benefitting from the racial segregation of 1950’s. Couple that with the fact that they were showing “Malcolm X” on all the ferry televisions, and you have a recipe for racial unrest. Luckily for us, everyone we’ve met in Tanzania has been the model of kindness and compassion, so we slept like babies, all the way into Dar es Salaam harbor...