The weekend in images

From all the choices a stepfather can make and all the things he can do with his kids, I must admit he has different choices than I think I would have. But thank god for that.

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A while back it was poker lessons. So when he wanted to take them motorbiking, they were eager enough.

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Turned out they loved it and are asking to do it again every day..

But we did other stuff.. Sunday we took the dog for a walk. The only tiny hitch in my -otherwise of course perfect – plan was the fact that we had to get the 50kg dog to the polo club.

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So far so good.. We walked from polo club to golf club.

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But then the beast got a bit too comfortable in the car.

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So this morning when we wanted to go to school, Stella just got in the car together with the girls on the backseat as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

Lucas

Lucas Mollel is a Maasai. That means that as a young boy, he helped herding the goats. One year, the lack of rain did not only cause a drought, it also changed Lucas. It made him promise that he would not just sit around and wait for the gods to give them rain, he was going to go out and do something else. Something that would make money so he could help his family. And that is exactly what Lucas still says to this day, in his adult life, when you ask him why he left the Maasai village to get a job: “I could not just sit around and wait for rain”.

So Lucas got a job in a nearby lodge in the Southern part of the Serengeti. He started small, did whatever he could, he had no experience with tourism or hospitality, spoke only Maasai. But he learned. He grew. When the company I work for, took over the lodge, Lucas was the driver of the tractor and he was part of the deal, part of the stock and furniture so to speak. What a bargain that was.

Lucas aspired for more and so for 3 years he saved his salary and his part of the tips to go back to school. When he studied, he still kept working, and the manager at the time, did pop quizes with him during work on what he was studying.

Lucas studied wildlife and tourism and he became a driver guide. A good one. And that is what he does today. Much to the enjoyment of our guests, and himself, with a perpetual smile. People love him. One of the guests liked him so much, she bought him a camera. And not just any camera, a state of the art, fancy thing with a big zoomlens.

So every time when Lucas comes back from safari, I ask if I can download his pictures. At first out of curiosity. Not to my surprise some were not sharp, some clumsily framed, he is still getting the hang of it but he is a quick learner. But some are natural gems. Just like Lucas himself.

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Tanzanian Southern coast

I have been lucky the last year, I think I traveled more in the last 12 months in Tanzania than in any year of the past 12 years.

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That is partly due to work but I have also traveled a lot with the girls.

The last trip however, was alone. There was not really a lot of time to feel lonely though, I had a flight every day. I needed to do a bit of an orientation round of the Tanzanian coast and I ended up seeing the most wonderful things, some of which I did not expect to be so overwhelmingly beautiful.

Saadani National park.

I had been to Pangani and Zanzibar and I kind of expected it to be less interesting and beautiful than it was. Not because I am cynical (well, I am but that was not the reason) but because it is difficult to know what to expect when people talk about bush-and-beach, safari-and-sun-and-sand.. But it is truly an experience without equal: wild cats, monkeys, hippos all some meters away from the Indian Ocean.

Dar es Salaam

Okay, so this is not a new place for me, I have been here. I must admit I alwasy try and leave as soon as possible, the traffic is the worst (and I have seen Asian traffic). But this time I was guided by an expat that lives there and I had two great evenings out and superb food, that counts for something.

Kilwa Ruins

I have read about the history of Tanzania, and Zanzibar does give a glimpse of the era of Sultans, slaves and spice. But Kilwa Ruins is something else. An island with structures of which some are still standing for more than 50%. I must admit that the classicaly schooled geek in me loves history, and I miss that I cannot visit the occassional museum here. But this place was such a timewarp, really impressive.

Fanjove Island

I have seen tropical islands and white beaches before, but Fanjove is the photoshopped version of the prettiest island I have ever seen. What amazed me most was the fact that all those things that brochures say to sell something, are in this case true: unspoilt, natural, beautiful, wild, mesmerizing colors.. I have a mouth full of words to describe this place and still I will not find the right ones. What struck me most is how incredibly amazing it is to experience the natural elements so close up: the blue-est blue, the most relaxing sounds, the skin-stroking sun..

Just an example so you would have an idea what I am talking about.. Normally when we go to the coast, my girls try and find pretty shells on the beach. Usually they find small ones or damaged ones. On Fanjove you are surrounded by such an incredible amount of huge, beautiful, gorgeous, impressive shells that you do not know where to begin if you even wanted to pick one up. So you just kind of give up and think “I should just try to take this all in and don’t touch anything” and then you see this one big shell that lifts itself and walks away! And you are happy you did not touch it.. Might be a silly anecdote, but it left me feeling very modest and in awe.

Another aha-moment came when the sun went down. I have already noticed that in Africa the skies seem to have more stars than in any other part of the world – as far as I have seen at least. But at Fanjove, it almost seemed like the sky had more stars than blue. Again, one can feel so little and so grand at the same time. Utter beauty.

Now I only have one more place on my coastal list left to tick: Mafia. One always need something to wish for..

SAADANI SAFARI LODGE

(I am a sucker for an outdoor shower..)

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By car and riverboat to SAADANI RIVER LODGE

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KILWA

(you gotta love the tree in the wall..)

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FANJOVE

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Customer care

I am warning you before you start reading, I will whine.. April was not a good month for customer care.

First my washing machine broke down. I imported an expensive German machine many years ago and the thing has done a fine job for me for a decade. So with unstable electrical supply, and water from doubtful quality, that is rather good going. The first fundi (eletrician, in this case) I asked to come kept promising me to come and making appointments and only showed up after 3 attempts. After looking at the machine for 2 minutes he said I need to bring it to his workshop. The second fundi I wanted to call, moved away. The third fundi then finally solved it. With ‘solved’ I mean he defined the spare part I need to replace. Of course I cannot find the part in Arusha and I had to order it online to be sent to my brother’s house. How and when it will eventually be with me is still a big question mark and I am washing clothes by hand in bath the tub for now.

Then I needed a gas bottle for cooking. You would think that is pretty straightforward. So after work I drove to a shop with some bottles outside. Apparently, the guy that fills them and locks them away had already left for the day. So I made them a deal: I would leave the bottle behind and pick it up the next day. Since I am of the skeptical kind, I made her sign a paper for the empty bottle and I marked it. And I checked opening hours, promising I would return the day after.

The following day, my conversation at the store was something from an absurd, surreal film. First, the lady asked me why I was late (17.15). I told her I was there in the morning but she was not open (even though I had checked her opening times with her) so she shrugged: “this morning I was late”.

I asked about my bottle. She said I was so late that the guy had left again. So I reminded her the deal was she would fill it before I got there, she had all day, right? We agreed she would give me another bottle, same size. So she asks “what type of nozzle and connection does your bottle have?” I reminded her I had marked my bottle so she can check. The mark was gone, so even if she would have filled MY bottle as agreed, she had absolutely no idea which one it was, so why have a go at me in the first place? When I complained I knew this would happen, she blamed the askari, the guard outside, he had moved it after all. Yes, blame someone else. I love it when people do that – it is so mature.

I can already see some of you readers with a smirk, thinking: “you decided to make your bed in Africa, now you must lie in it”. Well, my worst experience this month was with Nespresso.

Maybe I just except too much from a brand that uses George Clooney as their face; and has a fancy branded boutique in the Louisalaan, and you need a membership because their products are not in the supermarket.. Ever since the day I became a member, I have been in customer service hell.

With the purchase of the machine, they forgot the Christmas discount. Nespresso said the shop made a mistake. So? Take it up with the shop, you work with them, I don’t.. Then they promised me I would get the discount but only deducted from an order so I had to order – a second time. But they had already made mistakes on order one.. While filling in my account on the website, I filled out I speak Flemish and my welcome letter arrived in French. Then with my first order of coffee, they forgot the welcome gift. Nespresso said: “We also cannot send it later because it is against the rules to send it separate”. When filling out the delivery address, I accidentally hacked my brother’s account since it is his address. We both could not access our account anymore. His is now fixed, but for mine the IT department still has not figured out how to solve it after 5 months (FIVE). Then I wanted to place the second order to solve the discount-issue but I can no longer get into my account.. So I ordered via customer service. When it arrived, I see they forgot to give me the discount. But the welcome gift came too. But separately..

Seriously?

So having a cup of coffee in the morning, putting on clean clothes and cooking a meal in the evening, has been an ordeal, let me tell you! Good thing my girls are back and life has some perspective again.

 

 

Opposite directions

Sometimes it happens that I am happily driving down the street and there are pedestrians on the street, walking in the other direction. Nothing weird so far. But when I come closer, they gesture to me, making clear they would like a lift. So I think: but I am driving North (for instance) and you are walking towards the South, so how would a lift from me be useful to you? I have thought about this more than once because it has happened more than once. Do they think I will turn around for them and bring them to their destination? (After all I own a car, the highest form of freedom) Or are they prepared to go anywhere at all, as long as it is not by foot?

I have contemplated stopping and asking them. But I never did because I am scared I might give them false hope in making them think I would make a detour to the other side of town for them and it would be cruel to shoo them out of my car after hearing this..

The weirdest thing is that when I do not stop and continue to drive to the North (for instance), they stop gesturing and they keep on walking to the South. I guess it will remain one of these things that I will never figure out. Anyway. Just had to get that of my chest.

Money talks

When I was little, my mum still used to write checks occasionally and even then I remember thinking checks were an outdated means. So imagine my surprise when I arrived in Tanzania and the most common thing to pay, even let’s say your monthly rent, are checks. Or no, correction: the most common thing for Tanzanians is to not have a bank account at all but that is another story.

For starting an account, you pay. For being a customer (even when not using any services), you pay. For every transaction, you pay. For the much-needed check book, you pay. For internet banking, you pay (although it took me ages to get them to provide me with a username and password). For international transactions, you have to work with a telegraphic transfer, which will only be processed between 9am and 10am every working day and takes time – and you guessed it – extra money. And actually using all the money in your account and going to zero, not possible.

So try to explain to over a 100 employees you want to start a bank account  for each and every one of them because it is not safe for you to drive around with cash salaries every month. That means you also have to explain to them all the extra costs, and the fact they have to stand in line at an ATM in town (extra bus fare, and extra charge for using the ATM) to get their own money and they can never use all of it..

But my last experience at the bank, convinced me I am living in the twilight zone. To start my account, I had to show my residence permit and provide a letter signed by my employer saying I actually do work for him. A residence permit is the same as a work permit in this country because without a job, you are kindly requested to leave. So the address on my permit would then be the address of my employer, that is how it works. But the bank asked me to provide a physical address also. Since the streets here do not have a name and I was reluctant to write “the street between the 2 big trees”, I wrote a letter stating in which area I lived. Not good enough, apparently. Could I please give them my contract to my rental house? Or a letter from the landlord, stating I live in his house? I refused to do both. So in the end we settled on a copy of my electricity bill.

(And no, I am not with an African bank, I am with a British bank that owns a branch here, I was with them when I lived in the UK also.)

So money might talk but the banks here speak jibberish.

The stages to integration

They say that people who go live abroad, go through different stages before they integrate.

First there is the honeymoon, the stage where you feel as if you are on holiday and everything is a great experience. Finally, you see those landmarks you know from pictures..

Then the frustration sets in and you realize that if you will be sticking around, some daily things will make you angry. Culture-shock sets in.

After that, understanding comes, you integrate. You settle, you make friends, you adapt.

Obviously, complete integration for me in this society is virtually impossible. There have been times when I jokingly said “I wish I could put shoe polish on my face so people would treat me equally when I go to town.” Of course I never did – and thus I am never treated equally. Better or worse, but never equally. So I guess you could say my current state is still in between frustration and integration and I can safely say I will not ever escape this.

So I end up having these moments were I am amazed because for a brief moment I see the situation from both perspectives, and usually – fortunately in most cases – it makes me laugh.

Yesterday, I went to the gym. Outside the gym, there was an audience.

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Immediately, I thought: watch other people work out? What a weird thing to do.

But seriously, it must be really strange for them that we drive to a certain place, pay membership to this place and then start using weird looking shiny equipment to sweat. When you have to walk to the well to get water every morning and then walk another hour to get to school, we must seem deranged.