Saturday, June 30, 2007

Uganda and beyond: Gorillas not to be missed.

Way back, or so it now seems, in Cape Town, we decided to visit gorillas on our way. The brochure, of the Nomad Overland Co., looked good. The trip would be from Nairobi to Uganda, which should be interesting.

We had to work out a date well into the future. We pencilled out a very sketchy timetable, added contingency (as project managers do), and blow me ... it worked out just fine. Our only commitment on the whole trip.

As departure date drew close, Deb and I became quite apprehensive. We weren't sure if we were ready for a group tour. We had become quite used to doing what we wanted, how we wanted, when we wanted. We had come across a half dozen overland trips in camps, and what we witnessed made us slightly nervous.When in Lilongwe, Malawi we read a story in the local paper by a traveller who had jumped off an overland truck trip. Too many people, partying kids, and not meeting any Africans.

But, don't panic, Mad.

The 21 seater cabin truck only has eight of us aboard. Yep, us and another six, so we had stacks of room. And thankfully, they were pretty like minded people. And no 'kids'. Patrick and Beatrice (a Swiss and a Mexican, they met in Canada at French classes! Patrick then had to learn Spanish as well, and Beatrice German and Swiss German. Some people.), Aaron (New Yorker, with a Harvard MBA), Simon and Rachael (Australian/English - who had just completed a six month stint at a school in Tanzania, and a German - Volker ( who I had to not call Homer Simpson - well he was a mechanical engineer at a Nuclear Power Station). Nice people to spend 12 days with. And we had some fun times. Apparently there were to be two more. But they had been overlanding with Nomad from Joberg to Nairobi but got off in Dar Es Salaam - they had had enough.

Just one other thing. Our confirming email advised that if permits were not available in Uganda (numbers visiting are strictly controlled) then Nomad would be applying for Rwanda. And, you've guessed it, Rwanda it was to be. Well that would be interesting. Kiwis are very aware of previous visits by Kiwis to Rwanda.

Taking the organised route was differant. Being on a 'mzungu chariot' you are forever waving to people - but with little local interaction. You are also subjected to all means of imploring eyes, pleading tones, and persistent selling. Some is sad, some is bad, but some is real fun. We hadn't experienced this when travelling on local transport - just people selling food for local travellers to feed on, not expecting mzungu. We also woke very early, and traveled late on some days. You are constantly marched along. But to see gorilla you need permits, and the sure way to do that is to go with a tour.

But the chance for some differant company was also a good thing for Deb and I. Just a breather from the intensity of just the two of us in sometimes trying situations.

The trip took us from Nairobi up the East Rift Valley of Kenya, over the equator, into Uganda (waited three hours while a customs guy tried to scam our truck driver), across the Nile River at source on Lake Victoria, Kampala, back over the Equator heading south, Lake Bunyunoni, across the Rwanda border to Ruhengiri. On roads that would best be described as testing. Except, oddly, Rwanda - they were perfect. Being a French territory for a while, it's Left Hand Drive. But except for the white NGO Landcruisers all the minivan transports are Jap imports so right hand drive. Kinda weird.

Each evening the team sampled from the range of Ugandan delights: Nile Special, Club Lager, or Bell Lager.

But coming out of the Kenyan Rift Valley and up over the Escarpment at over 2,200 meters, we passed through Elravine, and there they were! Kenyan athletes in packs training on winding hilly roads or forrest tracks. Beautiful. Poetry in motion. A few wore tracksuit tops with Kenya emblazened across the shoulders. This is the heartland, were it all happens.

The volcanic soil, rich Rift Valley is farming intense. Once down the escarpment and until climbing out the otherside, still in Kenya, are productive farms. The Rift Valley is split around Lake Victoria, and the wesetrn Rift, particulary down the south of Uganda and into Rwanda is some of the most fertile in Africa.

By the way, a correction. Rift Valley Railways is more than just a marketing venture. It was actually renamed after a buy out by a South African crowd.

And, then there is the gorillas.

A truely fantastic experience. A mountain trek for a couple of hours to find them, then you are permitted one hour with the gorillas. At one point, when just meeting them our group split and a younger male hoped out onto the track between us, stood up, looked me right in the eye, then just shoulder bumped me right out of the way, pushed past deb and Volker and went on his merry way. Cool. Then they settle down to eat, and we settle down to watch them eat. Youngsters tumble and wrestle, the grand old silver back hops up, grunts, gives his 'settle down you kids' look, and sits back down and returns to his munching on a kind of wild celery.

Did you know gorillas are identified by 'nose prints'? Fair dinkum. Each one has a unique pattern just above their nostrils. As reliable as, and much more visible than, our fingerprints. Gorillas have 95% of human DNA (chimps 99%).

Both Uganda and Rwanda have nasty recent histories. In Kampala, the parliament building is riddled with bullet scars. Idi Amin's downfall came as a result of Tanzania giving Kampala a real dust up as a payback for his invasion of north west Tanzania. Idi scarpered to Saudi, and when Obeto who Idi kicked out returned to power, Uganda erupted in civil war for 6-7 years. I'm not sure when, but parliament got shot up sometime through all this.

Rwanda's Hutu - Tutsi battle was one of histores most grusome. I've recently read the gory details - it was just brutality, butchery. A lot of signs line the roadside, in French and the local lingo, but the one word painted in red that leaps out of the print is JENOCIDE or GENOCIDE. Our guide provided a translation, and they are about orphan assistance; going forward getting over the past; reminders of a future.

My current read, Aidan Hartley's The Zanzibar Chest (2003, Harper Perrenial) covers the Rwandan genocide in depth, in his role as a journalist. Deb has already read and tells me he comes out of it a near psychological wreck. When we came through Arusha, Tanzania, probably the biggest, flashest building we saw was the UN Rwandan Genocide Trials courts.

But despite these horrible histories , and not long ago, both countres have since headed off, as if they hadn't had enough, and beat up on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Unbelievable. Same old Hutu-Tutsi pretense, but the truth was it was a diamonds grab.

The gorilla trek had machine-gun armed soldiers front and rear. Our camp also had armed guards. Our trip guides weren't comfortable at all during our time in Rwanda. But I can't report anything unusual. In fact, the resilience of human beings is somewhat amazing. I went for a walk down-town with Volker, exchanged some money at the pharmacist, as you do, and then bought some Primus beer for the crew from one hard core seedy bar. While its the Rwandan 'local', it's actually a DRC drop.

BBC shortwave told us the All Blacks had scrapped through a late win over the South Africans.

The trip had some good game drives along the way. In Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda, we made use of the metal framed, wooden-lined box on top of the truck that would ordinarily store luggage when carrying 20-odd people. We lined the box with sleeping mats, stocked up on Bell Lager, and took an afternoon game test-drive of the GDVU - game drive viewing unit prototype.

A game dive at Lake Nakuru, Kenya, also provided the opportunity to tick off another critter: the rarish black rhino. While at Nakuru, we bumped into the film/support crew of Ewan McGregor and Charley Borrman making their next production 'Long Way Down'. Their African journey (apart from across the top of Africa) is near identical to ours . That is, if some of our plans for 'up North' come off, but their trip south is the same as ours. They asked us how we were travelling. 'Apart from side trips like this; independant, by public transport from the bottom to top.' "Crikey! Holy shit!" or something similiar was pretty much their reaction.

Writing about our trip is just becoming more difficult. The experiences are vast. There are learning experiences, visual experiences, cultural experiences, 'spiritual' experiences, wildlife experiences, the list goes on.

I believe I sent a postcard to my Mum and Dad with something trite like 'We are having a good time', or something. Sorry about that M&D, but at least the near 35 year tradition of a postcard from every country continues.

We arrive back to the now familiar Nairobi. An Opinion article in the Saturday Nation (30 June, p11) by J.H. Oswago caught my eye. He wrote that Vincente Fox (Mexico), Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria) and Mwai Kibaki (Kenya) all came to power on anti-corruption platforms. He suggests none has improved things much, and perhaps have got worse. He proposes five reasons for the failure. One, graft is institutional. Two, anti-graft institutions are politicised. Three, graft fighting institutions are poorly designed. Four, eventually the civil service co-opts the incoming administration despite the initial drum beating. But it is the fifth proposal that tells the tale:

'The political leadership either fail to master the necessary political will needed to combat graft, or, become inconsistent and ineffectual in exercing the will.

Political will is the capacity to punish, promptly, the closest kin or political confederates, of the leader, for the remotest appearance of graft. Such punishment may include sackings, thorough investigations and prosecutions, jail or immediate and public restitution.'

Anyway, the first task at hand upon arrival in Nairobi: internet. You beauty!! The Wallabies 20-15 over the All Blacks. Sweet. That deserves a Tusker.

But the real celebrating we wanted to do that night was have a nice meal and toast the wedding that day of our dear friends, Tanya and Mick. Congratulations guys.

Next: The Masai Mara, then back to Tanzania and pick up from were we left off for the tooth episode - Kili, Serengeti, and Ngorogoro Crater. The wilderbeast migration is ready to kick off.

You don't know how lucky you are, boy. You don't know how lucky you are.

aka Mad

Kenya: Land of the sensational athletes.

Kenya, well known for its athletes, has been quite a show case for our visit.

2007 is the year for the PAN African Champs, world youth champs, and the IAAF World champs in Osaka. And during our visit, Kenya has held its national championships doubling as trials for all these events.

These have included National school champs. I don't think there would be a handful of Australian or Kiwi athletes that could have placed in any of the results.

The National Champs, held over three days, ended on the Sunday as we came back from Mombassa. Entering Nairobi, we passed the National stadium, and a big crowd was leaving. The 10,000 meters was run over two heats, with 56 entrants! A swag ran under 28 minutes. I would have enjoyed having seen the 3,000 meters steeplechase - probably the world's toughest race.

Another big event to be held is the Safaricom Lewa Sanctuary Wildlife Marathon but while we are in Uganda - a shame as there is also a half marathon. The Daily Nation calls this one of the world's toughest marathons, run over tough terrain in a wildlife park. Helicopters act as spotters for wild animals.

Entrants include three times Boston winner, Robert Cheruiyot, 2007 London winner Martin Lel, 2007 Rotterdam champ, Joshua Chelanga, and Paul Terget, current world marathon record holder. A tidy little field.

The event was won by Kuala Lumper marathon record holder, Cyprian Kiogora, in an event record. He is part of the Paul Terget training camp, and considered a real up-and-comer.

Much billboard advertising in Kenya plays on their athletic prowess. But in Nairobi, there is one very large photo billboard taking up the whole side of a building, advertising nothing per se, except the athletic glory. It is a photo of Paul Terget, at 2003 Berlin Marathon, where he set the world record. Each morning when running in Nairobi, as I pass it nearly back at our hotel, I give a wee salute. Just an acknowledgement. Just respect.

When running here, I am sure I can read the expressions on the faces of passer-by pedestrians. I know that they are thinking 'why waste your time little, slow, fat, white boy'. But they are way too polite, and just smile.

All the ability here puts anything I have done well into its place. But I realise its probably just people without a future that dwell upon their past achievements.

So, I look forward. What's next, What else?

aka Mad.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Mombassa and Lamu: And too much time to think!

Friday night, and after a surprisingly enjoyable stopover in Nairobi, we take the train to Mombasa. No ordinary train but the Mombasa Express. This is the line that opened up East Africa. We are not train spotters, but did, fair dinkum, visit the Railway Museum. Sure there were engines and stuff out in the yard but the museum was really the story of the railway's part in East Africa's history. A funny old thing, but an interesting thing to do.

For about NZ$75 you can travel First Class, a two-person sleeper compartment, for the 550km, 15 hour journey. And it's just so cool. Of course the compartment was past its best but what an experience. The restaurant car was a blast from the past. You are served by jokers wearing their (well-worn) white jackets and bow ties. Genuine (mis-matched) silverware is provided all embossed: EAR&H (East African Railways and Harbours), KUR (Kenya Uganda Railways), KR (Kenya Railways) - all in themselves a lesson from the museum. The current acronym is RVR (Rift Valley Railways) but that's a fairly recent marketing ploy for the passenger services, and the budget doesn't stretch to ordering new silver cutlery.

Over dinner, we met an English woman, Anne, who is on her way to taking up a job as a Tour Guide on safaris in Tanzania. The four course dinner can be washed down with a few of Kenya's favourites: Tusker Lager. Then, sleep like a babe.

What more could you possibly want?

Mombasa: And we are not wearing a Mambo T-shirt.

- where our biscuits, fig, and date, bars are from Saudi Arabia.
- where our mixed fruit jam is from Yemen.
- where we watch Aljazeera news, in English.
- where we drink spiced tea.
- and where, despite a sea breeze, it's 32 degrees and with little relief at night.
Mombasa is Kenya's second city. But very differant to Nairobi. It's a harbour/port town with the usual sleaze attached. There are nice areas, of course, but the centre is way more crowded than Nairobi, and no signs of Nairobi affluence. There's just so many more beggars than we have experienced elsewhere in Africa, so far. It's edgy. There's a large presence of Somalian refugees. We witnessed a guy below us, when looking down and across the harbour, pull 7 or 8 wallets from his clothing and rifle through them.

Deb and I spend the afternoon on a follow-your-nose, free roaming, wander through the jumble of steets in old town. We stop for a tasty chicken briyani, mango juice, and chai before discovering a very local beer garden. I've never said "no" to one on a hot day, and a couple of cold Tuskers helps get over the heat. The local lads appear to be settling in for a Saturday arvo session and watching sports on TV. Their moslem mates have got to be envious.

This is not another case of 'flexible honesty' but an ouright fib. We are shown a flash bus when booking to Lamu, 350km north of Mombasa heading towards the Somalia border, along the Swahili Coast. Oh no, no, no. That's actually the bus to Nairobi and our vehicle is a pure bred rattler. The first section on pot-holed highway is bad enough, but then comes the dirt roads. We have plenty of room this time, but the rattling is endurance testing.

Six and a half hours of bone shaking later, we board a dhow equipped with diesel engine and chug to Lamu (a UNESCO World Heritage site, I might add). We take another dhow along the waterfront to the beach village of Shella. It's an easy enough walk, but later. We're not walking the 40 minutes in the heat with our packs.

I don't quite know how we do it, but we have done it again. We've scored a four bedroom, three bathrooms, lounge areas, kitchen, verandah, and a shaded rooftop garden, - but wait, there's more - complete with a 'house boy' who washes up and occasionally makes our bed. And we are paying less than NZ$25 a night. We stay six nights!

We are at the halfway point, time wise, of our trip, so the break will be good. Having to go to Nairobi for tooth repairs made us have to re-jink plans slightly. The beach at Zanzibar was to be our break. It rained, so this will do just nicely.

Shella wouldn't be a half kilometre square. But it's a maze of narrow sandy streets. Little donkeys roam. It takes a couple of times to find the same way back to our house. And a couple of little windows-to-the street shops we found are tricky to locate again. No maps. No street names. A wonderful experience. After a day or two you are recognised by locals.

News filters through of a bomb exploding in Nairobi. Just up the way, three Kenyan soldiers are captured by Somalian militiamen. We catch up with Anne again a couple of times. After a few days we are joined in the house by a nice Irish couple, Pat and Sarah. And we meet a delightful couple of Dutch girls, both Maaike, who are near finished mid-wife studies and have spent time in Kenya on practical experience. They have some interesting, and alarming, stories to tell.

There's a flotilla of exotically named dhow plying the waters of Lamu and Shella. Names like AL HAMID, TAWAQAL, SHAHIDA, MBUZI, HADI HADI, SWALHITI, TAUFIQ and more. But my choice had to go to the exquistely named vessel, the FURQAN.

I start to plan on how we could stay for three months. But risk becoming like Jimmy Buffet: wasting away in Margaritaville. But we do find a more comfortable bus back to Mombasa. A group of five young men, unarmed, have a road block set up in an attempt to beg from the bus. The driver lines one up and guns it! Straight at him. He jumps pretty quick.

It's Saturday afternoon, I give consideration to finding the beer garden again. We bus it back to Nairobi very comfortably, it's quicker, and daylight. It's Kenya after all, and we don't tire of seeing animals. Between Lamu and Nairobi we see giraffe, zebra, waterbuck, monkeys, baboons and red elephants. Yep, because of the red dirt and dust the elephants take on an odd colour. Two bright red whirly-whirlies winds of rising dust also. Get back to find the Yapies have beaten the Wallabies by kicking two field goals at the death.

The Kenyan Daily Nation got to the point with one story: 'A mentally retarded man, James Olgatha, drowned when he plunged into Lake Victoria. A fisherman was too late to save him.' That's it. Total story. Finished. And a couple of stories of 'prompt justice'. A husband and wife couple are lynched by a Nyagenke village mob accused of being 'notorious witches'. And my bro, Whaleboy and I don't know how lucky we were. Villagers machete hack to death some lads who steal mangoes from their trees. In our early twenties we used make mango raids on trees in central Brisbane. But hey, this is Africa.

Hanging out at the beach for a few days gave me time to think.

Oh no. That's dangerous.

I noticed an interesting couple of press releases. When covering the G8 conference, the Saturday Nation (9 June) quoted rock star Bono commenting on G8's Africa aid pledge.: "They have taken language hostage. We wanted numbers but this is burobabble." Hmmm, and what language is that. Same day, Aljazeera shows fellow rock star campaigner, Bob Geldorf, as saying: "Africa could, or should, be the richest country." Ah, Bob, it's a continent of something like 54 countries.

But Bob did get me thinking. In fact I could rant on this one for ages. But relax.

But the fact that Africa is 54 countries is in itself the issue. There's no 'Africa' generalisations possible. Countries apart, there's northern Arab Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa. There's West Africa, East Africa, and Southern Africa. Even from what I have seen there's different education, health and food levels even in neighbouring countries, and even in the same country.

But if I understand what Geldorf is getting at, doesn't Africa being self reliant also mean being less reliant on foreign aid?

At the time of independence, let's say early 1960s, just about all African countries were self supporting for food. Then came twenty years of dictators looking after themselves. By the 80s, Africa needed food from outside and was going broke. In steps the IMF and World Bank and starts providing funds on the premise that countries will privatise the nationalised companies to encourage enterprise. But they put few checks and balances in place, and wouldn't you know it the leaders sell nationalised companies to family and cohorts at rock bottom prices. These new owners in turn then turn to IMF/World Bank for funding to get the companies going. The funds disappear. Loans are not repaid.By the 90s African countries can't feed themselves, are broke, and owe stacks.

But don't get me started.

And, don't get me wrong. There has been real needs for humanitarian aid in Africa. I have witnessed abject poverty in this continent. I'm not so naive to not know that poverty in Africa also means child labour, selling children, trading your daughters and death by easily and absolutely curable disases. But real problems and blocks to remedies should be looked at. But I suggest G8 leftie protestors should be turning their attention to asking just where money donated by G8 has gone. And unfortunately, much of the well intentioned work by well meaning volunteers (largely) of NGOs and charities has been the same stuff for years and is but a scratch on the surface.

Time and time again the problems have lain with leadership, and its corruption. The political leadership has been a shocker. From Saturday Nation, 9 June, a letter to the editor from a Mr. Oulu:
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is accused of all forms of oppression in his country and considered Africa's shame. When he attended the recent COMESA talks in Nairobi, many people did not find it honourable that he should be elected vice-chairman of the reputed trading bloc, let alone be given the chance to move a vote of thanks.

Many people think that Mugabe should get out of power to set Zimbabweans free. But all these are shallow conclusions and condemnations. We must be bold enough to face the facts.

There is a dictator in every African country. Some are found in political parties, while others are in economic or social sectors. Thus Mugabe's exit, just like Amin's, Charles Taylor's or Mobutu's, will not end dictatorship on the continent, or the world. ...(cont'd)
And this, I believe, is Africa's problem. There appears something wrong at the top. Though my dentist reckons the current Kenyan President is just OK, but better still there is an active opposition. Single party politics has been the history of Africa since independence.

If you, too, should have the slightest interest in Africa's history since independence, and the tale of the same old, continuing story of the corruption of politics up until today; and of the continuing story of humanity where fights against oppression and racism are then followed by brutalities of people turning on themselves (Did you know that Band Aid and Live Aid relief food sat in rail wagons for two years not 250 meters from a refugee camp in which 250,000 people starved to death, all because of political gamesmanship?) - then have a read of Martin Meredith's The State of Africa: A history of fifty years of independence. (Jonathan Ball, 2005).

Its clear sighted, readable, straight forward story of cynical Western colonialists and then the post independence ruling elite hell bent on a pre-occupation of holding power for self enrichment is completely recommendable.

But you have been spared. I thought about heaps lying around, and reading the above mentioned book. So now it's time to get back on the road.

Tomorrow morning we head for Uganda. I'll attempt to try not trip over the Equator as we head to the border.

I'm always right. I once thought I could have been wrong, but it was an error.

aka Mad.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Nairobi: Love it or hate it

Our overnight in Dar delivered another downpour. In fact, back at the beach on Kendwa, Zanzibar, the rain provided the chance for an International Yahtzee tournament, when Deb & I (New Zealand & Australia) took on an entertaining Dutch couple, Puck (preparing her thesis in micro-economics)and Martin, and an interesting Ethiopian, Shiferaw, who did his Masters in Environmental Studies at Dublin Uni.

We planned a stopover in Moshi en-route to Nairobi. We travelled the eight hours on the comfortable Scandinavian Coaches. At the bus terminal, before departure, I spotted a Newsweek magazine on the stand with a cover picture of Jacques Chirac and heading 'European Dinosaur' and wondered what he was doing making news again. Closer inspection revealed a May 2005 cover date!!!

Arrived Moshi feeling clean, still fresh and not physically crippled. We outdistanced the rain, arriving on a fine, and clear, afternoon with good views of Kilimanjaro for the last hour. We went for sundowners and sunset views of Kili on a rooftop bar of a nearby hotel.

Next day the rain caught up again. But we like the feel of Moshi and stayed another night - the tooth can wait. You can't begrudge Africa getting good rain. In fact, a self-invited guest (i.e. safari or Kili climb peddlar) during our morning coffee reckons "No one will be hungry this year." If true, that's fantastic. I expect he means in his local area.

I go for my third African haircut while in Moshi. Not much can go wrong with a no. two comb all over. But a slight apprehension when entering this 'very local' establishment when the sign outside states 'Barbing Shop'. They actually pride themselves doing mzungu haircuts.

Leaving Moshi, we pass through Arusha and Masai territory. These vibrant red/blue/purple checkered cloak wearing tribesman with bracelets, necklaces, anklets and large holes in enlarged earlobes make an impressive sight. The romantic travel guides will refer to them as warriors but really they are just ... jokers. In fact, cattle grazers, and the 'spears' they carry are no more than tools - sticks to poke their cattle. But the sight of one in full garb including his stick over his shoulder riding a bicycle is a delight.

The tooth has caused little interruption. My recommended dentist couldn't see me for a week and a half. A joker at our hotel recommends another. She's a local woman, Mary Ndueti, she's great, and she sees patients on 'first come - first served basis'. So Tuesday see her, get X-rays (she writes the charge on top of the referral form - "you can't trust anyone in Nairobi"), get post implant Thursday, temporary cap Friday. We'll catch the train to Mombasa and Lamu (recommended by our friends Rachel and Nick, back in Wellington) out on the Indian Ocean coast. Get back to Nairobi Sunday, 10 days later, get permanent cap on the Monday, and head to Uganda Tuesday. (We'll be back in Nairobi end of June, and head back for some unfinished business in Tanzania.)

Before coming to Nairobi everyone warned us to be careful - "it's not called Nai-robbery for nothing". Sure there's touts with all sorts of interesting introductions to their scams. But, hey. But we're Urban Creatures. We love a daily paper, cafes, bars, restaurants, book shops, cinemas etc. So Nairobi is turning out just fine. We're having a blast. We're staying fringe CBD, and the young professionals who politely greet us as we sit down at nearby tables at restaurants and bars are nothing but charming.

But things in parts of Nairobi and Kenya are sinister. Here's a selection of just three days' of Nairobi's Daily Nation newspaper.

(Sunday) Shocker. A matatu (minibuses)driver and conductor are beheaded by members of the outlawed Mungiki sect. The sect is causing no end of trouble. They are conducting stand over tactics for protection money from matatus. Seven drivers/conductors killed in past four days. Three hundred people have been arrested, the Internal Security Minister, John Michuki, said: "We will straighten them and wipe them out. I cannot tell you where these who have been arrested in conjunction with the recent killings are. What you will be hearing is there will be burials tomorrow (!!!)." This comment caused outrage in Nairobi over next few days.

(Monday) Police search for killers of a provincial police officer's aide

(Tuesday) A lone Mungiki sect member shot and killed three policemen, and injured another, and stole their guns. In hunting the lone gunman, police shoot 21 suspects in Mathare, a slum area of Nairobi.

(Wednesday) Despite 21 shot, only six bodies turn up at the mortuary. Questions are asked.

(Thursday) The Standard newspaper: Shocking Murder: Mungiki members behead a man and perform indescribable acts on his lifeless body as police retrieve missing officer's head, only a day after a bloodbath that claimed 34 lives. (More sect members were shot.)

I'll spare describing the photos for you. Editorials of all papers are along the lines 'stop this Mungiki madness now'. MPs are being questioned on their connections with the sect - apparently they do favours for the sect in return for standover tactics at election time.

More stories:

Man kills his wife after quarrel over kitchen utensils. He pleads guilty to manslaughter - 'he was provoked'. Judge orders he serve a sentence 'from now until the court rises'. He was sentenced at 10:00, the court rose at 12:45pm that day. Two-and-three-quarter hours in jail. He vows to continue using utensils even though threatened by a curse from his villagers.

Yet a man, Samuel Lekai, has been sentenced to death for stealing mobile phones from two women!!!

A woman has been detained for hacking her husband to death, after he sold a family goat for 1000 Kenyan shillings (US $1 = 66Ksh) and spent the proceeds on beer and cigarettes. God knows what sentence she will receive.

A primary school pupil shot dead by cattle rustlers. He was trying to track down 30 cattle missing from his village. The rustlers are being pursued across the Kenya-Uganda border.

A man's 'eyes popped and he collapsed' after coming third in a food eating contest. He choked on bread and was rushed to hospital. He was resuscitated and returned to collect his prize.

The presiding judge of the Constitutional Court in Nairobi has wiped out the Ksh 200 million court costs bill slapped on Kwale District villagers. They had won Ksh 7 million compensation for land worth Ksh 9 million, confiscated by the state to establish a titanium mining project expected to yield Ksh 12 billion. Work that one out!

There's pages more on fraud, forgery, and corruption. And a warning on highway robbers. There's elections at the end of 2007, and a candidate has fled the country seeking asylum in Canada??

I also see the lefties are protesting at G8 and demanding more aid for Africa. Meanwhile editorials here in Africa are saying provide us with ways to look after ourselves - stop making us dependent on handouts. Besides, the lefties should be asking where all the aid has been going. The past Ugandan health minister faces trial for scarpering with US$5 million of AIDS support funds. A Kenyan policeman has been given a verbal warning for his standover tactics trying to obtain his cut of a village's famine relief food supplies.

We're finding Africa just a fantastic place to visit, but I'd hate to be a local living here.

aka Mad

Africa: Who's looking at who?

Friday, June 1, 2007

Zanzibar: the dream realised

The MV Mandeleo plys its way onto the Indian Ocean, across the sparkling, deep blue Zanzibar Channel. A blast from the ship's horn warns an errant dhow to change course. The decks bake under a tropical sun ...

Enough. The real story. The Mandeleo, which I believe probably fits the description 'tramp steamer', has a ship's plate 'Tsuenishi Shipping Co., Japan, 1980 - which surprised me, I would have guessed 1950 at least. A very tired old ship. More flexible honesty: it leaves 11:30, takes two and a half hours. We watch while it loaded all manner of produce until 2:00 and then 'sailed' for a little over 4 hours. Deb and I spent sometime on deck, up at the bow, until the inevitable. You just cannot be left alone. "Ha-lo mizduh. Whyb youb trabel dis berry? Ees bery slowb." But that was the point. Yes it was slow, yes the sea was glorious, and yes dhow sailed all around.

Locals pay a third of what mzungu pay. It's all open and clearly stated on noticeboards. Let's just call it 'skin tax'. But I was surprised, once again, when we arrived at the port of Stone Town and we had to pass through an immigration process, passport stamped and all. Zanzibar has its own government. In fact the whole Tanzania Union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar is still a bit strained here. But the major thing, the immigration process didn't include any charges. That's remarkable. Oh yeah. The large sign at immigration pronounced: 'No public displays of affection allowed'. Suits me.

Also, on arrival at port, woke up to an attempted scam that had the look of robbery written all over it. Luckily, we survive yet again. But you just can't drop your guard.

First up, I thought I might have been visiting my first place which included two Zs in the name. Silly boy. Of course, I was brought up in Brizzie, and I've been to Tazzie. And I've been to the odd Pizzeria.

While working northward we've now travelled east coast Africa, to the west and back to the east: Indian-Atlantic-Indian Oceans. Basically though our zigzag path is a northern corridor on the eastern side of the continent. And it's one big continent. Did you know that the total area combined of China, USA, India, Europe, Argentina and, oh alright then - let's chuck in New Zealand, is 30,244,721 sq kms. Africa's area is 30,342,551 sq kms. Fact.

I have this sneaky suspicion that a local Moslem was a naughty boy the night we arrived. No sooner did the 5:00am call to prayer commence next morning when their god decided to pay the offender back by dumping a deluge when the faithful were making their way to the mosque. By the time we got up later and had breakfast, a wonderful sun shone.

The world is going mad. I'm already getting over the fact one of my earlier books read on this trip was about westerners stressing over their prestige and levels of wealth. A real nonsense here. But over breakfast, a TV played SKY news from London. The major stories included a fuss over a Nepali, 92 years of age, who won a VC saving Brit soldiers against the Japs, being allowed a visa to enter the UK for some medical treatment - this is a country where it rains hot and cold benefits; and believe this one - the Poms bleating that it's Germans who always get the best recliners on the beaches in southern Europe!!; morning traffic blocks on the M5; and don't worry about your car being stolen or house broken into, 33 police have been assigned to watch Big Brother for racist and sexist infringements.

Anyway. Back to Zanzibar.

It's the birthplace of Freddie Mercury, well Farookh Bulsara actually. He didn't stay long before his family moved to India. He wasn't quite 18 when he landed in England. But funnily enough in this mainly conservative Moslem place they still capitalise on the Queen of camp. There's a bar and restaurant featuring him. A neat place to have a sundowner and watch lads play soccer and do gymnastics on the beach. Zanzibar is on the tourist trail. There's plenty of upmarket hotels and the rest of the trappings.

Zanzibar really is a collision of cultures. It really does feel like we've stepped off Africa. I'll do it again and compare. Stone Town feels like we've landed in a merge of Havana, Cuba and Fez, Morocco. How's that? But there's a sort of Malecon along the beachfront and buildings have the worn, crumbling look. And we are staying in the inner/old town which is a maze of metre and a half wide streets with hole in the wall shops and mosques. And the lush tropical growth, especially after the morning downpours, is also reminiscent of South East Asia.There is still plenty of bantu people, but also arabs, and a good number of Indians. The food is grouse.Stown Town is a great place for wandering. The smell of spices surround you. And there are sobering reminders of the slave trade days.

At stalls in the night food market you can get kebabs of marlin, tuna, snapper, barracuda, shark, red and white lobster, crab, calamari, octopus, shrimp, prawn and chicken. Whilst the temptation was there to sample one of each, I did hold back. Mind you it's as cheap as chips. No, not chips, but you could also have japati, roti, or falafel and wash it down with spice tea.

While we ate we were, of course, joined by yet another wanting to practice his interesting version of English. But he did confirm something I have always suspected. When he ascertained Deb came from New Zealand he explained he found her accent hard to understand. "You sound like you talk like a computer." (!!!) You gotta laugh.

Sunsets in Stone Town are over water and the distant African mainland. They take on a beautiful effect similiar to those glorious South Island views experienced from Raumati South.

I completed Thabo Mbeki's Africa: define yourself, which is basically a collection of some of his speeches. I was left with an underlying impression that he is an optimist, which is a good thing. However, there's a few underlying points to think about: He has a dangerous head in the sand attitude to AIDS; He correctly states poverty is a major issue, but he bangs on using cliched old ANC propoganda rather than proposed solutions; He is outrightly evasive on the Zimbabwe issue; And, he is a politician after all, I think harbours an ego and aspirations to being a grander- scale African statesman (not the first post-independance leader either) - and that just might be partly because he has a bit of a thorn in his side coming out from under the shadow of Nelson Mendela.

In Stone Town there is just the most wonderful bookstore: the Gallery Bookshop. Its Africa section is simply fantastic, and the rest is just quality reading. Reminiscent of Wellington's Unity Books. I have now stacked up on three 'big reads'. I have commenced Martin Meredith's The State of Africa: a history of fifty years of independence (Jonathan Ball), bought in Swakopmund, Namibia. And to follow, Aidan Hartley's The Zanzibar Chest (Harper Perennial), found in Lusaka - recommended when in Tsumeb, by Eric and Sandykaye who have done a 4x4 trip down the West Coast of Africa (, and now from Zanzibar Africa: A biography of the Continent, by John Reader. That will be enough reading for a while - I can stop buying.

We traveled the 40-50km to the northern tip of the Zanzibar island to stay on Kendwa Beach. Greeted by a tropical downpour, that continued off and on for two days - at the beach!!! Not part of the plan. We wondered where we were - could be anywhere: Bali, Thailand, or even Pacific Islands. White sand beaches, beautiful sea, palm trees, lush growth. Beach sellers peddled T-shirts, massage, henna feet or hands prints, snorkel trips. We are now on the tourist trail: Nairobi to Dar and Zanzibar. Perfect for the three week holiday taking in Ngorogoro Crater, Serengeti, and Kilimanjaro. There's droves of groups of Spanish, Dutch and Italians. Tourists and back-packers. Good luck to them, I say. It must be great having so many travel options without having to travel half way round the world. Oh, and there's a fair share of wholesomely nice US college kids performing their Christian duties.

It's back to Dar Es Salaam, this time on the fast ferry - a catamaran, which left and stayed on schedule. We had planned our continued trek through Tanzania, but a changed is required. I've gone and broken a tooth. Nairobi will be the best bet. When we were at Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, we met a nice German woman, Julia, who is a lecturer at The Kenyatta Uni. We've e-mailed her and she has recommended a dentist. We'll come back to Tanz. No problems, hakuma matata, its the benefit of travel with time on your side.

'It's not the things you do in life that you should regret, but the things you don't.' Anon.

aka Mad