Sunday, June 12, 2005
Sunday night at the house. A room full of nerds (including me) sitting around tapping on laptops, holding conversations without looking up. One guy's looking at chest x-rays. Some are reading news. Most are doing email. Fan overhead keeping the room comfortable. Mosquito bastards searching for a small patch of repellent-free skin. Life in Dar.
Don't have too much in the way of creature comforts. It's a lot better than I thought it'd be. We have a TV with some satellite reception but most of the channels are these whacky Indian (dot not the feather) ones that are actually pretty amusing if you sit and watch them. Crazy, over-the-top drama. I'm told that the Simpsons appears every now and then on some channel but I haven't got that figured out yet. Haven't spent hardly any time watching TV to be honest. A little BBC World and CNN International.
Just got back from the beach. Went to a small island called Bongoyo just a couple of miles off the coast. To get there you hop on an old hollowed out wooden boat called a dhow. Some have sails and look like something out of a history book. Others have motors attached to them and, though they are heavy and sluggish, they get the job done.
The island is very nice. We found a tide pool filled with eels, the one in the photo is about 4ft long. Crazy little guys with rather sharp little teeth. The island also had tortoises and a little bay where shark hang out. They tend to stay on that side of the island so we were comfortable snorkling on the beach side. With the exception of a jellyfish sting on my neck, it was a really nice day. When you arrive, you can order fish and chips and just tell them roughly when you want them. They’ll fix them and deliver them to you. Fresh fish.
The two primary people I've been hanging out with are Meg who I already mentioned and Priya (a Japanese-American/Brit researcher that will be leaving this week for a month and a half but then returning for another year). They leave Wednesday and more people arrived yesterday. Before long I'll be the 'veteran' showing people around.
This crowd loves to go out. Night before last we went to a Tanzanian party (pretty damn fun). Last night we hosted an American-style bash (except for the roasted goat and brahma hump) with people from all over. Eclectic bunch of people. We kept it going until , got up this morning and went to the beach all day. We go out to dinner/drinks almost every night. I can't keep this pace too long but it's fine for now while I'm getting the lay of the land. Don't tell anybody but my life is not all self-sacrifice to help the poor Tanzanians. I'm reading a book about by a UN guy who worked on aid projects in developing countries for several years and he recounts stories of major partying, sex, etc. I'm finding out that this sort of thing is fairly normal but people don't talk about it for obvious reasons. It's not that bad here but I think people let loose a lot more than they would in their home country. I think if you take your job seriously you see and feel a lot of hardship during the workday. People cope in a variety of different ways in order to get up in the morning and do it all again. I suppose there's also the feeling that "what happens in Dar, stays in Dar."
The other day one of the doctors discovered her purse was missing. Even within our walls with razor wire and rimmed with broken glass embedded in cement, we are potentially crime victims. It's kind of stupid since he had to know he'd be caught. We confronted the three guards and it took them a five-minute conversation in Swahili to determine the culprit. It was the oldest of the three. The poor guy was taken out into the street and beaten right in front of us. It's the way they do things here. We tried to stop them but people crowded around and we were pulled back to the house.
That's another awkward thing here. If you get pick-pocketed and there are people around, you can yell for help. People will come and beat the shit out of the thief. As a result, you are normally in less danger if you are in a crowd of people. It's just that I'm not sure the crime necessitates someone getting beaten to near death for a wallet that has $12 in it. You kind of need to make that call very quickly the second it happens. If you yell, the guy’s likely going to get whacked pretty bad. If you don't, you lose whatever they took. There's another upside to this phenomenon. If your car breaks down, people will always stop to help. You often see groups of people that don't know each other helping to push someone's broken truck off the road. Nice since there's no AAA.
Neal, a guy who arrived last weekend, and I are plotting our first adventure inland. There's a park where we can go on safari without guides. It's not as amazing as the Serengeti but it's supposed to be pretty cool and have much fewer tourists. Meg, the one from whom I got the Land Cruiser, has left. I get the LC all to myself now. Nice to have my own wheels (with the steering wheel on the right). Since it's a beat up ex-safari rig, we're in good shape for chasing down the elephants. This thing's not in any kind of condition to do this but I'm guessing within the next month I'll head out on safari in someone's vehicle.