It's green and quite warm and the people here are extremely friendly. There is lots of talk about dangers...but so far I've found none. The most challenging things so far have been being surrounded by people who speak regional dialects that I can't understand...and being told to wait and wait for services.
So far I've collected a bunch of anecdotal stories... like the man in Nyanza (a Western Province) who has 80 wives... and at 75 is down to 47. As far as I gather there is an intriguing double standard regarding male and female sexual behavior. Men (married or not) are presumed to be open to more women while women who are married need to give everyone around the impression that they are faithful to their husbands. There is no such thing as male infertility - so if a married woman cannot get pregnant by her husband, it's understood she would try her husband's male kin. If this doesn't work, she might resort to having a sister get pregnant for her. Again much of the rationale around polygamy is connected to reproduction. It is seen as reasonable for the mother of a newborn to arrange for another wife to be available to her husband so that she can focus on her new baby and not get pregnant again too soon.
Finally, despite the apparent irrepressibility of male sexuality, many professional men say they are monogamous because in today's world they can display masculinity through cars, nice homes, and lots of high tech consumer items. (pretty American, huh?). Lots more to come...
I finally had a talk with the Anthropology Professor at the University of Nairobi who specializes in polygamy. I was relaxed enough to follow what he had to share and it both confirmed much of what I'd been gathering on my own and was very fascinating. Apparently these days polygamous wives don't necessarily wait around for their assigned sleeping nights...if they seek to get pregnant, or seek attention or resources they get together with other available men. And being that often their objectives are pregnancy, they don't use condoms. Of course any children that might result from such unions would be their legal husband's. And it's just this behavior that leads to the rapid spreading of HIV.
Being that I've been probing some very sensitive subjects, I've been advised to present myself as a married woman (since in Kenya married women are publicly faithful).
The professor also shared a bunch of intriguing stuff about jealousy. Largely, any sharing of food and supplies must be done in the open so that it's clear how much is being apportioned to each wife. If more is being given to one than another it's because she has more children or more house guests...
I took a roll of slides this morning at a nearby slum. The mothers invited me into their homes to let me see for myself how little they have...very challenging to just see, photograph, and realize that whatever sum of money I might have offered them, it wouldn't change their situation at all. The mothers were all sisters who had left their polygamous husbands because there were no longer enough resources to go around. I think the pictures of the children, especially, are going to be very powerful...
Tomorrow I'm going to a nearby game reserve to try out my telephoto lens. Can't wait to see what luck I have. On Friday I'm heading off to the Western Province of Nyanza to see rural polygamy in action...
I kind of feel like I'm on a research retreat--I'm basically learning as much as I can, writing a lot, and sleeping. The food is nothing to write home about (so I won't!). I guess I'm just talking a break from life as it was...and that feels okay for now.
Much has happened since I last wrote you from Nairobi (a week ago). Last Saturday my Servas hosts drove me around the outskirts of Nairobi to see the Karen Blixen home (re: Out of Africa) and to an animal orphanage (like a zoo--I took pictures as if I was on another of those wild animal safaris...) Then the following morning Josie, a cousin of my host, accompanied me by slow bus to Homa Bay where his Dad (a polygamist) has a cheap hotel. I was probably the first white American who ever stayed there! The next day we took a very slow, bumpy, and overcrowded matatu to Mbita (pronounced Beta) and proceeded to walk 5 Km to the village of Casuanga on Rusinga Island. My pack was real heavy (I was attempting to carry enough water for my stay) and eventually another cousin appeared on the trail and carried it for me! Upon arrival I was a major curiosity to all the residents... People kept dropping by Josie's Mom's house (where I stayed) to gawk at me and discuss their impressions in Luo (the local dialect).
Lucky for me there were two young people, Sherba (a college student on leave) and Semikaia (a newly trained carpenter without work) who served as my translators... They set up a rigorous visiting schedule for me to interview a wide range of polygamous families. It was fabulous. I took lots of pictures of husbands and wives and their uniquely styled compounds... My overall conclusions are that first wives always have a tough time when their husbands announce that a second wife is moving in. Suddenly all that was theirs must be shared. (It gave me pause that my reactions last summer were hardly unusual, especially since polygamy is so much more routine here than at home.) Husbands of 4+ wives say if they were to do it over again they'd prefer just one or two... The benefits according to the husbands are that it keeps their wives on their toes--competing to please them. One reveled how each morning each of his three wives bring him breakfast--he feels just like a king! Another reported that his laundry is always done quickly since they're both jumping to meet his needs. The reasons families conclude that polygamy is in their favor is that marrying a wife into a household becomes a source of cheap labor (gardening, cooking, fishing, and childcare) and many families could not have as easily survived with just one wife. Families will seek additional wives to produce additional sons which ultimately in this patrilocal society bring more in wealth...
Anyway in my spare time I outlined a new version of my book. It's probably too Africa oriented and doesn't reflect enough of all the polyamory, swinging, and other research I did the last couple of years. I guess when it all settles in I'll have a better sense of what really needs to be written.
From staying on the island and drinking what they said was "boiled water" I got a minor case of diarrhea. My drugs are clearing it up and basically today I'm feeling fine. Despite my new mosquito net I'm a bit too bitten...and my sore shoulder/back isn't too bad these days. (I typed this with no pain!) My plans for now are to see the Kisumo Museum, check out the market, maybe see a movie (haven't seen any since I arrived!) and head for Uganda tomorrow. Hope to spend some time then at the Kibale Chimpanzee Project.
I'm here in Uganda's capital, Kampala. Today, I'm being escorted around by Mirriam, a worldly young woman I met on the bus here from Kenya. She was worried about me staying at the youth hostel, because it looked a little seedy. I opted to stay just to talk to other travelers and gather ideas on where to go, etc. Also it was nice being totally part of conversations rather than having everyone around me buzz in local dialects! I got my fill, and tonight I'm going to stay with her brother's family... Then tomorrow I'll head out to Fort Portal and then the next morning onto Kibale and the chimps...
Being a traveler/anthropologist is proving to be a very humbling experience. I'm so at the mercy of who I happen to meet. I get bumped around, gawked at, and just try to hold myself together and weather it all. Still, everything around me is so different -- that there's constantly a level of intrigue... Nonetheless, I really feel powerless compared to life at home where things I need work and I'm in charge. I'll never again take for granted working phone lines, Internet access, hot showers, my own car, and safe drinking water.
My visit to Kisumo included attending an extremely interesting play presented by a group of young African actors at the British Council. The play concerned a young woman whose husband married a second wife. (According to statutory law in Kenya that is illegal, however, according to customary law it's very acceptable.) The young woman then left her husband and tried to return to her parents home to ask for her inheritance. Her brother objected saying that the family wealth should go to him, the son, and she should return to her husband and accept the second wife--that was her home! Then the audience was invited to discuss the dilemma. And a fascinating discussion ensued. East Africa is at a very challenging crossroads, there are feminists that are choosing to not marry, leave husbands who take additional wives, and refuse to be inherited by brothers in laws when they become widowed. And there are men who are up in arms. I came here to see how traditional polygamy worked, believing it had an integrity of its own. I think in traditional settings it very much did...and I'm doing my best to absorb the remnants of that... There a woman could be lovers with in laws if she were unable to conceive sons by her husband. It was almost like an intimate network, except everyone was related through someone's marriage. Here in Uganda the state is trying to pass a law that would prohibit a man from marrying more than two wives. The Muslims are up in arms since their religious law permits a man four wives. So many viewpoints, so little time to really absorb them!
Save me all the Monica Lewinsky stuff (e.g. Newsweek, LA Times commentaries, etc.)--I need it for the book!!!! (Sometimes I think I should be doing my field research in Washington DC rather than here!) Anyway the reactions in the local papers here have been fascinating. The French press is proud of how Mitterand handled his second family. The African press thinks the US is crazy for scrutinizing a leaders behavior as they have...leaders they say, have a right to privacy.
I've had many wet and muddy adventures since I last wrote...I did get my wish to track wild chimpanzees...and what an ordeal! The afternoon after I wrote I was led out with some of the KCP Ugandan field assistants through jungle so thick that it had to be hacked with huge knives. Luckily I borrowed some swamp boots--the only feasible footwear for such an adventure.
After about 45 minutes of tromping with some hooting in the distance we came upon a mother and infant. The mom was foraging for greens and the baby clung and starred at me. Being in total tourist mode I snapped lots of pics. That evening the KCP people (largely a bunch of nerdy scientists) decided that my less than academic needs would be better served at Kayanchou--a tourist site 20 K up the road. A ride was arranged and there I was treated like scientist-in-residence. The pricey tourist fees were waved and I was invited to join all guide-led-hikes. The director, Tracy, a very sweet woman from Vancouver lent me a tent and I had a huge field to camp on by myself. Ultimately Western Uganda afforded me a forest experience I've never had at home. I could safely walk for miles alone and camp alone as well... Very peaceful and beautiful. As for being witness to chimps mating, I was not so fortunate. While others at the site would report that when they went out, they'd just seen just activity, all I ever so was jumping around, climbing and nesting high in the trees, and lots of feeding. Yesterday morning Tracy took me out at about 6:30 am and for awhile we did quite well and I shot some beautiful pics which I promised to send her. Then the rain started and I got totally soaked. Wearing just hiking boots, my feet quickly became waterlogged. We tromped through dark wet trees and brush--every subsequent chimp we saw was so far away that through my long camera lens they looked like little black spots. So, no more pics... After four days, I faced that I learned little that would contribute to my book and that I being really wet, cold, and muddy, I was ready to leave...
I hoisted on my pack and went out to the road that led to Fort Portal. And then I proceeded to wait. A young Ugandan guy was also waiting ... he kept assuring me that some vehicle would come soon. After two hours all that had passed were a filled matatu, a work truck, and an open truck filled with local peasants...and none stopped. I became so frustrated that I made mental lists of everything I could imagine that could be worse than being soaked to the bone in pouring rain watching my pack soak through with no ride in sight. When the mental list got to watching my Dad die, I burst into tears and then switched gears and tried to remember all the wonderful things that had happened on my trip. That night I recorded them in my journal and there were nearly 25 highpoints! Anyway soon after two women from Santa Cruz in a huge safari van had their driver stop and pick me up. We chatted like we were long lost friends and then I was dropped off at an intersection 3/4 of the way to F. Portal. My Ugandan companion said he was going to walk the 8K into town but that when a guy approached me with a small motor scooter, he said I better accept the ride, otherwise I'd get stranded in the dark. Reluctantly I did, agreeing to pay my driver $1 for his efforts. I clung for dear life as he veered around puddles and tried to adhere to my instructions of not going too fast. Then suddenly the safari van of a British couple I had met the day before on a tourist chimp hike pulled over and relieved me from the motor scooter ride. They were headed to the Rewenzori Guest House, where I stayed when I first arrived in Fort Portal. This time there were no more beautiful rooms available and I was rented a simple staff room for $5. My clothes were washed, I was fed hot chocolate and a nice warm meal, and gradually fell asleep. Today I'm heading out to Queen Elizabeth National Park to indulge in boat rides, taking pics of tame chimps, etc.
Since my last e-mail I boarded way too many slow matatus to get to Queen Elizabeth National Park. This park has the feeling of Yosemite with a well-appointed lodge, delicious buffet meals, and pricey excursions. It was a total contrast to my days up at Kibale where I was camping by myself out in a huge green field and paying almost nothing ($5/day) to track wild chimpanzees. The last matatu dropped me off at Katurunga (the driver kept chanting "Get the Mazunga (foreign woman) to Katurunga!" At Katurunga a huge swarm of young men with beat up cars told me that the only way I could get into the park was to hire one of them to drive. One claimed that $20 was the going rate...when I claimed "I heard it could be done for $15" another guy quickly stepped forward. He and his friend loaded my pack into their car which needed a push to start and had brakes so bad that when we approached game animals that I wanted to photograph it would take him nearly 30 seconds to stop! Anyway, it was pretty hilarious. Still, for the first time in my life I saw wild elephants, wild buffalo, Kob, etc. Entrance to the park for a couple of days cost $40 and each attraction (game drive, boat rides, etc. was an additional $20). Then the lodge had a fabulous buffet which due to severe good food deprivation became my daily staple. The chef got to know me personally and would escort me in and explain each of his delicious dishes. If I had stayed longer I might have been able to gain back some of the weight I've lost!
The following morning two other Mazungas and I hired a driver to take us out at 6:30 am for a game drive. We met Jasper and Poppy's cousins...some very dignified lionesses and their darling cubs. They got frightfully close to the car and I think I got some amazing pictures... Also got some Kob males locking horns--pretty spectacular. That afternoon I finally got an opportunity to take my requisite chimpanzee pictures. I was taken by motor boat to an island, which has become the home to orphan chimps (those whose mothers were killed by poachers and otherwise wouldn't have survived in that chimps need 8-10 years of a mother-infant bond to get a running
start...) Anyway these orphans do little hunting and foraging in that their humans feed them twice a day with their boatloads of tourists. Geez, its easier being a tourist than a scientist!
Later that afternoon I took a boat ride along with 35 other tourists along the Lake Edward Channel. We saw an amazing number of hippos in the swampy waters and I pulled out my zoom lens and joined the shutterbug madness. Being that I was almost out of film (I left the rest in Nairobi), I tried to be judicious, compose each shot well, etc. On the ride I met an British
woman and her Ugandan partner who agreed to drive me back to Kampala the next day. (The 6-hour ride back was real smooth---for once no matatu adventures!!!)
I arrived back at Eva's home. All the kids were very sweet, each greeting me personally. At some point in the middle of the night her husband came home, but by morning he was gone... I'm sure he has another woman...gotta find out details!!!
Re: Mailing List--General Replies...
1. Computer Related Comments... Telecommunications is very primitive here in most of East Africa. There is no way to access the AOL homepage (I've tried)...hotmail is supposed to be the solution for travelers like me... The way I stay in touch is drop by computer stores and business centers in large cities and ask to send e-mail. Basically, the charge is about $3 for each send
(and usually it takes lots of time to sign on...e.g. when I was in Kampala the Norway satellite link was down)
2. Re: You want to know more about the food? Well, the most disgusting dish yet was Matoke which is the staple of Uganda. It's made from green bananas that are steamed and mashed and often served with ground nut sauce (a bland mash of Spanish peanuts with no flavoring other than salt.) Matoke is so popular that huge stalks of green bananas are in constant transit throughout Uganda (e.g. on the backs of bicycles, overflowing from pick up trucks, and jammed into every 2nd class matatu.) The standard breakfast (hardly palatable to me who likes fresh fruit protein shakes) is black tea with milk and sugar and white bread. My hosts can be very insistent that I "take tea." Other weird foods are white sweet potatoes (virtually tasteless) and ogali (which I've mentioned previously) which can be white, brown, or reddish depending on the grain (e.g. millet, semolina). In every form it's heavy and flavorless. Soda pop in Kenya is often served warm---one has to request a cold coke (and often that's not even available!).
The Travelogue continues...
In the last several years Valentines Day has been exported to E. African urban centers. It's somewhat popular amongst young consumers of Western media. In Kampala there were tacky cards, single stems of roses, and a fair amount of yacking on the local talk radio programs. The local paper ran an editorial commenting on how during the days of Idi Amin basic survival was
all that was on people's minds--that there was no way lovers had time to romance each other. And then of course there's African styles of marriage and relationship that by design are not romantically based. Marriages link families, produce babies (ideally sons), care for children whose father died (and mother remarried a brother-in-law) and enable cheap labor on the farm and for fishing. On Valentines night I was visiting with a couple of Ugandan women who were basically begging me to find them American men who they believe would show them more love and respect than their former E. African husbands had. They did not, however, have even a tinge of anxiety over having no sweetheart for the evening... Later I returned to Eva's (my Kampala hosts) and she and her husband (who actually showed up) had me take some romantic pics...he tried to act amorous and she looked very stiff--I didn't want to impose my Western values and get her to act hotter than she felt! Meanwhile her husband talked about how she was the one who had introduced Valentines Day into their relationship...that it was a foreign idea...something perhaps more popular to young lovers than responsible married adults. The holiday wasn't necessary for affirming their relationship to each other...
The white rafting trip was fantastic. We started at Bugali Falls which is the source of the Nile River that flows out of Lake Victoria and ultimately runs up to Egypt. Being that most Ugandans don't swim unless they live right on the edge of a river or lake, the company caters to Westerners. Our guide was Australian, and my fellow trip members were from the Netherlands, UK, and USA. Little Ugandan villages dotted the edges of the river where we were witness to constant clothes and dish washing, and bathing on the part of the young boys. There were seven major runs ranging from Class 3 to Class 5. It was intensely exhilarating to have walls of water nearly knock the wind out of us and ultimately survive. I do have a black eye from not holding the T-handle of my paddle steady and having it whip me very hard during one of the runs. During the last Class 5 + run we were warned we might fall out and everyone on my side of the boat did (apparently it had gone flipped up almost 180 degrees), luckily I held on to the boats rope the whole time and basically stayed safe... The water was quite warm and in safer zones we'd jump out and swim. BTW the company has a web site--maybe there are pics that will better visualize the experience (http://www.adrift.co.nz) Unfortunately, I may be one of the few people who will have had the experience in that major power brokers in Uganda have plans for creating more dams and harnessing the power... While Adrift (the company) does employ local Ugandans for everything from hauling the rafts to providing food for lunch, it's hardly a serious wing of development for Kampala.
While in Kampala I also made contact with a Gender Resource Bank that had some really interesting stuff on marriage, polygamy, and recent efforts to reform the country's marriage laws. The tone of most of it reminded me of 70s hard-line feminism which was decidedly anti-brideprice and anti-polygamy. Then, privately the woman I met with admitted that she didn't necessarily see anything wrong with polygamy, especially since most husbands can be quite
demanding of services and attention...
Yesterday I spent the day on the bus (a good 11-hour ride from Kampala to Nairobi). I caught up on dated Time Magazines in that I was a bit behind on the Clinton/Lewinsky affair...an enterprising street hawker sold them to me for $1--I was probably the only willing buyer in all of Kampala!
Last week I indulged in an organized Safari trip to Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru, Naivasha Lake, and Hells Gate National Park. After all of the second class matatus and being stranded in the rain for hours all I could dream of was being in a minivan with guides who arranged for food, lodging, and travel logistics. My safari was organized by Savuka, an outfit that specializes in $50/day camping safaris. Now, if you thought I didn't like the food at my Servas hosts home, finally I really had something to complain about. It was REALLY bad. Typical dinners were spaghetti noodles laced with margarine, overly salty ground beef, and cream of mushroom soup without the mushrooms. (When I returned to Nairobi I complimented my Servas hosts on the wonderful food they served me!) Enough about disgusting food...
My group consisted of two Japanese schoolgirls who had just had their hair braided in a zillion braids African style. They giggled lots and had me take take pictures of them standing like flamingos in front of L. Nakuru's thousands of pink flamingos! The group also included to working class guys from Manchester, England who were determined to stretch their meager pounds until August by using horrible water purification tablets in Nairobi's tap water rather than buying bottled water... Then there was an Israeli student on term break from Haifa University and an America/ Brazilian couple from San Francisco who own Orgasmic Pizza on Filmore and Union Streets. They had lots of camera equipment and required zillions of stops to photograph everything that moved. They loved to laugh and would yell "Safari!" every time the minibus nearly crashed into the many rivers and muddy ponds along the way.
Our first stop was Narok, a Masaai town on the edge of the Mara. Suddenly I was thrown into the Masaai's constant efforts to commoditize their culture. Every woman dressed in beaded collars with huge holes in her ears demanded a minimum of 200 shillings (about $3.50) for the privilege of taking her picture. One woman kept tugging at my wristwatch--wanting me to trade it for her beads. I was tempted... I spoke to a woman in the market place who told me the details of her polygamous marriage. She lives in Narok, her husband lives in Nairobi, and her co-wife lives in Mombasa. The road from Nairobi to Mombasa is very bad as a result of El Nino so her husband visits her (a three hour bus ride) on some weekends. No, it doesn't bother her at all to see him as rarely as she does. Her focus was her cute baby and selling potatoes in the market place...
The road into Masaai Mara was horrendous. Huge pot holes, mud everywhere....I can't believe we made it. When we got near the Mara itself our guide pointed out an airstrip---the way high-end safaris arrive! We were dropped off at the Savanna Camp which had waterproof tents and comfortable beds. In the evening the Masaai workers offered us a "traditional dance" and an opportunity to take their pictures for an additional 200 shillings. The next day we were loaded into the minivan and driven all over the Mara. The Mara is huge--each lodge or safari camp is barely visible in the distance. We saw (and were permitted picture taking rights) of giraffes, baboons, monkeys, elephants, lions, zebras, gazelles, and hartebeests. My favorite shots were of two baboons taking turns grooming each other and a baby monkey riding on its mother's back. Tell Poppy and Jasper I got some real cool pics of a pride of young male lions... The landscape was dotted with many other safari vans...and when lions were spotted under a clump of trees they'd all gather at once and extend their huge zoom lenses.
Beyond the wild animals (and off limits to casual photography) were the Masaai and their cattle and goats. Masaai men dressed in red plaid kangas (large cloth that's wrapped around one's shoulders and hangs down to below the knees) would follow their herds from dawn to dusk. At the end of the day we went to the "Masaai Village." For 500 shillings I "indulged" in a tour of some very smoky huts and the opportunity to take all the pictures I wanted. Being very photographically deprived, I snapped every interesting face, every hangy ear lobe, and everyone wearing a red plaid kanga. I spoke to the guide about Masaai polygamy--very similar rules and structure to that which I saw amongst the Luo. When I mentioned that I had lived with the Luo, he quickly invited me to stay with his people, too. I was tempted, but felt uneasy by how money grubbing everyone was and worried that I wouldn't be given very candid answers.
A couple of interesting things about the Masai: They view themselves as superior to the Luo because the Luo do not practice circumcision (ceremony for males is at 18 years)...as a result they consider the Luo "children" in that they haven't been properly initiated into adulthood. The Masai view chicken, fish, and eggs as unfit for human consumption -- their diets are largely milk, meat (beef or goat) and blood. Flies swarm all over some of their faces due apparently to their milky smells.
The next day we spent the day driving to Lake Nakuru and I continued to interview our guide, Wanjo, about polygamy. He spoke about his younger brother who has two wives. He met his second wife at work and after spending so many business hours together it was inevitable that they would become involved. Initially, the first wife had a hard time of it, though after a couple of years she pretty much adjusted. Now the husband considers the second a burden and wishes he hadn't married her, but since he has children by her as well, it's too late...
Lake Nakuru was beautiful -- the pink flamingos were gorgeous and we got to do a little walking (a nice break from the previous two days of driving). That afternoon the group split into three directions and I went on to Naivasha Lake with the two Brits and the Israeli and another guide, Jimmy. We took a boat ride on the lake to a beautiful island where we could walk amongst zebras, giraffes, and gazelles. What a treat to not be in the van and to get so close to the animals! That night we stayed at Fisherman's camp--a place filled with travelers from all over. There were several overlander trucks (huge double decker buses with young people on six-month overland journeys usually originating in England).
The following day we were dropped off at Hells Gate National Park to take a "four hour" hike down to a hot spring. Without a map we passed what must have been the hot spring and wandered hours away through thigh high grass, very thorny bushes, and into the edges of Masai villages. The canyon itself was spectacular -- reminiscent in color and texture to the Grand Canyon. Getting lost was challenging. The British guys thought we might walk until we got to a road and then hitch back to the park entrance. Knowing the UN likelihood of getting rides on remote roads, I suggested we better just turn back. So seven hours later, parched from the sun, scratched up a bit, and very thirsty, we returned. We drove back to Nairobi and I spent the next day drinking water, doing laundry, and sleeping. Now, I'm ready to find my way to Tanzania with stops planned in Arusha, Dar Es Salaam, and Zanzibar. Hopefully, I'll find a place to send e-mail later this week.
On Monday I caught a luxury shuttle to Arusha. It cost at least three times as much as the slow bus but was well worth it because I met a really nice guy who became my companion for the journey, etc. He', Dinesh, is a British citizen who lives in Dar and was doing business in Nairobi, Arusha, etc. Finally someone whose worldly and articulate! We had a delicious Indian dinner in Arusha and stayed in a nice hotel (great change for me!)
Next day I took a 25 K "walking safari" throughout the Arusha area. My companions were two Kiwis from New Zealand who spent the last seven months working as city planners in England. They were good hikers and fun to talk to as well. Our guide was really cute and got us to a Masai Village where for the requisite fee ($2) I took pictures of a polygamous compound with the husband, two wives, and kids. The Masai sleep with a smoky fire burning all night, a dairy cow, and very questionable ventilation. (I'm kind of relieved I didn't stay with them!)
Yesterday was an unbearably long bus ride to Dar Es Salaam. Now I'm off to Zanzibar to swim with Dolphins, etc. Hope to write more from there!
Zanzibar is a total tourist mecca, both for backpacker types as well as those with money to burn. When I arrived I attempted to contact a Servas family who directed me to a hotel (the father's occupation was tour guide) as are the majority of men on the streets! It's a far cry from living with the Luo in Western Kenya and chasing down chimpanzees in Uganda. Perhaps its what I needed for my last days in Africa...Today I took a "Spice Tour" where I and two couples from Sweden were taken to various locals where nutmeg, cinnamon, black and red pepper, coconuts, limes, lemons, mangoes, bananas, and curries are grown. We also saw the ruins of palaces where ancient rules kept their wives and many concubines. The tour guide kept telling us that his tour was superior to the other ones...who knows...I just wanted to find out more about all those concubines and what they did in their spare time!!!
Tomorrow I'm booked on a swimming with dolphins tour. Can't wait!!! Will be flying to Mombasa on Monday in that I promised myself no more horrible cramped hot busses for my last week. Then on Wednesday night I'll take the overnight train (with sleeping cars and meals) to Nairobi and then leave Nairobi Thursday night for Amsterdam. (Sweetie, it may make the most sense to wait until Friday am (Thurs night your time) to call you. Then I'll be in Amsterdam and calling should be cheaper and lots easier....
So what's Zanzibar like? Well its a combination of a seaport, the remnants of an ancient city, the home of MANY Muslims (veiled women and men with flowing gowns and embroidered hats), some polygamy though the stories so far are vague other than the Quran allows any man who is able and whose wife approves to marry up to four wives. The place is also filled with tourist curio shops, tourist minivans, cheap and not-so-cheap hotels, Indian food, and sweets & spice shops. I'm staying at a mid-level hotel ($10/night with breakfast, fan, and private bathroom) in the old town. Every evening I run into fellow travelers who I've met on busses and boats and tours. My favorites are three German anthropology students who are here to study Kiswahili.
More details on the my travels earlier this week: The "hiking safari" was a lot of fun. Probably the most amusing part was Robert, the New Zealand Kiwi's efforts to improve the tour as well as the roads of Tanzania. He had many excellent recommendations (which he wrote up afterwards) ...it was like imposing 1st world consciousness and resources in a 3rd world context. Good luck! Basically our hike leader spoke just enough English to tell us the names of some trees and plants and knew the back trails into the Masai villages. He was delighted to have me take his picture with the Masaai family as well as with his tour group...perhaps he can use them for a brochure or a web page. (He gave me an e-mail address that he hopes to activate someday when the internet comes to Arusha!) The Kiwis then invited me to join them for dinner and suggested that their hotel was a real good deal. I checked out of my "luxury" accommodations that Dinesh (my Indian friend) had arranged and regretted every moment of it. Suddenly I had no fan, no private bathroom, and no color TV. Instead (for $5 a night) I had a hot room, with a communal stinky squat toilet, and weird sounds all night. In the morning one of my African hotel mates said, "Jambo Mazunga!" (Greetings foreign woman!) In that moment I promised myself that if at all possible, I'd treat myself better... Then my very dedicated hike leader arrived to escort me to what he had promised would be a luxury bus to Dar Es Salaam. The bus which left promptly at 8 am, made a zillion stops in Arusha, and arrived about 5:30 PM in Dar. (I was told it would arrive at 3 PM!) I was seated in a row of three seats next to two very large people who left me barely a half a seat. The bus was hot, had an obnoxious horn, and the attendants (people who check tickets, take money, and sell sodas) played a mix of American and Mexican tapes. Upon arrival in Dar I was accosted by a countless taxi drivers and "guides" who were vying for the opportunity to get me to a hotel. (They get a commission from whichever hotel, boat, or tour operator I select...with no extra cost to me. So, out of charity alone, I've made it a practice to accept this "help.") I settled on the hotel Dinesh had suggested, hoping he'd drop by to show me around. Being that he was tied up in meetings I ran into the German anthropology students who were on the same horrible bus and we drank beers and ate Indian food...
The next morning another "guide" presented himself, got me over to the ferry building to buy a ticket (and collect his commission) and then "guided" me throughout the National Museum. There were exhibits on Darwin, human evolution, lots of hominid skulls, and suddenly I was
acting like it was my responsibility to make sure my guide understood natural selection. He gave me the impression he was following me, but truthfully I think he was just hoping for a good tip! He led me back to the hotel and then over to the ferry. We ran into Dinesh in the street who apologized for being tied up the night before...
When I boarded the ferry I was told to go to the top deck for the best views. I settled into "Mazungo Corner" filled with fellow backpackers from Norway, Sweden, Israel, and Ecuador. We'd take turns watching each others' bags and exploring the ship. The ocean and views were beautiful... At one point I felt horribly seasick, closed my eyes, and prayed we'd get there soon. I was kind of relieved to find out that there wasn't a working ferry to Mombasa and that I'd have to fly. (The flight will be $59 while the ferry if it were running was supposed to be $50). Akuna Matata (Kiswahili for no problem!).
Last Friday I finally got close to dolphins...it wasn't at all what I expected...and being Africa I just rolled with the punches. First I wasted energy shopping around for the "right dolphin tour" not realizing that all tour operators in Zanzibar use the same busses, funky boats, snorkeling rentals, etc. So, even though my day was booked by "Eco-tours" (a very politically correct name) it was no different "Sun tours" or "Yada Yada Tours!" Basically tourism is just hitting Zanzibar in a bigger way than ever before and everybody who has a vehicle, knows someone else with a vehicle, has spare snorkeling equipment, claims to be a "tour guide." Anyway, my first clue that this might not be like Warren and Rae's adventure in Key West was that there was absolutely no orientation to dolphin behavior, protocols, etc. All that happened is that I was loaded into a mini-van with a bunch of other travelers, driven out to Kizimikazi bay, loaded onto a rickety wooden boat with travelers from other mini-vans, and then taken out into the bay. Initially there were no dolphins and we were taken to a coral reef to snorkel. Now, this was basically my first attempt at snorkeling and it was pretty amazing. Despite too many mouthfuls of sea water and getting a little spacey from breathing too deeply, I saw some amazing fish, an octopus, sea urchins, and lots of gorgeous coral. Then, suddenly we were told that the dolphins had arrived. We jumped back into the boat (there were about five other boats just like ours doing the same activity as us...)and low and behold three dolphins appeared, jumped twice in unison (I caught one jump on film, I think) and then they swam away. We were told there were too many humans and too few dolphins for any of the interaction I had fantasized about. Even San Diego's Seaworld was lots better! That evening I was hassled non-stop by local guys with tours to sell...and then if I wasn't interested in a tour...perhaps I'd be interested in them??? When one guy guessed I was 29 (about his age) and I informed him that I am 45, he then claimed he really preferred older women....
The next day I decided to avoid any organized tourist stuff and walked around town taking pictures, buying gifts (sorry no hints!), and talking to local people. The fading Arab architecture and doorways were fabulous for artsy shots...hope they turn out as nicely as I tried to frame them... Then that evening when one of the clerks at my hotel told me of his secret desire to make me his second wife...based on perhaps two reasonably friendly, but truly brief conversations! After that I just closed the door to my room and didn't even bother going out for dinner!
Then yesterday (Monday) I indulged in the "prison island tour." Basically this one doesn't involve a ride in a mini-van, one simply shows up at a designated spot on the beach, pays $5 for roundtrip boat passage, another $5 for snorkel and fins rental, and then a final $5 for a fish and chips lunch at the beach. The island had been used to house reluctant slaves in the 1600s and I got some nice shots through decaying prison bars of the surrounding ocean. I spent the day visiting with a couple of doctors from South Africa. We both admitted that we had no interest in visiting each other's cities because of the racism and violence!!! And both truly enjoyed the relaxed attitudes here in East Africa... Snorkeling was beautiful...I think I'm ready to take this one on seriously. Other than scratching my thigh a bit on a piece of coral reef...it was a great day.
Next I took a plane to Mombasa. The Zanzibar airport was really laid back. No scanning equipment for luggage...we waited in the hot sun to check our bags, and the flight was real fast (just 45 min.) Upon arrival I caught a cab to what I believed would be a more upscale hotel. (I was ready for a little pampering). And the hotel is actually pretty nice. I had an air-conditioned room, ocean view from my balcony, and private bath with hot water...and there's a swimming pool, too. In that I heard that Mombasa was the Acapulco of E. Africa I was a little aghast when I found my room would only cost $17. Then I found out today that the tourist Mombasa is on the North Coast and that that's where all the glitz is. That finally explained why everyone at the hotel seemed to be an East African on business...and there were no tourists in sight.
This morning I booked my overnight train to Nairobi (its a sleeper with both dinner and breakfast!) and then I visited the town. Saw Fort Jesus (former Portuguese occupation zone in 1700s), took more arty pics, and basically finished shopping for African tzackes (my Yiddish spelling might be off!). And then I tracked down this very friendly computer store near my hotel and talked them into letting me use their computer even though it's not what they usually do with travelers who drop by...
I wound up my stay in Mombasa by checking out the high end tourist beach scene. Geez, I'm glad most of my trip wasn't about that. Anyway, on Tues. evening (accompanied by an extremely inarticulate young African guy)I took the Likona Ferry (free for pedestrians) across the channel and then took a very long walk up to Shelly Beach Resort. The ocean was soupy with seaweed and the tide was so high walking on the sand was impossible. The crowd seemed largely British and focussed on drinking lots of beer. My "companion" kept up a constant drivel on his desire for an American girl friend who might rescue him from poverty, etc. When I kept informing him of my unavailability for such a venture he switched gears to begging for money for dinner. (He won, upon parting I gave him 40 shillings (about 70 cents) which he claimed would buy a good dinner...)
Next day I headed up for the North Beaches by slow matatu. It was definitely the peoples way to arrive! After getting dropped off on the main drag, I walked along a side road, accompanied by a friendly young woman...its impossible to walk alone around here...someone always appears to show the way... Eventually I arrived at the Mombasa Beach Hotel and walked through the lobby down into the gardens and soon to the beach. The beach was exquisitely white, though the water was so filled with seaweed that all one could do was slosh along the edges. Soon a "companion," decked out in cool sunglasses and rasta ringlets, arrived and attempted a soft sell for snorkeling along the distant reef, I passed, and then the conversation shifted to Tupak Shakur and being from LA, did I know him personally? what was he like,? etc. etc. Geez, I think I only realized he existed once he was shot... Then a young woman appeared and begged me to visit her beachside "shop." I told her I'd bought everything I could imagine myself and everyone I know "needing" from Africa and then she proposed that I what I was really missing were some braids with colored beads. I thought about it and realized she was right. So, $10 and 30 minutes later I emerged with three braids!!! They're lots of fun---finally an enhancement to my appearance as opposed to all of the scratches, bites, and the black eye!
Next I indulged in the Reef Hotel Buffet and then helped myself to a swim in the hotel's beautiful pool and jacuzzi. I felt beautiful and happy.
Then my return journey began...with two matatus back to my town-based motel, a taxi ride to the train station, and a 17-hour train ride back to Nairobi. The train was comfortable and I slept pretty well and the on board-food, part of the sleeping car arrangement, was passable. My compartment-mates were two Danish sisters (20 and 22) who'd been having many adventures over the last seven months. The most interesting (for my research purposes) was the 22 year old's six month love affair with her married African safari driver. He wants to marry her, she's
uncomfortable being a second wife--only wants to be the sole wife, but fears doing this because then she'd be responsible for the first wife's children being that the first wife would be have to be booted out altogether! Very challenging juxtaposition of two cultures!
Anyways, I'm flying to Amsterdam tonight...my guess is that the city might be teaming with internet cafes, so keep writing!
On Wednesday night I took a 17-hour train ride from Mombasa to Nairobi (the train was delayed about three hours) and the contrasts between that and my 8 hour flight the next night between Nairobi and Amsterdam were immense! The train staff all wore ill-fitting beige uniforms often with buttons missing, etc. The KLM flight crew wore snazzy dark blue uniforms with everything perfectly in place. KLM served fresh orange juice, Kenya Railways served orange colored sugar water. KLM took off and landed perfectly on time--Kenya Railways froze in its tracks at 3 ARE for about three hours... I guess I was feeling really ready to get out of Africa!
Amsterdam is cold but and beautiful. There are canals everywhere and the people are very friendly. It's definitely a scene for young travelers with backpacks and a taste for hashish...it's perfectly legal and can be purchased all over. ATMs (called Geldaumats) are everywhere and all work perfectly---you don't want to hear the trouble I had accessing my own money in Africa! Only banks would cash travelers checks and it would take them forever to peruse my passport and decide that what I had signed over was actually a travelers check and could safely be converted into Kenya/Tanzania/Uganda shillings. Most ATMs wouldn't accept my card, my credit cards were virtually useless, and several times I was stuck begging money from other travelers! Then the last week the Kenya banks went on strike! (then, miraculously the ATMs worked...)
To make up for major cholesterol deprivation, I've been eating two to three desserts a day...and Amsterdam's a delicious place for that! Everything is so traveler-friendly...Unfortunately the Dutch salads are dripping with vinegar, oil, and pickled things and I'm still looking forward Green salads ala California with field greens, argil, spinach, and basil...
Visited the Sex Museum (lots of fun), the Rinks Museum (overwhelming collection) and walked through galleries, flower markets, canals, etc. At the Rinks Museum I ordered what I considered a healthy lunch (salad bar, whole wheat roll, and orange juice) and then noticed that the couple next to me was eating rich desserts and drinking beer. (Then it turned out that they weren't even Dutch...they were Americans from Minnesota!)
As expected there's a cyber cafe next to my hotel with a really fast server so I could finally read all the mail that had attachments that I couldn't open in Africa!
I hit major culture shock arriving here. All the technology worked but the Servas hosts were all too busy or had their phone machines on (How America!). Finally located the hotel my friend Karen's friends run and they managed to squeeze me in. (Many of the hotels were booked this weekend, too) When I stepped off the plane and saw several couples in tender embraces, I burst into tears. I was missing Don so much and so much wished we were in each other's arms... (In Africa no one embraced in public, so I wasn't getting so emotionally triggered.)
Toured the Sex Museum this morning--it was fun, nothing I haven't seen, but you know me, I've seen quite a lot. Its raining here and I'm freezing--adjusting to the season change is challenging. Also nosed around some cannabis and psychedelic shops...such another world from the repression we have at home!
The food is so much richer here that I've been getting a stomach ache--wouldn't you, too, if you'd been craving real butter, chocolate, ice cream, etc. for two months and could only eat ugali, scumawiki, and matoke????