Take it… to the limit…one more time

Hey everyone,

Long time no blog post from this dusty foot philosopher! I’d give you a list of half-decent excuses as long as you’d like but in the end none are really that valid so I won’t bother. But thank your lucky stars, I’m back for a quick post today. The topic? As the Eagles sang, pushing yourself to the limit.

In this case, we are talking specifically about taking your physical body to the limits and I have two fun updates from the past and near future!
1.) This past February I ran in the Kilimanjaro half-marathon and I’ve meant to post an update about that race since but never finished it- well, the update and photos are now posted below.
2.) This coming Sunday, August 4th I will be trying my luck at my first full olympic-distance triathlon in Watamu, Kenya with a group of friends!

The triathlon will be taking place the same time as the women’s Olympic triathlon in London so while your watching that you can laugh a my foolishness to take this on. The race I will be doing will be the same distances – that’s 1.5km open ocean swim, 40km bike ride, and a 10km run on the trails and the beach. Should be absolutely unenjoyable but I am aiming to finish in 3-3.5hrs! There is more information on the 2012 Wildman Kenya Triathlon race here.

Since we were taking on this big personal challenge we thought we could also use it as an opportunity to raise some funds to go to a good cause from family and friends back home who might be interested in supporting us. I’m not very good at this fundraising thing but since I have this blog available and some people who do check-in I thought I would put a quick post up about it to raise more awareness.

Our team chose to raise money for Saving Africa’s Nature (SANA)’s Bio Agriculture project as it was an issue close to many of our hears. This project is aimed at economically empowering the women of Matipwili village through transitioning to sustainable and organic agriculture which they will sell to the various tourist lodges and villages in the park. Matipwili village borders on Saadani National Park along the coast of Tanzania and this project aims to reduce the illegal hunting and de-forestation (for charcoal selling) that is happening across the country. Learn more about the project here!

No pressure at all, but if you are interested and financially able to donate – you can do so through this PayPal link (you can pay with any credit cards -just login as a guest) or by contacting me directly. I’m happy to put in the money now so that it can be donated to SANA and then collect from you at a future date when we see each other next! As a team of 7 we are aiming to raise upwards of $4,000 for this cause which should help to expand the project from its initial pilot phase to a full implementation. Any small amount helps so donate here!

Kilimanjaro Half Marathon

After wanting to do this race last year but all that resulted was months of talk with no actual training – I finally made it happen on February 26th 2012 and ran in the very fun Kilimanjaro Half Maration event in Moshi, TZ on the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. A stormy and rain filled morning resulted in quite the adventure (18 wazungu hijacking a dalla-dalla to bring us to the stadium) to finally make it to the starting point when the road was too washed out and the bus got stuck.

Pre-Race: I watched a movie recently with the wise quip “you can’t win a marathon without putting bad-aids on your nipples”. I took this to heart and, trying to look like a professional with a chance of winning, bought Where’s Waldo band-aids for my nips. An informal pre-race survey found that most of my fellow runners did not take it that seriously.

Mid-Race Report: 10.5 km very uphill and then turn around and run back down. Kind of depressing cause in the end, after all that effort, you didn’t really feel like you’d gone anywhere…

Post-Race Report: Who knew running 21.1 kms up and down could be so much fun? Hint: Not my knees.

Good times though and hope to do a few more again in the future.

Editors Note: Dan has not put on his running shoes again since returning from this race at the end of February. That could be because they were stolen shortly after (add it to the list) or that’s just a convenient excuse.

Editors Note 2: This earlier Editors Note written in April is now out of date – thankfully he’s gone running at least a few times to train for this triathlon on the weekend. That said, since the good running shoes went missing he’ll be doing the tri in a pair of old basketball shoes – the experts unanimously agree that this is probably a good idea and will only help complete the ‘professional look’  that the swim suit and second-hand African market women’s bicycle he’ll be riding have begun. One word for you: intimidation.

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The view from up here

Living in East Africa has its definite benefits – one being the opportunities to travel (or maybe its just the mindset as the opportunities exist in just about every place and often much cheaper than here!). With minimal planning you can hop on a small plane and end up in some exotic locale for the long weekend. And while the end location is often the subject of many of my other posts on this site – getting there in the 4, 6 or 12 seater light planes is often part of the fun and half the beauty.

Flying over the Indian ocean and around this country in general offers some amazingly beautiful seascapes and scenery which can really take the breath away. The opportunities for aerial photography are truly amazing and so I’m always anxious to try and land a good window seat this purpose. There is just something about being up high and having this different perspective that makes the patterns and colours we can’t see from the ground so remarkable.

Over the past couple of years I have collected a number of pictures from these various flights which I have been meaning to make into a blog post and share with you for awhile.

Enjoy!

Cheers!

Dan

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Ethiopia 101: Your Brief Photographic History Lesson

My trip with Laura to Ethiopia last March/April was a pretty amazing experience and so – even though it is quite behind the occurrence of actual events – I wanted to finally get it up here on the blog. I counted just now and realized that I have now visited 10 (luckily I didn’t need to go higher or I would have had to start using toes) of the 56 or so nations in Africa – and in this sample Ethiopia has been the one place that is the one of those things that is not like the others, the one that just doesn’t belong. I say that in a good way –it was just a very different culture and experience than the other countries in east and southern Africa I’ve visited and for that reason I still wanted to share with you a little of that trip here on the blog.

Ethiopia is a very proud country and makes the point to make it known that they are the only country in Africa to have never been fully colonized. They have a very unique history and one that I certainly didn’t know much about before visiting but if you are interested I found a relatively short but good summary here. What struck me most on this trip was not only how rich and varied the history of the country is but also how it is truly at the forefront of most attractions in the country. You really see the history everywhere you go and the Ethiopian people we met were always very proud of this heritage. Another cool part was that you could often very much interact with the history in Ethiopia. Whereby a 700 year old goat-skin bible might be in a museum behind glass and off-limits in some places (probably for good reason) – here you were given the book and could flip through and really experience it.

Tanzania on the other hand has very little pre-colonial period history that you can actually visit/touch/experience. You can visit a few archaeological sites or see the ancient overgrown ruins of a Swahili trading centre or mosque – but for the most part (perhaps with the exception of Stonetown, Zanzibar) there is very little remaining physical evidence of the thousands of years of life before the colonial period. Ethiopia, as you will see from the photos, didn’t require quite so much imagination to step back in time.

Anyways, this will be more of a lazy man’s blog post – heavy on the photos and light on the written word. But perhaps that is what makes a better ‘travel’ post anyways since my words sure aren’t going to get the idea across or make you start planning you next vacation to Addis Ababa. I’ve tried to select a cross-section of photos from the trip that show off different aspects of the history which we were lucky enough to have visited in our 12 days in the country.

The country also has some more recent history readily apparent in the capital of Addis Ababa. 1974 saw the overthrow of the monarchy system that had traditionally ruled Ethiopia and it’s famous “Rasta” symbol Emperor Haile Selassie through a military coup. The 1970’s and 80′s were marked the terribly violent rule of the communist “Derg” dictatorship and the famines which came to the world’s attention and still mark many peoples’ perceptions of the continent.

Ethiopia is also blessed with plenty of natural beauty as well – although quite different from the lush beauty we find in many parts of Tanzania it had its own charm (which shone through the dust occasionally).

I have previously discussed on this blog some of the stupid things I’ve done in the pursuit of a unique experience. The town of Harar in Eastern Ethiopia is famous for its Hyena Men – who go outside the ancient stone walls of the city each night and feed packs of wild hyenas which come down from the surrounding hills.

Naw, its not really all that stupid or dangerous – there must be hundreds of people who do it each year and I haven’t heard of any issues. But at the time you have that hyena running up and opening those bone-crushing jaws a foot away from your nose…well you have a few second thoughts…but by then its probably too late so you’d best just hold still and try not to look/smell too much like dinner.

If you are interested in seeing the full album of Ethiopia pics check out the Flickr album here.

Baadaye/Hasta la próxima/Until next time,

Dan

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Home and Away: Losing direction of the home ice/pitch advantage

No, despite the title this is not really a post about sports. With that out of the way, let’s talk a bit about sports.

The NHL season has started up again back in Canada and I am again faced with the fact that I care less and less about my favourite childhood hockey team – the Toronto Maple Leafs. Go Jets Go?  I am transitioning from being a fairly big NHL hockey fan (though I will always love the WJC, Olympics, and other major tournies) to being a football (soccer –henceforth called football – wow, see how legit I am??) fan. It’s one more sign of being at ‘home’ in a new place I guess. I have always been a footie fan since living in Northern Ireland in 2004 and deciding to make Liverpool my team but it’s a lot more difficult to be a serious fan in Canada. Matches start at 10am on Saturday morning (if you can find somewhere showing the game), little coverage in the press, and fewer people to talk about it with. Now it is reversed and I am completely surrounded by football over here – proper kick-off times, games on every TV in the bar, lots of press coverage, playing football on the weeknights, and the same thing everyone is talking about at work or in the streets the next day.

Appropriately for this, an unfortunately high percentage of my wardrobe here in Tanzania (I argue it’s the most comfortable thing you can wear in this humidity – but others may just see it as a weakness in fashion sense) is made up of football jerseys (Barcelona, Liverpool, Ghana, Bayern Munich, Argentina, Celtic, Toronto FC, Spain, Valhalla FC…). I guess this is all just adapting to one’s surroundings – that and it’s a pretty damn lonely hockey conversation in Dar es Salaam.

It’s been about 5 weeks now since I’ve been back in Tanzania. Did I tell you I was returning to Tanzania again? Yep, I’ve returned for Year 3 (standard entry-level CBA contract you know) – the last of the three original “Canadians”/musketeers left on this side of the equator. The first year was for the adventure, the second for good career move (and more of the first), the third is for a little of both of those…but let’s be honest, it’s mainly for the girl. Maybe this guy is finally getting his priorities straight??? ;) Looking forward to the year ahead!

Speaking of timelines, it has also been 3 months since last blog update which isn’t exactly keeping my promise in this post of doing a better job and promising exciting photos and stories (seriously though, the mountain gorilla one is pretty cool – you should probably harass me until I finally put it up). If it’s any consolation, most of my posts last year were about 30 minute reads and the size 3-5 regular blog posts – so if you average that out I didn’t do too bad…. The last weeks in Tanzania in August were hectic, the time spent back home sure felt hectic, and the first weeks here I have hardly hard time to sit and think let alone write (probably I just need to manage my time better…). But that is just how life is, busy, deadlines, other priorities, and time continues to fly on by.

There is also something to be said for things just becoming more “normal” after a few years and you find fewer reasons/inspirations to write about. We have two new Canadian interns here in the MEDA Tanzania office this year and I enjoy seeing them here and thinking back to my first months adjusting with eyes wide open and a zest for exploring anything and everything new.  In one of my very first posts on this blog I wrote of my experience in the first month that “the ordinary has just become extraordinary on a more regular basis”. I think that there was certainly some truth in this and perhaps I have just started to see things once again more through that ‘ordinary’ lens. A place like this can certainly offer plenty of the extraordinary but it can also wear you down fast until sometimes you just want to stay in on the long weekend and watch a complete HBO series on your laptop. At first I feel a bit sad when I think about that – but then again I think it is entirely normal. What can be a life-changing experience or a heart-stopping landscape for one is another person’s daily life or view from the backyard and it works both ways my friend. We all learn to get comfortable as natural coping mechanism and sometimes that even includes getting a little bit jaded with things and there is nothing wrong with that.

The original purpose of this blog post when I started writing it (only took me 791 words to get here) was to talk about the feeling and definition of what is “home” when you live abroad for a period of time. I found myself interchanging the two places defined as home quite a bit when I talked to people before, during and after my recent trip to Canada. Was it that I was returning home for a one month visit or was it that I would be returning back home to Tanzania after this short visit in Canada? From where I came or from where I currently am? I still don’t really have the answer. Maybe it is a bit too scary to call one place home and still know you will likely be moving on from it soon enough and might again become a stranger in a new place. You make many new friends and forge a new life while away but at the same time almost everyone still has the friends and ties from where they came. You need to try to make the place where you are now as much of a home as possible and I have been very fortunate in that regard – but of course all the while keeping close to your original home. The interesting part is when you feel comfortable and happy and yet not quite completely…for lack of a better term, at home when in either place but still somewhere in-between. For now, it can often feel as though I simultaneously have two homes – and at the very same time – not really one at all.

Cheers,

Dan

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Honey I Shrunk the Kids: Adventures in Macro-Photography

Yeah…that was a great movie. Except that the part where they got lost in the forest of giant grass blades known as their lawn and then were chased by the monster ants…and then the lawnmower!….that was all a bit scary. Now that that flashback is over..on to the real story of this blog post.

A Generator salesman’s paradise

Well, first one more quick tangent (I heart tangents and the use of parenthesis, as you will see in this proceeding awesome paragraph) as I sit here in a coffee shop and write this to the gentle hum of power generators. Tanzania is a great country with a lot of unrealized potential – and one of the things that is really holding it back at the moment is the power infrastructure. Since May the country has been regularly plunged into darkness as Tanesco (the state owned power company) makes increasingly regular power cuts as it cannot keep up with Tanzania’s modest demands (only 14% of the population is connected to the power grid). They blame it on the low water levels at the hydroelectric dams because of the East Africa drought (power cuts is a problem put in perspective of course next too the drought and famine currently occurring in our neighbors to the north) – but it really just comes down to poor planning/governance/corruption/accountability that have prevented the country from building the right infrastructure.

For the past few weeks it has been between 12-18 hours a day (you start to lose count sitting in dark) without electricity. As my place this year does not have a generator – I find myself pretty regularly reading my my cellphone light (can I use this lack of electricity as a good excuse for not updating this blog more often?). Anyways, with no rains in the weather report until September/October and the situation only getting worse (there are vicious rumours floating of 6 day a week total blackouts), the economy being seriously affected,  and things getting more heated politically – it will be an interesting time (you might even say dark times ahead) to see how the wananachi (citizens) react.

Macro-size your life

When back home last summer for my  break inbetween my two contracts here with MEDA Tanzania I bought a 100mm macro-lens for my camera. I  figured that if ever there was a good place to be for taking pictures of insects, flowers, odd bugs, and generally weird tiny things – Tanzania would be the place to do it.

How is this guy for creepy, crawly? While I haven’t made as much use of the lens as I might have liked due to its general heaviness and the not wanting to slow down travel companions with the extra-time and set-up that macro-photos can sometime take – Tanzania continues to provide plenty of ready and willing subjects

So – join me on a macro-photo tour of some of my favourite photos taken with this lens! Here – nice shades and the texture of the iron and wood help to show its age in this shot

Many of these photos were takenduring a weekend trip to the Amani Nature Reserve about 3 hours north of Dar es Salaam.   This area of the Eastern Usambara mountains is known as the “Galapagos islands” of bio-diversity in East Africa and offers rich rainforest environments full of weird and wonderful things.

Somewhere in the hills outside Amani Nature Reserve there is a butterfly sanctuary that supports some local families where you can come see a wide range of beautiful butterflies and in fact get remarkably close up as this guy let me do.

I liked this photo for the vibrant colours and also the nice shapes of the flower in a row going out of focus. I am definitely still learning to use take macro-photos and don’t really ever use a tripod which can be pretty key to getting steady pictures that are sharp in focus – but so far so good for the recreational use.

Almost stepped on this guy while hiking around – maybe you think he looks big here because of the macro-lens – but I assure you he was actually a pretty huge bug at least 2.5 inches long. Check out the red eyes!

Random shot here but thought it was a nice break from the flora and fauna. Soda bottles sitting in a basket offered some options for practicing with my new lens

This is a definite favourite shot of mine. The detail worked out pretty well so that you can see the pollen and the star-shaped yellow fits perfectly into the top-right corner of the picture and the pink and yellow just explode out from there.

Got pretty lucky that the shutter setting managed to nicely capture the motion of the wings while freezing the rest of the body so that you can see the nice wing colours.

So I am clearly not a botanist – and I have no idea what most of these flowers are called. I am trying to think of better word than just saying “flower” in every description but failing so far…

Aha! Bamboo – I know the name of something finally.The greens and yellows of the bamboo trunk made for some nice patterns and the tiny hairs on the trunk were also a cool focal point as well.

I really, really like this photo! It was taken in a restaurant garden in Burundi during a daytrip into the countryside.  The ‘flower’ buds are exploding out at you and about to burst!

Aha, Would you believe it? – I actually know a flower name shown here – the rare East African violet! I was lucky to find some in bloom when I went and they didn’t disappoint with their dark violet with flecks of silver shine colour. In fact, some flower enthusiasts come from across the world for special trips just to see this beauty in bloom.

Well, there you have it. I hope you’ve enjoyed my Honey, I shrunk the kids inspired tour of this corner of the world through a macro-lens. There’s another whole world of detail down there – hope to have more to share with you another day!

Cheers,
Dan

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In case you were wondering…

I’m still alive…..Just have not been so good at updating the blog lately.

My apologies for that, I’ve consistently been breaking my goal to bi-weekly/monthly get some kind of an update on the site. It hasn’t been an issue of not having much to write about …there have been a number of amazing trips, dumb/entertaining stories, and even the rare insightful idea that pops into my head. I would regale you with tales and excuses of busy days at work, no power and internet at home, a healthy dose of travel keeping me away, and that lion which ate my laptop – but in the end I just haven’t been making the time. Never fear though, I don’t have any plans to let the site die a slow death of neglect and promise to get back on track. I can change baby, I swear, I’m a new man. Please just keep visiting my site to check-in, I promise things will be different if you just give me another chance.

So what can we expect to see?

Here’s a preview of  both what I’ve been up to since my last update in March and perhaps what you might see on the site soon!

Ethiopia!

Rwanda & Burundi

Roadtrips & Weekend Trips!

Nairobi, Kenya – Leaving tomorrow for a week of work in Dar es Salaam’s big sister city.


Point and Shoot

There have been a couple of cool developments these past months on the photography side of things as well. Some of the photos I took last year have gotten a bit of recognition which is always nice. Not that I want to make this all about me or anything – but every once and a while you gotta let the world know.

A photo I took in November 2009 while on a field visit in the Ruvuma region in southern Tanzania was selected to grace the cover of the 2011 USAID President’s Malaria Initiative Annual Report to US Congress. I don’t want to brag or anything – but I think this might mean that Obama himself might have even flipped past it while bored in some meeting. Or at least some members of Congress gave it a glance. Okay, at a minimum a lot of poor Interns had to see it while reading the report on behalf of their Congressman/woman. Fine – a proud contribution to a paperweight in some fancy offices and libraries in Washington D.C. It isn’t my favourite photo or really too special but hey you take what you can get!

Speaking of the big international aid donors – A couple of pictures I took on this same trip made it into the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria’s photo exhibition as finalists in late 2010 but the link is now down.

Another cool win in this area came last month when a Tanzania bookstore chain held a photography contest for their 2012 Novel Idea Calendar. They asked for a max. of 20 entries of People, Landscapes, Ocean, and Wildlife from Tanzania which would make up their Tanzania tourism calendar for the year ahead. I managed to place 2 photos into the final 48 of 1,300+ entries and in the end managed one of the final 12 spots with a picture taken from the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro on December 2009′s climb with Pavan! Just call me Mr. June from now on…

A quick sample of some of my other entries (I only have the Zanzibar ones online at the moment) which didn’t win but just might entice you to come visit.

So, sometime in the future I promise some more posts – Ethiopia, Rwanda & Burundi, Roadtrips & Weekends, and more Dar es Salaam everyday life are all on tap.

In other news – I’ll be back home in Canada on August 23rd for at least a little while – so if your based there, I’ll hope to see you soon!

Given that I arrived here in Tanzania in September 2009 – was back last July/August – and now will return again in the summer  - this makes for approximately 28 continuous months of summer weather and counting….

Cheers,
Dan

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A day in this Bongo life

I’ve spent about 15+ months now in total living in Dar es Salaam. Originally stemming from it’s Arabic name  ’Harbour of Peace’. Commonly just goes by Dar. Shortcoded DSM. On the streets – Bongo (slang for brains…you need them to survive in the city). Call it what you will – it’s been ‘home’ for some time now and as such has been a big part of my life and experiences over here in Tanzania. Mimi ni mBongo kabisa.

Now that I think about it, it’s climbed up to 4th in terms of the places I’ve spent the most time living in (New Hamburg, ON -> Santa Cruz, Bolivia -> Waterloo, ON ->DSM ->Toronto, ON)  - so I figure I owe it some kind of tribute and it will give you (wherever you are) a chance to learn a little more about this city.

So…somehow this has once again turned into a blog post dominated by the photos and a bit shorter on the narrative. Blame it on laziness and not wanting to write so much or on wanting to showcase some favourite pics – but either way I figure pictures can be one of the best ways (worth a thousand words? - and if that’s not good enough there are real words in all the captions…) to express some of the day-to-day life which I personally experience in this city.

And in the end, I wanted to get out at least one post  in March and with leaving for Ethiopia in a few hours …time was of the essence – so enjoy some random bits of writing and photos from this year so far in Bongo!

Dar has an official population estimate of approx. 3 million people and growing at a crazy fast and rather uncontrolled pace – it’s estimated it will reach over 5 million people before 2020. This growth has mostly been in the form of the unplanned sprawl in every direction with the complete lack of any scaled capabilities in water, sewage, roads, and other infrastructure.

When I arrived back in Dar this past August – I had the task of finding housing. Housing in Dar is the tale of two markets – Generally high-end houses and apartments with rents similar or exceeding Toronto and other major Western cities and the more local housing market where monthly rents are often measured in tens or low hundreds of dollars instead of thousands. Trying to find that inbetween was a long and defeating search – but eventually managed to hit a nice sweet spot. On the positive side -the three weeks of searching everyday after work meant I got to visit all kinds of new unexplored areas of the city and got to see inside some of the world’s most hideously kitsch decorated apartments (this coming from a guy who’s decorating remains frozen in-time to 1st year university dorm styles…)

Dar is generally not one of the top places to visit when people come to Tanzania – maybe a transit point that gets a day or two but its generally not a destination in itself. But that’s one of the thing that I like about living in Dar – you can generally go. All I need to do is go to Zanzibar for a weekend in high season and be surrounded by tourists and people selling things to all the visitors..Jambo rafiki!… and I’m reminded of this again.

After a few months living here I finally went through with my ambitions to buy a bike to pedal power myself around the city. Foregoing the easily available cheap Chinese road bikes – I’ve managed to finally procure myself a mountain bike.  Riding a bicycle down Kimweri Ave in morning rush hour traffic of bajaji’s, pedestrians, dangerous dalla-dallas, equally crazy SUV drivers, and a host of other vehicles and random obstacles – I wish I had one of those helmet cameras to take you with me. It’s been great though to get around and to take aimless rides through new neighbourhoods and just explore the city with my camera. Most of the pictures in this post are from those Sundays on the bike.

Dirty Dar – According to this Forbes article from 2008 – Dar was ranked the world’s 12th dirtiest city – according to a Mercer Health and Sanitation Index Score. It’s certainly not something that is reflected in my day-to-day life as we have regular access to water and sewage (although the latter also flows rather freely in in ditches nearby as well) -but it is a huge issue for many areas and much of the city’s population. While Dar is a beautiful city in many ways, it is definitely also a very dirty one. Garbage is everywhere and burned on the streetside because of lack of proper disposal options.

The multi-cultural make-up of DSM along with the large expat and business population has made for a decent selection and variety of restaurants to choose from. I certainly can’t complain anyways (not that I was going to with 3 sushi places) when speaking with friends living out in more remote areas where only the TZ dietary staples (generally ugali/rice/chips with fried beef/chicken/fish) are available. Still, there are things I would rather not admit to which I would do in a heartbeat for decent Mexican food right about now…

This time around I have been lucky enough to get involved in plenty of different sports to stay active. Regular Football Tuesdays and Fridays, Basketball Wednesdays and Floorball Thursdays have given a much needed outlet to run around and added some routine to the weeks. A proud member of the Valhalla Vikings F.C. – 2009 Dar es Salaam World Cup champions!

There are about 4 different styles of paintings you can buy from the artists and street sellers in Dar -Vaguely categorized as  Tinga-Tinga, Masaai, Zanzibar,Wildlife, and generic african style. Walk into any mzungu home and your often guaranteed to see the same stuff. I can understand you go with what sells – but someone needs to step up and diversify! Now that I mention it, its not just artists – but is often apparent in the general business environment. There are sections of town/the road known as the place to go for any particular item. The problem is – they all sell the exact same thing and are all in a row. Go with what works – but I have to think that being the 9th shop in the area selling mobile phones is not the best business plan.

It really struck me on my second week back – sitting in the plastic chairs, a somewhat cold Safari Lager in your hand and a plate of chipsi mayai in front of you. The the nighttime temperature and humidity down to a more comfortable level, listening to the ting ting ting of the Taraab or Bongo Flava music playing loudly in the background and being lulled away by the table conversation in a language you don’t yet fully understand. It had a very strange and comfortable familiarity to it all being back in Dar.

Likewise there were parts of Canada and western life which I experienced while being home this past summer that felt more foreign. Dress codes? Closing times? Checking the weather forecast? Rules and laws that are enforced and require obedience? Not being able to afford eating out every night? Uggh

Some of the uncontrolled growth in Dar – along with questionable military safety measures/motivations – have led to a pair of tragedies in Dar recently. First in April 2009, and again in February this year – Army bases with surrounding residential populations turned into horrible scenes  when munitions depots caught fire sending  explosions over DSM. I live about 25km away from the site but that night our windows were shaking from the blasts – I can only imagine how bad it must have been for the neighbours.  Read the BBC article here

As nice as the climate is in Arusha, as much of a quiet and stress-free life I am sure one can live down on the shores of Lake Nyasa, as beautiful mountain views there are in Lushoto, and as much of a tropical paradise is Zanzibar…I don’t  think, at this point in time, there’s anywhere else I’d rather live for a long period of time in Tanzania. In terms of social life and a variety of things to do – Dar provides the most (and its not much -hence high ratio of Vicky Mendoza diagonal incidences?)

Last thing – come visit! Seriously – while… less serious offer for you random internet visitors who stumbled upon this. You are making a decision you’ll someday regret right now as you currently tell yourself that you’d love to but you just can’t because of X,Y, and Z. Make it happen and you’ll have the 5-star luxury of a blow-up mattress and guaranteed adventures in Dar!

Anyways, hope you enjoyed and got to see a slice of this guy’s Bongo life!

Cheers,

Dan

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The Portuguese have left the building…A Photo Tour of Ilha’s Ibo & Mocambique

Hello again world,

In my earlier post on the Mozambique travels last week, I promised a follow-up on the second half of the trip down to Mozambique. Don’t say I never deliver the goods. This week – I proudly present Part II – Ladies & Gentlemen, the Portuguese have left the building…

A very Wiki History lesson to set the stage

An abbreviated and inadequate history: Mozambique was colonized by the Portuguese empire in 1505. They stuck around for several hundred years and built up colony with an impressive resource-based trading empire. Fast forward to 1975 when the Portuguese decided to pack up and leave after a war for independence and regime change back home. Upon independence on June 25, 1975 – a good riddance law was passed by the new government ordering all Portuguese to leave the country in 24 hours with only 20 kilograms of luggage! I guess lesson is always travel light – you never know. Mix that misguided policy  in with  the economic decline of these indian ocean trading companies and associated government in the early 20th century et voilà  - you have yourself the makings some very eery but fascinating ghost towns.

Needless to say, these places make for some amazing photography sets and I had a field day on this trip as everywhere you turned there were a hundred beautiful and very unique photos waiting to be made. Here’s some highlights – enjoy!

A Photo Tour of spooky Ilha do Ibo

We first visited the more remote and less known Ilha do Ibo in the Quirimbas National Marine Park. Wasn’t on the original itinerary but once we read about it we had to move plans around to make it happen. Easily my favorite spot on the whole trip and one of the most fascinating places I have ever visited in this life of mine.

I could show a hundred more from this place but must show some restraint!

Tired of photos already? Too bad – It’s Ilha de Mocambique’s time to shine

The second of these amazing historic places we visited and spent New Year’s was the somewhat more famous, a bit less abandoned, a lot more touristy, former capital of Portuguese East Africa - Ilha de Mocambique:

As mentioned in the last post – all these photos and more are available for your viewing pleasure in Flickr Set that might just make you drop what your doing and buy a ticket to Mozambique – right here after the link.

Catch you on the flip side

Up next – headed to Ethiopia at the end of March for an exciting 11 days of travel goodness in Northern Ethiopia and around Addis Ababa. Very excited for this trip – should be something very different culturally and geographically speaking than the travels made around Tanzania, Northern Mozambique, and Kenya so far this year.  Plus, as a true fan of delicious food served in large quantities…I’m excited for the prospect of being surrounded by Ethiopian food!

After that – end of April will bring a 5 day Easter weekend trip with friends to the city of Kigoma and the Gombe Stream National Park on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in the western edge of Tanzania. Gombe Stream was made famous by a certain Ms. Jane Goodall back-in-the-day and her research on primates in this remote area. The park offers the opportunity to hike up into the mountains and (hopefully) observe the chimpanzee troops in their non-zoo habitat. But besides this, I’ve heard it’s an amazingly beautiful place, great hiking, and offers a chance to visit and swim (Bilharzia be damned) in Lake Tanganyika - the remaining on the list of Africa’s 3 main Great Lakes after trips to Lake Victoria and Lake Malawi last year. Lake Tanganyika, unlike me at my grade 6 track and field meets, has a number of impressive non-participation ribbons including: world’s longest lake, world’s second deepest lake, world’s second largest body of fresh water, and offers nice views into the neighboring DR Congo across the lake. Advanced warning of possible obnoxious future facebook status update: Dan Albrecht is…peeing while swimming in Lake Tanganyika and looking into THE DARK HEART OF AFRICA!!!

Given my track record with this post – you can expect to see a blog post and photos of these trips sometime in June…2012

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Mozambique by the road less, less traveled

Hello world,

It’s been awhile but have no fear – another dusty foot philosopher is back in February with some photos and tales from December/January’s overland travels down to Mozambique!

I wanted an adventure and I found it

This trip undertaken, with roommate Zach over a 10 day Christmas holiday break, took us down from Dar es Salaam into northern Mozambique  - a known route but one not often taken. I had spent most of the first four months back in Tanzania sticking around Dar on the weekends and generally falling into a rythym and normality of life. I was itching it get away from that so we went out seeking a good adventure and found it.

Will try to capture some of that 3 day adventure getting down there in this quick summary. I’m conscious of those out-do each other travel stories so will try not to do that but just tell a fun story! “oh yeah…you think that sounds crazy? I once traveled through {insert little known African country} on $1USD per day,  riding an near extinct species of camel, in the middle of the civil war, sick with malaria and cholera, and with only a toothbrush, a pack of gum, and my wits to survive”.

On the road again

Day 1 had us leave Dar early Christmas eve morning on a bus headed down to the very south of Tanzania -Mtwara. With no tickets purchased ahead of time (apparently a bad idea on one of the bigger travel days of the year) we had to pay extra (count the times this happens with me –  #1!)and squeeze ourselves onto one of the few buses headed down to Mtwara. 12 hours in the hot sun on bumpy roads, kids on laps, and greasy fries and the trip was off to a good start.

We made it into lovely Mikandani, a small old town just outside of Mtwara at dusk and spent Christmas eve at a lovely dive centre eating a good meal with tons of red-faced British men working out on the natural gas rigs off the coast. Mikandani is a beautiful little historic town – used to be a Arab swahili trading centre back in the day and had quite a bit of charm to it and was quite nice to explore -highly recommend it!

Early Christmas day morning we were off to the Ruvuma River which marks the border between Tanzania and Mozambique. This was the big unknown part of the trip -I’d done some reading online and from others accounts it seemed as though it was possible to do – although it had got quite a bit more difficult since the ferry sank 3 years ago. Read in the hostel the night before crossing that this was one of Africa’s least used border crossings and the river was filled with hippos and crocodiles – oh my!

The mini-bus down to the river took about an hour and being our only option to get there ended up being one of the more expensive dalla-dalla rides in TZ history (#2!). A quick  price was agreed and from there we hopped in a row boat with our bags and we were on our way being paddled across the wide Ruvuma. Did you cringe when I said ‘a quick price was agreed”? Yeah, unfortunately you weren’t there at the time to give us that warning.

Needless to say, the currency of the transaction changed once we were in the middle of the river and theres not much you can do when they stop the boat in the middle of the river, hippos about 30 meters away on either side, and demand payment.  For those of you counting at home…that’s #3.

Once we got the price to a respectable compromise and were safely to the other side – we faced another similar situation. One lone transport option to get you from A to B – they name the price and you can only negotiate so much so you pay your “stranded mzungu tax” (#4!) and be on your way or end up stranded in the middle of nowhere. I was hoping to see some elephants and maybe a lion out here in the bush as I had read there were some large wild animal populations out here – but unluckily (some might say luckily) didn’t end up coming across any.

After bumping along on these sand and red dirt roads on this afternoon I truly earned the “dusty” in this blog title – covered in a thick layer of dirt and grime. Fun ride overall though and we were in high spirits. We pulled into the town of Mocímboa da Praia that night and found a sketchy bus station place to crash for a few hours.

Sitting  on another bus from 4am the next day gave me some time to reflect: Northern Mozambique was very much like Tanzania in the end (and why not when borders are drawn up on maps and many tribes/cultures are in both). Swahili was more useful than any Portuguese words for most of the trip and the north of the country seemed to have been barely influenced by the Portuguese compared to what I might have expected and heard but I expect this is much more true the further south you go.

Also, it was pretty annoying paying the stranded mzungu tax so often on this journey- but in the end I couldn’t blame anyone too much. At times it was our own lack of caution and finalizing terms in advance and other times just people trying to take advantage of a rare situation that had presented itself. It was Christmas time afterall…

Pulling into Pemba the third day afternoon was a beautiful thing. The city itself was nice but nothing spectacular to write home about and the highlights were a long awaited shower, good food, relaxation, beaches, and meeting our new travel buddies – two other Canadians working in Mozambique who would end up travelling around with us for the rest of the trip. The remaining days were a less adventurous but a lot more relaxing!

All these photos and more are now posted in a Flickr Set for your visual stimulation here.

Stay tuned next week for the follow-up blog post Ladies and Gentlemen, The Portuguese have left the building” for photo tours of two amazing history-filled islands we visited in the remaining portion of time!

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“I’ve been workin’ on mosquito nets, all the live long day”

Hello internet, Whatcha knowin’? I’ve come to watch your flowers growin…’

Over the last 5 months I’ve had people ask me about how work’s going and what it is exactly that I am doing over here this year. Well, I will aim to appease fan request(s) and give a little glimpse into how I spend my daily 8-5. Boring! Alas, you asked and I wrote it. Hope it gives you a quick glimpse into my weekday working world.

“I’ve been workin’ on mosquito nets, all the live long day”

Well, that’s not really so true. Despite working on a mosquito bed net program, I really barely ever see any mosquito nets in any of my day-to-day work (but I do actually sleep under one every night. Malaria Haikubaliki!) Also, to the disappointment of some people I meet on the street and tell them where I work – I can’t get you a free one. More accurately – the change to the classic children’s/folk song would be along the lines of  ”I’ve been working on Microsoft Excel spreadsheets/mobile phone applications & databases/4 hour partner meetings, all the live long day…”.

The first piece of my job is essentially program/project management stuff for the Tanzania National Voucher Scheme (TNVS). I spend a lot of time writing reports, memos, and letters to the Ministry of Health, the Donor agencies, and our public and private sector implementing partners. I keep an eye on how the program is doing in the 21 regions across mainland Tanzania through voucher and net sale statistics and try to find ways that we can help things along by working with our net distribution partner and our Regional Managers in the field.

The other piece of this role has been a rather massive data entry, clean-up, and digitization exercise of our program’s paper records into a central database/Management Information System. This database is the basis for enabling and launching some very cool mobile phone reporting tools (which our in-house (literally, he’s my roommate!  haha, lame jokes rock) technical guru Zach  has built) using SMS messages and GPS coordinates from the net distribution company and shop owners to better track and GIS map the program activities as they unfold in real-time. Ambitious and a bit scary to do country-wide but underway.


A second piece of my role is entitled – Business Development and Communications. Thus far, this has been an interesting but much smaller component of my work. I’ve been updating and printing promotional materials, re-designing and writing our new website, and been involved in the search for new projects and partners for the organization in the future. If you are interested in learning a bit more check out our shiny new homemade website at http://medatanzania.org

Soft skills are for ‘team players’

Life is a blast when you know what you’re doin
Best to know what you’re doin ‘fore your life get ruined
Life is a thrill when your skill is developed
If you ain’t got a skill or trade, then shut the hell up

Hieroglyphics -At the helm. Again…a very random insertion of music lyrics into the post. But a great song…and sometimes when I hear this verse I think to myself…I need to get myself some skills! (I mean I know I have mad rap skillz but) …it would have been easier if I would have just given up on enjoying life and become an Accountant (joking! please don’t audit me) and at least had a hard skill/trade/set professional path. I know I am learning and gaining good experience but…Everyone is a team player, good communicator, and thinks outside the box on their resume. How will working on a mosquito bed net program in TZ be viewed on the future resume?…time will tell I suppose.

Breaking News:  Mobile phones will not ‘save Africa’

Rant: Technology can do a lot of great things for development and it should be used where it can help in simple, practical, and achievable ways. But I think it isn’t the answer to everything and can dangerously eat up valuable project resources when forced unnaturally into situations. All this said, as I described above, a part of my work here this year has been working with the integration of technology into the TNVS program so this is an area that I go back and forth on often. There are plenty of success stories and we are working to make this project one of them… but I do get a bit worried when I see everyone and their neighbor in this field rushing headfirst to integrate mobile technology into their projects cause it’s the next hot thing that those controlling the money want to see.

I am far from being on top of the field in this topic but it can seem clear from here. Design solutions in the most usable way for the people that are targeted – don’t design to get a project to be ground-breaking or to get  funded (easier said than done and naively idealistic? just perhaps). Check out a really cool Human-Centered Design Kit here which was passed along to me if you are interested in this kind of stuff!

An office with a view or a view with an office?

One thing I would never ever dare complain about is the view I am looking out across from my desk each day.

Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen.

Are we speaking the same language?

Acronyms are a way of life in a lot of industries, but I feel like they are especially prevalent in the international development field. With all the different Governments, Donors, Organizations, Accords, and Agreements  put together it makes for a steep acronym learning curve.  Heck, I have apparently gotten into the spirit myself given the job title TL, TNVS, BD & C.  Here is a sample which I read this past week from a publicly available United States Agency for International Development document called ‘Feed The Future (that’s USAID FTF for those of you counting at home) – Tanzania 2010 Implementation Plan’ ;

When NEPAD adopted CAADP (2005), the GOT was finalizing ASDP for implementation in 2006. The GOT began the CAADP process, but progress stalled based on a consensus that ASDP articulated the CAADP pillars. Following the G8 L’Aquila meeting and 2009 multi-donor CAADP meeting, the GOT revived CAADP by inviting the NEPAD Secretariat to assess ASDP compliance with CAADP requirements.

Are we speaking the same language? Progressing with Swahili continues to prove challenging enough thank you.

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