Archive for category Travels

Dispatches from the road

Hello everyone,

Coming at you straight out of an internet cafe in Lusaka, Zambia today we have a four part series post with a few random updates from the trip thus far. As I said in the facebook introduction, it’s kinda like one of those HBO mini-series that always wins all of the Emmy awards but no one ever gets to watch because not that many of us have HBO. Lucky for you, this blog is no pay-TV and is free for the proletariat masses to enjoy. Hop on for the ride, comrades.

A heartbreaking tale of an ill-timed camera glitch
As many of those of you who check in here every once and awhile will know, one growing hobby of mine has been dabbling in photography. And what better a place for me to end up than in beautiful Tanzania the last 8 months to learn and hone some skills against some of the worlds most stunning natural backdrops. There have been a few people out there throwing around National Geographic references in the comments – but seriously, I tell you that its not so much the guy behind the camera than great scenes and people being all around, a good camera, and the rest seems to take care of itself. Anyways, I digress.

Knowing this, you can understand that I was very excited to bring my camera along on this 8 week journey outlined here to capture a piece of these new travels, people, destinations, and World Cup madness. Our journey started out on a 24 hrTAZARA train ride from Dar es Salaam to Mbeya, Tanzania and all was going well and I managed to get a few pics of the scenic old Chinese made train winding its way through the Tanzanian national parks and countryside in the first two hours. Then, disaster strikes at pretty much the worst possible time having just headed out on a journey far away from repair shops and the camera decides to have a firmware glitch and stop working completely. After trying just about every possible way I can think of to get it too work again – I am finally able to get some internet and google the problem only to find it is only fixable at official Canon repair facilities (the next of which is 3 weeks away in Johannesburg, SA) and takes about a week. Heartbreaking stuff for this guy -owners of Canon DSLRs be warned. Ah well, when there is nothing you can do, there is nothing you can do, so you just move on and take those mental pictures with the lens of your eyes, the shutter of eyelids, and the memory card of the your, well, memory. A bit tougher to share with you later though…

It’s a small world after all

Three very random incidences have happened to me in the last three days that make this statement ring very true.

1.) I’m in a small local pub drinking some beers in the paradise-found lakeside town of Nkhata Bay, Malawi which we weren’t planning on staying in. I look over and see a South African guy that hung out with us for a week or two while visiting Dar walk in and he now works here and knows all the people I’ve jut met at the hostel that night. random.

2.) At a house party in Lusaka the other night which we were rather randomly invited to and a Zambian girl comes up to me and asks me where I am from. Naturally, I lie and tell her Argentina (this little game I play is a story for another time…) and she goes “I’m not going to fall for that again, last time you told me you were from New Zealand”. We had met her and her friends from Lusaka at the Zauti sa Busara music festival in Zanzibar back in February and then met up with them again for a night out when they passed through Dar on their way back home a few days later. Turns out when I met them back in February I played the same game. Would have figured I would be pretty safe travelling through a new city at a house party where we know no one – but apparently its a small world out there. random.

3.) Same house party in Lusaka. We meet young lady early on a the party who is also Canadian so the usual traveller conversation dance ensues – “oh, what part are you from”, etc. With most Africans I will just go to the default response of “Toronto or near Toronto”, with most Canadians I will go with “Kitchener-Waterloo or just outside K-W”. In this case though this girl was coming from Hamilton and so I thought I would take a stab in the dark and throw out the exact place of birth of New Hamburg, Ontario – Pop. 6,000 or so. A look of recognition lights up her eyes but I guess that isn’t that random – New Hamburg does after all host the world’s largest non-power generating water wheel in addition to the mecca of baked goods – the NH Mennonite Relief Sale. But it’s what comes out of her mouth next that truly makes it a small world after all. “Oh my goodness, do you know Laura Albrecht?”. Turns out she was my sisters college roommate in Peterborough and still good friend who is doing an internship in Lusaka while studying at U of T. She’s been over to my house, had dinner with my grandparents, and heard about me working in TZ after they got together following my sisters trip here. Now that is shock-your-eyelids random.

Oprah’s Book Club don’t stand a chance

One of the cool things that has been a result of my time living in Tanzania and also traveling has been a dramatic increase in the consumption of good books. There’s been a good culture of book swapping going around and I’ve been quite lucky to have read to great books that have been popping into my mind every once and awhile on this trip and would like to take a moment to tell you why you should read them immediately.

The State of Africa – Martin Meredith
The back of the book advertises a review stating something along the lines of “cannot be beat as a popular introduction to the history and politics of Africa since independence” and I can’t agree more. I would say that if you have an interest in history or politics or just Africa in general than you need to pick this book up as your next read. Martin tackles a very ambitious and heavy duty subject – the history and issues on the African continent since it began to gain independence from the colonizing nations in the 1950′s – but the book reads amazingly well and he makes it a pleasure to read while sticking to facts and not getting too ‘preachy’. The chapters go through either individual countries or popular topics happening across a number of topics and gives vivid recaps of the events and leaders. It’s just been good as I travel now through many of these countries to have a better understanding of their recent history and leaders. I also recently read Philip Gourevitch’s book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda on the Rwandan genocide. Meredith’s book dedicates a chapter to the genocide and a second to the fall-out and refugee camps but in two chapters he managed to comprehensively cover a hugely complex topic. Even after reading the second book dedicated to the topic I did not feel as though I learned too much more about the politics, major events, and players in the genocide which I think is a testament to the book.

On the road – Jack Kerouc

I read Kerouc’s classic book on the beatnikk generation and his truly epic cross-USA roadtrips back last year in Dar but it’s stuck with me and especially continues to come back to me as we travel now. For a month or two after reading the book I couldn’t get the Dean character out of my head and we even talked his crazy talk to random people we would meet on nights out. It’s tough to properly capture this book and it’s effect and plus there has already been enough written on the book but there’s something about the style of his long rambling writing and the super descriptive scenes that make you want to get out there and see new things, meet new people, and just let go of inhibitions and do more crazy things. Read it!

but seriously folks, Oprah and her book club mafia should watch out if I do get around to making more posts about some of the other highly recommended books I’ve read lately. Who wants to be caught reading one of those books with her big Oprah’s Pick sticker on the front anyways? I mean, just surrender your awesomeness at the door if that is the case.

Of Pies and Waterfalls
Up next, we head to Livingstone, Zambia the home of the Natural Wonder of the World -Victoria Falls and apparently the adventure sports / you-must-be-insane-to-do-some-of-this-stuff capital of Africa as well. I can’t promise I won’t at least try one or two of these adrenaline junkie things out (I do still have a little of that On the road craziness in me) but I promise to not try anything too stupid.

On another note, it was the earlier mentioned NH Mennonite Relief Sale back home in New Hamburg this weekend and I’ve been having vivid dreams of those strawberry pies and the barbeque chicken. Can’t have the best of both worlds I guess, so I’ll just have to suck it up and pretend those cheap, poorly imitated fruit cream biscuits bought as a lunch substitute from the overly aggressive food vendor out the window of my non air-conditioned bus on the 14 hr ride to the next city are really just delicious whipped cream strawberry pies…

Editors note: This was written about 4 days ago but unreliable internet situations and travel got in the way and just able to post now from Vic Falls as we prepare to head into Zimbabwe! 7 days until World Cup glory!

And epic it shall be…

Just a real quick update now on the what the months ahead hold. Our original 8 month contracts here at MEDA Tanzania have officially finished and Mzungu paradise is emptied out and the goodbyes have been said. Tomorrow afternoon we will be boarding a train out of Dar es Salaam for a rather epic two months of travels and World Cup goodness. I’ve got pretty much every mode of transportation covered on this journey (train, bus, ferry, car rental, walking..) and I am sure there are many more surprise methods of getting from A to B in store.

The group for the first leg of the journey is Jeremy, our neighbour Cooper who decided to join last minute, and a friend of a friend New Zealander who we met yesterday. We will meet up with Zach and another good friend from Dar, Kim, at Victoria Falls halfway down at the start of June and then aim to meet up with more Dar friends in Johannesburg for the opening night party on June 10th. I estimate I will travel somewhere between 5,000-6,000 km’s from Dar es Salaam to Capetown where I will catch the flight home in early July. Tanzania – Malawi – Zambia – Zimbabwe – Botswana – South Africa –England – Canada are on tap. Wish me luck. Check out the interactive Google Map I made up of the vaguely planned trip below!

View It it shall be called Epic… in a larger map

I’ll do my best to add a quick update on the current location and travels if I get the chance in the weeks ahead – I’ve heard the internet is everywhere these days…even in cyberspace –so keep an eye on here.



and this episode is called…Season 2

Hello viewers,

All apologies for the lengthy delay in the release of Season 2 of and this episode is called… I’d like to blame production delays or a union strike or something else out of my control but really it’s just been the fact that I didn’t get around to finishing this for post for the past 5 months and it has sat 75% complete in my drafts the whole time. Life got busy with visitors, work, and more travels hand this always takes longer to write up and post pictures than I think! It was tempting to just leave it be and die a peaceful death in draft mode –but just hated being this close and not publishing it so I’ve got my act together and put this bad boy up.

It seems the ratings on Season 1 were satisfactory enough for the network to pick up the shows and so Season 2 picks up where Season 1 left off at the end of October 2009 and takes us through to the end of December 2009. If you don’t know what this all is referring to, I would encourage you to take a quick read of Season 1 and the explanation at the beginning of the post.

With no further delay, I present the episode guide to Season 2!


Days filled with red, green, and blue  – November 1st -9th

Finally managing to get out of Dar es Salaam and see some more of the real Tanzania, Dan heads to the south of Tanzania to get a better understanding of MEDA TZ’s programs in the field. The dirt is bright red, the trees and bright green, and the sky is beautiful blue and goes on forever.

For a trip recap and photo tour – check out this earlier full episode post!


The colours and faces in the crowd

Mama Kikwete and Me – November 4th

The work trip to Ruvuma results in Dan being present at a regional program launch where an accidental meeting with the first lady of Tanzania occurs. The awkward mzungu moments don’t stop there though as a case of a mistaken identity throws our hero into the forefront of the event. The prospect of a speech in a new language in front of several hundred people and the first lady? Hakuna matata. “Mambo vipi Madabe? Malaria Haikubaliki! Asantini sana”

For full episode recap and photos check out this earlier post! Update: This episode has now been published in the latest version of the MEDA Marketplace magazine! p.s. Does this  make me super-menno?


How not to act out the word “Kinderpunch” – November 9th

Dan returns from his roadtrip (I heart 14 hr bus rides) to join a group of friends gathered at a apartment for a delicious dinner, and later, a game akin to charades and Taboo. The word “punch” is one of the words given to our German friend Michael to act out but the meaning is, well…lost in translation. Roll on the floor/pee your pants/so hard it hurts – kind of laughing ensues when Michael, to our delight, goes ahead repeatedly trying to act out the German Christmas morning “kinderpunch” scene but ends up in some compromising positions.


The case of the mystery txt msgs from Celine Dion – November 1st, 9th, 13th…

This episode begins with the aforementioned Michael giving the your Canadian heroes a hard time about how we all must love listening to our #1 export to Tanzania, the music of Celine Dion. As Dan later enters a hotel far away in Songea later that week, the music of Celine fills the reception. A random urge to record the love song lyrics in a text message and send them to Michael is executed and repeated every time he hears Celine for the next few weeks or so. What he doesn’t realize is that back in Dar poor Michael didn’t have his phone number in his phone and so he’s convinced for the next few months he’s receiving love notes from a mystery woman. Near, far, whereevvvvverrr you are…


Tuesdays with Morrie Nancy – Tuesday evenings, November 10th, 17th, …Dec 8th

Our heroes enrol in Kiswahili lessons in an effort to force themselves to keep learning since it can often be difficult to practice and learn living in Mzungu Paradise. The teacher is a kind middle-aged woman named Nancy, but she doesn’t know what she is in for with her three new students. With each passing week the homework and sentences made up in class get more and more ridiculous as they bring in the street slang Kiswahili learned from friends and their own immature humour into the particular lessons of that week. Maybe this is why our heroes still have horrible Kiswahili after months of living in Tanzania? Maybe, but it’s made for some outrageous things said in class, great laughs with Nancy, and turned our Tuesdays in the classroom with Nancy into something to look forward to.


contemplating island life

Island. Music. Fever.   -November 13-15th

The weekend is filled with trips to the north beach and nearby island of Bongoyo for lots of sun, football, and exploring. Sunday night holds an amazing concert with some of Africa’s biggest music stars (Angelique Kidjo, Emmanuel Jal, and Youssou N’Dour) performing in Dar. And finally, a bad fever hits our hero. The doctor rules out malaria (so the “I survived malaria in East Africa – 2009” t-shirt order must be put on hold for now) but in a rather relaxed manner tells our hero that “it sure looks like H1N1 to me”. A bit of a scare but luckily it was not and our hero recovers quickly to continue the adventures of Season 2.


hold yourself back

“so…are you here with the moustache guys or what?” – November 12th -17th

In honour of the great prostate cancer fundraising initiative Movember – and because it is awesome to have an excuse to grow gross facial hair – Jeremy and Dan shave their beards down to moustaches for a week. Most Tanzanian friends and co-workers just think we are actually trying to look good (we did look good. damn good.) and the joke factor of young guys rocking moustaches that exists in North America seems to get a little bit lost. A night out at the Alliance Francaise cultural centre (yes, we do visit such high-brow cultural institutions) provides the episode title when a random guy tries to pick-up our friend and asks the episode title question in disbelief.


Lushoto viewpoints

The accidental Nachtwanderung–November 18th

Three characters head off for a weekend trip to visit the Usambara mountains in the Lushoto region north of Dar. Several hours and a few different buses on Friday afternoon/night takes the gang within a 30 minute drive of their final destination by 9pm and they arrange for a pick-up as all local buses have since stopped. Fast forward to 2:30am and the gang is hiking the last few km’s into Lushoto town in the pitch black of night after a few hours of stop and go car trouble. Beautiful hikes, chameleons, amazing farm fresh food, and Lion King-esque vistas will follow…as if those stars weren’t worth it already.


Wake up to make-up – November 25th & 26th

It’s Friday morning, about 10ish and our hero sits at his desk when a horrific thought leaps into his mind…oh crap, did I remember to wash the make-up from last night off my face? The episode flashes back to explain how he got into this particular predicament the night before (and to keep our faithful viewers/readers from starting rumours). While having drinks after watching a comedian perform at the local community theatre, a make-up case is discovered left at our table by the previous occupants. Somehow it becomes a good idea to dress up Dan with eyeliner and lipstick (we are at a theatre after all people) and he spends the rest of the night with a painted face and a top hat. Luckily for him, the morning shower took care of what he forgot before showing up for work and he narrowly escapes having to give some awkward explanations to co-workers.


I’m on a boat?– Nov 27th

There’s something about a hazy wake-up to find you are on the roof of a random wooden boat floating out in the warm waters off the white sand beaches of Zanzibar and watching the sun rise up and slowly light the clouds bright orange and pink …something about this that just provides the perfect ending to a night/starting to a new day. Hmm, can’t quite put my finger on what it would be – let me know if you figure it out.


It’s the pirate juice that makes you dance on the bar – Nov 28th

The Zanzibar crew hire a boat to take them down the coast to a more tourist-oriented beach party than last night’s affair in nearby Kendwa Rocks. Why go by boat? – as our new waiter friend says “why not?” Excellent point and we have no counter-argument. As Kevin Garnett would say “anything is possible!”. Zach and Jeremy befriend a bartender and invent a new drink- pirate juice in honour of Zach’s Somali pirating compatriots. One part pirate poo, one part gold, one part sea water, and one part Konyagi – hold the pirate poo. More dancing, more craziness, and even a dance party on top of the bar.


Mock awe of the roof top views of Dar harbour  from the Kempenski hotel

A rooftop tour of Dar es Salaam – Dec 1st

Our main characters meet up with friends for a celebratory drink and choose as the location the rooftop bar above Dar es Salaam’s fanciest hotel for it’s rumoured nice view. After a pricey drink or two and a nice but not amazing view over the harbour at night – we learn of the existence of another, higher up but slightly less “legal” rooftop viewing area to tour. Crawling through a broken glass window atop a office tower yields some very beautiful night time views of Dar – well, until security shows up.


Poor BBQ never quite recovered

Somebody forgot to tell us it was a Wednesday night – Dec 2nd

Our heroes decide that it is time for them to use their apartment to host yet another bash with our friend Elvis in town for a visit and imminent departures. Their Mzungu Paradise apartment is the venue and they invite their Dar social circle over after work for a “make your own pizza” dinner and following party. Sounds innocent enough for a Wednesday night – but not with this group. The party goes late into the night and a particularly brave group heads out on the town but the problem is…bars often don’t really have closing times in Tanzania. Dan wapi? No worries, everyone makes it to work by 8!


A different kind of German D-Day – Dec 3rd

This is one of those sad episodes where a major character gets written out of the plot by the producers. It’s sadly a often reoccurring theme over here in this ever-shifting Dar es Salaam community and this one is the first of many departure days. It’s Steffi’s last night in Tanzania and the group gathers for a last party at zee Germans place to bid farewell. Live swahili guitar playing and singing keeps the party going late and lots of goodbyes are said. Could perhaps our cast re-unite for one of those cheesy TV reunion special episodes where you find out what happened to all the main characters when they all grow up (like those Saved By the Bell spin-offs)? Only time and lots of peer pressure for Germans to come visit Canada will tell.


Your friendly neighbourhood action hero – Dec 12th

Dan and Jer decide to take a mini-weekend trip to nearby Bagamoyo just an hour’s dalla-dalla ride north of Dar. As they negotiate prices outside the bus, your hero notices someone walking away with a phone just like his in hand. A quick check in his backpack and yep, its not there anymore so the suspect is tailed. He realizes it soon enough (I kind of stand out) and a full out chase is on through the winding alleys on the Mwenge neighbourhood. Good triumphs over evil and the walk back through the winding alleys gets some props from the residents who watched this unusual action based episode live from the pubs, shops, and homes. Thankfully, no thieves were mob-beaten in the making of this episode.


hey True North strong and free, consider yourself stood on guard for.

The mission statement is..ummm…Miss Uganda? – Dec 15-18th

It’s MEDA Tanzania’s staff retreat and the Canadian trio is busy in the weeks heading up to the event with planning and logistics. In one of those, “Okay Zach, I will believe it when I see it with my own eyes…oh my, my.. its true…” kind of moments, we learn that the Miss East Africa 2009 competition is being held at our same hotel the duration of the retreat. A great retreat filled with days of powerpoints and group discussions and nights of beers with co-workers is capped with your heroes even singing a rousing version of O Canada at the staff Christmas party. I was never good at memorizing those organizational mission statements anyways.


Up above the clouds on Mlima Kilimanjaro

It’s Kili Time – December 25th-30th

Tanzania is the land of Mt. Kilimanjaro and your hero likes adventures and high places. It’s a match that was meant to be and so the plan is hatched for a solo mission to the roof of Africa over the Christmas holidays. In one of the greater last minute decisions in history – a good friend from back home decides to move some work flights around to join the trek on less than two weeks notice. Climb mountains? Dan and Pavan start up the 5,895m of Uhuru Peak on Christmas morning and successfully summit to an almost full moon and sunrise 5 days later. Check out a full photo guide to the episode here on Flickr and photo summary here on the blog!


What's up MTV Africaaaaaaa? Welcome to my crib.

Hello MTV Africa, welcome to my crib –- December 31st – January 3rd 2010

Out of the freezer and into the oven. Dan and Pavan make it down of their frozen mountain top perch in time to catch a flight taking them to meet up with the his sister and the rest of the group in the tropical heat of Zanzibar (Round III!) for new year celebrations. The group’s reservation at some beach bungalows are “lost” and they find themselves homeless with no free beds in the tiny village. Never fear, this is Tanzania and life seems to just work out. The group ends up making last minute random connections and renting a beach front villa for the 3 days resulting in the filming of the very first MTV Cribs – Africa episode.


I realize that this still leaves me many, many months and episodes behind – but I am sad to say that I think this will be the last …and this episode is called post for this time here in TZ. I lost motivation awhile ago to try and keep track and write these up and so the series will have to end here with the end of 2009. I assure you, there have been a few noteworthy episodes in 2010 thus far and perhaps some will make it into some future posts – but most likely you’ll just have to hang out with me in person sometime to hear them. How unfortunate for you.

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Never say you’ll never end up in Mwanza rock city

It’s not as though at the time, sitting in my 4th year Business Policy class at Wilfrid Laurier University, I actually had the exact thought cross my mind, but I certainly didn’t think the opposite either.

I don’t imagine I will ever end up there…

We are watching a clip from the Oscar nominated documentary, Darwin’s Nightmare, and the clip is being shown in this particular class as we have been discussing some of the issues and problems that result from international trade and globalization. Hell, we all know our business schools could use a little more of this well rounded perspective so kudos to the prof on that point. On the screen, although I don’t know much about it at the time, is the city of Mwanza on the shores of Lake Victoria in Tanzania.

The symbol of Mwanza...the rock city

The movie isn’t exactly showing a flattering portrait of Mwanza or Tanzania (in fact, the documentary caused quite a bit of outrage here in Tanzania and even caused personal rebuttals from the president of Tanzania). It’s an examination of the introduction of the Nile Perch species to Lake Victoria and theorizes that the local population has benefited little from the globalization and has largely experienced only some negative affects such as imported of conflict arms and the continued spread of HIV while the expensive fish fillets are flown off to Europe. I think in the end both sides of the controversy are a bit correct – the Lake Region is a beautiful area and in the end the film did not do justice to the people, the natural beauty and likely hurt it even more through lower fish sales and tourism. That said, I have no doubt that many of the points the Director makes about how the effects of the global fish and arms trade have also negatively affected the local population. All this said, I only watched a piece of the documentary that year and still haven’t seen the whole thing so I will leave it up to you dear reader to watch the documentary and make your own judgement.

Caught the culprit in question

Just about 4 years after this I found myself arriving in Mwanza. It was this past Janaury and I was coming to the rural areas just outside of Mwanza urban to run a pilot of MEDA Tanzania’s new program the Universal Coverage Campaign (UCC). Sometime this spring, the Government of Tanzania’s Ministry of Health will launch this Global Fund to Fight Malaria, AIDS, and Tuberculosis funded campaign which will aim to provide a free Long Lasting Insecticide Treated bed net to cover every sleeping space across Tanzania. It’s a daunting task, to accurately coordinate the logistics of registering every household in the country and then procuring and distributing the bed nets in every single one of Tanzania’s estimated 12,500+ villages. Something like running an entire national census combined with organizing a distribution network in every village, hamlet and metropolis back home. Phew.

A UCC village healthworker registers sleeping spaces during the Mwanza pilot

Anyways, I am getting off track. Zach, Jer, and I were tasked with planning, organizing, and executing a small scale  launch of this UCC program to test out a number of our proposed policies, procedures, materials, and technologies. Very cool stuff and so after a month or so of planning we find ourselves arriving in Mwanza to go live with the pilot.

Mock volunteer training exercise tests the variables

I won’t bore you with too many of the details, but I think everyone felt it was a success all around and we learned lots of things which are now going to be implemented when the full program launches in the months ahead. It may be stating the obvious but…don’t try and launch a project of this magnitude without taking all of your ideas (which seemed to make complete sense sitting in the office) and trying them out in practice in the real world.

Not sure why this is here....just liked the photo I guess

In the end, it was a work trip and although we got to see some of Mwanza, take a little dip in Lake Victoria, and even eat some of those controversially delicious Nile Perch – I didn’t really get the opportunity to see if the side of Mwanza portrayed in Darwin’s Nightmare is out there as well.  Another time perhaps…

Colourful boats tied up but waiting to go on the Lake Victoria shoreline

I guess it’s not really that outrageous of a connection finding myself on the same shores that film depicted 4 years later.  But all I am trying to say is…. never say you’ll never end up in Mwanza rock city because one day, if you’re lucky, you might just find yourself there.

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An inevitably failed attempt to do justice to the beauty of northern Tanzania’s National Parks

Hello hello,

As mentioned in my earlier post How BIG is your Africa, I had a visit from my parents and sister in January and one of the definite highlights was visiting the world famous National Parks in northern Tanzania on a 3 and a half day safari. As you might now from reading this blog before, I’ve taken up the hobby of amateur photography since buying a DSLR camera last Christmas. It’s been a lot of fun and with some mixed results thus far but one thing for sure is that this time in Tanzania has been amazing for the learning process. The technical aspects of photography are still very much a work in progress.. good lighting, proper aperture, white balance, etc. need a lot of work and I’ve realized I don’t have much patience for a lot of this, at least not yet.  I’ve also realized that I truly don’t enjoy photographing people, especially here in TZ… I just have trouble shaking this touristy, exploitive feeling when I bring out the camera. If anyone has some good hints on people photography and this whole situation do share. While this inability to take out the camera for these moments has led to plenty of missed opportunities for great photographs which I know that I would love to have looking back years from now, I guess sometimes you just need to enjoy the moment for what it is and soak it up not worrying about capturing everything with the camera. What I have really enjoyed is the “eye” for composing the pictures and capturing the moments and spaces. Luckily, nature and wildlife don’t care too much about me snapping away so that has been the focus of my photography experimentation thus far. We shall see where it all goes – trying to do a little reading and learning on the more technical aspects and learn a little from the pros in books and online but for the most part I think I like keeping things pretty amateur and relaxed.

Anyways, enough of that on to the real show. I’ve decided to present some of my favourite shots from the safari and do my best to try and capture how really amazingly beautiful this part of the country is. I tried to pick a selection of some favourites for some more artsy photo reasons and others just cause of the animals/natural beauty and what not. I give a little background and reasoning with each selection as well- I hope it doesn’t come across wrong and I certainly may have no idea what I am talking about in some cases – but – the beauty of having my own blog is I am allowed this rambling so just play along.  As mentioned in the title, it’s going to be an inevitable failure as the pictures never seem to do the experience justice, but enjoy the attempt regardless and let me know what you think!



Long days on long dusty roads

This picture is from Lake Manyara NP. No animals in sight but I think it captured a lot of the safari experience…riding along the dirt roads and just enjoying the  bright blue sky and scenery around us. I also like how the dirt road curves through the shot and gives you the feeling you are on that road and going somewhere.

Babar, King of the Elephants

We came across this elephant in Lake Manyara standing right beside the road eating and he didn’t mind us sitting a few metres away watching.  Nothing too special about this picture, but I liked the timing of how the elephant is curling the trunk into his mouth and you can still see the grass.

and you thought you could hide from the zoom lens

This picture is also from Lake Manyara NP and happened right at dusk as we were on our way out of the park and suddenly came across two lioness’ in the bush. It was a tricky shot requiring some serious steady hands as the low light and full telephoto zoom to get this close. Despite a bit of blur, I liked how it turned out in the end though as the bushes framing the shot give you the feeling you are peering through just as we were and the lioness stares right back.

Serengeti scratching post

I have to say that I think this was my favourite photo from the trip in the end. It features the young elephant at a fun moment as he used the yellow barked acacia tree as a scratching post for an itchy trunk as its focal point. The reason that I like it most is how it captures the feeling of the Serengeti. The wide open grass lands, the “yellow fever tree” acacia trees, the huge colourful sky. The small size of the elephant in the frame helps you to feel the size of the place. It looks better blown up to full size but this will have to do.

Mufasa looks up from an afternoon nap

This photo was taken shortly after we entered the Serengeti. We ended up seeing lots close to 30 something lions by the end of the trip but this one was a bit more special because we were the only ones to find him going off on a side path and managing to spot him lying in the grass while other vehicles drove on by. The downside of the national parks in northern Tanzania is their popularity leads to some pretty big crowds during tourist seasons so a more intimate encounter such as this made it all the better. Not too much special about the photo itself, but everyone likes to see the famous bushy lion mane so I figured I should post it.

Sunrise in over the Serengeti

I really enjoyed how this sunrise picture came out. The low level of exposure makes some nice outlines of the trees and woodlands as you really don’t need to see any detail here and it helps give the sunrise some perspective. The brightness and colour of the just -risen sun poking through the branches of the acacia tree is pretty powerful. A whole new day…..

Total gridlock..

An early morning game drive which started with the sunrise above brought us to this scene. What I like about this photo is how there are so many things competing for your attention. Maybe you first see the baboon family crossing the road, then your eyes fall to see the two male Impalas (I think?) locking horns in a rutting ritual for females attention, then, holy crap, there is a giraffe in there as well just grabbing some breakfast. Maybe that’s not traditionally good to have many things competing in a picture but I like the effect here to show the wildlife variety and density.

A family affair

This pride of tree climbing lioness’ and cubs was a fun group to watch as the older ones competed for the prime branch lounging spots and the young cubs scrambled around. Again, nothing super special about the photo but it was very cool to see so many of them all together and to sit and watch them interact. I recall it took a bit of waiting for them to all get within the same frame to grab this shot.

You'll never walk alone

This is in the Serengeti again and was taken just after we saw a herd of elephants numbering 50 something make their way across the plains. For some reason this one decided to strike out on their own in another direction away from the group. It was in stark contrast to the rest of the huge group and luckily for me it was walking away right into some beautiful evening lighting and colours in the sky.

Guess the animal, win a prize

Took lots of pictures of those crazy striped zebras on this trip but this one ended up being my favourite. I guess it just provides a different angle to see those unique stripes and you don’t need to see any more of the animal to know exactly what it is because of its famous feature. It’s cool to see the hide/hair so close up but I wish I could have gotten a bit closer or gotten a lower angle so that the entire frame would be filled with stripes instead of the little empty spot now there.

Pink Haze

This photo is taken from the floor of the world famous Ngorogoro Crater and shows the soda lake that covers a good portion of the crater floor in the backround. There was a big flock of flamingos on the lake and in a sudden moment they rose from the lake and took to the air in a haze of pink. Unfortunately, this photo isn’t able to capture the size of the flock flying as you need to be in this close to see the actual birds and I don’t think the pictures with the wider perspective capture that.

The green in the hills and valleys remind me Ireland a bit

This photo was take inside the Ngorogoro Conservation area but outside of the actual crater. There are Masaai villages still allowed to stay in the area and there were herds of cattle grazing in this valley. What really jumped out to me was how green everything was. The picture is framed with thatch tops of the Masaai huts on the bottom of the photo kind of as if to say…this is what someone sees everyday when they wake up in the morning.


This photo is a part of a number of shots to make up a 360 degree view of the crater rim from the floor. I was trying to show how huge and blue the sky appears and the streaking wispy clouds make it seem even bigger. I think it does an alright job of capturing the feeling from the bottom of the crater.

Well, that’s it for now folks. I hope you enjoyed and got a sense of being there yourself. Stay tuned for another favourite photos tour in the weeks ahead. As they say on the beaches of Kigamboni, peace and love.

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Photo Tour – A white Christmas with the snows of Kilimanjaro

Krismasi Njema na Heri ya mwaka mpya! Wishing everyone a (very belated) Merry Christmas and a happy new year to everyone!

Work is piling up and time is short these days but I wanted to put up a real quick post so this is a photo tour of the Christmas week Mount Kilimanjaro climb.  At the last minute my good friend Pavan altered some travel plans to come join and we took down that mountain! It was very wet, very cold, and one of the tougher and definitely one of the coolest things I’ve done being at the top and watching the sunrise. Maybe I’ll write more about the experience when time permits but hopefully you can get an idea of the experience from a few of these shots. Don’t feel bad if it looks freezing cold – a day later we were lying on the beach in Zanzibar for New Years :)



A damp start to the trek in the rainforest at the bottom of Kilimanjaro

The "Kilimanjaro impatience" flower

The forest changes as we gain altitude...

Hiking through a foggy land of giant Cactus like trees on Day 3

I didn't sign up for hail, sleet, and snow in Tanzania...

At base camp with tomorrow morning's challenge in the background

A kilimanjaro sunset dips beneath the clouds below us

Glaciers on the top of the volcanoe rim

The view from Uhuru peak

Dan and Pavan successfully reaches Uhuru Peak at 6:30am!

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Mama Kikwete and Me

This is the story of how I met the first lady of Tanzania….and then what happened next.

The setting of this story is during my field trip in the beginning of November to witness the Under 5 Catch-Up Campaign (U5CC) mosquito net issuing exercise in the Southern Highlands region of Tanzania. I had headed down to the Ruvuma region to get some field experience and see one of MEDA Tanzania’s major programs in action. I hoped to get a chance to see how some of the theory and policies I was working with on a day-to-day basis were really playing out in the field. I also aimed to get some good pictures of the program in action for future promotional material use and maybe even collect a few good stories from the beneficiaries and the program stakeholders to publish.


It started when we arrived in Songea town on the second day and spoke with another program partner who let us know that they just learned that the first lady of Tanzania, Mama Kikwete, would be coming to the district to officially launch the program in this region. I was excited to hear that a special launch event was being planned in a village about an hour north of us and that my colleague and I would be attending as the MEDA representatives but didn’t think much more of it.

Dancers greet Mama Kikwete at the clinic

The day arrived and we headed out in our trusty white Toyota truck for the village. Upon arrival, as the picture above suggests, we find out just how unoriginal we really were as the village was absolutely invaded by an army of white Land Cruisers/Land Rovers from all the government representatives and NGO’s there for the launch event.

A convoy of white SUV's make their way to the launch event.

After an uneventful lunch event with local dignitaries and the first lady, we all headed to the village health clinic where the launch event was to take place. As I understand it (and everything happened here in Kiswahili – so my understanding is likely a bit flawed…) the organizing group had planned for Mama Kikwete to give a speech and issue the first nets of the campaign inside a tiny room in the clinic which could only fit the invited dignitaries and partners but left out the crowd which had gathered to welcome Mama Kikwete.  After we all entered the clinic room and were seated to begin her speech  – she, in a  noble move, requested that the event be moved back outside so that the shut-out crowd can watch as well. So, all the people in the room file out ahead of Mama Kikwete but at this time yours truly was fiddling with his camera and not understanding the Swahili instructions so just stayed sitting. By the time I realize that everyone has left and I get to the aisle I run directly into Mama Kikwete herself who proceeds to give me a big smile and (in English) says “hello, how are you?” and we shake hands. Now, I wish that I had at least tried to break out some of my Swahili and give a nice response in her language. Greet her with “Shikamoo mama” (a proper greeting to your female elder) or at least say something funny that would have made a better story for my blog like “Poa kachize kama ndizi” (some Swahili street slang literally translated meaning Fresh like a crazy banana). Needless to say, I end up just replying in English “very good, thank you” and she was on her way. Boring.

Arrival of the guest of honour

Now, because of this late exit and meeting, I end up filing out of the clinic and right onto the new stage directly behind Mama Kikwete and her entourage and find myself facing out to a gathered crowd of around 500 or so people…I clearly am not supposed to be up here on the stage standing directly behind the first lady with all of the other regional politicians but there wasn’t exactly an easy way out except pushing my way past her and into the crowd so I just decide to stay put and try to look like I belong..

Why am I on stage right now?

As the official ceremony begins with the speeches in Kiswahili I try as usual for the first 5 or 10 minutes to pay attention and see what I can understand but I quickly begin to lose that focus. By the time Mama Kikwete takes the stage I have completely lost my ability to focus and have slipped more into the back of the stage with the security guards and am just taking photos of people in the crowd. It’s in the middle of playing around with the camera that I suddenly look up to see Mama Kikwete turned around at the podium looking right at me as she speaks in Kiswahili. Oh crap. The few people standing in front of me part to make a path to the podium and someone beside me tells me “It’s your turn, Mama Kikwete asked for you”. Oh crap, Oh crap. I tell them that it’s a mistake and that I am not supposed to say anything during the event but they all seem quite convinced I am wrong and start pushing me towards the podium.   At this point I am still about 75% fearing having to take those last few steps and embarrass myself and there is a smaller 25% that is already finding this pretty hilarious and thinking that this should make an entertaining story if nothing else. I continue to resist and tell them I am not supposed to be up there and I don’t speak Kiswahili but they tell me that everyone is waiting and I should just go up and wave and say a simple greeting. Oh crap, this can not turn out well.

Now we are at the point where a further delay starts to make things awkward and I have pretty much resigned myself to going with the flow so I slowly start towards the podium and try to decide on what I am going to say. The best I come up with (time and language being the major constraints) is “Mambo vipi Madaba? Malaria Haikubaliki! Asantini sana.”  Roughly translated “What’s up Madaba? (Name of the village we were in)? Malaria is not acceptable! (A campaign slogan) Thank you all very much.”  Wouldn’t that have just been special? Just in the nick of time another person pushes through the crowd to reach the stage and take the microphone to respond to whatever the heck is going on and I manage to slip back to my original place avoiding having to get on the microphone in response to a question I don’t know and in a language I am just learning. Phew, close call. Thankfully, the rest of the event goes without incident and we issue the first ceremonial nets of the campaign successfully.

Mama Kikwete giving the speech shortly before my moment of fame

As I later find out from my co-worker, Mama Kikwete asked a question in her speech directly to another one of the partner NGO’s, Engender Health, about whether they could provide solar power units for the village hospital since they were often without power. Apparently since I was standing there on stage and since I was a white person, the people beside me figured that I was there as the representative for Engender Health and hence the whole big misunderstanding. Good thing the real representative decided to step in when he did. It would have been pretty bad if I went up and said my piece above in response to the first lady’s challenge to the NGO to provide the solar power!

faces in the crowd

As we make the one and a half hour drive back to Songea through the rolling hills and the scrubby forests that blanket the Southern Highlands of Tanzania, our MEDA truck is about 5 minutes behind the first lady’s vehicle and her convoy. All along the road home school children have lined the road to greet the motorcade and they wave freshly cut tree branches and the colourful green and gold flags of their political party. When another big white truck appears on the road they begin to wave,  jump up and down, and cheer loudly as we honk our horn and wave back. The sun is setting in that most wonderful East African manner that lights up the whole sky in bright pastels of pink, purple, and orange and it’s giving the whole scene a bit of a surreal feeling to end yet another surreal day here in Tanzania.  I’m sitting in the back of the truck soaking it all in and I tell you that you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I’m wondering to myself how I manage to get myself into these crazy situations but then I realize that this just seems to happen more over here and the ordinary has just become extraordinary on a more regular basis.

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The absent-minded Intern

The list of things I’ve now lost since arriving in Dar in September is starting to get embarrassing and expensive. I mean, I’ve always been a very absent minded person, misplacing keys, wallet, and the like – but here in Tanzania I’ve truly reached new heights/lows. In an effort to publicly shame myself into getting my act together and not losing any more stuff – I would like to publish my list of lost items after just 3 months in Tanzania:

  • 2 House keys falling out of pockets/loaned out
  • 1 old BlackBerry model left in a cab
  • 1 replacement cellphone left on a hotel table
  • 4 pairs of sunglasses – two lost, whereabouts unknown, and two broken
  • 1 headlamp probably on the bottom of a certain infamous swimming pool
  • 1 flashlight bought to replace the lost headlamp – stored on top of a broken vehicle while stopped but never retrieved before the vehicle moved again
  • 1 VISA card – whereabouts unknown
  • 1 i-Pod – Hopefully just lost and waiting to be found in the house, but likely picked from my backpack by some sneaky thief
  • 2 pairs of ear buds – one with the ipod and one somewhere in Germany
  • 1 pair of beloved sandals –left on the beach while gone dancing and not there when I returned
  • 1 USB key – whereabouts unknown1 pair of recently purchased gym shoes?
  • 1 Tanzania guide book – sorry Lonely Planet, wrong place at the wrong time
  • Every other sock in the once matching pairs I had brought
  • 1 pair of pants – “Pants? At a time like this!?” –okay, that one isn’t true (yet). I just wanted an excuse to use that line somewhere
  • At this rate I will be coming home with only the clothes on my back…let’s hope this public shaming will help.

    Would you trust this man with your valuables? well, you probably shouldn't.

    Red. Green. Blue.

    Well this post is running about three weeks behind schedule and the actual events since I returned from my U5CC issuing trip on November 9th – but hey, better late than never I guess.

    It was a real cool trip and definitely lived up to my expectations. It was also a bloody lot of driving. It was just over 1000 km each way from Dar es Salaam to the city of Songea where I was based. Including all of the driving we did on each day and the amount of the province of Ruvuma that I saw over my 9 days there I could easily add another 500-1000 km onto that. This puts me around a third of the way across the Trans-Canada Highway to put things into perspective and I can assure you that the roads were nowhere near as smooth.

    The other main thing that stuck out to me has to be the colours in this part of the country and hence the title of this blog post. Honestly, it was like someone had taken the Colour and Highlights tuners on a television set and cranked them up way too high and I was looking at the world through this RGB colour-distorted viewfinder. At almost all times I can think of one or more of these three colours was dominating the landscape.

    Somebody please turn down the RGB

    Green. The rain seemed to fall a bit more regularly here in the Southern Highlands than elsewhere in the country that I had visited and this was most evident in the many bright shades of green foliage found everywhere as pictured above.

    Red. The soil in Ruvuma was unbelievably bright red – everywhere I looked had some sign of the bright red dirt. The soil is also used to make the brick and mud for many of the buildings which results in the same neon reddish-brownish-orange tone in the majority of the buildings. It’s also fairly dusty the city of Songea (where I spent much of my time) and on the country roads. This results in pretty much everything else (including all my clothes and the aforementioned dusty feet) being covered by a coating of this colour.

    You can see the red soil in the region from high above in google maps!

    Blue: The colour blue also holds a dominant place in the memories from this trip. Maybe it was just being out of the city and (relatively) tall buildings, but the sky seemed enormous here. Blue is also the colour of the mosquito nets being distributed as you will see in some photos below so this played a pretty major role in my days.

    Observations and a few things I learned:

    • This is U5CC Campaign MEDA is running is a huge operation. It really blew my mind to think that I was witnessing this mass distribution of free Long-Lasting Insecticide Nets (LLINs) in action in just a small handful of issuing points at the village level and imagine this happening across the country. To give you a better idea.. there were about 1-4 issuing points in each village. There are about 5-8 villages/streets in each Ward. There are about 10-20 Wards in each District. There are 133 districts across the 21 Regions of mainland Tanzania that the U5CC covers. To efficiently plan, organize, and distribute close to 7 million of these LLIN’s to a population so spread out across the country and hard to reach is just an amazing logistical achievement.

    4 of the 7 million LLIN nets distributed through the U5CC program

    • This guy can be a scary thing too little kids in areas where mzungu’s don’t often tread. I had it mentioned to me by parents in a few situations where I made kids run away or cry that I was probably the first white person that their kid had seen. I was honoured.

    Would you just look at the pure fear in those big brown eyes...

    • The real work is getting done in the field. These are the troops on the ground and the staff that really know what is happening with the program. Just from being in the field for a week and a half I was quick to realize a number of misconceptions that I had been operating under while working away at HQ and areas where communication can really be improved. It’s a pretty basic observation I guess – but one that should always be kept in mind in any job and any organization – if you want to know what’s really happening be sure to keep in open communication with the front lines.

    Line-up for nets at a Issuing point in the city of Mbinga

    • I really don’t know much swahili yet. I had felt like I was making some steady but slow progress while in the safe confines of our swahili lessons, english speaking work, and the big city of Dar. Going out to Ruvuma where there is very, very little english spoken and not much of an effort made to accomodate the english speaker – you realize just how little you really do know.

    A LLIN from the U5CC program in use

    • I would be much more effective if I did know the language. It was a great trip and I accomplished everything that I had hoped coming into it. I observed the program in action, took notes, asked questions, interviewed stakeholders, and snapped lots of good pictures for future promotional use – BUT I did really feel quite helpless and useless a good portion of the time as I sat there lost in a verbal sea of swahili… managing to pick out and understand only every 4th or 5th word. If nothing else it was very motivating to try and speed up my learning (Editors note: I’ve been back for 3 weeks and this has not yet happened).

    And now for a small sample of the 500+ pictures that I took on the trip…

    Tea fields at sunset on the road down south

    Goofing around for the camera in Songea

    Fish from Lake Nyasa drying in the sun with Tanzanian coast in the background

    Looking down a fish drying rack to the world's 8th largest lake

    Children on wooden canoe with Lake Nyasa/Malawi in the background

    A recent mother laughs at my request for her to model her recently collected mosquito net

    Waiting in line with registration card

    The Tanzanian way of life is full of colour whether kangas, flip-flops, or dirt.

    Learning to carry things on her head early

    Hope you enjoyed the pictures!

    I will aim to have Part II of my posts from this field trip up soon which will tell you a story about one particular afternoon of my time down in Ruvuma.  What happens when Dan meets the First Lady of Tanzania? A new episode in detail called “Mama Kikwete and Me”.  Stay tuned.

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    So what do you reccomend doing around here?/ In your face, Lonely Planet

    On a number of occasions now while in transport to my destination I’ve found myself sitting beside locals and quickly brought into a friendly conversation.  I have read that Tanzanians have a reputation as being amongst the friendliest people in Africa and they are living up their reputation so far, often chatting up the person beside them if the chance arises. The other thing about these encounters is that people are so quick to exchange mobile numbers. There really appears to be no pre-requisite establishment of a relationship or interest in continued contact before asking someone for their mobile number. I think my record so far after one month is an offer to exchange numbers about  7 words spoken into the conversation.

    In these aforementioned situation-  as the new arrival interacting with a local who clearly has much more knowledge of the area – I’ve asked on a few different occasions what there is to do or what activities/sights/events they would recommend for me to do in Dar es Salaam/Zanzibar/or any given destination.

    The pride of New Hamburg...

    Now I don’t claim to be a professional statistician and I’ll readily admit that my sample size here might leave some pretty huge holes in the proof of my theory – but the answer has been the same each time. They say “not much” to do there – just “meet people and talk with them…get to know the people and that’s what I would reccomend”. I figure that might be understandable if you were asking that question cruising down the 7&8 Highway into New Hamburg, Ontario.. (No disrespect to North America’s largest operating water wheel meant)

    –but in this first situation where I was on the plane flying into Dar es Salaam for the first time – we were talking about a country’s largest city, a place with over 3 million people ..surely there is something you could recommend  for a wide-eyed, fresh off the plane young man to do here (even through Lonely Planet dismisses my new home saying there aren’t many ‘sights’ and “an increasing number of visitors bypass Dar completely…”). Needless to say, the best times thus far have just involved hanging out with the people we’ve been meeting and not so much packing our days with sights and to do lists.

    the boats of zanzibar at sunset

    Another example was on the ferry to the island of Zanzibar, a world famous tropical African paradise just off the coast from Dar. This was the Eid weekend (Sept 18-21st) which celebrates the end of the holy month of Ramadan and we were excited to be there for the big celebrations. On the ferry on the way over, I met some folks who lived in the main city of Stonetown and eventually the topic came up and I asked what he recommended doing during our visit. But same result…not much to do, just walk around, talk to the people, make friends and chill out. No mention of Omani mosques, Portuguese forts, the rich history of the last operating slave market in the world, or the famous beaches and coral reefs that make this one of Africa’s most visited destinations.

    mosque & church in Stonetown, Zanzibar

    Well, I’m sure you can guess where this is going but it turns out they seemed to know what they were talking about and the best time we had on our long weekend getaway to the island was indeed not in the Lonely Planet.  We met a young man named Elvis who was a tour guide in the old slave market area in Stonetown, Zanzibar and our whole long weekend changed.  On a brief side note, the slave trade history in Zanzibar is  a very fascinating story and although nothing much really remains today of the this place where millions of humans were bought and sold each year – its a must-see place to visit and try to understand from the tours and historical plaques.

    It’s a tough thing to capture – the camera doesn’t record it and the friendships formed are always difficult to record in words, so I won’t try to go into much detail of the adventures and inevitably fail. All  of us being immature guys we got along great right from the start when he opened up to us about his quest for the love of a muzungu lady.  We ended up spending the whole weekend with Elvis, just touring around the winding, narrow streets of Stonetown saying hi to everyone he knew in town (i.e. the whole population) and visiting the nearby island beaches with him and his friends. The jokes flowed and good times were had by all. We even had the opportunity to visit his family home just outside the city and sat around and chatted with the extended family for awhile.

    Overall, an excellent Eid long weekend and we barely opened the Lonely Planet book…

    Elvis & family

    p.s. Maybe it would have been a good idea to open the Lonely Planet book….Zach and I didn’t bother learning before hand that passports were required to pass through customs at the island docks and didn’t bring ours.  I can now say that I have  ran through an official customs station and successfully hid from their customs officials  - a fine addition to any resume.

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