Posts Tagged swahili

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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Been spending most our lives, livin’ in this Mzungu Paradise…

Hey, hey, heyyyyy

He keeps a blog – he can obviously do a little writing – but did you know this dusty foot philosopher can also spit mad rhymes and throw lyrical hooks with the best of them? (since when is Coolio considered amongst the best of them?) Well kind of anyways…

I moved into our new place in Dar es Salaam two weeks ago now and so for the first time I am not living in the neighborhood we affectionately named “Mzungu Paradise” last year. Loving the new place and new neighbourhood thus far – but maybe I’ll give some updates on that another time. Upon my immediate return to Dar back in August, I was fortunate enough to be taken in by our awesome neighbours from last year while I looked for new housing and so I found myself living back in our same apartment block once again the first three weeks. Ah, how the memories came a’ floodin’ back and inspired the creative juices.

I very briefly discussed some thoughts about the neighborhood and housing we were set-up with in a past post -  and I also promised in that post to someday publish the world-wide debut of my alternate lyrics paying homage to our previous home. Well my friends, despite what CCR sings, this someday has finally come.

This production is based upon on a great tradition – begun while working at Hidden Acres and Fraser Lake Camps – and then honed while a member of the Bare Naked Frosh cover-group at Grebel – and so it is continued here. Taking the music of a popular song and changing the lyrics around for comedic/poetic(?) purposes. This is an art people. I have debated whether it was a good idea to post – but what is the internet for if not for freedom of speech/freedom to express crappy art? I certainly don’t want to cause controversy here or sound ungrateful for anything – I’m just poking some fun.

Orient your geographic-self with the neighborhoods of Dar es Salaam:

View Mzungu Paradise in a larger map

To give credit where it is due – the lyics below to Mzungu Paradise are roughly based off of Coolio’s – Gangsta’s Paradise and then really just changed into a simple rhyming pattern –  and also maybe a little of Weird Al Yankovitch’s parody – Amish Paradise. It is also probably necessary to pay homage to the original Stevie Wonder’s – Pastime Paradise. If you don’t know the tune – listen to them!

Mzungu Paradise

As I walk through these dusty streets of Dar es Salaam strange/

I take a look at my life and realize there’s been little change/

Cause life ain’t that hard for a mzungu like me/

When you live and work in the heart of Masaki/

If I had to speak more swahili that would be nice/

but it’s tough to learn when you live in Mzungu Paradise/

Only had to eat ugali na maharege once or twice/

Livin’ in this Mzungu Paradise…

At six in the mornin’, I can have a hot shower/

With our huge generator you know we never lose power/

You see those Tanesco rolling black-outs are just nothin’ to me/

But you know that this convenience has never come free/

Had to take a taxi home more than once or thrice/

Cause there ain’t no public transport here in Mzungu Paradise/

But  for the peninsula life you must pay the price/

Livin’ in this Mzungu Paradise…

I drink my coffee every morning from a french press/

Cause this AfriCafe instant shit just doesn’t impress/

Who’s idea was the pleather couches in this Dar heat?/

Jer, I’ll trade you for the bowl chair in a heart-beat/

Sippin’ Konyagi with zee Germans once or twice/

Sittin’ at the massive table in Mzungu Paradise/

A bigger kitchen than would ever suffice/

Livin’ in this Mzungu Paradise…

It’s a long way back to the university this at night/

Gotta stay ’till the bajaji’s come again at first daylight/

And that’s not just a line, you know that its true/

My smooth efforts aren’t that see-through/

Rockin’ mustaches straight outta’ Miami Vice/

As we roll through the paved streeets of Mzungu Paradise/

Just call our no-pants roof party ‘epic’ if you must be concise/

Livin’ in this Mzungu Paradise…

Sub-Saharan Africa ain’t so bad in this air-conditioned place/

Sometimes if you want sleep you just gotta embrace/

Living posh here amongst the Embassies and NGO’s/

Now you wish you didn’t know where your tax dollar goes/

It can be embarrassing, but can also be nice/

All these luxuries we have here in Mzungu Paradise/

Mixed feelings, but hey – it’s been a real slice/

Livin’ in this Mzungu Paradise…

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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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