May 27, 2010

I heart Dar es Salaam.

Andrei returned this week after a month on the road fulfilling his dutiful and newfound role as an international development consultant. I naively thought that his move to Tanzania would effectively put to an end such extended lengths of time apart on account of work, but alas it seems we have signed up for a lifetime of this, barring a radical career move on both our parts, which seems unlikely at best, at least in the near term future.

I have always found myself experiencing bouts of loneliness when Andrei is away for such great lengths, but also, I find that I appreciate the time to focus on myself and enjoy these stretches as periods of self-imposed “hibernation.” In his month’s long absence, I managed to discover a new gym and develop a new routine around step aerobics, I “toured” Mikumi National Park and caught a welcome glimpse of life outside of Dar, I read three books, I learned to drive in Dar es Salaam and learned how to change the engine oil in our “new-to-us” RAV4, I learned how to bet on racing goats, and I indulged regular invites to work as crew on sailing boats and snorkel and swim in the Indian Ocean.

Despite the excitement and whirlwind activity described above, I experienced a great deal of idle time and (rather embarrassingly) filled this void by indulging a long held guilty pleasure – back to back episodes of Sex and the City. This three season binge culminated with the last episode in Season 4 entitled “I heart NY,” which struck me as oddly coincidental following my recent blog post entitled the very same.

Feeling particularly restless following this episode, I stepped outside onto our terrace overlooking the Indian Ocean to catch a breath of fresh air and finish my glass of less than impressive South African Sauvignon Blanc. Our terrace was flooded with light from the almost full moon. Despite the moon’s fullness, the stars were bright and vivid, almost 3-D in appearance, pulsing in the sky. I then noticed several unidentifiable shapes in the water below. It seems too many episodes of Sex and the City got the better of me, at first I confused the shadowy figures in the water for a young, breathless couple making out, only to realize instead, that these were two local fishermen casting their fishing nets. As I watched them lay their nets in perfectly formed co-centric circles, the fact that this was surely back-breaking and tireless work momentarily escaped me, rather it all appeared romantic and dreamy from the distance off our balcony. The sound of the tide coming in and the breaking waves on the shoreline was only eclipsed by the sound of the low-flying KLM flight from Amsterdam landing in DAR like clockwork at 11:30pm.

While I “heart” NY, it can wait. I have no doubt I will live there at some point in my life. Right now, I “heart” Dar es Salaam. I still have much to learn here, and am only now beginning to overcome some of the initial shock and steep learning curves that inevitably come with the process of learning to call a new place home, especially one that is so free of any influences from the place you otherwise know as home.

Prior to our move here, a good friend who received his terminal degree in Anthropology warned, you will be surprised to find yourself in a place that is so free of American influences. He and I had formed a friendship and developed a bond by sharing stories of our travels in Honduras, he as a PhD candidate conducting his field research in the Bay Islands of Honduras in the late 1970s, me nearly 25 years later as a Peace Corps volunteer. Honduras is a country that seems wholly unable to escape the influence of the United States, thanks in part to the Monroe Doctrine, a foreign policy introduced in 1823 that essentially remains “in tact” nearly two centuries later.

Tanzania, by comparison, seems far removed from the grips of American influence. Surely there are signs of it here and there, but beyond the world of foreign assistance and international aid, you really must dig deep to find compelling signs of America’s influence here. While news of Africa barely reaches the United States, the news we receive is decidedly Africa-centric (thank you BBC World Service). The United States, long complacent in its role as the world’s sole hegemony, is quickly being usurped by the Indians, who are undeniably the heart and soul of the Tanzanian business community, and the Chinese, who are pouring money into this country in the form of infrastructure investments and in turn paving the way for formidable economic advancements in their interest. The music on the streets is of a self-described “bongo-flavor” with American music only sprinkled in on the rare occasion for other “flavor.” An American manufactured car is a rare sight on the streets here, while Toyota seems to have an almost exclusive agreement with the car dealers of Dar. Similarly, while in Central America public transit often takes the form of American yellow school bus cast-offs, here the fleets of dala-dalas crawling through the slogs of traffic are almost exclusively the hand-me-downs of larger Asia cities.

Despite this, it was only yesterday that my friend’s insights really hit home, when I learned not only that there was sequel of a Sex and the City in the works, but that it is scheduled to open in theatres today! The media coverage casually asserted, “No matter who you are, where you're from, or if you've got two X chromosomes or just one, chances are you've probably heard about the imminent release of Sex and the City 2,” further yet, “With all the hype surrounding Sex And The City 2, you'd have to be living in Antarctica if you didn't know it's opening.” Or Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.


References and Photo Credits:

May 25, 2010

A Day at the Races.

After reading tantalizing tales about one of my long favorite spring time traditions in the U.S. - horse racing at Foxfield in Charlottesville, I am pleased to share my stories about a day at the races - Tanzanian style.

The parallels with this charming American tradition were many. People came out dressed in their best UK Royal Ascot horse racing inspired, neo-colonial attire. Striking sun hats were the star of the show. Champagne and other select booze were flowing like the miracle of wine the Wedding at Cana.
The stakes were high with cash prizes ranging from 600,000 Tsh to 2,400,000 Tsh (approximately US$450 to $1750). Amidst the cheers of celebrations and mirth and merriment of the winners' circles, some tears were shed among those with less than favorable results.
The event enjoyed high level sponsorship from the Dar elite, all under the guise of supporting over a dozen small Tanzanian organisations that use these charitably raised monies towards their aims of making significant and sustainable impacts and benefits within the wider communities where they work.
But the one key difference here is that these were not horse races, but rather goat races!
This East African tradition of Goat Racing got its start in Uganda several years ago when some enterprising members of the business community were seeking unique ways to raise money for charity. The theme "Ascot with a Difference" began to take shape. The example of a pig race, held in Zimbabwe in 1991 for the 50th birthday of a well-known horse breeder with insufficient garden space to host a fully-fledged horse race, eventually morphed into the Goat Races. The abundance of goats in East Africa made this animal the perfect choice to model a typical horse race with a special and fun twist. As with horse racing, betting is a central feature of the day. Ten goats compete in each race, with jockeys (behind, infront, beside, under...) needed to bring forth every drop of persuasive skill and mental creativity to cajole their steeds towards the finishing line in a fair and proper manner. Before each race, the goats parade proudly around the ring, giving spectators and betters alike the chance to seek visual signs of genius or winning prowess and augment their chance of winning!


May 24, 2010

An (Un)Inspiring Visit to a Livestock Market.

A little while back, we visited what is supposedly the largest livestock market on the African continent: Pugu Livestock Market, located just outside of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. An average of 300-400 cattle are sold daily at Pugu. The livestock begin their journey to Pugu from the farthest reaches of Tanzania in a network of over 300 primary markets, where they are in turn herded along trails that have been used for centuries to reach one of the 12 secondary markets located in Arusha, Dodoma, Singida, Tabora, Shinyanga, Kagera, Mwanza, Mbeya and Mara and eventually one of the 4 terminal markets, including Pugu. Historically, livestock were transported to secondary and terminal markets via rail, while today they are mainly transported via truck, otherwise known as a lorry.

As with most cattle markets around the world, it is energetic middlemen that rule the trade markets, harbingers of prized information that in part dictates the sale price. Middlemen work with traders, who in turn work with the cattle owners or farmers. In some regions of Tanzania there exist, market spies, or mkulima shushushu, who are hired to give farmers an upper hand in the sales transactions. The spies gather market intelligence including information on prices, demand, quantity, and the quality of other farmer's goods and help link farmers to potential buyers. Interestingly, the majority of animals in Tanzania never step foot on a scale, instead animal weights and grades are visually estimated, even at Pugu where a functioning scale is installed.
Despite this quite impressive backstory, our visit was in fact, less than impressive. A sleepy feeling pervaded the place, and we could not help but feel we were being watched with deep suspicion as unwelcome outsiders to this scene.

But the one thing that left quite an impression on me from this visit was the variety and size of cow horns that we saw within the market. Shortly thereafter I purchased my very own cow horn, and I simply love it. I am now obsessing about how I will later put it to use.

References and Photo Credits:

Photo #1: Andrei Sinioukov

Photo #2:

Photo #3:

Photo #4: Miles Redd, via Rooms to Inspire book

Photo #5: source unknown

I heart NY.

I am craving this.
And this.
And this.
And this.
And this.
And this.
I have not seen a scallop, burrata cheese, an oyster, a brussel sprout, a tortilla, or romaine lettuce in months. But alas, most of these things will have to wait. Yet, I continue to read my favorite cooking blogs here as if this is some sort of forced sadistic ritual.

But this past weekend I was able to satisfy one intense craving, thanks to the dutiful courier efforts of a good friend, Kate, who recently travelled to NY from Dar es Salaam. After spending 8 years in NYC, and practicing the sacred Sunday brunch ritual, Kate was determined to make this tradition a reality here. So among the many other goodies she carried back to Dar es Salaam, she tucked a dozen frozen NY bagels into her luggage and lugged them back here from the U.S. Complete with smoked fish, mimosas, and bloody marys, we were delighted to introduce this tradition to several unsuspecting Tanzanian friends. Seriously, what more can you ask for?!

Authentic NY style bagels toasted to perfection in Dar es Salaam. This was a never before seen sight for some around the table.
And of course what bagel would be complete without "original" Philadelphia style cream cheese?
Incidentally, Andrei returns to Dar this Wednesday after being on the road for a month. It is a well known "fact" that anyone traveling outside of Tanzania is expected to fulfill these "courier" duties and bring back loot from the outside world for those left behind. While mostly centered around food items not found here, requests for goodies from the outside world range from the mundane and typical to the totally bizarre - dark chocolate, q-tips, deodorants and fancy soaps, California reserve Chardonnay, a car vacuum cleaner, white athletic socks, magazines, blackberry cell phones, salad dressing, honestly the list goes on and on, but I think you get the point...Andrei promises his return will be like Christmas in June, I am giddy with anticipation!


Photo Credits:

For the Love of Zebras.

Mikumi National Park is home to many zebras, although I was not fortunate enough to see one from my bus window on my recent happenstance "safari" through Mikumi. I think zebras are phenomenally striking animals and I have long been obsessed with the use of zebra print in interior design schemes. In fact, soon after moving here I purchased a large zebra-print pot (note emphasis on the word large - much to Andrei's chagrin, the thing weighs approximately 50 pounds and was quite a nightmare to get into our second floor apartment) and filled it with a lucious, green plant that really flourished once we introduced it into our home (this seemed to make up for Andrei suffering back pain from the move into our apartment, well only sort of...).
In her book, Its Our Turn to Eat, Michela Wrong included a brief passage about the lack of innovation and inspiration in interior design schemes throughout former British colonies of East Africa. She writes, "There’s a certain sameness about presidential lodgings in Britain’s former African colonies, and Nairobi’s State House, the former colonial governor’s residence, is no exception. Fall asleep in the waiting room and on waking you could, in that bleary moment of confusion, think yourself in State House, Zambia; State House, Tanzania; or State House Uganda. Behind the white-pillared porticoes they present to the world, these buildings are resolutely dowdy, content to remain stubbornly out of touch with modern trends in interior design. No stark minimalism here, no streamlined vistas, no clever games with reflection and light. The d├ęcor is dark wood paneling, chintz sofas, red carpets and thick velvet drapes. The taste in pictures will usually be execrable: an anaemic watercolor of an English country scene, an uplifting motto urging the reader on to greater Christian efforts, an oil portrait of the incumbent so approximate it could have been sat for by someone else entirely. The carpet will be worn through in places, a clumsily carved piece of animal Africana will take up a great deal of space. The overall impression is of a dusty members’ club crossed with a gloomy British country pub, and the effect is to make those indoors pine for the fresh green of the formal gardens outside, the only real area of beauty."

This passage got me thinking, why does Tanzanian decor error on the side of drab and chintzy, even in what should otherwise be regal settings or even among those of great wealth, when there are so many sources of natural inspiration around? For example, sometimes a little zebra print can make a big impact in a room.

But after obsessing over so many pictures of zebra inspired design, the real question that started to nag me is should I feel guilty about my love of zebra skin rugs and other interior elements - is the use of zebra skin really a practice to be condoning? I tried to get to the bottom of this question. Here is what I was able to find out. If you ever find yourself in the market for a zebra skin rug, you might want to consider the following.

There are three species of zebra in the world, the Burchell, Grevy, and Hartman. Of these three zebra species in existence, only the Burchell’s Zebra is not endangered. The Burchell's Zebra is essentially Africa's version of the horse, distinguished by its black and white color patterning. The practice of "culling" zebras, among many other wild animals in Africa, is legally sanctioned when fears of overpopulation exist. When culling is practiced (needless to say culling is not practiced against endangered species), Zebras aren’t killed just for the purpose of selling their skins, rather their skins are made into rugs to avoid waste.

Within the U.S. as with most countries around the world, it is legal to sell, buy, and possess Burchell's Zebra species' hides, or the skin of the animal once tanned. Rugs from these non-endangered zebra species are allowed to be legally imported into the U.S. only once the merchant has provided all necessary paperwork and documentation, including the so called "Trophy Export Certificate," the document proving the skin purchased has been legally obtained from the country of origin, as well as the "Veterinary Health Certificate," certifying that your zebra skin is indeed disease-free and in compliance with the international zoo sanitary code. Both of these documents should be provided by the vendor at the time of transaction, if your vendor is not able or willing to supply these documents, you best seek another vendor.

But given that the source of most of this information was through the rug dealers themselves, I decided to dig a little bit deeper, especially given the prolific appearances of zebra skin rugs in home design blogs and magazines. I was still left wondering, is all of this really as kosher as it sounds? A couple of friends here who work with a reputable international organization dealing with conversation issues helped fill in the gaps.

Here in Tanzania, wild life hunting is legally sanctioned, of course not inside national parks, but rather in game reserves. It turns out, sometimes game reserves can be safer havens for the animals because hunting is more regulated and also the money generated by hunting affords more patrols to keep poachers out (the price tag to come in and shoot a wild animal is steep beyond imagination - upwards of $30,000). There are official hunting seasons in Tanzania and you can only shoot male species.

Despite formal and high level regulations around hunting, poaching and illegal hunting pratices are a real concern. For example, just recently, I learned of a large illegal shipment of elephant tusks discovered by customs officials in Vietnam originating in Kenya destined for China. This incident continues to be investigated by Kenyan wildlife officials to determine in the shipment originated in Kenya or just passed through there in transit from another country, say perhaps its neighbor, Tanzania. But conservationists report that elephant poaching in East Africa has been in the rise in recent years, and is in part driven by a high level of demand for ivory in Asia, which must be traded on the black market since international ivory trade was banned in 1989. Yet, illegally traded ivory continues to fetch a high price of about $20 per kilogram, making poaching a highly sought-after job among rural poor in East Africa.  There have long existed tensions between Kenya and Tanzania around conservation issues. Only recently, Tanzania lobbied the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species to allow a one-time sale of stockpiled ivory, promising to use the profits to boost wildlife conservation but their request was turned down and some parliament members in Dar-es-Salaam angrily accused Kenya of spreading negative information that helped sabotage Tanzania's efforts.  


References and Photo Credit:

Photo 1:

Please note: I lost the file where I had saved the references for the above home design pictures containing zebra print interior design elements, if anyone can help me locate the source of these pictures, it would be greatly appreciated.

May 20, 2010

A Teaser.

I was recently dispatched to Iringa from CARE's country office headquarters in Dar es Salaam via Morogoro. This was a noteworthy trip for many reasons, but chief among them, the road that connects Morogoro to Iringa cuts straight through Mikumi National Park, Tanzania's fourth-largest park, which  is notably part of a much larger ecosystem connected to the well known and highly revered Selous Game Reserve - its neighbor to the South.

Upon entering the park, you are greeted with a rather ominous sign reading, "Danger, Wild Animals, Drive with Caution." A poignant reminder that you are in fact in Africa. This cautionary message seemed to be lost on our bus driver, who drove at breakneck speed through the park (my thoughts on having a national highway intersect a national park merit another blog post altogether). Nevertheless, I was flooded with great anticipation and excitement, like a little kid at the zoo, oh wait, poor choice of words, lest I remind myself I was experiencing the real thing, wild animals in their native habitat.

As I actively scanned my surroundings, I initially felt like there was a desert-like mirage effect. Is that a giraffe? No, no, that is just a tall, skinny tree. Oh my, could that be an elephant? No, no, that is just a large rock off in the distance...It seems my excitement got ahead of me.

Until, I saw the real thing. Without even officially entering the park, nor even leaving the tarmac road, I was able to see from my bus window giraffes, elephants, wildebeest, antelope, gazelles and baboons galore. As I watched, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, my neighbors in the bus paid little to no attention. Instead, they were consumed with interest in the Nigerian film playing on the bus about native African peoples in the African bush. Yes, the irony was almost too much to swallow, watching a video on the African bush instead of appreciating the actual surroundings of the African bush while driving through a national park and conservation area. Some people around me even hung kangas in their window as we drove through the park to block out the sun. Alone in my excitement, I suspect that this was merely a teaser for the grand adventure we have planned at the end of August, a 3 day game drive safari through some of Tanzania's most spectacular national parks. For those who plan to join us, I have no doubt it will be amazing.

References and Photo Credits: