July 29, 2010

Offer of a Lifetime.

I am offering a free hippo ride to anyone who can guess where this picture was taken.

Photo Credit: Andrei Sinioukov

Inspired by Nature.

July 27, 2010

Laws and Lawlessness.

A very quick, albeit naive, observation about life here is that Tanzania is completely lawless. Pure chaos. Yes, examples of corruption run rampant, and yes, people act above the law given access to people with clout or their ability to buy themselves out of most situations. And, of course, these examples emanate from even most prominent of political leaders, in other words, the very people people who should be leading by example, rather than flanking the law and then in turn expecting others to do as they say not as they do. 

Over dinner last night, someone posed the question, if things are truly as chaotic here as they seem to be, why then are there not more examples of people doing "bad" things, or rather people taking advantage of such lawlessness.  While I am in no position to answer such a loaded question with any sense of authority, the longer I have been here, the more I have learned that the appearance of chaos and lawlessness actually masks a deeply ingrained fabric of social and communal norms, where the ideals of "justice" and "retribution" and checks on errant social behavior exist in ways that are too foreign for us to recognize.

By comparison, Thailand was replete with overt rules imposing a strict sense of social order. One of the hotels we checked into in Bangkok, The Atlanta, was adorned with a bold warning on the front door, "sex tourists not welcome".  As if that simple rule was not clearly understood, their check-in procedures made clear the extent to which they take themselves seriously, further stating, "The Atlanta has a 'zero tolerance' policy with regard to trouble-makers and all illegal activities, including the use or possession of illicit drugs. Such miscreants are reported to the police without advance warning, without hesitation and without apology. Those who object to this policy, and those who wish to spend their time in Thailand whoring, indulging in alcohol abuse, drugs or other illegal activities should stay elsewhere."

Get it. Got it. Good.

Around Bangkok, every taxi van was adorned with the below sticker. Yes, yes, we get it, these are the rules of riding.
But on closer inspection, these rules were suddenly not so clear. Our roommate's six year old daughter clarified that the middle picture made a pronouncement against "wrestling" in the vehicle. Hmm, ok. And the last "rule" still leaves us scratching our heads. No horned animals? A good explanation for this one still eludes us.

In Bangkok's SkyTrain system, the exact locations where train doors will be after the train has come to a complete stop are marked on the platform as shown.
Incredibly people queue up in perfectly formed single file lines waiting to board the train until all exiting passengers have departed. Unfortunately, I never managed to capture an image of this. The orderliness of it all was particularly impressive to me, especially as in Tanzania, our immediate baseline of comparison, boarding a bus, or rather a "dala-dala," involves the herculean feat of guarding your valuables with your life and stampede-like conditions to jostle onto the bus first to secure standing space. Admittedly, even public transit systems in America cannot claim such a high level of respect and orderliness.

Within 15 minutes upon our return to Tanzania, en route home from the airport, the conversation went something like this:

Andrei, "Holy sh*t, Matty, I think that there is a huge fight going on over there."

Matty, "Oh really?" [pauses to glance in the direction indicated]

Matty, "Wait, no, actually I think those people are just boarding the dala-dala. Its always a mob scene like that."

Andrei, "Oh right, there is a nice reminder of what we have returned back to."

For better or worse, right?

July 22, 2010

A Picture for You.

Recently, an ex-boyfriend revealed that he had discovered my blog and peruses it on occasion. He was quick to comment that I have not posted many pictures of Andrei and myself. Perhaps he is just interested in confirming that his new girlfriend is skinnier and hotter than me, and that he is in better shape than Andrei (all of the above likely true...). Nonetheless, he said, if the purpose of your blog is to keep in touch with folks from home, then perhaps some pictures of you guys would better help serve that function. Someone else reminded me that pictures of ourselves can add a nice personal element to my blogging "voice" (aka interrupt my habit of presenting banal musings on topics of complete irrelevance to most readers). In the interest of pleasing all concerned parties, I share the following pictures.

July 21, 2010

Rothschild Giraffe Facts.

As a follow up to my recent post about our visit to Nairobi's giraffe center, I thought it might be interesting to share some facts about this endangered subspecies of Giraffe.

There is only one species of giraffe, Giraffa Camelopardalis, however there are 9 subspecies to this, one being the endangered Rothschild. The Rothschild can be differentiated by their spot colors, mature males having 5 horns, and a lack of spots below their knees.

Body Size:
Giraffe are the tallest land mamals. Bulls are about 5.5 meters (16-18 ft) and weigh around 1800kg (3000lbs). Cows are smaller, about 4.2-4.9 meters (14-16ft) tall and weigh around 1134kg (2500lbs).

Life Expectancy:
In captivity Giraffes can live up to 28 years old. However, in the wild their average life expectancy is about 10-15 years.

Giraffes are grazing herbivores with 4 stomachs. Their favorite food is the leaves of the acacia tree. Adult bulls consume approximately 35kg (75lbs) of food daily, and can eat as much as 65kg at a time.

15 months. Calf birth weight is around 68kg (150lbs) and they stand up to 2m (5ft) tall. Within one hour a calf is able to walk and suckle milk from its mother. Calves suckle for 10-12 months and start eating other food a few days to weeks after birth.

The largest cats and hyenas prey upon calves. On rare occassions adult giraffe are attacked when seated or drinking as are the elderly and sick.

Giraffes have height advantage (duh!) with excellent vision. Their long legs are used as weapons in defence with powerful kicks. Giraffe can run up to 56km/h (35mph). Bulls also use their heads as weapons when two males are determining who the dominant animal is.

The heart is large - weighing 11 kg (25lbs) and measuring .3m by .6m (2ft by 1ft). It can pump up tp 76 liters (20 gallons) per minute and generates blood pressure 3 times greater than that of humans.

Giraffe rest during the hottest part of the day, usually standing, but will also lie down to rest with legs tucked beneath the body and the head held up high. Giraffes sleep no more than 5 to 30 minutes in 24 hours.

Social behavior:
Giraffe are social and live in family herds of 2 to 50 animals. Herds are territorial while browsing, with a dominant male present.




Animal Shapes.

Andrei's favorite safari animal.
My favorite safari animal.
Our favorite song about animals.

July 20, 2010

Reaching for the Sky.

Blue Ribbon.

This Way.

Giraffe Manor.

Its reputation precedes it, for better or worse.

In September, before even landing in East Africa, I was told by a fellow penniless intern in DC, "You must visit the famous giraffe hotel in Nairobi." My curiosity was piqued.

After my arrival here, I stumbled across a feature on this same "very special hotel in Nairobi" in one of my favorite blogs. The author's desire to visit Kenya was confirmed after seeing the movie Out of Africa. As someone who described staying in a tent as neither her idea of fun nor a proper vacation, her dream vacation to Africa centers around "fabulous" 5 star accommodations, including this one. My interest began to wane.

Momentarily breaking ourselves free from the rather aggressive pursuits of tourist touts at Jomo Kenyatta airport, we asked a local man for his ideas of what we must see and do during our one day in Nairobi, "Oh, you must go to the Giraffe Center." He was the 3rd person within 20 minutes time to tell us we must visit this place. My waning interest turned to outright aversion. This has got to be a tourist trap we both agreed.

Despite this, later that day we ended up face to face with a family of giraffes, allowing them to lick pellets out of the palms of our hands. After a long trek through Ngong Hills, followed by a leisurely lunch, we still had several hours ahead of us before needing to return to the airport, and so we ended up at the Giraffe Manor. Our visit actually proved quite an interesting diversion.

The Giraffe Manor was built in 1932 by David Duncan of the "Macintosh Toffee" family, and is modelled on a Scottish hunting lodge. This mansion is complete with views of Mt. Kilimanjaro to the south and Ngong Hills to the west. This seemed an apt follow-up to our tour of Karen Blixen's home. In 1974, the grandson of a Scots Earl, Jock Leslie Melville and his American wife Betty bought the Manor to use as their home. Shortly thereafter, they moved two highly endangered Rothschild giraffe onto the estate where future generations have continued to thrive and live today. The Rothschild giraffe lost much of their natural habitat in western Kenya and faced extinction. Jock and Betty founded the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (AFEW), and the Giraffe Center was built on their property to provide a venue for Kenyan schoolchildren could learn more about conservation and ecology, complete with the ability to feed giraffe eye to eye. During our visit there, we were surrounded by excited and curious children in purple uniforms.

Profits from the admission fees paid to the Giraffe Center support various conservation projects in Kenya. When Jock died in 1984, Betty returned to the US and opened her house to visitors and it has continued to delight visitors ever since.

Photo Credit:
last photo: http://www.giraffemanor.com/docs1/history.htm

July 15, 2010

Run Like a Kenyan.

Recently Andrei and I traveled to Nairobi for the day. We woke at 3am, were picked up at 4am, departed from Dar es Salaam at 5am, and arrived into Nairobi at 6am. Luggage and agenda free, we had 11 hours of adventure ahead of us before our return flight home. While we both enjoy getting lost in urban settings, we have found that trekking through concrete jungles can make for a less than relaxing getaway. 

So instead we hired a driver for the day and headed straight to Ngong Hills, about a 40 minute drive outside of the city center. "Ngong," literally meaning "knuckles" in Maasai, is a series of 4 peaks overlooking the Great Rift Valley on one side and the skyline of Nairobi on the other side. These hils resemble the knuckles of a giant whose fate is the subject of several Masai legends.

At altitudes above 2000m, the air was thin and left us breathless. As we rested and enjoyed the views,
these guys ran circles around us. The Kenyans, famed for their running prowess, did not fail to impress.
But why is it that Kenyans are such good runners? The theories are many and varied.

According to some, high altitude running partially explains this phenomenon, as running at higher altitudes builds greater lung capacity as runners grow more used to the athletic rigors of thinner air. The vast majority of Kenya's most accomplished runners were born and raised at high altitude, hailing from a hilly region surrounding Eldoret ranging in altitude from 7,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level.

But certainly that alone cannot explain this phenomenon, as worldwide many populations live at high altitudes. One theory our driver explained to us in great detail is that the "Kenyan" running stardom actually lies mostly with one particular tribe, the Kalenjin. Though Kalenjins represent just 12 percent of Kenya's population, they comprise about three-quarters of the nation's elite runners. It was Kip Keino who kicked off this trend back in 1968 when he won Olympic gold for his winning performance in the 1,500 meter event. In 1972, added an Olympic steeplechase title. His successes apparently inspired succeeding generations of Kalenjins to seek distance-running titles.

Kip Keino, among many other Kalenjin marathon winners, are viewed as heros and idols for Kalenjin youth. However, not only are they admired for their athletic talent, but also because many young Kenyans view winning distance running titles as their ticket out of poverty. In races where winning cash prizes reach upwards of $100,000, surely this helps aspiring runners keep their eye on the prize. This in turn feeds the legacy and tradition of "Kenyan" running talent because as interest in running increases, so does the competition for much coveted positions on traveling squads and accordingly so does the intensity and difficulty of Kenyan training regimes.





July 8, 2010

My heart Swells with Pride.

The city we now call home recently ranked 12th out of 25 on a quite impressive list.
This Forbes list ranked the top 25 most dirty cities in the world. Dar landed itself the #12 spot both because of its souring population growth, which adds undue stress to the city's sanitation programs and also due to the fact that solid waste from the city enters directly into the Msimbazi River, which contributes widely to the spread of infectious diseases among Dar residents. You can scope out our competition here.

This list was developed based on the Mercer Human Resource Consulting's 2007 Health and Sanitation Rankings as part of their 2007 Quality of Life Report. This Report ranked 215 cities worldwide according to the following parameters: levels of air pollution, waste management, water potability, hospital services, medical supplies, and the presence of infectious disease. 

All joking aside, the realities for residents of most of these cities can be very harsh, in places where "black plumes of smoke, acid rain and free-flowing sewage are part of everyday life." Also, such conditions are almost guaranteed to bear negative affects on the population's health and by extension life expectancy. Not so surprisingly, life expectancy here is extremely low. The UN reports that life expectancy for men is 55 years, for women 56 years, while USAID estimates life expectancy to be a bit lower at 48 years (due in part of the ravaging effects of HIV/AIDS and malaria). In either case, these statistics paint a dire picture, and anecdotally, I can attest to the fact that it is a rare sight to see elderly people around here. I can only imagine the horrendous conditions and associated consequences for the health of the residents of the cities unfortunate enough to rank ahead of Dar es Salaam on this list.







July 6, 2010

The Impromtu Kitchen.

Among the group of six on our recent sailing/camping trip to Sinda Marine Reserve Island, the priorities and concerns we each held were quite distinct.

The Italian was worried about perfecting his tan lines, fearing he would not be permitted onto the beaches of his motherland on his upcoming trip should he happen to have a dreaded T-shirt or sock line on his otherwise perfectly tanned body. The French girl cast aside her typical worries about where to acquire the freshest baguette or most delicious crepe, and instead worried about where she would shower on the uninhabited island over the course of our one night stay and how she would wash her hands. The Ukrainian American was worried about toys and entertainment lest we find ourselves bored in tropical paradise, accordingly he brought a sound system and fully loaded 80gig ipod to serve as a backdrop to our stay on the island, in addition to a kite, several solar powered lamps, and a frisbee. The American boy was worried that we did not bring enough stuff, and sorely regretted leaving at home his camp table and chairs and not purchasing a Safari Cookbook nor a shovel (to dig what we were unsure). The American girl, new to Dar es Salaam, was perhaps just plain worried. And I, the former "fat kid" worried about my next snack turned wannabe "hostess extraordinaire" was chiefly worried about the meals we would consume.

Inspired by one of my favorite cooking blog authors, Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks, who regularly uses her blog as a forum to highlight the creativity she employs to produce truly inspired and healthy meals via campfire, I thought it would be interesting to share some of the "recipes" we relied on to feed ourselves over our two day's long adventure on a deserted island. A little bit of luck, some advance preparation, and the "everything always comes together in the end" potluck spirit made our weekend quite a culinary success.

To properly set the stage, it is important to give you a better understanding of the context we were operating in. Any time you are on the open waters off the coast of Dar es Salaam, it guaranteed that you will eventually cross paths with local fishermen in a wood carved traditional dhow. Opportune timing combined with good bargaining techniques may guarantee that the fresh catch of the day will become the central feature of your campfire dinner, however it is far from a guarantee.
On this trip it seemed both timing and the powers of persuasion were on our side, we managed to score a whole Changu, a barracuda, and an octopus off of local fishermen, needless to say all for the "best" price. When fish is this fresh, there is no need for a marinade or heavy spices to enhance the flavor - a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon as it finishes is enough to grill up a truly delicious meal.

Recognizing that it pays to be prepared in this environment, here are some of the dually inspired food items we packed in advance for our adventure.

The Italian very generously prepared pasta for the group, however it was consumed before we even lifted the anchor of Jammie Dodger and braved the swells of the Indian Ocean. It was delicious and full of flavor. Yet it was a very simple dish, consisting of only a few key ingredients - onions and garlic sauteed in a generous splash of olive oil, canned diced tomatoes, and browned bacon to finish off the tomato sauce and truly pack a flavorful punch. I forgot how easy it is throw together a quick pasta based meal when you are short on time but big on appetite. My hesitation is that it is nearly impossible to find whole wheat pasta options here in Tanzania.

Next up, I threw together a rice and bean salad. Creativity and improvization are encouraged in the following "recipe."

Begin with a large bowl.
Throw in some cooked rice (brown is my preference)
Choose two cups of your favorite bean(s) - I used a combination of garbanzo beans and kidney beans
Note: to save time, you can feel free to rely on canned beans - however, canned beans usually come pre-salted so you will need to adjust the dressing accordingly
Throw in a generous handful of diced scallions (green onions)
Peel and grate a large carrot into the bowl
Throw in several diced fresh tomatoes

To dress the salad: the more experienced cook can throw the following ingredients directly into the bowl and adjust according to taste, but the more novice may want to mix and adjust according to taste in a separate bowl before mixing with the other salad ingredients.
Add two glugs of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (approximately 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp)
Juice from 1/2 lemon + 1/2 lime
A generous pinch of salt
A generous pinch of cumin
A couple of winds from a fresh ground pepper mill
A dash of paprika
Optional: A dash of hot spice of your choosing (tabasco sauce, crushed red pepper flakes, a dash of cayenne pepper, etc)

And voila - a healthy, filling meal a matter of minutes! Yes, "cooking" can be that easy!

We also brought a package of sausages and pita bread to cook and toast over the campfire. The only thing missing in this winning combination were some whole grain mustards to add extra zip to the sandwich. Interestingly, if you can tell from the picture below - our makeshift campfire was created by gathering rocks, digging a hole and filling it with burning coals, and then placing the grill guard from a standard charcoal grill on the circle of rocks over the embering coals to create our cooking surface (in a pinch, we have even used a metal shelf from a refrigerator to achieve the same effect). In the absence of a proper grill utensils, Andrei used a stick to flip the grill contents.
A plum cake, a sliced mango, a fruit and nut chocolate bar, some local beef jerky, and a flask of whiskey were on the offering to complete the evening meal.

For the morning, I brought a dozen pre-boiled eggs, along with juices and fresh fruit. Someone in the group thought to bring along a pound of potatoes and foil. We were able to individually wrap the potatoes and throw them under the fire while we waited for our coffee and tea water to boil. The potatoes finished with a slightly crunchy outside and a warm, intensely flavorful inside. A dash of salt made this a perfect complement to the hard boiled eggs.

It was only in the morning that the rationale behind the secret desire to have a shovel accompany us on this journey was revealed. Apparently, the Safari Cookbook available in the local book shop highlighted a recipe for fried eggs via shovel for true campfire fun. Perhaps that is a trick we will remember for next time.

If you are interested in more camping culinary tricks, Heidi features a soup recipe that doubled as a block of ice when packed frozen in a plastic container and cooler for the first day of their adventure.
She also proves that with a little advance planning, a noodle-based gourmet meal is possible even in the most remote of settings.


Photo Credit:

Campfire: Rob Pettit

July 5, 2010

Absolut Paradise.

After a 3+ hour's long sail, beating against the wind and getting thrown about in 3 meter ocean swells, we arrived to Sinda Marine Reserve Island. Once my sea sickness and nausea subsided, I deemed this place absolut paradise.
While we were only 6 persons in total, we brought enough stuff to support a group 3 times our size for a period of time well beyond the one night we camped on Sinda. It took approximately 13 round trips to ensure our precious cargo was delivered from on board Jammie Dodger to the island.
Following the arrival of our not so dry goods, we set up our homes for the night in the "perfect" spot.
And then we moved them. Apparently, even in paradise indecision is a terrible force to reckon with.
After lowering the sails on Jammie Dodger for the evening, we hoisted a new "sail" to claim the island as our own (for the night anyway).
We prepared the staging grounds for our evening campfire and meal.
After we collected firewood and ignited the coals, we were left with just enough time to explore the island before sunset.
As dark fell, we were greeted by the island welcoming committee.
The island was literally swarming with enormous rats. Seeing them scurry about before dark was testament to this fact. We were outnumbered by far, and they made it clear we were in their territory. They were uncomfortably bold, nibbling on our freshy caught fish and our toes alike. In the morning our tent looked like an island in a sea of rat footprints.

But we survived to tell the tale, and enjoyed a wonderfully relaxing and calm sail back home. Maybe this is indeed absolut paradise, despite the island full of man eating rats.


Photo Credit:

Man Eating Rat: http://little-people.blogspot.com/