June 29, 2011

Container Ships Among Us.

While the sight of container ships moored on the Indian Ocean somewhere near the Dar es Salaam coast line is an everyday occurrence for us, rare is the case that we get to see one of these container ships actually moving on the high seas. They are usually waiting in queue to enter Dar es Salaam's rather inefficient port system, often times for weeks, even months on end.

For anyone who has not seen one of these container ships up close and personal, I can attest - they are massive with a capital M.
We used to sail almost every weekend here in Dar es Salaam, which unfortunately seems to have been a short lived thrill in our lives here, but the more enduring thrill for me was sailing between and among these container ships moored on the Indian Ocean outside of Dar es Salaam. From a yacht (aka "tiny sail boat") below assessing the sheer size of these ships proved to be a contortionist act. Incidentally, I remember the first time I visited NYC with an ex-boyfriend and his jaw was agape and his necked craned for the duration of our visit, as he was completely awestruck by the size and height of the city. In much the same way, Andrei had to calm me down on several sailing trips.

One time, we witnessed a guy catch a ride to one of these ships on a ferry that provides transport to a nearby island. The ferry is not small by any means, and holds the capacity to carry upwards of a 100 or so people. Our ferry started to get precariously close to this container ship moored in the Dar es Salaam Bay. Suddenly a rope ladder unfurls from the enormous container ship, it must have seriously been 75 feet in length with wooden "stairs" to aid in the ascent to the container ship. A man standing at the bow of the ferry takes flight and lands squarely on the rope ladder, which then begins to swing in 60 degree arcs from the pendulum-like weight of his body. I watched in awe as he scaled the 8 story container ship. It was obvious he had some practice in doing so, although I have no doubt I bit all of my nails off in the mean time.

Interestingly, on our once upon a time regular sailing trips, we started to see "scare-a-pirates" perched on the bows of these container ships, in what appeared to be a feeble attempt to outwit Somali pirates with an ever-expanding reach and choke hold on the region. Literally, there were stuffed human like "bodies" tied to the bow of the ship. You can imagine the Somali conversation that takes place upon notice of one of these creatures. Should we? No way man, look at that lifeless watchman, it is clear these guys are prepared to defend themselves. Right, let's get outta here, QUICK! Um, right?

The Cost of Doing Business.

Did I mention in yesterday's post that the Dar es Salaam port system is horrifically slow?! Just as Tony Wheeler of Unlikely Destinations describes the need for freight agents (well, at least its a luxury for those that can afford such a service anyway...), I believe here in Dar es Salaam a whole spring up industry has been created on the heels of Dar's notoriously inefficient speed to get container ships into the port system, unload them, and move goods further afield.

Frankly, on a personal level, the inefficient port system of Dar es Salaam affects us most on a day-to-day basis with respect to being able to find a decent and worthy bottle of wine. Most of the wines that can be found around Tanzania are of South African origin and the majority of them have spent several months awaiting arrival into Tanzania's port system on the high seas - where they have reached boiling temperatures and have become something totally unrecognizable from their original form.

But aside from this rather petty gripe (all things considered, hey?), the consequences of inadequate infrastructure to support an efficient transfer of goods can be a lot more damaging. We have a friend here who is in the computer purchasing and distribution business. And you may be surprised to learn that most computers do not originate from Tanzania and therefore must be imported into the country (riiiight?). His job (and therefore livelihood) is pretty much wholly dependent on Dar es Salaam's port system. His stories are colorful, at times hilarious, shocking, but usually just down right depressing. Much as Tony Wheeler describes in his book, throughout history clever approaches and tricks have been employed to jump to the front of the queue, but here in Tanzania, bribery appears to be the name of the game. For private sector business, some of these "informal payments" go down in the books as just the cost of doing business, however this of course becomes a tricky paradigm. When the bribe prices become too volatile (aka unpredictable) or steep, private sector industry must at some point battle with the decision to just close their doors to doing business here altogether.

June 28, 2011

Unlikely Destinations.

I just finished reading Unlikely Destinations: The Lonely Planet Story. The title basically speaks for itself. It's Tony and Maureen Wheeler's story of how they set off on a year long trip around the world in 1972 with the intention of getting the proverbial travel bug out of their systems. During this trip, they were not only bit harder by this vicious bug, but after following the "hippie trail" from England across Asia to Australia, they recognized the need for a travel guide to suit a new breed of independent travelers. A million dollar idea was born.

Thirty years later, they are the owners of one of the world's largest, most successful independent publishing companies with offices on three continents, with 400 employees, 250 writers, more than 600 titles in print and annual sales of over 6 million books.

However, it was an incredibly long and arduous road to arrive at such success. In describing yet another scenario of "getting going and going broke," Tony described his early experiences dealing with the Australian port system.

He writes:

In May, our ship came in. I attached a rental trailer to the tatty old Ford and drove off to the docks to collect our books, straight into the arms of what would be one of my pet hates for the next few years -- the Australian dock system.  Australian dockers are still not the best in the world, but in the mid-1970s they were among the worst. At that time, third-world workers equipped with nothing more than some tattered ropes and a wonky plank could unload a ship ten times faster than Australian dockers armed with everything from cranes to forklifts. For many years, the docks remained a last bastion of Stone Age unionism and their institutionalized inefficiency was a prime disincentive to doing more of our printing in Australia rather than in Asia.

Long lines of trucks were always waiting at the docks and drivers, who did want to get on with the job, cursing the time they wasted waiting for the dockers to lift a finger. Until we could afford to use a proper freight agent to clear out shipments, I made many pre-dawn trips out to the docks to be the first in line when the gates opened.


One of my greatest fascinations living in Tanzania is the long queue of container ships that can be seen at any given time on the Indian Ocean, awaiting arrival into Dar es Salaam's sluggishly slow port system. I am in no position to compare, but I cannot imagine that Tony's Australian port system woes of the mid-1970s are any real match for today's nightmarish port system of Dar es Salaam that plagues Tanzania and several of its landlocked neighbors. Just saying.

A tribute to Mr. K.

Some of our friends here in Tanzania recently invested in a fish tank to be populated with some flashy colored little friends. Once upon a time, I too took this past time quite seriously.
Here's to you Mr. Konstantinopololis.

June 16, 2011

Reverse Reverse Culture Shock.

On our two recent trips home, I have become painfully aware of my Tanzanian weight gain. Visits to dressing rooms in stores have precipitated quasi panic attacks followed by copious alcohol consumption to ease the pain (which of course foils the longer term weight loss aims...alas, its a vicious cycle).

Our very weight conscious world and obsession with body image stands in direct contrast to the value people place on weight gain here - to carry a few extra pounds is to be healthy (and wealthy). A few weeks ago, our houseboy left his first wife and quickly thereafter found a new wife. He shared this news with great excitement, saying, "the new one is really fat, just like you!" um, gee, thanks. But this was a sincere compliment as far as he was concerned.

Fair enough, different strokes for different folks. But the worst part is that I seem to have gained weight in ALL the wrong places - as evidenced by how clothing is displayed to customers in local shops.
Does anyone remember when stair masters fell out of favor in the US because of wide spread fears of "shelf butt"? Well, I can certify that this is a part of the world where shelf butt is sexy. There ain't nothing sexy about a thick wasted woman here (ho hum). This place brings on a whole new meaning to the saying "Baby Got Back."

Sari Party.

When I saw Rami and James' engagement photos, I knew this wedding would be worth the 10,000 mile trek - and boy was it! They were thoughtful down to every last detail, and nothing went unnoticed. They pored love and attention into making their day special and unforgettable for themselves and the guests alike.

Because we do not have a mailing address in Tanzania, I did not actually get to see any of the paper invites sent to guests ahead of the wedding. The evening before the wedding a friend handed me an envelope. I cried reading it. "21 Saris: Ranmali and James' Bridal Party" it read on the cover. Inside contained an invitation from Ranmali to her 21 best friends to form a special part of her wedding day. Just because she and James decided not to have an official wedding party to be part of their ceremony and celebration, did not mean that she could not have 21 of her best friends dress up in saris to match hers!

It is a Sri Lankan tradition for the bride's home to be filled with all of her female friends and family on her wedding day, not only did Ranmali invite us to spend this special moment with her, but she invited us to have her aunties wrap us up in saris to wear to the ceremony. While Ranmali looked like pure royalty in her wedding sari, the rest of us looked a little less convincing, but this wedding will surely go down in the books as completely memorable and unforgettable.
Photo Credit: last photo - one of the male counterpart's to (from left) Ryan, Hanni, me, Dana, Elise

P.S. Yes, those are bugs flying around in the air mid-ceremony. They are not so coincidentally called "Love Bugs" and they only come out one time per year in Florida to mate.

June 14, 2011

Ranmali and James on Fire!

And so it seems, I have run out of vacation highlights, oh but wait, except for the most important part. The entire reason for heading to the States and road tripping between Miami and New Orleans was to attend the wedding of our dear friends Ranmali and James. They have to be the most photogenic couple I know.
By wedding night's end she was dancing so hard, she danced herself into a diamond. No denying that is a lovely song.

Here's to you Rami and James! We wish you a life time of happiness together.

Photo Credits: Matt @ Verve Studio; check out the full engagement set here

June 10, 2011

And Red All Over!

Photo Credit: Andrei Sinioukov

Black and White.

Photo Credits: Andrei Sinioukov


Photo Credits: Andrei Sinioukov


Photo Credits: Andrei Sinioukov

June 3, 2011

De Colores.

Photo Credit: Andrei Sinioukov

Jazz Festival's Hidden Gems.

While Wilco and Lucinda Williams were big Jazz Festival highlights for us, the real magic of the festival was found in side stages away from the major festival headliners.
To see the magic live, head here.

For more information and history on the Gospel Tent at the Jazz Festival, read this

Photo Credit: Andrei Sinioukov