Monthly Archives: February 2012

Disproving myself

Not long after arriving here, I wanted to write an article on the big unanswered question about this country. Why, having benefited from peace, stability and relative democracy (not to mention coastline, enough natural resources – but not too much, an English-speaking population…), is Tanzania still one of the poorest countries in the world? Why is it hanging out at the top of the list of aid beggars along with the war-weary Iraqs and Afghanistans of the world?

I planned to come back to that question after a year to see if I was any closer to understanding. But I didn’t publish the article in the end, and it’s probably a good thing, because it looks like the answer could end up being simple, but horribly un-PC: Tanzania isn’t working because Tanzanians don’t really want to work. Tanzanians are lazy.

I’m not convinced of this, yet. But both Westerners and other Africans I’ve met here say this is the case. Continue reading

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Fetch me my carrier pigeon

Bad weather – heavy rain and storms – makes things difficult. All the landlines are down in the neighbourhood this week. We’ve had intermittent power supply all morning – meaning flickering lights, on-off-on-off internet connection, and constant beeping from the back-up battery system that keeps our PCs running. Not only the weather is working against us:  some mobile networks seem to be having problems, and apparently a damaged fibre-optic cable in Kenya is going to slow down internet – by another 20% – throughout East Africa.


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“Actually, my favourite animal is a dog”

It seems ironic that chimpanzee guru Jane Goodall – who even in her late 70s travels 300+ days per year and never stays longer than 3 weeks in one place – would be just as happy spending time with the family pet.

Together with probably every other expat in Dar, I went along to a screening of the Oscar-nominated documentary Jane’s Journey, followed by a Q+A with the star herself. Those asking the questions were mainly the loud and cocky kids attending international schools (“Do chimps eat vegetables?”, “What are your grandchildrens’ names?”). Goodall never missed a beat; she’s good with people, not just with chimpanzees. Continue reading

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Portrait #2

Akim, 25, set up a business three years ago, selling second-hand bags in central Kampala. How does he choose them? “I don’t”, he says. The bags are sold in bulk, by weight, in Nairobi, where they’ve already travelled all the way from Germany, Canada, the USA. 45kg of bags cost between 750,000 and 1.5m Ugandan shillings – depending on the kind of bag it is: at the top end, travel luggage from the US; the cheaper ones, shoulder bags from Germany.

“You can’t be a jobseeker here”, says Akim. “You have to be a job creator”.

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To Kampala

Where's my bus?

Welcome to Uganda: Land of weapons and wild motorcyclists. Actually, they call it the Pearl of Africa, but I think my version is more accurate.

I didn’t get too close to any arms – though did notice the hostel security guard was brandishing a rifle, and signs outside bars stating “No weapons”. The actual security checks might be fairly low-key – a token gesture rather than a serious check, and largely a result of the 2010 terrorist attacks in which over 70 were killed. But it’s still a bit disconcerting when you’ve come from a peaceful place like Tanzania. (That said, driving through Kagera region in NW Tanzania today, my colleague announced cheerfully: “this is bandit country”….) Continue reading

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Tell an African woman she’s got mzigo – ‘luggage’ – behind, and she’ll be delighted – but I’m not that integrated yet. In the meantime, however, I don’t have much choice but to join in with the greasy, fatty, fried stuff that makes up most African meals. Even for breakfast.

Chapatti, donuts, samosas, or cake




Night boat to Bukoba

Boarding in Mwanza

Trying not to drop my camera over the edge

5am stop at Kemondo Bay


20 hours in Mwanza

A fleeting visit through Mwanza, Tanzania’s second largest city – just enough time to discover that the city has the ugliest tame birds you’ve ever seen, and that it has amazingly clean streets compared to Dar. I couldn’t stop ogling the spotless kerbs and wondering how they do it.

Mwanza's ugliest inhabitants

Can't stop looking at those gutters

On the road

‘Is sleeping one of your interests?’, Amani enquired politely. My neighbour on the 5.45am DAR-MWANZA bus came out with the oddest questions. The boyish, earnest 19 year-old wasn’t making much headway on his half of a novel, the yellowed pages of a torn-up paperback less interesting than the mzungu beside him. ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ ‘When is your birthday?’ ‘Do you like business?’

And so the 17 hours passed, faster than you’d think, me dozing till Amani ‘s voice would enter the fog of my fragmented dreams (‘Anna, are you sleeping again?’), or listening to his plans to start a business, or doing the Kiswahili quizzes on his smartphone. Continue reading

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Wet again

Floods are becoming a bit of a theme. After the sudden burst pipe in my bathroom, the (still) mysteriously flooding shower, and the dripping air conditioning in my office, now, at 3am when I finally got my stuff packed and am ready for a snooze before I go on my Big Adventure that starts in an hour and a half with a 16-hour bus trip, I discover the leak in my bedroom ceiling. I’m on the top floor, so no neighbours to blame; it hasn’t rained in ages. How long before the plaster disintegrates and the rats come down to say hi? How to stem the flow until sometime tomorrow when – hopefully – the landlord can come round for yet another DIY session with some of his fairly useless fundis (workmen)? Supposedly you’re meant to poke a hole in the ceiling to limit the damage but… I’m not too keen on seeing what else comes down along with the excess water.

I hope I don’t curse the boat I take on Thursday with this flooding thing.

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