Friday, September 10, 2010


Before I get too far away from when the event actually happened, I figure I should probably write a little bit about Tanzania. After the tour of Rwanda I hopped a plane with Mom and Tam and landed in… Well… Bujumbura, Burundi. It wasn’t well communicated to us that we did not actually have a direct flight to Tanzania. In fact, there are signs plastered all around Rwanda which promote Rwanda Air’s new direct flights to Dar-es-Salaam 3 times a week. So, I suppose all that is African for “just kidding”. In Rwanda’s defense, it may have just been the airline company, but to say that I was disappointed with RwandAir would still be a gross understatement.
I reserved the tickets to Tanzania for my family and I months in advance, and offered to pay at that moment but they wouldn’t let me. Evidently the tickets weren’t concrete enough to purchase when I reserved them. I realized later it was because they intended to change the time of the flight 3 times. It was nice of them to tell us that was happening a week before we left Rwanda. ‘Cos, you know, we didn’t have to notify the tour agencies or hotels or anything. In any case, when my Mom got to Rwanda we took a day to bounce around Kigali and stop by the RwandAir ticket office where I had the most unprofessional experience of my life.
Customer Service Rep: May I have your reservation receipt?
Me: Of course.
CSR: Okay, this flight time has been changed from 2pm to 6 o’clock am. I think there are no problems.
Me: Um… Well, there’s certainly nothing we can do about this development. The prices are still the same, yes?
CSR: Of course.
Me: Well, then it’s fine.

So my mom handed over her credit card for the purchase of 3 international plane tickets. We’re talking multiple hundreds of dollars. And this is when RwandAir so kindly reminded me that I was in a third world country.

CSR: Oh… You want to pay with a credit card…
Me: Well, yeah. I’m buying plane tickets.
CSR: I don’t think the machine is working. Let me check.
[After a few seconds]
CSR: Yes, our machine has been broken for a few days. We cannot take credit cards right now.
Me: You’re joking. So how am I supposed to pay for this?
CSR: Well, I think you can go to the bank and bring back cash. We accept dollars and Rwanda Francs.
Me: You want me to pay for three plane tickets in Cash?
CSR: Yes, I think there is no problem.

Yes, I think you’re a horrible, racist, imbecile. Between the lines you should be able to read what she was actually saying, which was: “Well, you’re a Muzungu. Obviously you have hundreds of dollars in cash, on hand, to dole out whenever you need it.”
I was furious, but Mom took the news with an incredibly even temper. If an airline in any other part of the world had a broken credit card machine for more than a day they would have a serious problem on their hands, because a grand total of 0 clients would pay them in cash. RwandAir gets away with it because they have people who have reserved tours and safaris in advance and basically have no competition when it comes to flying out of Rwanda.

Dear Worldwide Investors,
If you are looking to a place to make a buck, start by building a friendly and effective airline service that flies regularly out of all the East African Community countries.

Once we actually made it to Dar-es-Salaam, I rapidly fell in love with the country. It was a breath of fresh air to see how cosmopolitan the city was. I had forgotten that diversity existed in Africa, and I had forgotten that the world is a much larger place than Rwanda made it seem. Our hotel was called the Movenpick and it was huge, served cocktails, and run by the Swiss, so it was about as Western as it got. The reception handed me a little 3 X 5 leaflet and I opened it to discover a key card inside. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to have a key that opened a door electronically. It’s too bad that it didn’t stop the housekeeping staff from stealing my cell phone.

I spent most of my time in or under water. The pool was really nice, but I was also romantically attached to the idea of spending a good portion of my stay in the Indian Ocean. We spent an entire day in the sand on a small island right off the coast of Dar, where I finally felt that click of readjustment to being myself again (it only took two and a half weeks). Looking back on the experience, I wish I had been more social and engaged with local population, but I was overwhelmed. In that respect I missed out on getting clearer insight as to how everything managed to run so smoothly in Tanzania. Despite what anyone wants to believe, in America we have taken a social stand to vilify Islam. It’s a result of our civilizations clashing. The West doesn’t understand Islamic cultures, and even if Islamic cultures can understand Western mentalities, they certainly aren’t willing to accept them. Except that I’m evidently wrong in this assessment of our world. I saw it in Tanzania. I saw these two opposing view points co-existing, and even being friends. It made me think, if it can work there it should be able to work on a larger scale too. It just needs the right planning and coaxing.
However, I did get to have an interesting conversation with my driver in Zanzibar about his feelings on the likelihood of an East African Community ever getting off the ground. His concerns were surprisingly identical to the concerns the European Union had and still grapples with today. He seemed to think it was never going to happen just because of the inherent self-interest of individual countries, but I walked away thinking, “Hey, I can work with that”.
To top off my stay we had sushi on the slipway. It was good sushi too. I could have dumped all of my spending money just on that. The next few days included a sort of whirlwind tour through Zanzibar, Arusha, and Ngorongoro Crater. The Safaris were nothing short of breathtaking. I wanted to see an elephant and I got to see a hundred. They would come so close to the care you could almost touch them. I also was able to do my fair share of people watching because being on safari in Tanzania is evidently the new international tourism hotspot. I didn’t catch so many Americans, but the Brits were everywhere, Germans too, a few Japanese, Koreans, Chileans and one particularly memorable Mexican couple. We were stopped above a waterhole where there were at least fifteen elephants drinking and bathing when one urinated and then walked away from the water, presumably to find some shade or food. Moments later another elephant walked up to the same spot and began drinking.

From the Land Rover next to me I heard a shrill voice begin to explain:
“In Mehico City, Eherybody drink pe-pe.”
My sister and I dropped our cameras and slowly turned out heads to look and verify that this was actually happening.
“Yes. It happens all tha time. It’z ohkay.”
Yeah. This was really happening. I wasn’t sure what to make of it though. Should I think she’s trying to compare people in Mexico to elephants? Should I conclude that she’s saying elephant hygiene is equivalent to human hygiene in Mexico City? Should I get mad and tell her to stop being a horrible harpy wench? Luckily, someone in her car settled my dilemma.
“I don’t believe a damn word you’re saying. Freakin’ crazy lady.”
An appropriately blunt African American man cut her off from making any more blanket remarks about Latinos. My sister and I just sort of shared an awkward smile with him and shrugged the event off.

I also got to see lions. And not just any lions. I got to see cuddling lions. They were absolutely adorable in that slightly creepy way, where you know that even the smaller ones would end your life if there wasn’t a sheet of reinforced steel between you and them. But forgetting that fact, they seemed incredibly docile. They would stroll past the cars or nap nearby in the sun as if we weren’t even there gawking over them.

By the end of the tour we were all exhausted and poor Mom and Tam had to turn around and get on a plane back to California in just two days. I hear that didn’t go so smoothly, but the point is they got home. Saying goodbye at the airport was a lot harder than it should have been. When I told my friends about it the general reaction was: “You went with them to the airport?! Are you crazy?! What were you thinking?!”
Evidently, everyone else says goodbye to their family via taxi cab, or outside the gate because the separation can be a bit too hard for volunteers in Africa and their families. I guess I didn’t get the memo. But I never do things by the book anyway. Plus, I’ll be seeing them in no time. I’m already almost halfway through September.

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