Posts Tagged With: Tanzania

A to Z: J is for…

  • Jambo – Swahili word for hello. Used plenty during my trip to Tanzania and Zanzibar.
  • Jumbo – Chichewa word for the ubiquitous plastic bag! Earlier this year, the Government of Malawi banned the sale and use of thin plastic bags. But of course, this is Malawi… so there was considerable legal wrangling to overturn this! Officially, it’s an attempt to protect the environment and curb the scourge of littering which happens in most places. Expectedly so since there is no real working waste disposal system, even in the capital city of Lilongwe. So people (including volunteers and expats) resort to burying, or worse, burning all their rubbish (“zinyalala“).

    All in all, a good idea in principle, going by the progress made on this issue by Rwanda – The Country That Bans Plastic Bags.

    However, as my savvy fellow volunteer David pointed out, the way this was implemented with such a short notice, brought severe livelihoods challenges for many street traders. In most markets, you’d find an invariably young boy trying to sell you a jumbo to carry your fresh vegetables and other groceries. I wonder what’s happened to them and their “trade” now.

Rubbish, kids and a "freshy" / FOB Chinaman

Operation Lap Sap

Categories: Malawi, Volunteering, VSO | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kwaheri Tanzania

Tanzania holiday post part 2…

I finally met up with Natalie at the ferry port in Stone Town on Saturday afternoon. She had two friends with her, Arina and Jacob. They had all travelled from Zambia on the TAZARA Railway – something I would like to do one day. I hadn’t seen Natalie since our VSO SKWID training back in August! So it was nice to see her again.

Introductions to Arina and Jabob made, we wasted no time in getting out of the scorching sun and into a taxi to go to Nungwi, north of Zanzibar. Since we hadn’t booked anywhere to stay, we checked out a couple of places before settling into the Jambo Brothers lodge. It was no more than 100 metres from the sea and was nice and inexpensive… after significant haggling of course! Haggling is a must-do in Tanzania for any goods or service that doesn’t have a fixed priced menu. It can get very tiring sometimes when all you want is a taxi ride home but have to negotiate the price from a ridiculously high to just a fair amount!

We had a few stunning days in Nungwi. Lounging, swimming, reading, eating… and learning to do somersaults(?)!

Somersault... take off!

Somersault… take off!

Somersault... (under) rotation!

Somersault… (under) rotation!

Somersault... big air... ABORTED!

Somersault… big air… ABORTED!

A bit of beach football ("mpira" in Swahili; Same word as in Chichewa).

A bit of beach football (“mpira” in Swahili; Same word as in Chichewa).

Sunset at Nungwi

Sunset at Nungwi

The highlight of Nungwi was going snorkelling off Mnemba Island. We had a really fun day out. Sail boat trip out in the morning. An hour or so of snorkelling seeing lots of fish; but no Nemo unfortunately 😦 Freshly cooked tuna and rice for lunch on the whitest and sandiest beach I’ve seen. Equally stunning scenery on the boat trip back. Thumbs up for 15 USD!

Sail boat ride to Mnemba Island on crystal clear waters...

Sail boat ride to Mnemba Island on crystal clear waters…

... on a rustic, leaky boat Robinson Crusoe would have been proud of.

… on a rustic, leaky boat Robinson Crusoe would have been proud of.

Not a bad spot for lunch! Mnemba Island is actually private property. So this is back on the Zanzibar side. Nice and secluded until all the tourists arrived!

Not a bad spot for lunch! Mnemba Island is actually private property. So this is back on the Zanzibar side. Nice and secluded until all the tourists arrived!

We then went down to the East coast town of Paje. Where the entourage of Natalie’s friends from Zambia arrived and met up with us. We spent a very rowdy British/American/Canadian Christmas together. We were all staying at Mustapha’s Place and met some (crazy) guys who call themselves the Daring Dynamos. They’ve cycled all the way from England, raising money for War Child!

Paje beach

Paje beach

For me, the highlight of Paje was Worm School! I think we were talking about party tricks or something and Natalie said she’d like to learn. So I began teaching her. I’m not sure I can repeat Michelle’s throwaway comment which had us in fits of laughter but it was memorable to say the least!

After almost a week in Paje where we did more lounging, swimming reading and eating, we all moved on to Stone Town. Different activities this time. I think we all had enough of the sea by this point! So it was mainly exploring the maze of the closely packed buildings and alleyways on foot. Some went shopping, some wanted spa treatments or sight seeing. So we mostly split up during the day and met back up for dinner.

Randomly spotted in one of many bureau de change... $1 million dollar note anyone?

Randomly spotted in one of many bureau de change… $1 million dollar note anyone?

We were sitting in the Livingstone bar/restaurant one evening and my jaw dropped at a serious instance of serendity. Tara, another VSO volunteer but based in Rwanda, just casually strolled to the table next to ours with her parents. Nat and I were on the same SKWID course as Tara! So once we got over the shock of such a coincidence, we combined tables and caught up with what’s been happening in our countries.

Mini SKWID reunion and happy new year! Tara, Natalie and I at the Livingstone.

Mini SKWID reunion and happy new year! Tara, Natalie and I at the Livingstone.

We met up again for New Year’s Eve and had a great time eating and dancing at the Tatu bar/restaurant, then Livingstone, then back to Tatu again. The New Year celebrations themselves got off to a slightly shaky start with the DJ neglecting to turn the music off (or even down) for the countdown. And everyone’s clocks were different so there were several different countdowns. However, I insist that ours was the loudest and therefore correct! All in all, it was a fun night!

Sharing the beach with a ferry?! Anything goes in Stone Town.

Sharing the beach with a ferry?! Anything goes in Stone Town.

Our stay in Zanzibar drew to a close soon after the New Year and the group went separate ways. Nat and I went back to Dar to plan our journeys back to Lusaka and Lilongwe respectively. We had to buy our tickets etc. which was no easy task in the chaos of Dar. As a treat, we went to the Quality Mall one evening. After considering a bucket of fried chicken for dinner. The price of which was the same as my coach ticket back to Lilongwe (1500 kilometres away)! We had a pretty average pizza, which wasn’t even close to “Mr Incredible Jumping Position’s Zanzibar Pitza”! And watched the Life of Pi in a very nice but also very cold cinema.

With that, our awesome holiday was almost over. We just had to endure our epic journeys back to Lusaka and Lilongwe. Nat was rejoined by Arina and Jacob, and they headed off on the TAZARA again. I was booked on the bus to leave at 4 am the next day. So the very nice people at the Econo Lodge let me kip on their reception couch AGAIN!

Herman's Hot Sauce! Found this while having breakfast at Chef's Pride restaurant, near the Econo Lodge. Couldn't find any at the supermarket to bring home though :-(

Herman’s Hot Sauce! Found this while having breakfast at Chef’s Pride restaurant, near the Econo Lodge. Couldn’t find any at the supermarket to bring home though 😦

I had arranged to get a taxi to take me to Kariakoo, where the bus was leaving from. It’s only 10 minutes walk but is in a bad part of town. So the owner of the Econo Lodge, Ashad, recommended I get a taxi. Which I had booked. However, he failed to show up! I also slept in and only woke at 3:50! Mad scramble to get all my stuff together and into a different taxi, which was thankfully available outside the lodge. Rushed to Kariakoo and jumped straight on to the bus which actually started to leave.

Another 24 hours of travelling ensued. But thankfully, I wasn’t ill this time and knew roughly what to expect. I even managed to get some hot food (“chips malai” = chips omlette) at one of the infrequent stops.

Near Iringa, well before the actual border with Malawi and Zambia, an immigration officer came on board and inspected everyone’s passports and travel documents. It was here where I witnessed an unpleasant act. For reasons unknown to me at the time, the officer began beating this one male passenger. The slapping started from inside the coach and continued until they were both inside a hut near where we had stopped. Several minutes later, the passenger came back on board and the coach moved on. I subsequently heard that the beating started because the passenger was being “uncooperative”. In any case, it was rather shocking to see such barbarianism in action.

Eventually, we arrived at the border town of Kasumulu. The coach parked up (on the road) and we stayed overnight. Again, no communication from the coach staff. Luckily, my neighbour on the coach knew roughly what was happening and explained it me. We had to wait until border control opened in the morning. The border opened at around 8 am and we had to walk to the border this time instead of staying on the bus like we did coming from Malawi. We were processed in decent time and I found out we had to walk across the demarcation zone and actual border itself.

It was here where I witness another shock moment. I was walking with a Malawian who was also returning. After being processed and having our documents stamped by immigration, we were both stopped at the border bridge by a plain clothed immigration officer, who inspected our documents again. My passport was fine but my fellow traveller knew what he had to do… and after a very brief conversation which I didn’t understand, he went into his pocket and took out some cash and passed them across. With that we were allowed to cross the bridge!

The border bridge itself was full of parked up trucks and the odd person loitering. As we were walking across, my friend told me to walk quickly in the middle of the road and hold on tightly to my belongings. He explained later that it’s been known of bag snatchers here. Presumably preying on the victim not being able to return to either side of the demarcation zone. Not really a pleasant thought or experience.

I officially re-entered Malawi without issues. Once I figured out which office and queue to attend! There were no instructions on display unfortunately. I then found out the coach had to remain at the border for the whole day! Apparently, this is normal procedure to have every piece of luggage and cargo inspected. So that any duty is paid on any commercial goods.

Stop for Customs check! (for a whole day)

Stop for Customs check! (for a whole day)

This is where I really lucked in. While hanging around at the border, I met a very nice chap who was taking his imported car back to Zambia, via Malawi. He was a great guy and offered me a lift to Kasungu, which I gratefully accepted! My house-mate Robin then kindly drove 2 hours to come take me home to Lilongwe. I was shattered by the time we got home.

So, the reason why I haven’t posted about this series of misadventures earlier was because soon after getting home, I fell ill with malaria! I was treated at the VSO designated clinic and got over the actual malaria pretty quickly with quinine. However, finishing the full course of antibiotics (ciprofloxacin) was not so easy. It basically made me feel like vomiting all day. So I wasn’t able to eat and had no energy for just over a week.

Consequently, I lost several kilograms. According to David, another VSO volunteer, I looked like a malnourished Chinese refugee at the time. Thanks mate!

Categories: Malawi, Travel, Volunteering, VSO | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Jambo Tanzania!

It’s been a while since my last proper post but there is a very good reason for that, which I’ll explain.

Tanzanian holiday post part 1…

I was in Tanzania for a holiday during Christmas and New Year. It began with an epic coach trip from Lilongwe to Dar es Salaam, which took 32 hours! Compounded by me being ill, it was a truly terrible experience. Cramped, hot, sweaty, hungry, rushed toilet stops, very loud (and bad) Chichewa and Swahili movies and music videos, and generally no idea of what’s going on or going to happen next!

After boarding the Taqwa coach in Lilongwe at 7 pm on a Tuesday night (and having to pay an extra 1000 kwachas because the prices had gone up since I bought my ticket a week before), I crossed into Tanzania at the northern Malawian border town of Songwe. Eventually arriving into Ubungo Bus Terminal in Dar es Salaam at 1 am on Thursday morning. Where my first misadventure began.

Taqwa coach at Kasumulu, TZ

Taqwa coach at Kasumulu, TZ

Being the only azungu on the whole coach, I was given “special” treatment and was directed to a local taxi driver by a Taqwa staff member. I asked to be taken to the Econo Lodge, where my Filipino VSO volunteer friends had recommended I should stay. Immediately after leaving the bus terminal, the taxi driver says he wants 50 USD and half the money upfront! Saying it’s really far and he needed fuel etc etc. I had my smartphone on with Google Maps running and knew it wasn’t far at all. He also had a quarter tank of fuel left. So he drove on after I said I’m not paying him 50 bucks and he needs to take me back to Ubungo. Despite realising that I had GPS running, he proceeded to take me on a massive detour around Dar. So by the time we arrived at the Econo Lodge, we had done 15 instead of 5 miles. I paid him 30,000 TSH (Tanzanian Shillings), which was already over the normal price. A mini argument ensued but he soon left, looking for his next rip-off fare no doubt. I said “special” treatment earlier because I’m pretty sure the taxi driver was the bus guy’s mate and they were colluding to rip me off. He was just way too nice. #TINSTAAFL.

Welcome to Tanzania. Specifically, Dar!

Because I was ill and ill-prepared, I had made the mistake of not booking the Econo Lodge in advance and they were actually fully booked that evening. Thankfully, the night shift manager, Sarum, was very helpful and offered me the couch for the night, which I was extremely grateful for. He went further and offered me the room of the first guest who checked out early in the morning so I could have a shower and rest properly. He then even offered me breakfast, free of charge! Some genuine kindness, which I was hoping for and just what I needed.

I was due to rendezvous with Nat and friends on Thursday. They were travelling from Zambia via the TAZARA Railway. But since we lost communication and the train is normally delayed, I made my own way to Zanzibar to meet another friend who was doing some short term volunteering there. I originally met Eliza, who’s from Australia, in Lilongwe a few weeks before and we said we’d try to meet up in Zanzibar.

Since it was quite late on a Friday, the ferry was fully booked. So thanks to my (different) taxi driver, Yousuf, who called ahead to his travel agent friend. I caught a small charter flight to Zanzibar instead. Quite a cool experience (they held the plane until I arrived) and great views of Dar and the coastline. I had to laugh at the sight of the co-pilot who was quite a cool dude… he had a cigarette tucked away behind his left ear. Not your average co-pilot! More like “Mad” Murdock from The A-Team.

Fantastic view of the Dar coastline (and crazy Murdock's cheeky cigarette)

Fantastic view of the Dar coastline (and crazy Murdock’s cheeky cigarette)

Not quite Top Gun. Maybe next year.

Not quite Top Gun. Maybe next year.

We rendezvoused in Stone Town where Eliza was volunteering. Chilled out on the beach watching some young guys do somersaults and acrobatics late in the afternoon. Before hitting the famous night market, which is a collection of stalls selling all sorts of street food. Including “Mr Incredible Jumping Position’s Zanzibar Pitza“, which was the best thing there in my humble opinion.

I had arranged to stay the night at Eduardo’s place in Kizimbani. He is a fellow VSO volunteer, from the Philippines and based in Zanzibar, who I had never met before. He is a friend of my fellow volunteers in Lilongwe. But it was late by the time we finished the night market. So there was no public transport and Kizimbani is 15 km from Stone Town! I also managed to get myself lost in the maze of Stone Town (which reminded me of the closely packed buildings and alleyways of Morocco) while retrieving my backpack from Eliza’s lodge. But this actually helped me because whilst asking for directions, I made an acquaintance from one of the posher hotels. Salim helped me retrieve my backpack and I paid him half a taxi fare to take me to Kizimbani on his Vespa scooter. Neither of us knew where in Kizimbani we needed to go and it was an adventure struggling to get up steep hills in the pitch dark (no streetlights) and avoiding massive potholes on dirt roads. But we eventually found Eduardo in the middle of nowhere (very rural), waving his flashlight at us. Eduardo was a great host and looked after me that evening. Salamat po, Eduardo!

The next day, Eduardo took me back into Stone Town. Then I met up with Eliza. She showed me the sights and we had a fantastic lunch at the Archipelago restaurant, complete with an awesome view of the Indian Ocean of course. Great recommendation, Eliza!

Awesome lunch with Eliza - King prawns with pilau rice at the Archipelago

Awesome lunch with Eliza – King prawns with pilau rice at the Archipelago

To be continued…

Categories: Malawi, Travel, Volunteering, VSO | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

“Ho ho ho. Now I have a machine gun.”

Merry Christmas everyone!

I am currently on vacation in Tanzania and having a few too many misadventures since leaving Lilongwe last Tuesday. I will post about those experiences when I return to Malawi. Along with some pictures of Tanzania.

The normal UK sleet and snow has been replaced by a beaming sun very hot sand beneath my feet. As I lounge on the beaches of Zanzibar, (very slowly) reading Daniel Defoe’s classic novel, Robinson Crusoe, Christmas seems like a very strange concept.

Fear not though. Where there are mzungus, there is Christmas! As we had dinner last night at Mustapha’s Place, we had a selection of the best crimbo music. The Pogues, Mariah Carey, Slade but alas, no Wham… yet! This morning, my friends here (volunteers and expats from Zambia) opened their various presents and cards over breakfast. There is great fun spirit with our group. Now all we need are the two best Christmas films ever. Home Alone and Die Hard! Hence the post title.

The picturesque views of Zanzibar is truly stunning. However, I find myself missing Malawi and most of all, my close friends (especially the inconsiderate ones who have had babies since I’ve UK!) and of course, both my Chinese and Northern Irish families. For me, that’s what all festivities and holidays are about.

The very best festive wishes to you all, which ever religion you may belong to.

As always, I will reserve the happy new year wishes to the real new year, which is of course, Chinese new year 🙂

Categories: Malawi, Travel, Volunteering, VSO | Tags: , , | 7 Comments

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