Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bush days and Mibango nights...

Well, I’m out of Mibango now and upon reflecting on my three months there, can say it was challenging sometimes but overall a great experience. Although it was a bit isolated and even lonely at times, that in itself was character building and good for me in lots of ways, not least of all to get to know myself a bit better. I did lots of writing and although mostly on Skype, I also started a couple of books and am 3/4 of the way through to final draft on the main one. Having complete control over my day (apart from breakdown repairs to gensets, pumps or internet) I got into a regular exercise routine plus did a bit of a detox program with January being free of alcohol, caffeine, sugar and anything remotely junky. I was making great vegie and bean soups and curries, plus enjoying breakfasts of one of the best muesli’s that I’ve come across in a long time. It did get a bit monotonous, inventing different meals based on the same ingredients every day and it’s not the perfect diet I’d have to add as I’m cooking tinned food in aluminum saucepans over a kerosene stove but all in all, not bad. Definitely no pollution from traffic, off-gassing plastics or air-conditioned recycled air, etc that we accept as part of in our lives normally so on balance a good detox. And I brought my belt in two notches which is a good thing plus toned up in general so all in all, a darn good place to go for a fitness camp experience.

I’ve also read some great biographies about Africa from the small library there plus some fiction and technical risk books (research for my books). Between writing, reading, watching occasional movies on my laptop, and troubleshooting the electrical or mechanical stuff here the 95 or so days passed pretty quickly.

I’ve also become a fan of (“ideas worth spreading”) which has great 10 minute presentations which I often watch while preparing or eating dinners. Can’t wait to get to some decent bandwidth internet where I’ll be able to watch them in real time rather than keep pausing them…

Also had lot’s of 'boys own adventure' hiking, 4WD’ing and even playing a little on the mighty XL125 dirtbike. The wet season was pretty limiting in terms of how far you could go really and I can see why the pushbike is the preferred form of transport. Early on in the piece I went on a ‘shopping trip’ to see if we could buy some fresh produce (eggs, mangoes, bananas etc). In the dry season there are 25 of us here and the locals come to the gate twice a week to sell their home grown vegies etc. With only 4 of us here during the wet season their visits become more random events, unpredictable in both timing and selection. And I can understand why. In the wet season, it is a 4 hour round trip walk plus a canoe ferry across the river to sell a bucket full of goods to 4 people. Their produce can be a bit erratic at this time of year and it’s rare to have enough eggs, mangoes, spinach, etc all available at the one time to make it worth the round trip.

At one point, after 9 days without a visitation from the local farmers, I decided to head out with an esky and some Tanzanian Shillings to see what I could find. I took along Kauga the security team leader as translator but in the end having a translator made no difference. I can understand body language and 'humna' (nothing) when they respond to my basic questions for Embe, Ndizi, Mayai, etc. The river is impassable except by dugout canoe ferry so that meant most of the farms weren’t accessible without at least an hours hike on the other side. After we visited all 3 farms on this side of the river we decided not to bother with the hour’s hike as no-one on this side had any produce to sell – not so much as a spare egg. They are truly subsistence farmers here and other than an occasional surplus which they sell to buy things they can’t grow such as cooking oil or dagaa (dried fish from Lake Tanganyika), their farms produce just enough to keep them alive - and that’s about it. It was a good social interlude but that was about it. That is at least, until we tried to get back.

We got back covered in mud, soaked through with sweat and pretty much knackered after getting stuck on a hillside on the way back. Erosion and mud made the track basically impassable and after sliding down the camber into the washaway we spent 2 hours digging with tyre levers and panga (machete) then jacking and winching to get up the hill we call ‘the obstacle’. Yes, that’s the same one that Valerian got stuck on at the start of the wet season. The rain turned a couple of small holes into washaways big enough to swallow a Wildebeest (OK, a small Wildebeest I'll admit…). In the dry the track is easy enough but in the wet… We slid into one of those holes like an eight ball finding the corner pocket till the Landcruiser was resting on its undercarriage with a calm dignity and poise which we couldn’t match. All good fun though and we got it out in the end but at one stage it was looking like a walk home… A few weeks later, six of us spent half an hour with mattocks and spades rebuilding that track to the point where you could get up it - so long as it hasn’t rained in the past 12 hours - but that’s about as good as it gets.

In a typical AWA (Africa Wins Again) experience, we got a short notice call that the aviation inspector needed to inspect Mwese airstrip to recertify it. That meant we had to pay for his charter flight so we decided to fly in another small genset as the only one still running used too much fuel. Valerian had brought in another small one after it was ‘repaired’ but it was the worlds worst repair job with the casing screws stripped or missing, case held together by wire and burning engine oil like a 2-stroke (it’s a 4-stroke motor). Needless to say it failed by day 4 back at Mibango. In any case, after much last minute rush, Tim sourced a genset in Dar and Valerian managed to cajole the locals to slash the strip in Mwese in record time. Mibango strip however was so overgrown that we had no choice but to hire everyone who was available in the area. In the end 20 locals managed to slash the 70cm grass on the 1,500m strip in 5 days and paint the markers just 48 hours before the inspector was due to land. We should have guessed it was going too smoothly. The inspector rang at 9:30pm the day before to postpone his visit till 28FEB – by which time it will need slashing all over again. So it goes… AWA.

Anyway, I’m in a surprisingly nice guest house in Nzega now on the way to Dar via the Serengeti and Valerian is in Mibango with the security guys for the next three months. In a weeks handover we had some good laughs together and I taught him how to ride the motorcycle in case he needs to get to Mwese or the lake a bit faster than pushbike. You forget how tricky motorcycles are to ride in the dirt and mud when you’ve been riding as long as I have but his learning experience reminded me how much I take for granted. He’s a fast learner though and doing fine with it. Plus he has a great sense of humour which will stand him in good stead for the inevitable falls and stalls. I also showed him how to troubleshoot the internet connection, send attachments with emails etc but most challenges will be more mundane than that. In any case, he is a local boy so Mibango is like home for him and barring meteorite strike he’ll do just fine I think.

No comments:

Post a Comment