Saturday, February 6, 2010

A night in Moshi...

It’s 1130 am and I’ve just finished breakfast in the rather pleasant Kili-Java coffee house after getting back to the hotel around 0300. I made short work of the rather tasty omelet but am still enjoying the coffee while I write this.

Yesterday was an altogether busy but social and serendipitous day. Serendipity ( the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way) is fast becoming one of my favorite words and definitely a preferred lifestyle choice. Synchronicity is another favorite word (the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection) and my life seems to be increasingly one of serendipitous, synchronous peregrinations. This is after all, what I wanted from life so I’m more than happy to live such a life. Living ‘in the flow’ is perhaps how the Taoists would put it.

I started out yesterday with best intentions of doing some work on my book and getting the front end on the Landcruiser looked at (it still has a nasty vibration in the 50 to 60km/h range) but somehow got sidetracked. Did some meditation and exercise in the morning which is always a good way to start the day then drove the 10 mins into town for a café breakfast in the garden courtyard out behind “The Coffee Shop”. I actually did a bunch of writing and emails (albeit unsent as there is no wireless there) before I got talking with a pommy guy who’d just come back from hiking Kilimanjaro and his local mate. He’s ex-navy and makes his living as a photographer so apart from the connection there, I also picked his brains about Kili. He’s set himself the goal to do the seven summits, something which I have to admit is of more than passing interest to me. Heck I’ve already bagged one summit – Mt Kosciusko in Australia. I’m chuckling at this because in case you didn’t know, Kosi is a day walk and despite being the highest summit in Australia it is a mere hill at 2,200m and not at all in the same league as Mt Kilimanjaro which at 5,900m is a week long trek – and I might add, probably the easiest of the summits after Kosciusko. He was off to do Mt Meru in a few days and it sounds like it’s an even nicer trek than Kili as it has lots of wildlife. It also sounds like the perfect way to get some altitude acclimation before Kili so I might build that into the Kili itinerary as a precursor in October. Stay tuned.

As we were chatting another mate turned up. I say, mate, but we’d never met till yesterday. He’s an Aussie guy working in Moshi and is a friend of a friend so we’d swapped a couple of emails and were going to meet up that evening for a drink at the local waterhole. He’d just walked into the Coffee Shop for a spot of lunch and picked me straightaway. He reckoned that he can pick an Aussie a mile away but I’m somehow thinking it may have had something to do with my picture being on my website. Anyway the three of us (the local guy had headed off by then) had a longish chat about pretty much everything, not least of all motorcycles as we all own bikes and the topic can be extended into hours of entertaining chat for us addicts.

Eventually we all headed off and I downloaded/uploaded emails in the internet shop next door. I had planned to go catch up with a couple of American Jehovah’s Witnesses in another café where they were meeting some people at 3pm. I’d been chatting with them in the Kili-Java the day before. Yep, I’ll chat to anyone - and clearly so will they. Apparently despite large numbers of mzungus in Moshi, there are no decent bookshops here for English language books and I’d asked them what they did for light reading as they’ve been here for seven months. Turns out they had plenty of spares and one of the lasses offered to bring a couple along to meeting they were going to in another café the next day if I wanted to drop by. Sadly, I got there a bit late when an article I was emailing to a mate took forever to complete and they were gone. Moshi is a small place though so perhaps I’ll run into them again but either way it’s just another example of the kindnesses of strangers.

I did some more writing, had a haircut, wandered around the tarmac streets of Moshi (definitely not used to tarmac anymore – 298 out of the last 300 towns I’ve been through recently have been more like sets from Deadwood than anything else) and then headed off to ‘The Waterhole’ at 6 to meet my Aussie friend-of-a-friend. We’ll call him Bruce in order to protect the guilty (everyone knows all Aussies are called Bruce anyway). ‘The Waterhole’ is a great pub and his directions were spot on but you’d never find the place without directions. It’s about 2 km out of town on the highway then down a dirt road and is surrounded by 8 foot high masonry perimeter fence that seems to run for a couple of hundred metres. The only ‘signs’ are blue lights on the gate posts. Following Bruce’s directions I pull up at the gate. No-one comes out so I honk the horn. A bloke soon turns up and not recognizing me, comes out to see what I wanted. About this time, I’m wondering if I’ve got the directions wrong and have pulled up at a bikie-den, prison or drug-dealers hangout but no, turns out that yes it is ‘The Waterhole’ and yes, it does sell beer. Perhaps it’s an illegal speakeasy that sells beer without licensed or they’ve had troubles with armed holdups? Too late to back out now and the watchman opens a pair of gates that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Dracula movie and I ‘park to the left’. I’m the first one here but it’s a great place to chill on the verandah with the river babbling below about 20 feet down the slope. I order a beer and pull out my laptop to do some writing but have hardly started when Bruce, his Canadian wife and infant son arrive. Over the evening a few more of their friends arrive and I learn more and more about Tanzania, Africa and generally have fun chatting to a bunch of expats and locals. It’s the 40th birthday of the guy who runs the place and I end up talking with him for a while also. He’s an interesting chap. Born here from a Tanzanian mum and German father, he grew up in a village and now runs the waterhole, safari tours, dirtbike trips and hunting trips. The Waterhole is incognito because he wants to keep it a bit exclusive at least in terms of being family friendly and not having the vibe shaped by obnoxious drunks or bar-girls as is common at many bars in Africa.

I get talking to him about his other businesses including the big-game hunting. I enjoy shooting targets as a skill but wouldn’t shoot animals unless I needed to eat them. I just don’t get the need that some people have to come to Africa and put a bullet into buffalo, elephants or lions but already know enough about the setup in Tanzania to realise that the hunting benefits the place enormously. Companies with hunting licenses pay huge bounties to the government for annual permits with specific numbers of specific animals which they can cull each year and I’ve been surprised to find out that the more I find out about this business the more I support it. Shoshi tells me a bit more about how it works. He’s well used to hearing complaints from urban dwelling tree-huggers about his killing animals but tells me that over the years he has come to the conclusion that without the hunting, there would be far less animals. Each hunting operation is required to provide anti-poaching patrols and a government ranger goes out with them to make the arrests. It’s dangerous work and most of his vehicles have been machine-gunned or at least shot up at some point or another. The poachers can net about $4,000 from the meat of a single giraffe and in a country where the daily wage is about $3 to $10, that is a big, big incentive. Apparently poaching is every bit as big a business as you’d expect and the benefit from someone who flies out to pay between $5,000 and $50,000 to shoot an animal is far reaching. One of the things that I’m learning to realise is that companies such as his operation not only protect the bulk of the wildlife but invest heavily in community support and wildlife conservation. In many respects being more effective than the government and a lot of NGO’s. On a recent project for example, they spent $42,000 to build a school for a village. Hunting big-game is only an ethical dilemma for about 10 seconds when you consider that if a couple of already aged animals have to die to provide education, jobs and infrastructure to help the community and protect the rest of the wildlife it is overall a good thing.

I also get chatting to an American couple out here for a few months. He is a Landrover fundi and she is a dermatologist so by and by, I tell her about Shela, teh lass we sent to Dar to get treated for a skin condition. The doctors there don’t seem to have any real idea so I loosely organise to send Shela up to Moshi if we can wangle it. Finding a US trained dermatologist in Africa is a rare and serendipitous thing so an opportunity not to be ignored. Her hubby and the bar owner meanwhile give me the heads up on the best tyres and shock absorbers available in Tanzania. The landcruiser needs a full service including tyres and shocks next week so meeting them is another happy accident.

It’s getting on and people are starting to leave. By now I’m chatting with a bunch of people including some locally born Pakistanis and Indians. They are a hoot and some great conversations flow. I get persuaded to relocate with the group to another place called the ‘Glacier Café’. Waterhole is apparently unusually quiet tonight with only about 15 people there so when half of us leave it must have become a very quiet place. Glacier is the opposite. It’s a big outdoor garden pub closer to town and there are about 100 people there. I didn’t meet any in person but at the Glacier Café, Bruce pointed out a group of about 20 people sitting in a circle in plastic chairs like a séance circle who have all paid to come volunteer in Africa. They pay $4,000 each to come out to Moshi to do volunteer stuff for a month(?). Interesting concept and apparently it’s quite common. I don’t think it would work for me. They pay $4,000 and still have an 11pm curfew every night – which means they must be getting ready to leave not long after we arrive. From what I hear there is also a local mafia of people and businesses skimming that $4,000. Not sure if it is extra or included but apparently the volunteers (is it still volunteering if you are paying for the privilege?) are paying 22 Euros per night to share a 4 person dorm room (even in Moshi the going rate should be about 5 Euros for a dorm bed). I only have this on hearsay and will check out my facts but am not surprised at all if it’s true. My thinking, personally is that anyone who really, really wanted to make a difference in Africa should take that $4,000 to a remote village and put in a bore, small solar power system and some educational materials. There are probably 20,000 little villages in Tanzania which have none of those things. Moshi by contrast is a veritable New York in terms of infrastructure and education. Still, to each their own and better that they come than not at all. As in Cambodia, there seem to be 2 stratas of aid workers. Starry-eyed 22 year olds who have all the answer and are going to change the world in 6 months. If they are still around in a few years, they inevitably turn into the other type. This latter group of people still work hard to make a difference but accept that the system is immensely flawed, that they may make only a tiny difference and have no illusions about the issues but overall somehow manage to retain their sense of humor, do their best and manage to keep their sanity while living and working in some of the toughest conditions for years on end.

More arm twisting starts happening and around midnight I’m convinced by the main ringleader (a jovial and pleasantly dodgy Pakistani guy) that we should all go to “The Pub”. There are no road rules regarding drink driving, much less seatbelts or passengers in the back of the tray but by this time, I’m drinking water. More talking, laughing and even some dancing ensues with lots’ of laughs and some interesting insights into Tanzanian culture at the pub. Each place is even more ‘local’ in character and by this time there are perhaps 5 mzungus and 90 locals scattered throughout the 3 or 4 areas of the pub. The music is pretty dreadful 90’s hip-hop club music but everyone’s having fun and it’s just background noise really. Moshi is well cemented by now as my favourite town in Tanzania. It’s a pretty happy sort of place by day and by night.

I’m lugging my backpack around all night and couple of people suggest leaving it at the bar but I explain that it has laptop, camera, passport and credit cards in there. They not unreasonably ask me “why did I bring them out at 2am?” and I can only answer that I’d been to the bank, been doing some writing and taking photos during the day. My Aussie mate, said we’d be out for a drink at the waterhole at 6pm then it would be an early night as he had a young son. His wife, did in fact head off with his son at 7:30 and he headed off around 11:30 but as I’m learning, you need to stay flexible in Africa...

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