Thursday, June 21, 2007

Kagera, Tanzania

So I have to admit I was a bit worried. The guidebook described the town where I would be spending the coming weeks as filled with lake flies and earnest Christian missionaries, two pests certain to make my personal tormentors list should I ever end up in hell. But it turned out okay. Those swarms of both are sometimes visible in the town below, neither appear in great numbers where I live and work.

Today is the winter solstice here in Kagera, Tanzania – shortest day of the year. Which when you are about one degree south of the equator translates into 11 hours 45 minutes of daylight instead of the usual 12. I am here, living in a big beautiful house high on a bluff overlooking Lake Victoria, to formulate new and better ways to count poor people for the World Bank’s research division. I have had two revelations since I have been here. The first is that as silly as my job sounds, it actually has a purpose – no one has any idea about the statistics of things like poverty or if programs are working to change those statistics. The second, which occurred on my balcony while watching the sky graying at 5:45 last night over the azure blue water, is that there are other people which consciously choose to make a living doing other things. I lifted by pineapple cocktail in toast to all the suckers in cubicles in the world – no offense meant to any suckers in cubicles that may be fans of this blog, I obviously am referring only to the other suckers in the cubes around you.

I landed in Kampala, Uganda on Monday morning. It is the closest major airport to where I am staying, a mere six hour bus trip. My partner in crime (a fellow researcher and former West African Peace Corps volunteer which will be from here on be referred to by his porn alias “Angel Derlon,” as he was christened by the bus company passenger manifest, just in case he wants to have a career someday) and I took the bus down on Tuesday. Uneventful trip. Driver drove recklessly, some kid was always screaming, border crossing took a third of the total trip time… There is always some mystery item that screws up the crossing. We will all be cruising through, and suddenly some bum has to have something weird. Tuesday it was the twin adventures of chainsaw and boat engine. Then the unfortunate exporter of said goods gets to play let’s-make-a-deal with Customs. Similar to the old game show, Monty Customs Guy asks, would you like to give me X number of dollars *or* would you like to play what’s-in-the-tariff-book. The exporter will hem and haw, trying to negotiate down the fees, and, if no agreement is reached, out comes the government book, whereby it all starts again. Is it a new engine or used? Does running it in a water barrel outside count as used because I think I saw one back a couple hundred yards? Is it a large engine or small? Couldn’t you actually interpret this as a large electric paddle? And so it goes, until the final result is something like, okay, the official tariff on one small used engine, plus 15,000 Ugandan shillings, $30 in hard currency, two packs of Chinese cigarettes, and the exporter’s shoes. At which time everyone is all smiles, we load back up into the bus, drive 15 meters across the border, and the poor bastard hops out with his motor to pay Tanzania import taxes.

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