Monday, June 29, 2009

Crap We Buy

So every once in awhile, my spoiled princess self is required to get back to my roots. Kicking and screaming, they tear me out of the posh hotel in the capital, dump me in an over-crowded 4x4, and send me out into the bush to do field visits.

This time I headed southwest of the capital into the foothills of Iringa. Before leaving, I had been assured that it was only a 3 hour drive on a good road. I reflected on that nearly 8 hours later as I scooped water out of a bucket in my hotel room to futilely try and rinse the dust out of my hair. I can’t argue that it was a spectacular drive though, passing through winding hills and sun drenched valleys, dotted with huge ancient baobob trees. (And I saw the answer the age old question pondered by every Peace Corps volunteer serving in Africa – what would happen to a baobob tree if you hit it full speed with a lorry. Answer: not all that much. You will, however, need a new lorry.)

The most fun part of the drive is the part where the road cuts through Mikumi National Park. At first you notice a not so subtle shift in the road signs, from cell phone ads, public service condom announcements, ads for “Bob’s snake sanctuary and campground” (what could go wrong!), to ones that say “WILD ANIMALS, next 50 km,” “Please do not feed the baboons,” and my favorite, a black silhouette of an elephant superimposed on a red and white exclamation mark. We drove fairly slowly for those 50 km, partly because it was fun to pretend that you were on safari instead of an interminable car ride, and partly to keep from superimposing ourselves onto an elephant. (Road accidents with the wildlife here are common.) We saw antelope, zebra, giraffe, etc, your typical safari offerings, and managed not to clip anything endangered.

The only things that we even came close to hitting were the baboons. Longtime readers know that I hate monkeys, oft describing them as raccoons that can think. I *particularly* hate baboons. They are like raccoons that can think and outweigh me by 20 pounds. And they are such insolent bastards. They dogged us the whole second half of the trip, even well past the boundaries of the national park, standing in the middle of the road, just glaring at you as you either leaned on your horn or weaved into oncoming traffic to avoid them. In all, they probably added as much time to the trip as the construction and bad roads combined. Stupid monkeys.

Of course, as these things go, I arrived just in time to discover that the field team I was meeting was delayed for a day, and so I had some time to kill. There isn’t much to recommend itself in the way of tourism in Iringa town, so I decided to visit the deaf and blind craft center and buy some crap (ah, how prophetic those thoughts turned out to be…) The visit starts out with a tour of the different workshops, which do weaving, sewing, bead making, pottery, etc, then a swing by the cafĂ© for some passion juice, and then, inevitably, to the gift shop. As a general rule, I never give to beggars in the street, preferring to spend wildly at places like this. So I bought a recycled glass bead necklace, a shirt theoretically (and somewhat miraculously) sewn by a blind woman, and a couple picture frames and note cards made of the local specialty product: elephant dung paper. That’s right, here at the craft center, they collect and process elephant dung into assorted stationary products. Now all I need is a beau to send notes to, because nothing says “I love you” like sweet nothings scrawled across dry elephant shit. (Maybe this has something to do with why I am not married…)

The rest of the field visit proceeded fairly uneventfully. I checked some standard deviations, went out to the village to observe some interviews, GPS’d a few fields and called it a day. On the way home, I really got to chance to embrace my roots in a little $4 a night guesthouse, complete with complementary tire sandals for my bucket bathing convenience. And eat every meal with my hands. And spend three and half hours drinking chai on the roadside and waiting for a local bus to ride me the 9 hours back to Dar (the bus was only 90 minutes late in actuality – there is apparently a scheduled two hour delay on Sunday mornings so the road crew can dynamite out the pass – the timing of which might or might not have anything to do with the largely Muslim areas feelings about the resident Anglican mission.)

And now I am back in Dar for a few days before heading back to the United States for a couple weeks. I apologize for not having much in the way of pictures to share for this posting. Most of the shots on the camera are of irrigation techniques and intercropping examples – titillating for training purposes, not very exciting as travel photos.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

In Love with Lombok

Unless you are actually Indiana Jones (and don’t think I don’t try), it is tough to have much drama on business trip. They are all pretty much the same, high heels and powerpoints. Just last week I was forced to spend five days discussing quantitative research methodologies – which was as dry as it sounds until you looked out the window and remember that you are in Lombok, this tropical paradise just east of Bali in Indonesia.

I will spare you the details of my actual presentation (there were greek symbols involved), and instead post pictures of my scuba diving adventures. I was able to escape for a day and a half – two day dives and a night dive. In general the diving was fairly standard, clownfish, bomb-headed parrot fish, a white tip reef shark or two, phosphoresce at night… but then there were the turtles. So many sea turtles. It got to the point where you just stopped counting them and started just hanging out with them. And what you don’t get from watching Finding Nemo is how big some of these bad boys are. The average full grown turtle size is 3-4 feet long and they routinely weigh more than I do. And if you are hovering between them and where they need to be, it is advised that you move on along. I posted a couple of what I consider to be the most photogenic of my new friends.

I have subsequently left Indonesia and flown to Tanzania, stopping just long enough to see the boys in Singapore (and gorge myself on chili crab) and lose my luggage in South Africa. But eventually me and all my various bits have found ourselves to Dar es Salaam for a couple weeks. I am staring down some long hours in the office, but I will see what I can do about having at least one Indiana Jones adventure for you.