Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Hickory Smoked Knickers and Other Tales from the Road

I only have one picture for this entry.  I was working in Dar and then Nairobi, mostly the inside of office buildings, and now I am down in Zomba, Malawi.  Which is beautiful and green – mostly due to the weather’s continuous state of downpour.  The picture is of my room (#10) with a bunch of god damned monkeys on the roof.  And I assure you, nothing is louder at 5:15 am than a troop of monkeys on a corrugated metal roof.

The best I can do is send a quick series of vignettes from the last two weeks on the road.

Hickory Smoked Knickers: As I mentioned, it rains all the time here in southern Malawi.  It rains while I sleep, rains while I eat, rains while I work, rains while I run (the final one being the most unpleasant of the lot).  Other than the fact that my hair never dries and is sprouting mushrooms, I have almost gotten used to it.  One of its more unexpected externalities however is that it makes line drying clothing impossible.  As a result, my clothes are dried in a closed room with a wood fire.  (I am guessing the same on used for smoking crops at the end of the season…)  Everything therefore has the slight tinge of wood smoke, like one had been using hickory scented fabric softener.

Most Dangerous Thing He Did That Day: So the hotel I was staying at for the conference in Nairobi is a new hotel - Ole Sereni.  Built on the site of the former US embassy, it borders directly on the Nairobi National Park and is convenient to the airport.  On the down side, the staff is god awful.  I arrived fairly late for Tanzania and had to work early in the morning, so I decided to do my ironing at night.  I was watching CNN, ironing linen, when someone lets himself into my room.  Nairobi isn't the safest place on a good day, and this was nearly 11 pm.  I pull the iron from the wall and advance on the still opening door - which eventually reveals an SAS pilot backing up as quickly as his roller bag allows.  The desk had double assigned my room and given him a key.  He left quickly to sort it out.

Eating Meat Like It Is My Job: So my vegetarianism has been curtailed for this trip as it has been basically meat or nothing.  But if I am going to fall off the wagon, I am going to do it in style.  In Nairobi I went to a work dinner at the famous Carnivore restaurant.  Back in the day, it used to serve all sorts of weird game meats (gazelle, Cape buffalo, zebra – you can imagine what a country that serves springbok as an airplane meal could come up with when trying).  But, alas for the flesh eater and fortunately for the endangered species, this practice has been outlawed in Kenya.  I had to settle for crocodile (nice but a little boney), ostrich meatballs (heavenly – those big dumb birds were made for the ground meat culinary genre), and the internal organs of several less exotic species (livers, gizzards, etc.)  All of this left me feeling more than a little nauseous, but that was nothing a few Tuskers couldn’t fix.

Unibomber in 14A: So in addition to my work schedule, I have been taking a class one day a week at UMD on topics in advanced sampling.  (Tell me that is a sexy way to pass one’s limited spare time.)  As a result, I end up doing my homework problem sets whenever I get a chance.  In this case, it was on the 7:30 pm flight from Dar to Nairobi.  It had been a really long day and I was in a foul mood, so I just hunkered down in the corner with a handful of airplane mini-beers – scrawling sigmas and deltas on my yellow legal pad and trying to make this &%*$ing proof come out right.  About 45 minutes in – as I ordered my third shot glass of Heinkein, I noticed the person sitting at the end of the aisle was staring at me like my panties were stuffed with C4.  The poor kid couldn’t have been more than 16 and my drinking and growling at the page with a mechanical pencil stuck in my hair was stranger than anything he had seen on safari that week.  I tried to smile at him but I must have looked a little manic because he just leaned away.  Oh well.  Making friends wherever I go.

Newspaper Headline:  The media in Africa is quite vibrant and I like reading the local papers.  My favorite headline of the week: "80 passengers hurt when 36 seater bus veers off road..."  

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