Friday, July 18, 2014

Cannonball Run

List of bad things:

Broken glass
Bits of tire
Drunk drivers
Failed gear
Flying rocks 

List of good things
Gear that works as advertised

Motel 6 in Marshall Texas made me remember a scene from one of my favorite all-time movies, the cannonball run. mad dog crashes through the hotel lobby, and when the bug guy hotel manager comes out mad dog commands "hey man are you the one running this fleabag? Where are the hookers?"
"What?" Squeaks the manager.
"Hookers man! where are the hookers?"

I won't go so far to say that the Motel 6 in Marshall is a fleabag, or that it has hookers. However if there had been fleas or hookers, I would not of been surprised. Many years ago, my former workplace ordered me and many other staffers to go on a staff retreat. They booked us into some sort of dude ranch used for company events somewhere out in West Texas. I don't remember the town. We specialized in putting on Weather shows and della events, so we expected them to book us into someplace that demonstrated respect for what we did. Instead, they booked us into a broken down, run down, dirty little joint. Bare cinder block walls, green paint, you get the idea. My friend and colleague Bill had bad walked into his room he said "this is where my parents will find my body." I thought of that moments of times in the year since when I've been staying at some great places and some less than great places. All that being said, it was clean, bug free, secure, and have hot running water. That place is it in the top half of "places where Andy has spent the night." 

i'm using a lot of "quotation marks" today.

Yesterday, I started the morning by packing and getting dressed. I have very small saddlebags, so I had to pack an extra backpack and lash it onto my bumper. This turned out to be a bad idea. I've done it before, several times before actually, and driven long-distance with that very same backpack lashed to my bumper. Didn't work.

I fed my new stray cat, then had breakfast at city CafĂ©. An older man at the bar try to talk to me. His breath was amazingly phone. I had to back away and I noticed nobody was sitting anywhere near this guy. He said something unintelligible, said something to the waitress, and then stumbled out of the restaurant. We were all looking at each other and shaking our heads, when I heard the war of the motorcycle. I look out the front door and see the drunk old man driving off on a Harley. 

I finished breakfast, got on the road, and made it to Meridian by 9 o'clock. I stopped for gas and found that my backpack was loose. Hadn't fallen off but looked like it might. I tried real lashing it too many contents had shifted during the one hour trip. 

I found the nearest post office and repacked so that everything I needed for the trip say to my saddlebags and things I needed a house when the backpack. Then I mailed my backpack to the conference. 

The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful, until I got to Monroe. As I ate a very late lunch, it started to rain. I had checked the weather forecast before I left and had not seen any rain predicted. Not a Tuscaloosa not in Meridian not in Jackson not in Monroe not anywhere along my route. Whatever. The rain started coming down, light at first then pouring. I'd left my rain gear at home since I'm going to the DESERT. I checked the forecast again: 80% chance of rain in Monroe for yesterday and today. Same in Shreveport. Waiting in Monroe would not have lessened the likelihood of me driving in the rain, so I decided to go.

Driving a motorcycle in the rain is… special. At 80 mph, raindrops hit hard. pebbles feel like buckshot. The worst time to drive is during the first 30 minutes. The water is on the ground, but it hasn't been down long enough to wash away residual oil. I waited. 

I invested in a bunch of new gear for this trip. My old gear was old, and wasn't great to begin with. Some items went missing, but that's another story. New helmet, jacket, gloves, tank bag, fender bag, pillion seat.

My new helmet has serious fog problems. I'll have to sort that out. It also got real uncomfortable until I pulled out the cheek pads. The jacket has all the armor I need in case of crash, but it's only water resistant, not waterproof. The magnetic tank bag hold on just fine, but the rain cover rides up while driving and lets water in from the bottom. The fender bag did fine, as did the pillion seat. The gloves got slippery, which is to be expected. I didn't think about how new they were, or that they'd never been on serious rain before. When I got to the Motel 6, I took them off and found the gloves had dyed my hands black. 

Also found out that my license plate is missing. Whether it fell off or was stolen, I don't know. Maybe my backpack knocked it off.  I'll have to replace it when I get back.

Today, I'm sipping coffee in a Texas best smokehouse in Longview before I strike out for the next town. I'm sore achy and tired, but it's the good kind of sore achy and tired. Once I finish this coffee, I'm off to Dallas, then Wichita Falls.

Saturday, June 28, 2014


First, I want to thank Coral Rock Resort for helping UA in Zanzibar during a crisis situation. You guys rock.

My last day in Zanzibar is the first day of Ramadan. Last night was a big party - everyone was up late. Kids played and girls wore party dresses. One of the things I find so interesting here is the issue of head covering for Muslim women. it seems to be somewhat optional. Most women cover, but not all, and those that cover don't cover all the time. Girls typically only cover as part of a school uniform, but not when they're playing. Some girls under marriageable age don't cover at all, period. Young women tend to remove their coverings at bars and late night parties. Yes, bars. People say this is a Muslim country, but it's really Swahili fusion, with strong influences from mainland Tanzania and Kenya, India, Europe, and the Middle East. African women wore headwraps long before Islam arrived, so head covering rules (I think) follow the culture more than the religion. Even so, I have only once seen a woman asked to cover herself, and that was when a wife saw her husband checking out an American woman in a very modest sleeveless dress. From where I'm sitting, I can see some women on the beach, covered and uncovered. So interesting. I'd like to learn more, but I need to find a culturally-appropriate way to ask by next year.

I'm surprised by the number of expats and non-Muslims observing Ramadan (or trying to).

I've learned so much here, and I have a long list of changes and improvements for next year. Still, I'm please overall with our first year. We had many successes and only a few serious issues. Nothing I couldn't handle, but I'll be more prepared for next year. And there will be a next year.

Time to pack and go home. See y'all Stateside.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Every Seat Equipped with Window and Aisle

I'm so tired I can barely see straight. Note to self: next year, bring help. Someone stole the purse of one of our students. It's the type of thing that could happen anywhere, except it happened here.  She lost everything: phone, wallet, cash, credit cards, passport. The passport. This was Sunday, and her flight was scheduled to leave on Wednesday. She can't fly without a passport.

I gave her my phone so she could wake her parents. They cancelled her credit cards and put an alert on her driver's license. She used the Find My Phone app to locate or brick her phone, but it was probably disassembled already. Our new BFF's at Africa Impact lent us a local phone and the number of a good driver in Dar Es Salaam. I got online to find out how to replace a US Passport in Zanzibar. Answer: you can't replace a U.S. passport in Zanzibar. The American Embassy is located on the mainland in Dar Es Salaam. They require any evidence you have of the missing passport (photocopy), new passport photos, several forms, and a fee of $135. All in person, no emails or faxes. So.

Monday, 4:30 am. I wake up and get ready for a 5 am taxi to Stone Town. From there, we'll catch the ferry to the mainland. We arrive at 6 and find that the 7 am ferry is sold out. We buy business class tickets (economy is already sold out) to the 9:30 ferry and look for breakfast. That's trickier than it looks - Swahili people eat breakfast at home, not at a restaurant. I figure one of the nicer hotels will have something. The Tembo Hotel let us in (swank!), and we eat like the posh people who eat at the Tembo Hotel.

8 am. We catch another cab to retrieve the money her parents sent Western Union. The forms are in Swahili. Of course the forms are in Swahili. Note to self: next year, learn Swahili. We wait forever behind a man who's trying to send what looks like a counterfeit US $100 bill. The teller refused to take it. They got into an argument. They resolved the argument. The teller wants us to fill out the form again. We don't have time.

8:50 am. Check-in at the ferry. After showing tickets and ID at the gate, we go to Immigration to fill out Customs forms. After our tickets are stamped, we wait in the business class waiting area. After about 10 minutes, the purser leads everyone to the ramp and we board. The Kilimanjaro IV is a fast, modern ferry with a good safety record. More importantly, it doesn't take cars or cargo containers - just people. We pick out seats and get underway around 10. The movie? Captain Phillips. Nothing like watching one ocean on TV and feeling another ocean in your stomach and ear. And pirates! Who doesn't love pirates?

12:17. We get off the boat and found our driver, Alifa a.k.a. Big Daddy. Unlike most of our drivers on the island, he's an older man in his 50's or 60's. He knows Dar and he knows everyone at the docks. He took us to the Embassy and showed us a few sights on the way: "American" street (real name Ohio St.). Obama Street (real name Obama Street). We also see the heavy, intimidating security presence in Dar Es Salaam - luggage scanned and checked before entering upscale hotels, ordinary security guards armed with shotguns and assault weapons, convoys of police and military everywhere. Note to self: next year, stay out of Dar. And traffic! I hadn't seen real traffic in a month. Zanzibar has traffic, but it's different - they have almost no traffic control. No stoplights, only rare signs, no arrows on the roads, no cops directing traffic. There are some roundabouts at busy intersections, and signs blocking road construction. In Zanzibar, everyone flows around each other. Cars, trucks, buses, mopeds, three-wheelers, bicycles, people, oxcarts - somehow it just works. I have not seen a single accident since I arrived on Zanzibar. In fact, I haven't even seen a wrecked car on the side of the road or vehicles with accident damage. As close as vehicles and pedestrians come to each other, I haven't seen a person hit by a car. Dar es Salaam is larger and more regulated. I should think of it as normal but I don't.

1:15. The Embassy guards demand we go away and make an appointment. I explain that we have not taken the ferry to get a visa, but to replace a stolen passport. I explain several times until they understand. We pass through several checkpoints and leave all electronics at the security station. We find the correct building and pass through security again. Then we wait.

1:45. The admin came to the window and I explain the situation. Lots of forms, plus some money and passport photos. We wait. I chat with another expat in the waiting room. She worked in Liberia after I left, so we chat about Liberian stuff: corruption, bribery, the usual. Same as always. The duty officer interviews my student and administers the oath. And then the admin says the computers are down and we'll have to come back tomorrow and here's a number you can call if you have any questions now please collect your belongings on the way out.

2:55. Big Daddy drives like a genius to get us on the last ferry.

3:30. We miss the last ferry by a few minutes. Big Daddy takes us to a friend and ticket agent who says there is a plane at 5:30. And if I'm coming back tomorrow, it's better to book tickets now than wait until morning - the ticket counter in Zanzibar will sell out early. They don't take credit cards, and I don't have enough Tanzanian shillings to buy boat and plane tickets. Then (wonder of wonders) the ticket agent does us a solid. He spots us two tickets on the ferry, payable after we arrive in Dar the next day. We shake hands and exchange business cards. Note to self: get new business cards. Big Daddy took us to the airport, clear on the other side of this sprawling city.

5:30. The counter agent scolds. "Late, please hurry. We hold this flight just for you." We're the first ones on the plane.

5:50. Takeoff. Apparently this is a training run. An older pilot explains the plane to a younger pilot for 15 minutes, then we go. I'm not 100% sure he's flown this particular vehicle before. The plane seats 12. Every seat comes equipped with a seatbelt, a window, and an aisle. Flight time 20 minutes thank you for flying ZanAir enjoy your flight. The sign over the GPS in the instrument panel reads: This GPS not approved for primary navigation. I'm close enough to read signs on the instrument panel.

6:10 I see rusty rooftops over Zanzibar and feel glad to be home. Home. That's odd. I've only been here a month, yet I feel more at home here than I ever did in Liberia. I'm grateful for my experiences there - most of them some of them let me get back to you on that. But I'd never consider living there again. A short visit to see friends or do a specific project, maybe.

When I was in Liberia, I almost married an American woman who took great pride in her appearance. She began wearing local fabrics and local hairstyles, and was once mistaken for a member of a local tribe. The mistake made her positively giddy, even after I pointed out that the "mistake" came from a canny shopkeeper trying to sell her more made-in-Nigeria fabric. She sneered at me sometimes, claiming her African-ness was realer than mine because I, with my large body and American accent and long dreadlocks, could never be mistaken for a Kpelle, or Lorma, or Dan/Gio, or Kru. At best, I could be a long-lost cousin of the Mandingo if I cut my hair and converted to Islam. At the same time, she hated the place. Disliked most of the people she met. I did all sorts of things to try to make her happy. Eventually I stopped. She longed to go home to small-town South, or to the Germany she majored in during college. She used to speak about Germany daily, not caring whether Germany or the German language or German history bore any relevance to Liberia or our lives. I counted once. 82 days in a row. She skipped one day, and then another 57. "They're a deeply misunderstood people," she repeated.

I objected to her frequent attempts to engage me in German conversation. "I don't speak German," I'd say. This, to her (I should name her. A good German name. I don't know any German names. Frau Bluecher? Der Komissar?) was my fault. One day she went on and on about Germany and I blurted, "I don't care about Germany. I've been there. It's a fine country with lovely people. But I don't care any more for Germany than I care for Kenya, or Costa Rica, or Canada, or any other place." She looked shocked, then began repeating to herself, "you don't care about Germany. You don't care..."

I think her marriage to me ended that day. We weren't married yet, but we had been planning, plotting, scheming, drawing up lists, scouting sites, remembering, hoping. We had already started trying for kids. She began asking more questions about our future. In Germany. How would I fit in? Could I learn such a difficult language? (A question of mental capacity, not willingness.) What would I do? And could I just sit up straighter, and lose weight, and not sweat, and laugh less loudly. I began to see her as someone who wanted to become someone else and wanted me to become the someone else her someone else would love elsewhere. German, Kpelle, anyone but a young black woman from a small town and a not-quite-middle-aged black man from New York by way of Texas. It ground at me. I felt rubbed raw, cheated. I threw myself into my work. I wrote until the power went out at midnight and sometimes wrote in my journal afterwards. I've never read any of that stuff since. I drank cane juice with ginger lime syrup. I regretted not having the affairs she accused me of having. I decided to have an affair but never did. I quit trying to make her happy. I got sick; I got better. I hung out with friends in dusty bars drinking warm beer. I jogged in the mornings. Somewhere in there, I grew content with who I am, despite my mistakes and shortcomings and a decided lack of German and affair-having. I am me; me am I. That's when my marriage to her ended. And the Cesna landed on the left wheel, then the back wheel, then all three at 6:12 pm according to the co-pilot's watch.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Habib Koite

The Wisconsin program came out and joined us for lunch and a day at the beach. Africa Impact came for lunch. I arranged lunch with Hassan Tege, and he truly outdid himself. Even longtime expats love his food. And maybe that tamarind-baobab-vanilla juice really prevents malaria. I just know it’s delicious.

While most of the students wanted to attend a party at another hotel, the older set wanted to watch Habib Koite in Stone Town. He's not just a musician - he's a legend out of Mali. Seeing him is a rare opportunity. I wanted my students to enjoy the show, but  I also understand wanting to party with friends. I gave the students the night off, with limits – no risky behavior, stay together, keep a working phone with you at all times.

Interesting thing about ancient literature: when the hero and his friends are told, “Do not do this one thing ever. I’m serious. Like never do this. Ne-ver”, they invariably do that one thing. In creation mythology, this symbolizes the introduction of free will – humans must rebel against the gods so that their choices mean something. In later stories it signifies humanity’s constant struggle. And in some stories it signifies a Program Violation.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Sisygambis...or not

We got up to go see the Sisygambis exhibition, catch the Princess Salme exhibition, then sit in on a guest lecture about the ZanzibarRevolution. We ran late dealing with a programmatic issue, then got to the Old Customs House and found the exhibit closed. Whoever was supposed to run it that day hadn’t turned up, and no one could say when or if she would arrive. I did run into Jude, a lovely British expat who's the Education coordinator for the DCMA. We had no time for Salome and lunch, so we opted for lunch. We met the Wisconsin program at their hotel and walked over to SUZA’s Foreign Language Institute. After some technical glitches, the lecture started.

I’m not an expert on Zanzibar and Tanzanian history, but I’m fairly good at spotting bias. The lecturer focused on certain issues to the exclusion of others. I’ll find another guest lecturer for next year. After the lecture, we sat with Wisconsin for dinner at Livingstone’s, then came home and watched the stars twinkle.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Fahari: To have a sense of pride

I dropped by Casa del Mar hotel after breakfast to chat with Laura Johnson from Ole Miss. We finished our conversation from the previous night and agreed to work together in the future. She does some things I plan to incorporate into my program, like local 1-1 partnerships and village homestays. In general, I plan to make a bunch of changes for next year, including volunteering or service-learning, formal Swahili instruction, and more travel. One of the travel possibilities is so cool…but not a done deal by any means. I’ll keep that to myself for now.

Went in early to catch the short films before the main showings. The short daytime programs often outperform the night-time stuff. I caught an excellent TV pilot called Statehouse, about the staff at the Presidential Mansion in a fictional African country. The old President lost the election, and a new President (and family) arrive. It’s somewhere between Scandal and Downton Abbey. By the way, my Downton Abbey obsession is over. SPOLIER ALERT: Season 3’s idiotic ending just killed it for me. Oh well.

After a few days in Stone Town, I’m leaning to spot locally-made crafts. They tend to be smaller-scale shops, a bit pricier, and carry something unique. Today I found Fahari, which means “having pride in oneself” in Swahili. It’s a cooperative founded by Julie Lawrence, a designer from London. She teaches disabled people, orphans, widows, and divorced women job skills. She’s also dedicated to making her fashionable bags, clothing, and jewelry from materials found on Zanzibar. That’s the kind of sustainable development I prefer. I’m putting together a list of similar shops for next year.

Julie Graves rejoined us after a week on the mainland. She’s a good person to have around the students – lively, funny, faculty but not their faculty. I think the styudents can relax more around her. I also met a local named Nichel – an entirely mad Dutchman lounging about Jaws Corner. He offered me a coffee, then offered me some conyagi. This is the national drink of Zanzibar (yes, a Muslim country with a national drink). I've been led to believe it's somewhat rude to refuse an offer of conyagi. I said yes. 

Despite the rumors, conyagi comes with a government seal for taxes and safety. It's not some sort of bootleg hooch. Tastes good, but not nearly as strong as Liberian cane juice. We chatted for awhile, then made our way back to Old Fort. Nichel wandered off to watch the Holland Game, and I went inside to watch Half a Yellow Sun. The adaptation is excellent, but no adaptation can capture Adiche's novel. The movie has gotten mediocre reviews from American critics and academics who think they understand Nigeria. Let me tell you, here, on African soil, with many Nigerians in the audience, there was nothing but love for the film. Afterwards, we saw a wonderful short made by Khalil and Eli Fananuzzi about traditional dance in Puerto Rico. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The SEC runs Zanzibar

Another double class day: The Ramayana. I discussed the imagery of Book 5, and then we discussed why Valkimi focuses so much on imagery. I’d hoped to get a Hindu cleric to discuss this with us, but couldn’t get anything lined up for this year. There’s a major temple in Stone Town, plus some schools: I’ll set something up for next year. We went over our ZIFF schedules again.

I went down to Coral Rock to get on the internet after dinner. As I walked in, I heard a woman speaking English with a Southern accent. She was surrounded by a group of college-aged people, and then mentioned “articles”. The odds that I’ll run into two Study Abroad programs on Zanzibar at the same time? 100%. Laura Johnson is a Psychology professor from Ole Miss, and she’s been coming here for years. After they ate and I checked email, Laura and I went to a quieter bar and talked shop – what works for her, what doesn’t, things to consider. She has an extensive program on the mainland: I may adopt some of her ideas. She also has contacts for affordable safaris, local entrances to national parks – the types of things I couldn’t sort out beforehand. Ole Miss also has a formal re-entry program for Study Abroad participants. UA doesn’t do that (although we have an excellent Counseling Center). I’ll bring the topic up when I return.

Laura went to sit with her students around the fire and I sat near the TV to catch the end of the Mexico-Brazil match. Turned out the woman I sat next to randomly is the same woman I sat next to randomly at the Mandela showing. We introduced ourselves: her name is Mel, and she’s an English teacher based in Aruysha. Also got a message from Khalil Fantanuzzi. He’s a friend of Rachel Ramist’s and has a film showing tomorrow night at ZIFF. He told me to look him up.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Down Day

Today was a down day for me. I don’t know why, but I was depressed and homesick all day. I didn’t want to get out of bed, then I looked at the calendar and counted the days until I go home. I’m on the beach, in a beautiful house, leading students on a writing and teaching adventure – in other words exactly what I wanted to do with my life. So why am I depressed? Isolation and exhaustion. My students are wonderful, funny, sweet, adventurous, but they’re still students. I have to maintain some professional distance. This can be a delicate negotiation – I need them to talk to me about any problems they’re having, but I can’t tell them about any issue in my life. Plenty of non-students offered to go with me, some more seriously than others. Next year, I’ll see what I can do about having at least one-more faculty member with me, or at least one other non-student. Because here’s part two: I’m exhausted.

Zanzibar, like most of Africa, doesn’t work on the internet. I can’t email people and expect to make arrangements that way. Only the most expensive tour operators and hotel have websites, and those are increasingly foreign-owned. I can get better deals with locals, but I can’t take anything on faith: I personally inspect everything.

 I’m up before the students every morning making calls and arrangements, negotiating prices, and having follow-up meetings (in person). While the students have free time in Stone Town or Kikadini to shop, I’m looking for wifi so I can correspond with UA and people back home. Then I’m leading a class activity, observing the participants, or something else. Don’t even get me started on the accounting. After we get back home, I pay the driver and do any follow up paperwork. Then I sleep with the phone next to my ear, in case there’s an emergency. I’m on call 24/7 for the entire trip, and business hours in Alabama equal the middle of the night in Zanzibar. Don’t get me wrong, I love doing this. I knew this year would require much of my time and energy. Like I said, it’s a down day.

I lectured on Home and Sappho in the morning, making comparisons between their versions of the Trojan War. Also looked at how the Odyssey can be read as lessons in respecting femininity, since so many warnings and dangers come from female characters. In the afternoon, we looked at the Epic of Sundiata. We talked about the construction of the epic hero. Called it a day.