Monday, June 9, 2014

I have found the internet, and found it expensive

The students and I left for the airport to get our last student. Her plane was set to arrive at 10:20. No one arrived at 10:20. There’s no board announcing arrivals and delays in the Zanzibar arrival terminal, just a large whiteboard with departure times on the departure side. A Belgian guy and I asked the Precision Air office when the 10:20 plane would arrive. They said 1 pm. As we say, This Is Africa.
We had two hours to kill, so I asked Buda our driver to take us into the market. One student had an international plan on her phone, but the other needed a local sim card (I require every participant to have a working phone on them at all times)
We ventured into the local market. Not the nice, touristy market, but the palce where regular residents shop. If you’ve never been in an African marketplace, imagine the crowd at a huge music event, like Bonaroo or SXSW, pressed into long narrow alleyways. It’s hot and dusty. Chickens, goats, and the occasional cow wander about, and anyone selling food attracts swarms of flies. People on bicycles and mopeds drive through, even the occasional car. Each shop specializes in something different: electronics, women’s clothing, shoes, etc. We need a place that sells SIM cards. Buda (our driver) finds a guy he knows who knows a guy who can sell a SIM card. The process is fairly easy and quick.

We made our way back to the airport with 45 min to spare. We go to the airport restaurant, which is in the Departure area, but upstairs and away from the main terminal. The restaurant advertises free wifi, but it’s not free. In fact, I found that no one has what we’d call “free” wifi, as in you can access the internet without paying anyone a fee of some sort. While some establishments have wifi, customers are expected to buy something equivalent to the time they spend on the internet.  The staff at Bahati recommended Visitor’s Inn as the place for wifi. I’d tried it the night before and found the wifi incredibly slow – gmail barely loaded after 45 minutes, and UA email didn’t work at all.

At 1, I leave the students in the restaurant and go back downstairs to Arrivals. The Belgian is there too. 1:00 comes and goes with no plane. We ask Precision Air again and they say “maybe around 2.” The Belgian and I shared a moment. We’d both been in Africa long enough to know that “maybe around 2” means “I have no real idea. When I see the plane, it has arrived.” I decided to send my students back to Bahati with our driver and wait by myself. The last student and I would have to catch another cab. A few small planes arrived, mostly carrying very important-looking Muslim clerics and their families. The Belgian and I chatted. My feet hurt. I’d – foolishly – dressed for a quick trip. Always, always, always in Africa, be prepared for long waits. Finally, the plane arrived. The Belgian found his friend and took off. Lots and lots of people came out of Customs, but not my student. I went back to Precision Air and asked them to check the passenger manifest. Her name wasn’t listed on that flight, nor the second flight for that day. I asked them to check one day back and one day forward. Nothing. She wasn’t on the flight.

My heart started racing. Anything could have happened, from a missed connection to an arrest to kidnapping to dropping out of the program. I needed to know what did happen, which required a high speed connection. I took a taxi back to Kikadini, grabbed my laptop, and tried the Coral Rock hotel, rumored to have fast internet. Visitor’s Inn is about five minutes away; Coral Rock is a 20 minute walk on the beach during low tide, or 30 minutes through town during high tide. Fortunately, the rumors were true. I established a connection and found that my student had been delayed by a few days. She was perfectly safe, in the States with her family.

I also found out why the connection didn’t work at Visitor’s Inn: customers also pay a premium for high speed connections. Need 15 minutes to check Gmail or Facebook? 1 cup of instant coffee, 3000 TS ($1.75). Need high bandwith and a secure connection to check University of Alabama email? Burger, fries, and a drink for 14000 TS ($8.50). Want to post photos and videos? Make friends with the bartender so he tells you when the owner isn’t there. Visitor’s Inn hasn’t done enough business to afford a secure connection, so they don’t have one. The students go there, eat and drink cheaply, and get online. I have to pay a premium at Coral Rock. It’s not in my budget, but staying in regular communication is a must.

After all of that, I went back to Bahati. Hassan Tege was there – he wanted far more money than we had agreed upon initially. He explained his prices, and I agree that his food is excellent and worth the money. I also decided to explore other food options. I went to bed early that night, around 8 pm.

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