Kariakoo, Bagamoyo, and Last Days in Dar

Friday, June 30, 2006 | Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (map)

Streets of Bagamoyo town: late afternoon along the Swahili coast
Time has flown by since our return from Mikumi and Morogoro nearly two weeks ago. Swahili class picked up in intensity a good deal, and our teachers finally judged us prepared to go out into the real world for some extracurricular activities after our morning classes. One such trip took us to Kariakoo, Dar es Salaam's chaotic western suburb and main market area, known best among travelers as a petty theft hotspot. When he heard we would be going, Scott Taylor, the Georgetown professor on site, chuckled and muttered something about a "den of thieves."

There, Tanzania's poverty made itself far more visible than ever before, as we stumbled through crowded streets, tripping our way over a pungent mix of discarded food scraps and trash.

The main Kariakoo market itself is a colossal concrete structure rising out of the slum, yet seeming only large enough to just clear the single-story buildings around it, shamed and unimpressive like a

Heading for the Hills: Mikumi and Morogoro

Tuesday, June 20, 2006 | Mikumi, Tanzania (map)

Hey there, big fella!
After school last Friday, our next group outing began—Mikumi National Park and the town of Morogoro, both in central Tanzania, several hours' drive west of Dar.

Knowing we would be up before dawn the next day, we all got to bed early that night at our hotel in Morogoro, Charlie and I included, despite the uneasy feeling we shared after noticing two bullet holes in the wall of our hotel room. (Nothing like a little World Cup to soothe the nerves.)

At 4:30 we woke, packed up and were soon on our way to Mikumi, hoping to arrive by 6:00 AM, the official time of dawn in Tanzania and thus the time when the animals should begin moving around in search of food. I say the "official time" because of the somewhat peculiar time scheme that exists in Tanzania. Since we're not exactly on the equator, day lengths do vary somewhat, yet that fact is somewhat ignored here. Unlike anywhere else I have ever been, Tanzania and presumably

Zanzibar: Spice Isle Rhapsody

Monday, June 19, 2006 | Zanzibar, Tanzania (map)

After a morning of fishing, the crew of a traditional local dhow ferries passengers along the north Zanzibar beaches in afternoon.
On Friday, June 9, after the calm early morning ferry ride to Zanzibar, we dropped our bags at our hotel, located in the center of the labyrinthine Stone Town, the island's modest "capital" and a tiny city, easily crossed by foot in its entirety within an hour. Weaving through the narrow alleyways, which reminded me quite a bit of the streets of old Damascus, we arrived at a small restaurant beside the sea called Mercury's.

Inside, once I had seen the shrine which the owners had created in one corner of the cafe, the origin of the restaurant's name was clear: it was named after Freddie Mercury, the Zanzibar-born lead singer of the band Queen. Who knew? Several decades ago, for a brief time the island's separatist movement leaders apparently even adopted as their motto the line "Bismillah, will you let him go?" from Queen's hit "Bohemian Rhapsody."

Swahili Trials and Tribulations

Thursday, June 8, 2006 | Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (map)

Falling coconuts (as if malaria wasn't enough to worry about already)
"The biggest difference between English and Swahili is the existence of 'noun classes.' Volunteers who have experience with Romance languages will already be familiar with masculine and feminine nouns. Swahili is similar, but instead of having two noun classes, Swahili has fifteen: ..."

Yep, fifteen—what a mess. The quote above comes from the introduction to our Swahili textbook, originally written for use by Peace Corps volunteers in East Africa. So cheery. We've had three days of class so far, and I've learned quite a lot, but at this stage putting a sentence together is still a trying ordeal. With three more weeks of intensive Swahili class (four hours per day) plus homework and practice with my host family, I expect to at least get over that hump.

Opportunities for practical application of Swahili are everywhere—although English is an official language of Tanzania, very few people speak it at anything near fluency. So though most know a

Dar es Salaam: Around Town

Monday, June 5, 2006 | Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (map)

Indian Ocean beach outside Dar es Salaam
Jambo! That's "hello" in Swahili, for those not versed in this crazy language. Thank God I took Arabic before I tried this one, or I'd really feel like I was up a creek without a paddle (as many others in the program are starting to feel). Much of the vocab looks a lot like Arabic, as far as I've seen. After a brief orientation today, though, our Swahili classes will begin tomorrow, which should make communicating around the house a little easier. Charlie (the other American student staying with Susan) and I have managed so far, but knowing some basic phrases will certainly come in handy.

This weekend we went to the beach, and though I took a few nice pictures I wouldn't mind sharing, technical difficulties at this dingy little internet cafe in our neighborhood are making that impossible. Hopefully next time I'm here I'll make it happen and you can see what it looks like

First Impressions: Tanzania

Friday, June 2, 2006 | Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (map)

The new family: Charlie, Susan, Esta, me and Joyce
I've arrived! At 10:00 PM local time last night I and seven others of the Georgetown trip arrived from Amsterdam, changed some money, and were taken to our host families. Thanks to my late sign-up for this program, for the time being I'm staying with one of the local program directors, a Tanzanian named Susan Wagner.

As soon as we stepped out of the plane it was clear that despite the mild temperatures in Dar es Salaam at this time of year, the humidity is going to make things difficult. I feel like I'm swimming. But with a good ocean breeze, our drive (on the left side of the road) from the airport was quite pleasant—it feels good to be back in Africa.