Bright Lights, Big City

I am conquering yet another new place in my life; Dar es Salaam. As in the beginning in Mtwara also here I tried to start by aquiring a map. Not an easy task. And without the help from my friend and landlady Anoek probably wouldn’t have succeeded – fortunately she had one left over from her parents’ visit – since I was not able to find anything even remotely resembling a tourist information center. This has probably something to do with the fact that I’m staying in Kariakoo, which is one of the least touristic areas in Dar es Salaam – I’m sure in the city center where all the big fancy hotels lie one can find maps of the city relatively easily. Or then not, since from what I’ve observed, most of the tourists in this chaotic city travel from place A to place B either by taxi or by tourist bus – no wandering around by foot like some ignorant Finnish persons like to do… For me, pedestrianism has always been the means of getting to know a place (and it’s people).

Here in Dar this is especially challenging – let alone that I’m doing it in fierce sunshine (the temperature never dropping under +30 C) without the mercy of almost any shade – since I have no-one (Anoek being tied down to her work from early morning to late evening) to instruct me in where to go to buy something that I need, which ‘store’ sells what, where to find some nice cafes or restaurants, where I should NOT go etc. My previous five months in Mtwara haven’t really prepared me for anything in Dar. It is whole another world here… The situation reminds me of the time in the early eighties when I, fresh from high school, having done just some backpackers’ trips to other European countries previously in my life, moved into New York City with one suitcase in my hand and an address of a friend of a friend in my pocket. I remember the first morning there and how I started roaming the streets for a cup of coffee, finally found someplace that looked promising, went in and ended up with something totally different from what I wanted since I didn’t even know how to order properly… But gradually I learned and in the end of my 18 months stay there was able to function as normally as at home.

Back to Dar now. So I got a map. Unfortunately, that doesen’t help very much here since the names of the streets are not shown almost anywhere in this city. I guess that has something to do with the fact that this city is not planned or properly constructed, it has just happened; at some point people started to move in in increasing numbers and build homes for themselves where ever. And of course after they had their shack somewhere they had to get to it daily and that is how many of the streets just happened… Actually, this city has many steets that just stop somewhere without leading anywhere because they were not constructed according any plan… So instead of finding the names of the streets marked on the map I just try to navigate according to landmarks and such that I can recognize from the map…

What makes navigating on the streets even more interesting is the traffic. The constant flow of cars, bajajis and pikipikis doesen’t leave much space for pedestrians especially since everybody is fighting for space on the packed streets and jamming traffic. We, pedestrians, walk on the narrow space left over from the vecihles on both sides of the streets; sidewalks, if they exist, are occupied by street vendors. Here the drivers have never even heard of letting the pedestrians cross the street first so when you need to cross you have to wait patiently, watch carefully for an opportunity and then dive!

Wandering the streets in Kariakoo and it’s vicinity also gives me a clue of how it is to be different from everybody else. Here one seldom sees other mzungus, but the locals pay you attention freely and unaffectedly. Daily I have several discussions about my family relations, my occupation here in Tanzania, my country, it’s good features, Tanzania’s good features etc. not to mention the countless greetings everybody wants to share with the mzungu. And mind you, here greeting is not just some simple hello, it’s always about inquiring the news from home/children/work/’things’ etc. and one has to know how to answer correctly to each separate greeting. But still – somehow being the only one of your kind makes me feel – hmmm… I don’t feel scared, I don’t feel lonely, but somehow not 100 % comfortable either… It’s something like ‘what if something happened to me that would shake me in a fundamental level, would these people who live in such a different reality, who approach it from such a different cultural heritage, would they be able to relate to me…? I guess this is something similar what African immigrants that come to Finland are experiencing and that also explains why they so willingly gravitate into each others’ company. We, as human beings, need fundamental understanding of our beings. But having said all this then again I have to say that I DO feel really good here 🙂

To make my experience here even more spicy I decided to pay a visit to the local immigration office to inquire about my work permit that was applied and paid for already six months ago. When I reached the office I was told that in my case I had to go to the Immigration Head Quarters situated in quite far away corner of the city. So this time the distance being notable and me having already walked some hot kilometres to get to this office I negotiated a bajaji prize (remember; no set prizes here) and got myself transferred to the faraway HQ.

When I arrived there it was 2:05 in the afternoon and to my horror I saw a sign on the gate informing that the working hours ended at 2pm. I pleaded the gate keeper and to my great ashtonisment he let me in! I didn’t even had had the sense of trying to bribe him, just appealed that I had just come a long way and nobody in the city office had told me they close so early. So – in I was and went to ask from the nearest official how to advance in my case. The guy behind the glass scolded me like I was a child behaving badly having arrived in such silly hour but – again to my great ashtonisment – started to rummage through a pile of papers that seemed like fresh permits.

After not finding my permit he took me to the second floor of the bureau where I was greeted by a Kafkanian scene: Half of the room’s floor was covered by files with thick piles of messy papers in them and there was one official adding more and more of the same stuff on the floor. I was taken to a jovial young man who was playing merrily with his cell phone. After not having found my name or my application anywhere from their information system (this was checked in such a short time that it left me wondering how extensive their digital archive can be…) he started to rummage through a thick book full of hand written names of the applicants handing me another similar one to inspect in case my name would appear somewhere on the pages… Neither of us got lucky and I was asked to come back the next day so they could find the official who had signed the receipt of the paid application fee (USD 550, so not an insignificant amount).

Even though all the gatekeepers and the officials had been friendly and helpful I decided to let my Kafkanian experience end here and did not go back the next day. What I have learned here from bureaucracy and functioning of things I could easily be travelling to that faraway office every day for the rest of the time I’m here in Tanzania and still no work permit would emerge from the endless depths of the bureau. I decided that peace of mind is more important than money…

So, what comes to my reference to Jay McInerney’s famous book Dar es Salaam is a big city (population 4 million and increasing rapidly), but of bright lights one cannot really talk – everywhere where I’ve been in Africa including this city the lighting is really bad, I’m always suffering from not being able to see properly and I believe often people suffer from all kinds of eye problems because of that – some Waka Waka solar lamps or something like that would be great here… Unless of course if you count in the sun which definitely is bright – all of the time…

A scene from my window

A scene from my window

The citizens seem to do almost everything on their balconies; cooking, laundry, washing up etc.

The citizens seem to do almost everything on their balconies; cooking, laundry, washing up etc.

It is true! A mosquito net can also be pink and lacy...

It is true! A mosquito net can also be pink and lacy…

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Looking back – or – an interval summary

I’m leaving Mtwara. Not Africa yet, not even Tanzania, but Mtwara. I’m going to Dar es Salaam to teach Aikido in a dojo established by Yukihide Katsuta. Yukihide got summoned back home to Japan and his students are without a teacher at the moment so I’m very happy to step in for a while. Dar es Salaam has always appeared to me as a frightful place with all of it’s (seemingly) unmanageable chaos and the horror stories of cruel criminals but since to me whole this trip to Africa has been constant challenging of myself I’m also challenging myself with Dar :-).

Leaving Mtwara makes me look back at the times when I came here almost six months ago. I remember how I was trying to acquire a road map of this place in order to learn how to get around here – now this thought makes me laugh… How could you ever draw a map of this place where all the little roads are constantly rearranged by rains, floods and occasional construction sites? Nowadays I just wander around expertly with my bicycle finding new routes where water and mud have made the previous route impassable. Pikipikis, bajajis and even cars are doing exactly the same so the road map of this little town is created anew constantly.

Somehow this looking back makes me think of sounds. Sounds are so charasterictic of this place – I feel they define it. I’ve already mentioned before the clucking of the chickens and the crowing of the roosters which is something I will surely miss when I leave this place. Besides those sounds there is a variety of different bird songs that one hears every day and sometimes at night too. At night time there is a chorus of crickets and during the monsuun a lot of smacking sounds from frogs inhabiting the ponds the rains have created everywhere. Sometimes during the nights the weary dogs, who lay all day mute in the shades, wake up and add their barking and murmuring to the chorus. One night I was even able to hear the tide coming in; I woke up to it and in some weird way I even kind of felt the moon pulling… (I looked at the clock, it was 2:20 am and the next morning when I checked the tide schedule found out that it was full moon that night and the highest point of the tide was at 2:30!) On the beach where I’m doing my Qi gong there is always uninterrupted buzzing of zillions of insects. Besides all these sounds from the nature there is of course loads of sounds produced by people; children playing, adults talking, mosques sending out their chanting prayers through the loud speakers five times per day, fishmongers singing their particular selling calls that sound like some kind of ritual, pikipikis, bajajis, cars, often cars with loudspeakers (emphasis on the word LOUD) advertising a happening or something, always music coming from somewhere and if I’m in my room all of this is accompanied by the constant humming of my fan day and night…

This six months here has offered me a wonderful opportunity of immerging myself into books. I love reading but somehow in our busy western lives I never seem to find enough time to put into it. But here one finds time :-)! I’ve read so many good books and gained so much joy and new perspectives from them that I can only feel grateful and hope I will be able to keep this leisurely habit up when I go back home to my busy western life… I’ve read especially african writers; Lessing, Gordimer, Coetzee, Brink of course but also I’ve been lucky to find a lot of contemporary black writers such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Elechi Amadi and Tsitsi Dangarembga, who have helped me to form a picture of african life and mentality.

With the help of the books (I still have to mention here Richard Dowden’s Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles, an excellent analysis of African politics, economics and cultural heritage – warmly recommended to anyone interested in the subject) and my everyday life here I have managed to contemplate a lot between the differences of life in this continent and back home in Europe. I have written quite a lot about that subject before – maybe sometimes even without noticing it – so I’m not going to go very deep into it now, just some random notions: The things that have not pleased me too much here in Mtwara are the lack of environmental awareness, the disregard of the well being of animals, even cruelty towards them, the attitude of always having to make profit out of everything and, if you happen to have some wealth, showing off – or just being pragmatic – rather than recognizing esthetic values. All these things, I think, come down to one fibre: not being able to afford them. When you are living on the mercy of nature, on the brink of just making enough money to survive, when you cannot afford higher education, when you don’t have means to cultivate your awareness broader than the narrow spectre of your physical surroundings (or – when the information coming from outside is only through television that is churning out the most shoddy, cheap western crap that is designed to keep people ignorant), all this western higher awareness of ‘proper’ values is a luxury you just cannot afford.

Besides gaining a deeper understanding of people’s lives both here and back home I have also learned quite a bit about myself. Just last night I heard a new term: FOMO. It stands for Fear of Missing Out. I recognized this phenomenon in myself immediately. I think it is quite a common sickness among us westerners and it is good sometimes to acknowledge it, to stop and contemplate and then maybe let some things go past without regrets… I have also written earlier about achieving – commonly spread malady in the west as well– but suddenly found a new dimension in it. Maybe it is not just a bad thing this craving for achievements in our culture; after all it has given us all the comforts we have in our lives (which people here most definitely DON’T have) and also, I just realized, the feeling of satisfaction you get when you’ve accomplished something is not to be underrated. And that leads to yet another insight: these months here that I have spent escaping from the ‘material, hard, achievement oriented’ west have also taught me to value what we have there – and it’s not a little! All the material comforts we have in life (I’m already dreaming about hot showers, flushing toilets, immense variety of good foods and coffees, the overall comfort of my flat), the ease of getting an education, the good care and cure when you’re sick, the plentitude of options in your life from which to choose – they are goddamn valuable things and we should be goddamn grateful for having them!!! And after saying this in such hard tone I have to add yet another revelation that came out of accepting achieving as not entirely ‘bad’ thing: to accept many sides in myself as well. Before I came to Africa I was always the one who chose the sunniest seat in the cafeteria, who switched from shadowy side of the street into sunny side, but here I find myself leaping from one shade to the next one. In the same way I have had to examine the shadowy places inside myself – not always very pleasurable task – sometimes I’ve hated doing it, sometimes I’ve hated myself for what I have found, but after all this soul searching (and some wise notions from friends :-)) I have been able to accept also these shady sides in me – after all, life is not only sun shine, why should we pretend something else…

My bike being repaired in a local bike shop.

My bike being repaired in a local bike shop.

The mosque right next to our house. I have listened to the chanting of the imams Oh so many a night...

The mosque right next to our house. I have listened to the chanting of the imams Oh so many a night…

My role model: a creature mastering the art of adjusting to it's environment.

My role model: a creature mastering the art of adjusting to it’s environment.

The Life itself: shadow, sun, rainbow, clouds etc.

The Life itself: shadow, sun, rainbow, clouds etc.

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Traveling in Tanzania

Kilimanjaro was a tough one… She beat me totally. I was unprepared for such a powerful attack of altitude sickness – had no idea it could be so bad… So I didn’t make it to the highest point Uhuru peak (5895 m) but had to stop at Stella Point (5756 m) after my guide had to catch me twice to prevent me from hitting myself on the ground when passing out. Still – most definitely I don’t regret the trek; I enjoyed the whole week of hiking in rough, beautiful terrains in a temperature more familiar to me than what I have been experiencing here these past five months… And we did some good on the way raising funds for girls dormitory in nearby city of Arusha 🙂

After getting down from the mountain I had to mount again – this time an aeroplane taking me from Arusha to Zanzibar. The plane was one of those propelled small aircrafts that you always wonder about whether they’re gonna stay in the air or not… Since having had my altitude trouble on Kili and having a long history of travel sickness both in cars and aeroplanes I asked the official at the desk to book me a seat as in front of the plane as possible. ‘Sure’, he said, ‘it is mandatory to have a co-pilot in these flights, so you can be the co-pilot.’ I guess my five months here in Africa must have toughened me quite a bit since I didn’t even flinch, just said ok. And I don’t know if it was the pill I took for the travel sickness or the excitement of sitting in the cockpit but I wasn’t sick one bit, just enjoying the scenery of the mountains (this time from above) and being childishly excited about all the gadgets I had in front of my seat – not allowed to touch them though…

On Zanzibar I rode with a bus to Jambiani beach and took a room in a somewhat dubious establishment run by a flock of rastafari. Then darkness. I slept 48 hours almost nonstop, I remeber at some point being kind of awake and a little annoyed that when the rastafaris played music outside my room really loud it wasn’t the sweet reggae music – as one could have expected from them – but some main stream crap – which one wouldn’t have expected – , but then passed out again… After my resurrection I decided to lift the quality of my accommodation a notch or two and took another bus ride in Jambiani – and found my dream house…

It is a little guest house on the beach, two stories high, the wonderful sea breeze always blowing through the upper floor. Here I spent some unforgettable days regressing back to my teen years being hippie and forgetting all about time and place… And here I met Tula. She is southafrican, born one of the triplets being identical with her sister but not her brother. I call her Crazy Cat Lady (and everybody who knows me including Tula knows that I use this term lovingly). One day one of the neighbours of our little hotel threw two kittens over the high concrete wall into our yard. Tula took the kittens under her wing, gave them a bath, took them to a vet to get some deworming medicine, made a little nest for them in one corner of the hotel and started to feed them. She named them Tiger and Ginger. Whenever we were walking out in the village Tula remarked that she should build a pond for the ducks strolling about since it was so dry and desolate there (she was going to rent a house on the beach and stay in Jambiani). Wherever we went she felt for the animals around and was always sorry to see them being treated badly. I told her I think she is picking a wrong country to settle in since here in this culture it is customary to treat animals cruelly; tanzanians have never had the luxury to treat them well since it is such a harsh life for everybody here – a struggle for the fittest… Zanzibar also has a history of being the centre of slave trade in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. I visited some sights where they used to keep the slaves that were going to be marketed and those gloomy places didn’t indicate much value for human life either…

I guess our little hotel was attracting somewhat different crowd from the ordinary since inspite of being enormously beautiful and serene place it was also one of the worst managed places I have ever visited. Our rasta manager would show up every couple of days, ask us, his guests, to pay for the nights we had spend there so far – and maybe even couple of nights to come if we could? – take the money and disappear again without giving any of it to his staff. So every day we would have some new drawbacks because of lack of money; no tea on breakfast, or no sugar, no chance ever being able to have lunch or dinner there (The first day I arrived there I innocently ordered a mango-avocado salad for lunch and after I had waited for it for half an hour the waiter came back and informed me they didn’t have avocados. When I inquired what they would possibly have I found out they had absolutely nothing to prepare a meal from. But still – they were kind enough to let me study the menu thoroughly…;-), One day there even was no toilet paper, I never saw one glimpse of the promised wifi on the premises. And during the electricity cuts that ocurred every evening the staff was desperately looking for the only candle in the house – usually the lights came back before they found it – and that doesen’t mean the lights came back quicly… So these circumstances required some extraordinarily strong nerves and an attitude to keep good spirits up… But they also gave me the advantage to negotiate the prize of my room lower than we originally had agreed with the manager – in Africa you negotiate constantly; there are no settled prizes ever.

After I finally managed to tear myself away from the magical beach house I still spent couple of days in Zanzibar’s Stone Town. It’s a little like Gamla Stan in Stockholm; a lot of tourists but still hasn’t lost it’s charm. All the houses date from the slave market times or way before – many of them look like there has been no maintenance of the building ever since – with arabic tinge which makes them ever more exotic and beautiful. The ‘streets’ are narrow allies with high walls on both sides which is convenient during the day time ’cause they give a little break from the fierce sun. The allies twist and turn across the city and there are no street signs so one gets lost constantly. But it doesen’t matter since Stone Town is actually quite a small area so at some point you always walk out of the maze into the sun anyway.

On one of my walks around the city I was stopped by a beautiful muslim woman who, after changing the usual greetings and compliments in swahili, asked me in English if I would be interested to see ladies’ soccer match that same evening. Of course I was up to it, so later on I met Layla again and we took a taxi to a sports field outside Stone Town. Zanzibar’s population is 95 % muslim and I learned from Layla that they’ve had some difficulties getting a team together since most of the fathers or husbands, who are the ones deciding about such things, don’t allow their daughters or wives to play because of the unproper outfit. But on this occassion I met the fortunate ones who had the permission to play. They had left their scarves and baibuis home and were wearing real soccer gear with shorts, knee high socks and all. And what a wonderful lot they were! So much talking, jokes, giggling – it was obvious that doing this sport gave a lot of energy and joy to these girls and women!

After the match I spent the rest of the evening with Layla exchanging our life stories. She had divorced her husband because her husband was spending all his days with his three other wives and visited Layla only night time. She told me she felt he was not taking proper care of her and she doesen’t want that kind of life. Now she has a boyfriend whom she would like to marry but the boyfriend is so afraid of his first wife that he doesen’t dare to take another wife. Even though all this sounds so totally foreign to a westerner’s ear I must say I admire greatly this woman with such a lust for life and a strong will!

The beauty of traveling alone is exactly in that that you get to meet a lot of people and learn different life stories… I met a Belgian girl looking like a fragile Isabel Huppert – whom I first estimated surely working timidly in some gloomy faceless office – who had climbed Kilimanjaro all by herself (except of course the guide and the porter) and who glided gracefully and comfortably amongst the rastafari the minute she arrived to their place, a Portuguese girl who had travelled around in Africa for two years but now was stuck in Jambiani beach for the past eight months since she ‘fell in love’, a jovial German gentleman who was kind enough to take us around the island with his rental car, a British woman suffering from broken heart (when I got to know her I found out that this heart of hers was made out of pure gold), another British woman who had been widowed 18 months earlier and now was doing on her own all the travels she had been dreaming about together with her husband, a French couple who spoke no English but was really easygoing and fun company and so on and on and on… I got to speak a little bit of English, Swedish, Swahili and French, felt very proud of my (still very rudimentary) language skills and was amusing myself with thoughts of the Tower of Babel – although we had no confusion there but a lot of connecting and undertsanding 🙂

The plane and it's very happy co-pilot

The plane and it’s very happy co-pilot

The gadgets. I sneaked my hand there for the duration of quick shot...

The gadgets. I sneaked my hand there for the duration of quick shot…

We made some trips in daladala, minibus for locals. It was exciting and fun but I have to wonder where all these fairytales of constantly chatting africans with shared provisions come from... In all the daladalas I've traveled in the passengers keep to themselves, no chatting, no sharing of food.

We made some trips in daladala, minibus for locals. It was exciting and fun but I have to wonder where all these fairytales of constantly chatting africans with shared provisions come from… In all the daladalas I’ve traveled in the passengers keep to themselves, no chatting, no sharing of food.

Advertisement says it all...

Advertisement says it all…

Sharing breakfast with Ginger and Tiger

Sharing breakfast with Ginger and Tiger

In Stone Town

In Stone Town

An Alley

An Alley

An Entrance

An Entrance

Roofs of Stone Stone

Roofs of Stone Stone

An Arch

An Arch

The monsoon season started on the day I left.

The monsoon season started on the day I left.

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Qigong on the beach

I have taken it into my habit to go the beach in the mornings to do some qigong. Often I get some audience since people here think it’s totally normal to come and sit next to you and watch closely what you’re doing if it interests them – there’s not a hint of the western coyness about that. The intersted staring I can still handle, I just shut my eyes, listen to the sound of the ocean and get immersed. But when my audience starts to tell me how passionately they are in love with me I think it’s time to move on and find another spot…

So this morning I went to an even more remote part of the beach and got a little startled when three stray dogs started to follow closely on my heels. I mean, you never know about the dogs here, by no means they are pets, they live quite wild life and people don’t really take contact with them. Actually, the dogs are mostly afraid of people since they get kicked at a lot. Often they also have unwanted life forms inhabiting their furs.

But these dogs proved to be genuine africans – since I would say that the most characteristic feature of the africans is their sociability. Even the cat in my friend’s house where I’m temporarily staying is following me around the house all the time and even now that I’m writing this article she’s playing with the lead and the modem trying to claw them off my laptop – her idea of having fun together – and I thought cats were the solitary ones!

So the dogs followed me to a spot I found suitable for my purpose and sat at my feet during the whole hour I spent in my meditative excercises. At some point one of them fetched a carcass of something from somewhere and lay it down very close to my feet and started to gnaw on it same time growling to the others to stay away…

But anyway – I managed to hold my concentration and focus on what I was doing the whole time just making little observations that I wrote down now – afterwards – what a good practice!

This is how the sea looks like when I'm there doing the qigong...

This is how the sea looks like when I’m there doing the qigong…

...and this is one of the spots there.

…and this is one of the spots there.

Always some people looking for beautiful shells to sell.

Always some people looking for beautiful shells to sell.

One of the dogs that live on our yard made a nest into the corner of the kitchen (outside) and gave birth to six puppies.

One of the dogs that live on our yard made a nest into the corner of the kitchen (outside) and gave birth to six puppies.

Puppies on their own. Photo taken with zoom – better not go too near to them; the mother already bit Leena in the ankle when she was just passing by.

Puppies on their own. Photo taken with zoom – better not go too near to them; the mother already bit Leena in the ankle when she was just passing by.

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Oblomoving

Lately I’ve been worried that I have let myself be infected by the African inertia. I don’t seem to get anything done; just being tired, tired, tired – indefinitely… Well, the temperature stays over 30 degrees celsius every day and every night and the moisture ratio in the air must be close to 90 percent or something… But anyway – it has been like this all the time here in Tanzania and still I was able to cope with it before… But now I find myself just lying around with the rest of the Tanzanians relating totally to their inability to do anything in this heat… But the need to be efficient and get things done is so deeply rooted in us westerners that I cannot help this feeling of constant guilt and being annoyed about my inability to ACHIEVE.

One explanation to this lethargy might be that I have been suffering from flu ever since I came back from Ethiopia three weeks ago – it seems the germs thrive in this hot and humid climate and won’t leave the human system as rapidly as I am used to in more familiar temperatures of freezing cold… To top it all the infection spread from my throat into my ears and then the pain was so insufferable that I finally gave in, marched into local heatlh clinic and accepted a drastic cure of antibiotics from a local doctor.

Visiting the local heath clinic was most educating; here they don’t start every inspection (and I mean EVERY inspection whatever the malady) with taking your blood pressure and weighting you as they did in Ethiopia, they just tell you in which room the doctor is receiving patients. So obediently like a good citizen I sat in front of the room maybe 20 minuttes waiting to be called in until another patient ushered me to just boldly go in unannounced. When I did I found the good doctor sitting in his room totally relaxed and idle playing with his mobile phone to pass the time… He was happy to have some program into his day and I was happy to have some relief to my pains. What was common in the clinics of both countries was the lack of any kind of sterilization equipment or disposable gloves. But in both places I was taken good care of 🙂

So now I’m eating antibiotics three times a day and that is draining every last drop of energy that might have been left in me. Sleeping 10 hours a day doesen’t seem to satisfy my enormous need of sleep and napping during every possible hour is compulsive…. But anyway it is good to stay in as much as possible in present day Mtwara… This small town is totally upset and riots are being raised all over the place. This is because the Tanzanian government and British Gas Group, which is drilling oil here in Mtwara, are planning to build a pipeline from here to Dar es Salaam. The line would pump all the oil to be refined in Dar. Local people are worried that the oil found here is not going to profit their community at all but that all the prosperity it was supposed to bring will flow through the pipe to the capital and probably even further outside the country. I’m sorry to say that I think they are absolutely right but that even if the oil stays here and they build the refinery here it still won’t benefit Mtwara at all; the builders as well as the workers of the refinery will come from abroad and live in their isolated compounds (like fortresses!) where everything needed is flown into as is the case with the oil rigs at the moment. I feel for these protesters but at the same time would like to tell them to stop rioting, save their breath and energy and look for a more creative and constructive solution to the situation. But probably that is a mission impossible since the government seems to be evading all responsibility and the oil company… well, we all know what oil companies are about… So now we have here a lot of frustrated, even desperate people who have nothing better to do but causing harm to everybody – including themselves…

Ever since I remember I have been told that to be born in Finland is like winning in the lottery big time. I, like every other Finnish kid rebelled pleading that it is mentally hard living in a country with no sun shine and a culture without much positive feelings shown between people but instead a lot of pressure to ‘make it in life’. Still nowadays I think that Finland is a very harsh culture where efficiency has replaced religion. BUT looking towards north from here the saying makes perfect sense. Finland is a country of all imaginable material good; we still have – even though the present policy is decreasing it day by day – magnificent social security system taking care of us in sickness, pregnancy, childhood, adolescence, in our old age etc. We get high quality education for almost free, the standard of living is a thousand times higher than here and people are still reasonably equal compared to Africa. No wonder almost everybody on this continent dreams of getting out of here and into the western countries. How could we persuade the people who have managed in that to return here to develop their own country after they have gotten some valuable education in the west??? At the moment I see that as the only solution for any development to happen here. And how can we persuade the citizens and rulers in the west to make every effort to preserve what we have left of the wellfare states after the free market ideology settled in and social security started to be cut down everywhere in the west???

Besides the lottery another saying has gotten altogether new dimensions here: Being on the mercy of nature… Of course Finland is still much closer to whims of nature than let’s say for example US, Germany or France, but still, if we occasionally get loads of snow in winter, I really don’t think it’s such a big deal if for one day the public transportation moves a bit slowly and you don’t get to work on time… When I left Mtwara in December to go to Ethiopia we had a draugh heret, our well – as most of the wells in town – dried and for days (or weeks – I don’t know since I left in the middle of it) there was no water to use for cooking or washing up or laundry. People had to BUY water from distant places and carry buckets of it home – sometimes with a bicycle, sometimes carrying a bucket on their heads for several kilometres. The fortunate ones had a car… One month later when I came back it was the opposite: rainy season started with heavy rainstorms that caused floods everywhere; people lost their homes when the walls made of mud gave in. And mind you, there is no social security system to cover for their losses, or even to help a little bit in their distress – in this kind of cases it’s all about family; relatives take you to live in their home, they feed you and they clothe you – we also have now bibi (grandmother) living with us after the flood ruined her house. The same thing applies if somebody gets sick or dies; the family takes care of all the expences and of all the relatives who suffer from the situation. And the families who do this (even when they get into a lot of financial difficulties because of it) take it self-evidently with inexplicable patience, no rebellion against destiny or the circumstances, just living according to them…

Sometimes I think of the people here as children of the moment. Whatever the circumstances you live by them – and usually without any complaints, just adjusting to what is. Living in the moment applies also to planning – about which I have been whining already enough in my earlier writings – and somehow I suspect it has something to do with the notion I’ve made here about awareness. Sometimes it’s amazing how these people don’t seem to notice almost anything that is happening just beside them; I don’t know if they are so immersed in what they are doing just at that moment, but the task in question can be something as simple as driving a bike or peeling a potato – one wouldn’t imagine it requires THAT much attention that it shuts everything else out… Something weird also in receiving information or making agreements; you might repeat the facts s-l-o-w-l-y about ten times every day over a week and still in the end of the week these people go like OH, when did we agree about this… or they just go on repeating the wrong dates or something like that… I mean, I don’t want to sound arrogant bastard, but there is a BIG difference in cultures here and I’m still quite puzzled about what causes it.

In one of the earlier articles I wrote about Tanzanians’ attitude towards age. In those days I was quite taken about the way people here seem to respect age and treat it with beautiful politness. This is still true and I still appreciate it, but I’ve found some nyances in it I’m not so crazy about. Here it seems that every age has it’s own box and whichever box you are in you are supposed to act accordingly; there are quite strict rules of how to conduct your life at certain age. You are also being reminded of your age constantly since people greet each other in accordance to age: younger people are supposed to greet first and they use different word for helou when it is somebody older than them. Sometimes I feel that here for me there is this box of elderly lady who already has grandchildren (by African standards I would have plenty already) to take care of and so she must be calm and caring and restrained. The problem is that I don’t feel like that at all. I feel full of life, curious about it, tremendously adventurous, sometimes silly like a little girl, sometimes a little mad etc. etc. I remember one famous Finnish author of about 90 years of age once having said that when she looks at the mirror she sees this old lady there but inside herself she still recognizes the same little girl she’s always been. I appreciate western culture tolerating that kind of attitude towards life better than the more traditional Tanzanian culture.

Today I had yet another evidence of the power of nature. I spent the morning hours at the beach doing qigong excercises, reading a book and watching the tide come in (sometimes I do manage to adjust myself to the african perception of time…;-) The sea was coming in more rapidly than I’ve seen before and in the afternoon I decided to go back and see if the tide was full yet. And was it ever!!! I never before saw Indian Ocean so fierce and powerful! The water had come up higher than ever before and the rolling waves were so big that they drenched me up until my neck when I was walking along the shore just in the waterfront. That was awesome 😀

This is how our yard looked like when I returned home from Ethiopia. The bajaji couldn't take me through but took me to the neighbour's yard which was not so badly flooded and I managed to zigzag through a thorny hedge into our side. It was a blessing in disguise that the air line had lost my suitcase again (both ways: going to Addis Ababa and returning from there...) so I didn't have to drag that through the bushes and the water...

This is how our yard looked like when I returned home from Ethiopia. The bajaji couldn’t take me through but took me to the neighbour’s yard which was not so badly flooded and I managed to zigzag through a thorny hedge into our side. It was a blessing in disguise that the air line had lost my suitcase again (both ways: going to Addis Ababa and returning from there…) so I didn’t have to drag that through the bushes and the water…


Collecting rain water for our shower. It took only couple of hours for the buckets to fill up.

Collecting rain water for our shower. It took only couple of hours for the buckets to fill up.


Our local beauty parlour

Our local beauty parlour


One day my friend Jean's neighbour wanted to sell us an injured hawk he had found. Jean bought the bird and now it is living in her garage until recovered and able to fly again. Jean feeds her with little pieces of raw meet handed over with tweezers. The hawk likes to sit high up on the transducer. This placement might have something to do with the fact that Jean's cat is immensely interested in her – although I suspect that if there was a struggle between those two the cat wouldn't be the one having the upper hand...

One day my friend Jean’s neighbour wanted to sell us an injured hawk he had found. Jean bought the bird and now it is living in her garage until recovered and able to fly again. Jean feeds her with little pieces of raw meet handed over with tweezers. The hawk likes to sit high up on the transducer. This placement might have something to do with the fact that Jean’s cat is immensely interested in her – although I suspect that if there was a struggle between those two the cat wouldn’t be the one having the upper hand…

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Awassa of Ethiopia

Awassa is a university city with 25 000 students. As it is quite big city and there are enormous differences in living standard one sees a lot of iron fences and gates with barbed wire or broken glass on top of them, and all the well off people have watch dogs or guards – or both. One day I climbed Mount Tabor, a beautiful small mountain almost next to my house, with my hosts Tariku and Demelash and seeing the beauty and tranquility there planned to make the climb part of my morning routines with some qigong at the top, but the boys adviced me not to do that since it is not safe for a farangi to go there alone, they said. Actually Demelash got robbed there once, at the base of the mountain with a knife pointing his way – luckily his Ikkyo was swift, but it didn’t prevent the other thugs coming from behind snatching his mobile from his pocket. In spite of all this I felt safe the whole time I was in Awassa – if you know the rules of where you can go and when and stick to them, there’s no reason to worry. I mean, what happens, happens, but it is of no avail to be worried and scared all of the time.

Awassa Youth Campus is a center for children and youth of Awassa to spend their time constructively. It offers teaching in circus, theatre, dance, music, art, sports and aikido. I was mostly occupied with the aikido dojo but fortunately was able to get a glimpse of the other stuff too and even helped a bit planning a writing workshop for girls – it’s a wonderful idea; empowering the girls by teaching them to express themselves and tell about their lives and at the same time spreading more understanding among each other in the community! There is an unbelievable amount of talent and potential in the kids at the Campus and the staff is totally dedicated and everybody seems to take responsibility beyond what is mandatory. I will be missing this inspiring place…

While I was in Ethiopia I learned to greet people either by supporting my right elbow with my left hand when shaking hands with somebody or by adding a touch with shoulders to the hand shake – somehow it makes the greeting feel more intimate than just a normal hand shake. The support on the elbow is a sign of respect, I’m told. There I also saw people having physical contact all the time in a most natural way; especially men are hugging each other a lot, holding each others’ hands and walking with one arm slung around their friend’s shoulders. Also couples can walk hand in hand which you never see in Tanzania.

 People dress up in most casual, streetwise way, you don’t see much of traditional clothes here contrary to Tanzania and all their colourful kangas. Ethiopian women are beautiful and very feminine, they put a lot of thought to their appearance with stupendous hairdos, accessories and very smart dressing up. I started to feel quite plain there with my eternal jeans and T-shirts and made some concessions to my unadorned style. Quite another case are then of course the people who only wear what they have; some broken down dirty rags – day in day out…

One night my friends took me to a culture club. It was one room with low ceiling and the traditional grass on the floor, packed with people. There was a guy prancing about playing a kind of single stringed fiddle and singing. The singer is called azmari and the instrument is called masenko. In the old days azmaris used to be entertainers in royal courts. They make up the words to their singing as they go along, singing about everything they see and think at that moment, often quite mischievously. The azmari even came up to me and sang something that would have made me blush if I had understood his Amharic. Fortunately my friends translated his suggestions only after we had left… Along with the music goes dancing of course. Iskista is a kind of shoulder dance without moving your lower body that much. People just stood up at their tables when ever they felt like dancing (often) and started jiggling their shoulders. And of course since I was the only farangi around I got challenged to dance in front of everybody by and with a female azmari… Well, there is only one thing to do in those situations – to dance!

Another time I was taken to Wondo Genet, a resort with natural hot springs some 40-50 kilmometres from Awassa. On the way there I saw yet another kind of Africa. When you travel from Addis Ababa to Awassa you mostly see very dry, barren land where everything green has been eaten up by goats and cattle. The road leading to Wondo Genet goes through a magnificently beautiful scenery with a lot of mountains and abundance of green plants and colourful flowers – it totally took my breath away, I was almost in tears… The car we used for this trip has a personality of it’s own; an old pickup truck that more often than not looses it’s wind in the crossings and the driver has to ignite the motor again – which our driver Wachica did every time stoically without so much as blinking an eye.

Since the area around Wondo Genet is so fertile it is also a very good place to buy a plant called chat, Ethiopians own ‘afternoon drug’. Quite many Ethiopians like to spend their afternoons chewing chat, also known as eating the flowers of paradise. I guess chat leaves are somehow equivalent to coca leaves, but much milder so they are legal in the country. The locals say chewing chat makes you more alert, more focused on what you are doing, but I don’t know, I never got to trying it since I was always due to give an Aikido class in the evening and I didn’t want to risk being under influence of anything while teaching. All I saw was a bunch of people taking it really easy lounging comfortably and chatting away the whole afternoon, so being a sceptical westerner I’m not sure how much alertness or focusing is involved there… Anyway, Wachica wanted to buy some extra good chat from the place but couldn’t succeed before he hid away the car with me in it since the minute the chat dealers saw the farangi in the front seat the prices went sky high…

On the way back we stopped to have a meal in a town called Shashamane. It has some interesting history. During the 1960s the emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie, whom the rastafari consider the incarnation of God, gave Jamaican rastafarians some land in Shashamane to inhabit. So nowadays they have their own town within the town and driving through it we were approached by a VERY relaxed young man inquiring in that tickling jamaican dialect: Wa’ppun mon, everything cool ‘mongst you? Mi ketch you some bashy medicine? The rastafari also organize big celebrations for Bob Marley’s birthday in Shashamane and then the town is packed with good music and happy celebrators…

Besides rastafari Ethiopia has some exciting relations with judaism and Israel. According to the national saga Ethiopia’s first king Menelik was the descendant of king Solomon and the queen of Sheba. Some of the Ethiopians do acknowledge jewish religion, but most of them live nowadays in Israel since the operation Solomon in 1991 where Israel evacuated about 15 000 Ethiopian jews from the country.

I don’t know, maybe it is this enchanting coctail of exciting histories, maybe it is these mind blowing oppositions this country is made up of, maybe it is all the wonderful people I met or then just good old endorfines flowing through my veins constantly because of the daily dosage of Aikido, but I really have to say a big chunk of my heart was left behind in Ethiopia and replaicing it sits a yearning to go back there one day…

Some of the buildings at the Awassa University campus bring into mind very familiar architecture from home...

Some of the buildings at the Awassa University campus bring into mind very familiar architecture from home…

Tariku with a jo on Mount Tabor

Tariku with a jo on Mount Tabor

Sihonage practise

Sihonage practise

Ukemi practise

Ukemi practise

Children's group at Awassa Peace Dojo

Children’s group at Awassa Peace Dojo

Graffiti done by AYC's own artist Behulum (who also practises Aikido)

Graffiti done by AYC’s own artist Behulum (who also practises Aikido)

On the way to Wondo Genet

On the way to Wondo Genet

Our cool driver Wachicha

Our cool driver Wachicha

The land of oppositions; on the background some barb wired fences protecting a mansion and at the same time the street outside can look like this...

The land of oppositions; on the background some barb wired fences protecting a fancy mansion and at the same time the street outside can look like this…

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A Different Kind of Africa

I have always known that there is not only one African culture but that Africa is as diverse continent as Europe but still, the total difference between Tanzania and Ethiopia stunned me. When two and half months ago I arrived to Tanzania I felt like I had been dropped onto another planet… Just when I started to feel more familiar there I took this trip to Ethiopia and again I feel like it’s another planet! The arab influence is quite strong here (naturally, being so much more northbound towards the arab countries) still without more muslims than in Tanzania (about one third of the population, the main religion being orthodox christianity). Even their language amharic sounds quite arabic. People look different; something like a mixture between africans and bedouins.

The climate here is perfect for a European; during day time it’s about 26 degrees Celsius, the mornings and the evenings are a bit chilly and during the night time I sleep under a blanket – quite a change from Mtwara where the temperature doesen’t seem to drop below 30 even on night time and I sleep there without any cover in an X-position like Leonardo da Vinci’s perfect man just to let the pouring sweat drip straight into bed sheets instead of making icky paths on my body… And of course, since it’s not that hot here, the nature is really abundant, all kinds of plants bloom here and make the scenery most beautiful.

The city of Awassa consists of broad asphalt covered boulevards that spread outwards from big roundabouts. On the boulevards the life is sizzling with people, cars, bajajis, carriages drawn by donkeys, banks, internet cafes and small private enterprises like tee and coffee houses (the walls and the roof are made up of some leaves woven together or just some rags supported by sticks and the ground inside is covered with some dry grass, you sit on a simple stool and enjoy arab style sweet tea with Ethiopian style bread roasted on fire or strong and delicious Ethiopian coffee), little tailor shops (a man – always a man, no women in this business contrary to the coffee houses which is totally women’s domain – sitting outside on the street at his sewing machine fixing the clothes as the customers bring them in) and cobbler shops where shoes are being repaired. Labor is so cheap here that I cannot even convert the cost of some mendings done to my clothes and shoes into euros or dollars – it would be some cents. Then there are tissues, cookies and cheap jewelry sold from small carriages, tiny food stores, fruit sellers, beauty salons, printing places etc. At the same time one can see such poverty everywhere it is difficult to keep one’s mind calm about it – beggars everywhere, hordes of children running after me in every corner begging for money… It is very difficult to handle since of course it is heart breaking but at the same time one knows that giving one coin every now and then doesen’t make any difference, more like maintaining the status quo.

One thing Tanzania and Ethiopia have in common is sosialistic past, Ethiopia even more recently (ended 1991) than Tanzania. Many things are still regulated strongly by the government, like people travelling abroad – only one of the people I have met here has ever been outside the country. If they manage to get to go it is always Dubai, no other place. Still many people want to leave – and for good. Ethiopia, like Tanzania is a nation of young people, the rate of population growth is dizzying and the future prospects for young people don’t seem very promising. Being a farangi (equivalent to swahili’s mzungu and used as politically incorrect) here means among other things that people ask you constantly to arrange for them to move together with you to your country – this seems such a pity not only because of the human tragedy but also because they actually live in a wonderful country; beautiful, perfect weather, rich culture, wonderful people etc. which has a lot of developing potential – it just needs to be cultivated in a sensible way – as verywhere in Africa I suppose… So far – and now I’m talking with experience of ONLY three months so excuse me if I’m wrong – it seems to me that there is a lot of ‘developmental’ work and projects going on in Africa which are not planned or monitored to any real avail; just a lot of money wasted and some mzungus/farangis having good times on this wonderful continent…

If you’re not ready to give up some of the western standards on hygiene and safety you won’t survive here. Although the interior of the houses is more sophisticated and level of technology (plumming, running water, electric stove) higher than in Tanzania, the amount of dirt, bugs and broken, non functioning equipment is countless. At least once a day we are an undefinite time without electricity, the western style toilet doesen’t flush (we simply pour water into it after using it), the electricity connections in the house would make any electician no matter how tough a guy to loose his courage… The food is presented on a big tray from which everybody eats with their bare fingers. The eaters tear pieces of injera – the local thin sour bread – and use the pieces to scoop mouthfulls of the sauce from the tray. The delicious grilled fish Tilapia is brought to the table as a whole fish with some cuts on the sides and everybody tears pieces from it with their bare fingers. The food is tasty and people always wash their hands before eating so I got used to this mode of eating without complications – except being embarrassingly clumsy at it… nowhere near the sophisticated moves ethiopians do it with.

If I thought Tanzanians talked a lot in the phone, I guess I missed the other end of the scale – Ethiopians beat them with flying colors! All in all it seems that the multinational phone companies have really hit the motherload big time here in Africa; people are using cell phones ALL the time… Maybe it is partly because the concept of family is quite extended here; you don’t have to be a blood relation to somebody to be considered the same family – simply a friend – and what else to use to keep in contact with your family but cell phone? These people really reach out for their family members and do whatever is needed to help them. Which of course is also a matter of necessity in a country where there is no social security quaranteed by the state. But I would say it is also deeply rooted in the culture – for example in the family I’m staying in there is besides four own children one adopted one plus a homeless guy who gets to stay in a garden hut for doing some house chores. The parents of this family have already passed away and at the moment there’s only two of the ‘kids’ (adults by now) staying permanently in the house but also friends spend a lot of time here, staying for the nights too and I am very happy to feel that also I, an outsider, am easily taken in to be part of this extended family…

In Tanzania I’m used to hearing chickens cackling and roosters crowing everywhere. In Ethiopia the first sound that comes to mind is the yehooing of donkeys… There are plenty of them since they are being used as draught animals but also I see a lot of them just wandering free all over the place and letting out those funny sounds of them. During the night it is a concert of the innumerous dogs that are either watchdogs as our Waffer or just stray dogs all over the place. They seem to be communicating with each other across the city all night long barking and howling – sometimes there are hyenas joining them I’m told…But what sound I like the best is in the morning when I’m in the garden in the bright sun shine doing Qigong and all the birds are providing a magnificent concerto competing in who has the most beautiful song…

From the street. On the background one of the roundabouts (called Gabriel after the church) which also serve as the 'exchange stops' for bajajis.

From the street. On the background one of the roundabouts (called Gabriel after the church) which also serve as the ‘exchange stops’ for bajajis.

Even here the British football teams have their loyal fans.

Even here the British football teams have their loyal fans.

From our verandah

From our verandah

Waffer taking it easy. But when he was NOT taking it easy nobody was...

Waffer taking it easy. But when he was NOT taking it easy nobody was…

The gate to my 'home' (and one of the wandering donkeys)

The gate to my ‘home’ (and one of the wandering donkeys)

Injera in the kitchen

Injera in the kitchen

This is how Ethiopians serve their coffee.

This is how Ethiopians serve their coffee.

We even had a Christmas tree! My wonderful host Kuchu decorating it. Actually, Ethiopians celebrate Christmas two weeks after the rest of the world, their New Year is in September, every year has 13 months in it and right now it is year 2005. They also follow the swahili time like Tanzanians which means that the right time is always on the opposite side of the clock – midday is six o'clock since it is six hours from sunrise and 3pm is 9 etc.

We even had a Christmas tree! My wonderful host Kuchu decorating it. Actually, Ethiopians celebrate Christmas two weeks after the rest of the world, their New Year is in September, every year has 13 months in it and right now it is year 2005. They also follow the swahili time like Tanzanians which means that the right time is always on the opposite side of the clock – midday is six o’clock since it is six hours from sunrise and 3pm is 9 etc.

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