Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Few Recent Photos -- Tanzania (early 2017)

Not much to say, but a few photos might be nice.

Allen Iverson spotted in Dar Es Salaam market working as a chicken man.

Insect bus.

Charcoal and motorcycles.

Lushoto area.

Jesus loves buses.

Jesus also loves trucks.

Lushoto area.

Lushoto area.

Lushoto area.

Lushoto area.

Lushoto area.

Lushoto area.

Lushoto area

Swing set, Lushoto area.

Church bell, Lushoto area.

School bell, Lushoto area.

Boys & church, Lushoto area.

Lushoto area

Pretending to think deep thoughts, Lushoto area.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Madagascar article in Cruising World

Very pleased that my article on Madagascar appears in the January 2017 issue of Cruising World. I've not seen it but the draft I saw looked great. Thanks to the editors!
waterfront scene at Crater Bay, Nosy Be, Madagascar

The article is based on our first impressions -- we arrived in Madagascar in August 2016, and it was our first encounter in Africa. By now that seems quite a while ago. Since then we've had two outboards stolen (we've wised up now -- we row to shore), become members of the Tanga Yacht Club and encouraged our younger daughter in her weekly commitment to the Youth Sailing Programme of Tanga. We've pent the last year (since December 2016) more or less based in Tanga, Tanzania. We've sailed to Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar and Lamu, Kenya; we've visited (via air and land) NgoroNgoro Crater, the Serengeti and Cape Town.

We've made heaps of friends. We love East Africa in general and Tanga, specifically.

We'll post more stories from our time in East Africa, but as always life continues and the blogging is, well, not really a point of focus. But we like dropping in here now and again, and we're glad when our paths cross with others who may like to share experiences.

For now, I'll share a wee story -- fiction -- that was Commended last year in the Bath Flash Fiction Award. It's part of a collection of small stories that draws on the imaginative dreamworlds of the animal kingdom. Thanks for reading!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Tanga, Tanzania to Lamu, Kenya (June/July 2016)

It was a fast jaunt from Tanga to Lamu (approx. 200 nautical miles). We stopped first just over the border in Shimoni to check into Kenya. The officials were very friendly but also quite thorough, very much on guard against Al-Shabaab. They checked us out more thoroughly than anywhere we've been since New Zealand, asking questions about safety gear and looking through lockers and under beds. On shore, we asked the immigration officer about the piracy situation, whether it was safe for us to sail to Lamu. He said that the fishing boats go up to Lamu all the time. I asked: And they come back? Yes, they come back, he smiled. Evidently, the trip to Lamu by sea is now safer than by land. After two days in Shimoni, we continued to Lamu, way too fast for my liking, the pleasure of moving at 8 and 9 knots with a moderate following wind and strong favorable current muted by the knowledge that soon we'll have to struggle against this wind and current to make it back to Tanga. So much for living in the moment.

Momo anchored in Shimoni, with Q flag, after an excellent day sail from Tanga (30 miles).

Momo's escort to shore; Shimoni officials included the driver, the man in charge (pictured above) who scanned our papers and asked questions, the driver (a nice boy who drove us back to Momo later in the evening) and two more escorts who looked through Momo's lockers -- always with huge smiles.  
Fast trip to shore for check-in. We had planned to rest at anchor for the evening and then check in, but we were warned that waiting a day to go to immigration would land us in jail. We took the friendly advice and nice ride, and checked in on the evening of our arrival. 

Lamu waterfront: Al Jazeera (the boat).

There are (virtually) no cars on the island of Lamu. Transport is by donkey. Or by boat (almost all of them powered by two-stroke Yamaha Enduro outboards, by the way, mostly 15 hp).

Old mosque in Lamu town under reconstruction/ repair. 

Boy, donkey, transport boat, sails: typical Lamu waterfront scene. 

Spindly-legged donkeys carry everything, from people to heavy bricks for construction.

Small dhows in front of old Lamu Town. 

View to waterfront from typical arched doorway. 

Constant care to boats -- we know it; they know it. 

Momo's colors, with a message. And a nice outboard. 

Kids playing Bao, a traditional East African mancala board game

A friendly antiques dealer who said that if we used the proper keywords we could find him on Google. But we forgot the keywords, so we can't.

No cars, but plenty of bicycles in Lamu.

Town tour; looking for a way to access Internet. 

Cats and doors -- key Lamu scenery.

No shortage of fresh veggies in Lamu. We are eating well. 

Town square in old Lamu.

Lamu town square.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Vignette: Tanzania/ Pangani: On living in the real world

Sisal plantation on the road between Pangani and Tanga
The house went up in flames in a matter of minutes. Once the spark jumped from the burning field to the nearby palm and then the makuti roof, there was no stopping it.

The couple grabbed what they could and fled. Got out with the most important items in tow: baby, passports, laptop, iPhone, a few bags of clothes.

We meet two days later; I go with them to the market to buy necessary replacement items; for two days G has been living in pajamas, her clothes turned to ash. She tells me the details of the fire while we drive: her fear, the moment she saw the palm tree go, how she knew then it was time to scoop up the baby and leave. How it all seemed so surreal – you never really realize it’s happening when it’s actually happening. How they are still processing the whole event. How, besides what they grabbed in those first few moments, most things are burnt to black: furniture, clothing, camera, baby clothes, sentimental stuff, books.

I recall a book we lent them last week – a family favorite, a gift from my mother. I wonder if it survived the flames, but I don’t ask.

G says that they’ve had wonderful support, except for the one comment that ruined her day. Judgmental, condescending. Suggesting parental irresponsibility for having a baby in Africa in the first place, implying that similar disasters could be avoided if only these young parents would wise up and get their baby back to the safety of home shores. That comment began with “I’ll say what everyone else is thinking…”

Not everyone.

The naysayers come out when the going gets tough. The naysayers will tell you the things you can’t do. We’ve heard plenty.

You can’t raise a baby on a boat.
You can’t give birth in Mexico.
You can’t sail across oceans with children.
You can’t you can’t you can’t.

The naysayers are good at prescriptive advice. The naysayers fit life into a space with four predictable corners.

The naysayers haven’t tried to live outside the box. They just know they can’t.

When our first baby was due, we were told we needed a paediatrician before the baby was born. We did as suggested; we ‘interviewed’ several potential paediatricians one month prior to the baby’s birth. Important topics such as immunization schedules, birth weights and standardized expectations for a healthy baby dominated the sessions. Books were consulted; charts were referenced. Only one listened to our story – how we planned to move aboard our 28’ boat, with our baby, as soon as summer arrived – and said, “Listen. You can raise your children anywhere in the world.” He was from Egypt. He’d seen a few things before landing his practice in Baltimore. “Love your baby,” he said, “and she’ll have a good life.”


Lunchtime. We admire our purchases from the market; G does not have to walk around in her pajamas anymore. Our friends tell the story of their wedding bands – metal, plain – and purchased in Malaysia for $2. We laugh at that, and we laugh again when they tell us they purchased an extra ring, because E knew he’d lose the first one. We laugh a third time when he tells us the one he’s wearing is the replacement ring.

The baby sits on dad’s lap, blowing bubbles.

“Oh!” says G suddenly. “Your book! I’ve just remembered your book!” This talk of lost things. G realises now that the book we lent her is destroyed, gone.

“It doesn’t matter,” I say quickly. But as soon as I say it I know I’ve misspoken. The book does matter. Just the like the wedding bands – the lost one and the replacement. What doesn’t matter is that the ring was lost, that the book was burnt to bits. But they are still part of the story.

I reach to take the baby, to hold him while his parents eat. I put him to my shoulder and inhale – he smells like he should: fresh, warm, milky soft. He squirms a bit and almost cries. 

“Try turning him around,” E says. “He likes to see the world.”

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Vignette: Tanzania/ Serengeti -- Endless Plains? (March 2016)

Southern Serengeti, mid-March: we are surrounded by thousands of wildebeests on either side. We’ve stopped our vehicle to watch. We look left and right, forward and back: they are everywhere, a sea of life across this African plain. Running, jumping, grazing, nursing. Bucks and youngsters, mothers and babies. We are here at the end of calving season (500,000 calves are born each year, in a mostly condensed time frame near the end of February ) and the beginning of their annual migration (map here). They are gathering in the tens of thousands, nursing their young and congregating under trees. When we first see them, the grass is tall and wavy; near the end of our week we see large swaths of short stubble as they set out, following patterns of rains and grassland. Some 1.5 million wildebeests and 250,000 zebra travel a nearly 2000-mile clockwise route each year to move south to west to north (traversing national boundaries into Kenya’s  Mara Maarai game reserve as well), and then back again when the season comes round. Besides wildebeest and zebra, the migration also includes Grant and Thompson gazelles, impala and eland. We feel lucky and overwhelmed by the sheer numbers.


The Serengeti is named from the Maasai language, Maa: ‘serengit’ means ‘endless plains’.

Seeing this migration in the Serengeti takes some doing. You have to travel hundreds of miles (or thousands, depending on your departure point) just to get here, first by air and then over rough roads. Our focus was the southern Serengeti and the Seronera Valley, a grassy expanse of plain with granite kopjes offering shade and shelter for their own mini-ecosystems with thriving baboon families, snakes, chameleons and red-headed rock agama. How’d we come to be here, so far from our usual coastal living? A relative who visits every now and then said at the beginning of the month that he’d like to go on a safari – and invited us along. So we buttoned up Momo and flew to Arusha. From there, we travelled for a week with our binoculars and guide.

We learned more in a week than we’ve ever learned about animals, big and small. We sat in silence on the side of the road, day after day, awed by the vibrancy of life around us: elephants bathing, lions mating, giraffes loping, cheetahs feeding, rhinos grazing, eagles swooping, flamingos flapping, buffalo grunting, buzzards buzzing, weavers weaving. Even dung beetles pushing their oversized loads and tortoises sunbathing. We didn’t know what to expect when we said a spontaneous yes to the offer of a week in Ngorongoro and the Serengeti. We didn’t even know what The Big Five were. But we know some things now. We saw The Big Five, yes. We saw The Ugly Five. We even saw some of The Small Five. In a short week, days stretched from pre-dawn purples to the deep black of night. We drove and drove and drove. It made me feel very small, and very fortunate to be alive on this earth. It made me cry at the unspoilt beauty.


We fly back to Momo after our short sojourn inland, awe and wonder pushing up in our chests as we looked down at the expanse of land below us. We usually don’t have this kind of view – not in such a compressed period of time. We see the world slowly; we follow the horizon and travel with wind and current. We nourish ourselves with fish and whatever’s available at local markets. We don’t buy meat anymore – because it’s too hard to manage, because it’s overpriced, because it’s… Because.

We feel both exhilarated and overwhelmed by the wildlife of the Serengeti – by the numbers, by the variety, by the tenacity of nature. In 1972, when the United Nations met to set up World Heritage Sites, the Serengeti topped the list. These days, there's continued talk of building a highway straight through the middle of it. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Vignette: Tanzania / Tanga -- Impromptu Community (March 2016)

What for them is the call to prayer wakes me up at an hour ungodly and dark; for me, it’s the call to check my email for work. I translate stuff from German into English (mostly for lawyers, bankers, and corporations via an agency in New York but sometimes for academics who care to seek me out), dressed only in my "Soda"-labeled underwear purchased in Malaysia, extra large but still too small, hence filling me with confidence.

Not long after first light, the day’s first swimmers appear – two, three, or four dark heads bobbing around the boat. They swim out from the bathing club that shares the little bay’s waterfront, flanked on one side by the yacht club and by the swimming club on the other. Of the three, the bathing club has the most raucous fun, with loud music and frequent games of soccer on the beach; the swimming club doesn’t seem to have much fun at all, but it has a substantial and well-lit building and serves pretty good Indian food (there's a new chef, I've heard). Most mornings Michelle and I try to steal a moment for ourselves and have coffee on the bow before the sun really kicks in. But we sit just in front of Lola’s hatch, and she invariably pipes in with “what was that?” the moment she hears our voices. Speaking in German only invites further interrogation.
We find ourselves in a remarkably secure anchorage in a remarkably pleasant impromptu community. What we have here is a handful of peculiar sailors following very different trajectories and motivated by very different purposes. Everybody has stories to tell and experiences to share, but, unlike what we've found in the so-called cruising community, there is no jockeying for position or assertive need to dispense advice or expertise. Perhaps this is because we are really not a community at all but just a serendipitous constellation unmanaged by spreadsheets or radio schedules and without the coherence that comes from shared agendas, for we will very soon disperse in entirely different directions. But for now I'm swapping ideas with Josh for making pressure-cooker bread and smoking Stephan's cigarettes in exchange for the occasional beer.

Here in Tanga, this handful of sailors intersects with a cluster of less transient but equally peculiar grounded folks – builders, farmers, aid workers, missionaries, restaurant owners, resort owners, peace corp volunteers – many of whom are also just passing through, but more slowly. We orbit around a yacht  club that was once an Anglo-Saxon colonial institution but has now become more of cordial multi-ethnic drinking club overrun by monkeys with sky-blue testicles (only the males, of course; Michelle was hoping that the females had sky-blue nipples, but they don't) and posting lots of unenforced rules and boasting a multi-term, ethnically Indian commodore who doesn’t own a boat. For years now, cruising boats have stayed away because of the Somali pirates, but perhaps they are coming back. In any event, there’s a move afoot to shift the club’s focus back to the water, which has led to the tentative resurrection of three or four Optimists and sailing lessons for the kids, taught by a heartsick French single-hander who has sailed around the Horn and by Jana, who hasn't.