Letter #5

February 17, 2011

As I begin this letter, I'm sitting in Zanzibar, at an apartment owned by Lourence Gonzales, who I shall meet in about half an hour. He is another member of the peace and travel organization called SERVAS, although it turns out later that I am his first staying guest (you can be a day host without providing accommodation). Doesn't the name, Zanzibar, sing mystery? So far, not a whole lot of mystery, but definitely not my plan.

I woke up in Arusha at the Dik Dik Hotel with laryngitis, but otherwise doing OK. The antibiotics are working and I am very grateful. While I'm on the mend, communications around me seem to be breaking down.

I get to Arusha's International Airport, such as it is, to learn no planes are taking off in Tanzania because there's been an explosion near the Dar Es Salaam airport. We wait.

I check to make sure all is in order for my flight. "Ma'am, there's no record of your reservation, but there are seats on the plane that you can purchase." Fortunately, a young woman named Anna takes up my case and pursues it with commitment and intelligence. She finds the reservation at last, but before she and I part company, we speak at some length of the relationship between men and women and the possibilities for healing.

I arrive in Zanzibar and call my SERVAS host, Lourence Gonsalves, only to hear that he expected me two days from now and is currently quite occupied. He sends his colleague, Shafik to fetch me at the airport and bring me to the apartment where he will meet me. "How will I tell him to recognize you? He asks. "Just tell him I'm blond and sixtyish, but most notable is that I have the strangest looking shoes in the airport. He can't miss me." (They are indeed-Z-coils, in case you're interested. They feel fine, but are pretty formidable to pack and don't look decent with anything but camping or safari clothes). I can pass as a first-rate eccentric.

I'm completely locked out of my iPhone, so I can't even use it for $4.70 per minute emergencies. (I reprogrammed the locking code but the record of the new one is nowhere to be found.) Internet connections here prove erratic at best in most places.

The four phone numbers for the travel agency whose name I was given in Zanzibar all return an "out-of-service number" message

I learn, contrary to my understanding, that credit cards cannot be used for almost everything. There's a $50 minimum and very few machines around, so most transactions are in cash (shillings or dollars, but I'm running out of dollars). The first five times I tried to withdraw shillings, the machine spat out my credit card. Another password problem, I suspect. (What does it mean when one can't access one's own password? Is there something I know that I'm refusing to know? )

I finally found an ATM that worked when we were out to lunch in the area.

There I also meet Agnes from Ghana, a pleasant looking woman in a lovely pale yellow dress sitting outside having lunch after a long work day. I sit down to chat, discovering that she is from Ghana and is in Z trying to market development training (as in develop a local economy). In line with "When in Rome . . . ", she elected to wear headscarf and coverup clothing. She and I commiserate about the intensely uncomfortable practice of wearing excessive amounts of clothing in the heat and humidity of the tropics. We agree that we would like not only the mullah but all Muslim men to go into purdah for a week and then see what happens. Agnes is staying at St. Monica's Hostel, where the old slave market used to be. It sounds like a possibility, although I'm going to wait till tomorrow when I have a guide who can advise me. I may have dinner with Agnes tomorrow night.

My host, Lourenco, turns out to be an attractive 44 year old construction contractor and engineer of Indian extraction, flashing white teeth, and a ready wit. He seems quite eager that I stay in the apartment, even though I'm a little dubious. I'll give it another 12 hours and research alternatives and see what shows up.

Lourenco's life-long friend Salum Suleiman-Salum has been more than patient and attentive, trying to get me set up with a cell phone and internet connection so I could have some independence. When neither works Salum gives me one of his phones to use. But by this time it's way after quitting time. The Zanzibar workday runs from 7 am to 2 pm for most businesses, I understand. So Salum says he will take care of arranging for a guide to pick me up at 8:30 tomorrow and gives me the names of several places to see.

Salum is a gentle man who is a historian at the national archive here in town. He would actually like to become a professional editor, something I know something about. Before he leaves, I give him some pointers on how to improve his master's thesis.

These technological glitches are part of the communication picture. Another challenge is understanding Tanzanian English. Although English is one of Tanzania's official language (along with Swahili), the brand spoken here has many different inflections, and it takes some concentration to follow a conversation, especially if it's fast. I'm often lost in the dust and have to remind myself not to nod when I haven't a clue. Shafik, especially, talks as fast as any human being I've ever met.

So now I am sitting in a large, sparsely furnished fourth-floor walkup apartment overlooking the city and situated in what I gather is called "the other side" of the tracks here in Z. Mostly have-nots live on this side. Lourenco himself lives in the much more affluent and fashionable Stone Town, which I expect to see with my guide tomorrow.

After these men spent so much time getting me situated, I find myself reluctant to say, "It's not enough for me." I'm enjoying myself-but I want towels, someone available any time to supply information and resources, laundry service, (virtually everything I've been wearing is laundry) and a comforting welcome when I return to home base. For the moment, without connectivity, finding out where those things are is a challenge.

All a learning, right? Stay centered in the moment, remember everything is just folks trying to get along, and don't make up what hasn't happened yet or what may have happened already.

To end on an upbeat: Cyprian, who drove me to the airport this morning told me of a saying in Tanzania: Old Is Gold. Tanzanians treasure their oldsters because they embody so much knowledge and wisdom.

What if we were all to think Old Is Gold?

Have a great day.

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