The big event of today was crossing the border into Tanzania, which is a little like Tasmania but with different letters. Nation 121. I’ve got to a whopping EIGHT countries in just ten days and I was (understandably) feeling rather happy about the current turn of evens.
What I less happy about was my seat on the coach. Sat in the middle of the back row and with no back window, there was no way I could see – much less film – any of the exciting Tanzania stuff that was no doubt whizzing past. I was also less than impressed by the fact that – once again – the nation had just decided to embark on a whole new programme of road building just as I show up, turning a projected 12 hour journey from the border into a 20-hour slog.
I contacted my Dar es Salaam Couch Surf contact, a soft-spoken Canadian guy called Dylan, but I was uncomfortable putting him through the same nonsense as Jason, and given he had to be up at 5.30am, I figured it might be an idea to crash out at a guesthouse. Which is what I did – eventually. The fist place I tried was full (I love waking up guesthouse owners in the middle of the night, they’re always so pleased to see me!) but the second place, the Jambo, had a room for me. Grotty doesn’t begin to describe and the shower was cold, but after the previous few days, I was happy to just get my head down.
So here we are in Dar es Salaam, which means ‘haven of peace’…ahhh, isn’t that nice? Although, it wasn’t too peaceful ten years ago when some Al-Qaeda nutjobs blew up the American Embassy here. I sprung from my ethereal slumber like a cat whose just been pushed off the television and headed downstairs for my free breakie (I wasn’t going to squander my free nosh now, was I?). There, I got talking to a girl from Dublin, who didn’t half remind me of Laura McGann – probably related somehow. After that, I headed down to the port to do business with people who do business in Great Waters.
I spoke to a shifty guy on the dock gate, he lead me to the back of a nearby cafe and there I met Mbuyi, a shipping agent who had a boat, leaving for the blimey-I-didn’t-know-that-was-a-nation of The Comoros Islands, my next target, the day after tomorrow. What about getting to Madagascar from Comoros?
No problem, he said, boats go every day.
I looked around for the hidden cameras. Is that is a joke? Surely it can’t be THAT easy… it just can’t be. Really? It’s that easy? I just buy a ticket and away I go?
Bloomin’ eck. Put my name down, I’m there dude.
This freed up the rest of the day somewhat. I decided to go and meet Dylan for lunch, which I did, taking in the cityscape of Dar es Salaam along the way. It’s not the most fragrant of towns is old Dar, a bit on the what-an-incredible-smell-you’ve-discovered kinda place – I guess they don’t dump their sewage far enough out into the sea. The people are friendly enough and there’s enough Indian influence to ensure the tucker is up to scratch, but the city isn’t what you’d call attractive.
I meet Dylan at his place of work – The International School, which is up on the peninsular north of town. I got chatting with a few of his colleagues over lunch (including a Brum!) and figured we’d get a good weekend out of this crowd. Unfortunately (for me, at least) next week is half-term, so utterly everybody (Dylan included) is scarpering for the hills as soon as they can. This mass exodus of Dar didn’t fit in which my social plans, but hey-ho, whatchagonnado?
In the evening, Dylan and I headed over to the Irish Bar for some din-dins. Dylan’s girlfriend is currently in London on a school trip (she’s a teacher too) so I guess that means that we both reverted to bachelor mode – cooking be damned. So here I was in Africa, in an Irish pub eating Indian grub while Masai tribeman worked the door – yes, the bouncers here are Masai warriors. Why? I hear you ask. I asked the same question. Simple: nobody messes with the Masai.
It was the second coolest thing that I have ever seen. If I ever get my own gaff, I’m so employing Gurkhas to work the door. Nobody f–ks with the Gurkhas.
Had a bunch of stuff to get done today, but as usual, I neglected my duties and proceeded to faff about instead. That’s a little unfair, I did make it back to the port with my money for the ticket, and I also got a shave (much needed, I can tell you) and spent AGES in a bookshop looking for something that I haven’t read but would quite like to. In the end I plumbed for “The Wizard of the Nile”. Imagine my disappointment when I found out it wasn’t a Dungeons N’ Dragons style Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, but a hard-hitting account of the life and times of Joseph Kony, that fruitloop who’s been waging war in Northern Uganda for the best part of two decades.
After lunch (more curry!), I headed back to Dylan’s place and I tried to get on with my work, but instead spent far, far too long video-chatting to my girlfriend on my marvellously new and installed copy of Skype. After Dylan got back from a bit of afterschool Kite-Surfing (in THAT water? He must be barking), we proceeded to head out on a mission, which culminated in us gate-crashing his friend’s digs for a few civilised drinks. I say civilised, because the whole evening got a lot less civilised soon after. Dylan and his mate dragged me (not exactly kicking and screaming) to a casino, and we whiled away a couple of hours playing Blackjack with half the Chinese population of East Africa. Jealous that I wasn’t getting any free drinks, I decided to throw a few quid in the bin BECAUSE THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS. I just tried to make sure that my free drink quota was roughly comparable to how much money I lost.
Afterwards, Dylan and I headed out to a nightclub and I decided that I simply wasn’t drunk enough. I managed to rectify the situation fairly quickly and the Beer Vortex wrapped me up in its amber glow as I danced like a dancing sifaka until I couldn’t dance no more.
The big news of today was the fact that the boat was delayed until MONDAY – what a surprise!! I TOLD you it was too easy. Apparently they’re waiting for the cows to come home. Seriously. Sounds ominous.
Dylan was scooting off into the bush with his mate Brad, so I was at a bit of a loose end. Brad suggested that I stay at his place, since his flatmate Justine is a couchsurfer. It sounded like a plan until Dylan and Brad loaded up their 4×4 and left me there on my own. I’m sure Justine is a lovely girl, once you get to know her, and I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I have never felt so unwelcome somewhere in my life (with the possible exception of the time that I turned up to midnight mass, drunk and naked save for a Santa hat).
I don’t really know what was going on, but free accommodation is free accommodation. I just got my head down and quietly spent the evening in on my own reading about The Wizard of The Nile. A bit of a change from the previous night’s shenanigans, to say the least.
I firmly believe that behind every great man, there are a bunch of people telling him he’s an idiot. Conversely, behind every idiot, there are a bunch of people telling him he’s a great man. I call this the George Lucas Syndrome. If anyone cares to peruse the archives, you’ll find a story that took place in a Californian screening room in 1976 – the screening of the rough cut of Star Wars, what was to turn out to be the greatest film in the world (unless you’re joyless toad with no soul, or a girl).
However, given the lack of special effects (ILM were too busy lounging around smoking dope to actually get any done in time) and shoddy dialogue, everybody at the screening said it was a big pile of steaming monkey droppings. Except for one man – Steven Spielberg. Now, in the usual story, it was Spielberg who gave Lucas the confidence he needed to finish the movie.
It was the $9,000,000 contract with Twentieth Century Fox that gave Lucas the confidence to finish the movie. Or maybe it was something else – maybe it was the burning desire to prove them all wrong. This beardy-weirdy 28-year-old had a plan, a vision that he knew would put all the nay-sayers to shame. But the people calling him an idiot made him re-shoot scenes, get the damn special effects in order and – when the film came out – prepare for the worst. They made him justify what he had done.
Now flash-forward a good couple of decades. It’s 1998 and in a screening room in Skywalker Ranch, George Lucas, now the richest, most powerful individual in Hollywood, is showing a rough cut of his new film. A film that everyone in the screening room has been waiting for, for over fifteen years. A wet fish of a film called The Phantom Menace. To everyone’s huge disappointment, it’s a crock of reprocessed felch. But does anyone tell Lucas this? Do they hell. Now the tables are turned – everyone applauds the film. I like to think that one person stood up and said WHY ON EARTH would anyone want to see Darth Vadar as a whiny little sprog? WHY WOULD ANYBODY be interested in a story that revolves around broken spaceship and boring space monks killing boring robots? AND WHAT is with that Jive-Talking Frog?
Ygads Lucas, you’ve lost it – we should have guessed after Return to Oz and Howard The Duck, but man, you need somebody to tell you you’re wrong, otherwise next three films you make (including one bloody awful Indy movie) will be just as bad.
But I somehow doubt anyone had the balls. And anyway, unlike Star Wars – which was a make-or-break affair for Lucas, The Phantom Menace was guaranteed to make a stack of cash at the box office whatever nonsense he conjured up.
Lucas had surrounded himself with people telling him he was a great man. And thus a once great man – the mind behind Darth Vadar and Indiana Jones – had become an idiot.
This theory is nothing new – anyone who watches the excellent television show ‘House’ (and if you don’t, you’re an idiot too) will know that Dr. House follows the Socratic method. He picks three people who will challenge him at every stage of the game. There’s even an episode in which he fires a guy for agreeing with him too often, even when he’s right.
What the hell has this got to do with Africa, Graham?, I hear you ask. Well, it’s this: Pretty much every single African leader surrounds himself with sycophantic lollygaggers who would not dare question a single thing El Presidente wants to do. When there is vocal opposition (most notably in the case of Morgan Tsvangirai), they are usually imprisoned, beaten or shot dead on the beach. The only reason I see that Tsvangirai is still alive is that Zimbabwe does not have a beach. Which means that Africa, by default, is run by a bunch of idiots.
But let’s not just have a pop at Africa – look at America, more specifically, the United States of America. Now Obama’s in charge, yeah, okay, no problem; but when it was Bush… my word, what a twonk. But is there an anti-president? Is there a guy who stands up every week to take the President down a peg or two? A guy who forces the President to justify his actions, play by the rules, stick to his manifesto commitments? Is there hell.
The Americans need to get it through their skulls that they do not elect a President every four years; they elect a King. An absolutist monarch who does not have to justify his actions. A King that has total control of the Army, the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. And who takes over if the King dies? His mate.
Ha! How wonderfully democratic.
Okay Graham, I’ll go with you on the Army and the Executive, but surely there is separation of powers in the US, enshrined in that clunking great toilet roll called The Constitution? I don’t think so. The President can veto any decisions made by Congress. This gives one man the utterly undemocratic ability to stifle any bill that over 600 Congressmen have wasted their time fighting over for months. Now the Queen of Great Britain has the same power, I know, but when was it last used… mmm, yes, I remember… The Scottish Militia Act of 1708, if memory serves me (I was quite young at the time, you understand). A good seventy years before the American Constitution was even dreamt up.
As for the Judiciary, El Presidente gets to CHOOSE THE SUPREME COURT! My word, what? I mean, seriously, WHAT? Okay, so one of the old doffers has to die before El Presidente gets to pick a new one, but crikey, that sounds about as democratic as allowing the President to use the BIGGEST ARMY IN THE WORLD to invade a country for SIX WEEKS before he has to ask permission off anyone but himself.
Oh, hang on. He can, can’t he? Gulp.
While I’m at it, what the hell is with The US Senate? Two votes per state, never mind the population or economic output? So California, the sixth biggest economy in the world, 37.7 million people, deserves the same voting power as the three people and the goat that live in Wyoming? Do me a quaver.
Yes I know there is no perfect system of democracy (and why would anyone want that? Referenda are the most undemocratic of devices – whichever side spends the most on advertising invariably wins), but some systems are better than others. I like Dr. House’s way of doing things. I like the British House of Parliament – there’s nothing better than watching Neil Kinnock cock a snook at Maggie Thatcher, William Hague knock the wind out of Tony Blair’s bluster or David Cameron smiling and waving as the great Labour bus trundles unwittingly towards the precipice.
Okay, the leadership of the UK is sometimes taken over by the current leader’s mate (or in the case of Gordon Brown, the leader’s worst enemy), but at least we can do the old backstab and chuck the leader out on their ear if they upset enough people (Thatcher, lest not forget, never lost an election). But El Presidente doesn’t have to worry about that – his position is secure for the next four years no matter what stunts he pulls or how low his approval rating drops (George W. Bush I’m looking at you).
In short, Star Wars Episode One was unforgivably awful and the US Constitution is a crock of rotten bananas, which needs to be torn up and re-written from scratch.
I want somebody to stand up EVERY DAY and call George Lucas, African Leaders and the President of the United States blithering idiots: make them justify their decisions, force them to change their minds if need be or give them the white hot passion they need to prove us wrong – you can’t be a great man – or woman – without it.
Oh, do shut up Graham you sanctimonious troglodyte.
Yesterday was spent creeping around Justine’s apartment like a mouse. I think she’s from Switzerland and I managed to get her to reveal that she worked for the government, but beyond that I drew a blank. I just kept to myself, edited some videos and read my book, trying desperately not to ruffle any feathers. This morning, I left as soon as I got out of bed. I was honestly happy to be out of there, the cloying atmosphere was incredibly oppressive. Not a pleasant couchsurf, it has to be said. Maybe her cat had just died or something. I guess I’ll never know.
I whiled away the day writing and editing until it was time to get on the boat – 4pm. I got to the café with the booking agents in the back, and they took me over the road to the port. Only, the Vogon on the gate doesn’t want to let us in. So me and my fellow passengers (there seemed quite a few of them) made do squatting at the side of the road for an hour. Then, and only then, we were allowed into the dock.
There she was – the Shassiwani II. An overloaded mess of a cargo ship. I despaired at the fate of the Shassiwani I. I waited around for a few hours for these damn cows to turn up and in the process, I realised that I was about to run out of videotape. I legged it out of the port to the nearest shopping mall, double-quick-quick because I was terrified that the boat might leave without me.
Ha! Fat chance. By the time I got back (caked in sweat but without tapes, the shop had closed) it was dark. The cows (fifty of ’em!) where being herded around the quay and onto the boat. Figuring we’d be leaving within the hour, I boarded the Shassiwani II and looked around for instructions, advice, anything… nothing doing I headed up the stairs onto the top deck.
Oh my god.
Over one hundred people laying cheek to jowl on scraps of foam on top of cargo. The stink, the rotten African feet (I hate feet at the best of times, rotten African feet on a filthy boat is just taking the mick), the squalor was on a scale that I had, as yet, not experienced. Remember the banana boat to Barbados when I had to sleep on the floor in the Galley? Add another 100 passengers on board and you might just get an inkling of what conditions were like on the Shassiwani II. Uncomfortable doesn’t begin to describe. And where was my cabin, eh? No, I had to make do on the floor like the rest of the human cargo. Well that was $225 well spent. I was fuming. Everyone else’s ticket cost them $80, and I bet they felt cheated too.
I told you it was too easy.
A skinny, long haired, snaggle-toothed Chinese guy caught my attention. Lee had left China 12 years ago and was fulfilling his dream of cycling to every country in the world. So far he had been to 140 worldwide, including Somalia. He too had been arrested in Congo without charge, but his embassy sprung him in two days. Maybe our diplomats should learn kung-fu. Lee was a good distraction from the nightmare that was unfolding all around me, but his halitosis began to feel like part of a larger conspiracy to make me hurl.
The filthy bit of foam he was sitting on soon became my bed for the night as he had his rollmat (and his camping gear) slung onto the back of his bike.
When are we going to leave?
It’s just a problem with the passports. We should be gone by midnight.
Either I was on the smoothest boat ride that I had ever experienced or when I awoke we hadn’t left port. What do you think, kids? I sat up and there was confirmed the awful truth – I had just spent a night cramped in a damp corner on a greasy bit of foam in the floating equivalent of Mary’s Mum’s house for no reason whatsoever. I could have stayed at the Jambo, got a shower, hung out with some backpackers… but no. This Is Africa. And it is Africa’s job to make you as uncomfortable as humanly possible.
So would we be gone by 12 noon? Possibly. I gave my phone number to the first mate – if you’re going to leave, call me. I went to get those damn tapes. I got them, hurried back to the boat – I ran! – but (of course) it was going nowhere.
I spent the day reading until finally – at 6pm, the engines are finally put into gear and we leave. It’s not good when you feel seasick before you actually get anywhere the sea.
Sometimes words fail me. It doesn’t happen very often but blimey this boat is a rotten carcass of grot. All I can think of as I see the 100+ people onboard lying in rows onto of undulating cargo, the smell, the litter, the way the food is handed out (all the men elbow to the front), the LIVESTOCK downstairs (which, funnily enough, have more room to move about than us humans) is Amistad. Christ, I know how bad that sounds and I can’t believe that I was conned out of $225 for this nightmare. Actually I’m trying not to think about it, it’ll annoy me off too much. Suffice to say, this boat is the grottiest boat afloat. Thank god I’m not crossing the Atlantic.
I tried to time travel, writing up my blog amid ‘breaks’ when I’d go charge my laptop in the little room at the back of the bridge and read a book – it makes time go a lot quicker than just sitting there. I think I almost preferred the wooden fishing boat to Cape Verde. No, I lie, this trip didn’t carry anywhere near the same level of terror. Although I don’t think I have ever had to endure such squalor – being thrown in jail in Central Africa had an edge on this; at least the room wasn’t bobbing up and down.
I was convinced that I’d be on this sticking hole of a boat until tomorrow morning. Imagine my relief when I went onto the bridge this afternoon to charge up my laptop only to see a whopping great island through the window. Thank the maker.
I readied myself to disembark. I would like to report that it was all very organised and efficient but ARE YOU ON CRACK?? THIS IS AFRICA FOOL!! No, the entry procedure was the usual elbow-the-women-out-of-the-way mad scramble to get the passports back (luckily Lee The Crazy Chinaman and I were kept apart from the braying mob as our passports were kept in a different plastic bag).
Eventually, we were herded through the ‘customs’ (a line of officials set out across the road like riot police) and into immigration. So much for my visa being included in the price of the ticket. It cost me $100 just to come in. Another poverty-stricken country scratching its head and wondering why everyone goes to Mauritius and the Seychelles instead. CAN I MAKE A SUGGESTION??! But the guy in the office was ultra helpful. The best news I could have hoped for – there would be not one, but TWO boats leaving for Madagascar on SATURDAY MORNING. Happy Days.
Hopefully they wouldn’t be as much of a grot-fest as the old Shassiwani II. I thanked the port official and I headed off. By now, the sun was setting over that nightmare of a continent Africa, although Comoros did not make me feel like I had left. Because everything is in Euros or local money and the ATMs don’t work, I had zero cash, despite the $500 of emergency cash in my pocket. I found myself walking, walking, walking. Sweating and panting, I found an internet café, and was speaking to the helpful guy inside about the possibility of a Wi-Fi connection when would you Adam-and-Eve it, who turns up but the VOGONS!!!
It was the usual hustle – show us your passport. As if they have a PLAGUE of Europeans coming over to their country (that nine out of ten Europeans have never heard of) and stealing kittens to use in their crazy European sex-fetish, black magic, voodoo parties. I refused, as always, because, as always, they were two plain-clothed policemen with just a laminated bit of printed card (no photo, as always) that I could knock out in five minutes on MS Paint.
I gave them a photocopy of my passport, my letter from the British Embassy in Kinshasa that said I was a good egg (in French, no less) and my European Driver’s License. But that wasn’t enough for these Vogon b**tards, for they wanted nothing more (as all Vogons want nothing more) than to lock me up for the night (or six) for being the pesky wrong colour of skin.
Like I was reliving the same nightmare again and again, they tried to bundle me into a random car (it’s NEVER a police car), I again refused and headed back into the internet cafe. Can I point out at this juncture that I had no evidence these guys were anything more than a couple of drunks with a possible fake ID and after being kidnapped in Bolivia a few years ago by a couple of fake coppers, I’m understandably cagey about getting in random cars at night with these Vogons.
Soon enough, the ‘chief’ turned up and inspected my passport (he had the same crappy ID, but if this was a set-up, it was getting so elaborate so I figured it might be in my interests to go along with it anyway, plus he had a moustache – always a sign that he’s in charge of something or other – collecting the stray trolleys in the Tesco Car-Park perhaps?). He was satisfied. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and got back to my Internet connecting.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. Along with my mobile phone and my ATM card, my laptop didn’t stand a chance of working in Comoros. Happily, the guy running the Internet cafe gave me ten minutes free online. Just enough time (I love the way the speed of the Internet is directly and negatively proportional to the hurry you are in – how does it know?) to update Twitter to let you all know that I was still alive and to see that there were no CouchSurf contacts here in Comoros (meanies).
I checked into the cheapest hotel in the Lonely Planet, gave him my passport and fifty dollars as deposit. He gave me a room key and €20. I went out and bought pizza.
Right. Here’s the deal. It’s Thursday 17th December. If I play my cards right, I reckon I can get to Egypt via Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and Saudi Arabia before the end of the month to meet my girlfriend Mandy.
We haven’t seen each other all year.
I have just 10 days from today to get to Djibouti (via Burundi) to catch a cargo boat up to Port Said. This is going to be AWESOME.
The race, as they say, is ON!!!
Today we got into port nice and early. Before long I was stamped back into Tanzania (had to buy a new visa – grr). I said my goodbyes to Thomas and Sevine and stepped back onto the continent of Africa.
I hurried over to the bus station to find that there were no buses to Rwanda until Saturday (I just missed the one that left today) so I jumped on the next bus to Dodoma, the capital of Tanzania, hoping to ‘bus hop’ my way up to Rwanda instead.
I got into Dodoma around 5pm, but there were no buses going any further today. Buses in Tanzania don’t seem to run at night. This is a problem, especially if I hope to be in Djibouti a week on Saturday.
Dodoma was the most uncapital-like capital city I’ve ever been to (worse than Canberra!) but I’m back in Tanzania and the price is right. Also, it’s named after the general who explains how to blow up the Death Star in Star Wars. I’m staying in a place that is comparable with the dreadful Pension Faida back on Comoros, only this place has a shower (albeit a cold one) and it costs… oh yes…€3. Or in other words, what the Pension Faida should have cost.
I’m writing this in the restaurant of the poshest hotel in town, the New Dodoma, about a mile down the road from my guesthouse. I’m about to sink my teeth into a massive steak that has just been delivered to my table on a sizzling platter. It looks DELICIOUS (if a little hot) and the price? €3.25.
Pinch me, I must be dreaming. Hang on – I’ll go and check I haven’t got the exchange rate wrong.