Who Cares About Problems When You Can Enjoy Life?

Admittedly, in the last months our reviews were either rather negative (Ethiopia and Nepal) or too complex to be summed up with just a positive/negative attribute (India). So we asked ourselves whether we do not like poor countries or whether we are a bit sick of travelling after all this time. Fortunately, Tanzania relieved us from these doubts: This Eastern African nation extends the list of countries we have fallen in love with.

It is not that everything is perfect here, by no means! So many prejudices about the Black Contintent proved to be true. Culturally there is not much to see in Tanzania. Except Zanzibar, the historical sites are not that impressive. And we know that we have written something like this about Bolivia, so we have to apologize and correct ourselves: Tanzania definitively is the country where nothing works. Unfortunately, this starts in the kitchen. The national dish that all Tanzanians are proud of is “Chipsi Mayai” – French fries and egg, a dish every other nation would be ashamed of serving to anyone but the worst enemy. All other food is not any better, some rice, some ugali, with lean chicken or fatty beef, accompanied by a monotone sauce. The best you can do is pouring ketchup or chilli sauce over it and eat fruits as lunch. But Tanzanians are just happy with what’s on offer, they never think about ways to make their cuisine more diverse.

Surely it is a cliché, but in the case of Tanzania it just describes the mentality in a perfect way: “Hakuna Matata” – “No Worries”. Tanzanians are always able to enjoy their life and they won’t let reality prevent them from doing so. The bus is broken and the sun is shining, so that’s a reason to smile. Or if a CD-vendor with loud music comes along and if they like the song, they start singing and dancing for a few seconds. They do not do so to show everyone their good mood, but only to enjoy the moment. They’re super friendly and want to have good relationships with everybody.

However, the coin has a flip side. They are not really interested in making things work – at least when it requires some effort. No matter how late the buses are, the driver will always have time to chat with a friend. At the train station, no one has any information about the current situation, and they do not know how their own institution is actually organized. The most important thing is that everyone is happy – may the problems be what they are – so they always will tell you that the solution is only one minute away. Usually, this explanation already replaces the solution. So Tanzania is a country where you soon become fond of the people, even when they are ruining all your plans. Yet for them it really is a pity and at least partly hampers development. It is such a waste of potentials and in effect, everything they do in Tanzania – cooking, driving, selling tickets, maintaining some kind of infrastructure, making a proper haircut – they do it very unprofessionally, without routine, chaotically, like the first time. Perhaps with the notable exception of music.

So Tanzanians have few reasons to be proud of their efficiency, instead they can be proud of something else. You hear so much about conflicts in the world but few things about the success stories of tolerance. Definitely, Tanzania is one of them. The country is roughly equally divided into Christians and Muslims. Nevertheless, there are no conflicts at all. In every small village, you’ll find a mosque and a church, often side-by-side. Little girls who come from school wear the same uniform, and some cover their hair, some don’t. A Muslim employer will have Christian workers, or the other way round. They even intermarry with each other and no one has a problem with it. Tanzanian can get very passionate when complaining about people who want to force others to believe this or that. They’re glad that only a small minority behaves like that.

Moreover, they have dozens of tribes in their country. But tribal conflicts are virtually absent. All live peacefully together and tribes actually do not play a big role in the society, except as source of stereotypes for popular jokes. The nation-building policy adopted by Julius Nyere, which included strict enforcement of Swahili at school, may have yielded some fruits. Nowadays, Tanzania is open for refugees from the whole region, who make their way to this African country to benefit from its stability. Even better for us, they are so tolerant that foreigners do not need to feel alien. We were astonished how unimportant the color of our skin seemed to be. They never thought that it was a reason to overcharge us or to start begging and the ratio of beggars is probably not significantly higher than in Western Europe. Tanzanians treated us friendly and fair, just like everyone else. They did not stare at us or seemed to be surprised when seeing a white man. They simply were ready to have a friendly talk like they use to have there and to enjoy the time we have together. So thanks to Tanzania, we now definitely feel welcome in Africa!

Delay, African Style

For our last couple of days in Tanzania, we decided to stay in Mbeya, the most important town in the southern part of the country, to experience some real life. Mbeya has a bit more than 250000 inhabitants but the “center” really does not feel like this. They just have two or three streets with a few shops, one bar and some restaurants with the usual monotone menus. It is very calm there but also a bit boring. Interestingly, the suburbs seem to be a bit more lively.

After having survived hairdressers from all over the world during 13 months, Mbeya was the first place where I should surrender. The “Jihad” barbershop (nomen est omen) had his first try to perform a comparatively long hairstyle on me. Using only the machine, he managed to give my hair all possible lengths between 5 mm to 10 cm without any visible structure. Finalizing his experimental art with an “it’s enough now”, he after all decided to use the scissors for cutting my beard. It would be an understatement to say I looked horrible. So I had to go to the adjacent barber’s shop to try and correct a few things, which at the end meant to now have the shortest haircut since I was 5 years old. Continue reading

Learning from Lions

Luckily, Eli’s treatment worked well and her state improved so fast that we did not have to cancel the last part of safari: Ruaha National Park. It is located at the great Ruaha River, on a high plateau in south Tanzania and provides a beautiful landscape besides an abundant wildlife. Even if it is said to be rather remote compared to Serengeti, it almost felt overcrowded to us after having been totally alone in Katavi. We spent a wonderful day there despite the fact that by changing the program without previous announcement, our guide Hussein apparently tried to cheat on us. Our new driver Raman did his best to make our stay unforgettable and we regret not having booked him from the start. We saw zebras, antelopes, kudus, giraffes, storks, marabous, crocodiles, hippos, jackals, elephants and lions, including a whole family with babies. You might think that the savannah is bursting of activity, but you should take into account that it is still Tanzania. Actually, most animals sleep all the time or trot around until finding a comfortable place in the shade to take a rest. And the Master of Laziness is the King of the Savannah: the indeed majestic and also pretty idle lion. We cannot but admire this animal. Lying around all the day surrounded by 3 to 6 females, he lets time pass by. Once in a while he commands his harem to go hunting and bring him some food. After that sometimes it’s mating time, sometimes not. And for this exhausting way of life, he receives the highest respect of everyone else …. well done, lion!

Disappointingly, Hussein failed to book our accommodation at the Bandas, located in the center of the park. This is a cool place because elephants and giraffes love to come and greet you there. We had our lunch at this place and saw an elephant walking between the huts, chasing an incautious visitor. Slowly, we approached him with Eli walking a few steps behind. Obviously, she was respectful and a bit frightened although she considered the elephant to be nice and cute –– a rather female attitude. When her view was blocked by a bush while we could see the elephant, we counted to 3 and started sprinting away. Her face changed in a fraction of a second from slight fear to blank horror. We could not stop laughing and a ranger found this trick so funny that he fell to the ground because he laughed so heavily. Sorry Eli for this joke but we are happy to have you here :-) ;-) :P :D Continue reading

Eli, the Rough Guide to Malaria

Sooner or later, everyone who consciously wants to travel to Africa will have to consider this topic. Malaria, the infamous infectious disease transmitted by mosquito bites, is widely spread in (sub-)tropical areas and some of the worst types are likely to be found in the Forgotten Continent. As in severe cases an untreated infection can not only cause fever and headache but lead to coma and death, it is highly recommendable if not essential to try and prevent contamination, means reducing the risk of mosquito bites to the absolute minimum.

We thought we were well prepared. Cautiously, we always sleep under mosquito nets, we use a lot of repellent, we avoid exposure at dusk and we mainly wear light and long clothes. Furthermore, we take Malarone for prophylaxis, which is said to considerably reduce the probability of an onset in case of contagion. And the methods turned out to be successful. Since our arrival to Africa, Steffen and I hardly got more than 5 mosquito bites, and Eli – even more thoroughly applying the preventive measures  – just has been bitten once at the beginning in Dar Es Salaam. And anyway, malaria usually breaks out at least one week and up to three months after a bite, so we could go to our safari without worrying at all. An extremely unlikely case of malaria would definitely not occur during the rides through the national parks before reaching a rather developed civilization again.

Unfortunately, we soon had to realize that this feeling of security was not justified. Actually we were not well prepared at all. Or to be more precise: We knew how not to get malaria, but we had no idea how to behave and what to do if you do get it after all. On the last day at Katavi National Park, Eli began to feel very tired and later became sicker and sicker, with increasing fever and a painful feeling. First, we were convinced this would be due to the consequences of a sunstroke, but we decided to be on the safe side and drove back to Mpanda to have her make a malaria test. At least we knew that it is advisable to go and have malaria tested whenever you have fever in such areas. And then came the big shock: The most improbable explanation for Eli’s ill-being had become true. The diagnose was positive, with a level of 7 malaria parasites per 200 white blood cells.

Apart from the advice that if you have malaria you should go to some local doctors who know what to do, we had no idea of the correct behavior in such a situation. What did the concentration level mean? Was it really high or rather low? How can we treat the symptoms and eventually cure her from the disease? Especially for Eli, who had heard many horror stories about the course of malaria, this was a very tough time. Her panic was growing because literally she feared she could die in the following days. She truly had some terrible hours.

To make things even more complicated, we were at the most remote place of our whole safari. Obviously, the doctors had never had a white patient before and did not really seem to know what to do. They appeared to us rather surprised why Eli felt so bad, they recommended taking some painkillers to lower the body temperature (which indeed was a good idea and helped improving Eli’s state), but they were totally astonished that we would take Malarone for prevention. They told Eli now to take a higher dose, but we saw that this was simply a wild guess. Using a tediously slow internet connection, we managed after several hours to contact Steffen’s family and via them a doctor. He informed us that if you take Malarone as prophylaxis, it is important to change the medication for the therapy.

Later, our guide Hussein (who during all this period was an important support for translating, organizing and comforting) explained us that from birth on, each African normally has a steady concentration of about 10 parasites per 200 white blood cells and that for them, malaria starts being a real issue when the level increases to around 20 parasites. That was the reason for the doctors to be so confused about Eli’s state, they could hardly understand what was going on with this white person who did not have anything but a normal, not alarming result at a malaria test. So the next morning, we decided to take the 700 km looong and exhausting bus ride to Mbeya, where we would encounter the first hospital with much better educated doctors.

Thanks to painkillers, Eli could bear the main part of the ride without bigger problems, but the last hours became quite difficult for her. Nevertheless, we finally arrived to Mbeya after 19 hours in an uncomfortable bus, delayed but alive. We headed straight to the clinic and were attended directly by a friendly and competent doctor. For the first time, we felt ourselves to be in good hands. The doctor had had experiences with white patients before or at least perfectly knew how to treat and cure the infection. He prescribed 3 doses of quinine (the stuff Tintin already had given to some Congolese and which is also used in Tonic Water), which Eli had to get injected in 8 hours intervals. Afterwards, she was given other tablets, Artequick, which she took the next two days. For the whole investigation and all medicaments, we had to pay 16 €. And as promised, she completely recovered from the disease – the ultimate test resulted in negative. She had some tough side-effects, but it is wrong imagining her lying in a hospital bed. Already after the first injection, her state improved considerably and there was no necessity for taking painkillers. She relaxed one day in the hotel room, then we had a half-day long bus ride to Ruaha National Park and the last day of her treatment she spent on the safari, adoring lion babies.

What we have learnt: Understand that in Africa, malaria is part of the everyday life and that locals will be more tranquil about this issue. But for Europeans, malaria is serious and you should not take it easy and be casual about it. Protect yourself as much as possible from mosquito bites. Instantaneously go to a good doctor for further examination whenever you feel symptoms like headache or fever. But don’t freak out if despite the measures you should still get this infectious disease. Panic and horror stories are never helpful, keeping calm and serene is a lot more important in such a situation. Well treated, malaria is most likely to cure without lasting consequences. Yes, approximately one million persons die of malaria, many of them being African children. But we saw where they come from and where they live. In Ikola for instance (the village where we disembark the Liemba and where Eli took the cute picture with all the children), the next medical facility is at least perhaps 3 walking days away, people don’t have the time and the money to take their children there and in most cases a fever would not even be noticed.

Before we finish, we would like to thank all the persons who, near and far, helped us dealing with the situation. Thanks to our guide Hussein for always being present, missing his deserved meals and his night’s rests. Thanks to Damaris, Jochen and Dr. Hachmann for the assistance, guidance and all advices sent from Germany during a sleepless weekend and thanks to Karli for maintaining the remote communication online and for the mental support. A special thank you goes to Nadja who had given me a realistic and first-hand estimation on the actual course of the disease but also a valuable and reassuring opinion about prevention and treatment. And admittedly, we have to apologize for not having sufficiently informed ourselves about malaria and for simply having hoped not to get it.

Tanzania’s Wild West

We had not come to Kigoma just to experience an exciting bus ride. The city was the base for our trip to Gombe National Park, which is located at the coast of Lake Tanganyika, about 2.5 hours by boat north of Kigoma. Already before starting our adventure in Peru, we had organized our safaris and prebooked a guide, Hussein. So now we were in the quite new position of not having to plan anything – it was nice after all not to have to worry about how to go on.

Our aim in Gombe was to see the chimpanzees. We were told that you have to walk 2-3 hours trough the forest and that sometimes you need a second try the next day. Usually you only get a glimpse of them while they jump through the trees. So we started our long walk. After maybe ten minutes our guide asked a researcher, who was responsible to keep track of the chimps, whether he had an idea in which direction to go to see them. He simply nodded indifferently towards a trail 20 meters away: a whole family was sitting here, perfectly visible on the ground and relaxed. At least since Jane Goodall this group is used to humans, so it turned out to be pretty easy to watch them. In fact, they are fascinating animals. They just sat there, the babies climbed onto the adults, they played and picked the fleas. Chimpanzees are flexible when it comes to food: they eat plants, fruits but also some baby baboons. They even mix meat with some vegetables, so their menu is much more sophisticated than in any Tanzanian restaurant. Sometimes, they eat Amarula, a fruit that makes them drunk and helps enjoying their time even better. They have such a relaxed life that we wonder which of the chimps was the first to have the stupid idea of starting the evolution towards a human being …. Given we achieved our goal that quickly, we spent the rest of the day walking to a waterfall and lying at the wonderful beach near the research station. Continue reading