Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Velvet Monkeys

I apologize to those who might be offended by the explicit nature of this image, but I felt obliged, after my post on a female monkey, to introduce some gender balance on my blog, specifically on monkeys.
The institution at Usa River near Arusha where I attended a short course a few years ago was frequently visited by a group of monkeys from the surrounding forest.

At the end of lectures one afternoon, I witnessed some of the course participants, intrigued by the presence of the monkeys, cautiously attempting to approach the primates but each time they got close the monkeys moved away to a safe distance.

In contrast, when one of the resident tutors passed near the monkeys, the monkeys did not move away. A Zambian in my course predicted the monkey's reaction as the tutor, a white European, approached and walked past the monkeys.

Having some experience with monkeys at Butiama, I argued that monkeys appear to recognize familiar faces and attach some character - hostile or friendly - to those faces. When I took regular walks, I came across groups of monkeys that were not particularly alarmed by my appearance but maintained large distances with other human beings.

I believe they kept the distance for a good reason. Monkeys are notorious for stealing crops and many people around Butiama have to chase away monkeys trying to steal farm produce. I have not chased a monkey save for that rare occasion when someone left the door open and one of the monkeys got too close to my breakfast.

If it is not obvious, this specimen is a male velvet monkey. I think I now understand where the 'velvet' originated from.

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Wednesday, 24 December 2008

The receeding snows of Kilimanjaro

This photograph, below, of Mt. Kilimanjaro, which I took a few days ago while on a flight from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam shows very little snow on the eastern side of the mountain's highest peak, Kibo. Older photographs of Kilimanjaro show snow cover reaching almost half way down Kibo's slopes.
We are approaching the height of the warmer months in Tanzania and it is expected that some snow cover should be lost because of higher temperatures. However, the trend shows that global warming or - as others say, deforestation - continues to erode the snows of Mt. Kilimanjaro much faster than fresh snowfalls from the colder months can regenerate.

A few hours after taking this photograph, I was on another flight from Dar es Salaam to Mwanza and I noticed the mountain had far greater snow cover on the western side.

The photo, below, shows Mawenzi peak on the left, Kibo on the right, and farther in the distance, Mt. Meru. I have heard that moments before the sun rises, Kibo's shadow covers Mt. Meru, and those who have seen the sun rise over Kibo from Mt. Meru believe it is the most spectacular sight in this galaxy.
I am inclined to agree. During my Kilimanjaro climb in August I took the photo below from Barafu Camp on the slopes of Kibo showing Mawenzi just before sunrise.

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Tuesday, 16 December 2008

The old road to Mwanza

This photograph (above) shows part of the village of Butiama, approached from the north on the old MusomaMwanza road. This used to be quite a busy road before the bitumen surfaced road (photos, below) was built between 1977 and 1983 and traffic moved to the better road. It used to take the entire day to drive from Mwanza to Musoma.

The old road to Mwanza
Italian contractors Lanari Sogesca Estero built the 93-kilometre stretch from Musoma to Nyanguge. After completion, the part between Nyanguge and Mwanza still had some tarmac left over from past works. However, it deteriorated considerably in the 1990s and was resurfaced again a few years ago and has since contributed to several fatal accidents. Today, it takes about 3 hours by bus between Mwanza and Musoma.
The Mwanza - Musoma road near the village of Sabasaba
It is amazing how roads can transform the activities of an area. A few years ago the government resurfaced the 11-kilometre road linking the village of Butiama with the main MwanzaMusoma road at Kiabakari and most of the motorists who were using the old Butiama to Musoma road changed routes and began driving to Musoma through Kiabakari. Now the old road has only a few passenger vehicles (daladala) plying through between the village of Nyamuswa and Musoma.
A bus on the Mwanza - Musoma road. The contractors widened the old road, but forgot to widen this bridge. Trucks and buses normally yield to allow oncoming traffic to avoid a possible collision.
The Butiama to Kiabakari road has become extremely busy and has even produced some small-scale mining activity at a particular spot which has been named "machimbo" (mines). Construction of houses has also stepped up along the way.

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Saturday, 29 November 2008

A climber shares his observations on Mt. Kilimanjaro

When I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro three months ago, I shared the ordeal (it used to be an ordeal, not anymore) with Le Hu Dyuong, a software engineer from Vietnam. He shares his observations and his photographs of the climb:
Although it does not have the highest elevation, Kilimanjaro is the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, rising from its base to the highest Uhuru Peak at 5,895m (19,340ft) in Africa. Everest and other Himalayan peaks rise from an already high plateau.
The origin of the name "Kilimanjaro" was never satisfactorily explained. One theory, more or less adopted by early European explorers postulates that it comes from ancient Swahili 'Kilima' (hill, little mountain) and 'Njaro' (white, shining). As to why the diminutive word Kilima is used instead of the proper word for mountain 'Mlima' is anybody's guest.

Anyone who has seen Kilimanjaro at sunset or sunrise will tell you that it's a magical experience. As I was admiring the numerous views of 'Kili' during my climb all the

way to the top, I also felt a rather poignant irony: the magnificent scenery unrolling before my eyes, a majestic sight, is only a fraction of its original glory...

Perhaps more than any other sight in Africa, and indeed the world, Kilimanjaro has come to symbolize the tragic fate which many of the wonders of the world have been facing due to the devastating effect of global warming.

When Ernest Hemingway wrote The Snows of Kilimanjaro, he probably could never have imagined that some day, the title of his short story would become obsolete: with the most recent ice cap volume dropping by more than 80 percent, it is estimated that the famous snow dome of Africa's highest peak will disappear between 2015 and 2020!

The consequence is more than aesthetic: the glaciers have been the sources of water for the surrounding plains of cultivation all the way to the swamps at Amboseli National Park in Kenya, famous for its elephants bathing in the swamps.

Mt. Kenya, Africa's second tallest peak which provides water for almost 80 percent of the Kenyan population shares a similar predicament. During my recent climb of both mountains I observed vast tracts of barren rocks exposed by the once glorious glaciers which now exist only in old photographs.

Let us take a short moment of our busy daily lives to reflect on what we can do, no matter how insignificant the action may seem, to preserve the magic of our natural heritage and the beauty of our blue planet for future generations.

- Le, Kilimanjaro 2008

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Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Visitors to Butiama

Students of Chief Ihunyo Secondary School of Busegwe, a village near Butiama, pose near the Mausoleum of Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere (1922 - 1999) during a recent visit to Butiama.

Students from as far away as Kenya frequently visit the village of Butiama, which is also where the Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere Museum (photo below) is located.

The Museum contains exhibits and information on Tanzania's founding president.

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Sunday, 23 November 2008

Letter from Butiama: The modern day "witch"

This is one of numerous articles I wrote for the Sunday News (Tanzania) column "Letter from Butiama" between 2005 and 2011.
Whether you are superstitious or not, witchcraft is unavoidable in most African societies. The village of Butiama is no exception.

Last May* an alleged witch, who I will call Mystio, was expelled from Butiama by villagers who accused him of harbouring and supplying zombies to clients. It is believed that zombies provide labour on farms as well as for some professional occupations.

An employee of the hospital whose colleague, a doctor, died recently says his colleague now runs a dispensary in the mystical world of the deceased. The dispensary is understaffed and the expelled "witch" is the suspected head-hunter.

Mystio had the habit of carrying out normal activity during unusual hours. When most villagers were getting ready for bed he would order masons to resume construction of his house during hours that, coincidentally, those legendary assistants of witches - hyenas and owls - are also said to be particularly active.

It is interesting that one of the masons who for a time also built Mystio's house at night told me there is no better time for construction; at night there are no idlers who tend to slow down the pace of construction by engaging him in conversation. The mason quit after receiving a stern warning from members of the council of elders, abanyikura.
The elders then summoned Mystio and asked him to justify his unusual working hours. He was asked to carry on with construction during the day like everyone else and heeded for a while but later changed his mind and resumed nighttime construction. He received another summons from the elders but not only did he ignore to attend he also threatened to send the group of old men to jail if they persisted. If true, it was a fatal mistake. The council of elders is a powerful traditional institution. You just don't wish them away, let alone threaten them.

Abanyikura are the equivalent of a government. Mystio was treading on dangerous waters. In retaliation, the wanyikura began to apply sanctions. No one was allowed to talk to him. Anyone breaking the sanction was liable to a fine, usually a cow, depending on the circumstances surrounding the breach. The effects of such a sanction in an urban environment is laughable, but in a village, where social interaction is necessary for most activities, social sanctions can be devastating. I was told a shop owner was reprimanded by the elders after he sold telephone recharge vouchers to Mystio.

"He should have just heeded the call by the elders, accepted to pay a fine, and switch back to daytime construction. He would still be around," commented the mason. There would have been no excuse to expel him. He ignored the elders and created fertile ground for the suspicious to campaign for his expulsion.

If you consider that the local variety of a witch is depicted as an extremely fearless and cruel being, roaming the night in search of victims and, more often than not, on the back of a hyena as the preferred mode of transport, I found Mystio to be a very poor specimen. One evening, I was driving back from Musoma and was flagged down by a group of people standing next to a pick up truck. I recognized him among the group and stopped the car. He explained to me they were on their way to Musoma, but after finding large boulders blocking the road on a spot I had passed just before reaching them, they hastily retreated fearing an ambush by armed bandits.

They asked whether I found the boulders on the road. I had not seen any boulders and told them it was likely that after their retreat the "bandits" had probably dispersed fearing that an alarm will be raised.

Some of the passengers found my explanation reassuring and began attempts to persuade the driver to drive through the same spot onward to Musoma. The only person who decided that heading to Musoma was not only potentially risky but highly irresponsible was the alleged witch, and he hitched a ride with me back to Butiama.


Saturday, 15 November 2008

America, in black and white

There was some worry that the election of Senator Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States might elicit a rise in assassination threats against him. That has come to pass, although reports suggest that any US president-elect, regardless of race, usually receives death threats.

Race itself is actually an overrated word that receives more attention than it deserves. Anthropologists say that there is no pure race in the world today. We are all a mixture of two or more of what we call races.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica (1998, Vol.9, p.876) :
The designation "race" has been applied to language groups (the Aryan race), national groups (the Scottish race), religious groups (the Jewish race), and the entire species of humans (the human race), but these usages are biologically and scientifically meaningless.
More from Britannica on the the same subject (1998, Vol.18, p.847):
Very few Americans can claim ancestry from fewer than three nations.
Which makes one wonder why some Americans should be so obsessed with race. Having accepted that race is biologically and scientifically meaningless, I use the words "white", "black", and "race" only to simplify comprehension of this post.

Which brings me to the question: why should someone who has a white mother and a black father be categorised as black? A sibling inherits an equal proportion of genes from each parent so why should half-"white" become "black" and not "white"? Apparently it has to do with an old legal definition of races in the United States in the days when racial segregation was officially sanctioned. One drop of "black" blood and someone became black. However after 1967 when the US Supreme Court ruled that the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 was unconstitutional the one drop rule became illegal. But it continues to have widespread use in American society, explaining why the media continues to report Obama as the first elected black president.

Race remains a hot issue in the United States, but the election of Obama suggests that demographic shifts are altering how Americans view this divisive question. Obama did not position himself as black but as an American and most of those who voted for him seem to share that view. The US Census Bureau reported blacks accounted for only 12.8 percent of the US population in 2006.

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Saturday, 8 November 2008

The Kilimanjaro Climb on YouTube

Here is my interview in which I answer questions on my experience of my first climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

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A friend's friend once asked me, "What is your name?" I said, "Madaraka." And she asked, "Mada-what?" I suspected then that I probably have a very long name.

However, I was surprised to learn there are other worthy contenders.

The longest last name:

The Longest word in a major dictionary:


I believe my friend's friend would have asked, "Wolfeschlegelst-what?"

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

German treasures?

In Tanzania there are several spots, such as this one near Butiama (photo, below), with unexplained marks on rocks. The unconfirmed explanation given by some reveals that the signs were made by German colonialists who were in Tanganyika between 1891 and 1919. The Germans supposedly marked spots where they hid treasures.

The marks near Butiama appear to have been made a long time ago. They consist of two crosses, a few feet apart. A few years ago at a similar spot near this one in a cave some villagers were killed while trying to excavate what they believed to be hidden treasures.

I recall meeting someone in Dar es Salaam more than a decade ago who asked me to finance "an expedition" to Kondoa in central Tanzania to blow up by dynamite another spot with similar marks and believed to contain mineral treasures. I declined the offer.

Influenced by the few alien movies I have seen, I harbour the expectation that underneath these crosses near Butiama there are hidden beacons that will one day guide intergalactic visitors to Butiama. Butiama's residents probably stand a higher chance sighting an unidentified flying object over these marks than of becoming rich from discovering hidden German treasures.

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Saturday, 1 November 2008

Why I quit smoking: My Kilimanjaro Climb Adventure (Post 10 of 10)

After breakfast we took a group photo and began what was for me another difficult descent to Mweka Gate. On the way a group of girls passed us and one said, "I will never do this again." I understood exactly how she felt.

About 200m before reaching the gate we were met by drivers from Zara Tanzania Adventures who had walked up to find out whether we were too tired to walk the remaining part. We declined the offer to take a ride in the car. It would have stained a great adventure.

Allowing the body to gradually get used to lower altitudes as one descends is just as important as allowing the body to adjust to higher altitudes as one ascends. Apparently, the effects of high altitude take a while to wear off. At a souvenir shop at Mweka Gate Le picked up a cap inscribed with the words Hifadhi za Taifa and asked me to translate. I couldn't remember the English translation and turned to the Kilimanjaro National Park officials for help.

"National Parks", one said and I said, "Off course, how could I forget that!" His remark: "That's okay, it's normal. Your brains are still frozen." He gave me a compelling reason to avoid sleeping at the Crater Camp next time.

Now about the title of this blog: I quit smoking the first year I decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro because I was worried smoking would reduce my chance of reaching the peak.

Fundraising Update:

Pound STG 440
US dollars 16,180
Tanzanian Shillings 2,570,000

Friday, 31 October 2008

Why I quit smoking: My Kilimanjaro Climb Adventure (Post 9 of 10)

Le and Yahoo left for Uhuru Peak at 0400hrs to catch the sunrise. At daybreak I walked across the crater floor with the assistant guide, Hamisi Mbewa, to Stella Point where I sent text messages I intended to send yesterday from the summit: "Greetings from Uhuru Peak, the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro (5,896m)..."

Some of the responses were interesting. Joseph Ibanda, a pilot, wrote: "...the view must be spectacular from there..." He could not have used a better expression to express how I felt and there was no beter place to live that experience than where I stood as I read his message. On my left was the vast expanse of the saddle between Kibo and Mawenzi, at a distance but in clear view. Further below I had a clear view for about 1,500m that was interrupted by a thick cloud cover. I cannot describe the exhilaration of standing on the ground and yet be above the clouds, more than 1,500m above the clouds. Only a pilot could make that statement.


Having announced to the world that I had made it, we began our descent towards Barafu. The porters who rush past us contradict the difficulty that most novice climbers face. Nowhere is this difficulty brought to the fore as between Stella Point and Barafu where many of those who succumb to the high altitude and the physical exertion are separated from the experienced climbers. Amidst all this an old man of perhaps 70 years passed us almost running downhill with his mountain guide desperately trying to keep up with the pace. With the Beijing Olympics in progress I cannot help suspect that the old man could be using performance enhancing drugs. He put to shame climbers who were young enough to be his grandchildren.

Further downhill, past Barafu, we met climbers going up. They asked, "How was it?" My immediate response is "Tough". Le's response was more encouraging: "Fabulous, breathtaking." Then I remembered that I too climbed Kilimanjaro for the scenery: the breathtaking sight of Mawenzi at sunrise, the long vistas and the bird's eye view of the winding paths on the saddle, the feeling of being in the North Pole at the Crater Camp, but above all, standing on the ground with the clouds below. I stood there breathing the cold crispy mountain air and all I could say was "tough."

Today we walked all the way from Crater Camp (5,790m), Barafu Camp (4,600m), Millenium High Camp (3,950m), to Mweka Camp (3,100m) where we spent our final night. This was another tough walk as my rarely exercised thigh muscles began to succumb to the six days of regular walking.

Next post: Frozen brains and why I quit smoking

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Why I quit smoking: My Kilimanjaro climb adventure (post 8 of 10)

Sunday 24 August 2008
Although I felt pretty confident with myself today (I drank one can of Red Bull last night and another in the morning), others were worried. The alternative we had agreed upon in the past few days was, instead of making a single attempt for the summit from around midnight from Barafu, we would leave at day break. If on reaching Stella Point (after the steepest climb of the day) I felt I could still walk the remaining 1 kilometre to Uhuru Peak ( a gentle slope on the rim) then I would proceed to the summit.

If, however, I ran out of Red Bull at Stella Point (5,756m) we would proceed down to spend the night at the Crater Camp (5,790m) and would attempt to reach the summit tomorrow. We also agreed if Le felt my pace was slower, he would walk ahead with Hamisi, the assistant guide. Everyone felt I was carrying too much in my bag and I was advised to remove extra clothes from the bag and remain with the bare minimum.

Today we had fewer climbers passing us on the way. In fact, even the porters, who usually whizzed past us, were much slower on the way to Stella Point. Some were even tagging along behind us. We had the most spectacular view of Mawenzi, Kilimanjaro's other peak, and the saddle between Kibo and Mawenzi.

As the hours advanced my doubters kept saying we were making exceptionally good progress. At Stella Point I felt I had the energy to reach Uhuru Peak. I was suprised to find out that the last kilometre proved to be the most difficult walk yet. I must have run out of Red Bull. At Stella Point, Le went down to the Crater Camp, planning to return later for the sunset and tomorrow for the sunrise.

I reached Uhuru Peak with Yahoo just after 1500hrs and a few minutes later a German climber and his guide reached the peak. We took their photographs and they took ours. I tried to send out text messages from my mobile phone but did not get a signal. I observed at a distance an antenna that appeared to be at a point higher than Uhuru Peak. Yahoo and the other guide concurred with my observation, saying that a reading of the altimeter at a point between Stella Point and Uhuru Peak shows a much higher altitude. In retrospect, and especially after my difficult walk from Stella Point to Uhuru Peak, I am wondering whether the summit could have been "relocated" further downhill to decrease the failure rate of those reaching the actual summit.

We slept at the Crater Camp facing a large mass of ice. I felt I was in the Polar Circle. It was an uncomfortabe night. I had breathed in a lot of dust walking behind Pius, Le, and Hamisi on the sandy climb towards Stella Point and had difficulty breathing. It was an extremely cold night. For the first time, I slept wearing my heavy coat.

Next post: Is someone on steroids?

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Why I quit smoking: My Kilimanjaro Climb Adventure (Post 7 of 10)

Saturday 23 August 2008
We woke up to a clear sunny day and began another steep climb towards Barafu Camp. I detected some change in me; I seem to have extra energy. It must be the Red Bull. I discussed at length with Yahoo the possibilities and options of bringing along climbers next year should I successfully complete the climb. It must have been the Red Bull that gave me the nerve to think I will reach the summit.
We reached Barafu Camp (4,600m) at around lunch time and ate at 1400hrs. I felt my body was getting used to the high altitude with each passing day. Yahoo, even while continuously discussing an exit strategy should I give up along the way, said I look better today.

At the Rangers' camp someone was selling Kilimanjaro Beer cans for sh.3,000, and the same for Coke. A matching price for the high altitude, I thought.

We also met the group of young German climbers, who rushed pass us near Lava Tower yesterday, coming down from the summit. I was told they had gone past Karanga Camp and had probably slept only a few hours at Barafu before making the final ascent.

Today I had enough mountain climbing experience to offer some advice to novices. I will not recommend this climb to someone who:

- does not exercise regularly
- cannot withstand cold weather
- sits in a office from Monday to Friday and on a bar/pub stool between Friday and Sunday
- after a few hours of walking thinks, "What am I doing here? I could be sitting in a warm room, sipping cold beer, and watching my favourite soccer league."

If you want to climb the mountain you have to be motivated by a paticularly strong motive. I chose raising money for education. I have been thinking about why anyone would pay money to experience such hardship and I still cannot find a good reason. I can list many of my friends, family members, and colleagues who will not even accept payment to climb this mountain.

Tomorrow I will find out whether I have what it takes to reach Africa's highest point. Today, we had a clear view of the mountain and I imagined I will experience one tough climb tomorrow. I began to re-examine the expression "climbing Kilimanjaro is more of a mental test that a physical one." As I observed tomorrow's steep climb, the siginificance sank in: how can anyone who is climbing for the first time fail to grasp that meaning.

As we wrapped up the evening I told Le that the worst part of the climb yet has to be going to the toilet. At home I have the luxury, rarely used, of opening up an old newspaper during sessions; on Kilimanjaro I have to squat on a pit latrine. I have difficulty squatting anywhere, so squatting at 4,600n above sea level becomes exceptionally difficult.

At high altitudes even tying the boot laces requires tremendous exertion. In the mornings I tie
up one boot lace and am forced to catch my breath for about five minutes before I tie the other. Going to toilet requires perhaps twice the energy of tying a boot lace.

Today I watched three climbers arrive at Barafu from below and observed their distressed faces and thought: if that is how I looked at the end of a day's walk, this has to be an extremely difficult climb.

I have also concluded that this is a mountain that has to be admired - from a long distance, or prefarably from photographs but certainly not to be climbed.

Next post: Uhuru Peak and the Crater Camp

Friday, 24 October 2008

Why I quit smoking: My Kilimanjaro Climb Adventure (Post 6 of 10)

Thursday 21 August 2008
We had a long gentle climb from Shira Camp (3,400m) all the way past Lava Tower (4,600m). Those with extra energy have the option of climbing the Lava Tower, which I estimated rises some 500m above the path to Barranco Camp, our destination. We met a group of young Germans climbing down from the Lava Tower.
It was a long tiring descent from Lava Tower to Barranco (3,950m), where I met two Park Rangers, both environmentalists, who took great interest in my climb. Why was I climbing? If I reached the summit will I climb other mountains, such as Meru, or Oldoinyo Lengai? One of them told me he is a Maasai and said he also has a long name like mine. He told me his colleague is an Iraqw.

In the evening's debriefing I sensed Yahoo felt I was struggling with the climb because he suggested I take a different descent route to the one Jose' had suggested and the one Le was keen to follow. Yahoo said I might have to take a more direct route to Mweka Gate rather than through Machame as Jose' had recommended:
Day 7: Start waking to summit at around 1 or 1:30 am if normal weather conditions. [ Delay 2 hours if there is a spell of really bad weather, with strong wind and cold]. 4.800 m to 5.985 m (summit). Worth also walking in 15 minutes to the edge of Kibo, to the west. From there descend to crater floor and Furtw√§ngler glacier. From there easy to walk to Stella point and onward to Gillman’s point. But if feel fit, it is worth proceeding up to central cone and from there follow undefined shortcut to a point just north of Gillman’s point (quite obvious). Descend to 4.700 m (Kibo Hut). Lunch / Walk across the “saddle”, to Mawenzi hut at about 4.500 m (6-8 hours + 2½ hours + 2½ hours)
I accepted. The guide makes the final decision based on his assessment of each climber's progress and although I felt I was not yet out of the running, I did not have the energy to argue after the day's walk. Maybe I might have a different opinion in the morning.

Friday 22 August 2008
I woke up feeling much better today. We began the walk facing a cliff that could have been 750m high. This, Pius explained, was the "Breakfast Climb". Owing to its difficulty he said once we reach the top we will be craving for another breakfast. He said many climbers give up without trying at this point and descend to Moshi. And yet, this was a cliff that some pioneer decided was, as Le often pointed out during the climb, do-able.

Pius said he almost gave up his career as a mountain guide when he first was told the Breakfast Climb was the only way to the summit on this route. Midway through the Breakfast Climb we passed a point called "Rock Kiss" where you literally hug the cliff face to avoid a long fatal drop.

The final stretch up to Karanga Camp (3,963m) was another long tiring climb. At Karanga, we began to get the more familiar view of Mt. Kilimanjaro. As we move eastwards, we catch a different view with each day. Before sleeping, I drank one of the four cans of Red Bull and was restless most of the night. In the morning Pius said the temperature probably fell below freezing during the night.

Next post: The effects of Red Bull

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Why I quit smoking: My Kilimanjaro Climb Adventure (Post 5 of 10)

Tuesday 19 August 2008
We drove from Moshi towards Arusha and then headed for Machame on our way to the starting point. I was disappointed cloud cover prevented us from having a clear view of the mountain. After registration, the Kilimanjaro Park rangers inspected our porters' climbing gear. Our group consisted of 9 porters, Yahoo, and his assistant guide, Hamisi.
Many of Kilimanjaro porters work in difficult conditions and carry heavy loads with tents, sleeping bags, food, and water to ensure that climbers reach Uhuru Peak in relative comfort. However, their poor working conditions sometimes endanger not only their health but their lives. We heard stories of porters who died because they were inadequately clothed.

We were dropped at the end of a rough road, the kind of road made for offroad vehicles, at the edge of a thick forest to begin our climb. It was the slowest walk I have ever walked since I learnt to walk. Yahoo, in front, set the pace during the four-hour trek. Later, when tackling the toughest sections of the climb I understood how important it was to set a slow pace to maintain steady progress. We spent the first night at Big Tree Camp, in the company of Velvet Monkeys.

The greatest difficulty of the first night is sleeping early. Trying to sleep at 8 was tortuous, but only for the first night. In the subsequent seven nights I was so tired from the day's walk that I could have slept at midday. The other test was trying to fall asleep in a sleeping bag. Try to imagine being rolled up in a carpet and falling asleep. Towards the end of the climb I had said so much against sleeping bags that Le recommended I look up an Australian version that offers more room.

Surprisingly as I tossed and turned I could hear someone snoring in the next tent.

Wednesday 20 August 2008
Today, I believe I accomplished the longest walk ever. I suspect not even Nelson Mandela whose autobiography is titled Long Walk to Freedom, has taken a longer walk. Except for a one-hour lunch break at Shira One Camp, we walked from 7 in the morning until about 8 in the evening, encountering a steep climb early during the day as we moved out of the forest and onto the Shira Plateau.

The toughest section of the day was after sunset when Yahoo pointed to a distant light on top of a ridge and said that was our destination. It was a long difficult climb that seemed endless. At one point I handed my backpack to Yahoo and completed the section without a load. At this point I began to doubt whether I would reach the peak.
Though never bothered by the cold I suffered from a shortness of breath which Yahoo said was a symptom of altitude sickness. He said the accute symptoms included the tongue turning green.

Next post: To Barranco Camp and the "breakfast climb."

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Why I quit smoking: My Kilimanjaro Climb Adventure (Post 4 of 10)

Sunday 17 August 2008
Having dropped the Pare Mountain trek I kept reassuring myself with Jose’s words: I need not be exceptionally fit for the 7 to 8-day route he recommended: Lemosho – Southern Circuit, Barafu, Uhuru Peak. The long route permits a gradual acclimatization of the body and it is an almost foolproof tested method of reaching the summit.

My friend Jose has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro 12 times and would have joined me in this year’s climb for his thirteenth climb. But as bad luck would have it he suffered an ankle injury and will not climb this time. He has also climbed parts of the Himalayas, up to Mt. Everest Base Camp.

He said Mr. Le Hu Dyuong, a software engineer from Vietnam, will join me for the climb. Le had also been to Everest Base Camp and had also climbed Mt. Kenya before his Kilimanjaro ascent. In fact, he asked me to postpone the Kilimanjaro climb so that he would get a few days’ rest after climbing Mt. Kenya. [A few days after climbing Kilimanjaro, he climbed Mt. Meru. Then he took two weeks’ rest and planned to climb Mt. Oldoinyo Lengai, but logistics prevented him from climbing the volcano.]
Monday 18 August 2008
In the morning I met Le at Moshi bus stand. We stayed at the Springlands Hotel and during lunch sat with a couple from Manchester, originally from South Africa. They told us Kilimanjaro was a tough climb, but a worthwhile attempt. They suggested we should also try to pass the Lava Tower on our way up.
In the afternoon we assembled for the pre-climb briefing and were introduced to one tall lanky mountain guide with dreadlocks called Pius. He told us he was also known as “Yahoo” to his colleagues.

We had a short argument with him when he tried to dissuade us from the 7-8 day climb Jose’ suggested and, instead, proposed a shorter route. We insisted on the longer route and, especially, spending two nights at Barafu Camp (the last camp before the final attempt on the summit) to get our bodies acclimatized to the high altitude.

I suggested to Yahoo he was in a rush to get back to Moshi to pick up another group of climbers and earn extra cash but, unfortunately, he was stuck with one inexperienced climber and another experienced climber who knew enough about altitude sickness not to take any chances. Yahoo reluctantly agreed.

After I picked up a Kilimanjaro mountain map the shop attendant tried to sell me mosquito repellent, but Le quickly dismissed any possibility of finding mosquitoes on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Tanzanians are aware how enterprising the people of Kilimanjaro are. Well, if I had any doubts, I knew today the Chagga were exceptional salespeople.

Next post: I take the first step towards the summit

Letter from Butiama: The Age Gap (in memory of Fred Ndala Kasheba)

I recently bought an audiocassette from a shop in Butiama. For those who are too young to remember, it is a collection of old songs by a band called Nyanyembe, including one of my favourites, Rangi ya Chungwa.

On my way home I stopped for a game of pool and while playing a young man, perhaps 20 years my junior, picked up my cassette and looked at the cover. One of his age mates asked, “What is it?”

“Nyanyembe”, the first replied, put down the cassette, and showed no further interest. I realized then that our mutual interest was confined to the pool game.

I have superficial knowledge of the music tastes of the younger generation today. A few years ago while driving from Dar-es-salaam to Butiama accompanied by my two nephews and their friend, who they say was a presenter at Radio Clouds FM, I listened to a large CD collection from the sixties and seventies through most of the journey, pretending I was unaware that I was the only one in that car enjoying that music.

The following day as I drove past the Ngorongoro Crater, all my passengers were fed up with my music so the elder of my nephews asked if he could listen to his friend’s CD from Clouds FM.

I relented and was treated to a selection of what was then the latest music, mostly American. It wasn’t that bad, I felt. One of the names I saw listed on the CD cover was Timberlake, and I said I always thought Timberlake was the name of a barbershop in Dar-es-salaam’s Kinondoni suburb. Today, on reflection, I must have mixed up Timberlake with Timberland; the Kinondoni place is called Timberland.

I was also told the two genres from the CD were “hip hop” and “R&B” (rhythm and blues). In my times, we had our share of music imports including “blues” - without the “rhythm”. It was plain “blues”. Not the blues played by Riley “B.B.” King or Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater whose blues express feelings, mostly of sadness in relation to love; ours was slow music that allowed one to get close to his or her dancing partner. Far from making anyone sad, I recall it made everyone who had a dancing partner very pleased indeed.

With my generation whenever the subject turns to music the consensus is “all the good musicians of popular music are deceased”; “If you listen to most of today’s music, you are left with a sour after taste.” Perhaps this attitude is unjustified. I say the best “we” can say is that we do not understand today’s music. To appreciate today’s music, my generation has to be open minded, as open-minded as I believe our parents were when we were growing up.

When “soul music” invaded East Africa in the early seventies, I recall it was one of my brothers who came home and broke the news about the latest dance fad.

He didn’t stop at talking; he got down and boogied – as we used to say then – to one of James Brown’s hit singles. It was one of the most comical dances that anyone had ever seen at home. And yet we all got into the craze while it lasted, and the music didn’t seem that strange, despite the fact that James Brown didn’t have the most profound lyrics.

Together with the “imports”, we also listened to music by home-grown talents including Mbaraka Mwinshehe, Marijani Rajabu, Juma Kilaza, Salum Abdallah, and the more recent ones like Patrick Balisidya and Fred Ndala Kasheba. To the parents of my generation, Balisidya’s Weekend was probably then just another composition by “those young people”. The same type of judgement that we pass on the music tastes of the younger generation today.

Many years ago, I attended a live performance by Kasheba’s band, Zaita Musica, during which an old song was played; played, as I felt then, almost as well as the original. After the performance, I told Kasheba that they had played a song which brought back some fond old memories. I couldn’t remember the title so I told him, “That song by Orchestra Fauvette…”
Fred Ndala Kasheba with his 12-string guitar
Jacqueline”, he said. Then he said something else which I still recall vividly today, “Fauvette si ilikuwa ndiyo sisi. Mimi, Baziano, na....” To paraphrase him: he was, together with Baziano and other former band members he mentioned, Fauvette.

I recall a few of Fauvette’s compositions very well. I knew Kasheba just as well, but I just never, until he told me, knew that we had been enjoying the music of Fred Ndala Kasheba for so long. Perhaps I’m just too young to remember.

Note: Fred Ndala Kasheba died in Dar es Salaam four years ago today. His composition, Dezo Dezo, was re-released by Tshala Muana and became known to a wider international audience.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Why I quit smoking: My Kilimanjaro climb adventure (Post 3 of 10)

Friday 15 August 2008
Left Butiama for Mwanza early in the morning, intending to drive through before any traffic police officer was on the road to inspect my car insurance that had expired by a few days. My problem was I realized too late the relatively high cost of climbing Kilimanjaro and was not sure whether enough money to pay for both the insurance premium and the climb.

At Mwanza, I picked up my rebate ticket offered by Air Tanzania Corporation Limited (ATCL) for the Mwalimu Nyerere Charity Climb 2008 to for my flight from Mwanza – Kilimanjaro - Mwanza. I continue to be amused that it sounds like a grand fund raising campaign, but there I was, one person who had cornered himself into a quandary. I was the campaign. I flew to Kilimanjaro International Airport in the evening.

Saturday 16 August 2008
I woke up early to file my article for the Sunday News, late as usual. I have a problem of coming up with a new topic for the column every week. I spend most of the time thinking through a subject and by the time I sit down to write the article, it is way past the deadline. One advantage of climbing the mountain will be I might be able to squeeze out more than one article for the column.

I spoke to Zainab Ansell, owner of Zara Tanzania Adventures and she informed me that her company was offering me a fully-paid 8-day Kilimanjaro trek worth $US1,500. I was elated.

In the afternoon, my friend from Mwanga sent a car to pick me up at Moshi and I slept in a room that had about a hundred mosquitoes. I spent more than an hour reducing their number using the cloth-canon technique. The technique involves waiting for a mosquito to land on a wall and then hurling clothing against the wall. It is one one of the most environmentally friendly mosquito-eliminating method that I know.

Next post: I meet Le, an experienced climber and Yahoo, our mountain guide.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Why I quit smoking: My Kilimanjaro climb adventure (Post 2 0f 10)

In 2007 when it looked like I had lost yet another opportunity to climb Kilimanjaro, I decided I had to do something drastic or else I would continue dreaming of reaching Uhuru Peak. I had to place myself at a point of no return. I decided to tell a few people that I will climb Mt. Kilimanjaro this year to raise funds for education. The first one was Sr. Stephanie Blaszczynski, headmistress of Chief Edward Wanzagi Girls’ Secondary School near Butiama and she said, “Why don’t you raise money for us? We need a dormitory for the students.”

I also wrote an e-mail to Howard Chinner, a resident of Sevenoaks, England, with whom I have corresponded after he read one of my columns. He suggested I could raise funds for Village Education Project Kilimanjaro (VEPK) located at Mshiri, Marangu, on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

It was partly from his suggestion that what would have been a nameless event, involving climbing the world's highest free standing dormant volcano, became The Mwalimu Nyerere Charity Climb. As I gradually built my confidence during the climb, I decided to add “2008” to the event, signifying that it will become an annual event.

With those two commitments it was not possible to excuse myself out of the climb. I then sent out an email to appeal to all those who I felt will have sympathy (and a generosity to match) for one or both of the targeted beneficiaries of the climb. I received some positive response, further preventing me from making any plans that excluded climbing Kilimanjaro.

Prior to the climb, I spent some time trying to raise my fitness level by trekking around some of Butiama’s mountains. I changed my usual 5 kilometre walk around the Muhunda Forest, Butiama's ancestral forest, to a longer trek up Mt. Mtuzu, adding perhaps 3 kilometres to my trek. As I settled into my new exercise regimen I became convinced I was transforming my body into a formidable climbing machine.

A friend who lives near Mt. Kilimanjaro told me my convictions were fragile, that Butiama does not have mountains but only anthills, and that the closest I would get to experiencing climbing Kilimanjaro would be to join him in Mwanga and spend some time climbing the Pare Mountains.

I spent two days in Mwanga, but did not climb any mountain. Instead I took a rest and prayed that I was fit enough to climb Kilimanjaro.

Next post: I leave a village and head for a mountain.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Why I quit smoking: My Kilimanjaro Climb Adventure (Post 1 of 10)

I cannot remember the first time I decided I should climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, but it could have been eight years ago. For no particular reason, I decided I wanted to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Making that decision was the easiest part, implementing the decision was a totally different matter. Years came and went and I realised if I did not take drastic measures, I would never climb the mountain.

As the years passed, I found more reasons for climbing the mountain. I kept on meeting people from all over the world who had climbed Kilimanjaro and I felt deprived of the fact that Tanzanians had a treasure that an increasing number of foreigners were discovering and yet few Tanzanians climbed. At a certain point I decided I could not live anymore with a situation where I would meet a foreigner who had climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and not being able to say I have also been there.

In the past decade a lot has been said and written about global warming and its effect on the natural habitat. Some experts predict that because of global warming the snows of Kilmanjaro will melt away in the not-too-distant future. I was compelled to climb Africa’s highest peak to see that snow before the effects of human development wiped it off the face of earth.

It has to be said that an opposing view suggests that the glaciers on Mt. Kilimanjaro are retreating, not because of global warming, but because of a combination of other factors. I was not going to wait for the experts to agree.

In August 2005 I met Gen. Mirisho Sarakikya, former Chief of Defence Forces of the Tanzanian Army (1964 - 1974) and a veteran climber of Kilimanjaro. He has climbed Kilimanjaro 46 times. I promised him I would join him in September of the following year but I did not and his words kept on haunting me: “I would be very disappointed if you were one of those Tanzanians that I meet once and never see again.” Read: those Tanzanians who pledge to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro but never show up for the climb.

One reason that may account for few Tanzanians reaching the summit is the cost. It costs an average of $US1,500 to pay for the 8 day trek, a sum which is beyond the reach of most Tanzanians. There is a large number of Tanzanians who can afford to pay that sum, but the question is whether they can have a matching resolve to tackle a climb that, to most average human beings, is considerably tough.

I was surprised to find out that, apart from the guides and porters, there were virtually no Tanzanian climbers on Mt. Kilimanjaro. I probably met more than 100 climbers during the climb, but I met only one Tanzanian on his way up when I was descending. Sadly, he succumbed to altitude sickness and was brought down on a stretcher.

Next post: Preparing for the climb.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Letter From Butiama The Global Village

This is one of numerous articles I wrote for the Sunday News (Tanzania) column "Letter from Butiama" between 2005 and 2011.

When football archrivals Simba Sports Club and Dar-es-salaam Young Africans last clashed at Kirumba Stadium in Mwanza, I overheard a conversation between two residents of Butiama. One of them was informing the other that he had to complete his errands in time to catch the live broadcast of the soccer match from Mwanza. When he wanted to know whether his colleague would join him to listen to the broadcast, he received an unexpected response.

“I have no time cheering people I do not know,” he said to the second, adding, “I am surprised to see people so involved with soccer teams and sometimes, during matches, even questioning the team manager’s decision to substitute a particular player. I bet if Athumani Machupa shows up one day at the mtera (Butiama’s weekly market) very few of these so-called soccer fans will recognize him."

He went on, from Tanzanian to European soccer teams, and explained how some Tanzanian soccer enthusiasts have become “experts” on European soccer leagues, the United Kingdom’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, and Italy’s Serie A, but especially “experts” on European-based soccer stars.

It is true that, thanks to a combination of live television broadcasts of European soccer leagues, and the hundreds of articles appearing in local newspapers on European soccer players and their teams, many soccer fans have built up considerable information bases on their favourite teams and players.

I learnt from someone at Butiama a long time ago that a Dutch soccer player called Davidtz, whose only detail I recall is his trademark wearing of protective eyeglasses each time he plays in a match, never travels by plane. I assume that the highest altitude he has ever reached is the highest point he has managed to jump during a soccer match.

Last Monday I was on a bus to Mwanza and of the several subjects of conversation that I managed to ‘tune in to’ from fellow passengers during the bus journey was one on politics, specifically Chama cha Mapinduzi’s candidate for this October’s [2005] presidential elections, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete.

“You don’t know Kikwete?”
“You have never seen him, not even seen his photograph?”

Then the informed one of the two began to describe Honourable Kikwete to someone who, presumably, will vote in October. I wouldn’t be surprised if she votes for Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM).

Three weeks ago if someone from CCM told me that it was necessary for their presidential candidate to be “introduced to Tanzanians” I would have suggested that they should recruit another political consultant. Now that “the truth” is out, they should probably give her a bonus.

The ongoing social and economic dependencies and interaction between the inhabitants of a real village has led some people to create the phrase “global village” to refer to a similar situation that exist between the inhabitants and nations of our world today.

In a real village everyone knows everyone else, but in the global village it seems people tend to know more about other “villagers” then they know about themselves. Those Tanzanian-based soccer fans of European leagues are one example. They will tell you which teams Ruud van Nistelroy has played for, and they can even tell you why Manchester United’s team manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, threw a football boot at soccer star David Beckam.

Ask them about matters close to home, and they begin to fumble because the news they are exposed to does not give much attention to subjects that a wider “globalized” audience does not care about.

Sometimes “global village” exposure does produce some important gains. Some time ago, when several names were being discussed as possible contenders in the presidential elections in Liberia, one of the names which received a lot of attention in the country and around the world was that of former footballer of the year George Opong Weah.

When both his soccer and political fans were eager to find out whether he would hang up his soccer boots and put on his political gloves, he could not be found for comment.

Then it was discovered that he was in the Democratic Republic of Congo discussing the possibility of coaching Congo’s national team.

Friday, 19 September 2008

The Mwalimu Nyerere Charity Climb 2008, the latest

A few important milestones have been reached since my last post on the Mwalimu Nyerere Charity Climb 2008. First, I successfully climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro between 19 – 26 August 2008 and reached Uhuru Peak just after 3:00 on a sunny afternoon. I will post details of the climb in the next few days.
More important, however, is the amount that has been raised so from the climb:

Currency Abbreviations:
Pound Sterling £
Tanzanian Shilling TZS
US Dollars $

Total Raised So Far:
TZS 2,200,000

Sponsors' List: Village Education Project Kilimanjaro (VEPK) :
Vicki Boman £20
Vince Robbins £25
Kathleen Bolger £25
Brent and Darlene Bolger £100
Nancy Fairbarn £50
Torin Macpherson £50
Karen Versluys £20
Joan Sarazin £50
Global Resource Alliance £100

Sponsors' List (Tanzanian Shillings): Chief Edward Wanzagi Girls' Secondary School (CEWGSS) :
Milton J. Nyerere TZS 100,000
Mama Maria Nyerere TZS 200,000
Exactline Engineering (Group) Ltd / Eng. E.K.E. Lima TZS 2,000,000

Sponsors' List (US Dollars): Chief Edward Wanzagi Girls' Secondary School (CEWGSS) :
Resurrection High School graduates and their families $12,155

A big 'Thank You':
During the toughest moments of the climb, I pushed myself to my limits to reach the peak because I felt that those who had donated and those who will donate after the climb had to get the maximum value for their donations. For all those who inspired me to the top, I say thank you.

I must also thank Mrs. Zainab Ansell who, through her company, Zara Tanzania Adventures, offered a fully-paid package worth $US1,500 (mountain guide, porters, tents, food, etc) during my eight-day climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I would also like to thank Air Tanzania Corporation Limited (ATCL) who, on my request, gave me a complimentary ticket, Mwanza – Kilimanjaro - Mwanza worth TZS 441,500/-.

I also thank my friend, Jordan Rugimbana, who donated TZS 200,000/- to cover part of my climbing expenses and who shares my idea that the Mwalimu Nyerere Charity Climb should be an annual event.

A message from the Headmistress of Chief Edward Wanzagi Girls’ Secondary:
I should have posted this appeal from Sr. Stephanie Blaszczynski before the climb but I was overwhelmed by tasks before and after the climb. The message is still relevant because donations are still accepted.

I am grateful to Mr. Godfrey Madaraka Nyerere for his initiative in climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro as a fundraising event for building dormitories for Chief Wanzagi Secondary School in Buturu. We currently have 110 wonderful girls at Chief Edward Wanzagi Secondary School. We could easily have had over 300 girls in Form 1 of the almost 600 who applied to our school if only we had dormitories for them. Our students study very hard and have been most gracious about 28 sleeping on double decker beds in one of the four classrooms used as dormitories. They are in good spirits as they line up for food at the temporary outdoor kitchen in which their food is cooked on huge rocks and sitting outside on the ground while eating all their meals.
The people of Tanzania are so good, the countryside is awe-inspiring and we teachers are privileged to work with the girls. The most difficult part of my job as Headmistress of the school is refusing admission to so many, many girls whose parents or guardians come begging us to take “just one more girl”. During our break between terms, there were over 50 students desperately asking for admission for the second term of school. It is so hard to hear the parents’ agonizing stories of why they want their daughter needs to be in our school. Just this morning, I had this fine young man who is ready to go to the University, but is desperately trying to find a place for his younger sister now that their mother has just died and there is no one to care for his sister. Without dormitories, there is just no way that we can begin to even think of responding to these very real needs.
Already people are coming asking for applications for Form 1 for the next school year. The only way that we can begin to respond to the very real needs of people who come to us and the only way we can accept the next class of students is to have dormitories ready by the beginning of the next school year in January, 2009. I beg you to consider supporting Mr. Godfrey Madaraka Nyerere’s The Mwalimu Nyerere Charity Climb 2008 for the benefit of dormitories at Chief Wanzagi Secondary School. You are certainly in the daily prayers of the Sisters of the Resurrection who staff the school.

--Sr. Stephanie Blaszczynski, C.R.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, former president of Zambia

In June 2007 I was invited to London for the re-launch of the Arusha Declaration and stayed with my hosts, Selma James and Nina Lopez, both of whom are vegetarians. Coming from an ethnic group where “food” is synonymous with “meat” and vegetables are fed mostly to livestock, my ten day stay in London on a vegetarian diet was one of the most testing periods I had endured. Tougher than climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.

I survived and returned to Tanzania where people commented that I looked much younger than I deserved. I put one and two together and decided it was the overdose of vegetables I unwillingly consumed in London that was the cause of my apparent youthful appearance.

Having become increasingly convinced that ten days of a vegetarian diet seemed to slow down my ageing, I decided to drop the beef from my diet and embarked on a quest to become a complete vegetarian.

Over a year later, I was privileged during a recent meeting in Maputo, Mozambique, to meet a famous vegetarian, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, former president of Zambia. Pictured in top photo (left) and the bottom photo (on the right), he told me he became a vegetarian in 1952 in protest against the British colonial government’s racist policy directing meat vendors in Zambia to sell meat through separate windows for Africans and Europeans. He is a teetotaller and drinks neither tea nor coffee, but drinks a considerable amount of fruit juices daily.
That act of political protest turns out to have deducted a considerable number of years to the now 84 year-old former president. He is full of energy and is in considerably high spirits. At the meeting in Maputo, he made it a point to trot to the podium each time he was asked to address the meeting.

The greatest dilemma I am facing, even more difficult than the decision to drop the meat from my diet, is which of the following two I should give up next: fish or chicken.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Letter from Butiama: Chain letters, old and new

This is one of numerous articles I wrote for the Sunday News (Tanzania) column "Letter from Butiama" between 2005 and 2011.

When photocopying was the principal means of reproducing documents, it was common to receive a chain letter whose recipient was directed to make several copies and forward the copies to other individuals, usually more than ten, with each of the new recipients expected to carry the chain forward.

The letter warned the recipient of the consequences of ignoring the letter, disclosing a few tragic incidents that befell those who failed to follow the instructions and revealing the fortunes that fell on the laps of those who followed the instructions.

Secretarial bureaus made brisk business reproducing the chain letters, until a conspiracy theorist suggested that chain letters originated from photocopy salesmen (very few women were in sales-related occupations in those days), and paper merchants who wanted to stimulate sales of their products. No mention is made of members of the Universal Postal Union whose national postal systems also benefited by conveying a large volume of chain letters.

With the advent of new technologies, the chain letter was transformed to take advantage of the newer means of communication. When the information superhighway opened up to traffic, variations of the traditional chain letter began to circulate in the form of e-mail messages. The photocopier salesmen were probably now also selling computers, and it is likely the former paper merchants had switched to production of ‘electronic paper’, such as computer diskettes and CD’s. And it would not be out of character for both of them to have acquired stakes in the cyber caf√©’ business.

Users of technology are simultaneously trying to keep up with the pace of changes in technology, and remain sane at the same time. Getting tomorrow’s information yesterday is considered the only way that one can be ahead of the rest. People are in a rush; they need to make decisions as they walk, as they drive, as they eat. They have to be connected all the time; a fact which seems not to have escaped the attention of the salesman-merchant duo. The electronic chain letter of the Internet has now found its way into the mobile phone system.

In this fast-paced world where time is a most precious commodity and it is becoming even wasteful for someone to sit in front of a personal computer to answer his electronic chain letter, some companies have already devised a way to accomplish the same task through the mobile phone. To others, the chain letter has become the chain short message (sms).

I received one such chain sms on my phone on 29th May* informing me it was ‘World Best Friends Day’. I was urged to forward the text to my friends, including the sender of the message, if I considered him to be my friend, and then wait to discover whether the message will go through a loop and get back to me. The message said if I get only 7 responses I should consider myself a likeable person. I sent out more than seven messages to people who I seriously consider my friends, but it seems they have a different opinion of me. Not one of them sent a return message. They must know a lot more about that old chain letter conspiracy theory.

Not all chain text messages have such an innocent character. Some contain false promises. One message which surfaced last December and purporting to originate from one of the cellular phone companies promised those who swallowed the bait some free airtime if they forwarded a text message which had public service content.

When I received mine, I called the company’s customer service centre where a customer service representative said his company had nothing to do with the text message, adding that the company’s text messages to subscribers originated from a particular number which can easily be identified.

Would it possible for his company, I suggested, to send out a text message to caution subscribers against participating in that misleading chain. He did not think that was a good idea because it would cost his company some money. He could not understand how some clients were falling prey to such trivial pranks. I suggested it was easy for him to discover those anomalies but the average client is not like him. He agreed with me. Yes, the average Tanzanian client was not like him. In fact, the average Kenyan subscriber was not as gullible as a Tanzanian one, he told me.

I suggested to him that while he continued to argue subscribers were losing money needlessly. I conservatively estimated that within an hour of sending out the first infamous message, and assuming those receiving the message carried the chain forward, his company earned forty million shillings in revenue from the chain messages alone, not to mention the phone calls many had made to other subscribers to warn them of the misleading message.

The customer sales representative finally reluctantly accepted my suggestion, and said he would talk to his supervisor. In fact, two days later a subscriber from Arusha told me she had received a text message from the cellular phone company disassociating itself from the chain text message.

In today’s fast-paced world where a possible forty million shillings can be earned by the company and lost by its subscribers within an hour, two days is a millennium.


Postscript: One wonders whether it would have taken the company 48 hours to stem a loss of 40 million shillings per hour.