Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Letter From Butiama: Afraid? No, Just Apprehensive

This is one of numerous articles I wrote for the Sunday News (Tanzania) column "Letter from Butiama" between 2005 and 2011.
I classify myself as a person who does not fear but feels apprehensive about flying in airplanes, a person who believes that land-based modes of transport, especially walking, are safer. Unfortunately for me and many other aircraft passengers, when traveling long distances, air travel is the only sensible option.

I have my anxious moments during a flight, mostly during take-offs. After that, my heartbeats resume their normal pace at between 70 and 72 beats per minute. At cruising speed I relax, but during landings I become anxious once more, but less if I can see the runway - which explains why I am more comfortable flying in small planes.

Those who study and treat mental disorders say the fear of flying is an ailment. It is a phobia, an irrational fear that cannot be justified based on the available facts, and yet I see nothing irrational in having a preference to be on the “life” side of a “life or death” situation.

The unfounded fear of some object or situation, including the fear of flying, affect some five out of every 1,000 persons. Therapists say that sufferers need only be logical and will realize there is really nothing to fear. Consider this: How many road accidents and their fatalities do we read of in Tanzania each year? Maybe thousands. How many air crashes and their fatalities do we read of in Tanzania each year? A few every year, perhaps none in some years.

There is no doubt that there are more people dying from Malaria in Tanzania than from air crashes, but I doubt I will ever come across someone whose pulse will jump and perhaps will be forced to empty down his throat a few bottles of lager to calm down his nerves at the prospect of facing a mosquito. We are told if we were rational, we would realize that, from a statistical standpoint, a comfortable seat on a Mwanza – Dar flight is a far less dangerous situation than an encounter with a mosquito.

Unfortunately, the human being is the most irrational of animals, capable of thinking up the most improbable of situations like “What if the ‘fuel attendant’ at Mwanza airport mistakenly refueled my plane with diesel instead of jet fuel? Will the plane take off, and if it does, will it remain in the air? For how long?”

There are a number of measures that can be taken to reduce the anxiety of air travelers like me. First, clear airports of debris from accidents. If you fly in and out of Mwanza airport you may have noticed there are pieces of plane wreckage from past crashes. I have always wondered why any passenger would want to be reminded of a plane crash each time he boards a plane at Mwanza. When desperately trying to forget something, the last thing you want is to have it permanently displayed in front of your eyes.

Second, if there are any passengers like me out there, they would prefer to have a minute-by-minute account by the flight captain of every move she makes so that they can assess what is normal during a flight and when they should justifiably begin to panic. Minute-by-minute is perhaps too much, but let’s say just enough reassuring information along the way to prevent illogical minds like ours to be invaded by irrational thoughts.

Third – this might sound unreasonable although I can say from experience that it can be important to some passengers – is that airlines should consider sponsoring swimming lessons for would-be passengers to help some passengers gain confidence during flights.

I was a passenger in an internal Mozambique Airlines flight in 1988 from Maputo to Beira that developed a “technical fault” soon after take off. The pilot decided to fly back to Maputo and we spent about an hour circling over Maputo and dumping fuel while flying overland in a southerly direction and over the Indian Ocean in a northerly direction.

Most passengers were anxiously awaiting the landing at Maputo but a passenger seated next to me was particularly anxious each time we flew over the Ocean. After the steward gave instructions on using the life jacket, her nerves could not contain her worry anymore and she asked me, “Can you teach me how to swim?” I think I told her I needed some water for the swimming lessons, and it is only after we landed safely did her request seem outrageous to me.

If you have read one of my previous articles in this column* you would wonder how someone who wants to fly a plane should be apprehensive about sitting in one as a passenger. Do I find it contradictory that most car drivers I know would rather be behind the steering wheel than ride as a passenger? No, I don’t.

*Letter from Butiama in the Sunday News (Tanzania)

Thursday, 19 June 2008

As if we don’t have enough problems on our roads

It would appear that marine traffic on Lake Victoria has reached such catastrophic proportions that some boat owners have decided that boats can mover faster on land.

When I recently found myself behind this scene in Mwanza, I was disappointed that no traffic police officer stopped the truck carrying this unusual load. It could have made an interesting photograph.
It could also have been the subject of some interesting fines. The truck driver could have been fined for carrying an extra wide load on an urban road. The boat owner risked getting a fine for ‘sailing’ on the wrong side of the Lake. Lake Victoria is just a few metres to the left of the photograph.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Mwalimu Nyerere Charity Climb 2008

From 18 - 25 July 2008 I will climb Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise funds for the construction of a dormitory for students of Chief Edward Wanzagi Girls' Secondary (CEWGS) School located at Butiama, Tanzania, as well as for the Village Education Project Kilimanjaro (VEPK) located at Mshiri on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

My route will take me from Lemosho, Southern Circuit, Barafu, Uhuru peak, Camp below Mawenzi peak, and down to Marangu.

The construction cost for the dormitories is estimated to be Sh.200 million, while the target I hope to raise for VEPK is £STG5,000 (approximately Sh.11,823,000).

Donations in Tanzania to CEWGS can be made to:

Account title: Chief Edward Wanzagi Girls' Secondary School
Account Number: 030201165920
Bank: National Bank of Commerce
Branch: Musoma, Tanzania

To make donations to VEPK through the Mwalimu Nyerere Charity Climb 2008, please follow this link (the funds go directly to VEPK):

Donations in the United States can be made by cheque to:
Sisters of the Resurrection
7432 W. Talcott Avenue
Chicago, IL 60631
United States of America
(Please add the following information on the cheque: "Donation for Mwalimu Nyerere Charity Climb 2008")
For information on joining the climb, please call me on 0782 447 632. For further information on CEWGS, please call Sr. Stephanie Blaszczynski on 0782 398 778. For further information on VEPK please follow the link, above.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Letter from Butiama: The next president

This is one of numerous articles I wrote for the Sunday News (Tanzania) column "Letter from Butiama" between 2005 and 2011. Publication date: 10th April 2005.
I happened to be near Ngorongoro Crater in May 2004 when a conference, which brought together Tanzania’s Ambassadors abroad, was held to launch the revamped Foreign Policy of Tanzania.

One evening at the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater, I was privileged to be among the invitees at a dinner hosted by the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority board of directors for the delegates and other dignitaries who were attending the meeting.

As the evening was winding up a Government official I know who was in the co-ordinating team was “working overtime” to ensure that the invited guests’ drivers were at-hand to drive away the individual dignitaries. I just couldn’t help commenting to the official, half-seriously off-course, that it must be extremely difficult for him to handle a group, which may very well include the next president, and not being able to know whom among those he should really concentrate his efforts on.

He concurred with me as he went on sweating out in the cool evening breeze atop the Ngorongoro Crater.
Even as early as a year ago, debate was already raging about who was in the race and who was the best person to sit in Tanzania’s top public office, the office of the president. I recall at around the same time I was with a group during an argument for and against a particular potential aspirant – someone who had not even hinted that he wanted to be president. One of the litigants stood up in indignation and said, “If ...(name withheld) becomes the president, I will leave this country and go on to find employment elsewhere!”

I hope those words were not taken seriously by anyone in that group for two reasons: first, the entire argument was held under the influence of alcohol, and, second, the person who was the subject of that discussion is now among those people who are in the race, so, at least in theory, he has a chance of becoming the next president which can cause a lot of inconvenience to the person who will have to leave Tanzania and seek employment in Botswana.

If leading a country, especially a poor country like Tanzania, was not a very serious matter, I would have preferred this aspirant to loose his bid in a major way. I would reason ‘why should anyone have to leave his country of birth just because someone else wants to be president?’

For the ordinary man or woman on the street, the rules of objectivity count very little in deciding who should be their next president. Emotions rule our choices. You either like someone or you don’t. I happen to have already decided whom I think should be the next president, and I believe millions of other Tanzanians have made their choices. But ask me why that particular person and I cannot give you one reason, yet. I just have this deep feeling that he can accomplish with flying marks what the rest will just carry out routinely. But I also know I can dig up a lot of positive information about him if I have to defend my choice. Which is exactly what every political party does once it has nominated its candidate.

I believe, though, that there is a relatively small group of people in Tanzania today who can make an objective assessment of who among those who have come forward to contest CCM’s nomination for the presidency can provide the most ideal leadership to Tanzanians for the coming five years. The same can be said for those candidates who will represent the opposition parties in the presidential elections.

For it is only by being close to a particular candidate through his or her public service career that one has the means to reach an impartial assessment of the candidate’s suitability of leading the more than 33 million Tanzanians. The rest of us judge those who have come forward by no more than a few minutes of TV footage here, a few minutes of a speech on radio there, and only now after they have revealed their intentions do we get a lengthy articulation of their vision as leaders once they assume the reins of power, which I still consider insufficient to enable the public to make an informed choice.

Only a person who has worked with a particular aspirant for a long time and knows the candidate’s record relatively well, or someone who has a comprehensive knowledge of the candidate’s public service record, in addition to possessing the ability to make an accurate and honest assessment of that particular candidate’s strengths and weaknesses can arrive at an informed judgement.

I see many of such a collection of informed Tanzanians being in the national Executive Committees and the Central Committees of the various political parties. They are expected to possess, collectively, the highest concentration of experience and knowledge necessary to make a thorough assessment of the suitability of a particular candidate to this important post. It is everyone’s hope that they will do so judiciously, always with the national interest at heart.

I believe it is easier for an inept leader to lead a developed country where the social, economic, and political institutions have a solid foundation and are able to contain any deficiencies that arise from ineffective leadership. A mediocre leader can get along in a developed country, but for a developing country to be led by a mediocre leader can spell disaster for the masses and take years to rectify. The importance of all political parties to select the best possible candidate for the presidential elections cannot be overstated.

That evening in May 2004 in Ngorongoro, I am glad I did not know what I now know because I can imagine myself creating the most unimaginative excuse to shift from the table I shared with, among others, Ambassadors Juma Mwapachu and Ben Moses and going on to “mingle with the guests” close to Ambassadors Ali Karume and Patrick Chokala.*

*Ambassadors Patrick Chokala and Ali Karume both entered the race for the nomination which was eventually won by Tanzania's current president, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

The Only Customer?

I came across this shop near a village called Muryaza, in Mara Region, Tanzania.

Above the window it has the inscription "Only God Kiosk." I wondered whether there were other customers. There was no one in sight except a house nearby.
It made sense. With God as your customer, you don't need anyone else.