Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Sunday, 27 December 2009

My wedding jacket

I saw part of my wedding suit in Dar es Salaam recently. For some reason I cannot explain, the jacket is in Dar while the trousers are at Butiama.

For no good reason I tried to wear the jacket and after a few minutes of considerable effort that reminded me of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro I managed to put it on, leaving a gap of a few inches between the single button and the button hole. I knew I had outgrown the jacket, but what I was on my wedding day and what I have since become could not have been demonstrated in a more striking manner.

I don't consider myself overweight, given my height, but the fact that I fitted into that jacket when I got married is amazing. There ought to be a law preventing people who have not reached their body's expanding potential getting married. Such a law would be particularly relevant for people who marry their partners for their bodies.

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Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Letter from Butiama: Married life in the village

This is one of numerous articles I wrote for the Sunday News (Tanzania) column "Letter from Butiama" between 2005 and 2011. Publication date: 15th May 2005.

When an old man of the Zanaki ethnic group approaches his home after dark, he begins to sing at the top of his voice his kibanziko, a song usually sung when an old man has had more than enough to drink, and whose purpose is to alert everyone, from as wide an area as possible, that the head of the household is returning home. Any man at the house who cannot satisfactorily justify his presence will know it is time to leave, quickly. Every old man his his kibanziko.

No self-respecting elder of the Zanaki tribe will be caught sneaking upon his wife trying to catch her in the act of committing adultery. It is behaviour that is frowned upon.

Ginga Kihanga, 93 years old, told me elders 'scare' away 'intruders' rather than risk confrontation that may lead to serious injury or even death.

This does not mean, however, that no one was caught in the act in the past. During colonial times,* those who were caught were humiliated in public, stripped naked, lashed by strokes, and made to pay a fine of two cows. The exception was when the Chief was the complainant; he was free to impose any fine.

The kibanziko serves another purpose. Kihanga said normally acts of adultery were committed in the bush, some distance from the matrimonial home. The biggest insult that any Zanaki man can suffer is catching the pair at his house, so, in fact, the singing is aimed at preventing what otherwise can be a huge embarrassment in the community.

It is likely that this leniency stems from the old tradition of arranged marriages. Young men were married to young women because their parents said so, not because they wanted. However, before parents concluded the marriage arrangements, the newly-weds would already have had separate relations with other partners. And it is probably in suspecting that the newly-weds were likely to retain some attachment to their pre-marriage partners that Zanaki society came up with a safety valve called kibanziko, to give room to old lovers by minimizing the risk of confrontation with the husband.

Normally the kitungo was someone's first choice in marriage, but had to be set because of the arranged marriage. Since arranged marriages were compulsory, they only succeeded in bringing together two individuals who had no affection for each other. Consequently, relations between the two were more like those of adversaries than partners. The man ordered around; the woman, within limits, remained relatively stubborn. Relief was sought in one's kitungo.

As with many other traditions, the kibanziko is also falling victim to the passage of time. Today, the young arrive at their homes in the evenings unannounced. I also suspect they cannot sing as well as the elderly.

Who can blame them? In most songs that young people listen to nowadays, the 'singers' rarely sing, they spend more time talking.

Related post:

*Before 1961

Sunday, 20 December 2009

The late Alex Nyirenda Remembered

It is the first death anniversary today of Brig. Alex Gwebe Nyirenda who died in Dar es Salaam from throat cancer.

At the eve of Tanzania's independence, Brig. Nyirenda hoisted Tanzania's flag (then Tanganyika) on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro as the Union Jack was lowered at the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam.

Lt. Alex Nyirenda, with Tanganyika's flag and the Uhuru torch, at the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro on the eve of Tanzania's independence, 9 December 1961 (Photo courtesy of Tanzania Information Services)
Two years earlier on 22nd October 1959, former President Julius K. Nyerere, in a speech to the Tanganyika Legislative Assembly, said the following:
We the people of Tanganyika, would like to light a candle and put it on top of Mount Kilimanjaro which would shine beyond our borders giving hope where there was despair, love where there was hate, and dignity where there was before only humiliation.
That candle (which came to be known to Tanzanians as the Uhuru torch) was placed on Mt. Kilimanjaro by Nyirenda, and signalled Tanzania's long and unwavering commitment to the liberation struggle of those African countries that remained in the early sixties under colonialism and white minority rule.

Brig. Nyirenda was the first Tanganyikan in 1958 to graduate from Sandhurst Military Academy in England. He also became, prior to independence, the first African to become an officer in the King's African Rifles.

He was also related, through a common ancestor, to former Zambian President, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, which is a stark reminder to Africans that they are often closer to each other than artificial boundaries would indicate.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Visitors to Butiama

I had the privilege recently to host at Butiama doctors from the Medical Women Association of Tanzania (MEWATA) who had just completed a visit to the district of Tarime.
I remember only two names: Dr. Brenda, because she mentioned her name as she was about to pull out a donation for the Mwalimu Nyerere Memorial Library comprising former President Julius K. Nyerere's 8,000-plus book collection, and Dr. Lillian, because she called me to inform me of their intention to visit Butiama.
Dr. Lillian, (second from left), and Dr. Brenda (right) with their colleague (third, from left) donating to the Mwalimu Nyerere Memorial Library
During their visit, one subject that came up in conversation was what has been known for a long time as female circumcision, now known as female genital mutilation.

I feel it is rather difficult to influence those communities that indulge in the practice just by attempting to isolate one link in a chain of events that revolve around the transition of a young woman from one age group to another, a transition that allows acceptance into the next group and recognition by the community.

A member of the community who does not go through this transition becomes an outcast. The only possible means of avoiding this transition is by avoiding the community itself.
In front of the Mausoleum of Mwalimu Nyerere
A Masai friend told me that a Masai woman who skips that stage cannot get married and that remains true of many ethnic communities throughout Tanzania. Changing attitudes among these communities has to involve a dismantling of deep cultural roots and traditions that have solidified with use over centuries, no doubt a difficult task.

The continuing migration from rural to urban areas will eventually create a new generation of individuals whose links with these traditions will be severed and the practice will die with time.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Transition: Kim Magomelo

I have just received the sad news that my friend, Abdulahakim Magomelo, known to many as Kim, died today in Dar es Salaam. He called me last week and informed me that he had been ill for a while with heart problems.
Kim with his son and daughter in Dar recently.
I believe I have known Kim for close to twenty years. He is famous for having been one of the few first Tanzanians to have launched a music and disco entertainment business for various events, including parties and weddings.

During my recent Mt Kilimanjaro climb, I had intended to keep the event, private, as last year. He, instead, suggested that since the object was to raise money for charity it was imperative that the event should be publicized as much as possible to raise awareness so that individuals would donate to the cause. When I was away from Dar es Salaam, he co-ordinataed most of the work involving seeking sponsorship from the various partners. He also provided excellent ideas and contacts for the actual publicity that unfolded.

He shall be remembered as a person who had a wide range of friends and contacts in government, business, and the entertainment industry. He also had a wry sense of humour. When he talked to me last week, while informing me of his illness, he joked that he had seriously wanted to see the end of this year.

Friday, 11 December 2009

On Kilimanjaro again (Post 10 of 10)

Wednesday October 7
What should be the shortest walk of the day usually becomes a difficult one because the toil of the past week and the strain and pain on the thigh and ankle muscles converge to remind me that I did not spend enough time on exercises to strengthen my muscles.

Gerald walked ahead with Ben, the assistant guide, while I walked behind with Yahoo and Notburga at a slower pace. The trek of the final day is mostly through dense forest, rich in vegetation, a variety of flowers, and bird species. The car was driven up a few kilometres to meet us before we reached the gate. We met only a sprinkling of climbers this morning unlike the huge crowds I saw on the last day during last year's climb.

As Gerald(left) and Yahoo (right) observe, Notburga registers her name at the offices of the Kilimanjaro National Parks Authority at Mweka Gate.

At Mweka Gate I indulged in a what might become a tradition with each successful ascent from Kilimanjaro: the consumption of the contents of one bottle of Kilimanjaro Lager. I read a report somewhere of someone seen wearing a t-shirt with an image of a bottle of Kilimanjaro Lager and the words: "If you can't climb it, drink it!" I have climbed it and drunk it for the second year running.

Monday, 7 December 2009

On Kilimanjaro again (Post 9 of several)

With Gerald Hando (left), at the summit

Tuesday October 6 (continued)
With the energy boost from the Red Bull I surged past Yahoo, Ben and Notburga who had stopped at Stella Point for a rest. Gerald Hando was nowhere in sight. I careered past several other climbers dragging themselves towards Uhuru Peak.
Yahoo (left) with Gerald Hando taking a stroll around the summit. Mt. Meru is seen in the background.
I felt I was high on whatever combination of items they packed into one of those cans; I didn't want to stop lest I lost the momentum and as I approached Gerald, who has stopped for a gasp of air, I told him I would walk ahead to Uhuru Peak so that I could take his photo when he arrived. He insisted that we remain together, so I stopped.

With Gerald (left) and Yahoo (right)
We reached Uhuru Peak just before 09:30 a.m. and Gerald explained later that he was overcome with such emotion that it took some effort to retain composure. It is a feeling that I too experienced during my first climb, and appears to be something felt by most first-time climbers. One of the guides told us a group of climbers broke down and wept uncontrollably on reaching the peak.
Gerald powering up for the descent and his show at Clouds FM, 'Power Breakfast'
One thing I do not recall seeing at the summit last year are monuments (crucifix type) of climbers who reached the summit but died in the process. Someone said there were several of those at the summit. I also noticed several along the Lemosho route. Most are of porters.
Allen, the harmonica player and mountain guide (seated in front), joins us for a photo with an unidentified guide (in brown coat)
We took the customary photos and had left within 30 minutes. Yahoo, who had joined us, walked ahead to meet Ben and Notburga who had remained at Stella Point for a rest before turning towards Barafu Camp.

Later, we teamed up with Yahoo and my most difficult part of the Kilimanjaro trek, the descent, began. Gerald and Yahoo would rush down ahead towards Barafu and frequently had to wait for me as my thigh and ankle muscles strained to cope with the rapid descent. I had suggested that they should not bother waiting for me but Yahoo insisted they would keep me within sight.
A view of Mawenzi Peak taken during the descent
On reaching Barafu Camp at 1:00 p.m. I was extremely exhausted. I applied some heat cream on my thighs and legs and got some relief. We rested for 2 hours and embarked on a 6-hour trek from Barafu through Millennium High Camp (at dusk) through a rocky section to Mweka Camp.

Next: The last hop

Friday, 4 December 2009

On Kilimanjaro again (Post 8 of several)

Tuesday October 6
About an hour into the climb towards Stella Point, I walked ahead with Yahoo and Gerald because it appeared Notburga was having trouble keeping up with the pace. I was worried she might decide to give up and turn back, but she didn't! Before dawn, she and Ben, the assistant guide, not only caught up with us but walked ahead of us and it took us considerable effort to catch up with them.

It was time for us to reflect on the Swahili saying: "Kutangulia si kufika." (Being ahead, doesn't mean getting there). Not the best translation, but it carries the meaning. From then on, we remained within sight of each other. She eventually reached Stella Point at around 8:00 a.m., a formidable feat in itself but Yahoo, noting that she had some difficulty with her breathing, suggested she should turn back, only a short distance before reaching the peak.

About an hour after we left Barafu Camp and throughout most of the slow trek during the night we kept hearing, periodically, the sound of a harmonica played downhill behind us. That someone had the energy to play a harmonica under those conditions not only seemed incredible to us (in fact Gerald, thought it an insult), but it reminded me of reading somewhere that as the Titanic was sinking a pianist kept on playing the piano until the Titanic - and the piano - was eventually drawn under the Atlantic Ocean. The sound of the harmonica evoked that scene on the sinking Titanic, a bad omen for our attempt to reach the peak.

The name of the harmonica player was Allen, a guide from Zara Tanzania Adventures, the same company that Yahoo worked for, who was leading a Spanish couple. We could hear him from a mile away because he spoke endlessly and when he was within hearing distance he spoke at us, but particularly with Yahoo. When he stopped speaking, he played the harmonica.

Mawenzi peak, just before sunrise
Day broke before we reached Stella Point and we had made such good progress that some of the climbers who seemed miles ahead were at a shouting distance and it appeared possible, as Allen had predicted, that we would surpass those who had started earlier. In fact we did on the final stretch from Stella Point to Uhuru Peak.

At about 4:00 a.m. before reaching Stella Point I suddenly became extremely exhausted. Midway through I had consumed the contents of one of my cans of Red Bull and Gerald also asked for one, but the energy from the Red Bull ran out about 40 metres short of Stella Point. In mountain distances, 40 metres can as well be 40 kilometres.

I paused, contemplated and did what appeared to be inevitable in the circumstances. I drank my second can of Red Bull, got an extra boost of energy and 'rocketed' towards Uhuru Peak.

Next: At the rooftop of Africa

Saturday, 28 November 2009

On Kilimanjaro again (Post 7 of several)

Monday 5 October
In the morning at Karanga Camp someone was playing the harp (we would cross paths with him the following day) Like yesterday, Mustapha from Nakuru called me to wish me luck. He said he is also keen on climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.
The mountain's unique vegetation
Before we left, someone asked: "How are you? Did you sleep well?" In other contexts such greetings are only a formality; while climbing Kilimanjaro you realize these are no mere formalities. Someone really wants to know.
The team of glaciologists observing Kilimanjaro's receding glaciers
We had a good view of Kibo today and the sun shone brightly in the morning. Gerald Hando went live again on Clouds FM and piled praise on the courage and determination of Notburga Maskini during the climb. "I am inspired," he said.

Today, a guide who said he is from Shinyanga but has a Chagga accent shared his views on how domestic tourism could develop by inculcating the culture of visiting local attractions in our children. When he mentioned the poor working conditions of the porters, he was supported by a flood of complaints by guides and porters who were listening to the conversation as we slowly made our way towards Barafu Camp, revealing an undercurrent of overall dissatisfaction.
The guide from Shinyanga walked ahead to his group and, thanks to the publicity raised by Gerald's daily dispatches to Clouds FM, told his visitors who we were and the objective of our climb. When we reached the group we were greeted with, "We heard you are climbing to raise money for charity. So are we, we've raised $150,000 for cancer research."

At the final valley before ascending to Barafu Camp I told the others that I would walk ahead to find out whether "I'm made of whisky or Coca-Cola." One of Mt. Kilimanjaro's routes, considered the easiest, is also called the Coca-Cola route, and one of the challenging routes are known as whisky routes. I made such good pace with little effort that I impressed myself. I went from ceding the way to porters to keeping up with their pace.

We had an early lunch and retired to our tents. I was upbeat and felt quite confident about my physical condition. Sometimes I was worried I had given too many horror stories about the difficulty of the final onslaught towards the summit that perhaps it would be detrimental to the morale of the others. I realized if I ever became an army recruitment officer, new recruitments will dwindle down to nothing.

About an hour before midnight we were awoken for the final climb to the summit.

Next: Reminiscent of the sinking of the Titanic.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

On Kilimanjaro again (Post 6 of several)

Sunday 4 October
Before we left, Gerald was interviewed during the live broadcast of his own program "Power Breakfast" on Clouds FM. The broadcast had the effect of making everyone and anyone who was listening to the radio to be aware of our presence. By the day's end, that included a large proportion of the porters and guides on the mountain and some of the other climbers.

We left Barranco Camp at our leisurely pace and within an hour we were trailing everyone. Nevertheless, I am impressed by how both Notburga and Gerald make mincemeat of the Great Barranco, maintaining an energetic pace throughout the day. It is at the Barranco climb where most first-time climbers give up and turn back, and where novice porters opt for non-climbing careers. It is one steep rocky climb that takes close to three hours, depending on one's pace.

At the top of the cliff, Notburga revealed she has eight cans of Red Bull, took out four and shared them with Gerald, Yahoo and Ben, the assistant guide. I still felt I didn't need an energy boost.

At around midday we met a group of British and American climbers, who were also on a fund raising climb, and one asked:

"Are you from South Africa?"
"No, we are Tanzanians."
"It's good to see Tanzanians climbing their own mountain."

That casual observation was so incredibly accurate that it actually defines one major characteristic of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Apart form the porters and guides, at any one time there are more foreigners on the mountain than Tanzanian climbers.

At Karanga Camp Gerald, who was complaining of a bruised toe since yesterday, received crucial medical attention from Godfried, an Austrian doctor who is climbing the mountain with a group of glaciologists who are studying the mountain's shrinking glaciers.

I reached the conclusion that if there is one person who deserves to reach Uhuru Peak, it has to be Notburga. During the daily walks she recounts colorful tales of places around the world that she has visited - and they are numerous! As she says, she decided to climb Kilimanjaro because while in Ireland she met natives of Ireland who had climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and she was embarrassed to reveal that she had not.

When I visited one of the VIP (Ventilated Improved Pit) latrines, I discovered someone had written, "Will you please p*** directly in the hole."
A view of Mawenzi peak from one of the VIP latrines

Notwithstanding the apparent inconsiderate behaviour and inconvenience caused by these toilet users, I would still have asked the following questions to the writer of that message:

- at 3,893m above sea level?
- with hands half frozen?
- while gasping for breath and struggling against altitude sickness?
- and having woken up from sleeping on a slope and struggling throughout the night not to slide donwnhill below the clouds, and all the way to Moshi?

I don't know...I don't know...

Next: Am I made of Coca-Cola or whisky?

Saturday, 21 November 2009

On Mt. Kilimanjaro again (Post 5 of several)

Saturday 3 October
In the morning I heard a porter's radio tuned to a station playing gospel music. You can hardly predict that people who so frequently use four letter words also listen to church music.

We woke up to a beautiful sunny morning, and knowing how unpredictable mountain weather is, hoped that the day would remain just as pleasant.

At breakfast, the discussions centred on the plight of the porters and what Gerald felt were poor working conditions. He also realised, today, the relevance of using walking poles; they considerably reduce the load on the feet.

On the news today, we heard that power shedding will begin, countrywide, from morning to 11 at night. I thought to myself, Dr Idris Rashid, the former chief executive of TANESCO, our national electricity supply company must be saying to himself, "I told you so!" Dr. Rashid came under criticism from parliamentarians for suggesting a course of action that would have avoided power shedding, but which the parliamentarians rejected.

Today's section was particularly difficult on the approach to Lava Tower where it began to snow on our arrival. Unlike last year, when the place was packed, it was totally deserted. Gerald and Notburga went absolutely berserk with excitement because of the snowfall and when we began the descent towards Barranco Camp everyone seemed in high spirits. When Notburga wondered why they felt they had smoked an illegal substance, Yahoo explained the snowfall increases the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere; we were all high on oxygen.

Nevertheless, the pace became quite slow; we reached Barranco well after dark. Today, I felt like I was maturing into a mountain guide; Yahoo walked ahead with Gerald and I stayed at the rear with Notburga.

Next: Are you from South Africa?

Monday, 16 November 2009

On Kilimanjaro again (Post 4 of several)

Friday 2 October
"Fun" is not always accurate in describing climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. When I say fun I actually mean the hard work. The second day of the Kilimanjaro trek on the Lemosho route involves a long walk. We bypassed Shira 1 Camp and camped at Shira Camp, our destination on this day. I recall that day last year as being particularly difficult.

We walked from Big Tree Camp through the Shira Plateau to East Shira Hill. The Shira hills are described in literature as part of an extinct volcano whose peak stood much higher than Uhuru Peak.

While on the plateau, and just before climbing towards East Shira Hill, it began to rain, and I remembered I had forgotten a nice raincoat that I had specifically bought recently in South Africa specifically to prevent getting soaked on Mt. Kilimanjaro. This was another instance of the disadvantage of failing memory when climbing Kilimanjaro.

The view from the top of East Shira hill was stunning. Yahoo said the altitude was 4,000m and it is a detour from the main route which is recommended on the Lemosho route for acclimatizing climbers. Think of it as a vaccination against altitude sickness.

The East Shira Hill detour made me worry that Notburga might not cope well with climbing Kilimanjaro. It appeared she sometimes had difficulty with breathing, and it was only the second day. Gerald, on the other hand, appeared to be coping well and he had a sense of humor that was absolutely necessary in tackling the difficult stages. My worries about Notburga were later proved baseless.

At Shira Camp I met a guide who I also met last year and felt it was a remarkable coincidence. Unless you are a guide or a porter the chances of meeting someone you know on Mt. Kilimanjaro are quite remote.

Next: Gospel music on the mountain

Thursday, 12 November 2009

On Kilimanjaro again (Post 3 of several)

Thursday 1 October
In pilot talk a preflight check precedes all flights; the pilot goes through a list to ensure that the plane will actually take to flight without unforeseeable problems. There is a similar concept related to climbing a mountain. We went through the pre-Kilimanjaro check with Yahoo, our

mountain guide who also led my two person team last year, going through all our clothes and equipment to ensure that we were properly clothed and equipped and that no one freezes en route.

When all was well we hopped on a Land Rover and headed towards the starting point in western Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately the car developed some mechanical fault and we lost about an hour waiting for a replacement. That mishap didn't stop Gerald Hando from making several calls to Clouds FM to follow-up on progress of work he had left behind. The marvels of mobile communications! You never leave the work at the office; it follows you all the way up Kilimanjaro.

We were dropped at the starting point sometime after 3:00 PM and began a slow walk towards Big Tree Camp which we reached at around 7:30 PM. I recalled how exciting it was last year to begin the trek; and the feeling was the same this year.

I like to think that between the three of us, I was the more experienced climber, although given how unpredictable mountain climbing is, it is hardly wise to boast about anything; nevertheless,

I decided I would stay behind, a position I also chose last year.

Next: The fun begins

Monday, 9 November 2009

On Mt. Kilimanjaro again (Post 2 of several)

The good news is I did not loose my Kilimanjaro notes (diary), I found them in my bedroom on my return home; the bad news is I might be getting old and cannot remember where I leave things.

Wednesday 30th September
I boarded the flight from Mwanza to Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA) through Dar es Salaam and reached KIA about 4:00PM. At Moshi I stayed at a quiet hostel and I suspect I was one of only two guests who slept there.

In the morning, the manager (or owner?) was curious to know where I was heading and when I revealed I was on my way to climb Kilimanjaro, he asked, "Where are you from?" Hearing that question I felt like an alien from a distant planet. The man had only passing interest in me until I said I was on my way to Uhuru Peak.

I have heard a saying that people who climb mountains are not normal. I disagree. Those who climb once are perfectly normal. It is those who return to climb for the second time that are less than normal. In fact recalling my testimony of how tough it had been to climb last year, a waitress at the Moshi hotel where I stayed before the climb asked me, "You are back again?"

When I responded in the affirmative she asked, "I thought you said you will never climb this mountain again?"

I couldn't remember saying that but if I did that just shows how important it is to have a fading memory if you decide to climb Kilimanjaro more than once. Poor memory will not only might make you temporarily loose your Kilimanjaro diary, but it also most certainly will erase any unpleasant experiences you had from last year.

In the evening Notburga Maskini and Gerald Hando, who joined me on the climb this year, arrived at the hotel. Gerald brought me a camera that I borrowed from Muhidin Issa Michuzi to supplement my own camera so that I am not restricted by my camera's memory or battery hours and am able to take more photos than last year.

Next: The first steps

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Oops! I may have lost my Kilimanjaro notes

I may have lost the notebook on which I recorded my recent experience on climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro for the second time.

There are two possibilities: First, I may have dropped it while pulling out a book from my bag while on a flight yesterday from Mwanza to Dar es Salaam on Air Tanzania's De Havilland Dash 8 Series 300. Second, I could just have forgotten to pack it in my bag and it could actually be in my bedroom.

If I have lost the notebook, I have lost some important observations I made just after the climb, which I will not be able to recall a few weeks after the climb. I will find out within a few days. If the worse has happened, I will try to rewrite from memory what I can remember.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

On Mt. Kilimanjaro again (Post 1 of several)

When climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro last year I was not sure I would succeed in reaching the summit having taken seriously the warnings of the effects of altitude sickness on many first-time climbers. The person who designed a t-shirt with the words: "If you can't climb it, drink it", [If you can't climb the mountain, drink Kilimanjaro Lager] could be one of those climbers who succumbed to altitude sickness before reaching the summit.

I decided last year if I succeeded I would climb the mountain every year to raise money for charity. This year I climbed between October 1 - 8 and here is my experience divided up into several posts to provide some breathing space to readers.
28 September 2009
Sometime late in the morning, after I received an unexpected payment, I realized and decided that I could afford to depart from Butiama and spend the night at Mwanza before flying from Mwanza to the Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA) through Dar es Salaam.

One of my sponsors last year, Air Tanzania Corporation, has been kind enough to give me free passage on their Dash 8 aircraft in support of my efforts to raise funds for charity.
Air Tanzania's De Havilland Dash 8
Rather than worry about how ill-prepared I am for climbing Kilimanjaro (experts recommend two months of intense exercising (I could count only about two weeks of riding around in a bicycle around Dar es Salaam), I am worried about the writing assignments I should complete before I set out to climb. I am due to write two articles for my regular column with the Sunday News, and a few extra assignments for the 10th anniversary of Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere's death. I was worried that I had bitten more than I could chew.

As I was about to drive off after midday I discovered both the car insurance premium and the road license had expired. I decided I had no option but to risk confronting the wrath of the law, but if the worse happened I decided I would plead for leniency because I was on my way to raise money for charity.

My heart skipped a beat on the way when at Bunda I was flagged down by a policeman who, to my relief, asked for a ride to the Baboon Bridge police post.

I spent the night trying to complete one of the my writing assignments. I slept at 0400.

Next: Where are you from?

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Letter from Butiama: Driving tips

This is one of numerous articles I wrote for the Sunday News (Tanzania) column "Letter from Butiama" between 2005 and 2011. Publication date: 1st May 2005.

With the subject of politics - and especially next Wednesday's conference for the nomination of the presidential candidate for Chama cha Mapinduzi in almost every one's mind* - I turn to a non-political subject, driving. These are practical suggestions to make your driving safer and with few surprises, especially if you drive on long distances.

This is not the check-your-water-and-oil-before-you-drive type of advice. It is advice you probably won't get from your driving school. It comes from one who has driven for almost twenty-five years with only one serious accident to his credit.

I have yet to meet a driver who admits he is substandard. So the first rule of driving is: before you even turn on the ignition you have to believe in yourself; if you don't, no one else will. Consider yourself the best driver in the world; what you lack you'll gain with experience. Don't take this literally though, you need to have some basic driving lessons before you hit the road although I know a few people who learnt how to drive after obtaining their driving licences.

The second rule is don't give rides to strangers, especially men. There are far more men with criminal intentions than women with similar character. The results of studies around the world show that far more many men are convicted of crimes than women. For Britain in 1984 the figure was 86 percent. If you have a weak heart for helping those in need I suggest you give rides only to women, but be weary of beautiful women. Sometimes, behind a beautiful female face stands an ugly male face with not so socially acceptable intentions.

I suggest that the least dangerous stranger you can carry is an old woman. Better still, women with children. Even a woman with criminal intentions will probably leave her child home before attemtping to hijack a car.

Rule three: avoid stopping to help a person who seems to be injured and is lying on the road. While driving from Mwanza to Dodoma last November I came across a roadblock at night and a man dressed in civilian clothes emerged with a sub-machine gun. I assumed he was a policeman because he did not point the gun at me to demand money. Before I drove off he cautioned that the 40-kilometre section to Dodoma was not safe and asked me, "Do you know the rules for night driving?"

"Such as?" I asked.
"Such as, if you find someone lying on the road, what will you do?" he asked.
I replied, "I would drive past him and return tomorrow to check whether he is still there."
"Drive on," he said, "you know the rules."

Rule four: drive as fast as you want when you are alone. You have a right to risk your life if that pleases you but the moment you have a passenger on board show a little respect for the preference of most human beings to remain alive forever. I broke that rule once but have not regretted it. I drove from Songea to Dar es Salaam with a passenger at unusually high speeds throughout the journey. About halfway through the journey we reached the Kitonga Hills where we stopped for a few minutes to buy roasted maize at the roadside. About 20 minutes earlier we overtook two passenger buses which on reaching the same spot where we bought maize were ambushed by armed bandits who shot and wounded a truck driver.

When we heard the news of the ambush the next day we "agreed" that whatever made me drive unusually fast the previous day saved us from from an unpleasant encounter with armed bandits.

I should probably add that, sometimes, excessive speeding can be used to avoid dangerous situations (I recall this from my driving lessons twenty five years ago). It is an irony that sometimes it is possible to risk your life to save your life.

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Saturday, 29 August 2009

Some geological history from Mara region

About 20 kilometres before reaching Butiama on the Mwanza - Musoma road, travelers approach these three hills (photo, below): Kihuzu (1,684m) on the left, Makerere Mkubwa in the middle, and Muganzo on the right. The road cuts between Makerere Mkubwa and Muganzo.
Several years ago I met a lecturer from the Geology Department of the University of Dar es Salaam who informed me that one of the two hills on the left side of the road is over half the age of our planet Earth; the trouble is I cannot remember which of the two hills he identified.

I am assuming it is Makerere Mkubwa; I stand to be corrected.

Makere Mkubwa has some interesting geologic history. First, a little earth history: Planet Earth is estimated to be 4.56 billion years old. The African continent consists of various types of rocks, but predominantly five ancient Precambrian cratons: Zimbabwe, West Africa, Kaapvaal, Congo, and Tanzania. A craton is a segment of the continent that has remained tectonically stable and relatively earthquake-free for a long period.

The Precambrian geologic period ranges from 540 to 3.8 billion years, although, as with most science, there is no consensus of this lower limit. Thus it has not been officially recognized by the international scientific body that stamps approval on geologic dates, the International Commission on Stratigraphy. I am just fascinated that every so often I drive past a hill composed of rock material that is at least 540 millions years old and could be a few billion years old.

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Saturday, 15 August 2009

The Mwalimu Nyerere Charity Climb 2009

As with last year, this year I am also combining my climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro with raising funds for charity. This year I am raising funds for Community Alive, an organization based in Musoma that is active in providing help to people affected by AIDS, primarily children.
Community Alive was launched in the mid nineties with the objective of informing youth and their peers on HIV/AIDS and what they can do to protect themselves, but has since evolved into a program that, today, assists people of all age groups affected by AIDS.
Community Alive's assistance to children includes:
  • education support activities (school uniforms, shoes, books and pens)
  • Home and school visits
  • counselling and recreational activities
  • food and medical support for families in need
  • socialisation and psychosocial support
    I would like to appeal to anyone who would like to support Community Alive and the Mwalimu Nyerere Charity Climb 2009 to donate through the following:
Community Alive
P.O. Box 327
Musoma, Tanzania.

Bank Account:
No. 064 - 6000246

Title of Bank Account:
Community Alive

Barclays Bank, Musoma Branch, Tanzania.

Further information on Community Alive can be obtained by writing directly to them at the mailing address provided above or by calling Joseph Musira (Project Manager) at: +255(028)2622430, or through his mobile No.: +255(078)7713 771.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Visitors to Butiama

Before Jaffar Amin visited Butiama in April, his visit, which was organized by the Swahili Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), was preceded by the arrival of some of BBC Swahili Service's big shots, including Solomon Mugera, head of the Swahili Service, Vicky Ntetema, the Tanzania Bureau Chief for the BBC.
Others from the BBC who came to Butiama included anchor Charles Hillary who normally reports from London, Caroline Karobia who is stationed at Nairobi, and a familiar name to BBC Swahili listeners, Eric David Nampesya, BBC's reporter for the Great Lakes Region, top right, with Solomon Mugera.

As an avid radio listener who regularly listens to BBC radio I felt dwarfed by the presence of such big names from the BBC Swahili Service.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Preparing for Kilimanjaro Climb 2009

First the good news: I have finally managed to take into my possession a mountain bike to help me raise my fitness level for the Kilimanjaro Climb in September. I still have to pay my niece for the bike which she bought but has never used although I plan to convince her to donate it to me as her contribution to the Mwalimu Nyerere Charity Climb 2009.
The bad news: the bicycle is in Dar es Salaam, where I have been for the past week while I should have it at Butiama where I would be able to ride up and down Mt. Mtuzu. I have been riding it around Dar es Salaam and have been careful to dodge some of the road hogs of Dar who learn to drive on the road, rather than at a driving school.

Yesterday I met an individual who tells me he used to sell driving licenses at a cost of Sh.150,000 (approximately $US130), complete with driving test certificates and the necessary signed 'official' papers and permits. Some of the individuals to whom he has sold these licenses are drivers of public service vehicles. He would pay about a tenth of his selling price to a middlemen with the necessary connections to the relevant government offices.

Back to Kilimanjaro: I am still undecided whether I should take the bicycle to Butiama or keep it in Dar where I have found it is extremely convenient to use during rush hour and will take you to a destination faster than a vehicle. Which reminds me; I saw someone driving a yellow Lamborghini in the streets of Dar es Salaam two days ago and the only impression I have, considering the snail pace of traffic in Dar is: what a waste of money and horsepower.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Preparing for Kilimanjaro 2009

This would be equivalent to serving notice to Uhuru Peak that I am on my way to the top again. Yesterday, after what seemed to me like a millennium, I began exercising to prepare my seldom-exercised body for climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in September.

With the help of a few Internet searches, I have also included a series of body building and endurance exercises, that do not require gym equipment. It is not out of choice but necessity that I am waiving time in a gym; the nearest gym is in Mwanza, about three hours' drive from Butiama.

A few days ago while buying some DVDs at a shop in Musoma, I saw some gadget that I had never seen before. It looked like a laser gun from one of the Star War movies. When I asked what it was I was told it was a piece of equipment that is used by bodybuilders to build chest muscles. You hold the two ends with the hands and bend the ends inwards towards each other. Well, I thought if I don't succeed in climbing Kilimanjaro this time, perhaps I could consider entering the Mr. Tanzania competition.

It did not cost much, so I bought it, chipping away at my budget for buying a bicycle to build my leg and thigh muscles. I have developed my own exercises of stepping up and down part of a stairway to simulate the ascent and descent motions of mountain climbing. It sounds laughable but after waking up with some muscle pains after a one-hour workout yesterday, I know I am on the right track in attempting to strengthen my leg and thigh muscles for the next Kilimanjaro descent.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

I root for the underdog

I always root for the underdog, particularly in sports. And so I was pleasantly surprised last Sunday when I switched on the TV and watched the unlikely situation in which the USA national soccer team was leading by one goal and - before the end of the first half - by two goals to nil against mighty Brazil at the FIFA Confederations Cup final played in South Africa.

In soccer Brazil is a monster, a superpower; the USA a minnow. In the language of wars and arms, Brazil is a 130mm calibre range piece of artillery; the USA, a small calibre pistol. It is no coincidence that US coach Bob Bradley said after losing: "I hope though that people around the world see we have a good team and great players and it is a big step forward."

My favourite teams in the competitions were a representation of the FIFA rankings turned upside down; the lower the ranking the higher my preference for that team to win.

The two-nil lead was reversed by the Brazilians in the second half and a winning goal confirmed Brazil's dominance of world soccer, at least for now.

The good news for other teams that might face Brazil in next year's FIFA World Cup tournament in South Africa is that the team that wins the Confederations Cup - in which continental national soccer champions compete against each other - has never won the World Cup the following year.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Time for some mountain trekking

I am supposed to be deep into preparations for my next scheduled Mt. Kilimanjaro climb in September this year. But if you ask me, there is little to show there are any serious preparations.

It will be my second attempt to reach the summit, a feat I accomplished last year. The hotel owner in Moshi where I returned after 8 days on the mountain last year observed: "Many first-time climbers usually walk with their head down before the climb, but those who succeed in reaching the summit are changed fundamentally; they walk with their heads up!" I agree, after I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro I thought I could conquer Mt. Everest.

During the first climb, I was also on a one-person mission to raise cash to contribute towards construction of girls' dormitories for the Chief Edward Wanzagi Girls' Secondary School at Buturu, close to Butiama. The climb raised more than $US20,000.
Photograph taken during construction of the dormitories at Chief Edward Wanzagi Girls' Secondary School. Construction has been completed.
This year, I intend to raise money for an organization in Musoma that cares for and pays for the education of AIDS orphans. When details are finalized I intend to publicise the event so that contributions can be made towards this objective.

A donation of cement (part of the more than $20,000 raised) being offloaded at the construction site of the dormitories.

Back to the training. Yahoo, my mountain guide from last year, suggested to me I buy a mountain bike and ride it as much as possible to strengthen my leg and thigh muscles in preparation for this year's climb. Climbing Kilimanjaro was tough, but the toughest part for me was the descent on a pair of legs whose muscles are only exercised when engaging the foot pedals while driving.

About two weeks ago I identified at a Musoma shop for used bicycles what I felt was a sturdy mountain bike that could ease my next descent from the top of Kilimanjaro. The trouble is I have been so busy with non-Kilimanjaro tasks that I suspect that the bike might already have been sold.

I intend to provide regular posts of my preparations for the next assault on Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Letter from Butiama: One big family

In early 2000 I was given the task of introducing a visitor to Butiama to several people who had turned up to receive him. In anticipation of the guest's arrival, with pen and paper in hand, I asked the first person next to me his name and he mentioned his name and surname. Strangely, he had the same surname as mine and I found out later that he was one of my uncles.

I was extremely embarrassed, yet I feel I have a perfect excuse. My late grandfather, Chief Nyerere Burito, had 22 wives and four concubines. With a nearly possible 6,000 kin, surely not recognizing one once in a while cannot be that bad?
The graves of Chief Nyerere Burito (d.1942) left, and that of his fifth wife on the right, Christina Mgaya wa Nyang'ombe, my paternal grandmother, who died in 1997 and was estimated to have been 105 years old. In the foreground, a building built in the early seventies to mark the spot where Chief Nyerere's house stood.
In practice, the generation before mine had many children, but if I take an average of only six children per couple to arrive at the number of possible descendants of the Chief, beginning with my twenty-two "grandmothers", I get a possible 132 "uncles" and "aunts"; 792 "cousins", and 4,752 "nieces" and "nephews", giving me a total of 5,676. And this is just from my father's lineage.

Even when allowances are made for the deceased, it still leaves an impossibly large number of names and faces to memorize, and yet recognizing relatives is one critical factor that guarantees top points in big family relations. The first question that consistently comes up when I meet many of my less familiar relatives is, "Do you know me?" When I do, I endear myself to them, but when I don't I become almost an outcast, someone who does not even have the decency to find the time to know his relatives.

I recently met two cousins whose mother, my late aunt, was the third born of the seventh wife of Chief Nyerere. One of those cousins did not know me, had never even heard my name and yet she was almost 50 years old. It was such a relief; here was proof that failing to identify the 5,000-plus possible relations was not an affliction suffered only by those who spend too much time in Dar es Salaam.

One of my brothers has spent many years compiling the family tree of Burito, Chief Nyerere's father. Many years ago, I borrowed his list and began to sketch out, on paper, the linkages from Chief Nyerere to my generation. It was futile: the first attempt ended after I covered all the walls of the spare room of my apartment with pieces of paper. I ran out of space. What I needed was an exceptionally wide wall because the linkages spread out like a pyramid, narrow at the top and extremely wide at the bottom.

Many years after my first attempt, I obtained family tree software from a UK supplier. As I began entering information I immediately ran into another problem: the software would not accept more that four multiple marriages. The suppliers had probably not contemplated their software ending up at Butiama.

I wrote to the suppliers to find out whether they may have developed a later version of the software that would permit up to 22 wives, giving them a few details about the Chief. That letter must have arrived at the other end on or around April Fool's day, the one day in a year when people around the world would be suspected of creating the most outrageous stories about themselves - or their grandfathers. Surely three years is ample time for even the busiest company in the world to respond to a potential client?

Fortunately my problem will soon be history. When I explained my predicament recently to someone whose work in the past involved compiling lineages similar to my own, he suggested I find software developed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormons, who are known to have practiced polygamy between the time of the formation of their church in 1830 to 1890 when the practice was formally given up in order to conform to U.S. civil law. The Mormons' interest in tracing their roots proceeds from their concern to save dead ancestors.

It is a fact that kinship has as many interpretations as the number of societies you can count. You can be a relative in Butiama but just a friend in London.

I recall in the days when students who completed their O-level studies worked part-time while waiting for release of results of the National Form Four examinations. I and a fellow Form Four leaver who I considered then and still consider to be my relative were employed as office clerks in an architectural consulting firm.

After several days on the job, the manager, a European, summoned me to his office and told me he heard that I was related to Jackson. I told him that was true. When he asked for details of the relationship I explained the following: my paternal grandmother and Jackson's maternal grandfather were siblings, born of the same parents.

To say the manager was surprised is a gross understatement. He was flabbergasted, utterly astonished. If he were a cynical person, he would have said: "If Jackson is your cousin, I have to be your uncle." But he was a serious busy manager and restricted himself to letting me know who was my relation and who was not.

"Is that it?", he asked seeking confirmation.
"Yes", I responded.
"You are not related!" he said bluntly.

To him I could just as well consider Jackson to be only a friend. Now that I think of it, it sounds an appropriate conclusion. No wonder I get along well with Jackson. In fact while continuing to wait for the release of the exam results we went on to work for the Red Cross, sorting and packing used clothing for refugees under the supervision of Mr. Chudasama.

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Friday, 15 May 2009

My meeting with Jaffar Amin

It has been an uneventful few weeks on this blog, but a hectic period for me.

In early April I was host at Butiama, together with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), to Jaffar Amin, one of the sons of the former Ugandan leader Idi Amin.
Jaffa Remo Amin (left), with me at Butiama.
I admit I faced a dilemma which made me suspend my posts. I was not sure how readers would react to my meeting with Jaffar. The mention of Idi Amin invariably raises extreme emotions, and I found those reactions contradicted my justification for accepting BBC's suggestion to meet Jaffar.

I explained that justification in an article I wrote after the meeting for my column, Letter from Butiama. Briefly, my argument is: the past should remain in the past and is only relevant as a learning tool to help us avoid past mistakes; the past should not be used as a club to bash the brains out of those living today and who have nothing to do with that past.

Our meeting revolved around BBC's idea of covering, through a series of radio programs aired in April, the 30th anniversary of the 1978-79 Tanzania-Uganda war. Initially, explained Solomon Mugera, head of BBC's Swahili Service, our meeting was intended to take place on neutral ground, in Nairobi. He revealed it was Jaffar who suggested the meeting should be held at Butiama.

So in mid-March I prepared to meet Jaffar in Nairobi only to learn, belatedly, that the venue had been changed to Butiama without my knowledge. I suspect, the BBC, rather than risk getting an objection from me went ahead with plans.

I had great difficulty drawing up the guest list. It was easy to decide who among my friends and colleagues to include. Some made it easier for me by asking to be invited. The difficult list involved regional government officials. I had no idea whether they would show up although they regularly visit Butiama on other occasions. I sent out invitations and a few attended.

In the end it seemed that those who followed the BBC coverage of our meeting and the war anniversary had only positive comments. One commentator suggested that the person who initially came up with the idea of bringing together the sons of Idi Amin and Julius Nyerere should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Solomon Mugera addresses invited guests at Butiama.

I hope when Solomon Mugera steps up in coattails to receive the Nobel Peace Prize at Oslo (and the million dollar cheque), he will remember to include me on his list of invited guests.

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Saturday, 7 March 2009

Mrs Susan Tsvangirai has died

Mrs. Susan Tsvangirai, left in photo below, who was featured in my last post, died in a car accident yesterday, while traveling with her husband and Zimbabwe's prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, right.
Susan and Morgan Tsvangirai at a campaign rally in Harare during the 2008 Harmonized Elections.
While details are still emerging, reports say that an official of the MDC, Zimbabwe's opposition party, has said there is no reason to believe that the accident was a result of foul play.

She is reported to have died on arrival at a hospital after the accident, and that her husband sustained only minor injuries.

Tanzania's prime minister, Edward Moringe Sokoine, died in similar circumstances when a car travelling in the opposite direction ploughed into his motorcade in April 1984. The driver of that fateful car was a South African exile. The accident raised suspicion that the accident may have been planned and could have been engineered by the Apartheid South Africa regime.

In this fragile moment in Zimbabwe's history, one hopes that the conspiracy theories that are already emerging surrounding this recent accident, remain just that: conspiracies, and that the incident remains a tragic accident. Zimbabwe needs time to heal.

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Thursday, 12 February 2009

The latest from Zimbabwe

Morgan Tsvangirai of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), seated second from right in the photo below, was sworn-in yesterday by President Robert Mugabe as Zimbabwe's Prime Minister following agreement reached in power-sharing talks mediated by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and chaired by South African president Kgalema Motlanthe in South Africa recently.
Tsvangirai appointed Tendai Biti, seated on the right, as Finance Minister. Biti has been reported saying one of his immediate priorities will be to sack Zimbabwe Central Bank Governor, Gideon Gono who his party accuses of mismanaging the Zimbabwean economy.

Also in the photo are Mrs. Susan Tsvangirai, third from right, and on her right, Thokozani Khupe, MDC's Deputy president.

With these significant steps towards forming an inclusive government, the current power-sharing agreement appears to have gone a step further than previous agreements that have faltered. One hopes that a fresh page has been opened to enable Zimbabweans to concentrate on mending their divisions and working together to restore Zimbabwe's position as one of the leading members of the SADC community.

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Sunday, 8 February 2009

Visitors to Butiama

For the past two years, students from Queens University in Kingston Canada have visited Butiama and Mugumu in Mara Region as part of their teacher's training practical assigments. They have taught at Machochwe Secondary School in Serengeti District and Butiama Secondary School.

Not only have they taught but they have also donated textbooks and teaching materials to the two schools. One of the groups also donated solar equipment to Machochwe, while another contributed cash towards construction of a classroom at Butiama.
The teachers in last year's group were passionate soccer players and played regularly with students and youth at Butiama. The group, in the photo above, from left to right, are: Kathleen Bolger, Vicki Bowman, Stacey Copeland, Jennifer Lytle, Jennifer Michel, Shannon Mullins, and Karen Versluys.

The next group will be visiting next month.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Letter from Butiama: Up to my neck in snakes

This is one of numerous articles I wrote for the Sunday News (Tanzania) column "Letter from Butiama" between 2005 and 2011.
Those who read my column in the Sunday News (Tanzania), Letter from Butiama, will notice I frequently write about snakes. I come across snakes so often enough that I cannot avoid the subject. I feel like they are all around me. I look outside my window, and there is one crawling on the wall (photo, below). One got into my bedroom and to where I would normally step onto my sandals when I got off my bed.
On another occasion, while getting out of my room one night into a dimly lit corridor, I unknowingly stepped over another and closed the door behind me pinning it between my bedroom and the corridor. I came back, found it devastated by being caught on two sides of a door but alive and I, with the help of an extremely long pole, carried it out of the house to its salvation and freedom. I was asked by someone: 'Why didn't you kill it?' I found an answer in my ethnic roots.

First, it could have been Muhunda, I told him, the guardian spirit of the members of the Zanaki ethnic group of Butiama (each of the eight or so Zanaki localities has a separate guardian spirit). Muhunda is believed capable of transforming itself into a snake, or a leopard, or a male baboon. Muhunda is not quite the equivalent of a deity in other cultures; the Zanaki still have a conception of a god and heaven.

I count for a Zanaki, even though I can hardly speak the dialect. I also am, according to tradition, one of the guardians of the ancestral forest, also known as Muhunda, where the guardian Muhunda is said to visit from time to time. How can a warden kill the very being he is supposed to protect, particularly when that being is also believed to exist to protect the entire community.

I subscribe to the belief that there are few creatures that will not attack another creature unless threatened, except human beings who will attack other creatures, including fellow human beings, even where such a threat does not exist. Most snakes will not attack unless provoked or threatened, so I still feel safe to conclude I have no reason to kill all the snakes that I see.

I remain intrigued why the snakes are seldom seen in other parts of the house except my bedroom. I told the person who suggested I should kill the snake I thought the snakes were attracted by the music from my radio. Snakes are reported to be sensitive to vibrations and, perhaps, the more well-arranged the vibrations (translate that into good music) the more likely the snakes will get close to investigate.

If the snakes shared my taste for good music, I reasoned, there was one other good reason why I should spare them. His response was I listened to soft music. What if my premise was correct and I happened to be listening to charanga he asked, a description Tanzanians use for the various genres of lively popular versions of Latin American music? If my assertion was correct I would be up to my neck in snakes, a not so pleasant prospect.

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Thursday, 8 January 2009

Letter from Butiama: Name change operation

During my student days in Canada, I shared an apartment with an ethnic Chinese student from Malaysia who had a Christian name.

I told him I found it strange that a Chinese should have a Christian name. I was expecting to hear something like Lee Kuan Yew. He was also surprised to meet an African called Godfrey, my Christian name, although I know from experience he would have had great difficulty pronouncing "Mwita Chacha Marwa."

A Zambian I know says he will campaign for reversion to the original name of Victoria Falls, which to the Kalolo-Lozi people near the falls is known as Mosi-o-Tunya, meaning "the smoke that thunders." For a location that attracts many tourists there is a risk that such a name change could reduce the number of visitors. I imagine a potential tourist to the falls struggling for several minutes with a travel agent who has not heard of the new name and gives up in frustration and decides to travel to another destination.

Sometimes it is best to use indigenous names for people, places, and businesses. At other times it is better to swallow some local pride and stick to the old names to avoid some confusion, although the confusion could be temporary.*

The gradual acceptance of Pin-Yin, the Chinese phonetic alphabet, especially after 1979 when the Chinese Government prescribed its use in all translated diplomatic and foreign language publications, as the official record used in the People's Republic of China signalled a commitment to promote the use of the Peking dialect as the national standard. As a result Peking became Beijing and Chou En-Lai became Zhou Enlai.

Peking was used outside China for so long that it took a while to get used to pronouncing Beijing. Beijing used to sound "foreign"; today Peking sounds "foreign." The more than a billion Chinese probably don't need to campaign to anyone to make themselves heard. They decided Peking should revert to Beijing and the world towed the line. More likely than not, with the passage of time, people will forget the old names. Fewer Tanzanians today remember that Mozambique's capital Maputo used to be Lourenco Marques.

If East Africans decide that Lake Victoria should become Nyanza again, one wonders what would become of UK-East African relations. When the British explorer John Hanning Speke saw a big lake in the interior of East Africa in 1858, he named it in honour of his sovereign, Queen Victoria. That fact of history may be more apparent to the foreign visitor, to the tourist, and to the primary school student who has to pass an exam. I believe that to many of the estimated 30 million people living around Lake Victoria, that historic link with England is unknown. When you mention Victoria to someone in Mwanza, what is likely to come to mind is MV Victoria, the ship, not the Queen.

I would lean towards adoption of indigenous or local names rather than adopt foreign names. A friend called me recently to tell me that her brother had finally found a job "in Scandinavia". I was pleased, having known the trouble she had gone through to find employment for his brother. I asked her which of the Scandinavian countries her brother will be moving to.

She said, "The company! The bus company!" She had been referring to the Scandinavian Express Services Limited, the bus company, with headquarters at Gerezani, Dar es Salaam. I had almost landed in Helsinki, Finland.

*It is also possible for the confusion to persist indefinitely. I recently met someone from Tasmania who says letters for Tanzania frequently end up in Tasmania. Although the context is slightly different, it underscores the difficulty of distunguishing names when we have been subjected to a longer period of using a particular name.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Visitors to Butiama

Some of last year's visitors to Butiama included the contestants of the Miss Vodacom Tanzania pageant.
Their visit in July included a visit to the Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere Museum, and Mwalimu Nyerere's Mausoleum at Mwitongo. The visitors were entertained by a traditional dance group called Egumba Ngoma Group which performed various traditional dances of Mara region. In the past, Egumba performed at an arts festival in South Korea.

The amazing effect of visitors anywhere in Tanzania is they make the hosts put on some of their best clothes and appearance. I have seen individuals who normally dress casually, but as soon as the arrival of guests is announced they change into their best clothes. The beauty contestants' visit elicited similar reactions.

Likewise, I cannot adequately describe with words the excitement across all age groups that accompanied this visit. And the interest was not confined to boys and men only; the girls and women were equally excited.

Outgoing Miss Vodacom Tanzania Richa Adhia was also in the entourage. In the photo (above), I pose with her with Mt. Mtuzu in the background. Mt. Mtuzu is also known as "Vodacom". That's where mobile phone operator Vodacom has its cell site.

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