Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Sighted: the International Space Station

I am always fascinated by objects that crisscross outer space and quite frequently when in the open I instinctively look upwards. Once in Washington DC, I looked up and saw what to me was an unidentified flying object but was most likely some orbital craft that was shaped like a cigar. It passed silently above Washington DC in a low orbit.

Today, after staying awake overnight because of a writing assignment, I went out in the early morning and sighted, at 05:52 am, the International Space Station (ISS) pass over Butiama from a South South Westerly direction. It is one of the brightest objects in the sky and passed silently from horizon to horizon in less than six minutes.

If you know the coordinates of where you live you can track various space objects by using several websites that offer times of flybys and details of the direction of approach. Try the following: NASA's SkyWatch.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Familiar faces that torment

I have a relative who spent several weeks, without success, attempting to identify a woman who visited her after my relative's husband died. Recounting the incident, she recalls, "When she came to pay her condolences, I knew it was someone I knew very well, but I just could not recall who it was."

After several weeks of reflection and memory jolting exercises, she recounts, she identified the elderly woman as her brother's mother-in-law!

I experienced a similar incident, only that mine, lasted a few minutes. While attending the Zimbabwe Harmonized elections in 2008 I, and a few colleagues from the media, were milling around a hotel in Bulawayo (or was it Harare?) following developments of election results when I saw a familiar face among the crowd.

I notified my colleagues and pointed to the person who I felt certain I had seen in my neighborhood of Upanga in Dar es Salaam. I even pictured myself having crossed paths with him walking past where I lived. One of my colleagues immediately pointed out that it was Kamahl Santamaria, a presenter of Al Jazeera TV. I was lucky I was among a group of journalists, otherwise I believe it would have taken me a long time to recognize that familiar face.

Recently at Mwanza, someone stopped me and engaged me in conversation:

You look familiar. Are you from around here?
No. I don't live here.
Are you from Dar?
No, I am not from Dar.
I am sure I know you from somewhere.
I think you may have confused me with someone else.

In all likelihood, he may have seen my photograph on my column in the Sunday News, Letter from Butiama, or he could have seen my face in some newspaper. Having lived through the unpleasant experience of being unable to identify a familiar face I did something I rarely do: I identified myself to him. Seeing the relief on his face, I knew I had saved him a few days or weeks of a persistent curiosity to identify a familiar face.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Letter from Butiama: Absentee guests of honour

This is one of numerous articles I wrote for the Sunday News (Tanzania) column "Letter from Butiama" between 2005 and 2011. This article was published in December 2006.

A cabinet minister was invited to an event a few years ago and on the relevant day a stand-in, representing the minister, stood up and read out what the minister would have said. For some reason, the minister could not attend. This is quite a common occurrence in Tanzania.

Sometimes the reporting of these events sounds rather awkward: "In a speech read on his behalf, the honourable so-and-so said he was angry that some individuals show total indifference to the plight of the handicapped."

Why organizers go to great lengths to invite individuals who regularly cancel at a moment's notice is beyond comprehension.

It could be true that a VIP guest speaker can add considerable prestige to an event. When the VIP keeps his promise the event becomes a memorable experience to those who attend, but when someone else stands up to deliver a speech that was forced on him by circumstances, then the whole event becomes a permanent blotch on the the organizers. An absent VIP is also a disappointment to those who attended solely to see the celebrity deliver the speech herself. Some in the audience would have probably sent a stand-in listener had they found out in advance that the intended guest would not show up.

It is absurd to report that a guest of honour, who is probably 1,000 kilometres away, should be reported to have 'said' anything to an audience he did not address.

Speeches and speech making appear to have a complexity that is not always apparent. Many important people do not write their speeches, although they may spend some time to edit the speeches written for them. And yet those who may have the time may not possess enough knowledge on the relevant topic. These VIPs will make impressive speeches about some highly technical matter, impressing their audiences by information that was actually put together by a speechwriter who knows the subject well but has little public appeal.

Where the intended guest cannot be present, technology could go some way in assuaging his absence. A prerecorded speech could solve the problem of busy public speakers who cannot be at two locations at the same time.

Sometimes, though, technology may solve one problem while creating another. An old man from a remote village in northern Tanzania met a city-based relative a few years after Mwalimu Nyerere died and said, "Some people can create good tales. They say Mwalimu has died while I saw him speaking on television yesterday and he looked quite healthy."

Important people will probably continue sending representatives to speaking engagements for a long time, just as they have done in the past. On 2 January 1973 President Nyerere sent Vice-President Aboud Jumbe to Sudan to deliver a speech on Mwalimu's behalf to a gathering of intellectuals and leaders of the Sudanese Socialist Union. It was reported that Mwalimu had to cancel the visit at the last minute.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Snakes and Chiefs

Some 20 kilometres from Butiama on the road to the Serengeti National Park that passes through Fort Ikoma a traveler comes across the village of Nyamuswa, the seat of the late Chief Mohamed Makongoro Matutu of the Ikizu ethnic group who died in 1958.

I have recently visited Chief Makongoro's homestead on several occasions and have been informed that there is a huge snake at an area with a granite rock outcrop near the homestead. One of the Chief's sons who took me around the area in an attempt to locate the snake said the snake has been around for a long time. He recalls seeing the snake from his childhood days. I estimate the son is close to 60 years old today.

Although our attempts to locate the snake were unsuccessful I am told the snake was allowed to stay in the area by the specific instructions of Chief Makongoro and for that reason those who live there today, mostly members of his family, do not harm the snake. Occasionally, the snake emerges from the tall grass and granite rocks to soak in the warmth of the sun in the mornings. Sometimes, the snake wanders farther and into the residential area where members of the Chief's family live. The snake is so old that witnesses report grass has grown on its head.

At Butiama, in the area where the late Chief Nyerere Burito of the Zanaki ethnic group used to live, residents regularly report seeing another large snake that I have not have had the fortune of sighting. That snake sometimes moves into one of the residents of Mwalimu Nyerere, a house that remains uninhabited for lengthy periods. The snake leaves the house when people move in, but returns when they leave.

The beliefs and treatment of some animals and snakes of the Ikizu and the Zanaki could be similar. The Zanaki do not harm animals, particuarly those living near the homesteads of chiefs. It is believed that those animals are ancestral spirits.
A small Black Mamba on my desk.
In one of the rooms of the house where the huge snake has been sighted I have encountered smaller snakes on the office desk that I use regularly. I also frequently see them casually crossing the floor as I work on my laptop. When I am at the desk, as a precaution, I always raise my feet and rest them on the sides of the tables about six centimetres above the floor.

I suspect the larger snakes lay their eggs inside the house and after these snakes are born they move out of the house. On different occasions I have caught and released three of these small snakes. Since some time has passed without seeing any more snakes, I believe that my presence in this house is causing their departure.

For a while I suspected that the small snakes I had sighted and removed from the room, including the one in the photograph above, were of an extremely poisonous species. I believe my suspicions could be true. A book by Bill Branch called A photographic guide to snakes and other reptiles and amphibians of East Africa indicates that my co-tenants are from the dreaded Black Mamba species. Its name is derived from the fact that the inside of its mouth is pitch black. It lays between 12 - 18 eggs and grows up to 3.2 metres long.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

True stories: back from the dead

My grief stricken friend walked into my office and announced his brother had just collapsed in front of his office building and died. He had been at his second floor office when his attention was drawn to a crowd that had gathered outside the office around a man lying on the ground and he decided to investigate.

When he reached the crowd a Police Land Rover had pulled up and two policemen lifted the body into the car. He told me he was shocked to recognize it was the body of his younger brother. It was in that confused state that he walked to my office, which was close to his, and broke the news.

I asked my driver to accompany him to his house where we agreed he should go to inform his family. I went straight to the scene and found the Land Rover still at the scene with the body covered by a white sheet. I recognized one of the police officers and informed him I knew the deceased. He told me after the necessary reports are filed the body would be taken to the Muhimbili Medical Center's mortuary.

I returned to my office and, soon after, my friend and his cousin showed up. After delivering the tragic news at home they went to the Central Police station to find out the cause of death but were unable to locate any record of the incident. They were informed that the only recorded death was of a man from Kinondoni district who had collapsed in front of an office building. The police even had a name of the deceased, which they found from an ID card that was in his pocket. It was not his brother's name.

I had to answer a barrage of questions from my friend and his cousin including:
Did I see the body?
Was it "J"?
No, I did not see the body because when I arrived at Muhimbili the body was covered and the policemen told me they needed some time to file the death report.

I suggested that to put the matter to rest the three of us should talk to the policeman I talked to. When we found him the police officer was certain that the deceased had been properly identified and it was definitely not "J". My friend was adamant, insisting that he had seen his brother at the scene, although it appeared to me he was not quite convinced.

Finally, the police officer suggested that only a visit to the mortuary will put the matter to rest. That visit, reminded me once again how a lifeless human being instills such fear in living humans.

When the mortuary door was opened, I led my two friends behind the mortuary attendant who urged us to approach the spot where the body of the deceased was laid on the floor of the packed mortuary. I was the braver of the two and, although I noticed some resemblance with my friend's brother, concluded that the body of the man lying on the floor was not "J".

After hesitating at the entrance for some time, my two friends cautiously approached the body and concurred with my observation.

At home, relatives, friends, and neighbours had already gathered after receiving the 'sad' news. Back at the office, our discussion centred on how to break the "good news". I declined the offer made by my two friends of having the honour to break the good news. Instead, I offered my car to them and said I had some work to clear at the office.

I heard "J" walked back home to his 'funeral' after, fortunately, the "good" news of that eventful day had reached both him and those who had gathered to mourn his death.

The newsstand at Mwanza

For a long period I have been buying my newspapers and periodicals from this newsstand on Posta Street, near the corner of Nyerere Road in Mwanza.

I used to travel frequently to Mwanza and would ask the news vendor to set aside some of my favorite newspapers and periodicals to keep up with national and international news and commentary. That was before I was able to access news from Butiama through the Internet.

I travel less frequently to Mwanza now and a few days ago I received a call from the news vendor who had a large collection of newspapers that I had not collected. She originally was in this photograph but I have had to use a photo editing program to 'erase' her out of the picture. The news vendor did not want to be in the news.