Is That a Cold In My Nose, Or Am I Sick Of Africa?

Trip Start Sep 15, 2006
Trip End ??? ??, 2007

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Flag of Tanzania  ,
Saturday, February 3, 2007

Moshi is dominated by the looming peak of Mt Kilimanjaro to the north, on the occasions when the mountain itself chooses to come out from hiding in the clouds.  Our bus was in way too much of a hurry to bother actually going into Moshi and its bus station, and instead regurgitated us on the highway before roaring away in a cloud of lead laden exhaust and dust.

The steady flood of hardy and hardheaded travelers set on conquering Kili means tourism is big business here in Moshi.  It also means more people are in town fighting for each tourist dollar too, and they set upon us even as we trudged into town with our packs on.  "My friend, how are you?" one began.

"I'm tired.  My feet hurt." I growled.

He bravely stuck to script.  "That's good.  When do you climb Kili? Safari? Let me give you a card.  I'm an artist.  When are you coming to see my shop?"

It's a fierce game, we're the ball and here they swing fast and hard.  We locate one of the cheaper hotels in town, though thankfully it's pretty nice inside.

Funny how this trip has completely changed my expectations in almost every situation.  Hotel room? If I have four walls and a bed, it meets my needs.  Towels provided are a luxury, and a pillow is nice, but I can use my dirty clothes bag in a pinch.  If there's a television in the room, well, that's great, but it means I've accidentally wandered into something too luxury and I've got to dive deeper to find my budgetary level.

Other things I'll be shocked to see again... Meat that's actually been refrigerated at some point between slaughter and the plate.  Ice cubes in my drink.  I've seen ice cubes once in the last 4 months, in Italy.  And I think the next time that a waiter actually comes back to the table to make sure everything is all right, I may actually die of shock.

A rainstorm was whipping up outside, and the power was out in most of Moshi, so we ate dinner in our hotel and called Phillip, Mwasi's cousin, who lives here.  Little did we know that he was right down the street and decided to come see us right away.  Phillip was just as welcoming as Mwasi was and immediately invited us to move out of our hotel the next morning and come to stay with his family in the nearby neighborhood of Pasua.  Thrilled to have the opportunity to live with a real Tanzanian family, we agreed right away.

The next day, we took a taxi to Phillip's house and met his wife Fadhila, his 6 year old daughter Amina, and his 14 month old son Mwasi.  Another Mwasi, and this one was much more talkative than our Dar host.  Rounding out the cast were the two household servants, Pili and Nyambaga.

 Mwasi was the family entertainment, constantly crawling everywhere, getting into everything, and yelling about it all in baby Swahili.  He was so much fun! Cierra started the airplane game, and then he was climbing into her lap, insisting they fly again.  Amina was a shy girl, but that lasted only a day, then she was singing songs for us in Swahili and English, playing with my word processor, and learning tic-tac-toe.  Fadhila kept us full to the brim with great home cooking, and in general, the whole family took us in, being more kind to us than you could ever expect.

Ahh... and I got to experience that most dreaded condition, sickness in Africa.  A runny nose and sore throat is annoying in the best of conditions, but at night, when you're lying on your bed and sweating like you're in the sauna it's the worst.  Add to that all the mosquitoes humming away on the outside of your net, trying to get in and give you malaria and it's enough to drive you bonkers.  Thank goodness Cierra has some cold medication, and in a couple of days my condition improved immensely.

Phillip's second gift to us was to organize a walk in the forest nearby Moshi for us the following morning.  Ben, his young cousin was our guide.  We walked through rice fields and got to watch locals planting, sticking the young seedlings into the deep muck of the rice fields.  Then we walked into the forest, eyes straining to catch a glimpse of the monkeys that live here.  No need to strain anything, because a few hours later when we left the forest behind, we'd seen so many monkeys we'd lost count.  Whole families of beautiful black monkeys with bushy white tails lounged in the trees, while a smaller all-black variety jumped about from limb to limb.

Ben did such a good job on the first tour we took that we decided to hire him the next day for a ride over to Marangu and a hike up to the gate of Mt. Kilimanjaro National Park.  Up until that morning, Kili had remained hidden behind a shield of thunderheads, but it finally had revealed itself early Friday.  How spectacular! To see the snow and glacier capped peak while standing in a hot field outside Moshi, there is truly something magical in that.  By the time we load up and ride over to Marangu, it's hidden again, and  won't reveal itself all day.  No matter, because we had a fantastic hike through stream filled mountain valleys, past waterfalls, and finally to the park, where officials allow you to go to the trail-head and see groups about to start their hike, as well as groups coming back down.  We witnessed a group of 27 Iranians starting up.  They were very friendly, joking with each other and with us... they said they left the atomic bomb at home.  Meanwhile, an exhausted group of Britons trudged out of the forest, red noses and hands, and generally looking miserable.  We talked to one woman while the rest lit cigarettes and commiserated with each other.  She said it was interesting, but she'd never do it again.  When are you going, she asked.  When we replied that this was as far as we'd get, she said, "Sensible people."

We've been hiking out daily to meet with a group of local artists who work near the highway.  Cierra found a couple of paintings she liked, and commissioned another matching one so we could have a set of three when we get back.  It took several days for the painting of a zebra to be finished, but when done it was beautiful, the best of the three.

Being muzungus in Africa has brought us as close to celebrity status as either of us will ever be.  Everybody wants to say hello, shake your hand, and get your attention.  It's nice, sweet, and a bit exhausting too.  It seems that around 50% of the people who want to converse with you end up asking you for money or food, but you want to leave yourself open to speaking with everyone to meet all the interesting people who just want to talk. Still, there is a certain tightening in the stomach when you hear "Karibou, my friend! How are you?" The sweeter the opening, the more likely accompanied by an outstretched hand, palm up, which we usually shake anyway.  Celebrity muzungus can be a bit unnerved by a forcefully happy reception too, as when I was met by a mob of shrieking children who all wanted to high-five, shake hands, and hold my hand as we walked down the street.  As I watched their overly enthusiastic charge towards me, part of me wanted to turn and run from them.  Thank goodness their intentions were benign. 

Frequent visits to the Internet cafe have brought news that Mikey is doing somewhat better, eating more and feeling better than he had a few days before.  Hopefully he can continue to improve, but I think Cierra and I are guarded about starting to hope for too much.  We've still got three and a half months on the road, a long time for him to hold out.  But the most important thing is what's ok for him, and right now, he's still happy, so we take it a day at a time. 

Our departure from Moshi keeps getting pushed back because we're having too much fun with Mwasi and Amina.  Saturday is the day when the family goes to church, has a big lunch and generally just hangs out all day.  We're invited and eager to find out what an African Christian service will be like.  Unfortunately, this Saturday Phillip's church chose to congregate at another location, so the family didn't go, and consequently we didn't either.  But we sat around in their home all morning and the kids climbed all over us until we were just about ready for a nap.  Then, lunch, and afterwards, a walk into town to buy bus tickets for tomorrow to our next stop, Lushoto.
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