East Africa and Russia, July-August 2003:|
Updated July 19, 2003
The center of Washington is cordoned off for the Independence Day celebration, so the shuttle service moves my departure time up an hour to accommodate today's circuitous route to the airport. It's just another little bit of time that I don't have to spare this week: between ordering express shipments of supplies and dealing with various domestic tasks, I just barely lock the last suitcase when the shuttle pulls up to my house. The driver helps me get my luggage loaded - I weighed it to make sure that it's barely under the British Airways limit - and we pull away.
The driver takes a winding but surprisingly swift route around the roadblocks. We drive due south, then turn toward the airport - due west - once we're beyond the city limits. It's a great way to avoid the revelers and the associated security checkpoints; too bad every other traveler has thought of the same route. We crawl through heavy traffic until we finally get to the Dulles airport access road, whereupon it becomes apparent that all the other drivers are planning to continue driving to their destinations. Traffic to the airport itself is light, and I'm quickly unloaded and ready to check in.
Will somebody please check me in? Even with the clogged roads, my early departure from home has landed me at the airport before British Airways agents have taken their positions. Another traveler has already arrived, and she's relieved to hear from me that yes, she's in the right place to check in for her flight to London. We're both at the head of our lines, she in economy, me in business class, and we chat until an agent finally show up. The agent motions to me to come forward - business class before economy is the rule - but I motion for the lady in the other line to go first. The agent is bewildered by my action: apparently I'm the first business-class traveler to act this way. A throng of economy passengers rapidly fills the check-in maze, and one of them tries to push ahead of me when the first has completed the process, but I pull rank and step up to the desk.
The agent checks me in efficiently and cheerfully; there's nothing like being one of the first to show up. Regrettably, she must inform me that my flight is delayed. The aircraft was struck by lightning upon takeoff from London, and it was sent back. A second plane was sent, and it too was struck by lightning. The third plane escaped Zeuss' wrath, and it's expected to arrive only about an hour behind schedule. I have plenty of time to have a meal, watch some television, and relax in the British Airways lounge.
At the lounge the attendant fixes me up with a phone line that I can use to access the internet. I check for some important e-mail regarding one of my many last-minute problems: bringing Margaret of BMI to Nairobi. Paul had invited her to join us while we're there, and when she agreed last week I arranged to send her an air ticket directly from the US. But just yesterday the supplier reported that tickets could not be sent from the US to Malawi due to legal reasons, so I've sent e-mail to Margaret asking her to buy her own ticket for which we'll reimburse her. My inbox still contains no reply from Margaret, so I'll have to continue this quest once I get to Africa.
I reply to a message from David B. of New York. He'll be joining us in Dar es Salaam about a week after we arrive, and he'll be heading to western Tanzania with the intention of starting a much-needed mobile clinic there. He's relying on me to make some of his travel arrangements, and I'm happy to help. The process of booking intra-African flights can be daunting to foreigners, but I've gotten the hang of it over the past few years.
Paul shows up, and we take seats near a large fan. The air conditioning isn't working in the lounge, and Washington's summer heat is only barely offset by the cool air that seeps in from the hallway. I update him on my latest work - we haven't seen each other for a few days - and discuss our plans for this trip. I also give him the collection of bound documents I produced last night; they're part of the reason my carry-on luggage is so heavy that I had to purchase a rolling carry-on case, and since he only has his lightweight computer case with him, I figure we should share the load more equitably. While his carry-on load is light, his checked cases are a match for mine in terms of being overstuffed. He's bringing another refrigerator like the one we brought on the last trip, and to conserve space and weight he's taken it out of its box and packed it in a soft-side suitcase. Now he'll spend two entire days fretting about the refrigerator's treatment by baggage handlers.
After a while I sense that it must be nearly time to board, so I ask Paul to keep an eye on my bags while I check with the front desk. I make a stop at the restroom on the way back, and when I return, I find my bags but no Paul. A quick inspection assure me that my passport, tickets, cash, and other vital supplies are still in my luggage where they belong. Paul returns, and we go to the gate. I gently chide him for leaving my valuables unattended (although they were probably quite safe inside the lounge), and he replies that he thought I'd gone to board the plane. Without my luggage? He assures me that he is not on Lariam.
The flight proceeds to London proceeds uneventfully. Paul and I both get seafood meals, and while the quality is good overall, Paul observes that the main dish of haddock is "a bit dry", and I bemoan the bland taste of the smoked salmon. Paul suggests that the smoked salmon is really smoked trout, and suddenly I feel better thinking that I have good trout rather than mediocre salmon.
I'm quite tired from getting little sleep as I made last-minute preparations over the past few days, yet as usual I cannot get any sleep on the plane. Paul sleeps well.
We're among the first passengers to disembark upon landing in London. The plane is parked quite a distance from the terminal, so we have a long bus ride to the Arrivals door, and then we have a long walk to the Immigration counter. There we encounter a long line - a really long line. We desperate look for any signs of life at the Fast Track counter, a special line just for business and first class passengers, but it's closed. Knowing that the bulk of our plane's passengers are behind us is no comfort as we wind through the maze toward the immigration officers. They do their job efficiently, but the line is so long that it's more than a half hour before we're finally processed. As usual, I get a stamp in my passport and move through, but Paul is asked a question: what kind of work do you do. Paul can never answer this question succinctly (just tell them you're an economist!), so I wait a few minutes for the immigration officer to listen, nod, make a note in his log - "never question this passenger again" - and let him through.
We walk through the long tunnel to the Hilton and check in. Having slept on the plane, Paul expects to do some walking and perhaps get some work done; I as always intend to sleep. I tell him I'll see him at 5:00pm in the lobby, and we go to out separate rooms. I'm soon asleep.
Paul and I have worked up an appetite, but we decide to get something at one of the airport restaurants rather than in the hotel. The Hilton's main restaurant serves excellent food but at ridiculously high prices made even more daunting by the dollar's current weakness against the pound. We go through the security checkpoint (now that there are only ten people in line, the Fast Track is open), and examine the departures list for our gate number. No gate has yet been assigned, so we don't know which end of the airport we'll be departing from, so we flip a coin and decide to eat at Café Uno next to gate 1.
I remind Paul to take his Malarone. He responds that he already has, "a white one." I counter that Malarone tablets are not white. They are puce, a dull reddish-gray-brown mixture that appears most often on the interior walls of the World Bank's headquarters in Washington or in the fruiting bodies of certain tropical fungi.
"No," Paul insists, "this one was white."
"You didn't take a Lariam by mistake, did you?"
"It came out of a standard prescription bottle labeled 'Malarone,' and the pill was white. That's what I took."
I am puzzled. I know only a little about prescription medicines, but I'm aware that the colors of the tablets are strictly controlled. But I have to trust that his pharmacist gave him the right compound, so I drop the subject.
After a light meal, we exit the café and check the departures list again. Sure enough, our flight departs from gate 20, located at the far end of the new section at the opposite end of the airport. We still have a half hour before boarding begins, so we can walk, not run, to our gate. Paul tries to walk to some other gate, but I corral him as he walks past the turn toward the new section and steer him toward gate 20. Just as we arrive, an agent announces that our flight is ready to board now. Everyone else in the area stands and starts toward the gate, but we're already standing in the perfect spot. The agent takes our tickets, and we head down yet another tunnel toward the plane.
Alongside us in the tunnel are a few English schoolboys going to Dar es Salaam for the first time. We're all stopped as we get within a few yards of the airplane - the crew isn't quite ready for us to board - and as we wait the boys ask the agent a few questions about their destination. He's not particularly familiar with Dar, so I volunteer to fill in the details. I warn them of vast sky-darkening swarms of mosquitos, hellish temperatures that melt the skin from your bones, and other curiosities of the region. When the door finally opens they're a bit hesitant to move forward, but since I fill the tunnel behind them, they have no choice but to board.
The plane is an older model, quite modern but without the fully-reclining seats that British Airways introduced in business class a couple of years ago. Paul is disappointed to see this because he sleeps so well in the recliners, and I'm disappointed because this plane also lacks the computer power ports on which I rely to run my ThinkPad in flight. On the way from Washington to London I'd been too tired to do any work, but after my rest at the Hilton I'm eager to complete something important: my new online contest. [LINK NOT YET AVAILABLE] It's something I've been planning in my head for some time, and I prepared all the graphics a long time ago as soon as I thought of this contest, so during the first two hours of the flight I manage to complete the first draft of the rules on battery power alone. The battery is nearly completely drained when I put my ThinkPad away.
One of the flight attendants gives me a survey to complete for British Airways. I'm always happy to give my opinion; I put the form aside to be filled in toward the end of the flight. Over the next six hours I generate opinions both good and bad: a poor selection of movies, and excellent meal of poached salmon, "Hula Hoops" dried-potato rings instead of real potato chips at the snack bar, the ever courteous an efficient in-flight staff. Toward the end of the flight I fill in the form and return it to the attendant.
We land in Dar es Salaam and go through immigration. I collect my voluminous luggage, strap it together into one rolling mass to the amazement of the porters who had hoped to collect a hefty tip for hauling it for me, and work my way through the assortment of bags and passengers to the customs counter. There a uniformed woman asks about the contents of my bags and my travels in detail, and I dutifully supply all the requested information. When she's finally satisfied that it will be better for all concerned to let me pass rather than inspect my enormous load, she waves me through, pausing only to point at Paul and ask, "is he with you?" When I reply that he is, she waves him though as well with no further questions.
Paul changes some money, and then we go outside to scan the crowd of taxi and shuttle drivers for the one sent by the New Africa Hotel. We see none, but I arranged and confirmed our ground transportation by e-mail, so I'm reluctant to assume that he isn't here until I make a thorough inspection. I do; he isn't.
I grumble about the lack of a shuttle - free transportation from the airport was part of the deal that attacted us to the New Africa - but our only options are to call the hotel and wait for the shuttle to arrive or simply take one of the local taxis. We opt for the quicker solution and walk to the throng of waiting drivers; when they see that we're heading in their direction, they eagerly meet us more than halfway. All we have to do, however, to whittle their numbers down to one is to point to our vast luggage collection and say, "we need a taxi that can carry THIS." A man with a van volunteers; we load his vehicle to the groaning point and head downtown.
At the New Africa, Paul and I go to the reception desk while the porters deal with our luggage. The desk clerk has no record of our reservation; could I kindly supply the confirmation number? Why, of course I can: all I need to do is start up my ThinkPad and show her the relevant e-mail - if I have enough battery power left.
I boot the ThinkPad. As soon as the start screen appears, so does a warning: 7% power left! At least 1% is lost in the long Windows 2000 boot process. The manager comes over to observe the proceedings. Once the machine is fully booted, it only takes me a second to find the confirmation; I turn the machine so the clerk can see the confirmation number, room type, and rate. She furrows her brow and asks, "who confirmed such a low rate?"
I press a key to display the previous message: it confirms the rate, and it's signed by the manager standing behind her. He discreetly indicates that she should assign us rooms as described on the screen, and in a few minutes we have our keys. Paul has gotten little sleep on the overnight flight, and I've had none. Paul says he'll take a little nap. I'll take a big one, thank you. I spend much of the day in bed.
In the evening I give Paul a call. He's been working on documents that I'll have to deal with later, but at the moment we're both hungry for Thai food. We take the elevator up to the top floor where we're greeted by the staff who remember us instantly. They take our drink orders: iced tea for me, Serengeti beer for Paul. Alas, they have no Serengeti, so Paul makes do with Safari. When the waiter asks if there's anything else he can do for us, I inquire whether he knows the score of the Japan-Mexico women's soccer match. He doesn't, but he'll ask. And ask, and ask, and ask. After trying every other waiter, busboy, hostess, chef, and probably a few patrons, he dejectedly returns and reports that he cannot tell me the score. I thank him for his considerable effort anyway, and we order our food.
Over dinner Paul and I discuss movies. I've brought several specifically for his entertainment and education, and he's intrigued by my selections. My aims are simple: I allude to movies so often when I discuss almost anything, and Paul has seen few of the movies that I have, so he often doesn't understand my comments. I could, of course, just speak plainly, but too much of that gets you a one-way ticket to Devanna. Paul tends to wake up in the wee hours of the morning during our travels and can't get back to sleep, so it's the perfect time for him to sit back and enjoy a show, so I decided to use this time to expand his cinematic vocabulary to overlap mine, a project I began on our last trip with a few offbeat films. But since that trip I've come to realize that I should start him at "ground level" before dragging him down to the twisted lower cinematic depths that I frequent. Thus his first feature is The Music Man, a film about the good people of Iowa, and once he's seen that, I'll give him Joe's Apartment, a film about a good person who leaves Iowa for New York City. Thus begins the descent.
Paul is tired and woozy and ready for bed even before dinner is over (he's guaranteed to be wide awake five hours from now), but we manage to revisit a recent topic: the mystery pill he took at the beginning of the trip. He is taking Malarone daily, but he reports that his pills are now the same puce color as mine. When I inquire if he thought it odd that there was one white pill in a bottle of colored pills, he counters, "oh, no, the white pill was in another bottle all by itself, but it was a bottle labeled 'Malarone.'" We both conclude that the white pill must have been Lariam transferred to an empty Malarone bottle for some unknown reason. Oh great, now he's jet-lagged and high on Lariam, Malarone, beer, and Thai chilies. At the end of the meal, we go back to our rooms. I give him the DVD of The Music Man - about the only movie in my collection he can handle in his current state - and tell him I'll see him in the morning.
Over breakfast Paul gives me his reaction to the movie. He enjoyed it greatly, as I expected, but he's puzzled about one thing: how did such a wholesome, good-natured, normal movie find its way into my collection? I explain that everyone needs a few general-audience movies in his collection, and Robert Preston's celebrated performance as the title character is one of my favorites. The movie also works well in a double feature with the next one I've chosen for him, Joe's Apartment, and I assure Paul that he'll have no difficult understanding how that one fits into my collection.
I visit the hotel's business center and check e-mail. The Nairobi Safari Club has not yet responded to my reservation request, so I send a message to our colleagues at ACEG asking if they'll phone to make sure the request was received. There's also still no reply from Margaret in Malawi. I copy some new messages from other colleagues onto a diskette for Paul, and before my session ends I receive a reply from ACEG: the Safari Club has indeed received my message and reserved the rooms, but they are having computer problems and can't reply. I send a thank-you to ACEG and log off.
When I give the diskette to Paul, he tries to read it but can't; his computer reports that it is "not formatted." My computer, however, reads it just fine. I examine the diskette in detail and find that it is formatted as RAW, not FAT. The technical details of the difference aren't important; the lesson to be learned from this is to NEVER buy Fuji brand preformatted diskettes. After I copy Paul's files onto a proper diskette, I spend an hour of my time in Africa reformatting and entire box of Fujis.
Paul tries to phone Margaret and several other colleagues in Malawi, but to no avail. Francis of SWF and Peter the electrical engineer visit. They update us on recent events, and Peter advises us that most of the radio batteries in Ahakishaka have died. They've been in constant use for over a year, so it's reasonable that they need replacing, but I wish someone had told me this before we left the US: the specialized Motorola batteries cost twice as much here as they do back home. Since Inno hasn't left Washington yet, I propose that we contact him by e-mail and ask him to bring some batteries.
Late in the afternoon, Paul finally succeeds in contacting Margaret. She's been at a conference in South Africa and hasn't been checking her e-mail. What's more, she now has another commitment that she can't break which will prevent her form traveling to Nairobi while we're there. Paul wants to attend to some important tasks that simply can't be completed by phone or e-mail, so they discuss the possibility of her coming to Dar es Salaam, but that trip proves impractical as well.
After another Thai dinner, I give Paul the DVD of Joe's Apartment and then settle in to try out the in-room internet connection. It costs 200 shillings per minute, so I compose a message to Inno about the batteries in my POP mail window so that I only need to be online for a minute or less to transmit it. When I connect, however, I find that the hotel's network blocks POP mail connections; the only possible explanation is that they want guests to use slower webmail and thus use more minutes. I send webmail pretty fast, so I only need a couple of minutes to send the message and check my stocks before I turn in for the night.
Paul reports that he enjoyed Joe's Apartment, and he understands the twisted logic that scheduled it immediately after The Music Man in the film festival I've programmed especially for him. He's eager to see what comes next.
Today I must book all the flights for our party of six's trip to western Tanzania. There's not much time for me to do this since we're leaving on the afternoon flight to Nairobi, but I'm confident that the travel agency in the Holiday Inn can handle the arrangements efficiently. I walk over and am greeted by the hotel staff; those who ask are dismayed to find that I'm staying at the New Africa. In the travel agency I take a seat and explain what I need. Because our travelers have varying return dates, I've written everything down, and the agent quickly verifies available space and reserves seats. I'm in such a hurry that I can't wait for the airline to confirm the price, so I let the agent take an impression of my credit card and tell her I'll be back on Saturday for the tickets. I'm in and out of the agency in less than 15 minutes.
Once back at the New Africa, I finish packing and call a porter to get my luggage. Ordinarily I take my own luggage, but this time I've unpacked this suits that I brought to wear in Russia and hung them in garment bags, and I've separated the electronic equipment that isn't accompanying me to Nairobi into a case that's separate from the other clothes I'm leaving in Dar. The collection nearly fills the luggage cart, and I have a full deck of claim checks when it's all put in storage. Paul joins me at the reception desk just as I'm finishing the check-out process (which took about twice as long as I needed to buy six airline tickets); he checks his one unneeded bag, and we pile into a taxi and head off to the airport.
The Kenya Airways agents haven't yet taken their positions when we arrive, so we take a seat and fill out our departure cards. By the time we're finished, an agent has arrived, and we're among the first to check in. We soon have our passports stamped and sit in the international waiting area near the duty-free shops. A little later we board, and the flight takes off on time and lands in Nairobi without a hitch.
The Safari Club driver meets us and quickly gets us to the hotel. After we check in, I inquire about a pair of pajamas I left in my room during our last trip. Sure enough, it's in their lost and found (along with quite a collection of other abandoned goods). I open the plastic bag in which it's stored and find that it reeks of mothballs; I hang it in the closet to let it air out and then go to the business center.
Inno has replied to last night's message: he'll buy the batteries and bring them to Dar. All other replies I'm expecting to important mail have also arrived, including a confirmation from the Safari Club. I join Paul in his room and we work on some new documents until dinnertime, when we decide to give the hotel's main restaurant a try. The food has always been unappealing during previous visits, but I like to give the chef another chance from time to time. Tonight he's prepared a wild game buffet; I order it while Paul chooses some items from the standard menu. Of the animals available, I try the warthog and water buffalo, and I give Paul a little sample of each. Neither of us is impressed, and we agree to eat elsewhere during the remainder of our stay in Nairobi.
After dinner I give Paul the third DVD I've selected for him: Beavis and Butthead Do America. Paul raises an eyebrow at this title, but he takes it anyway.
We have a meeting this morning at Christine's apartment. She's one of the local women with whom Paul is working to form the Women's Community Enterprise Centre (WCEC), which will be our managing partner for all Kenya ventures. We have her address written down and give it to the taxi driver, and he swiftly gets us to the apartment complex. Getting to the apartment itself, however, gets a bit tricky: the road down to the block we seek is Nairobi's answer to San Francisco's legendary Lombard Street, generally acknowledged to be the most crooked in the world. The steep drive down into the center of the complex is no less crooked than Lombard, but since it isn't a named street and is significantly shorter, it's no threat to Lombard's title. Still, it's a challenge for the driver. When we finally creep all the way to the bottom, Caroline is outside waving at us.
Inside the apartment we meet Dora, Jerita, and Christina; they and Christine share various experiences in socioeconomic development and discuss the potential for WCEC with Paul over tea and cheddar Goldfish crackers. The crackers are a big hit, especially since one of the first ventures that's like to come out of WCEC involves the production and marketing of cheese. Paul gives out some souvenir pens, and as is so often the case, he feels the need to explain them. He pulls his own pen out of his pocket and says, "you see, the pen has our company name, logo, and website on it," as he turns the pen in his hand looking for the printing. Puzzled, he hands the pen to me and asks, "I can't see it, David; help me find the website address on this."
I give the pen a once-over and hand it back to him. "It's not one of our souvenir pens." Paul is bewildered and relieved, and he uses a real WILMA pen to show everyone where the web adress is printed.
The meeting continues for a couple of hours, and opinions seem to be positive all around, at which point I speak up: "by the way, I'm the computer guy. If WCEC ever needs any IT support, I'm the one to call." They all laugh, and Dora thanks me for the explanation; she's been wondering all morning why I've been sitting here without saying anything.
Christine calls a taxi to take us back to the Safari Club. She has to try several companies before finding one whose phone isn't busy, and when she makes a connection she has some trouble communicating with the person on the other end. After repeating her address several times, she feels fairly confident that the driver will know where to go. We all sit and wait. Eventually the sound of a commotion near the gate of the complex gets Christine's attention. When she returns, she reports that it had nothing to do with our taxi, which has finally arrived: workers at a nearby construction site are breaking for lunch, and their mass march across the street is snarling traffic. Our driver, on the other hand, was delayed by poor communications: according to him, the dispatcher distinctly said "5B" (the correct address is 5E). Once he finds us, he gets us back to the hotel quickly.
Gracie, also a part of WCEC, visits in the afternoon. I had planned to join her and Paul, but when she arrives I'm in the middle of a slow internet session. I tell her I'll join them as soon as I can, but by the time Paul comes by to check on me I have a different prognosis: I'll be at the computer for a long, long time. Among the messages I manage to extract from cyberspace is one from Inno. He wasn't able to get the batteries, so it looks like we'll have to buy them when we get back to Dar es Salaam. I send a reply thanking him for trying and telling him to bring a bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon.
After I log off I go looking for Paul. Gracie has already left, and he reports that the meeting went well. Later we go to the Grand Regency for dinner. There the restaurant staff has changed and is a bit taken aback by my request for iced tea. I give them explicit instructions - just tea, no fruit - but they bring me a glass of tea with several lemon wedges in it. I'd rather not have the lemon, but it's good anyway, and after I drain it I ask for another, this time emphasizing that I want only tea and ice in the glass.
"Ah," exclaims the enlightened waitress, "no fruit and no lemon!" She has the bartender make one exactly the way I like it, and for me it's dessert. Paul gets a "real" dessert, and we discuss the series of movies I've been showing him. He enjoys both the selections and the logic behind the sequence, and he's ready for more, but I only brought three Armington Film Festival selections with me. I have a few other DVDs, but none of them are any more relevant to enlarging his cinematic knowledge than any other movie. He decides to try one of my volumes of Russian animation; since he's going to Russia soon, it should give him a little language practice (with English subtitles). The DVDs are only about an hour each, so when we get back to our hotel I give him two volumes.
Paul wakes up early again but works instead of watching Russian cartoons, and he comes up with a clever idea that he shares over breakfast: why not ask David B. to bring the batteries we need? He still has a few days before he leaves the US, so if he orders them over the internet and has them delivered to his house by overnight express, he should get them in time to put them in his suitcase. I agree that this is an excellent solution. I go to the business center and search for an online store that has the batteries in stock. The slow connection makes this task last nearly an hour, so while I'm working Paul gets to watch one of the Russian DVDs Most of the sites I find offer one-week delivery - you order from them, they order from Motorola, and then they send the batteries to you - but I finally find one site that claims to have the batteries in stock. I send David B. a link to the product page with a request that he bring five with him.
We take a taxi in the afternoon to the new ACEG offices. I give the driver explicit instructions, but when we get near the building he suddenly pulls into another building's parking lot.
"No," I admonish, pointing farther down the road, "down there."
"There?" asks the driver, pointing at the building in front of which we're now parked.
"No, there," I point insistently.
"There?" he asks, continuing to point at the nearby incorrect building.
"No, there," I point ever more vigorously.
"Oh, there!" exclaims the driver. He pulls back onto the road and drives directly to the ACEG building, and then a little bit past.
"No, here," I instruct, pointing at the building that's just a bit behind us.
"Here?" asks the driver, pointing at an arbitrary dot on the horizon.
"No, here," I maintain, pointing unmistakably at the building with the big ACEG sign. You can't miss it.
"Here?" asks the driver, pointing at the nearby Holiday Inn.
"No, here," I reply, pointing with both hands.
"Oh, here!" exclaims the driver. He back up a few feet and takes us into the ACEG parking lot. He offers to wait. Catching a taxi at any downtown point other than a major hotel is risky business in Nairobi, so we ask him to wait. Here. No, not there, here. Paul tells him we'll be back in 30 minutes.
The new ACEG offices are bigger and airier than the old ones. Instead of space in a large commercial building, they now have an entire building to themselves. It was until recently a residence, and a palatial one by Nairobi standards. Every room features extensive fine woodwork, and the grand stairway to the second floor would look at home in the Hamptons. Our longtime friend Nyokabi greets us, and she takes us up to see the new director Professor Masai. The professor has a few problems with his ThinkPad, so while he and Paul discuss business, I sit down at his desk and check out the machine, which I brought to him on a previous trip.
It doesn't take me long to find something strange: I brought him a Windows 98 machine, but this one is running Windows 2000. He verifies that he had it upgraded, and while it wasn't working to his satisfaction under the original operating system, it's pretty much useless now.
I keep all of my clients on Windows 98 for several reasons, one of which is that I carry Windows 98 diagnostic and repair tools, not Windows 2000. Some of my tools work on both systems, so I continue my examination in the hopes that I can fix the problem. And the problem, as best I can tell, is the upgrade itself: all systems settings are set to the Microsoft defaults, and that's no way to run a computer. The professor's chief complaint is that the screen goes blank after a couple of minutes' work. Once I check the settings, I'm not surprised that this is happening: his screen is set to go blank after two minutes of inactivity, and since the professor's work is more thinking than typing, the screen is sure to go blank during every session. I change this setting and make a few other adjustments, but I advise him that some of the new software on his machine was not installed properly. Not only will it not run, but it prevents me from using what few Windows 2000 tools I have, so he'll have to take it back to the technician for an upgrade upgrade.
Paul and the professor continue their discussion. The new director sees more opportunities for partnership between ACEG and WILMA than his predecessor, whose main interest was research. With an interested partner, Paul is ready to explore all sorts of possibilities in detail, but I remind him that he told the driver 90 minutes ago that we'd be out in 30 minutes. He realizes that there will be plenty of opportunities to explore the infinite possibilities of ACEG and WILMA by e-mail, so we say our goodbyes and go down to the taxi. There we find the driver still waiting, and when he gets us back to the Safari Club he charges us a whopping $10 for the ride. I want Paul to put his money there, not here, but he pays and chalks it up to experience.
Jane, one of the hotel managers, has been wanting to talk with us since we arrived. Now seems like a good time, so we rendezvous in the hotel lounge. Although she words it a bit more delicately, her question is basically "what are you doing here?" This gives Paul a chance to explain the new WilmaFund strategy at length in which he revels until I persuade him that Jane doesn't need to know the method he's devised to account for multi-year borrowings by individual ventures. She is interested in hearing our critique of the hotel, and while we always give the rooms high marks, we note that the food isn't as good as the Grand Regency's. In particular, their freshly-baked rolls are a real treat. Jane makes a note of this and promises to investigate ways to improve her own restaurant's baked goods.
At this point Paul is rather tired, so he goes to take a nap while I return to the business center. David B. has already replied to my request: yes, he'll be happy to bring the batteries, and he's already ordered them online with overnight delivery. I'm ready to leave, but I make a check of the computer's memory and find that my password has been retained. I close all browser windows, but this does not erase my password from memory. If I wanted to spend more time working on the problem, I could probably find an elegant way to clear the relevant bytes, but I'm paying by the minute for this machine, so I opt for the quick and brutal method.
"I'm sorry," I say to the attendant, "but I'll have to erase some files from your computer," and press the ENTER key to execute a drastic cleanup procedure before she can respond. I assure her that her computer will still work, but it won't remember any websites it has visited. Ever.
She simply smiles and writes up my receipt.
In the evening we return to the Grand Regency for dinner, but we're turned away at the entrance to the main restaurant. It's dedicated to a private function tonight, but the hostess escorts us to the Indian restaurant one flight down and assures us that we'll enjoy it. Paul is delighted at the prospect of a good Indian meal: he rarely gets them during our travels since I don't care much for Indian food and usually steer him in other directions. But tonight this particular restaurant has a lavish non-Indian buffet laid out specifically for people who were turned away upstairs. The buffet looks quite good, so I choose it while Paul selects some items from the menu. We both get the kind of food we like, and when I mention that the selection of rolls on the table isn't as varied as I'd like, the waiter brings me a big basket of my favorites. For that, I would have eaten Indian food.
Joe joins us for breakfast. Actually, Joe arrives earlier than expected and rousts Paul to join him for breakfast. He's just been appointed chancellor of the University of Nairobi, and he and Paul have much to talk about. He's also the longtime director of a large flower company that exports to Europe, although he's recently turned over the operation to his daughter. I ask him about an advertisement I saw in my hotel room - fresh flowers delivered directly to your plane and refrigerated for arrival in perfect condition at your destination - and want to know if his company offers a similar service. He responds that of course it does, but for me it only has the kind of flowers that one doesn't have to pay for. Furthermore, he's ready to schedule the shipment right now and asks for my flight information, but I tell him that I'm not ready to take advantage of his generous offer. One day, however, when I'm flying from Nairobi on British Airways, I'll give him a call.
As soon as Joe leaves, Paul tells me in his most somber voice, "you're not going to like this." If he's going to be right about something, why oh why does it have to be this? He's made extensive revisions to his documents regarding WCEC; he wants me to correct a myriad of formatting errors, print them, get copies made, and put them and some other files on a CD before his next meeting. I check the time: I've got about 45 minutes. No problem.
I get the job done with just about one minute to spare. Paul grabs the results and gets into a taxi as I remind him to return on time for our afternoon flight to Dar es Salaam. I pack and enjoy a bit of downtime before I go downstairs to begin the slow checkout process, which is still in progress when I see Paul return from his meeting and hurry upstairs to get his bags. He returns with them and finds me ready to depart, so we catch a taxi to the airport.
We check in for our flight and find ourselves with over an hour before boarding time. This is the opportunity Paul's been waiting for to buy some bourbon, but I tell him that I already asked Inno to bring some. Paul ponders the situation: are two bottles of bourbon not better than one? He proposes that we bring a second bottle, and since Inno is bringing Wild Turkey, Paul selects a bottle of Jim Beam. We agree to pretend we're angry if Inno can't bring his bottle, and if he does bring one, we'll just thank him for his effort and tell him to enjoy it.
Paul and I split up, and I wander down to a new coffee shop that's being advertised on all the airport billboards. It's an attractive place, much better than than the cramped and dingy cafes it replaced, and it offers hot and cold drinks, tempting snacks, and - milkshakes! I rarely see milkshakes sold in Africa, so I order one and take a seat while the counter clerk prepares it. She takes an ordinary milkshake mixing steel cup and puts in a scoop of vanilla, then two, three, four… how much ice cream does that thing hold? I lose count by the time she stops, but the cup is completely filled with scoops of ice cream with a few more stacked on top. She adds some syrup and a little milk, crams the cup into the blender, pushes the button, and hopes for the best.
Sharpened blades vs. at least a quart of Kenyan vanilla ice cream: which will surrender first? An ominous noise from the blender suggests that something is amiss. When the clerk notices that nothing is moving, she tries jiggling the cup slightly, always a good first hardware diagnostic step. She tries turning the cup by hand, but it's too cold to hold, so she wraps some napkins around it and rotates it until the blades get the idea and begin rotating on their own. Then, of course, she has to hold the cup firmly lest it spin out of control. The ice cream at the top of the cup disappears into its depths, and after about 15 minutes the clerk can finally serve me the milkshake. All 12 ounces of it. 12 ounces? Apparently the ice cream was mostly air, but the result still tastes good.
The flight to Dar es Salaam goes smoothly, but the arrivals area gives us a bumpy ride. A throng of European tourists (I can't tell what language they're speaking) is camped out in front of the immigration counters. No, they're not lined up, and they're not trying to go through immigration: they've simply dumped their luggage and themselves in the immigration area where some are standing, some are sitting, some are sprawling, and all of them are chattering. Is this a protest? An emergency drill? The Survivor show? Whatever it is, the guards are having none of it and chase the lollygaggers to another area. When the way is clear, a few immigration booths open, and Paul takes a place behind me in one of the lines.
It always seems that we get the slowest line no matter where we are, but this time I know for sure that ours was the slowest by far. I'm the second in line when it forms, and at least six people are processed in each of the other lines by the time I'm called forward. I figure that the person ahead of me had some sticky immigration matter to clear up, but the officer takes an extraordinarily long time to look at my passport. I think this must be her meditation time, and she's not about to let something as trivial as work interfere with her achieving total consciousness. Actually, I'll settle for any level of consciousness - at one point I suspect she's asleep - but she finally stamps my passport and hands it to me without a word.
I proceed to the baggage area as Paul steps up to have his passport stamped. Our bags are already on the belt, and I pull them off and inspect them. Paul's is fine, but mine has taken a severe beating. The hard outer shell is badly cracked, and the titanium frame is bent. It's hard to imagine what kind of impact caused this damage. I'll have to replace this case at the end of this trip, but until then I'll just patch it with duct tape (if I can find any). Porters swarm around me eager to haul the bags for a small fee, but I chase them away and wait for Paul to… hey, where is Paul, anyway?
Paul is waiting for the officer to stamp his passport. She has lost track of the page that contains his Tanzanian visa and is now reading it in its entirety, taking extra time to translate the Russian visa into Swahili and count the state seals that form the background of every page. Paul is visibly annoyed - he knows better than to be audibly annoyed with someone who can deny him entry into the country - and he gives me a grimace and a "what is WITH this person?" gesture through the glass that separates us. After nearly a half hour, the officer finally lets him through.
We go through customs. The same woman who cleared me only a few days ago greets me with, "is this your first visit to Tanzania?"
"Why, I came through your station here only last week," I reply with mock disappointment, "don't you remember me?"
The officer is startled by my reply and immediately expresses her regret at this "offense." She's ready to wave me through without any further questions, but I take the opportunity to give her my business card and a brief explanation of WILMA's efforts here, somewhat to the consternation of Paul, who feels that we've spent quite enough time at the airport already. Only when I get her promise to visit our website do I thank the officer and join Paul outside.
Since I gave the New Africa Hotel detailed information in writing about our arrival time, I'm disappointed not to see their driver waiting for us. A quick walk up and down the line of family, friends, and drivers waiting for other passengers yields no results. I begin to snarl in Paul's general direction about the service and about how on the next trip I'm going to stay at the - oh, hello, there you are! The driver from the New Africa runs up behind me and interrupts that thought. We get into the van and head for the hotel.
Hello, Peter. Peter from TAYOA is waiting for us at the hotel. I've brought a ThinkPad for him, but I haven't finished loading all the software, so I ask him to come back tomorrow to pick it up. He agrees, and after we talk for just a few minutes about our various recent adventures, he leaves. Paul and I check in and go in search of Inno, who arrived earlier in the afternoon.
I walk down to Inno's room. My suspicions are aroused when I find the door ajar. I give a loud hello, but there's no answer. I step inside and find all his belongings neatly laid out, but no sign of Inno himself. The bathroom door is slightly ajar. I give another hello, but there's no reply. Did he drown in the bathtub? I push the door open slowly… Inno? Are you in there?
The bathroom is empty. I leave the room, locking the door behind me, and go back to Paul, who's waiting for me in the hall near the elevator. I report what I found. Paul finds the situation as odd as I do, but we don't suspect anything serious is amiss. We're still in the hallway when - Hello, Inno. Inno comes out of the elevator, and with him is Nora. Hello, Nora. Now we understand why Inno left his room in such a hurry that he forgot to close his door. We make a little polite conversation with Nora, but there's an important issue that won't wait: I grab Inno by the shoulders, look him straight in the eye, and ask, "did you bring the Wild Turkey?"
Inno's gaze drops, and he sheepishly informs us that he forgot to buy the Wild Turkey while he was in Washington. He tried to get some at the duty-free shop at Heathrow, but it doesn't carry that brand. The best he could do was Jim Beam.
"Jim Beam?!?!" I retort. "You brought Jim Beam? We promised the regional commissioner Wild Turkey!" Paul joins me in my mock anguish, and we both bemoan the inevitable, impending embarrassment awaiting WILMA. But Inno gets the joke rather quickly, and he perks up considerably when we tell him to keep the bottle that he brought for himself and his friends. Paul still has a bit of needling left for him, though: Inno's bottle has a frilly protective wrap around it, and Paul grimly declares that he bought a "female" bottle, not something that we could present to any local dignitary. Fortunately, Paul had the foresight to buy a "male" bottle in Nairobi, so we'll have a proper gift to take to Ahakishaka.
I go to my room and unpack. As usual, I'm carrying two computers, and I put one on my desk and put another in a drawer. The power supply for the one in the drawer spills out of the case onto the sofa, and I'm about ot pick it up when there's a knock at my door. I open it to find Inno with a concerned look on his face.
"David," he says, "I know this is probably impossible, but I'm hoping that maybe you can help me with something. I brought my computer, but I forgot to pack my power supply, and there's no way I can find one locally. Is there anything you can do?"
"Sure, Inno, use this." I pick up the item on the sofa and hand it to him. Inno thanks me and leaves looking VERY relieved.
"We get a little work done and take some downtime in the afternoon, then rendezvous for dinner at the Thai restaurant. It's buffet night, and Inno maximizes our yield with second, third, fourth, and fifth helpings. Paul expresses an interest in hearing some of the music I've brought, so I give him a CD by the Budapest Ragtime Band before we all turn in for the night.
We catch up on various work and travel matters over breakfast. Inno orders a pot of tea, and when he reaches for his spoon, he finds not an ordinary teaspoon but an exceptionally large soupspoon. He holds up the spoon and looks at me with alarm. "They expect me to stir my tea with this?" he exclaims in a low but irate voice. He looks around the table, sees that Paul and I have been supplied with proper teaspoons, and grows angrier. Slamming his fist down on the table, he snarls through clenched teeth, "they give mzungus teaspoons but give me this big thing? Do they think I'm some kind of savage?!?!" He's about to stand up and make a scene, but Paul and I restrain him and show him that his own teaspoon awaits him just out of his view: it's behind his teacup. His mood improves, and he settles down to a nice cup of tea.
Paul and Inno have much work to do, and Paul gives me an unusual assignment. He tells me that he committed a minor Faux Paul yesterday in Nairobi. When the time came to sign an official document for WCEC, Paul pulled out his elegant WILMA ballpoint pen, and all the others in the room stepped back. In Nairobi, one signs an official document with a fountain pen. Fortunately, someone had one, and the signing proceeded without further incident, but Paul asks me to buy a fountain pen to avoid future embarrassments (at least of this kind).
I walk to the Holiday Inn and pick up the tickets for our trip to western Tanzania. On the way back I check several likely-looking stores for fountain pens but find none. The owner of one store recommends a pen store not far from the hotel, but it's closed on weekends, so I'll have to check there on Monday. I also try to find some duct tape to repair my smashed suitcase, but again my search is fruitless. I walk all over downtown Dar es Salaam looking for it, and one vendor of mobile phones gets the idea that I must be looking for what he's selling. He follows me down the street, ceaselessly promoting his wares, and when words fail to get my attention he grabs my arm in an attempt to slow me down. I weigh at least twice as much as this fellow, so he doesn't even make me break stride as I break his hold, but when he grabs me a second time I wheel around and give him my best dark-glasses-enhanced "don't mess with me" look at nose-to-nose range. He turns and runs, and some onlookers give me a brief round of applause. One even shouts, "you should have punched him in the nose!"
Back at the New Africa, I report on my progress to Paul, who then begins working with Inno to prepare for a meeting with some local colleagues. I return to my room and finish preparing Peter's computer, and Peter shows up when I'm nearly finished. I ask him to take a seat, hand him the carrying case, and invite him to look inside. Ever distracted, he takes interest in almost everything else in the room and pesters me with questions about the US, computers, movies, travel, and - Peter, look in the case!
Peter looks in the case and is delighted to find a collection of computer games: Amber: Journeys Beyond, Tropico, Grim Fandango, Curse of Monkey Island, and Grim Fandango. I'm donating them to TAYOA to use as the beginning of an entertainment lending library for its members. Peter is briefly absorbed in reading the details on the box covers, and this gives me a chance to finish the software configuration and hand him his new computer. The first thing he does, of course, is start a session of Tropico, a game that everyone - even Paul, who has little interest in computer games - seems to enjoy, and Paul is amused to walk in on us and find Peter, in the role of El Presidente, directing the fortunes of the citizens of Tropico.
After Peter leaves, Paul and Inno begin their meeting, and I get to do some technical work and writing. The meeting lasts late into the evening; I walk by Paul's room to inquire when he'll want to have dinner, but a vigorous discussion is audible through the door, so I decide not to interrupt. Sometime after 9:00 Paul calls and tells me that he had a tiring but productive session. I suggest we eat at the Thai restaurant again to save on travel time, and Paul agrees. He advises me that Inno will join us shortly, so we go in, order our dinners, and wait.
Our drinks arrive. Our appetizers arrive. Our main courses arrive. Inno does not arrive. Where's Inno? Paul makes an assumption - Inno has made other plans - and he argues against my trying to contact him. Nonetheless I go to the restaurant's front desk and ask them to dial Inno's room. He's there, and he tells me that he was delayed by an important phone call that just ended. I tell him to join us, and he does.
By this time the waiter has cleared away the menu from Inno's place. I want to get some documents that I printed for Paul from my room, so as I leave, I pause to ask a waitress to bring Inno another menu. I hardly get a chance to speak: when the staff see me stand and approach her, they all converge on me to attend to whatever emergency prompted this unusual action. The waitress brings Inno a menu, and several staff members follow me out to make sure that I'm not leaving in protest of any shortcoming on their part. I get the impression that they're not entirely convinced all is well until I return with the documents for Paul.
We sleep in an extra hour today. Long ago Paul and I tried to institute a "one day in seven to rest" policy for our African trips, but demands on our time have reduced that to one hour. Alex, brother of Stan, the late founder of SWF, comes by and updates us on recent changes. The former ILOS school, whose operations have been suspended since Stan's death, is being reconstituted as the StanBash Technical College, which will feature both the secondary education it provided before and vocational training, which dovetails nicely with our using part of its land for mushroom cultivation. During our discussion of the mushrooms, Paul suggests that we hold an open house to introduce the project to the neighbors, who seem to be suspicious of the activity at the site. We have some reservations about the ability of the mushroom team to prepare for such an event on short notice, but we decide to propose it to them and proceed if they think it's feasible.
Much of the rest of the day is dedicated to assorted work and a bit of rest. In the evening Peter takes us to the Euro Pub. Paul is happy to get away from the tourist-oriented hotel restaurant circuit; the Pub caters to residents, and it features good food, friendly service, and entertaining music, but to Paul's chagrin they have no Serengeti beer. Peter asks if he can come by tomorrow. I respond that I'm always happy to see him, but I am a busy man; I ask that he call before he comes to the hotel to see if I'm free.
Paul has been playing the Budapest Ragtime Band CD constantly since I gave it to him. I know because I can hear it through the wall that separates our rooms, but I don't mind: I like it too.
Zhiguo has sent word that he's ready, willing, and able to host the open house Paul proposed yesterday, so I prepare flyers based on a draft Paul made this morning. Inno and Francis supply a Swahili version that retains some English text.
Paul and Inno go to a meeting with SWF members that they expect to last a long time. I take advantage of this break in my schedule to take a long bath. Or at least I try. As Paul will report later, he meets Peter in the lobby and tells him that I'm in my room and that I'm taking a bath, which means I won't answer the phone. Paul and Inno leave.
Up in my room, I'm just settling into the tub when the phone rings. I let it ring twelve times without making any attempt to answer it, and it stops ringing. Ah, success. Two minutes later, the ringing begins again: twelve times. This must be Peter. Two minutes later, another twelve rings. Why twelve? Why not fourteen? Why not one? Why not zero? The cycle continues until I resign myself to answering the phone; I simply can't relax with the constant ringing. When the next call comes, I get out of the tub, towel off a bit, and go to the phone. It falls silent after four rings. I wait and drip for the required two minutes, then decide that the cycle has ended. I return to the tub.
The phone rings twelve times. Why me? I wait, and the ringing begins again. I get out of the tub and answer it.
"This is Peter."
"Yes, Peter, how are you?"
"Fine, thanks, how are you?"
"I am taking a bath."
"I have a problem with my ThinkPad."
"I am taking a bath."
"I cannot remove the CD-ROM drive."
"Hmm… this sounds like something I can easily fix…"
"I did not bring it with me."
"I am taking a bath."
"I can go home, get the ThinkPad, and bring it to you."
"I am taking a bath."
"Can we do this tomorrow?"
"OK, I'll come by tomorrow."
I take a bath.
At 10:00 Paul has not yet returned, so I leave Paul a note saying that I'm going to dinner at the Thai restaurant. He joins me close to 10:30 (Inno ate before the meeting and isn't hungry now) and reports on an exhausting meeting that culminated in the dissolution of SWF and its replacement with Tanzania World Relief (TWR). The objectives and personnel remain largely unchanged, but for various legal purposes the group decided that it needed to form a new organization rather than revive the old one that fell into disarray when Stan died. Before we call it a day, I suggest that he vary his daily musical diet of Budapest Ragtime Band and give him a Carl Jenkins CD.
Peter comes by in the morning with his ThinkPad. It has a problem both trivial and serious: a tiny plastic bar that releases the CD drive from its bay is broken. Since I checked the machine thoroughly before I left the US, I assume it was broken in transit. I don't have a replacement part, and I don't have the tools or skill to open the machine and try to repair it. The best I can do is promise to bring Peter a new ThinkPad on my next trip; in the interim he can use all of its functions except for swapping the CD drive for a diskette drive, a restriction he can live with for a few months.
Zhiguo arrives promptly at 2:30 in his "chicken car." That's his name for the squeaky old sedan he drives, and it squeaks and squawks louder than ever when it has to carry my weight. We pick up his friend who negotiated a good price on the air ticket I'm buying and head for the Gulf Air office. There I explain that I'm paying for Zhiguo's ticket with my Visa card; after the agent sees my passport, she says that'll be fine and asks me to take a seat.
Two hours later… what on earth are they doing? The reservation was made beforehand, so all we need to do is pay and walk out with the ticket. Four agents have been busily typing at four terminals since we arrived, although I'm sure that no more than two have been working on our ticket at any one time. We were the only customers when this process started, but now every one of the dozen-or-so seats in the office is occupied by someone waiting for service. I don't ask, I don't want to know; I just wait quietly and hope the ticket will eventually appear. By the time it does, I'm way behind schedule, so I tell Zhiguo I'm going to walk from here to do some shopping nearby. As always, he politely offers to assist me, but I tell him that it would take him longer to drive through traffic - it's now afternoon rush hour - than for me to walk.
I find the location of the pen store, but it's closed. Nearby vendors can't tell me if it has reopened elsewhere. I walk to an upscale mall that features a stationery store. Through the glass I can see some pens that may satisfy Paul's requirements, but the door is locked. I'm told that it has been closed for some time; nobody can provide any more information. I walk some more looking for duct tape, but all I find is an abundance of mobile phones and rat poison.
Paul and I meet in the afternoon with Salum of TWR, who has an idea for a fish-farming venture. He and Paul discuss it at length, extreme length, and I excuse myself after an hour or so to do some technical work. I've had some trouble working with the graphics Alex supplied me for StanBash Technical College, so I redraw the logo (shown on the flyers above) in high resolution and produce files containing it in various formats for Alex's use.
In the evening Paul and I walk to the Holiday Inn for dinner. There we finally find Serengeti beer, and Paul enjoys a tall glass of his old favorite. When he orders a second, there's a bit of a delay, and when the waiter arrives he solemnly announces, "this is the last one." Paul savors it while he can: since we haven't found Serengeti at any other restaurant, and it's always been hard to find, this may be the last one for this trip.
Paul has been thinking of names for the fish-farming venture that Salum proposed. He asks me, "how about Coastal Fish?" I remind Paul that the Africans who actually create and run the ventures may want first crack at naming them, but he convinces me that we need a name just so we have a term by which to refer to the venture. Once it actually starts operations, it can have a different name of the participants' choosing.
I agree that a "working title" is useful, but I think we can do better than Coastal Fish. I make a counterproposal, and Paul finds it intriguing. I even come up with an idea for a memorable logo for it, and Paul asks if I can actually add the image to the document he's preparing for Salum. I assure him that I can.
Inno brings me duct tape. Paul recognizes the duct tape. How does anyone recognize a roll of duct tape? It's the roll Inno borrowed from Paul's house in Washington. I see no identifying marks, but Inno confirms Paul's observation. The man knows his duct tape.
I go to the reception desk to reserve the van for all of us who are traveling west to the airport. Alas, the clerk informs me that the hotel does not send the van for domestic flights, only international. I wait a full minute for her to smile and say, "just kidding," but she doesn't, and she preempts any attempt to find out the reason by adding, "sorry, that's our policy." I have no time to argue.
I go to a nearby bank to exchange money; western Tanzania is largely a cash-only region, and local currency works better than dollars. The transaction goes slower than it would at the reception desk, but I'm in no mood to hand the hotel any more money right now, and the exchange rate is better at the bank. The teller counts the currency over and over, and I count it once myself. Since I'm taking more than a million shillings in assorted notes no bigger than 10,000 shillings, this takes a while, and I don't get back to the hotel until early afternoon. There I find Paul and Inno preparing to depart for the big mushroom party. They're going early to attend a board meeting at the same site, and they'll send the driver back for me later. I use the interim to pack for tomorrow's trip; a couple of hours later, the drive finds me waiting in the lobby, and we're off to the mushroom site.
When I arrive I find the board meeting still in progress. Paul gives me a grim expression through the window of the meeting room; I take this to mean that there's no end in sight. At the other end of the complex, guests are already arriving, and Zhiguo, Jim, and Ding are doing their best to entertain them. I join them, and we take an impromptu tour of the mushroom-growing houses. The guests find them fascinating, and some inquire about purchasing mushrooms.
The tour takes only a few minutes, and we're soon outside again wondering when the official festivities will begin. Zhiguo & co. serve soft drinks, but the supply is already running low: many more guests than expected have shown up, and more are coming. I go back to the meeting room, take a couple of pictures, take a seat next to Paul, and discreetly inform him that the party is dying. He acknowledges this and tells me to go "schmooze" with the guests. I object; if I go stall, Paul will have no incentive to wrap up the meeting, so I continue to sit next to him and point out the pressing needs of the party. Paul repeatedly tries to conclude the meeting as various board members repeatedly bring up new topics, and on the fourth or fifth attempt he finally gets the board to recognize the urgency of attending to their guests, and the meeting ends.
Zhiguo advises Paul of the shortage of drinks, and Paul assigns Inno to go buy some more. Paul is a bit curious about the guests' willingness to take the soft drinks but reluctance to take any of the beer; when Alex explains to them that the beer is indeed for their enjoyment, it disappears quickly and the party starts to take on a more festive atmosphere.
The original plan was for Inno to be master of ceremonies, but now that he's otherwise occupied, Paul takes over. He welcomes the guests, gives them a brief (for Paul) overview of the site's purpose, and assures them that more drinks are on the way. Alex addresses the guests in Swahili, Zhiguo says a few words about mushrooms, and a local government official gives us a welcoming speech.
Inno returns with the drinks, and as he says a few words to the crowd, Zhiguo, Jim, and Ding break out the vats of mushroom soup. Soon everyone is helping themselves to the replenished drink supply and cups of soup, and it's obvious that everyone is having a good time and is happy to know that their neighbors are friendly and productive mushroom farmers.
Just as the official time for the party arrive, the last drink and the last cupful of soup are consumed. Everyone seems to have gotten his fill of drinks, but we seem to have been short one serving of soup. A young woman comes by, peers into the empty vat, and chews me out in Swahili for not making enough soup. I tell her that her hovercraft is full of eels. This explanation doesn't satisfy her, but it sends her away.
Inno ses that all the bottles are collected - well, as many as can be found - and loaded into the truck so they can be taken back to the stores where they were bought for refunds of the deposits. Apparently our needs far exceeded the capacity of any of the local merchants: we return bottles to three different stores. At one, the clerk gives Inno a hard time and tells him to come back tomorrow for his money, but he won't accept this nonsense and summons the manager, who promptly supplies the refund.
We get back to the hotel, and I give David B. a call. His flight arrived on time, the shuttle driver was at the appointed place waiting for him, and he checked in without a hitch. I invite him to join me, and when he arrives we swap stories about work and our interest in Africa. He advises me that the batteries did not arrive in time for him to bring on this trip, but he was able to contact the supplier and cancel the order so we don't have to pay any unnecessary express shipping charges. Paul comes by, and we go up to the Thai restaurant for dinner (Inno has other plans), and we spend the remainder of the evening in a rambling conversation about Africa and just about everything else.