East Africa, February-March 2001:
Rogers and Hammerstein or Frodo and Bilbo?
Updated March 17, 2001

What, you thought I'd continue the same old format in the new milennium?

February 19: You can still find employment even if you fail geography class Washington, DC, USA

My shuttle to the airport arrives early, and I hurriedly leave the house without a few minor items but nothing I can't easily replace en route. As usual, I'm the only passenger headed for the Brtish Air check-in counter at BWI airport. After the driver drops off the domestic passengers, we have a few minutes to chat while he winds through traffic on the way to the international departures area. He asks where I'm going, and I tell him Dar es Salaam. "Ah," he replies, "I know that - it's a suburb of London, right?" Oh yes, take a left at Wimbledon, and it's straight ahead 5,000 miles.

I politely correct him by telling him it's a city about a hundred miles west of Zanzibar. I always describe it that way to Americans. It's rare that I encounter one of my countrymen who actually knows where either place is, but probably thanks to the Bob Hope - Bing Crosby film The Road to Zanzibar, most people seem to recognize "Zanzibar" as the name of a faraway place. I'm going to start collecting the erroneous locations I hear for Dar es Salaam and when I get a goodly number, I'll see what I can do with them with some mapping software.

You may be wondering: Rogers? Hammerstein? Frodo? Bilbo? It begins with a comment that Paul made during our last trip together: he compared our partnership in socioeconomic development to Rogers' and Hammerstein's collaboration on Broadway. The comparison works as long as you restrict it to the complimentary, almost polarized, skills that we apply to a common effort. I'm sure that Rogers knew more about writing lyrics and Hammerstein knew more about writing music than either Paul or I knows about each other's work - you can't know less than nothing - but I've gone along with the metaphor as long as everybody knows that it's more charicature than characterization and as long as I get to be Rogers.

But I've been thinking, which something I get a lot of time to do in airports and hotels, that we're more like Frodo and Bilbo Baggins from J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, heading off to a faraway place on a mission. It's a mission we believe in, and we know the objective, but we don't really know how to get it done; nonetheless, we've set out on the journey, and by making the right contacts and getting a few lucky breaks, we figure we have a fair chance of success.

February 20: The Big Sleep London, England

The movie on my transatlantic flight is Meet the Parents, and I find it so unpleasant that I find myself walking up and down the aisle not so much to stretch my legs as to get away from the screen. There's not much else to report at this stage of the trip: I arrive at London's Gatwick Airport pretty close to the scheduled time (6:00am), check into the Hilton, sleep most of the day, get dinner at Planet Hollywood, and then catch my evening flight.

February 21: From Stupid to Torrid Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

The movie on the second leg of my journey is Charlie's Angels. Yes, I know it's supposed to be stupid, but I never expected the utter imbecility that this feature served up.

Dar es Salaam is hot; even our local colleagues complain that the temperature is higher than normal for this time of year (I didn't know there was any significant variance). Peter meets me at the airport and takes me to the hotel, where Paul briefs me on his work during his week in Nairobi and his two days in Dar. Paul's room has a view of a big pit where the hotel's swimming pool ought to be; mine, on the other hand, has a fine view of the waterfront. That's not terribly important to me right now, though. I'm thoroughly jet-lagged and turn in early for a good night's sleep.

Views from my hotel room.

February 22: Business as Usual

Work begins in earnest, and life is pretty much a series of meetings, meals in the hotel restaurants, and various computer-related tasks. If you keep an eye on the WILMA website, you'll notice that the Links page continues to grow.

February 23: The Black Hole of Dar es Salaam

Work continues much as on previous trips, although I am slowed down by a mild cold. In the afternoon, Paul and I walk across town to a meeting. He had some trouble getting the correct directions, and we wander around a while before giving up, calling our colleague, and rescheduling. Along the way I step in a big hole in the sidewalk and give my ankle a good wrench. Nothing's broken, but I'll be limping for a while.

February 24: Two Weddings and a Downpour

The rainy season begins a few days early. I have to make some changes to our travel plans -- we're going to spend a couple of days in Nairobi -- and I dodge occasional downpours looking for a travel agency that's open on Saturday. Alas, most are not, so I decide to walk to the Sheraton hotel where I know there's an agency that works Saturdays.

Entering the Sheraton is a complicated process. The IMF, World Bank, and several heads of African states are meeting here, and security at the front door is tight. I set off the metal detector, and repeatedly trip the alarm even whem my pockets have been completely emptied. Even the hand scanner objects to my presence, beeping at my hip pocket even though there is nothing in that pocket and no metal anywhere near it. Hmmm... have I finally achieved "critical mass?" After giving me a quick frisk, the guard waves me through the checkpoint, and I enter the Sheraton business corridor only to find that the travel agency closed at noon. A quick check at an internet café reveals that the flights we want are not sold out (the sites for the relevant airlines do not accept online reservations), so I'm confident that we'll be able to book passage Monday morning.

My route back to the hotel winds around various ponds that spring up as the ground slowly soaks up the heavy rain. The water drains reasonably well in most places, well enough that I'd have an easy walk if I just waited a half hour, but I've nothing else to do right now, so I take a circuitous route along the impromptu "waterfront."

Following the high ground takes me by the Lutheran church across the street from the hotel; several weddings are being held today, and I stand and watch a while before going up to my room to take pictures. Each wedding begins with a procession led by a brass band (yes, they play while they march right on into the church). In the first that I witness, the music for both processional and recessional strikes me as odd: the melody is one I've always associated with funerals, "Shall We Gather at the River." It's played solemnly on the way in, and jazzed up a bit on the way out. After the ceremony, the wedding party stands on the steps for nearly an hour as the band plays on. While a few guests move with the music in various parts of the churchyard, the bulk of them simply stand and listen. As soon as one wedding finishes, the procession for the next begins (this time with a melody I don't recognize).

In the evening Paul and I head to The Terrace, the Italian restaurant at the Slipway at which I'd had such excellent iced tea on my last trip. Apparently they've changed bartenders: tonight's brew is dark, opaque... in a word, gnarly. But the food is still quite good, as it has been on several previous visits, so I expect we'll keep coming back.

Pictures from the end of one wedding and the beginning of the next; fortunately, no rain fell during the outdoor celebrations.

February 25: The Drink Tank

I sleep in a bit this morning, still suffering from the effects of jet lag, a cold, and a painful ankle. I take medicine for the two latter afflictions, so I'm feeling only a little less vigorous than usual when Paul and I set out for lunch with two of our colleagues. It's a shame that I don't take my camera along on most business meetings; I'd love to show you a picture of the restaurant. It's named T.G.I.Friday's, but it resembles the popular American franchise in name only.

We sit in some big plastic chairs (yes, the kind that I've broken on earlier trips) and are served big plates of grilled meat and vegetables. The temperature and humidity are still high, and it's all I can do to guzzle bottled water as fast as I lose it through perspiration. We sit through five hours of meat, water (for me) and other beverages (for everyone else), more meat, lots more beverages, and some tough business discussion. A gift from a bird in the tree above me that generously splatters my head, clothes, and notebook makes the afternoon complete, and we return to the hotel. Paul still has a couple of hours' work to do -- one of our colleagues is waiting for him -- but I slump in the shower and then onto my couch to cool off.

Paul comes by my room late in the evening. We discuss the events of the day, including some unexpected turns in our Dar business as a result of the "lunch," but we quickly turn our attention to Nairobi. We received encouraging news by e-mail, which is why I had tried to change our travel plans yesterday. While Paul had originally planned to go there for one day by himself, he's now decided that both of us should go there for two days. If nothing else, I'll be able to rescue our colleague Andrew from a computer virus, but more importantly, it seems that our long-term business prospects in Nairobi have taken a sudden turn for the better. There's nothing online about this now; when we have something to report, it will appear on the WILMA site.

February 26: Walking to Mwanza

This morning I change Paul's ticket and get my own for the trip to Nairobi. I start at the Air Tanzania office on the same block as the hotel only to find that it is not a flight-booking office. For passenger service, I must go to the office two blocks away. Two blocks away, I get Paul's ticket changed and make my own reservation, but this office cannot sell me the ticket. For that service, I must go to an office another two blocks away. In case you're wondering, yes, it's still hotter than normal for this time of year. This effort gets me a ticket that, like Paul's, is good for a nonstop flight on a large jet from Dar to Nairobi and a flight back on an as-yet unknown aircraft stopping in the northern Tanzanian city of Mwanza.

After checking e-mail at the local internet café, Paul spends much of the day working on various documents. While I help him occasionally, I get to devote plenty of time to the travel page. In the evening we dine at the hotel's Thai restaurant, where I get several glasses of excellent iced tea. Oh yes, Paul and I also enjoy some excellent Thai food; I even try one of the main dishes listed with a "hot" warning (the sort of thing I usually shy away from) and enjoy it immensely, although I'd hardly call it particularly potent. Over dinner we discuss recent developments in our local efforts, then we turn in for the night.

February 27: Nibbled in Nairobi Nairobi, Kenya

Did I mention that the March rains arrived early this year? Well, this morning it looks like April's and May's are here in Dar es Salaam as well. The streets and sidewalks are flooded, with the water so deep in some places that walking is impossible and driving isn't a good idea either. All in all, it's a good day to stay in the hotel and work by phone. Too bad Paul and I are scheduled to attend a meeting at DIT and then fly to Nairobi.

After breakfast we meet DIT's driver in the lobby. We all pile into the car, a robust high-chassis 4-wheel-drive vehicle, and take off for DIT, about one mile away. While our car can manage the flooded streets, many cannot, and therein lies our problem: about a quarter-mile from the hotel, we wind up in a hopeless traffic jam. After nearly an hour on the road, Paul and I decide that we've no chance of getting to and from DIT without missing our flight, so we ask the driver to take us back to the hotel. He finds an opening in the traffic and takes us back via a little-used side street. I ask to use his cell phone to call DIT and advise them of our situation, but this particular phone is for receiving calls only.

Once back at the hotel, I call DIT from my room.

  • "Hello, may I speak with the Director of Studies?"
  • "I'm sorry, he's in a meeting."
  • "Yes, I know, I'm supposed to be in the meeting with him."
  • "Then please come now; the meeting has already begun."
  • "Actually, I'm calling to tell him that I cannot attend the meeting."
  • "But aren't you supposed to come to this meeting?"
  • "Yes, that's why I'm calling to say that I can't attend."
  • "No, you should come to the meeting."
  • "But I can't come."
  • "I'll tell him you're on your way."

Paul is sitting in my room and hears my end of the conversation, which continues until he's practically rolling on the floor laughing. I struggle to explain why we are NOT coming to the meeting as the person on the other end continues assuring me that we ARE. Eventually I decide that I have sufficiently explained on the local traffic and weather conditions and end the conversation, trusting that the driver, whenever he manages to return the car to DIT, will fill in the details.

We pack and catch a taxi to the airport. Miraculously, the rain has stopped; both the water level and traffic have receded, and we get to the check-in counter with more than two hours to spare. Kenya Air is not yet ready for us, so we park ourselves in the dreary waiting area until the counter opens. Since there are no refreshment stands nearby, Paul walks back outside the building to get a snack. Naturally, the guard gives him a hard time and doesn't want to let him back in, but Paul convinces her to let him through. Soon the counter opens for our flight, and we check in and settle down in the cafe.

Boarding begins surprisingly early. We resist the call, mainly because we're anticipating being stuck on a parked plane for an hour or more. When the gate agent insists that we board forthwith, we go down the ramp and settle into our seats. And yes, we remain there for about an hour as the plane bakes in the equatorial sun.

The flight, once it gets underway, is short and smooth. We catch a taxi to the Grand Regency Hotel and, upon check-in, discover the one bright spot in a day otherwise filled with small anoyances (or, to quote an expression that I'm finding increasingly useful in Africa, a day in which we're being "nibbled to death by ducks"): our colleague Andrew has negotiated a handsome discount for us, even better than the hotel's economical internet promotional price.

We try to check our e-mail in the hotel's business center, but their internet link is down. The manager suggests we come back a bit later, assuring us that the center will be open until 9:30. Paul and I get a little work done, prepare some more files to be sent via e-mail and some documents to be printed for tomorrow's meeting, then return to the business center at 8:00 only to find that it has already closed. It's been a tiring day, so rather than search Nairobi at night for an open internet cafe, we have dinner and go to bed.

February 28: The Disk of Death

Paul and I, attired in our business best, have breakfast at 8:00am. The meeting for which Paul specifically came to Nairobi begins at 8:00am. We become aware of the meeting's start time only after breakfast, and Paul walks in late while I wait in the hallway.

Why would I wait outside? Well, first, Paul was the one invited to the meeting, not me. Although Andrew would probably politely allow me to sit in, I'm not entirely eager to spend the day in a meeting where I can't really participate in the discussion. Second, while there's an outside chance I might make some contribution to the meeting, it's much more likely that I can use my time more effectively elsewhere. Sure enough, Paul steps back out of the meeting just long enough to tell me that I'm needed at Andrew's office. I change to tropical casual for the mile walk, then head off to see what's happened to his computers since my last visit.

Upon arrival I'm greeted as usual by Rose's friendly smile followed by her glare at her computer. A few quick diagnostics reveal several distinct problems which I quickly fix. While I repeat the process on the other computers, Rose observes that her machine is still not working quite right. To my surprise, I recheck it and find that some errors that I just fixed have suddenly reappeared. Further standard reports produce inconclusive results, and I settle in at Rose's desk for some serious investigation.

I exhaust most possible causes of the machine's poor performance before I perform a time-consuming surface integrity test of the two hard disks. Drive C gets a perfect score. The scan of drive D reveals a bad block (unit of recording surface area). After about 30 minutes of analysis, it reveals a few more, but it's perfectly normal for a good disk to have a few bad blocks. I use a utility program to mark the block as unusable. This mark prevent the operating system from trying to read or write data from the affected area; as long as plenty of good space is available for use, no performance degradation should result.

I reboot the computer and rerun the general diagnostics. The errors I'd fixed earlier reappear. I immediately run another surface scan on drive D and find that more bad blocks have appeared. As I rerun the program again and again, more blocks fail each time. The scanning program draws a map of the surface as it moves from block to block, so I can practically see the disk being devoured before my eyes.

The disk must be replaced immediately. I start a rigorous disk-testing program that will examine the surface for blocks with even slight imperfections, move any data there to good blocks, and then mark emptied areas unusable. An examination at this level may run for hours, perhaps even overnight, so I advise Rose that her computer is out of commission for the remainder of the day. I explain that the disk cannot be repaired and must be replaced quickly before its imminent complete failure. My mission accomplished (hey, I fixed two out of three), I return to the hotel and encounter Paul, who's just returning to his room from the day-long meeting. We both need a break from work, so I take care of our internet backlog and soak in the tub while Paul takes a swim in the pool, then we head to the hotel's main restaurant for dinner.

March 1: A Man Who Needs No Introduction

Andrew meets us for tea before today's meeting begin. It was called in response to a proposal Paul drafted, and while I could participate, Andrew is anxious for me to return to his office and tend to his ailing computer. He has a large database upon which his organization depends, there's some question about the quality of his backups, and yes, all the critical data is stored on the deteriorating drive D.

Paul and Andrew go to the meeting room while I prepare a few documents. After delivering them to Paul, I head back to the office. The disk analysis has run its course, and the new map has more black spots than a cheetah. Fortunately, the program successfully moved all the data to the ever-shrinking good areas of the disk, so I'm able to copy it onto the C drive. Even as I do this, I can see the black areas spreading on drive D: its demise is coming in days, perhaps hours, but the data is safe.

I return to the hotel and arrive at the meeting only minutes before its end. Most of the attendees have never met me, so I'm acutely aware that they may be puzzled by my unnanounced arrival. I pass a note about this to Paul, who quietly mentions it to the chairman. Lively discussion continues for several minutes, but soon the chairman calls a pause and asks Paul to introduce me.

Paul announces, "This is my colleague David. He knows a lot about things that I don't know very much about, and I know things that he doesn't know very much about."

After a moment of silence, the chairman looks at Paul with a puzzled expression and asks, "Is that all?"

Paul thinks a moment and says, "uh, yes."

Minutes later the meeting is adjourned, and we all go to the main restaurant for lunch. I sit next to Andrew and fill him in on the status of his computer. I also give him some general advice on managing his information resources. This gets the attention of some of the other attendees, who send questions my way ranging from virus prevention to the best brand of computer.

Andrew encourages us to stay another day or two in Nairobi, as much to keep me around to make sure his computer is properly repaired as to continue discussion on Paul's proposal and various other possibilities for cooperation between our two organizations. After some persuasion, Paul agrees to stay. A member of Andrew's staff attends to the changes in our itinerary, and after lunch I get a rare chance to update this travel page with the story of our trip up to the departure from Dar es Salaam.

One of the hotel's restaurants is advertising a Hungarian festival featuring foods prepared by Hungarian chefs and music by a Gypsy band. It's not an opportunity that's likely to come again any time soon, so in the evening we decide to give it a try. The food is good, particularly the authentic goulash, but the music varies wildly. When the band plays traditional Hungarian or Gypsy melodies, they're quite entertaining. Unfortunately, they also play tunes which I suppose are geared toward the tourist trade, and they play them badly; of these, they wreak the most havoc with "The Girl from Ipanema."

The lead violinist takes particular interest in Paul and me. Actually, there's not much in the restaurant to compete for his attention: only two tables are occupied. As we dine, the violinist repeatedly approaches our table, each time coming a bit closer, and gazes at us as he plays romantic melodies such as "Strangers in the Night." On the third or fourth approach, Paul and I begin to wonder aloud what he has in mind; he's making a big point of serenading us as if we were newlyweds. Eventually he comes right up to the table and asks if we have any requests. We ponder for a moment - anything would be better than more of his misdirected love songs - and then Paul comes up with an inspired suggestion: "Moscow Nights," a.k.a. "Midnight in Moscow." I wish I'd thought of that. The violinist doesn't understand our selection straight away, but after we both request it in English and in Russian, he leads the band in a smooth, schmaltzy rendition of the song. Afterward, he solicits another request, but neither of us can think of anything else we to hear other than their traditional repertoire. The violinist stands by our table for a few more minutes; he's anticipating a tip, I assume, but he's just as happy to sell me one of his band's overpriced cassettes.

March 2: Nairobi, Our Kind of Town

We meet with some key members of Andrew's organization at his office. We discuss both socioeconomic development and information technology in smaller groups that form around Paul and me as the topics require ( as Paul mentioned yesterday, our knowledge bases have little overlap). Andrew's staff is still working on our plane reservations; they can't get a flight booked today, so we'll be spending yet another night in Nairobi. What's more, when we finally get the flight reserved, it's a nonstop, so we won't get a chance to see Mwanza.

Later, we go back to the hotel with them for further discussion over drinks in the lounge. Paul and I are both impressed with the the progress we've made over the past two days: our work in Nairobi had slowed nearly to a standstill over the past year, but now we think it may once again be a major focus of our activities.

In the evening we walk to the Inter-Continental Hotel for dinner. It's only two blocks away along a highway that I've come to regard as safe walking territory, so I'm the one who suggests going on foot. This turns out to be a mistake: construction work has left all sorts of debris and craters along the poorly-lit route. We stumble a bit and have to step out into the busy road in places, but we arrive safely.

Once there, we settle in at the Mistral Mediterranean restaurant. It's a bit pricey, but the food and drink (yes, even the iced tea) is of excellent quality. We return to the Grand Regency in a spacious London cab, the only way to travel in downtown Nairobi.

March 3: Downtime Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

We catch an early afternoon flight back to Dar es Salaam. I've already sent e-mail to our colleagues here advising them of our delayed departure from Nairobi, and none of them have replied asking to see us today, so Paul and I can get some work done at a relaxed pace in our rooms.

March 4: Across Town from T.G.I. Fridays's

We get a lot of work done today; it's amazing what you can accomplish when you're not interrupted by meetings. Paul completes a major revision of his documents for the Dar es Salaam group, and I produce a lot of new graphic files. In the evening we visit the newest hotel in town, The Courtyard, for dinner. It's not a Marriott property, but its logo is a nearly perfect copy of the Courtyard by Marriott chain's. The restaurant has a wide-ranging menu, and our selections are available and well-prepared. No iced tea, though. The room prices at The Courtyard are significantly lower than at the New Africa, but it's too far from the center of town to be a base of operations for us.

March 6: Mo'Dum

Paul has a mission this week: to "sell" his new plan that links our Nairobi and Dar es Salaam operations in a combined package that should appeal to American funders. The first step is for me to test the printing capacity of the local internet shop by producing lots of copies of the new documents. The next step is for Paul to arrange meetings with all of our Dar colleagues, and by the time I get back to the hotel I find that he's succeeded in contacting almost all of them. The meetings begin today and will continue until our departure on March 9, so don't expect any more stories about tourist-type activities in this trip.

In the evening, Peter comes by with his computer. He's been having a few problems with it, and I'm able to quickly correct most of them. The troubles follow the usual pattern, a virus and a software misconfiguration. However, there's one problem that I can't fix, and to make matters worse, it's my fault. I'm the one who got him this computer in the US, and I didn't think to check whether its built-in modem is compatible with the Tanzanian phone system. It isn't, so I promise to invesitgate and get the problem solved.

March 6: Put Down the Disk and Step Away From the Computer

Today is a holiday in Tanzania, and most businesses are closed. I need some internet time, and Dar is full of internet cafes and business centers, so I set off in search of one that's open. It's a long walk, and the street vendors and tour guides are eager to distract me from my purpose. I finally find an open telecommunications center in a small side street that I'd never seen before - yes, Dar is relaxed enough for a lone mzungu to explore on foot - and I get online. Performance is good, but I'm having trouble with the diskette drive. After a few minutes of trying to diagnose it myself, I ask the staff for help. Oh, no, we don't let people use diskettes here. That's why the drive is disabled. No amount of arguing will sway them; rules are rules, even on a holiday. I get about half my work done, including verifying that there's no software-based fix for Peter's problem, but the rest has to wait until tomorrow.

In the evening we try the buffet in the hotel's Thai restaurant. The Sawasdee has been a regular stop for us since it provides the best food at a reasonable (well, mostly) cost that we can get without taking a taxi. Tonight's buffet features traditional fare from northeastern and central Thailand (Friday buffets showcase western and southern dishes). I'm disappointed - nay, dismayed - to find no spring rolls on the buffet. Paul knows that I can make a meal of spring rolls alone (and once did in Uganda), and he consoles me as best he can when the waiter informs me that the Friday buffet also lacks spring rolls: "a la carte only!" I'm still enjoy the meal; my preference is for the less fiery dishes, and the northern/central cooking tends to be milder than the southern/western, but to put it succinctly: I'm not a big fan of Thai food, I'm a big fan of spring rolls!

March 7: If Your Phone Breaks in Africa, Can You Call Someone to Repair It?

We're getting busier by the minute. "Last week syndrome" has set in: our impending departure has inspired many of our colleagues to schedule meetings with us, and Paul is obliging all of them. This leaves us little time for some key tasks like visits to the internet cafes. To compensate, I hook Paul's computer into the hotel's network. They offer a good connection, but at 200 schillings (about $2.50) per minute.

Paul quickly adapts to writing his e-mail offline, connecting, transmitting, and disconnecting again. Go, Paul, Go! Then when he unplugs the phone line from his ThinkPad, the plug breaks. I used all my Super Glue repairing my suitcase during our last trip, so we call the front desk aout the phone plug. Hmmm... how do you call someone to repair a broken phone? I manage to jam the broken plug back into the phone and make it stick long enough to call the front desk. The person who answers doesn't understand what I mean by cable or plug, so I try to simplify the problem by saying the phone needs repair. You don't really need a line-by-line recap; just take my word for it - when you call someone to say, "my phone is broken," you'd better be sitting comfortably.

After I get Paul's phone scheduled for repair, I call a local company to inquire about getting a Tanzania-compatible modem for Peter. It's the same company that I rode shotgun with on an earlier trip, and although we don't work closely with them on a regular basis, I figure they'll give me a reasonable deal. Technology is expensive in Tanzania, and the modem is no exception: about $200 for a good laptop-card model. Since it's my fault that Peter can't get online, I feel it's my responsiblity to provide him with the proper equipment, so I make a note of the price and tell the company that I'll call them back when I'm ready to buy.

Peter comes by in the evening with a new colleague, who shows Paul brochures about the equipment to be used in Peter's radio stations. While they discuss hardware, I take Peter aside and tell him about the modem. I give him the choice of letting me pay for the modem or giving him an equivalent discount on the ThinkPad I'm selling him. Peter refuses both of these offers: he can get a much better price in South Africa, where he will shortly be attending a seminar, so we agree that I'll simply reimburse him for whatever he has to pay there.

That was just the last in a long series of meetings today, and it's rather late when Paul and I finally find time for dinner. Although we had Thai food last night, the same restaurant seems like the best option tonight: it's too late and we're too tired to go very far, and the hotel's main restaurant has only a seafood buffet. Yes, I spent the last trip salivating over the term "seafood buffet," but the one at this hotel turned out to be a big disappointment. Besides, I still want some spring rolls.

Up in the Sawasdee, I order the vegetable spring rolls and a garlic-prawn dish. The waiter regeretfully informs me that there are no prawns tonight. As I look over the menu for an appealing alternative, he adds, "but we have shrimp."

"Ah," I reply, "then I'll have the same dish prepared with a goodly number of shrimp!"

Paul clarifies, "that means a big pile of shrimp." The waiter takes the order and hurries off, but only a minute later he hurries back.

"I'm sorry, sir, we don't have vegetable spring rolls tonight." If you tell me they were all eaten at last night's buffet I will break your pen. "But we have chicken spring rolls."

I order the chicken spring rolls. They taste like chicken. I soak them in enough soya sauce to make them taste like soya sauce. At least the iced tea here is, as usual, quite good.

March 8: My Day in the Sun

The meetings are coming at a faster pace, and to accommodate them all we have to start them earlier. We begin with a breakfast meeting at 8:00am that lasts until about 9:59; our next meeting begins at 10:00. That one takes us out to Stan's primary school, where Paul explains WILMA to the assembled student body. They address him as "Mr. President," but I advise them that they're according him far too much respect and suggest they simply call him Paul. After a tour of the grounds, we hurry back to the hotel for another meeting, whose schedule overlaps the next one.

The time has come for Paul and me to split up. Paul continues with the stream of visitors to the hotel; mainly because I know how to use the digital camera, I accept the invitation to attend Peter's grand opening on the outskirts of town. He has a new AIDS awareness office at the regional bus station, and its inauguration will be attended by various dignitaries and will feature music and other entertainment.

The driver takes me out to the bus station. Here buses leave Dar es Salaam for such remote points as Kilimanjaro and Nairobi. Both the waiting areas and the buses themselves have televisions and video players, and Peter plans to spread the AIDS message through videos he will be producing.

Upon arrival I greet him and then stake out a good location for photographing the proceedings: a spot in the front of the spectators area that's shaded by a big tree. But Peter needs me; he leads me from my prime location, takes me over to the VIP tent, and invites me to take a seat. Thanks, Peter, but I can't get any photos from here! I explain that, while I'm honored that he'd have me sit with the dignitaries, I really need to get some photos for his website. He nods, and I head back to my spot in the shade only to find that it's been taken over by a half-dozen other people. Thus, I wind up spending most of the day under the equatorial sun.

The entertainment begins. The entertainment continues. I begin to think that I will never get to write "the entertainment ends." Oh, yes, it's quite spectacular: acrobats, dancers, singers, musicians, and several original plays performed by the troupe that will be acting in Peter's videos. I'm impressed, but getting photos through the large crowd that's formed is a challenge, and the heat is building. A brief rain brings some relief, but as soon as it ends, the sun reappears and the standing water turns to steam.

Did I mention that this affair begins at 2:00 and runs till 6? If you're going to spend four hours out in the tropical sun, you may as well spend those four hours being entertained. Or you could do what I did - listen to speeches. Yes, I spent an hour of my time today outdoors in the equatorial sun listening to speeches. In Swahili. Boomed through the big speakers that heavy metal bands use.

After the event, I go back to the hotel. Our next meeting begins in 30 minutes. Paul suggests that I use that time to update my travel page. We obviously have different socioeconomic priorities: I take a shower instead. The meeting drags on into the evening, and at 10:30 we finally stagger into the main restaurant for dinner.

Paul is obviously suffering from a fatigue and Lariam-induced haze: he orders a Zambian T-bone steak. Paul, there's no "T" in Zambia. I order a lobster thermidor. I deserve a lobster thermidor, OK?

Whether you order them by name or tenderness, Zambian steaks appear last on any list. Paul gnaws ("eats" simply doesn't apply) his while I enjoy my lobster. His struggle with the defiant cut of meat assumes such proportions that I feel I've gotten the better deal of the day: overall, I'd rather listen to speeches in the heat than tackle such a steak. We turn in for the night, tiredly joking about the short interval before we're due to meet for breakfast.

March 9: Oh, to be in England London, England

It's departure day, and we're meeting with as many people as we can squeeze in between breakfast and flight time. Paul has invited everyone to an open lunch at the Sheraton, so after our morning work we walk over to reserve a table. A few other parties, including one of 40, have already reserved much of the restaurant, but we're able to stake a claim to two adjacent tables that should seat six, perhaps eight if we get really cozy.

We check in at the British Air office, then take a seat in the hotel lobby. We're quite happy to have a break at this point, but as the 12:30 starting time for lunch passes without any of our colleagues arriving, we begin to wonder if any of them will actually show up. Eventually a couple arrive, and we take them into the restaurant. Paul advises the staff that we'll only need one of the tables; a minute later, the tables are separated and we're comfortably seated at a table for four.

You know how this works, don't you? As soon as we're settled in, more guests start to arrive. It's only a few minutes after we've asked to have the tables separated that we're asking to have them joined again. I get the feeling that the staff has seen this before: they have the tables back together even faster than they were separated. Enough people arrive that we would be overcrowded, but I still have to check out of the New Africa Hotel. I eat quickly - although I get a full meal including some excellent shank of lamb - and then leave to finish packing and settle my bill.

I return to the Shertaton about an hour later to find Paul presiding over dessert. When we finally leave the restaurant, I settle into a big chair in the lobby to write my long-overdue travel report while Paul makes use of the pool. It's our first significant period of relaxation on this trip, and we're both ready to leave the tropical heat and nonstop work behind.

In the evening we board our flight and take off for London. As usual, Paul gets some sleep on the plane, but I do not. It's not just the cramped seating that keeps me awake: I'm in an aisle bulkhead seat, so I have adequate legroom, but there's a restless baby to my left and another across the aisle to my right. The one on my left has fun tugging on my sleeve; when his parents make him stop tugging, he tries kicking.

The one across the aisle makes a little noise, but overall she's pretty well behaved. It's her mother who needs a little discipline. She changes the baby's diaper in her seat, then drops the soiled diaper on the floor and leaves it there. It lies there reeking for nearly half the flight. Upon landing, this mother (and I use the term abusively) wants to get away from the stinkbomb as much as anyone else, so she tries to walk through me when the doors open. I can understand her strategy - I really do fill up an airplane aisle, so she had no opportunity to go around me - but she shouldn't use her baby as a battering ram.

Paul and I part company at Gatwick. He has a connecting flight to the US later in the day, seven hours later, so he has plenty of time to explore the airport. I'm checking into the airport Hilton for some sleep before going into downtown London for a week's vacation. We walk together until we get to the diverging corridors for Immigration and Connections, say our weary goodbyes, and then I'm off to the Hilton. The outdoor walkway exposes me to the cold, gray damp of a London winter, and - those of you who tolerate high heat and bright light well will find this strange - it feels so good to be in England after three weeks at the equator. I'll enjoy these condition while I can; it's only eight weeks before we depart once again for Africa!

The End