Zanzibar, Tanzania If Entropy Has a Favorite Continent…

So my laptop got destroyed.

…not completely. The computer itself is fine, but the screen is shattered, which means I’m limited in my journal posting until I can get it repaired back in the states.

It happened in Uganda, riding in the back of a pick-up with five other people on a heavily pot-holed dirt road through the mountains. At some point the laptop bag became a seat for someone and it had to endure one ass-shattering bump too many.

The damage could’ve been worse and so could the timing. I have to keep reminding myself of that. I’m at the end of my trip and it’s sort of made me turn a corner such that I’m now ready to go home.

I’m skipping about four posts, which I’ll get to eventually, but right now I’ll just sum up my day without explaining the hows and whys that led up to it.

I woke up at 4am in the Ugandan town of Kabale, walking distance from the Rwandan border. I had to catch the early morning bus to the capital city of Kampala to try and get a ticket on the afternoon flight to Dar es Salaam and then straight on to Zanzibar. I’ve been traveling west for weeks, ostensibly in search of gorillas. I saw them, my time is up, I really wanted to see Zanzibar, so I had to go by air to squeeze it in.

I slept through the first couple hours of the bus ride — a skill I’ve been slowly cultivating — and woke up sitting next to a young girl of maybe 15 at a roadside food stop where hawkers were shoving sticks of meat at us through the windows. She bought one. I abstained. The conversation went something like this:

"You don’t eat meat?"
"Yes, I do."
"Why not?"
"I do."
"What?"
"Eat meat."
"You eat pigeon?"
"Excuse me?"
"What?"
"What did you ask?"
"You have business?"
"What?"
"What?"
"I can’t understand you."
"I am your business."
"What?"
"You have mother?"
"Yes. I have a mother."
"I have no father."
"Oh. Do you have a mother?"
"No. No mother either."
"I’m very sorry."
"I am your business. You take me."
"What?"
"You have madam?"
"Do I have a madam?"
"What?"
"What?"
"You take me to hotel. I am your madam."
"Oh. Um. No. Sorry."

She gave up after a while. Or I just ignored her. Or I fell back asleep. I can’t remember.

The flight I needed to catch to Dar es Salaam was leaving at 1:30pm from Entebbe airport, an hour outside the city. Entebbe, incidentally, is the site of an infamous 1974 event in which Ugandan rebels hijacked two European flights. They blew up one of them and the other was raided by British SAS soldiers, resulting in a bloody but ultimately successful shootout. The second plane and most of its passengers were saved.

I got the details of this from an Australian drill fitter I traveled with for a little while. I haven’t bothered to confirm any of it, so I may have it all wrong.

…okay, I got the story from Australian airline pilot this morning and I did indeed have it all wrong. There was only one flight, the hijackers were Palestinean, the flight was Air France, the passengers were mostly Israelis, and the rescuers were the Israeli Special Forces. The plane landed in Uganda because then-president Idi Amin was sympathetic to the Palestinean cause. The hostages were brought off the plane and into the terminal. The rescue unit eliminated all the Palestinians without losing a single passenger in the crossfire. One passenger was murdered beforehand, and one Israeli commander — the brother of future Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — died from a gunshot wound.

I think I’ve got it all straight now.

Some Israelis I met during the gorilla tracking said that after WWII, the British offered Uganda to the Jews as the new Israeli state. The Jews said "thanks, but we’ve got our eyes on another piece of real estate." For the rest of my time in Uganda, I couldn’t help but ponder what the place and its surrounding regions would be like if they’d taken the offer.

The bus got into Kampala at 11:00am. I raced to the Air Tanzania office on the back of a bota-bota (motorbike taxi) and purchased the ticket with no problems. By noon, I was en route to Entebbe by taxi.

The car broke down halfway to the airport. The timing belt snapped. I started getting antsy, but the driver flagged down another taxi, got the driver to pay him for the first half of the drive, then told me to pay the new driver the full amount. Fine with me. I was back on my way.

As we drove into the terminal loop, I realized my driver was a) not a taxi driver, and b) had never been to an airport before. The security guard at the entrance leaned into the car.

"Are you armed?"
"No."
"Okay."

He started driving.

"Did she just ask if you were armed?"
"I don’t know."

I paid him, checked in, wolfed down some food, and got on my plane as the gate was closing.

The 737 was 10% full. I had the run of the back half. I hopped from side to side looking out at the Serengeti, Ngorongoro crater, Mount Kilimanjaro, and finally the outskirt slums of Dar es Salaam.

Dar es Salaam has the most catastrophically disorganized international airport I’ve ever encountered. It’s in a perpetual state of chaos caused by no one having any idea how anything is supposed to work. One gets the distinct impression they’re making it up as they go.

I found myself in the unfortunate situation of having to make a connecting flight with a 25 minute layover. Some bullet points of the problems I ran into:

– Locating luggage is only one small step removed from actually crawling into the hull of your arriving flight. There are dozens of people tasked with helping in this process — all of them, in fact, make it harder.

– To transfer, you have to actually leave the airport and come back in the front.

– The boarding passes don’t specify gates.

– The airport announcer and ticket checkers are not, shall we say, on the same page.

– While there are seat assignments, they’re totally disregarded onboard.

– I had to get off the plane to identify my bag on the tarmac.

– The AC is broken on the plane.

The lady at the transfer desk had a pair of glasses with one of its arms missing. Every time she looked down to read anything, the glasses fell on the floor.

Ray Bradbury wrote a short story about a future in which mankind becomes so disconnected from the inner workings of its own inventions that it loses all ability to build or fix anything.

That’s Africa.

Nothing is renewed, only reused until it can be used no longer.

Everything is decaying. Everyone is dying. Nothing is getting better.

My outlook has steadily dimmed as I’ve moved deeper into the continent. The more I learned from expats, aid workers, and locals, the less hope I’ve found. My feeling now is somewhere in the neighborhood of sad resignation — which, now that I think of it, is about where I started. So I guess I’ve come full circle on Africa.

Our flight to Zanzibar took less than 15 minutes. The pilot was British. I spent the flight speculating about what sort of indescetion he was found guilty of to wind up on this route on this airline.

I must have a pretty good game face by now, cause I somehow managed to skirt the hordes of touts waiting outside the airport, find my way to the dalla-dalla (taxi van) stand, and catch a ride into town for $0.20 instead of the standard $10. There was no yelling involved and no frustration. One guy persisted in trying to get me in his cab, so I said "No hablo ingles. Come mis pantalones?"

He walked away. Never fails.

I don’t want to sound too backpacker-machismo or anything, but I was fairly proud of myself. It’s a shame to be leaving just when I’m getting good at this.

I haven’t really seen any of Zanzibar yet and I don’t expect to get much of a chance. Seems nice, though.

I’ll be home in a few days. Can’t wait.

14 Responses to Zanzibar, Tanzania If Entropy Has a Favorite Continent…

  1. Jay

    Wow. Can’t wait to hear about Kilimanjaro and the gorillas. When you say “home”, where is that? Bummer about the laptop too.

  2. mitch

    Yo M, when you say home “soon”, what does that mean? Would love to buy you a beer and chat about your travels if you intend to come back to Seattle… your updates are rad.

  3. Judy Kimball

    Matt, this is so funny and sad. I laughed. I cried. I have to go back now and catch up with your earlier posts. Have missed everything since the shark swim.

  4. dabitch

    Shark swim? Matt is mad – in a very good way. Love your dancing Matt, come dance with me someday.

  5. kurt

    Excellent trip, blog and dance video! What are you up to these days? Planning to go back on the road? Have you calculated your entire trip cost? I’d be interested to know the actual per-day costs, how they met your estimates, and ways you think you could have minimized them.

    This kind of travelling tour interests me immensely. I’ve spent time on most of the continents, but never travelled in a single, unbroken stretch like this. Did the travelling start to wear on you after awhile? I know I’m gung-ho even a couple of months into a trip, but I wonder if/when that would wear off.

    Lots of questions, answers to some of which I hope to find doing a little more exploring on your site.

    Way to live your dream!

  6. Heather

    From Detroit, heard you on the Drew & Mike Show on WRIF Radio. Couldn’t get the dancing at work, slow connection. But, I enjoyed reading your journal and thought I’d let you know that you didn’t sound like a “total ass” on the radio, and it intirigued me to visit your site. Too bad I missed the actual trip, I would have enjoyed reading it as you traveled. Good luck on your next trip. I woiuld love to do something like this and I envy you!

  7. Zach

    I used to live in Tanzania, for like 8 years. It is my home really, The airport is great I don’t know what you talking about.

  8. Kaj

    Must agree with Zach here … the airport is rather great compared to other African airports … but it’s still crap

  9. I know exactly what you mean by the bumpy truck rides. Thinking back on it I’m surprised there were no accidents. I ended up in the middle of nowhere… places you can’t even find on a map. There were villages in Tanzania to which you could only walk!

    Love your video!

  10. greetings from Uganda,
    i found your video on Yuoutube, nice travels.
    i had to look out for the Ugandan stories, I guess a lot of it is true including the Boda Bodas; aren’t they Chaotic? Funny?- those bikers but we still use them.

    where are the Ugandan clips?

  11. maritn

    Nice adventures…I’m from Uganda too. I agree with your observations except I’m hopeful about Africa getting better…but then again I don’t suppose I have a choice since I was born here and not exactly free to travel to the ‘first’ world

  12. Viktor

    I wonder how that short story by Ray Bradbury is called. Can you (or anybody else) give me a hint that can help me find it?

  13. Legendary Zanzibar Island :)
    Interesting history and local culture if you dig a bit deep into that. A TV show about Zanzibar attracted my attention about a year ago.

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