Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mbeya wins round one...


The second day was something else...woke up, showered, and grabbed a taxi to the airport...even in daylight, I would have opted to not walk...as pavement is OPTIONAL in Dar apparently. In any case, we arrived uneventfully and I was checked in and at the gate in no time. I read morning prayer at the terminal, trying to kill some time as check-in was much faster than elsewhere and I had an hour to wait.  After a bit of reading, I walked around and bought a Serengeti beer and an orange Fanta at the airport restaurant.  After finishing my beer, I walked to the gate and sat down again, noting that it was almost boarding time. An announcment in a thick accent came over the speakers "boarding flight for (indistinct)" and a large group lined up.  I closed my drink, threw it in the backpack, and lined up.  Then I noticed that the screen above the gate said "Arusha" and that it was actually gate 5 (I was going to Mbeya out of gate 7, after all), so I sat back down. Another ten or fifteen minutes went by, and my boarding time had passed by 5 minutes. Suddenly over the speakers I heard, "Last call for passenger CHRISTOPHAH NEUMAHN"...I jumped up and ran over to gate 5, realizing that they had decided to board my flight at a different gate...the lady taking tickets seem unusually upset...why was it my fault that they boarded the plane through gate 5 which was labeled with a different flight destination?!?!  In any case, I ran through gate 5, down to gate 7, and out onto the tarmac to my plane, asking the flight attendant if it was the plane to Mbeya (there were two planes on the tarmac and I did not want to end up in Arusha).  The crew was so rushed to go that they just told me to take a seat at the front of the plane, not caring which one my ticket said.  I sat down and we were off in no time.  I watched the city disappear below, caught my first ever glimpse of the Indian Ocean, and then turned my attention to my Rosary and my book as the scenery became more constant.  I had just enough time to finish my Rosary, one chapter of Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, and my complimentary Tanzania cashews when the flight began it's landing.  Below I noticed so many shiny tin roofs below, something I had not seen before: the first indication of a new adventure and a new culture.


Stepping out onto the tarmac, I took in the green mountains and countryside around.  Our bags were quickly unloaded and I walked out of the terminal in minutes.  I was told that there would be a shuttle to Mbeya Hotel, where Liane and Jason were to meet me.  I couldn't see the shuttle at first, and throngs of taxi drivers kept asking to drive to the city.  I asked one, who told me he could drive for what I heard to be "Six thousand" TZS.  That seemed too good to be true (and turned out not to be), but I agreed.


Not long after, we were zooming down the highway, dodging other cars, vans "dalla dallas", and motorcycles. We passed multiple concrete "shopping strips", which were really just cement stalls for tiny shops, all of the outside walls of which were plastered with painted Coca-Cola and Pepsi ads, with a local beer ad thrown in for good measure.  Of note, it seemed the advertisement paint was the only paint on the whole structure.  We went up and down hills, countryside passing by with older women hoeing land on the sides of hills, random traffic stops, and finally into the city proper.  I told my driver I needed to change money as I had no shillings, and he said he would take care of it.  He stopped at a small little open front shop in the city, where I changed for 60,000 shillings from the man who pulled a large stack of bills from the back of his shop.  Next we drove thru different roads and around a few corners, through a turnabout and quickly arriving at Mbeya Hotel.  I asked again to confirm the price, which had ballooned to 50,000 shillings (I think the price probably would have related to how much money I had changed regardless).  In any case, I knew that was excessive, but paid anyway to avoid getting into an argument with a local on day one.  We unloaded my bags, he gave me his number for any future rides (which I wrote down while thinking "No chance in hell you cheat"), and looked around.  I made the mistake of not walking around too much looking for Liane.  I assumed I'd meet them at the front of the hotel, and when I didn't see them I waited just outside the gate hoping they'd arrive.  (In reality, I think they were already there.)  I waited a few minutes, then doubt crept in as to where I was actually supposed to meet them.  I did the only thing I knew would help me confirm where I was to be...which was to trudge up the hill to the Hotel that I knew had free wifi in their restaurant.  I lugged my bags up there, asked for the restaurant at the front gate while trying to explain in English why I was carrying bags but not staying at their hotel.  Long story short, they kindly let me into the restaurant to cool off, allowed me to use the Wifi.  I checked my email, confirmed my destination was Mbeya Hotel, and told the staff I needed to leave as I was meeting someone but was in the wronng place.  They kindly obliged and declined my attempt to pay my last shillings for the internet, "It's free!".


I walked back down the hill, arrived again at Mbeya, this time looking around a bit since I knew I was where I should be.  A young woman walked up and asked if I was Chris, and indeed it was Liane, thankfully!  I sat down on the outside patio at a table where Jason and two of their friends, Pat and Tom, a retired couple from Maine now working as Peace Corps Volunteers, sat waiting for me.  We introduced ourselves and sat talking in the nice weather.  We enjoyed a couple drinks, Kilimanjaro and Safari beers (really all the same essentially), and talked about their work, my work, and my trip.  After maybe an hour we threw my stuff in their car and drove to the house.  Having lived at Baylor One in Botswana, I was ready for nice but humble lodging.


We drove up, and I almost couldn't believe my eyes.  The house was much larger than I expected, and I first noticed the brightly colored vegetation in the yard and the covered patio/veranda at the front of the house.  It was incredibly welcoming, and I met Amelia, who opened the gate up for us and welcomed us in.  After a brief tour, showing me my room, and talking a few minutes, I settled in.  Jason and Liane mentioned that a group would be back at the Hotel about 5 PM for volleyball before heading out back to their house.  After they left, I unpacked and settled in a bit, then decided I would head off to find my way around the town and get some cash.


I walked down the mountainside road (the back way) towards the clinic, using my phone GPS to guide me.  It was spotted with different houses with some amount of farmland each, and a rather peaceful walk.  Chickens ran across the road here and there, and I remarked at the bright flowers on the tall trees surrounding the road.  After about 15 minutes I reached the road that separated the Cathedral and the Hospital, and walked down it.  It was more lively, with a couple shops and people selling goodson the street.  I passed through and around the corner to the Cathedral, where I thought perhaps a 5 PM Mass was going on. I was a bit late, and didn't think I'd made it in time for Mass, but walked in and sat in a back pew for a few moments.  After a short while, realizing that I had indeed not arrived at Mass (it was Saturday 5 PM Benediction), I left and made my way toward the hospital and clinic.  As in Gabs, the front of the hospital was littered with vendors selling fruits, sodas, and the like, accompanied by multiple combi's stopping and picking up passengers quicker than any American would.  I made my way through the crowds and to the front of the clinic, which I could just see through the closed gate as it was of course closed on Saturday.


I made my way back toward Mbeya hotel with plans to get cash along the way.  I stopped at the first ATM, noted that it didn't take American Express, and left, hoping that another would...three or four ATMS later, I came to realize my American Express card was useless in Mbeya.  Unfortunately, all the banks were closed until Tuesday, and my Visa PIN wasn't yet activated as I didn't request it enough in advance...ie I had no way of getting shillings.  I had some USD left, but wasn't sure who would take them or where.  I was so frustrtated, as I walked all the way back the Mbeya hotel ATM first, then trekked back along the main road nearly back to the Cathedral trying other ATMS...no luck.


I decided I'd go and try to hang out at Mbeya Hotel with the others for a while.  When I got there though, I was exhasted, and really just watched the expats playing volleyball and darts for a while before deciding to try to get some dinner and send Ali an email from the Hillside Restaurant, where I knew I could at least use my Visa credit card as I had seen a sign on the door earlier that day.


I walked up the hill as the sunlight started to fade and arrived at the hotel.  I asked for the bar, as the website stated that the bar had wifi as well, and I really had a hankering for another Safari/Kilimanjaro/Serengeti with dinner...it had been a long afternoon of travel and frustration and walking.  A worker escorted me there, and as I sat I asked if I could pay with credit.

- "You pay with cash or you sign."

- " So credit is okay?"

- "Yes, is okay."

- "Great."


I ordered myself a water and some food to start, waiting on the beer for the time being.  As I tried to log into the Wifi, the waitress approached me again and said "You have room here".  I responded in the negative. "Oh, then you pay by cash." I was frustrated again by my luck but no surprised.  I didn't want to break my $100 bills (and didn't even know if they'd take it or if they had change), so i said "Okay then, I'll take just the water" knowing I could cover that with my 10,000 Shillings leftover after getting ripped by my taxi.


A few minutes later, another waiter approached and said, "Sir you already ordered." I interpreted this as "It's too late to change your order."  I responded that I had American dollars but no shillings and thought I could pay credit. The man accepted my offer for dollars and rehanded me a menu.  I ordered the same food again, and again tried to log into wifi to message home.  As I realized the Wifi was not close enough to the table i sat at to pick up, I also realized that I had taken my $300 out of my wallet for safe keeping at home...


...now I was really nervous.  I called the waiter over.

"I'm very sorry, but I left my US dollars at home a few blocks away accidentally. Can I leave my credit card here [as collateral] and run to get them?"

He looked a bit puzzled, talked to the other staff, and then told me that I could pay at the front desk of the hotel with my credit card after eating.  Relieved, I said okay, apologized, and thanked him for the help.  About 20 minutes later, maybe longer, my food finally arrived.  It was my first food since my cereal bars earlier that morning, and I was hungry.  The whole ordeal in this quiet, empty, dark hotel bar kind of ruined the enjoyment of the just mediocre Butter Chicken, but I scarfed down as much of it as I was comfortable eating.  I was in no mood to spend any more money, so I passed on the beer and just asked for my check.  We walked down to the desk, paid for the meal, and finally I left at about 9:30 or so, exhausted physically and emotionally. In my haste, I forgot to even attempt to use the wifi again before leaving.


I walked home down the hill in the dark, my phone light the only thing showing me where to step.  Finally arriving home after a couple minutes walk, I walked in and was just glad to be home. I showered for the first time in the house, in our bathroom that had a tub/shower but no curtain...which made tryig not to make a mess challenging.  It will take some learning, but at least there wasn't a HUGE puddle of water on the floor since I combined minimal water use with lower flow/pressure to minimize the mess.  I considered it quite the success for a first go around.


After dressing for the night, I walked out and got to spend some time with the housemates and other friends of theirs who had recently arrived for a volunteer/Peace Corps kinda trip.  There was food and snacks, and had I realized that perhaps I could have avoided the fiasco at the hotel.  In any case, I sat and talked for a while, wondering about if Ali would worry since I had no way to contact her.  Telling Carmel, the other visiting resident from UT Southwestern, about the ordeal of the evening, she offered to help me out by letting me use her phone data.  I sent a quick message to Ali and thanked her with probably the sincerest thanks I have had in a while.  After that, I watched a few rounds of the game the group was playing and then headed to bed, hoping perhaps to make 6:45 AM Mass and the planned trip to "The Crater" that Carmel and Amelia had told me of earlier that day.  I lied down in bed with plans to read a bit, but fell asleep almost instantaneously.


1 comment:

  1. Glad your day ended peacefully. Last time I was reading your Africa blogs I was in the PE at MD. So much better this time. Take care of yourself.