A Travellerspoint blog

BED BUGS! Coming soon to a hotel near you!

Warning: Reading this may cause extreme itchiness.

semi-overcast 84 °F

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I was so excited to be in Kathmandu! I had dreamed for a long time about coming to Nepal. Just the name Kathmandu sounded so exotic and brought up visions of adventure. So why after just ten hours was I wishing I'd never come?

Good night, sleep tight.
Don't let the bed bugs bite!

-- Nursery Rhyme

Bed bugs? What the *#^%! are bed bugs? If you don't know, count yourself as lucky. I thought they were just a mythical creation in a nursery rhyme, but they are real. Bed bugs were very common (for example, in military barracks during World War II), but were essentially eradicated from the U.S. and the developed world by the 1950's. Now these human parasites are making a comeback with a vengeance. Why? Because world travelers let them hitch rides and unfortunately, they (bed bugs not world travelers) have a constitution that makes a cockroach look like a wimp (though cockroaches are one of their predators).

I didn't even know these critters existed until about six years ago. I was in Belize City staying at a hotel I had used several times over the years. In fact, I had just stayed there just the week before in the very same room. I had laid on the bed after my shower and accidentally fallen asleep. When I woke up, it was dark. I turned on the lights to prepare for bed and got a glimpse of some movement. Euuwww! What was that? I flipped off the lights and then on again...the same creepy, stealthy moves. There seemed to be tiny bugs in the pillow.

It was about 2 am, so what should I do? I knew there would only be a security guard downstairs. I tossed the pillow onto the floor, wrapped myself in a sarong and slept on top of the sheet with no cover (it was hot, so none was necessary). I turned on the light once or twice more and didn't see any more bugs so I figured I was okay. I was leaving in the morning anyway to catch a plane home. I'd just let the owner know when I left in the morning.

When I took a shower the next morning, I discovered some bumps on my neck. A check in the mirror confirmed they were bites. Dang... mosquitoes or those mystery bugs? By the end of my shower, I had discovered more bites on my upper arms and around my ankles. They seemed to be multiplying! By the time I was checking out, I was using all my will power not to scratch. I was in misery.

The hotel owner admitted they had had a problem with bed bugs recently, but she had the place professionally treated and sprayed at great cost. The exterminator had even sprayed the bushes around the entrance. She apologized and said she'd make it up to me the next time I stayed there. When my airport transport arrived, I was in even more misery. By the time, I was at the airport, my arms were covered with large, red welts where I'd been bitten. Someone next to me in the waiting room asked if those were from the South American super-mosquito she'd heard were becoming a problem (kind of like the killer bees). Oh my god! I didn't realize how many big welts had popped out on my arms! My whole arm was covered with them.

Once on the plane, I was grateful for the cool air so that I could cover up with a long sleeved sweater. I was sure everyone was looking askance at me with so many huge welts on my arms and neck. And I kept discovering new bites... Good god! Was I carrying these bugs on me? I imagined them crawling all over me. Ugh, ugh, ugh!

When I changed planes in Houston, I couldn't refasten my sandals. My ankles and feet were horribly swollen. But not from sitting on the plane. My feet were covered with angry red bites and huge blood blisters. Walking was painful as the straps on my sports sandals rubbed on the bloody bumps. To hide the hideous sight and hopefully get some relief I put on socks and shoes. Walking was a little less painful, but things were getting worse.

Getting on my connecting plane, I was relieved when they turned out the cabin lights to let us sleep. There was no way I could sleep, but I didn't want the people around me to see my transformation-- especially if I might end up passing these bugs to them! My right ear was hot. I reached up to feel it and found it was swollen and sticking straight out from my head like Dumbo the Elephant's! There was a row of bites along the rim. More bites had popped out on my neck. Thankfully, none were on my face. With the exception of my head, the bites were essentially the areas not covered by my sarong: ankles, feet, hands, arms, shoulders and neck.

It was the longest flight in the world. I had covered up almost everything, but I was sure my "Dumbo" ear was going to attract unwanted attention. Thank heavens again for the dark of the night. I went straight to my reserved shuttle and made a plan as we headed into the city. I wouldn't even go into my apartment. When I got there, I would throw my bag into my car's truck and head straight for the emergency room. I'd never been to an emergency room before, but considering the size and quantity of the welts, the bloody blisters on my feet, my Dumbo ear and my absolute inflamed, itchy condition-- it seemed the only thing to do.

At the emergency room, it was a long wait, but when I stripped down to be wrapped in warm blankets and pumped full of antihistamine-- I finally felt some relief and hope. They did not diagnose me as having bed bug bites-- to do that they had to actually see one. Strangely, there was not a single bug on me, so why was I still getting bites? This is what I found out...

Bed bugs have a special "beak" that lets them inject their victims with their saliva which contains an anticoagulant and anesthesia-- that's why I never felt being bitten. Then they feed on you for 5-10 minutes. Some people never have any problem with the bites...they just experience an annoyance of a few small red marks like a mosquito might leave behind. Apparently, I was having an allergic reaction to the bed bug's anesthesia-- possibly due to the large numbers of bites I had experienced. Sometimes the bites don't become visible until hours later which is why I seemed to be getting new bites, but was actually just having a delayed response to the bites from the night before.

I was released from the emergency room after 13 hours of treatment. The itching was gone and I almost forgot about the bites (except the ones that had become blood blisters on my feet) since they were covered by my clothes. It was winter, so I wore pants and a turtleneck to work. A few days later, I decided I should have taken some photos. Most bites had pretty much disappeared, but my feet still looked ugly. Here are two views of my (still swollen) foot and ankle:

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Notice how the bites tend to be in a row. Bed bugs treat you like a buffet line, taking a bite, then going down the line for another and then another. One tell-tale sign that the bites are from a bed bug and not bites of a mosquito or spider is the line up of several bites usually in groups of three. I've heard it referred to as "Breakfast-Lunch-and Dinner". I won't go into a lot more detail. You can get a good overview by looking up "bed bug" in Wikipedia. But let me just say, they can go without food for 100-300 days, get water from the air and can tolerate extreme temperatures (hot and cold)-- all that combined with their resistance to pesticides makes it incredibly hard to get rid of them.

I was psychologically traumatized after The Attack of the Belizean Bed Bugs. A few years later, I sat in my car in horror as I listened to an NPR Radio story on bed bugs in New York (Warning! That nice couch on the sidewalk may be there for a reason! Leave it there!). I was so itchy and crawly and plain freaked out that I forgot about getting groceries and went straight home. I became an bed bug expert by reading everything I could find-- especially on how to avoid them.

So how did I forget the basic rules about how to avoid bed bugs when travelling and get into this predicament? Well, after six years of vacations-- and more recently a solid 18 months of travel-- that were bug-free, I just forgot to remain vigilant. Like eating street food-- no need to be obsessive, just take some practical precautions. Here are some to consider; you can find others with a web search.
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FIVE BASIC RULES FOR AVOIDING BED BUGS:
1. Upon arrival to your room, stash your bag in the bathroom while you check the bed for infestation: pull out the sheets and check around the mattress seams and headboard. You are looking for small blood stains (from squished bugs or bleeding bites) or small black dots (if it's bed bug poop a rub with a wet finger tip will cause it to smear and turn red). The largest bug will be the size of a watermelon seed (most of the ones I have seen are much smaller), but the babies are minuscule and translucent unless they have fed recently. Look at some pictures on line so that you know what they look like in the different stages.
2. Continue your search around the room (within a 15 foot range of the bed) especially soft chairs, couches, wooden wardrobes...even tucked under peeling paint. If you see white powder, the hotel may already be using an insecticide due to an existing or recent problem.
3. Keep your bag off the bed and floor during your stay. Use the luggage rack, a table or if necessary a desk or dresser top.
4. Consider wrapping your bag in plastic (bed bugs also hide on airplanes, trains, taxis, etc.). Even a plastic garbage bag might help.
5. Ask for a different room (several floors away) or go to a different hotel if you see warning signs! If you are sure there are bed bugs, please inform the manager. There is no need to be rude or accusatory...be discrete and just politely inform them of what you have found so that they can address the issue. Bed bugs can arrive unnoticed at any hotel from a cheap dive to a five-star. Bed bugs have nothing to do with a room being dirty or -- alternately-- an attractive designer room doesn't offer protection from them.

In my case, my hotel in Kathmandu was a popular, well-rated accommodation in the budget range. It was 1 am when I discovered the problem, but I didn't hesitate. I immediately went to the desk clerk, explained the problem and asked him to give me a new room. He didn't show any surprise and gave no resistance. I was moved to a new room immediately. I made an inspection and then I used my silk sleep sack and wore a Moroccan caftan that covered me from head to toe. It took awhile to get to sleep due to itching and psychological trauma, but it was a bug-free night.

The next day at breakfast, as I silently made note of where I was itching and then felt for the confirming welts to evaluate whether I needed to use my emergency epi-pen to avoid another bad allergic reaction, I was also debating on whether I should stay or find a new hotel. A new hotel would require some assistance since I could not carry my own bag (a broken arm if you are new to my blog). The hotel manager/owner stopped by my table to inquire about me and I honestly explained what I was considering. In the end, I accepted an upgrade to a room on the top floor. If it hadn't been an upgrade, I would have changed hotels. I needed comforting and the new room was much more visually appealing and had a nicer bathroom.

That night, at 11pm, I discovered a bed bug on the pillow. I immediately went to the desk clerk and asked if the owner/manager was still there. He was. We had a frank discussion of the situation and I was escorted to another hotel nearby. I let him know that I was also concerned that I might now be carrying bed bugs with me via my luggage. However, the new hotel was one that he also owned in partnership. It was not one I would normally have chosen (large, sterile and modern) and while still within my established budget and a reasonable price- it was at the high end for Kathmandu. But at this point, I deserved to be pampered (and I was given a large discount off the online price). I was given the last room available which was a double, so the next day I had to move again, but it was to yet another upgrade and I really liked the new room a lot! So five rooms in three nights...but like Goldilocks, the last one was just right! I could finally relax and enjoy my stay in Kathmandu.

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Footnote: A few days later, I saw the manager/owner of the first hotel and he told me that another guest had reported a problem too. They were treating the whole floor this time instead of just one room at a time.

Posted by jaytravels 20.07.2014 23:03 Archived in Nepal Tagged nepal rtw kathmandu bed_bugs Comments (0)

Back on the (RTW) Road Again!

But first, I climb the footies of Mt. Meru...

sunny 82 °F

This is an e-postcard sent to family and friends on July 15th from Arusha, Tanzania

Well, in just a few days I'll be leaving Kilimanjaro and heading for the Himalayas. I have a ticket from Kilimanjaro airport to Kathmandu, Nepal. So is my broken arm healed?...Can I hoist my own bag?

Nope...but my (second) visa expires on July 18th and it's time to move on. So last week, I made a list of things I hadn't done yet and have crazily been working my way through them. Unfortunately, a few of the big items will remain undone, but I've been chipping away so that I won't have too many regrets.

On Sunday, I finally hiked the Mt. Meru footies. Mt. Meru looms large over Arusha though it is often shrouded in clouds. There is a view of it from pretty much anywhere in town if it weren't for the clouds, but the power lines make it impossible to get a decent shot of it. Luckily, I got some good pictures when I went to Ngaramtoni village market last month to see the the Sunday market (food, clothes and anything anybody would want!) and the nearby Maasai cattle/goat market.

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​The hike in the foothills took us through about five small Maasai villages. Elia, as usual seemed to know everyone we passed. My new next door neighbor Serena from New York who is working here for two months came along with us. When we reached the last village-- Oldonyosapuk-- at the top of the footies, we were looking at the school when we heard church music. So we decided to take a break and join the congregation. I wrapped a kanga around my hiking clothes to look presentable.

Though a small church, they had two lively choirs and a small band (2 electric guitars and an electric keyboard). The service was in a mix of Kiswahili and Kimaasai with an occasional English word or phrase. They were especially happy to see us since it was a fundraising day to help pay for the generator. There is no electricity in the villages. As visitors, Elia was asked to introduce us which he did in Maasai and we got a round of applause. We were applauded again, when we set the pace for the fundraising with a 5,000 TZ schilling donation. If school had been in session, I would have made a donation to them. Here's one of the classrooms I saw...

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After church, we continued our hike to Olmoti Falls. It was a nice walk through forests and then we plunged down a steep narrow trail that was a bit tricky until we got to a river that we had to follow and criss-cross multiple times. I traded my hikers for sports sandals and waded in and out as needed. After three months of having only one arm, my balance is still off. Elia and Serena didn't want to get their hikers or running shoes wet either, but they were able to jump from stone to stone and teeter on the narrow banks when necessary. There were a few small falls and then we reached Olmoti.

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We left when a group of teens from Canada arrived en masse..To return, we had to climb the same steep, narrow trail back up. My mind was willing, but my body was rebelling. I have been doing a fair amount of walking (generally 3 - 8 miles a day), but it hasn't been aerobic and it's all been on flat surfaces in town. After a month of limited exercise followed by just walking-- I still have a ways to go to be ready for Nepal which has 8 of the 10 highest mountains in the world and is THE destination for trekking.

Half way down, we met another friend of Elia's and he showed us a different route down which was steeper, but shorter and went through the same rich farmland. We passed by the huge vegetable gardens he and his sons tended. Besides banana trees, there were squash, peas, cauliflower, beans, onions, corn...and pretty much everything you'd find in the market in the city below.

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It was a nice day among quiet villages, bright butterflies, misty falls, green forests, patchwork vegetable gardens, impromptu soccer games, and friendly people. Seems idyllic, but don't romanticize village life.

There is no electricity: no lights, no TV, no electrical appliances. Women gather and carry firewood long distances for cooking outside. There's no running water in the house. A few have a pipe and faucet in their yard, but most carry water long distances bucket by bucket up and down steep trails. Sanitation is very basic. Some have a drop hole shielded with a sheet of plastic...most just use the ground near their house.

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​Some houses are made of cement blocks-- others are mud bricks or mud daub. Most have tin roofs, but a few still use thatch. But these are actually prosperous villages due to the abundant water and rich earth.

I enjoyed my day, but I'm glad to go back to my garden apartment where we cook a dinner of shrimp marsala and garlic mashed potatoes. We have Elia's leftover birthday cake for dessert. As usual, Africa has reminded that I am indeed a very lucky woman.

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​What?!?! There's no sign for Kathmandu...? Well, the next time you hear from me, that's where I will be.
Hope all is well with everyone!

Jay
Your wandering daughter/sister/friend in deepest, darkest Africa...soon to be High in the Himalayas

Posted by jaytravels 14.07.2014 23:35 Archived in Tanzania Tagged tanzania rtw arusha mt._meru Comments (0)

Tanzanian Road Test

Am I ready to hit the road again? I take a test drive to find out.

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View Start on jaytravels's travel map.

I have been in Arusha for over two months while waiting for my fractured right arm to heal sufficiently to continue my RTW. I had reduced my plans, but still hoped to see Nepal, SE Asia, Indonesia and volunteer at a research center in Australia. The healing progess has been slow, but steady and visible. I had some sessions with a physiotherapist and have a set of exercises to do several times a day to increase my flexibility and regain my strength. I can't continue my trip until I can hoist my heavy backpack. However, time is running out. My second visa (good for three months) has less than four weeks left and I could only lift a mug of chai-- if I was careful.

So I pack a small day bag with a change of clothes, a toothbrush and my android phone. Sticking my ATM card in my pocket, I head out for a test run. Babati is only about a three hour (plan on 4 or 5!) bus ride away. The idea is to investigate creating a volunteer component for an NGO (non-government organization). Arusha is swarming with international volunteers, but Babati is one of the poorest regions of Tanzania and growing fast which means they can't keep up with their growing needs and it's a region that doesn't attract many tourists even though it isn't far from Tarangire and the safari tourist trail. I had found a non-profit NGO that was already established there and working on agriculture, health and education as an approach to tackle the cycle of poverty, but it had only a small volunteer component. It is based in England, so I sent them an email hoping to get a local contact in Babati and made a plan to visit the local schools to measure interest and need for a volunteer-based support program that would focus on education.

The NGO I contacted never responded (it's been weeks) and by the time I can hit the road, the schools have closed for the 'summer'. Elia has just finished his training program in Arusha and the high season is off to a slow start most likely due to the terrorist activities (bombings) in Kenya. Tanzania and Kenya share a border and also share the tourists. The international airport in Nairobi, Kenya is bigger and better served than Dar es Salaam, Tanzania so most tourists coming to Tanzania start in Kenya. Arusha (Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Tarangire National Parks) and Moshi (Mt. Kilamanjaro) are only a few hours from the Kenyan border; a shuttle from Arusha to Nairobi takes about four hours. Tourists planning to visit Kenya often decide to split their time between the two countries and see the best of both-- but this season they appear to have been scared off by the activities in Kenya. So with few tourists and even less business...he's free to travel. So we head to Babati with a plan to stay just a few days.

BABATI (two nights in two hotels)
There isn't much to do in Babati. We do take a huge traditionally-made (and leaky) canoe out on Lake Babati to see the herds of hippos and the bird life. I take pictures of the fishermen (they don't seem to mind even though they are fishing illegally-- there is a six month no-fishing period in place). We watch the student sports fair with locals pitted against busloads of students from Arusha and other nearby towns. We walk until we have seen pretty much the whole town. Not ready to go back to Arusha, we decide to see what is happening in Singida. I lament that we can't buy the fresh sunflower oil and yummy (somewhat sticky) rice that is abundant in the area. I had hoped to buy some for cooking and some for gifts, but we can't carry it since we are not going directly back to Arusha.

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SINGIDA (two nights in two hotels)
We hop a bus to go the 135 kilometers to Singida and then grab a Bajaji (3-wheeled auto-rickshaw common in India and SE Asia...often called tuk tuks) to take us to a hotel on Lake Singidani. We bump down a dirt road passing small houses with skinny chickens in the yards and colorful laundry on the lines. The area around the lake is quiet, just a few pastoralists bringing their cows to drink on the shore. Another guy has a small herd of donkeys. Elia takes some pictures of boys playing on the shore in the distance only to realize they don't all have swimsuits. The boys run for the water and hide in an old canoe-- then get brave and start showing off. We walk around and see some new houses that belie that Singida is even poorer than Babati. No one seems to even know there are supposed to be flamingos on the lake. We check out one of the other six lakes-- no flamingos there either...just a few fishermen with ropes around their waist to help pull in the nets. We have a second night at a hotel in town...eat dinner at an outdoor barbecue place where everyone is watching the world cup...walk a lot...and that's about the end of the entertainment. Elia loves politics and avidly watches the TZ Parliament on TV, so I suggest we continue on to Dodoma (the capitol of TZ) and see the Bunge where the Parliament takes place...

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DODOMA (one night)
Except, they won't let us in at the Bunge and I can't even take a picture (though I find a view between the trees about two blocks away and snap a few of the Bunge's dome and flag...neener, neener, neener!). A police cavalcade drives by and Elia catches a glimpse of the Tanzanian President in the escorted car. Once again, not much to do, but walk around and explore. So it's off to Morogoro...

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MOROGORO and TANGA (one night; two nights)
At Morogoro, I find a lady selling fried goodies and chapatis on the street-- I buy two of everything and have a hard time saving some for Elia. Elia heard about a popular place while he was at the internet cafe and we went there to try out the local specialty which was a wheat porridge with crispy bits and potato dumplings topped off by yogurt, tamarind sauce and who knows what else. It reminded me of the Belpuri and more elaborate chaats in India-- Yum! After Morogoro (and a repeat of activities we had done in the other towns), we head to Tanga which is on the coast of the Indian Ocean. We discover a great place to stay, but it is full. The friendly manager directs us to a few nearby places. We stay at one of them, but head back to his place for dinner. We have Kingfish with garlic butter and prawns in Marsala sauce. It's so good that we return for lunch the next day and have prawn fried rice and a big fresh salad. We hop on the bus for Arusha in the morning. At the first stop out of town, we buy three huge bags of local oranges to eat and to give as gifts to family and friends in Arusha. The seven hour plus bus ride will be the final test of my travel abilities.

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TEST RESULTS
Getting back on the road will be a bit of a challenge, but I think I'm ready...except that I still can't hoist my big pack onto my back! Yeah, there was also an occasional struggle to slide out of a seat using just one arm and getting on/off the bus was a bit sticky when the steps were so high off the ground as I couldn't pull myself up with just my left hand. I have about three weeks to get into shape. Back in Arusha, I pull my pack out of the closet where it has been for almost three months. It is about half full. I cautiously lift it up and swing it onto my back. The pull on my shoulder is a warning sign...it looks like I will need to amp up my exercise program if I'm going to catch that flight to Kathmandu on July 17th. Until then, I have exercises to do, a long list of things to accomplish, and a lot of goodbyes to say. With my visa expiring on July 18th...it's Kathmandu, here I come, ready or not.

Posted by jaytravels 29.06.2014 12:03 Archived in Tanzania Tagged tanzania rtw tanga arusha dodoma singida babati morogoro Comments (0)

I Move to a New Garden Apartment

A Reflection on Living Conditions

semi-overcast 82 °F

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A pictorial tour of my new Garden Apartment...

I had to change apartments and I did not like the one available where I had been living, so I looked at some new locations. For just $30 more per month than my first "garden apartment" (I say 'just', but $1 a day is the approximate average household income in Tanzania), I am closer to good transportation, shopping (food) and the Clock Tower (the central market and shops)...and I now have a living room, a nicer kitchen, a larger bedroom and lots of natural light in every room! It really feels like home for me, but to many it's a palace...keep reading and you'll know why.

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It's not very 'African' except for a few pieces of local art...

I am paying the same daily rate as I would be if I were staying in an 'economy' hotel --or a lot less if you use the Lonely Planet definition of an economy price! But even at less than $25/day, my apartment is well above the living standards of the majority of Tanzanians. To start with, I have clean running water and a flush toilet in my home. In the city of Dar Es Salaam only 8% of have water connections in their house and only 10% have flush toilets. I'm lucky to be in Arusha which is one of only three towns in Tanzania that has a continuous water supply; water is only available about 9 hours a day in Dar Es Salaam, the largest city which is located on the Indian Ocean. Here are some other facts:

The total population for Tanzania is 45 million. Less than about 21.6 million Tanzanians (or nearly half the population) do not have access to clean water and over 40 million do not have access to adequate sanitation. Only 12% have access to toilets [statistics from Water Aid Global]. These statistics are not unusual when you know that nearly a billion people (or 1 in 8) in the world don't have access to clean and safe water and that 37% of them live in Sub-Saharan Africa [per the United Nations Water Project]. These statistics are only referring to "access". In other words, if there is a hygienic water pump at the other side of your village, you have access. If you have to walk over two hours a day to carry your water back home and you are female-- it may not be safe even if the water is clean, so it is not necessarily accessible. If you are able to use a neighbor's pit toilet, you have 'access'.

In Tanzania, "water-borne illnesses, such as malaria and cholera 'account for over half the the diseases affecting the population' because people don't have access to sanitary options." 10,000 children die every year from diarrhea due to unsafe water and poor sanitation [WaterAid]. According to the United Nations, less than 10% of the schools have functioning hand-washing facilities and some schools have over 200 students per 'drop hole'. And, in spite of all the efforts by the government of Tanzania with support from the United Nations and dozens of NGO's-- the stats are getting worse as the improvements can't keep up with the increase in population.

That's just my advantage of water and sanitation; I also have a solid roof, a floor, a locking door, glass on my windows, and more than one room...and it is all mine. I don't share it with an average Tanzanian household comprised of seven or more people. My rent also includes a daily cleaning service and they provide clean sheets and towels, toilet paper and soap; there's also a cheap, convenient laundry service. Then there are the real luxuries: electric lights, a 4-burner stove/oven, a microwave, a toaster, an 'instant' hot water shower and a flat screen TV with cable. All these electrical gadgets are backed up by a generator as the electricity is prone to go out for awhile on a regular basis. In comparison, my best friend in Arusha has a house with a solid (tin) roof and a door with a padlock.

Nope. I am definitely not living like a local...

It's easy to forget how people really live when you are a tourist and even your "simple economy lodging" is far superior to the average local residence. Tanzanians are very friendly, You will make a lot of friends while traveling here. Many will be the hotel receptionist, your safari guide/driver or a waiter in a restaurant. Often it may just be someone on the street who starts up a friendly conversation. They will most likely be neatly dressed in Western clothes in the latest styles like you. Their English will be good and sprinkled with colloquial expressions; most will be tri-lingual (Kiswahili, English, and a tribal language such as Kichagga or Kimasai) and some will speak additional languages such as German, French or Spanish. They will appear educated and international. You will enjoy your brief friendship and feel comfortable with them-- bonding over some commonalities in conversation. But most likely, you will not visit their home or meet their family.

That hotel receptionist who chats in your language and directs you to a good restaurant may not have more than a 9th or 10th grade education-- that's if they are lucky. They have probably never eaten at the restaurant they have recommended to you. The Western clothes and shoes they are wearing were likely bought used in the market or even on the street; they are hand-washed and air-dried on a regular basis and if you stay long-- you will see the same outfit worn often. Sometimes, the clothes or shoes may be a gift from a tourist who no longer wanted them and left them behind, but which are now prized possessions.

The parents of this receptionist may not read or write in Kiswahili or any other language and they may be more verbally comfortable in their own tribal language. If the receptionist is not married, they will still be living with their extended family of five, six, seven or more people. Their home may be on the edge of town in one of the 'villages' where the streets are unpaved and not much more than a pathway which is quite muddy during the rainy season. They may or not have running water or a bathroom in their home. Chances are they share a bathroom (a squatter, pit toilet or even just a drop-hole) outside of their home with other families; or they may just use the ground near their house. Their shower will be a bucket of water; if they are lucky it has been heated on a stove indoors or perhaps just an open fire in their outdoor kitchen. Their dinner will be ugali (corn meal mush) with cabbage, rice pilau or stewed ndizi (starchy banana) most likely cooked over the same open fire that heated their bathwater.

But as you have friendly conversations with your new friends, you will not know any of this and most likely cannot even imagine such a life...after all, they dress like you, talk like you and know all the places where an international traveler likes to go for food and entertainment. They have a cell phone and send you text messages; you exchange Facebook addresses with them. While you may assume the Masai in traditional dress that you see around town live in a traditional round mud and thatch house, it is likely your 'modern' friend is living in similar circumstances...but you would never guess and most likely they won't tell you.

Tanzanians know tourists take certain things for granted and expect them, so on my low budget safari -- even my two-person tent had a hot water shower and flush toilet. But any accommodation with a shower and a flush toilet puts you in the top percentage of luxury living in Tanzania. Something to think about the next time you are tempted to complain to the receptionist that your shower water wasn't hot that morning.

Posted by jaytravels 20.05.2014 07:57 Archived in Tanzania Tagged tanzania arusha sanitation clean_water Comments (0)

The Adventure of Haircuts on the Road

A Surprising Source of an Adrenaline Rush!

semi-overcast 86 °F

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Hanging out in front of a barbershop in the
Kariacoo market area of Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania

The following is an e-mail postcard sent April 2014 from Arusha.

Dear Family and Friends,

Here is my latest cheap haircut negotiated without a common language (well, he did know the word "sistah"). I asked for it to be taken off my neck-- with a trim around the ears and a little off the top...then closed my eyes!

Actually, I kept my eyes open...open in horror as I watched him take experimental swipes with an electric clipper. He must have changed the clipper size 8 times in the next 20 minutes. He also tried putting oil on the clippers since my hair just slipped off. He had obviously never cut a muzungu's hair before. I was there about an hour and all the clients (male) came in to have their heads shaved or clipped to less than a tiny fraction of a quarter inch. No women came in, but a large number of women in Africa also keep their hair equally short.

At some point, he seemed done, but I showed him that one side was about 1/2 inch and the opposite side was about 2 1/2 inches. Eeeek! He looked like he was just going to even it out when suddenly he must have been inspired. That's when he buzzed off almost everything except for the top which he hadn't touched yet. After asking if he should cut the top (using gestures), he used the clippers like a comb on the top. Then he combed it forward...I looked like Napoleon! Aurgh...I jokingly gestured to the two other guys there that if I didn't like the cut I'd get my hair completely clipped next to the scalp like them.

Then the barber/hairstylist/butcher dug around in a drawer full of plastic ends for the clippers and came up with some scissors. Unfortunately, they were as dull as the ones in grade school...they made no impression on my fine hair, so he made stabbing, hacking attacks at my head in an attempt to actually get them to cut anything. OMG!!!! I tried to stay calm, but my face was stretching like silly putty in order to not say anything. My eyes were still wide in horror and in awe that he was still finding anything to cut and that I was still at his mercy sitting in that chair! I had to trust that he had a plan by now...

But he didn't. He just whipped out a brush with powder and whisked it around my eyes, ears and neck. I looked like a freshly plucked chicken! As I stood up, he started beating me with a towel to remove the fine tenacious short hairs all over the back of my sweater. Trying not to look in the mirror, I thought I could finally escape.

BUT NO. There was more! I was to get a shampoo! I was directed through a door to a small room where three people laughing and raucously enjoying themselves went completely quiet when the muzungu came in looking a bit crazed. I turned down an upgrade to a facial scrub, but as the shampooer rubbed shampoo around my head she continued onto my face until my whole head was covered in suds. Please let this be over soon!!!!

The shampooer was further disappointed that after moving me to a stylist's chair, I turned down each of her inspired offerings-- bright pink gel, olive oil and mystery spray in a can. Shrugging and throwing her hands up (this girl doesn't want anything!), I was sent back outside to pay.

What a deal...an hour of horror for only $3 US (5,000 TZ schillings). I slunk out the door and kept my head down as I headed to my hotel. No one was calling out greetings as usual (they all know me by now), so I imagined they were just as appalled. I thought I would hide in my room while I figured out just how bad it was. I hadn't been given a mirror to see the back-- just had to feel what had been done. I could barely pinch it between my fingers it is so short over most my head.

Costa said I looked like a policeman. Elia said it's 'not bad'. Dyness said it was 'nice' (she just got hers done in gorgeous braids). Joyce and Grace who both wear their hair shaved closed to the scalp weren't there to comment, but I'm sure I'll get an honest response from them at breakfast albeit in Kiswahili that I can't understand followed by hilarious laughter.

It's been a few hours now and I can live with it and will probably really like it in a few days. At least I won't need another cut for awhile (until Nepal?).

So here it is for your viewing pleasure. And you all thought the Palestinian haircut was extreme...

Jay
Arusha, Tanzania

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My older brother Michael responds:
Dear Mzungu,
By now, after your barbering experience, you have wisely learned to say "just a little short," "just a smidgen more," "stop!," "cease and desist," "I'm placing you under citizen's arrest," "let me see your certificate from Arusha State Barber College," (wait, learn that phrase first!) in Kiswahili. You may need to go to the U. S. Embassy in Dar-Es-Salaam and get a new passport photo so you can exit Tanzania.

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The scene of the crime in Arusha...I had to go to a men's barbershop to get a 'cut'.
Women's "Beauty Saloons" are for weaving and braiding; they don't cut hair.

Unfortunately, I didn't take my brother's advice and recently got a second haircut in Arusha. I did look up a few Kiswahili phrases and even practiced them with my Kiswahili teacher. I jokingly practiced saying "Nyoa zote!" (Shave it all off!), but I was confident that the person cutting/trimming my hair could just copy the cut I had which --once it grown out a bit-- I really liked. So when I walked down the road looking for a men's saloon (the local version of salon or barbershop), I was confident that I had the phrases I needed: Nataka kukata nywele (I'd like a haircut) and Schilingi ngapi (How much?). Alas, I should have listened to my older brother. Mtale was a nice young man with braids past his shoulders (any hair on a man is a rarity here!) who spoke decent English, but apparently not enough. I told him to give me the same-- a close clip on the sides and back, but leaving a little length on the top. Sigh. I now have a haircut that is the closest it can be to a shave without being a shaved head! I have been asked if I am a Catholic nun because I don't have a husband or children (this has happened three times now!), but now I look like a Buddhist nun! Take a look at this one:

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Here's a pic of Mtale at work and his tiny shop (viewed from the road and not to be confused with the women's salon next door that does braiding). I was his very first mzungu (white person) and his first customer of the day (it was 4pm...Hmmm...should that have been a hint?) though it seems my business might have spurred some interest as two customers lined up as he finished my shave...er...cut! While he proclaimed my being a customer was good luck, he admitted he was nervous doing his first mzungu. BTW- This was my cheapest cut yet at 2,000TZ or US$1.33.

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Past haircuts on my RTW:

Abancay, Peru- A one-chair salon in a woman's home. I speak Spanish so I only had the usual 'I hate haircut jitters'. The priest had more hair than the other female client and myself, but he paid less...religion has its perks.

Villa de Leyva, Boyaca, Colombia - My friendly hotel manager (where I was the only guest) walked me to a friend's upstairs salon where I arranged to have a cut and a pedicure (in preparation for trading boots for sandals as I headed to the coast for hot weather and beaches). It was small and had just one chair, but there were a few friends to dish the gossip and her toddler kept us entertained. Kind of a fun 'girls get together' feel and fairly non-threatening. My deep red painted toes looked great!

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Portland, Oregon, USA - I went with my youngest brother Ken and we got 'his and her' cuts from his regular barber.

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Marrakesh, Morocco - Once again, the hotel manager helped me out. I was in a Muslim country, so had scouted out a salon for women near the hammam I used. But Hakim insisted he knew a better place...a man that did women's hair and was just around the corner. Once again, I was escorted there. Hakim negotiated the fee and then left me in the stylist's hands. He had some English and I had some Arabic/French so we did okay...though he pushed hard for a substantial 'tip' on top of the agreed upon price. When Hakim found out, I got the feeling there would be some words exchanged.

Berat, Albania - Here, I was really on my own! No common language and I couldn't seem to find a salon. And...I was surrounded by women with long, dark, flowing or bushy locks. Then I wandered into the fringes a bit and found a local street market. There was a woman selling vegetables that was blonde! AND...she not only had very short hair but it was a nice cut! I followed the customary local greetings with sign langugage to communicate I liked her hair and I needed a haircut. She called out to another vendor that she needed her to watch her stall and then took my hand and walked me down the street. The place was closed, but I returned the next day and got quite a good cut for about $2.16 dollars, Once again, no common language-- she spoke not a word of English. The walls of her tiny on-chair salon were covered with pictures of clients being prepared for weddings and special occasions- all had long hair like her. Here are the 'BEFORE' and 'AFTER' pics:

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Bethlehem of Galilee, The Palestine Territories (Israel) - I had some Arabic, but none related to haircuts and the guy's English was even more limited. The thing is...Palestinian women don't get their hair cut. They come in just for the tiniest of trims to their long hair. So this guy had never really cut a woman's hair...styled or short, that is. But he did his best and it was okay...had a bit of a quirky punk thing going on. Later, as I walked down the street it suddenly dawned on me-- I looked like all the young men I was passing on the street. He essentially gave me a man's haircut, but didn't shave the sides of my head. It made me laugh that I had the hip haircut of the Palestinian boys! Here's my Palestinian punk look:

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Lonely Planet's Kiswhahili Phrasebook offers this line-- Nilikosa hata uliponikaribia!
I should never have let you near me!

Posted by jaytravels 17.05.2014 08:17 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

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