December 30, 2016

getting around Goa

there are a couple of options for moving around the Goa area.  the taxis [which i hate everywhere in the world], the indian version of the rickshaw [less expensive and more uncomfortable], a scooter [pretty dangerous] or walking [very dangerous].  in the larger cities like Mumbai uber is an option [no cash needed!]
i'm pretty good on a scooter so i get one from the resort to explore around the area and i go to park at the city center where the streets are lined with hundreds of motorbikes that ALL LOOK THE SAME TO ME.  fortunately, i have experience in this area.  first i take a picture of the bike with identifying numbers.  then i take a picture of the shop in front of which i have parked.  in this way i have always been able to successfully navigate back to my bike while i watch other travels wandering aimlessly down a street in despair.

Goa, as i mentioned is a hot spot for westerners seeking a cheap place to live or vacation, so along with that comes the chefs to cater to them.  there are really lovely western style restaurants around and so when ready to get off the street and take a break from indian food [which i love] there are many options.  
by western standards, drivers in India would be considered reckless and vehicular deaths are in their vedic tradition considered the karmic cost of the pollution created by cars.  weekly, if not daily, there are posts on the local fb page of a wrecked motorbike and a note looking to identify the driver who has been now carted off to a hospital.

December 28, 2016

indian rupees - you are screwed

the week AFTER i booked my ticket from Tanzania to India the crazy government in India did something shocking.  they demonitized [withdrew from circulation] the two largest bank notes.  they provided a window of a few weeks for citizens to turn in old notes but weren't able to provide new notes.  this failed effort to combat corruption came with a few catastrophic results.  basically it was a disruption of a cash based economy.  hours long lines for new notes.  hours long lines to turn in the maximum number of old notes.  atm were not prefitted to accommodate the new larger notes so any withdrawal became a guessing game - requiring you to find an atm with cash and then make multiple requests for different amounts.  

India is a cash based society and that's not going to change anytime soon.  so the locals are used to finding workarounds for stupid things the government does.  the taxi drivers were a great source of information here.  they knew which atms had cash and in what denominations you could get cash.  they knew which shops would take old notes, where to use credit cards, etc.

the problem for travelers is that a coconut or a rickshaw ride might cost 10 rupees and all you had in your wallet was 500 or 1000 rupee notes and a street vendor couldn't make change.  

India was still in the throes of this failed transition while i was there and it was a minor inconvenience for me but a very tangible income hit for the locals.

December 27, 2016

Goa beaches + sacred cows

the beaches i visit are most appreciated in the early morning hours for sunrise mediation or an early swim.  anytime after 10AM they are swarmed with circus acts and hawkers and i can't believe the number of people [ both westerners and locals ] on the beach during the day and into sunset.  indian culture is very conservative and since Goa is considered very western it's a place where Indians can swim in a bathing costume or [GASP] bare their shoulders in public.  it's their version of vegas.

the sanitation systems in India are questionable.  so the beaches themselves aren't clean by western standards and swimming in the water is potentially a health risk.  i'm current on things like typhoid and hepatitis so i'm willing to take the chance when i need to cool off.  
the hawkers get really annoying after a while and you have to keep reminding yourself that they are just sisters trying to make some money in a culture that doesn't educate or respect them as equals.  it's hard to say no the grandma wielding a machete and offering a fresh coconut for less than an american dollar.  

there are a lot of children begging with 'tourist english' but whenever i ask why they don't go to school they quickly shy away or defiantly say 'no school today!'.  my beach experience is spoiled by my travels to so many more pristine and secluded places.  

it goes without saying that cows are one of the major obstacles to be dodging whenever you are outside in India.  they don't dart around quickly like dogs or pigs on the streets of Thailand but because of their size it's intimidating when you are walking or riding a motorbike around them.  they do have pointy horns you know. 

they seem to enjoy a sunset on the beach as much as humans and can often be found congregating in groups then.  cows are sacred [not worshiped] here and it's a fascinating aspect of the indian culture.

December 26, 2016

colorful india

the big tourist market in Goa is chaotic and bright but mostly filled with trinkets and chotchkies that i don't have any interest in or the luggage space to lug back to Tanzania and ultimately home. 

while everyone says just ship it home they don't realize i 1] don't have a home address to ship to in the US and 2] shipping from undeveloped countries is not only difficult but is also unreliable.  the US has a well developed postal service in which for a small fee a person will hand deliver paper to your door.  this is not the case in countries outside the west.  

in most cases when someone sends a letter, card or [god forbid] a package to me it involves multiple trips and hours spent at varied government buildings where confused clerks will ask again and again the same questions and pretend to look in the computer and the back room before returning empty handed to tell you come back tomorrow.

meanwhile the sender is anxiously sending me emails every other day to ask if i've received it yet.  when you finally can track down a package it's likely that another government official will open every wrapped box and paw through your power bars and other items that while desirable to the west hold no value to them. 

December 25, 2016

happy christmas in India

in asia, christmas is largely ignored and not celebrated in any visible way.  Goa, being a hot spot of westerners, comfortably mixes christmas with the vedic traditions.  statutes of jesus and mary get garlands and there is a special procession with candles and lots of pomp and a lot of chanting in sanskrit which i don't understand at all.  it's nice they made an effort and they even present the guests with presents.  

December 23, 2016

ashram or resort?

i ended up staying at a 'resort' in Goa that called itself an ashram so that was a little weird but i didn't care because they didn't ask me to do any work.  the owners and management team were all locals but i wasn't buying the ashram part - except maybe they don't pay the workers?

anyway, it was comfortable enough and had daily yoga and meditation which is exactly what i was looking for.  they also had an aurvedic practitioner on site and i was able to get a better understanding of the practices around prevention of disease that is common in the yoga tradition.

there was a set schedule [completely optional] that started with a 6AM meditation - sometimes at the beach during sunrise, sometimes in a mosquito infested forest or in the shala where it's protected from mosquito and the only potential danger is the odd scorpion.  the mosquito pretty much appear consistently at sunrise and sunset [the times considered most sacred for meditation] and given my natural fear of dengue and malaria i keep myself encased in a cloud of citronella and eucalyptus most of the time.

December 22, 2016

holidays in india

last year I had such a fantastic time in Thailand over the holidays i decided to to do the yoga/beach holiday again this year.

so off I went to Goa, India. the 2:30AM pickup by my driver was a little rough but all my flights were on time and drama free so I made it all the way to Goa in one day. two stops, Nairobi and Mumbai.

the airport in Mumbai, being my first impression of the country was really positive. It's really nice. better than most airports in the US. they have separate security lines at the airport for men and women - not so common and of course the women's lines are twice as long as the men....
domestic flights are unpredictable and as i often do i wonder to myself - how is it that planes in these undeveloped countries stay in the air? certainly the carry on rules are different. if it doesn't fit overhead just put it on your lap. seriously.

i have always wanted to visit India and am so glad to have this chance now.

December 9, 2016

take away

in the US they say to-go but everywhere else they say take away so i had to search my mind [which yes, is turning to mush from lack of using any real brain power] for the word to-go.

anyways, cooking here is so much nicer at my new house but i still get take away sometimes from some restaurants.  take away here is different than to go elsewhere and it's environmentally better than what we do in the west because of the packaging waste but it creates a process.

here, they don't have containers to put your food if you are not eating at the restaurant.  you have to bring your own.  so if you want food delivered this is what happens:
  1. you call the restaurant and place and order and get the cost
  2. you call your motorcycle guy who runs these kinds of errands for you.  these guys, even though they are also your boda driver are called picki pickis because they are picking something up for you.
  3. your picki picki then comes by your house and collects the cash and the containers and takes them to the restaurant
  4. the restaurant then fills your order and the picki picki brings back to your house.
usually the order will be wrong but it's food and you didn't have to cook right?  

think about that next time you spoiled westerners order a food delivery.

December 6, 2016

thank you god for uber

challenging weekend in Dar el Salaam.  i know its not profitable and will probably collapse after a few years but its been fantastic for me when i am traveling. i know there are people who have philosophical differences with the model but i give in to uber wherever it's available.

i do not need to know where i am.  i only need to know where i want to go.

i do not have to speak a foreign language.

i do not have to have small currencies of foreign money in wallet.

it is usually 25% -50% less than what i'd be able to negotiate with a taxi.

so thank you god for the people who thought this up, continue to fund and push it out to countries i visit.  it's not available where i live but in the capital Dar and in Nairobi i can use.

November 29, 2016

beer truck meets curve

first half of truck

brakes are optional ... or only really maintained for tourist vehicles.  someone will be short a few beers this weekend.
second half of truck

November 23, 2016

no escaping the holiday season

the last five weeks have been brutal. the general manager is gone and in his place is the managing director (he is also one of the cofounders and the one who recruited me). the difference is significant. the new director is bringing some discipline and accountability to the company and i am confident that under his leadership the company will thrive.

in addition to the organizational structure changes i had christmas fairs to arrange and i can now say i will be happy if i never have to run a trade show event again. it's the beginning of the hot season here and in the afternoons the offices are like an oven. i guess most of the nationals are used to it but my house is so much cooler that i try to work from there when i can.

November 9, 2016

i blame it on the arab spring

last night i could barely get to sleep i was so excited and i set my alarm for 5am to get up and watch the election results come in.  for me it would be like christmas - opening a present with the first american woman president.  but that was not to be, instead, i woke up, checked the results and was so disgusted i went back to sleep.

i wanted to just keep sleeping but i had a new staff member joining today so i couldn't crawl under the blankets and cry like i wanted to.  instead i dragged myself into the office, walking slowly in the heat and crying a little bit.  i picked some flowers along the way and kilimanjaro was showing through the clouds but even that couldn't cheer me. when i got to the office no one would even look at me.  fortunately there is so much chaos at the office that it was a good distraction all day.  only one person was brave enough to ask about it.

for people who have empathy or believe using positive energy will change the world this is a sad day.  the american people have spoken and as in every presidential election only half of the people get their way.

i blame this election on the arab spring.  we watched as 'everyman' rose up to take back the power that belonged to them.  then we watched the consequence of lack of leadership and the vacuum created by the transition which hasn't helped 'everyman'.

i can't bring myself to watch the talking heads dissect this election.  i'll just wait to see what the next four years bring.

October 21, 2016

my new commute to the office

my new accommodations are just a ten minute walk to the office on some dirt roads.  this is what my commute looks like .....   usually there is a goat or two snacking along the way.  someone taking their herd out for the day.

there's a new litter of puppies that stick their head out the hedge when i walk by and that's another five minute delay while i count and make sure they are all still alive.  must be show and tell day because this one is getting a trip to school in someone's backpack.

there are so many colors of flowers with each month bringing a new tree or bush to flower.  i don't carry technology because it wouldn't be safe, except my phone which i rarely pull out.  i use my walk to the office to make as many friends as possible and let them know i 'stay' with mamma mary.  in the west we might say, 'where are you living?' but that's not the case here.  living arrangements can change very quickly and so the appropriate question is 'where do you stay?'.  

momma mary is well respected within the community because of her status at the local hospital.  people often come to her when they are sick or hurt and she sends them either on to the hospital or back home depending on the case.  so, no one is really going to screw with momma mary because there's going to come a day when they need her help.  

slowing i'm coming to know the neighborhood and they are coming to know me.  one of the guys i hired for the shipping department [yeah, somehow shipping became a sales task] lives quite close to me and walks me home a lot of days.  my office, like everything here in tanzania, is behind a locked gate.

October 17, 2016

day of protest - cancelled

when i was being recruited for this position the subject of security was discussed in detail - after all the only thing separating Tanzania from Somalia is a country called Kenya.  

there was a bit of laughter from one of the directors who said Tanzania was a really stable country because the people were too lazy to protest or start some conflict.

President Magafuli
fast forward, to October, i've been in country six months and there's a huge countrywide protest planned.  something Magafuli [president] has done has set people awry. the us embassy sends out a caution to avoid streets where there could be parades or protests organized.  avoid traveling.  be extra vigilant. everyone in the city is planning to stay home.  we anticipate we will just close the offices for the day even though no one knows what the protest is about.

then... you guessed it.  they 'postponed' the day of protest and said it would be rescheduled.  who does that?  you can't cancel or postpone a protest.  it just isn't effective.

don't just take my word for it.  here's the story reported by Voice of America.

afterwards, i was like, yes, everything here is passive aggressive and no one is going to show their face at a protest.  they might stab you in the back as you walk away from them but they won't say a bad word to your face.

October 13, 2016


this is my gardener.  i love him.  when he trims the bougainvillea fence surrounding the property he always leaves me a bouquet of flowers.

he's only paid about $50 a month for part time work here but he's a happy guy and shows up and does a good job.  

every day i battle staff members who can't do the basic things that they have been taught over and over [things like putting labels onto a bottle].  guess that's why it makes me so glad to see him.

one of my staff happened to be at my house at the same time as the cleaning girl came.  she didn't do a very good job of cleaning and had no english so i asked my staff girl to translate some basic instructions for her.  afterwards, i commented to my staff girl that the cleaning girl always seemed so unhappy.  she was also terrified of the cats so freaked out everytime they came into the house.  i found a much better cleaning girl who has english.

it seems like a luxury and a bit colonialist to have all these house servants but there are real reasons i didn't understand before.  like if you dry your clothes on the clothes line [which i do] they need to be ironed because otherwise bugs will get into them.  since it's so hot here, the windows are always open, but since it's always dusty everything is covered in a layer of red dust if there isn't a regular cleaning. 

i am tired of people in my house and going through my things so i do as much of the cleaning and ironing as i can but i'm working 60 hour weeks and would prefer to spend my evenings relaxing with a glass of wine in the garden or meeting friends for dinner.

October 10, 2016

real sign at hotel

there are always little things to remind you are in africa.  i don't see monkeys in my garden but i did see one crossing the road close to my office so they are always around.

October 7, 2016

eating and exercise

the fruits and vegetables are easily available here making eating more varied than in burma,  every month some new tree is blooming and a new fruit will appear.  the soil here is amazing.  it leaves you wondering how there could be starving people on this continent when anything you put into the ground will grow.  

i was eating watermelon in the garden one day and had about 15 seeds left at the bottom of the bowl.  for fun, i just scraped a hole in the dirt and threw the seeds in.  two weeks later i had a dozen watermelon seedlings.

there is quiet talk of the chinese and monsanto and all the gmo that is introduced here but the nationals generally don't understand the difference.  so i was pleased to see that the seeds were regenerating.

bananas are by far the most common with a woman on every corner selling them and as the avocados and mangoes come into season the price is obscenely low with most expats giving them away for free because the trees produce more than they can use and everyone has a tree or two in their garden.

so the fresh food is readily available.  there are some local dishes that take some getting used to but there is also a large concentration of indians in Tanzania and so the indian food here is both vegetarian and good.  a kitchen here is usually a small counter, tiny sink and maybe a fridge [not in the kitchen - for some reason they put the fridges in the dining area] 

because of the lockdown after dark security protocols the exercise is a bit more of a challenge.  with no sidewalks the running/walking can be a bit hazardous on roads that barely fit two cars.  i have a back road i can take to the office so i usually walk to and from the office.  i was underweight when i arrived because of the stress of the transition, jet lag and getting sick from one of my nephews the week before i left.  

i've regained the weight i was down and starting to feel i need to get some more exercise in.  there's a woman who runs a yoga class a few days a month but getting there is such a hassle that i rarely go.

there are western restaurants that cater to the visitors so there is always someplace to eat where there is a higher standard of service and food.  but it's not an everyday thing because the prices are much higher.

October 2, 2016

guerillas vs. gorrilas

i called my mom to check in.  i told her i spent my birthday money [yes, she's awesome and still sends me money even though i haven't produced any grandchildren] in Rwanda visiting the gorillas.

she asked in a not very surprised voice how they were doing.  i was excited and was going on about the growing population and how amazing it was to be able to spend time with them.  how it was hard to find them because they move so quickly through the forests.  they have their own language but the trackers were able to interpret.  at this point my mom interrupts and asks are you talking about animals or terrorists?

HAHA.  yes, it would be funny if my mom didn't acutually think that for a birthday trip i'd go tracking down terrorists.  now when anyone asks what i've been doing i am careful to stress the mountain before the gorrillas.

September 28, 2016

leaving rwanda

i leave Rwanda with an excitement to sleep in my own bed.  inside my fortress where i feel safe.  i have mixed feelings about Kigali and Rwanda.  they are positioning themselves [much to the laughter of other east africans] as THE HUB of east africa.  like many african countries i feel like it's a powder key just waiting for someone to toss in a match.  a few weeks after this trip i'm in a mixed social situation, some expats some visitors, when a 'well traveled american' visitor starts talking Rwanda, genocides, politics, etc.  it's obvious to me she has no clue about what is really going in the country but i can't be bothered to even comment.  plus, the constant stream of words coming out of her mouth without a pause between sentences doesn't allow anyone to really comment.  there's a south african in the group who has been in east africa for a long time and he catches my eye.  in a split second i can see thinks the same thing.  i just smile but a minute later he interrupts her and provides a more realistic view of the sociopolitical climate there.

i've been invited to return and there are certainly jobs for expats there but i can't really imagine living there.  another highlight of the trip is spending time with a polish expat i met when she was on a Tanzanian project.  that in combination with the fact that it was the french that orignially colonized Rwanda means that good wines are easily available.

the Australians i met in Kigali are also traveling onward to Jaro on the same flight for a climb on Kili and i meet up with them at the gate, exchange some data points on where they've been [climbing volcanos and other badass stuff] and in minutes they have me laughing again about the silly things that happened along the way.

it was a trip filled with new friends, old friends and unforgettable adventures!

September 27, 2016

things i did not expect to see in rwanda

the west sends billions of dollars in aid to africa and so when you see something like this and the people outside the parking area don't even have shoes to wear it makes you wonder where the money is going.

September 23, 2016

mountain gorillas, rwanda

first, i understand it is less expensive to visit the gorillas in Uganda or Congo [the gorillas are in a park that is inside all three countries] but my experience in Rwanda made me feel the money is probably being well spent on training and conservation for the parks, guides, trackers and park rangers.  the cost for one hour with the gorillas is currently $750 plus the cost of a porter [$10 + tip], tip for the guides and tip for the trackers plus accommodations and transfers.  see why i had to sell some fb stock?

the day starts at 6AM as you head off to a central point for paying fees and assignment to guides for specific gorilla families.  once the process is done [they nicely cater to the western crowd with coffee and wifi while you wait] you receive a briefing in detail about the family you will be visiting.  size, group dynamics, number of silverbacks, females, juveniles and babies.

they try to accommodate the capabilities of visitors as gorilla viewing in the wild is by no means an easy trip to the park.  there is no tram, gondola or conveyance to accommodate any incapacity.  in fact, there were multiple people in our group who where there on their second or third day and had left a partner behind because they had twisted an ankle or had some injury from the day before.

regardless of where you enter the actual park you will be met by and accompanied by a armed ranger.  it's not clear whether he is protecting you from animals or humans but he remains with the group the entire time you are in the park.

i'm in the group with two other people who are also returning to Kigali in the afternoon and a handful of older visitors.  i'm good with this because i'm thinking they've got me with a group that is going to have an easy, short hike in to the gorillas.  WRONG.  the gorilla family we are visiting had moved significantly overnight and we spent 2 hours instead of 30 minutes finding them.  that's 2 hours through the jungle, sometimes on a path but sometimes not.  regardless of whether you are on a path it's always on a slope of 45 degrees either up or down mostly in the mud.  this is where the porters earn their pay.  they are constantly grabbing you to avoid you sliding on your ass through the mud or pulling you up over some boulder.  based on the walk i'm pretty sure i earned an extra stamp or two in my passport.  the guides are in touch with the trackers who watch over the families so you always eventually get there.  at least it wasn't raining.

when you meet up with the trackers you forget about the sweat and cranky muscles and bruises from bouncing off boulders.  you have to leave the porters, walking sticks, food and backpacks behind and take only your cameras to join the gorillas.  it's excitement and nervous anticipation as the trackers take over to lead you to the family.  the first gorilla we encounter is a female sitting quietly munching on some bamboo shoots two feet off the path who remarkably ignores us completely.

we continue on the path and the gorillas are actively moving seeking the freshest bamboo shoots which is their food of choice.  in front of me i see a bamboo pole crashing to the ground and i whisper a warning to guy in front of me seconds before a 400 pound gorilla barely avoids landing on his head.

there are few words to explain what it was like to share one hour with the mountain gorillas.  it is a thrilling and humbling experience to be accepted and trusted as a member of their natural world.  you are completely dependent on them for safety and protected as if you were one of their own.

on a break during our epic jungle mud expedition to find the gorillas i asked the guides what the gorillas think of humans that come every day for an hour to visit them and the stories came quickly and with passion.  stories of gorillas protecting humans from snares laid out to trap the gorillas [yeah, that still happens] stories of mamas and babies hiding among the visitors when they were threatened by other gorilla families.  

the group we visited was 20 members with 2 silverbacks, a bunch of juveniles and one infant that was 6 weeks old.  the first time one of the gorillas brushes past you curl into a ball expecting a slash to the neck or a bone breaking blow but there is none of that.  the trackers are constant protectors of the gorillas and enjoy taking you by the and to lead you safely among the gorillas to have the best possible experience.  they speak the language of the gorillas - grunts that signify presence, welcome, peace and even danger.

in this way we sit in the forest with the family as they settle in for their mid morning nap and relax around us.  it is a joy beyond words to watch these amazing animals in the wild.  the hour goes much too quickly and we leave the family to enjoy the rest of the day on their own.  

i'm going to get a little preachy and judgmental here so indulge me or just skip to the next post.

after having stood among these wild gorillas and seeing how they protect their own i can not believe the gorilla shot in the ohio zoo a few months ago had the natural instinct to do anything but protect the child that entered it's cage.  please don't support the zoos - there are so many animal sanctuaries that need support and don't exploit animals.  it breaks my heart that we continue to breed animals into captivity when there are so many already that don't belong in cages and are abandoned by both illegal owners and zoos ending up [if they are fortunate] in a sanctuary.