Africa Day 13: Snorkeling Mnemba

Posted in africa 2008, personal, travel at 2:14 am by wingerz


Day 13: 3/27, Mnemba Atoll


Going snorkeling today! Already feel a bit sunburned – It’s impossible to tell whether I’m tired, burned, motion-sick, or affected by yellow fever or malaria.

We ride over to the port in a small van – 8 of us cram ourselves into six seats. Ellen, Dong, Paul, Panos, Marina, Paul, Ishan, Jen, and I occupy the top deck of the small boat after getting outfitted with snorkeling gear. We are heading to Mnemba Atoll, off the east coast of the island. It is a private island, so we won’t be allowed to actually go onto the island. The boat ride out is about an hour, and it is beautiful and dramatic thanks to the looming storm. The water here is a light turquoise over the sandbanks, deeper blue where there are rocks and coral, and dark blue over open ocean. The clouds are quite amazing. We drop two guys off into the water with an ice bucket so that they can prepare lunch and we go off to Mnemba.

Fishing is not allowed in the area, so the sea life is plentiful and colorful. The snorkeling is fantastic, even though I am not wearing corrective goggles, which makes the whole thing more of an impressionistic experience. We see zebra fish, parrotfish, angelfish, butterflyfish, rainbow-colored fish, tiny blue fish, schools of black fish and yellow fish, sea stars, and all sorts of coral.

After we have our fill, we head back to the beach for lunch, which is a gorgeous whole fish that has been marinated, wrapped in foil, and cooked. The storm rolls through and we watch from underneath a thatched roof.


Olive oil dough

Posted in equipment, food, home cooking at 4:09 am by wingerz


Now that I’ve got my kitchen set up again, it’s back to “real” cooking. Jen was appalled to see the following things arrive in the mail this week: pizza peel, pizza stone, pastry scraper, new kitchen scale, and oven thermometer. I’d better make some damn good bread for her. Whipped up my first batch of olive oil dough Sunday evening. So far I’ve made two loaves of sun-dried tomato and parmesan bread and one pizza.

The recipe (from my new bread book) is incredibly simple. Mix the following ingredients together in a large bowl or tupperware. Keep in mind that the dough will rise a significant amount (to 2-3x the initial volume). Your container should also have a cover.

2 3/4 cups lukewarm (105 deg F) water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tbsp yeast (active dry)

Once those have been mixed together, stir in 6 1/2 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour. I use a wooden spoon to mix until the flour is incorporated. Then cover (don’t seal), let stand at room temperature for two hours, then stick it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it. Most of the doughs in the book will last for 12 days. The dough is a bit easier to work with (less sticky) when it’s cold. I’m amazed at how easy it is.


Africa Day 12: Paradise

Posted in africa 2008, personal, photos, travel at 4:03 am by wingerz


Day 12: 3/26, Tanzanite Resort, Zanzibar


Surrounded by thatch umbrellas and turquoise-blue waters. Getting here was quite an adventure – we took the ferry over from Dar. Not unexpectedly there were many more passengers than seats. Boarding the boat was total chaos. People were everywhere, trying to push their way past our huge backpacks (unsuccessfully, once we coordinated our positioning to block them out). The ferry cabin was air conditioned but I spent most of my time looking out from the back of the boat since I didn’t get a seat. Zanzibar has a very large Muslim population, so we saw a lot of men wearing turbans and women in body-length clothing. On the back deck people tried to find places to sleep. One man with a bag full of snacks kept throwing his wrappers overboard. After the multi-hour ride, we made it off the boat with all of our stuff.

* * *

The boats in the harbor are of all shapes and sizes – a large Chinese cargo ship, distinctive dhows, and small sailboats. The water here is very beautiful. We relax outside for an hour or so before some grey clouds roll in. Looks like we will be here for three nights – hoping to snorkel tomorrow, visit Stone Town the day after.

Sea urchins and jellyfish populate the nearby coastal waters, but that doesn’t stop Abhinav and Sim from swimming. Salamanders run around near lights (in the evening), looking for unsuspecting moths.

The resort consists of several small cottages and a large open dining area with a thatched roof. The daily menu is written on the chalkboard; typically the choice is between fish and pasta. The food is simple but nicely done. Besides our large group, there aren’t many other guests. We’re right on the water, with beaches to both sides of us. We’re happy to spend the last part of our trip in a relaxing, do-nothing setting.


Africa Day 11: Dar, Home away from home

Posted in africa 2008, photos, travel at 4:06 am by wingerz


Day 11: 3/25, before bedtime

Had a fantastic day in Dar, thanks a lot to Jen and Ellen’s planning. Dar is a lot less intimidating than the first time we passed through. Maybe we are getting more used to the environment. Have noticed the foreign influences on architecture. Overall no trouble from the locals, though some of them look seedy. I really like the idea of negotiating cab fare up front, then you know the driver is incented to get you to your destination quickly. Overall very enjoyable but totally packed day.


The day starts at the local market, selling all sorts of goods, from shovels to scythes to pots to buckets to CRT TVs. The non-perishable goods are in an open 2-storied structure. On the way back we walk through the food market, which is starting to get busy. The smell of dried fish is especially pungent. Tomatoes and peppers are arranged in small pyramids.


Next stop is the National Museum. Highlights include a biology section with humanoid skulls from all over the world (mostly Africa). They also have a women’s art exhibit with some beautiful wood carvings. One of the artists welcomes people into the exhibit, each of her works has a brief explanation of the meanings, which I enjoy reading.


We see a packed carpool as we taxi between locations in the city.


Lunch at Chef’s Pride. Goat stew is excellent. Fast, tasty, and cheap.


We visit BRAC, a microfinance nonprofit based in Bangladesh. They only lend to women running small businesses who make less than 2000Tsh (less than $2USD) per day. Groups of women in the neighborhood work together to hold each other accountable for loan repayment. The focus is on sustainability for the borrowers and low overhead costs for the organization (about 10%).


Stop by a crafts market on the way back. Bombarded by shop owners pushing their wares from the moment we step off the bus. Everywhere we turn – Welcome! Karibu! Is free to look! In the middle of the market, many people are hard at work producing wooden crafts; wary supervisors give us dirty looks. Some workers carve, many sand. Two gentlemen, on separate occasions, ask me for my shoes. One persistent salesman follows us to the bus.


I go up to the 8th floor to take some pictures. People-watch for a bit – the rooftops come alive in the cooler evening. Two women sit on a swing; a mother and two children sit at a plastic table; someone is doing laundry.


Eat dinner at a Thai restaurant, where we celebrate Panos’s birthday. The kitchen staff has a sense of humor, as the phallic banana split demonstrates.


Africa Day 10: Travel arrangements, Africa-style

Posted in africa 2008, travel at 4:39 am by wingerz


Day 10: March 24: Flight to Nairobi


Just ran into our first major snafu of the trip – seven are being left behind in Kigali because not all of our seats are reserved. In fact, I’m not sure if any of the seats were reserved. Getting the rest of us on the plane is a struggle (handled admirably by Bob and Abhinav), and we hold the entire plane from leaving until we’re on. (In the banner image above, that’s Bob on the left, working on the airline computers. This is clearly not an ideal situation.)

In other fun travel news, Panos stepped behind the counter and ran up the check-in luggage conveyor belt to retrieve his bag. Good times. We’re heading to Dar es Salaam through Kenya, which is supposedly safe now.

Assorted group travel notes:

  • no one has been late or missed any of the (very) early-morning meeting times
  • Bob and Abhinav continue to take fantastic care of us, insulating us from having to worry about anything
  • some people are addicted to playing cards


Why I hate Twitter

Posted in family, personal, technology, web at 3:30 am by wingerz


I’ve never been into Twitter, though I recognize its appeal as a communication medium. It’s quick and convenient; a good place to share a transient thought and to record every freaking thing you’re up to.

My protest is against my wife’s usage of Twitter as a substitute for blogging. Some people should not be reduced to expressing their thoughts in 140 characters. It’s deprived me of one of the great joys of my life – reading my wife’s beautiful prose. Consider the following examples of words that would have gone unwritten and unread:

And Grant’s favorite (which I just spent some time hunting down):

For those of you who don’t know, Jen has started a new blog but thinks that no one is going to read it. Please give her some encouragement.

jcliao, consider yourself called-out.


Africa Day 10: Leaving Rwanda

Posted in africa 2008, personal, travel at 4:19 am by wingerz

Day 10: March 24


Roads in Kigali trace concentric circles around the town center. All of the large roads are paved. Scooter taxis, many with driver and passenger wearing green helmets, weave through traffic, coming precariously close to cars and vans. The traffic is not bad and the cars are in good shape. While traffic drives on the right, steering wheels on the right side are not uncommon depending on origin of the car.

One unsettling thing about Kigali is the abundance of barriers and armored guards. Nearly every building is surrounded by a structural deterrent. Fences are topped with barbed wire, spikes, or broken glass. The history of inequality and instability manifests itself in the architecture.

The countryside around Kigali is quite beautiful – the main road to Volcanoes is excellent for the most part, with an effective drainage system (concrete channels carry muddy water down the hillside to the bottom of the valley). Dense forest has been cut away for farming – potatoes, bananas, coffee, and tea are grown all around the country. Small muddy paths wind up around the hillsides; the walk home looks to be very exhausting for those in the hills. A brownish-red river meanders through to the source of the Nile. Everything on the hillsides is green, whether it is terraced fields, banana trees, or forest.

Occasionally we pass through small towns. Villagers wave to us and some children ask for money. We see them wearing dirty branded clothing – Old Navy, MSU, etc.- donations from the United States. A child runs alongside our jeep on a rocky road – so rocky that he is able to keep up with the vehicle until he is admonished by his father. We do not give them money because it encourages them to skip school.

The food has been pretty underwhelming – lots of bananas and potatoes. Meats include fish, chicken, beef, and goat. Nothing is superbly flavored but it does hit the spot after a long day of being on the road. Rwandan service is atrocious. We have come to rely on buffets for meals that need to be shorter than 1 hour. For dinner last night we sought something quick and convenient around 830pm, but our food didn’t show up until 90 minutes later. They don’t have the operational model to support a party of 22 ordering 22 different things – the table next to us ordered about 5-10 chickens, all prepared in the same manner, and they received their food way before we did. Perhaps in a few years they will have a better idea of how to operate efficiently in the services industry.

* * *

The Rwandans are a proud people with a strong national leader. Every month there is a day designated for all Rwandans to participate in community service. After the work is done, they gather with fellow local community members to discuss ways to improve. The elimination of the use of all plastic bags from the entire country is the result of one of these meetings

Considering what they have been through, the Rwandans are a welcoming group. One of our drivers, Johnson, forgave the friend who slaughtered his family. On a larger scale, Rwanda has welcomed the world that turned its back in 1994. Our stay has been pleasant, with the friendly locals, modern infrastructure, and cool weather. Would have liked to spend a few more days here.


Africa Day 10: Shopping in Rwanda

Posted in africa 2008, personal, photos, travel at 2:36 am by wingerz

Day 10: March 24, morning


We went to two markets today. One was a touristy craft market and the other was a more local market. Picked up some dishes and some fabric for a tablecloth. Didn’t make it out of the fabric section into the rest of the market, but it was a beautiful place to lose ourselves – colorful patterns lined the “walls” all the way up to the top of the high ceiling. Occasionally a shopkeeper on the other side would poke her head through the fabric wall to investigate our transaction. Deeper inside the market the light was dimmer but the fabrics were just as colorful and intricate.

Jen made a last minute stop to pick up a basket.


Moving in

Posted in personal at 2:03 am by wingerz


Jen and I are pack rats, but hopefully this experience will change that. Before living in our condo, we’d only been able to accumulate a room’s worth of stuff because we always had roommates. A whole condo’s worth of stuff is incredibly unwieldy.

Spent the whole weekend setting up our new place. This has involved multiple shopping trips, raiding the in-laws place for furniture, and unpacking. The unpacking’s been a Herculean task since we have 96 professionally-packed boxes. All of the items are wrapped in layers of newsprint. Each one is like a little gift, and I’ve enjoyed rediscovering my stuff, like all of my fun kitchen appliances and utensils and video games. It does get a bit old after unwrapping literally thousands of them.

We’ve still got boxes and random knick-knacks, but we’ve got the furniture laid out. TV, cable, and Internet are all set up. We’ve already locked ourselves out once and walked to downtown for dinner. Exhausted and a bit sore, and ready for bed.

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