March 20, 2005
Please stand by...
Posted by Allison Christians

...this country is experiencing technical difficulties.  After city-wide internet service outages for the past couple of days, Dar Es Salaam is back on line.  I had to visit three cyber cafes to get a spot at a computer, as everyone seems to be trying to check their email at the same time.  Unfortunately the outage is not rare: it is customary to have problems with the internet and telephone services.  The way around this is to jump the digital divide with satellite technology, and that is (slowly) being developed here.  But older methods are still the norm.  The electricity goes out every once in a while also--though not as frequently as I've experienced in other countries.  The telephone service is nationalized; the electricity, surprisingly, is not.  Instead, electricity is handled by one (foreign) firm, a company that signed a long-term contract with the government of Tanzania back in the 1980s, to provide unlimited electricity for a fixed price.  I'm not sure how this is an improvement over state ownership.

The service outage has however given me an opportunity to explore a little more of my surroundings.  This is no travelogue of Tanzania, as I have not been in the countryside nor have I visited its main attractions, the Serengeti and Mt. Kilimanjaro.  I have instead spent most of my time in Dar Es Salaam and a little time in Zanzibar, each fascinating places.  Zanzibar is a spice island in the Indian Ocean, surrounded by the most beautiful waters and laced with beaches.  Fans of Queen might remember that Zanzibar was the birthplace of Freddy Mercury--I had lunch at Mercury's, on the beach.

They are still growing spices on Zanzibar, and another main occupation seems to be boat building, a fascinating enterprise seeing as how it's all done outdoors, in 101 degree heat, with hatchets.  The island features many beachfront resorts but just at the port is Stone Town, an old city with impossibly winding alleys packed with two and three story stone houses, sultan's palaces and the like.  What a place.  I could spend a month just walking around, getting lost, and getting found again by catching a glimpse of blue ocean at the end of an alley.  People stroll by on foot or bicycle: no room for cars in this place.  It is now a tourist trap with stalls and shops up and down the streets, and haggling extraordinaire.  But the buildings!  The most amazing heavy, carved wooden doors and intricate decoration.  The most impossible angles, with balconies hanging out dangerously.  A cafe with thirty foot ceilings and a massive staircase up to a hidden garden in the back.  Fantastic.

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