"We have a friend in common," says the Belgian woman. We're at a soiree hosted by the Prime Minister of Tanzania.
"Oh?" I ask. In one hand I have a glass bottle of coke and in the other glass in which I'm trying to little bit little dilute the rum the server half filled the glass with. At the full moon party in Zanzibar I also ended up receiving a bottle of coke and a glass with rum in it when I ordered a rum and coke, apparently it's a mix-it-yourself kind of thing here.
"Mamadou Diallo, the president of the Guinean beekeeper's association"
"Oh, yes! I'm working with him to try to help them reach the export market"
"Why?" she asks. I'm taken a bit aback, what do you mean why.
"They're selling honey at $1 a pound, the grocery stores there were carrying American honey which they probably bought at the international price of $2 a pound, that doesn't make any sense. So I want to help them be able to meet the quality and volume goals necessary to serve these contracts"
"Oh I actually think everyone should grow local and I don't support exports." she says. Seriously. With this self righteous look on her face that seems to have completely dismissed the idea that they could be getting twice as much money for their honey.
"Where are you from?" she asks after the awkward pause caused by her last revelation.
"Oh that's why you're so special." At which point I think I found an excuse to extricate myself from the conversation and avoid her the rest of the convention.
This was the end of the first day of convention. Doug and I had arrived the day before. Our hotel was a bit ritzy, more reminiscent of the monocal wearing pith-hat safari going Africa than the living in huts Africa I'm used to, but I'm always down for a new experience. Walking to the convention to register we'd quickly found that this is a town where the touts will attack like tse tse flies. "My friend, my friend! Where are you from? my friend!" They both try to sell you useless stuff they're carrying themselves, and try to direct you to shops where they can get a commission for bringing you, as well as just generally try to ingratiate themself to you and be helpful so they can demand a tip. Generally pretty irritating really. Zanzibar wasn't so bad, even though it seemed more touristy and seemed to have high unemployment (if they people sitting idly on their porches all day is any indication). I don't know if it's a measure of greater desperation here or what. This is also a regional tourist hub though, since it's the center of the "northern safari circuit," so maybe the monocle wearing safari goers make fat marks.
One of the touts followed me all the way to the convention hall (about three blocks), and I was deep in the midst of ignoring him when he showed me a painting on a roll of canvas he had that I actually kind of liked.
"How much?" I asked, without slowing down.
"80,000 shillings" ($47).
"I'll give you 30,000 for it." I said without looking at him, as we crossed the street.
"30,000, take it or leave it." the secret to negotiating is to really go in with a take it or leave it attitude. He eventually argued me up to 45,000, but I didn't have the money on me anyway, so I asked him his name (Garry) and said I'd buy it from him later when I had the money.
The convention center is the building the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was held in, and there's still some UN offices in the building, so it's quite a nice building. Registration was a zoo though -- they had somehow lost all the important documents and I had gone to such trouble to scan and email them months ago so there was a chaos of chasing paperwork at the registration table, especially since the same thing seems to have happened to everyone else.
The First Apimondia Symposium on African Bees and Beekeeping had about 550 attendees, roughly half were from Tanzania, most of the rest were from elsewhere in Africa, and there were maybe around a dozen mzungus -- white people.
There seemed to be an interesting divide among the mzungus -- there were a few, mainly Apimonida staff (the world beekeeping federation), who brought a weird Euro-centric view with them. Not that Europe was better (though they often noted American beekeeping as an example of what's bad in the world), but that they didn't want beekeeping in Africa to change. To me it seemed like they thought it was quaint and delightful and shouldn't be changed. And us development beekeepers think we're "special," apparently, to use the Belgian ladies term.
And then those of us working in development formed a second group. We don't think bees can be kept here the same way as in Europe or America but we think beekeeping here can be improved for the betterment of locals. These two groups divided into two camps that didn't really hang out. There were subtle arguments. Contradictory public statements. Palpable condescension from certain people.
Dr Wolfgang talked about how smaller hives have fewer diseases. Beekeepers looked at eachother and said that's great but smaller hives produce less honey and we need to feed our families. Beekeepers complained about the arrival of varroa mites and asked how to fight them. Dr Wolfgang informed them mites are natural and if they just don't treat and experience the very heavy losses eventually, after a few years, only resistant bees will be left. One of the major beekeepers in Tanzania left in frustration.
The perpetually smiling British Nichola made a presentation the major theme of which was that "all hives are the same .. and you should keep using logs because they're so natural," and many locals presented consistently saying that frame hives produce twice as much, but this seemed to wash right over Nichola, and she kept smiling blithely.
There was a group from Boston, a representative of which enthusiastically talked my ear off about how all african honey should be marketed as boutique "asali" (Swahili for honey) in little boutiques in Boston. There's nothing wrong with that enthusiasm but that's only a practical market for a small fraction of they honey here. The relative local price here is actually pretty good, we just need to enable more beekeepers to produce more of it.
We met Simon, a beekeeper and owner of a travel agency from Moshi, near Mt Kiliminjaro, who travels to California at least once a year to run an ultra-marathon (100 mile race). And James a young man from Singapore running a farm near Dar Es Salaam, and a beekeeper from Pemba Island (the northern island in the Zanzibar archipelago), and of course many many many other interesting people. At the end of day two a jolly mzungu with a bushy white beard introduced himself to Doug and I, he was Stephen Peterson from Alaska. It quickly became apparent that he was just like us, traveling the world enjoying doing beekeeping projects. I went into my email to email him something and found the address was already there. Soon he asked "why are we sitting here when we could be having a beer??" as the conference hall was emptying for the end of the day, so he and I and Doug and James (the Singaporean) headed down the street until we found a bar. Local beers are Serengeti or Kiliminjaro (if you can't climb it, drink it!), as well as Nduvo and a few more boring things such as Castel. Stephen showed us amazing pictures from a beekeeping project he'd done in Borneo, where people get around by boat during the rainy season and bees are kept on "rafters," planks set in trees the bees make their hives under. Doug and I asked him if he'd come with us on our beekeeping project in Nicaragua this winter and he enthusiastically agreed to (oh I'll be just coming from Cuba at that point anyway!).
Then we walked down the street a few blocks to Khan's BBQ. While on the way a tout adhered himself to us. "Hello it's me garry, you were going to buy a painting from me!" Ah yes, I remember that. I can't quite recall what he looked like but I remember the name. I told him to come with us and I'd sort it out when we reached our destination. He kept telling us we shouldn't be walking down the street at night but we got to our destination alive. Khan's is a mechanics shop by day and a bbq place by night. It was really good, and the indian proprietor was very nice. When I asked to use the bathroom I was led inside to where his family member were sitting about the courtyard in saris.
Garry the tout turned out not to have the painting I wanted anymore, and I wasn't interested in any of the ones he did have but I felt obligated to buy something from him since I'd said I would and he'd come down the street with us. That's how they get you. So I bought a smaller different painting.
The next day another tout would approach me saying "hey I'm Garry are you ready to buy that painting??" and I both recognized him and the painting. So apparently I got tricked by a false Garry.
I heard another scary story that the year before someone had had a taxi driver arranged to meet them in the evening and knew the name of the taxi driver. A taxi showed up and he said the correct name so she got in. She ended up tied up, beaten up, mugged, and left in front of a random hotel. So apparently getting them to say the right name is not enough here in Arusha.
When it came time to leave, Khan regarded with horror even the idea that Stephen would walk the 200 meters down the street to his hotel at night. This seems to be a universal sentiment here.. not the safest town. Khan called us a cab though and talked to the driver to arrange for all our safe returns to our respective hotels.
Thursday, November 13th - On the third and final day, among the presenters was a chemist from Germany named Arne who spoke about a naturally occuring toxic substance that is sometimes found in honey from certain places. During the question and answer period I asked what it's effects were, and then he came to talk to me after he was done and we more or less immediately became friends. He was a friendly chap of about 36, with a shaved head and a red beard.
There was also an interesting presentation from an Israeli researcher, Shimon (or I suppose these are Dr Arne and Dr Shimon) about how the wax comb in a beehive is like the hive's liver, absorbing all the harmful chemicals. I'd never thought to look at it that way.
At the end of day, Arne, Doug and I walked down to the bar we'd found the other day, where, sure enough, Stephen (Alaska) had ensconsed himself with a bunch of Italians.
Friday, November 14th - There was a choice of one of three different "technical excursions" after the conference, a one day, two day, or three day trip. Doug and I chose the three day trip. We were divided into two buses for the trip, and Doug ended up on the other bus. I suppose this is just as well because we get along great but it couldn't hurt to spend some time apart. I sat up front with Arne and a researcher from Copenhagen, Shimon from Israel right behind me. Way in the back was Dr Wolfgang and a cohort or two of his. Doug said on his bus it was kind of the same, the two groups.
Once we headed out of town we entered a sparse landscape with little groundcover other than sporadic individual trees. Not infrequently we passed clusters of huts and there seemed to be locals in maasai robes walking up and down the road, herding cattle, or riding bikes loaded with jerry cans full of water the whole way. Our first stop after about an hour was a national park that had many many elephants in it. I also found the baobab trees as photo worthy as any animal and got many baobab photos to sort through now for the best.
Next we visited a honey processing and bottling facility. It looked very nice, though there were some mumblings among our group that the machinery (from China) looked overly complicated, and that though it was freshly polished there was dust on some of the moving pieces that would seem to indicate it didn't actually get used as much as they said it did.
We arrived at another bee yard just as the sun was setting, and were greeted by a troupe of women doing a dance to welcome us, which was really neat. This area was very beautiful with beehives in amongst lush vegetation, and I regret that I don't yet have any pictures up to insert here. Some local teenage girls got very giggly.
That evening in Singida we were divided among several hotels. Arne and I and Copenhagen, among others, ended up in a hotel that was very new, not even open yet. But the owner owns one of the bee yards we'd visit the next day.. and the beer was complimentary.
Saturday, November 15th - Visited several bee yards including some in the "Itiki Thickets" (sp?), where hives are kept among a distinct ecosystem of thickets of two kinds of plants, which make a honey known for being particularly good. At another bee yard we were once again greeted by a dancing troupe, and as the light was better I got a good video of this which I'll probably post once I get home. At this bee yard Nichola apparently managed to piss off some bees leading to the evacuation of the bee yard. Some people ran away, but more than half of us, beekeeping professionals all, walked out slowly in a dignified manner. I was pleased to receive several compliments on the way I continued calmly shooting photographs while surrounded by stinging bees -- though in reality keeping the camera in front of my face protected the one place I hate being stung: my nose. ;D
Stopped for lunch (finally at like 3:30) at a local government headquarters. I thought it was interesting to note that the emblem of the local government area featured a tree with beehives in it. Lunch was actually pretty good local dishes (have picture, will someday post), though I just skipped the chicken entirely because I've found it tends to be too chewy here. They had some interesting baobab-avocado juice.
After this we continued on the long haul from the Singida area down to Dodoma. For awhile we were driving along what appeared to be a ridge below which was an expanse of flatlands much lower down, then we came to a steep descent on which many broken-down trucks lined the side of the road -- and right in the middle of it a jackknifed gasoline tanker took up half the road!! Down in the lowlands the ground was flatter and drier looking. Still many baobab trees.
Dodoma itself just seemed like a small town, which is weird because it's actually the national capital. It's one of those things where Dar Es Salaam is the biggest city and cultural and economic center, but is way off in the corner so the capital buildings were built in Dodoma since it's in the center. Dodoma is also just about the center-point if one were to journey overland from Cairo to Capetown. We all stayed in the same nice hotel in Dodoma. I think most of us weren't very hungry for dinner, having eaten lunch so late, but we all sat around and chatted at the dinner table over some beers.
Sunday, November 16th - After we checked out of the hotel we headed to the Prime Minister's farm. It was an impressive property with many different kinds of crops and good irrigation systems and fences and watertanks. He had about 400 modern frame hives which looked to be in very good condition. Again I have pictures that'll go up some day.
Then we started the long haul northward. Having left the farm around maybe 10am, we were in Singida around maybe 2pm for a short lunch of fried chicken and fries, and then onward all the way back to Arusha. We were still on the road as the sun set behind a mountain behind us. Ahead of us we could see rain coming down and lighning flickering in the sky, and in between there were clusters of huts and trees and fields and the smell of rain on the evening air.
Arriving in Arusha I had a problem -- Doug was on the other bus and we hadn't discussed where we were going to stay, except that we weren't staying in the Arusha Hotel again because it was too expensive. I'd hoped we'd all get dropped off at a central location but the driver dropped everyone at their hotels. I had him swing by the conference center, where we'd met to join the buses, but it was dark and lonely there and Doug certainly wouldn't be waiting there.
Shimon from Israel encouraged me to go to the Lush Garden hotel with him, so I sent a note with Arne, who was going back to the Arusha Hotel, and proceeded to Lush Garden.
Just as we arrived at Lush Garden, the last stop, the driver was able to learn from the other vehicle's driver over the phone that they'd dropped Doug off at the Palace hotel. The driver was grumpy about going back there so I just decided to stay at Lush Garden and chase Doug down in the morning. I called Palace from reception but they said he had just left to go look for me at Arusha Hotel. So I called Arusha hotel but it sounded like I was talking into a pipe and I couldn't understand a word he said, so I just had to put my faith in that he'd get the note.
As it happens Arne apparently didn't leave the note at reception like I thought he would but had it up in his room for some reason. But When Doug came in he found Arne having a beer and was correctly directed, because he appeared at Lush Garden shortly thereafter. Shenanigans.
Based on this I'm saying we're planning this trip just one step ahead at a time, and sometimes one step behind.
While this was going on I was also emailing with Simon in Moshi, who had invited us to come to Moshi (Simon, not to be confused with Shimon). We arranged that he'd have one of his employees meet us in the morning and guide us to the bus stop. Shimon didn't have plans for a few days so we invited him to come with us. He wasn't sure, asked the hotel if they had a room for the following night, and since they didn't he decided to come with us to Moshi. We had an interesting time trying to pay for the hotel since Shimon and Doug both had some US $20 bills that they wouldn't accept as payment, but we ended up trading them amongst ourselves until we could all get the payment sorted out.
A nice young man, Joseph, who works for Simon showed up and we all took a taxi to the bus stop. I asked when the bus leaves and Joseph said it has no time table, it leaves when it is full. As we arrived at the hectic and crowded bus station and pushed out way through the crowd, the Moshi bus was already moving. But the door was still open and we were able to jump on. It had to do like an 18 point turn to get out of the station area anyway. And we were off to Moshi!
[to be continued!]
[A few pictures up on instagram]