Tuesday, September 18, 2007

VOSS Water Gone Sour

When traveling, water can be trouble. Today I learned that having a bottle of VOSS water in your bag could be serious trouble. In its cylindrical glass container, VOSS water is not only artesian, but also trendy and overpriced. I only had a bottle because it was complementary at the Radisson SAS in Cape Town. Handling a bottle of VOSS is evocative of Nicholas Cage disarming a biological weapon in “The Rock,” and removing it from a carry-on bag is nearly as tenuous and poignant a moment.

“Sir, what’s in your bag?” An attendant asks after my boarding pass has already been flagged, and my South African entry stamps are off. “Did you arrive into the country on a domestic flight?” Pause – how is this possible to enter the country on a domestic flight. “No,” I reply. But little did I know that my VOSS water was speaking louder than I.

In a series of unlikely and incompetent mishaps, I managed my way through security. When I disposed of my VOSS water after downing it in one glorious and pricey quaff, I caused alarm when it clanked into the recycle bin. “Sir, what did you do with that container?” Recycled it, of course. Aparently despite my green shirt and green intentions, this was a bad move. I was questioned for five more minutes.

Cape Town Delight

Cape Town began inauspiciously with a lost bag in JoBurg. Known as “Gangsters Paradise” because of its organized crime and License Plate code of “GP,” this was not the place to lose a suitcase. Thanks to a discerning South African Airways oficial, I managed to get my bag forwarded onto Cape Town only 2 hours late.

When I arrived I saw my sign and driver waiting. First things first, I learn that he’s my VIP escort, and he’s been shot four times. Yes, four times, and stabbed five times. As his client, I’m a disappointing precursor to his next, a man by the name of Bill Gates.

He had a sturdy walk, and a head that pivoted like an owl’s. He was circumspect and cool behind dark sunglasses, and he escorted me to our vehicle through the night. His vigilence stirred concern. Was this seriously necessary after Dar es Salaam?

He checked me into my waterfront room, and was back at 8am to retrieve me with an earpiece, and a touring agenda. After a jaunt and coffee in the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, we embarked for Cape Point. On the way we spotted numerous whales offshore, stopped to admire penguins in Boulders, and walked around Simon’s Town. Once to Cape Point, I hiked to the lighthouse, and we took snaps aside the signs for the Cape of Good Hope. On return we passed around the other side of Table Mountain, took a stroll on Long Street in downtown, and took a coffee and a Wimpy burger on the edge of Cape Town’s largest township. “Best coffee in Cape Town,” he claims.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

South Africa Bound

While my routed flight from Dar es Salaam to JoBurg will be exciting, as it allows daytime cruising over Mozambique, it puts me into Cape Town just past 2200, an hour late for the Twenty20 World Cup at the world-famous Cape Town grounds. A point of jealousy with my Indian friends, my serendipitous timing is but slightly off, but enough to preclude the possibility of a Twenty20 match.

Perhaps it means I’ll have to wait until 2010 for a South African World Cup, football rather than cricket, a preferable swap according to predilection and patience.

Mchopa On Board

After completing his website in DreamWeaver, we took the MacBook Pro to Mchopa and his streetside art shop. We displayed the eponymous Mchopa, the gallery, the story, the integration of online media, and the availability to purchase via Google Checkout. After a quick interview with Gregory about his inspiration, to be incorporated into the website, we popped the nails on over 30 canvas paintings, stacked and rolled the masterpieces, and packed them like a textured roll of Masai sushi.

Gregory Mchopa is prolific, and he is talented. We’re going to give this a go with the 50 initial paintings for which we covered his materials. He is risking time and effort; we are risking our faith in his ability and a modicum of cash. A minor barrier to entry, the investment is worth the opportunity of bringing East African art to the United States with online facility, and ease of purchase through Google Checkout. Plus it’s fun.

Tutaonana TechnoServe

Saturday marked my final day as a TechnoServe and Google.org consultant in the “Believe, Begin, Become,” business plan competition in Tanzania. A four-hour morning panel with those members of the ICT group, and an afternoon lecture on leveraging the Internet, left me with mixed feelings. Sadness, relief, and a profound hope that some of my ideas and messages had stuck.

I gave my microphone thank you to the 75 entrepreneurs, and was subsequently struck by their warmth and appreciation. Though I had direct one-on-one consulting sessions with over 20 entrepreneurs, double that number came to personally thank me for my time and journey. One woman asked that God’s angels protect me, while many others wanted to give their regards to my family. Some came with firm handshakes, and others with business cards. Flashes popped, and conversations circled. Some came with last-minute hopes that I could solve a persistant problem. Others simply wanted to say thanks and ask when I’d return to East Africa. Many wanted my impressions.

Opportunities are ripe in Africa. Infrastructure is less and standards are perhaps lower, but the very strengths of America engender market saturation. African problems can be seen as weaknesses, or as market opportunities. Entrepreneurs, like those inspiring, ambitious individuals whom I met in Tanzania, will fill those gaps so long as they have knowledge to create, and the investors who believe in their abilities.

An Uncommon Group

On Saturday night we convened for an unlikely meeting of lives. Issac invited a number of us over to his home for dinner in Dar es Salaam. Our taxi bounced slowly over the potholed road, leading down darkened dirt paths toward Issac’s home. Only our headlights illuminated the hollowed holes and shadows of the road, each beam darting through the dark night to illuminate coming switchbacks.

When we arrived at Issac’s place we made our way from the road. Down the street a radio crackled and the exuberant voices of children made the dark comfortable. A few lights buzzed outside crumbled concrete walls, and plastic lawn chairs made for luxury furniture, or at least evening comfort. White paint curled on the concrete walls, and a thin gray revealed a structure beneath a faded aesthetic.

We limboed a clothesline and made our way through the colorful linens and jeans, over a rocky concrete floor toward Issac’s door. Aside it was mounted a poster featuring his roommate’s sister, a famous Tanzanian actress now working in Mauritius. My sister also used to live in Mauritius, so solidarity is easy to find. David posed aside his sister, giggling with a huge smile above his broad national team rugby-shoulders.

We entered a room with a smooth, cool floor, and pillows tossed in four corners. “Lost” was on DVD, and Shanaia Twain echoed from the back bedroom from an antiquated tower CPU and clunky monitor. We met David’s girlfriend, admired their traditional pencil art, their 15 pairs of shoes, and Spice Girls poster, and smelled the wafting scent of dinner. Beef, Kilimanjaro beers, and chiapati bread was served. I felt like I was home in India. We turned off "Lost," lost in conversation.

Our unlikely group grew and changed. Paul, a consultant in his late 60s who had grown up in China, Tanzania, and Boston, Josh and I, Americans at 24, Manu, a German, and four 20s-30s Tanzanians sat reclined in a Dar es Salaam living room. Conversation remained in English, but was punctuated by Swahili and smiles, for the former always drives the latter. Beers marked the hours, and we exchanged stories until 2am. Issac showed me a photoalbum of his life, asked me for Berkeley MBA advice, and allowed me to pick from a series of Batik fabrics that would become my shirts.

At the end of the night we told our “Asantes” and performed a number of stylized handshakes specific to East Africa. I have a feeling I’ll see these guys again somewhere.


Few places in the world captivate us with a flavor and aesthetic, a comfort and a beauty that makes us yearn for return. Zanzibar does. Unlike any other place I’ve seen, Zanzibar has a vibrance that brings culture, color, history, and religion to life.

The second day of Ramadan, we arrived by charter plane in Zanzibar from Dar es Salaam. For $50 each way, we hopped a 12-seater that crossed the narrow channel between mainland Africa and the former Omani slave-trading island of Zanzibar.

Evocative of the Middle East, Africa, and a Johnny Depp pirate film, Zanzibar is as exotic as they come. Palm fringed, green-water beaches curl their way around the island. Dolphins jump offshore. The call to prayer echos through the aged, historical streets of Stonetown while men in white shuffle to and from the mosque. A tourist melange ambles through the colorful streets, but the culture is untarnished. Arab dhows idly drift as white silhouettes on a blue-green horizon. Doorways into unknown worlds are framed by intricately carved Zanzibari wood. Beards, vibrant hijabs, jewels, crooked teeth and big smiles, deep green foliage, and dirt roads paint life outside of our car windows.

“Shukran” and “salaam” are as common as” Jambo” and “Mambo,” as the Arabic legacy lives now mixed with the Swahili coast trading language. In Zanzibar we incorporated my patented bargain-your-way-to-the-most-expensive-resort-and-use-their-concierge strategy. We taxid for $1 under par, and entered the lobby at the Serena Hotel. We booked a Spice Tour, and tour of the former Slave Caves on the Northwest coast. An all-day expedition, we paid $35 for a private car around the island.

Our Spice Tour took us to an authentic local village. As we ambled our way through the huts, callling “Jambo” out to smaller, smiling faces, we were able to see a number of spice plants. From cloves to ginger to pepper to cinamon to menthol to nutmeg to vanilla to tumeric to lemongrass, we crushed the leaves of each plant and learned of its scent. Most spectacular was the cinnamon bark. A knife to cinnamon bark revealed Ruby Red and a craving for cinnamon gum, or at least a bite of the bark. The root of the cinnamon tree has a menthol scent.

Magical, encapsulated in time and color, Zanzibar is truly incredible.

Pret a Porter

To-go lunch in Dar es Salaam is interesting in and of itself. Because to-go sacks, bags, or boxes are not available, each local business has its own Tupperware drawer from which the to-go boy will delegate the chicken, rice, and beans.

At TechnoServe, Alex would take our orders, purchase the food in bulk from a local kitchen, return to our office, and divy up the food in Tupperware bowls for the staffers on-site. While the chicken was charred, and the meat was hardly existent, I enjoyed the rice, beans, and sauce served from translucent Tupperware while I was in Dar.

A product of unavailable resources, the modern world could learn from an African necessity of conservation and reuse, driven by a lack of development, but inspiring nonetheless.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Tsunami Blues

In a strange moment of disbelief, a local loudspeaker in Dar es Salaam made the Swahili announcement that all should avoid coastal locations. A tsunami warning had been issued for Kenya and Tanzania, and effective of 11PM, tsunami was being cautioned.

Though I did not exactly take it seriously, we decided to cut the lecture short, and make our way for the Holiday Inn. Not your typical Holiday Inn, the hotel in Dar es Salaam is surprisingly nice. After 20 minutes on the Internet, CNN confirmed the warning for East Africa. An 8.2 and a 6.0 aftershock had rocked Sumatra in Indonesia.

Though many thought our reasoning slow, our Golden Tulip hotel has an infinity pool flush with the skyline of ocean. As much as I love the sunrise over the Indian Ocean, prudence taught me that it was likely worth the incurred cost of not returning to our hotel tonight. Because the Holiday Inn and Kempinsky were booked, we were recommended a hotel 15km inland, and far from the coast. So we went from the Golden Tulip to the Blue Pearl across town.

Project Mchopa

On Wednesday we met a local artist named Gregory Mchopa. His striking art was not only bold and aggressive, but it was aesthetically appealing and telling of the Masai tribe. We happened upon his art on the Msasani Peninsula north of Dar es Salaam, adjacent to our office building. I purchased two of his paintings before we met someone who introduced us to the actual guy. Upon meeting him, we were inspired to help him realize his dream of promoting his art internationally. Though we did not mention it on site, after leaving Mr. Mchopa, Josh and I agreed to work to promote his art pro bono.

As of today, we’ve bought a domain name, www.mchopa.com. We’ve also laid out a website design that we hope to be modular for other local artists. The website will feature his art in various themes that we will design and promote. We will feature his art using Google applications so that Gregory will have 2G of free webmail storage, and a host of other awesome associated features. Imagine painting in a shack and getting the email address gregory@mchopa.com the next day.

Pretty cool for 24 hours later…

We’re going ot design and promote Mchopa art in the United States using Google products. Google applications such as Documents and Spreadsheets will enable us to remotely and locally track inventory. Gmail will enable communication. AdWords will allow us to effectively target ads for Mchopa, and AdSense will monetize his site. Analytics will tell us who is visiting, when, and for how long, and Google Checkout will enable on-site transactions for art purchases.

Wednesday we had a meeting with Gregory Mchopa in which he did live painting. The photographs and stories he told will serve as the content for his website. YouTube will even host videos of his live painting style. We’ll cover the costs of materials, but Gregory will provide us with a few dozen initial paintings that we’ll market in the US, and return all profits to Dar es Salaam.

Lobby Consulting

On Tuesday Josh and I hosted 7 local students from Dar es Salaam to discuss their business ideas, and provide them with information about how to leverage the Internet. In their eager eyes I saw my own ambition and also my own past failing, my own grandiose notion that I could tackle it all; the naivety; the focus and energy.

Our drinks went well with the wireless, and we used the Firefox library to show them tricks in their industry. Natural search taught them that their website could be located. Google Analytics taught them that they could demystify their user, and understand their behavior to the benefit of their web design. AdWords taught them that they could market directly based on user IP address and keyword. And AdSense taught them that traffic alone is a virtue and can be monetized on the web. We opened a whole new toolbox.

At the end of three hours Josh and I finally devoured a waterside pizza. I also tried Konyagi, a local gin that was recommended to me by a friend.

Global Serendipity

“It’s a small world” is more than an annoying song; it’s a cliché that holds true more often than not. Never have I been more supportive of this notion than in Tanzania. When I left Dar es Salaam, my one friend and co-worker encouraged me to contact his brother in Arusha. When Robert, my Safari guide mentioned that he was Chugga, a tribe from Moshi in the North of Tanzania, I had to ask him an unlikely question:

Robert, I asked, do you know many other Chuggas in Arusha? Yes, really? Do you happen to know any by the last name of X? Yes, really? Wow. Well, now this is a longshot, but what about Y as the first name. What, you went to school with him? Do you have his phone number or contact information? No, but you have known him for 15 years! That is crazy. So he is a former national team rugby player, and the one person in Africa, and a city of half a million that we have in common? Incredible. I have his contact info, so I’ll call him, and maybe we can all go out together. You can reunite.

Last night Emanuel and Robert and I had two rounds together next to a live band in an Arusha pub. It was a fantastic evening of laughter, excitement at the serendipity, and appreciation for coincidence. Our intersection was an affirmation of optimism. It was a vote for idealism, for unliklihood and longshots, and it was the world telling us all that life makes sense in defined moments. It also underscored the satisfaction in bringing two sides together, and reaching an accord of unlikely unity. It was the impossible idea that I could travel to Africa, meet two people in remote corners of Tanzania who knew a third man in common. It was the impossible notion that I could reunite two friends after 15 years apart, when I was a world away, alone in sub-Saharan Africa. It was an immensely satisfying feeling.


We were picked up by TrueAfrica, the name of our Safari company. We met Robert, our guide who had worked formerly in Zimbabwe, Botswana, and at the Crater Lodge in Ngorongoro, and we set off on three days of adventure.

First stop was Tarangire National Park, a few hour-drive from Arusha. Along the way we had a game ride through the park where we not only saw Zebra, Elephants, Giraffes, but also a Leopard reclined in a swamp-side tree. We made our way to Oliver’s Camp, the deepest of the park camps, alone on the far side of the swamp. Oliver’s Camp consists of eight luxurious tents, and all-inclusive food. Alone in my tent, I was given a whistle to signal for help, and guaranteed 5 gallons of hot water and a coffee at 0700 for my outdoor shower. As I washed, I watched three elephants forage 50m away in the bush.

From Oliver’s Camp we made our way back through Tarangire, where we saw two lions reclined in a tree, and a third wandering member of the pride. A truly rare sighting in Tarangire, we believed our luck to be out, and headed for Plantation Lodge, our next stop.

Plantation Lodge lies between Manyara and Ngorongoro to the Southwest of Arusha, and en route to the Serengeti. Because the migration is not this time of year, and because the drive to Serengeti is far, we had opted for closer, comparable parks. Robert recommended the Mara River crossing of the Wildebeest in northern Tanzania, but this required a bush flight and more than the $1000 we had already paid for three days, so we decided to leave something for our 30s.

Compared with Oliver’s Camp, Plantation Lodge was a Euro Pottery Barn meets Africa. My decorations were in German, and the poolside was littered with French and Italians. The food was good, but the South African wine was not included, and amounted to a small fortune in cost.

On Sunday morning we departed for Ngorongoro Crater at 0700. More than the expected drive length, we didn’t arrive into the crater floor until around 0900. However, the wait was more than worth it. Within the first hour in the park we had seen hundreds of animals, and the intersection of wildlife at a watering hole. Birds, Wildebeest, Buffalo, Zebra, and Hippo all mingled at the water’s edge.

No more than 30 minutes later, we happened upon a Lioness stalking her prey in the tall grass. Though a stray Zebra came within meters of the prone lioness, she waited to approach the large group instead. In a moment, she exploded from the grass, and made a swipe at a nearby Zebra. Her attempt failed with the Wildebeest and zebra scattering in a ripple of black dots atop a golden tapestry of grass.

Only the buffalo remained unmoved, casually grazing as though nothing had happened. With the word out, the lioness’ chance was done, and she walked away with a nonchalance of a good but arrogant player who thinks defeat is minimized by the claim that it wasn’t their best effort; “If I had tried harder I totally would have gotten you.” Well, eat me… oh, that’s right, you tried that!

The rest of the afternoon consisted of nine more lions, hippos, two cheetahs, and thousands of other creatures such as elephants, zebra, Wildebeest, buffalo, ostrich, hyenas, warthogs, and jackals. Two post-elephant Ndovu beers at the Wilderness Lodge on the crater’s edge overlooking an incredible landscape, and we set back to Arusha.

Monday, September 10, 2007


On Friday morning, I arrived in Arusha on a Precision Air flight from Dar es Salaam. Like Yak Airlines in Nepal, Precision Air made me think twice about getting aboard. Despite its rock-star status in country, the name implies that in any alternative there is some doubt about arriving at the precise location. At least Precision Air guarantees it in the name.

When my plane touched down in Arusha, a major city of nearly half a million, I could not think of history and geography that the town implied. It is the location of the peace agreement pre-genocide in Rwanda that Habyarimana, a moderate Hutu signed with the Tutsi members of his nation. It is now the site of the International Tribunal for the Rwandan Genocide at the Arusha International Conference Center (AICC). More commonly known, it is a major jumping-off point for safaris to the Serengeti and expeditions to Moshi, the town below Kilimanjaro.

After a heated negotiation with a Masai tradesman in a local market, and pride getting the better of the $20 it involved, I left empty-handed, but excited for my coming adventure in Tarangire and Ngorongoro Crater.

The Ivo Mapunda Intro

Last Wednesday, I ate traditional lunch, and lectured on market opportunity. For an hour I both ate condensed ugali (dense corn flower paste, similar to Indian idly), kitimoya (fried pork) and salad, and for an hour I lectured on how one should assess the market before endeavoring to write a business plan.

Market estimation and case studies, as is used by McKinsey and others, is a good skill to learn. Today we estimated the daily sales of VodaCom, a main cullular provider in Dar es Salaam. While results were hardly infallible, they were noteworthy, and the process of estimation was effective. Many failed to understand the basic questions required: how many people live in Dar es Salaam, how many used cell phones, what percantage used VodaCom, how long did they talk per day, what did it cost them per minute, how much did this translate into voucher card sales, etc. But at the least, the estimation problem created an understanding that all information is imperfect, and that extrapolation for market estimation is imperative.

When I reiterated that I was a consultant, there to help those individuals writing their business plans, I received a heartwarming welcome. Tomorrow may be a new day, filled with requests that are difficult, enlightening, and eye opening.

Tonight, at 10:30 pm when I arrived back at the hotel, I had a beer with the Tanzanian national soccer team. I met both the keeper and the forward, two men who spoke good English, played pro in Maputo (that’s the capital of Mozambique), and convinced me that I should attend the Africa Cup Semi-Final on Saturday in the Dar national stadium. Though they wore “Serengeti’ sponsored jerseys, I drank Ndovu, and went out with my mates after we spoke. Now the fact that I have met Ivo Mapunda, the Tanzanian national goalkeeper and celebrity icon, gives me local status in nearly all situations.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


My experience in Tanzania is humbling. Today I taught a man about start-up financing, online marketing, and about web analytics. He repeated my words, he nodded, and he sought my expertise when it is only afforded by circumstance. A proud man, an older man, graciously thanked me for my time as I, a 24-year-old from 10,000 miles away could only question the inequities in the world. Who am I to explain success to a man with calloused hands, pocked cheeks, wise eyes, and a good heart. He is a man who has seen hardship, who has labored through a world with fewer opportunities.

Through resolve he has devised a business plan in English. It’s more than 20 pages, and he is a tribesman from the Kenyan border. He has learned and misused the cliches of the Western world, fighting for an acceptance that may bring him opportunity. And I see the sad irony of a proud man misusing English phrases, pandering for opportunity that does not exist for him natively. And who am I to lecture on this. I seek to advise, not condescend, but my very opportunities dispose me to condescension. It is condescension not by consent, but by circumstance. And this is without my desire. I seek equality, and I search for this through self-mockery. I fumble in Swahili. I spark conversation about football and Bollywood. I am determined to mentor as an equal, but fortune has driven a sharp wedge between our circumstances. Cultural understanding can minimize the wedge, but it exists as a persistent thorn. And I cannot ignore it.

I only hope that the very act of being cognizant of inequalities mitigates the extent to which I am guilty of my circumstances.

Big Games of Hunting

Last night 75 entrepreneurs gathered in a room. Overlooking the skyline of Dar es Salaam, they received their first lecture in business development. Plans were diverse, participants gracious, and the atmosphere excited. Handshakes are firm, smiles wide, and the commodity “Mambo / Poa” Swahili introduction can be traded for laughs.

I met and heard the business plans of three exceptional entrepreneurs. All had traveled great distances. From Dodoma to Mbeya on the Southwestern border with Zambia, 12-hour bus rides were common.

Ideas included a pyramid-style marketing scheme, a big game hunting travel agency, a regional IT hub, a Japanese pottery factory, a public business directory, and more.

Words like “Asante” and “Dreams” were spread around. Though the AC was high, the feelings were warm, and the opportunities large.

Today I went on a treasure hunt throughout Dar es Salaam for a local attorney who had absconded from a friend’s brother. Two-dozen offices, buildings, and secretaries later, we finally found our legal friend. Although hot and inconvenient, our tour of Dar, up and down back alley staircases, Swahili hellos and thank yous, secretaries and subtle knocks, taught me much about the African spirit. I say the African spirit because I’ve heard it referenced by others as the ability to problem solve when resources are tight. Though my coworker’s brother had the issue with the lawyer, he spent considerable time and effort locating this man. Whereas I am sure that any American counterpart would have called the effort futile after half the offices, we continued until we found him. Part of this is caused by an inherent inefficiency in the numbering, details, names, signs, etc. But what is commendable is that in spite of this dearth of infrastructure, the human spirit of helping others transcends inconvenience and is not only expected, but unexpectedly common.

A trip to the National Museum, two hours of one-on-one consulting, a few PowerPoint decks, plates of Thai food, and Namibian beers later, and it’s nearly Wednesday. Today I was the two goards that mixed the soil of Tanganyika and Zanzibar in the early 1960s as a symbol of their unity. In the next week I hope to set foot on both sets of soil, though Ngorongoro crater calls near the heart of the Masai-region.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Wings to Africa

My British Airways flight departed from London on Saturday, and 10 hours later, after having crossed the dark horizons of Libya, Sudan, and Uganda, the sun rose over Kenya. Pancake clouds sat silhouetted against a red sky like the cliche acacia tree photos on the Serengetti. I was landing near the birthplace of humans, near the great Rift Valley, the mountainous Kilimanjaro, descending toward the Swahili coast over an expansive plain home to the Big Five and the Massai warrior.

My arrival in Dar es Salaam was not without hiccup. Though customs was a breeze, my driver was late on arrival, so I meandered through the barrage of signs and taxi cat calls with the poise of a seasoned traveler. I expected El Salvador or India, but my Tanzanian arrival was not nearly as in-your-face.

The drive to my hotel, the Golden Tulip, passed at high speeds through relatively vacated streets. The occasional street-crosser would dart across our path, and we'd artfully dodge cyclists with teetering cartons of eggs on back. We passed Coco Beach, and the Oyster Bay Hotel en route to my new home.

The Golden Tulip has a breezy, wi-fi lobby, and a gorgeous pool overlooking a teal Indian Ocean. Palms like the walkway, and the veranda has hosted innumerable African leaders and even the former UN Secretary General. It offers a faded elegance, and helpful, if contrived and overstaffed, service.

After a live Cricket match, an ocean-side Safari and Kilimanjaro beer, a night of live music, and an attempt at purchasing a Tanzanian VodaCom SIM card, I fell asleep. The jet lag lingers, but adventure remains its bold, and successful, opponent.