East Africa

Blue Dreams


I’m laying on top of a fluffy thing that’s on top of the ferry I’m currently riding on my way to the archipelego of Zanzibar. I chose to camp in the open deck, to enjoy the open air and the lovely breeze of the indian ocean. Everything I see is a perfect blue, with the exception of few dhow boats and commercial ships now and then. It’s 4:30pm on a Sunday afternoon of the coast of Tanzania. There is one special person I would love to be here with me, to share this view, this breeze, this tranquil moment. I’m having blue dreams. (And you’re in it…you know who you are).

Isn’t it amazing that I have a decent internet connection in the middle of the Indian Ocean? Gotta love technology. I’ll get back to enjoying my view and breeze as the perfect Swahili is spoken near by…

Categories: Africa Related, East Africa, Photography, Random, tanzania, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Puzzle

I take a lot of pride in the music I listen to and where it comes from (not for the reasons you’d think). So there is this song called Nagma that I have two versions of it – one sung by a guy named Mohamed Waryaa and the other one by King Khalid (which is much recent and more popular it seems). There is also a Jabuti (Djibouti) version, which is sung in Anfar and some claim is the original version. I always thought this song was Somali – until I saw this:

Which of course is in Amharic. From the look of the video, the song is much older than King Khalid’s version below. But the Somali-Anfar one from Jabuti does seem to be much older than both. Yet…

This brings me to the puzzle of this song: who made the original song? More precisely, who’s ripping who? I have no interest in the original creator other than just to know. With so much similarities across the Horn, cultural borrowings is inherent in the regions dynamics. But do artists in the region credit the artist’s work they borrow? I hope they do. Then again, the song could’ve been a folksong that goes back hundreds of years; adding to the mystery of its origin.

Anyone know who is the original artist and where it originated from? If anyone is keeping count, there is at least four languages used in this song.

Categories: East Africa, Music | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Picture Montage From My Study Abroad

It took me a while but I have finally finished putting together a video picture montage of my trip to East Africa this past summer where I was studying (near Arusha, Tanzania). I hope you’ll like it; the pictures are mostly in chronological order with my journey. Please enjoy!

Categories: Africa Related, East Africa, School/Students | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Prize is…Firearm!

From the BBC:

“The winners of a quiz organised by Somali Islamists [in Kismayo] have been given weapons and ammunition as prizes…..Prizes included AK-47 assault rifles, hand grenades and an anti-tank mine.” Even the losers get prizes, “the runners-up did not go home empty-handed, taking away an AK-47 and bullets.” According to Al-Shabab spokesman, “The reason the young men were rewarded with weapons is to encourage them to participate in the ongoing holy war against the enemies of Allah in Somalia,” which, ladies and gentlemen, are the women and children of Somalia.

I wonder if the winners, with their heavier firepower, would try to kill and rob the runners-up.

Categories: East Africa, Somalia | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Accidental Robin Hoods

Somali pirates are not much liked these days; for a good reason many would argue. But we all know before the original pirates were hijacking commercial ships, they were lowly fishermen. Besides keeping toxic and nuclear waste dumping ships from the Somali coast, it turns out that they have also successfully kept illegal trawlers at bay from the coast. Now comes the insanely unexpected: Somali pirates have saved the livelihoods of not only Somali fishermen, but Kenyan fishermen as well. The further these pirates have gone out to the high seas to hijack ships, the more the ships (both legitimate and illegitimate ones) have stayed further away – resulting in almost no illegal trawlers entering in Kenya’s (as well as Somali’s, obviously) economic zone (200 miles from the coast) and territorial waters (12 miles) as these industrial illegal trawlers used to do before the rise of pirate hijackings in the horn.

Ironically what the government of Kenya could not do, that is protect its fisheries and marine life, has been done for them by Somali pirates – by accident. Now both Kenyan and Somali fishermen are catching more fish and have a decent life. More importantly, the ecosystem is returning to normal cycles, and fish population has dramatically increased, leading to two-fold benefits for the humans who rely on the ocean for livelihood and the marine life that is now healthy. Now, before I get any hate-mail on this subject, remember the smile on these happy fishermen…

PS: 20,000 Kenyan Shillings is about 250 U.S. dollars.

Categories: East Africa, Piracy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments


I think I’ve been away from this blog for too long. How’s ya’ll? Ok, ok. Let me get to the point. I have finished my program in A-town (Arusha) and left there on Sunday for Dar es Salaam, where I’m currently at. I climbed Mt. Kili on Friday – amazing experience, I tell you. Tough as hell but I’m glad I did it. I know 3km climb isn’t much but someone like me who has never hiked, much less than climbed mountains, it is a pretty good accomplishment. I was particularly surprised to see the entire first (and second) level of the mountain very forest, almost jungle-like. Thankfully, there are no wild (if any) animals; just few birds in the first kilometer or so, then it is plants and trees – very beautiful indeed. We started our climb late so when we got to the first level we didn’t have much time to sit and enjoy the beautiful scenery around and had to get down just as quickly. Some locations are very steep, while other places are surprisingly near-flat ground. As the first two levels (3 and 5 kilometers, respectively) of the mountain consist entirely forest, rain is a constant threat to amateur climbers who can easily fall in the slippery surface deprived of sun.

The descent, I think, was more dangerous than the ascent because it is so easy to fall, lose balance, or sprain on the descent – especially the steeper spots. It took us (or I should say me) about 3 and half hours on ascent, while it took me only about 1 hour and 45 minutes to descent. After coming down every part of my body hurt like hell – not unusual, I was told. I think I deserve a few days of R & R in Zanzibar which is exactly what I’ll be doing later this week. A visit to Prison Island that I wasn’t able to make a month ago is in the itinerary this time around. I have never snorkeled before so should I do it now?


The Marangu route of Mt. Kilimanjaro.


Categories: East Africa, tanzania, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Zanzibar: Paradise in Peril (Take that CNN!)

After a long day of touring ruins of royal palace, spice farms (in which most of the time I felt so damn touristy despite this being an educational tour as part of my study program) and a local NGO, I was more than happy to just sit and watch a festival movie. But before I could sit and watch a movie, I had to fill my stomach with some spicy food; in this case, a Zanzibari pizza and sugarcane juice sold outside the festival venue. Seafood dominates the long stretch of food vendors in front of Beit El-Ajib (or House of Wonders) and Old Fort (where most of the films in competition are screened). Here, one can find any (I do mean ANY) kind of poor sea creatures on display – ready at your disposal – to be prepared and eaten mercilessly. There are variety of foods to satisfy everyone but I settled for the Zanzibari beef and vegetable (one) and a vegetarian (one) pizza (yes, I did write a post knocking down vegetarianism last year….oh well!). It tastes great, yet it is cheaper than those mind-numbingly expensive restaurants that cater to mzungo (European) tourist, plus the opportunity one gets to have a good conversation with the indigenous population that reveals much more than the guides and tours. In fact, while waiting for my vegetarian pizza I managed to have an interesting conversation with the chef (who, after finding out that I’m Somali, tried to say the only two Somali words he learned while living in Mombasa, Kenya in the early 1990s) about the state of the island.

In particular, the positive and negative effects tourism has had on the island – a question that has been bothering me quite a lot since I have arrived on the island – over the years. Indeed, the answer he gave is exactly what I have observed myself; mainly that tourists come here, “have fun” the week or two weeks they’re here by exploiting young men or women eager to earn some money. Perhaps I should be more explicit about the nature of the exploitation tourists bring here. The disturbing fact is that many tourists (mainly from Europe – I don’t want to generalize but this is a consistent occurrence unfortunately) come here and rent “guides” who are nothing more than sex workers. Most of the sex workers, believe it or not, are young men, who have no good education or job prospect. And it is the women from Europe (mostly) who come here to have fun with these young, hungry men. If pedophile men from Europe and North America go to Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam to have sex with children, women from Europe and North America come here to Zanzibar to do the same (although technically consensual) thing. You know that shy woman (perhaps her name is Cheryl) sitting in the next cubical workstation who seems to avoid humanity is not so shy when she takes her vacation in Zanzibar.

If Zanzibaris don’t find a way to preserve their island’s uniqueness from tourist’s thrash, they are in a deep shit.

Zanzibari pizza being prepared

Zanzibari pizza being prepared

Categories: Africa Related, East Africa, tanzania, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 13 Comments

ZIFF Opening Night

Zanzibar International Film Festival opened here in Stone Town last night with the premier of a South African movie. The opening act of the festival was a traditional dance from the dhow countries, along with a searing poetry (slam poetry is what you would call in the US, I believe) by a guy named Mrisho Mpoto. Of course the poetry was in Kiswahili but from what I could gather, his poetry was deeply moving as he discussed about social and political issues (he even made the former prime minister of the island, the guest of honor, so uncomfortable by what he was saying that the ex pm had to get up and offer the guy a ‘bus’ to take him around the island – to which Mrisho replied at the end, “be careful PM, I will be using that bus to come visit you” ). Whenever Mrisho said something someone in the audience agreed with or liked, they would get up and put money in his hand to show their appreciation (it’s like clapping, cheering, whistling, or giving the two-thumbs up equivalent). This is a tradition that doesn’t exist in the West though…I did see few Europeans do it, however, as they started to understand the concept (not his poetry) as the performance continued.

Izulu Lami, or My Secret Sky, that opened the festival was absolutely fantastic. The story of the movie is about two recently orphaned siblings, Khwezi and Thembi, a boy and a girl. Directed by Madoda Ncayiyana, the movie has a lot of depth in terms of content and message. I also loved the many symbolism the director inserted throughout the film. It would be useful for someone to know a little bit about South Africa to understand some of these symbolisms but anyone paying attention will get the message. I liked how the film dealt with the taboo subject of men infected with HIV/AIDS trying to cure themselves by ‘having sex with a virgin.’ This is one of the terrible crimes have been plaguing, really, many parts of West Africa especially, where men with HIV/AIDS believe they will somehow be cured of their disease if they have sex with a virgin; children, unfortunately, have been the most victims of this terrible falsehood. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I say this movie has a real shot at winning the best foreign film at the Oscars next year (I think, in many ways, Izulu Lami is better than Tsotsi, the previous South African movie to win the Oscar few years ago).

Opening Ceremony of ZIFF

Opening Ceremony of ZIFF

Old Fort Amphitheater, where the feature-length movies are screened.

Old Fort Amphitheater, where the feature-length movies are screened.

Categories: Africa Related, East Africa, tanzania, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Intro to Dar es Salaam

Maybe it is the jetlag or the new environment. Maybe it is just me old self. Or maybe I just need time to readjust. Three days in Dar es Salaam already and I feel like I’m at home. There is a welcoming and peaceful atmosphere in this city as its name in Arabic suggests. The attitudes of its inhabitants are just as welcoming. What is most impressive about this city is its diversity and tolerance towards different peoples and their faith. Equally impressive is the diversity of the people here: Arabs, Maasai, Swahili people, other African migrants, South Asians (largely from Pakistan), East Asians (dominated by the Chinese). The most common bond between all these people is either religion or commerce.

View from the top - the coast of Tanzania. The visible island is Zanzibar.

View from the top - the coast of Tanzania. The visible island is Zanzibar.

Dar es Salaam

Dar es Salaam

Random sky shot

Random sky shot

Afternoon traffic jam in Dar. A motorist is angry at a blocking driver.

Afternoon traffic jam in Dar. A motorist is angry at a blocking driver.

Islam is the most practiced religion here (all along the coast for that matter) and one can see the influence of Islam very quickly throughout the city. Likewise, commerce is a strong part of this city, often dominated by non-indigenous immigrants like South/East Asians and Somalis. I’m not sure I would classify the Arab population (locally known as ‘mwarabu’ – the bantuitized word for Arab) here as ‘non-indigenous’ people since they have been here since at least the 13th century. A large population of mixed people also exist here. What I’m surprised not to see here is the European population that colonized Tanzania. However, in the interior of the country I suspect there are still a remnants of colonial descendants – mostly the large estate owners.

Perhaps everything I’ve written here is b.s. but I’m not claiming my observation to be based on academia anyway.

Categories: East Africa, tanzania | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Happy B-day, Somaliland

It’s May 18 and that means you’re 18 years old today, Somaliland! While your neighbors to the East and South are obliterating each other to the finish, your only problem today is when to hold your next elections. What a difference, eh? To rub it all on your face, every country in the world disses you by not recognizing your statehood, despite putting together a nice, functioning state (albeit with the usual problems associated with any young state). Yes, you had a little (well, bad choice of word) civil war right after you were born and took you a while to hold elections, but you eventually managed to secure law and order just as your neighbors continued to tear apart each other. So here’s to you a happy 18th birthday since your secession from Somalia, although I’m not sure if you will get your wish-present of international diplomatic recognition.


Courtesy of Maakhir.wordpress.com

Now the ‘unpleasant’ part of the conversation. It is hard to get recognized in this globalized world. My guess is if you had oil or other ‘important’ raw materials (like say, natural gas or yellowcake even), you would’ve already become a recognized country. I know, Kosovo didn’t have anything to offer to the West either, but it did manage to piss-off Russia, didn’t it? It is also true that your people and Kosovars were bullied and in more than one occasion, massacred by your “fellow countrymen.” Double-standards do exist, so live with it.

If I may point out few things, please allow me to elaborate. For one, most people outside of Hargeysa do not understand why you want to secede from Somalia- after all, you share the same language, religion, and ethnicity (tribes and clans are not ethnicity – for example, see Sinhalese & Tamils in Sri Lanka) with the rest of Somalia. Secondly, as pointed out above, resource-wise you are limited to livestocks for the most part, which means obtaining foreign exchange to develop your economy depends on the mood of the Saudis and Emirates for the most part. Finally, again this is a fair question, what exactly does it mean to secede from Somalia and become a new country to you? A new identity? Self-pride?

Regardless of your unrecognized accomplishments, you deserve mad props! The fact that the South is exploding and has been so for the past 19 years means your quest for full secession is a legitimate self-preservation at the very least.

Categories: Africa Related, East Africa | Tags: , , , | 11 Comments

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