Someone Up There is Telling Me to Drink More Gin & Tonics

It’s me.  I’m the weakest link. 

Like most other expats that we’ve met here, we’re not taking any malaria prophylaxis.  We decided not to for two reasons.  First, and foremost, no one knows what taking that stuff for long periods of time does to your body (especially for the kids).   Second, Malarone is the only effective anti-malarial drug that doesn’t have bad side effects, and it’s really expensive.  It would be several thousand dollars per person per year.

So I have been designated family worrier about malaria.   I had the bed nets made; I remember to spray the mosquito repellant in the evening; I go on nightly killing sprees to keep mosquitos out of the house.  No one else in the family really thinks much about it.  Nor do many of our expat friends, most of whom have been here two, three, four plus years and have never had it.

So I feel pretty unlucky catching it in my first five months. 

Then again, the small sampling Tanzanians that I talked to all reported having malaria.  (You have to take that with a large grain of salt, though.  It is pretty common that anytime a Tanzanian goes to a doctor with any headache, fever or stomach ache, the doctor diagnoses them with “malaria”.)

I got the common African variety, malaria falciparum, which is kind of a good news/bad news situation.   The bad news is that falciparum it kills 90% of the people who die from malaria.  The good news is that it doesn’t hide out in your liver, so when you treat it successfully you get rid of it and don’t have relapses later.  And really, most of the people it kills don’t have access to care.  If you have money and live in a city like Dar, your risk is pretty small.

Fortunately we identified it early and treated it immediately so I didn’t have a bad case.  The initial count of parasites in my blood sample was 17; the IST Clinic that treated me often sees counts around 100 and has seen bad cases of 800 or 1,000.  For me, it felt like a bad flu that lasted about four days: fever, headaches and a complete inability to get out of bed for hours at a time.  So along with the good looks and star power, I guess it just one more spooky similarity between George Clooney and me.

The thing is, it seems like Malaria would be tough to catch.  First, it’s transmitted by just one type of mosquito that mostly feeds at night.  Second, the mosquito that transmits the parasite has to bite someone else who has malaria first and then bite you within 15 minutes or so.  So if you’re not around a lot of other people who have it, your chances of getting it go down significantly.  No one in our house had it and we don’t go out that much, so most nights our risk is pretty low.

It’s not clear how I got it.  I suspect it may have been at the ambassador’s Fourth of July party, which seems ironic since the major risk at the time was having a George Bush moment with a bowl of pretzels.  But that was 10 days before I came down with malaria and I was around a large number of people, some of whom might have had it.

(As an interesting historical side note, I didn’t realize that the US South had endemic malaria into the 1950s.  There was even a National Malaria Eradication Program to eliminate it.  It’s also how DDT got its start before farmers started using it more widely for pest control.)

So my lesson learned here is that despite all the counter measures, you never know when there is a mosquito out there with your name on it. 

So given that all my other activities weren’t sufficient, I have decided to copy the British colonialists.  Tonic has quinine, which used to be effective against malaria.  Maybe if I increase my gin and tonic consumption, I will add another barrier to transmission. 

Or even if it doesn’t work, at least I’ll enjoy it.  And that’s more than I can say for the bug spray, mosquito nets and wearing long clothing in hot weather. 

Rediscovering My Economic Raison d’Etre

When I lived in Mexico City in 1995-96, I used to say that foreigners in developing countries have one primary reason-for-being: making change.

Whenever I got paid or got money from a bank, it was inevitably in large local denomination bills, like Mexican NP$100 or NP$50.  (Sometimes you’d even get the dreaded NP$200 denomination bills – those things were almost useless except in very limited circumstances.  The bank might as well have given me Mickey Mouse dollars instead for all the good those did you.)

You could use a NP$100 or $50 for big-ticket items like rent or the week’s groceries. But whenever I wanted to buy something small, like a soda or tacos or a taxi ride, the vendor could almost never break anything over a NP$20.  Inevitably I would end up waiting 10 or 15 minutes while he would run around the local area looking for someone with change.  Sometimes this would happen even if the bill was relatively close to the amount I needed to pay, like using a NP$20 bill to pay for a NP$12 cab ride.

As a result, it became second nature to make change whenever I could.  These were the decision rules I used when paying for something:

·      Never pay with a small bill when a big bill will do.

·      Never pay an exact amount even if you have it (except for coins).

·      Always offer a bigger bill first and only go to a smaller bill if the seller asks for it.

·      Always used the biggest bill you have on you when buying something in a big store that probably could make change.

I continued this habit for some time even after I returned to the States.  A couple of months after I came back, for example, I was flying to California. A stewardess was serving drinks and asked if anyone had change for a $20.  I did: in 20 one-dollar bills.

Now that we’ve moved to Tanzany, I have rediscovered my emerging-market raison d’etre.  At first I thought Tanzania would be different because the largest denomination bill they have is a 10,000 Tanzanian Schillings (TSH), which is about US$7.  Not true.  My first week here I waited 15 minutes for a taxi driver to find change for a TSH10,000 note.  The fare was TSH7,000.  I’ve tried to buy a TSH3,000 beer with a TSH5,000 note and had to wait 20 minutes.  And I’ve noticed that everyone is after my small denomination currency: TSH2,000 and 1,000 notes are worth more than their face value.

(I’ll have more to say about how difficult it is to physically pay for things here in a separate post.)

In Mexico, I thought that the change-making habit was just a quirk.  Having gone to business school since, I now know however, that I am helping to give Tanzanian money it’s value.  Economists say that divisibility is one of the four essential characteristics of money, along with durability, transportability and resistance to counterfeiting.  I can’t do much in the other three areas, but clearly these currencies have big problems with divisibility. 

 So I feel better about my economic role this time around.  I’m not just some unimportant mizungo foreigner trying to by a Coke with a big Tanzinian Schilling note – I’m essential.  I’m what McKinsey consultants would call a “change agent.”

So bring on the big bills!  I can make change all day long.  I’m following David Bowie’s advice:

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

(Try and ask a stranger.)

Ch-ch-changes

Don’t want to be a richer man

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

(Try and ask a stranger.)

Ch-ch-changes

Just gonna have to find a different man.

Time may change me

But I can’t change time…

Help! I’m Trapped on a Desert Island and the Internet is NOT WORKING!!!

Day 7 of my captivity.  After a week without an Internet connection this week, I left the kids with the COPOTUS and headed over to the bar at the Colosseum Hotel.  (The décor of the Colosseum merits it’s own post which I will work on later.)

Two guys have been working on the Internet at our temporary quarters for most of the first week.  Even though I was pretty sure that wasn’t the problem, I had to let that play itself out before the front desk people would believe me that something else was going on.  They called in their IT vendor which turns out to be a guy of Indian descent on a motor cycle.  The first step in the repair process  was blaming my new laptop for being an Apple, blaming the Ethernet cable, and blaming my router for being a router.  After I pointed out that the issue was more likely related to the fact that nothing in our apartment could get an IP address regardless of what cable, OS or type of machine it was, he admitted that it may be something else.  So we waited a day to see if it would “clear” and when he came back, we all agreed that we could blame the hotel’s switch.  Thus far, I’d have to say that the experience was not dissimilar from phone based trouble shooting in the US, except I had the guy face-to-face.  So we’ll call that a slight net-positive.

So, now all we need to do is get the hotel to agree to replace the switch, find the new switch, and get it installed.  If all goes well, I’m expecting that we’ll be back in business sometime in Q4.

The Plane Flight Over: Turns Out Hobbs the Cat is a Better Traveler than I am

So the the journey over to Tanzany went with no major mishaps.  I managed to get the kids an adult size chicken-nugget meal at the Dulles Wendy’s before we boarded the plane.  They both ate the whole thing, which surprised me because it’s double the size of the Happy Meals that we usually get.

As far as I can tell, Emerson made that meal last for the next 24 hours.  The only other things he consumed were a few sodas and packets of airplane snack mix.  Sawyer ate everything.

Our first time traveler, Hobbs the cat, traveled under the seat in front of us and was a real trooper the entire way.  She was quiet and didn’t really complain at all.  She hopped out of the bag on the other side more or less happy as ever, despite peeing on herself a few times.  And really, how many of us can say that we haven’t peed ourselves on an airplane?  No self-respecting LSJUMB member, I can tell you that.

I on the other hand managed to lose my coat.  I have no idea where.  Not that I need it here where it’s bloody hot, but it did have a nice pen in it that I don’t like to lose. 

So after a bath, Hobbs was fine and I was still down a nice pen.  Score one for the cat on that trip.