Driving around a magnificent wildness

Here’s a wheel cover that is pure genius, sent in by an alert reader. The money tagline is a bit hard to read so I’ll transcribe it:

“If you drive around a magnificent wildness in a 4 Wheel drive car, you will encounter a series of tensions and excitements far from your imaginations just like a cowboy who was bravely riding a horse.”

Lodio Drive

I know I should get over the R and L thing, but can’t help passing along little nuggets like this one. I suspect that this one may have been imported though.

Top 10 Signs You’re Back in Tanzany

Like a lot of other expat families, we took a trip home this summer to visit friends and family. It was a nice break but we were happy to come home.

The short time away, did however, refresh our eyes a bit to the perplexing glory that is Tanzany. “Keep Austin weird?” Dude … you have no idea.

So, ala David Letterman, here are the

Top 10 Signs You’re Back in Tanzany

10. The post vacation bliss has already worn off during the hour to an hour-and-a-half just it takes to get your bags from the baggage claim.


9. It takes one-and-a-half hours to drive 20 kilometers in Dar es Salaam … for no apparent reason.


8. Food portion sizes have returned to normal (about half the US portion size).


7. Put the credit cards away and fill you pockets with cash, because you have to pre-pay for everything and there are fewer than 4,000 card terminals in the country.


6. Few coffee houses have take-away cups, and those that will spill all over you.


5. “Winter” means 78℉. And you see people wearing coats.


4. Nobody cares about reducing the use of plastic shopping bags. (True story: I brought reusable shopping bags to the store and passed them to the bagger. The bagger then proceeded to put all the groceries into plastic shopping bags and then put those bags into the reusable bag.)


3. Addresses are not precise coordinates — more like stories about locations with descriptions of relative to local landmarks: like “On Old Bagamoyo Road, near this, and across from that.”


2. Driving is less stressful. You no longer worry about red-light cameras. Or traffic cops. Or speed traps. Or indeed motor vehicle ‘laws’.  And if you are in a hurry and need to drive on the sidewalk to get past a traffic jam … pretty much everyone is going to be OK with it.


1.  You’ve been out of the country for only a month and the government has changed the road names again. (Goodbye Ocean Road, hello Obama road.)


HCTAHBP: Here’s an email I would never get in the US

Sent by a colleague who was returning to Nairobi from Dar:

Hi Brent

How was your weekend? I got home safe and sound although the plane had mechanical problem where it refused to open the flap on the wings so we had to fly for more than an hour and then it opened and then we landed safe.

Whew. Glad that it finally opened up. I wonder what the pilot’s plan was if it didn’t open?

I know what you are thinking, and no, this wasn’t an Air Tanzania flight. They’re still not flying outside of the country yet.

No Strikes And You’re Out

Photo: The Guardian, Khalfan Said

An alert reader recently spotted a great news story in The Guardian newspaper which really encapsulates the police mentality here in Tanzany.

In most of Tanzania you have three levels of private motor vehicle hire. In decreasing orders of cost they are: taxi, bajaj and motorcycle (aka “Bodaboda”). The first two are enclosed passenger vehicles, but the bodabodas are just motorbikes where the passenger climbs on back and holds onto the driver. Sometimes you get a helmet, usually you don’t. Lots of people use bodabodas to get around, and even though most of them are unlicensed and therefore illegal, no one seems to mind very much.

However, of late people have alleged that bodabodas are transporting criminals. What is an underpaid over worked police officer to do? Well, arrest anyone driving a motorcycle of course.

We are determined to fight the criminals … we are arresting motorbike operators because they are suspected to be ferrying some of the alleged criminals around.

– Kinondoni Regional Police Commander Charles Kenyela

Basically the police started pulling over any motorcycle they could find and arresting the drivers. Probable cause? Well they were driving a motorbike weren’t they? And since some criminals ride on motorbikes … well … quo erat demonstrandum, baby.

This approach to policing is brilliant and I see several other areas where they could start applying. First up: politicians. Start locking them up for graft and embezzlement of public funds. Don’t worry about proving your case first, chances are they’ve done something worth locking them up for.

Next, the police should arrest all the husbands they can find. Because let’s face it, if they’re not cheating on their wives, they’re probably out drinking too late or doing something they shouldn’t.

And last but not least, the police need to look their own ranks. After all, they are the ones who pull motorists over to demand “lunch money” and try to extort bribes at any opportunity. If Commander Kenyela could just pass me the keys to the jail cells after he locks all of his staff in, then I think we’ll be able to cut down a big source of a whole lot crime in this city.

The Human Fund reaches Tanzania

Here in Tanzany, people prefer sports utility vehicles. This makes sense as even the roads inside the major cities can get out of hand very quickly. Mostly Toyotas and Nissans, the typical car has the spare tire mounted on the outside. Sometimes the tire is exposed to the elements, but more often it has a cover made of tough weather resistant fabric.

People here just love to decorate that wheel cover. You see all sorts of messages from the artsy to the commercial (particularly air conditioners) to the political and even sexually suggestive.

But the ones that really crack me up are wheel covers promoting the governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Every organization has all their cars fitted in a wheel cover that includes their logo, project description, mission statement and whatever else they can fit on there. Seriously, some of those things seem like they have whole essays printed on them.

Even the really small NGOs with like no people and very little funding run around town with big important wheel covers talking about how they are out to save Tanzania. If you were an alien who teleported down to Dar es Salaam, you’d probably find yourself thinking, “God damn. With all these organizations doing all this good work, surely this country will be developed in no time!” If only.

We, however, didn’t have one. Even though the COPOTUS’ project is a year old, they are still fighting the government and the auto dealerships to get their project vehicle approved and delivered. So, we decided to have some fun with the whole wheel cover thing.

Fans of the Seinfeld TV series from the 1990s probably remember George Costanza’s creation of The Human Fund. Before Christmas George gets a gift from a friend that a donation was made in his name to a charity.

George makes up cards from “The Human Fund” and as office Christmas presents gives out fake “donations” made on his co-workers’ behalf to the Human fund. The motto of The Human Fund: “Money for people.”

We kicked the idea around for several months. What project should the Human Fund support here? Would the Human Fund use Kiswahili on its wheel cover? In the end, Colleen went out and made it happen with a simple design and the motto.

So I’ve been driving around Dar for several weeks now with my new wheel cover. One lady in traffic asked me for the Human Fund website address and my name. I guess she thought that she was a person and could use some money. I told her I was “George” and she should just Google The Human Fund and she’d find it. Another British couple asked me if The Human Fund had a big operation here. No, I told her. We’re still pretty small.

I haven’t run into as many Seinfeld fans as I expected – maybe the joke is too subtle or dated. But it amuses me and our friends now have an easier time distinguishing our car from the hundreds of other 10-year-old silver Prados driving around town.  

And I have several more Human Fund wheel covers printed up and ready to go. So if you live in Dar and would like to be a supporter of The Human Fund, contact me via the blog and we’ll see if you too can help get the word out there.