Friday, July 13, 2012

Welcome to Mwanza!

We are in Mwanza now, and while it is home to Lake Victoria, it is clear that it is not meant to be a tourist destination. It would certainly not make it to the top of my list. I will save further details for the Mwanza City Report.

As soon as we arrived in town, we began searching for accommodations. There are quite a few “hotels” and lodges very close to the APHFTA office, so we decided to begin our search there. As we looked, we found that double rooms were rather hard to come by. Apparently, in this regionpeople of the same sex are not allowed to stay in a room together*. Thinking we must have misunderstood the first time, we made sure that this was the case, and indeed it was. While the reasoning behind this (likely homophobia) was not explained to us, we figured we would have to accept it. After shopping around at a few places, we decided on SunCity Hotel, which made an exception to the same-sex rule for us.

Our hotel costs my roommate and I $2 each/night. Yes, that is USD**. 

We were told there was only one self-contained room—a term used to indicate the presence of a bathroom in the room—and that the only other available room had a shared hall-bathroom complete with latrine-toilets***. The staff did not speak a word of English, so all of this was conveyed to us through our new Supervisor who was kind enough to help us figure out our living situation. There was also no electricity there, nor at any of the other lodges we had visited. (Power outages are commonplace in this area of Mwanza, so the staff was unfazed, and perhaps even confused by our questions of when the power would come back on.) Despite all of these problems, however, the rooms were incredibly clean, each had a color television, and it was next door to the APHFTA office. After paying for our rooms and putting our luggage away, we went to the office and then out to dinner.

After a delicious meal of roasted tilapia and plantains, we returned to the hotel. To our delight, the electricity was on. We had been speculating amongst ourselves the best way to shower in pitch-black darkness without falling into the adjoining latrine-toilet, but luckily our conjectures did not have come to fruition. The generator was roaring loudly and all was well.

As my roommate and I walked back to our non-self-contained room, a rather large middle-aged man came out of the bathroom wearing only a towel. Shocked, horrified, and scandalized, I fumbled for the key, as we struggled to keep from bursting out with laughter. Now that we were privy (no pun intended) to the utter awkwardness of our bathroom situation, we decided that we would shower in our other teammate's room to avoid walking around the sole hallway in a state of undress. We also realized that our window overlooked a table at the bar and restaurant next door, and that the loud music almost managed to drown out the noise of the generator.

After realizing we had been given only one towel, I attempted to ask the sole staff member for an extra one. Up until this point, I’d been able to scrape by communicating with what little Kiswahili I have, mixed with a good amount of English and an even better amount of TPR. Having been reduced to two tactics now that the staff was monolingual, I found myself having a much harder time. The main issue was that I knew she could understand me, but I could not understand her. Luckily we happened upon another tenant who could speak English. After about twenty minutes of back and forth, it was explained to us that only one towel was allowed per room. Because we were sharing a room (which was not technically allowed) we were only permitted one towel. I could not rent an extra towel, but would have to pay the price of another room (TZS 8000) if I wanted to be able to dry myself after my shower.

I walked away, incredulous and defeated. After all this, we found out that therewere in fact, more self-contained rooms. To our surprise, our Boss had moved into the hotel while we were at dinner. Not really sure how that miscommunication went down, considering it happened between two Kiswahili-speaking people...

Now, I wouldn’t say that up until now we’d been experiencing an illegitimate, watered-down, or fake version of Africa, but what we were experiencing in Mwanza was something entirely different from what we had seen thus far. Perhaps more real. Perhaps not. It was certainly less-Westerner-friendly. I feel that I may have a lot to learn from Mwanza. We’ll see what I have to say one week from now.

Oh, and one thing I’ve already learned that I’ll never forget: If you turn on the hot water switch while the generator is running, all the electricity on the entire street will go out.

*We assume that the pricier, more touristy hotels would probably allow same-sex rooming arrangements, but all of those would have been well out of our price range.
**The moral of the story: You get what you pay for.
***If you know of any possible way a latrine-toilet is in any way practical than a toilet bowl, I beseech you to do so. 

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