Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Amazing Race 20, Episode 7

Baku (Azerbaijan) - Kilimanjaro Airport (Tanzania) - Arusha (Tanzania) - Ngorongoro Conservation Area (Tanzania)

“We’re going to Africa!”, not, “We’re going to Tanzania”, was the reaction of most of the teams on The Amazing Race 20 when they were told to find flights to Kilimanjaro Airport.

Perhaps that’s understandable. “Africa” is huge, but often is seen as a single place in the American or European mind. Even the gross features, much less the nuances, of physical and cultural geographic variation between African countries get short shrift in the standard U.S. school curriculum. A less U.S.-centric and Eurocentric mental map, with more detail in what had been large amorphous areas, is one of the common goals of a trip around the world. Tanzania and, for example, Mozambique are neighboring countries, but I found travelling in each of them to be quite different.

The same holds true for many countries as for continents. Within a country like Tanzania there can be different worlds that create widely varied experiences for visitors. It’s not just a matter of size: Most post-colonial countries became independent within the boundaries of previous colonies, rather than having self-defined boundaries. And while some countries have been divided since decolonization, a common desire for the stability of borders by the “community” of other countries has precluded any significant “rationalization” or redrawing of national boundaries to better accord with self-identifications on the ground.

Tanzania was formed by the merger of what had been the colonial creation of “Tanganyika” on the East African mainland and the historically distinct islands of Zanzibar. There are also differences between the relatively small number of city-dwellers in Tanzania (somewhat unusual for increasingly urbanized Africa) and the larger rural population, and between the people of the coastal lowlands — both on the mainland and on the islands — and of the interior highlands.

My own visit to Tanzania in 2008 was to the parts of the country furthest from those visited by “The Amazing Race 20”: the main new and old cities, respectively, of Dar es Salaam (the mainland, coastal capital that developed under British colonial rule) and Stone Town (which developed much earlier, under the influence of Arabs from Oman) and one of the beach resorts on Zanzibar. Historically, the Maasai pastoralists of the interior highland villages visited by the race have related to the Zanzibaris primarily as the mercenaries of first Arab and then European slavers and occupiers, while the urban Muslim Zanzibaris have seen the animist Maasai herders as uncivilized infidels. Tanzania has a (carefully crafted) national identity, but it’s not an ethnically homogeneous nation-state.

My perceptions of Tanzania were further distorted by having landed in Dar just a few hours before Air Force One. We barely had time to get into town and find a hotel room (President Bush’s entourage had taken over the two most expensive hotels in town, creating a ripple effect of demand for progressively cheaper hotels) before the airport and the airport road were closed off for his motorcade.

It was a great opening for conversations about U.S.-African relations, but anything but an ordinary day in Dar. In case you think presidents don’t make their friends look at photographs of their travels, you can watch Bush’s self-narrated slide show of My First Trip To Africa on Youtube, with his description of that day in Dar beginning at 2:37 of the video.

The Amazing Race visited the same area of northern Tanzania in season 5 when one of the racers almost got arrested at Kilimanjaro Airport for refusing to pay his taxi driver. This time, the racers had to drive themselves (not really a good idea, as they found out — better to have a local driver to navigate) to the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater World Heritage Site.

The racers’ difficulties this time were not with motor vehicles but with the bikes they had to ride down the slope of the crater — and then back up. Only after they had started out did they realize that the bikes were too big for some of the racers.

Sometimes you have to take whatever is available in a rental bike, and sometimes a frame is so much too big or too small that no adjustment can make it ridable. But there’s rarely any excuse for not taking the time to test the brakes and adjust the height of the seat and handlebars, to the extent possible, before you set out. If you don’t have a tool that can make the adjustments (a Swiss Army Knife or Leatherman-type multi-tool might or might not do the job, depending on the type of bicycle), the person renting or loaning you a bike is much more likely to be able to come up with the requisite Allen key or other tool than you are if you realize you need to adjust the bike after you’ve headed on down the road on your own.

Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 8 April 2012, 23:59 (11:59 PM)
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