Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

Lake Tanganyika Highlights

Saturday, November 10th, 2012

Well hello again!

I know it’s been ages since my last travel log and I apologize. But let me try to right the wrong with an update here about my trip to the Tanzanian coastline of Lake Tanganyika. I’ll save some of the details as I’m hoping my travels will ultimately find their way as printed words on a published page… But here’s an overview.

Lake Tanganyika is the longest lake in the world, the second deepest, and the oldest in Africa. It is so big, about 420 miles long, that four countries surround it — Tanzania on the east coast, Zambia in the south, the DR Congo in the west and Burundi in the north. I’ve been once before, two years ago I was on the Congo side for a story (found here: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/03/02/meet-amy-lehman-the-woman-behind-congos-floating-hospital.html?cid=topic:originals2), and the lake took my breath away. I’ve been aching to go back ever since. Finally got my chance.

I left NYC on Oct. 13th and got to the Tanzanian side of the lakeshore on the 15th. Three full tiring days of travel – a long trip. But this is not an easy place to get to. I traveled through Amsterdam into Dar es Salaam, where I landed late at night, spent about 45 min in a taxi to my hotel, and got about four hours of sleep. Before the sun even rose, it was onto Mwanza, the country’s second largest city, apparently, sitting on the edge of Lake Victoria. A few sleepy hours later I flew into Kigoma, the largest Tanzanian town on the lakeshore. This is where I would start and end my trip and where the real adventure began. The fact that the journey is not exactly direct comes as no real surprise. In spots, especially along the Congolese and Tanzanian shorelines, Lake Tanganyika happens to be one of the most remote places I’ve ever been lucky enough to see.

And with that isolation comes some intensely beautiful landscapes: utterly empty beaches, graceful formations of volcanic rock, acacia tree-filled hillsides and some imposing mountain peaks. The highest of these in Tanzanian is Mount Nkungwe, in Mahale Mountains National Park, at 8,077 feet above sea level. I saw it from afar, nestled among thick, low-hanging clouds. I am pondering a climb one day… Would definitely not be easy – I’m told that you have to ascend and descend two other peaks before the final uphill push. But after the 11 or 12 hours it would take to reach the top, this would probably be an adventure rewarding as hell.

Mountain peaks not withstanding, there are plenty of other enticements in and around Lake Tanganyika. The biodiversity is spectacular: more than 250 species of Cichlid fish swimming under water, many found nowhere else in the world. I saw a wide variety on a few snorkeling outings. There is no corral here, it’s all rock, which makes for lovely, easy swimming and viewing. Next time, maybe a dive is in order? The water is reliably the same refreshing, never-too-cold, temperature year-round. It is comfortable, crisply clean, and wonderfully clear. I LOVE dipping into this lake!

If the aqueous life is not enough for you, in the jungles along the coast and at nearby national parks there are a bevy of other animals on view: chimpanzees, hippos, crocodiles, lions, leopards, giraffes, zebras, elephants, hyenas, buffalo, warthogs, vultures, eagles and more! It’s a wildlife cornucopia and I saw it all at Gombe, Katavi and Mahale National Parks. The lions and chimps came so near I could have scratched between their ears. Alas, I decided to keep my hand instead… These parks are among the most remote in Tanzania and I usually had the animals to myself – an uncommon treat.

The villages along the shoreline are mostly poor, some profoundly so. Many villages have no electricity, running water, cell phone service or even vehicle accessible roads. If you want to know what isolation looks like, this is it. Still, the settings are often stunning. The homes here are built of mud and brick and covered in thatched roofs made of local grasses. Some are upgraded to corrugated tin. They are all rectangular. The story behind this, I heard, is that the nation’s first post-independence president, Julius Nyerere, instructed people to build them thus because, apparently, only poor people lived in round dwellings! I haven’t been able to verify this yet, so who knows if it’s true, but nonetheless it’s a strange and colorful tale!

Most people in coastal villages make their living as fisherman. Many work late into the night and through the early morning plying the waters by lantern light on the hunt for local sardines. Called dagaa in Swahili, the sardines from Lake Tanganyika, and especially Kigoma, are coveted as a national specialty. Fishermen dry them in the sun laid flat on the nets in which they were caught. Shimmering silver, the dried fish are then bagged and sold on the side of the road in town, if not shipped around the country. The fishermen use a local technique to catch them: two big boats string a net between them and smaller boats with the lanterns move in concentric circles around their bigger partners. The glow draws the fish into the nets, except when the moon shines too brightly. As the night darkens, the view from shore is one of distant golden hues bobbing on the horizon. A beautiful, romantic, montage.

I think I’ll leave it here for now. There is so much more to tell about my journey: a grimy, wonderful 32-hour voyage on a 100-year-old colonial era cargo and passenger ferry; wild animal encounters; deep jungle hikes; sensational sunsets; lots of enchanting bird song; an amazing, luxurious, nearly secret, lodge and more! But this should give you a taste of the place, I hope…!

More to come!

Doctors Without Borders Top Ten Humanitarian Crises

Monday, December 21st, 2009

Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders released today their annual list of the world’s top ten humanitarian crises. You can see the full press release here or go to the list home page for more information about each country including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Sudan and Sri Lanka. This year’s list also contains important information about neglected diseases, AIDS and childhood malnutrition, a condition that affects — and often takes the lives of  — millions of children around the world.

Congo’s gold

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

60 Minutes did a piece this past Sunday on how gold mining is fueling the conflict in the Congo. You can watch the video online here. It’s an important segment to watch. I hope you will.

Connection lost!

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009
Taken on my drive from the Panzi Hospital

Taken on my drive from the Panzi Hospital

So It’s been an incredibly interesting and fruitful first couple of days here in Bukavu, the regional capital of the South Kivu province in the eastern Congo. Lots of interviews done — lots more to do — but not lots of time on the Internet… Connectivity where I’m staying is a bit unpredictable. Or, rather, for the time that I’ve been home, it’s not been available more than it has been. Of course, this makes an American like myself quiver, but I’m dealing. And, truth be told, the withdrawal has not been too bad.

Congo is an incredibly fascinating place. As I’ve read in many places before it is physically beautiful — steep hills, cool lakes, a running river that cuts a steep, green valley between the Congo and Rwanda and generally lush  everywhere. There are even lovely pink and white flowers that dot the trees on the side of the road in one of the city’s most impoverished and crime-ridden neighborhoods, one I’ve passed through the previous two days on my way to report about the doctors and their work at the Panzi Hospital.

But this beauty is juxtaposed by a deeply, deeply depressed country, both economically and socially. The poverty is intense and feels overwhelming for the number of people who are packed tightly into sprawling neighborhoods of nearly crumbling huts built into dirt roads and onto the steep hillsides. Dirt and mud pervades, vendors sell vegetables on the side of the roads that I’m told were once paved, but are now a pot-holed obstacle course of muddy SUVs, small, dented, rough-looking cars and pedestrians, pedestrians, pedestrians everywhere making their way through the rain-soaked roads. Some have shoes, a few even good ones like hiking boots that manage the mud, others are barefoot, slipping as they go. Many women struggle by, bent forward, with huge loads that hang on their foreheads. Children make their way to school, mostly in blue and white uniforms. The scene is intense, noisy, busy. Driving here is a stressful prospect with near misses too common.

And the whole place feels covered in a dark pall. Though I know there are bright spots, and I hope I’ll be able to write about some of these,  someone I met recently described the whole country as being traumatized. It is apt.

More soon. If my connection holds!