The State of Affairs

Perhaps it’s time to reiterate what is going on here and what it is that I have come to Africa to achieve. It all started of course with the computer centre, and my Google search for “education projects east Africa” which luckily lead me to several NGOs based in Tanzania, Kenya and Malawi, and of course the conversations with Katy that followed which lead me to come to Kilimanjaro and work for VEPK. It seems like such a long time ago that I was at home, sick from work and spoke to Katy for the first time about what I could do and how I might help the project and the village, almost like I have lived another life again since then, as I have changed in almost every way.

When I arrived I knew that it would be hard work, I knew that I would struggle with the language and the people and the way of life, but what I didn’t expect was to get so heavily involved in so many things that leave me eternally busy each and every day (well that last part is only 50% true, I always find time to chill with the dogs and hang out at home). So I began to re-invent the computer centre from the ground up, breathing life into the computers that needed it, and restructuring the network and infrastructure to suit the way life is up here and make it work for everyone. Adding a 3G connection to the system, learning how to optimize it and make it work for 20 computers has been the biggest personal work challenge, but still I haven’t touched on what it is that I actually do there, and how it has helped the village. To explain, I need to go into more detail of how education works in Tanzania, and how I saw, and continue to see, myself working within that framework to provide something unique that didn’t exist before.

Swahili is the main language here, and is spoken by pretty much everyone. It was introduced as the first language of the country at independence by Nyerere himself, and has remained the main way of communicating across the country. Unlike our neighbours to the north, Tanzanians did not keep their English teaching up, and instead concentrated on making Swahili the de-facto language for the entire country for each and every tribe of people here. It has had mixed effects, some good and some bad, but in my view it was essential in order to build the solidarity that most Tanzanians have for their country and definitely helped bring down the barriers between tribes that still exist in other countries. The negative effect it had was to lower the general level of literacy in international language like English, instead focussing on uniting the country together. Now we are in a different situation, we have one national language, and the need for that to be expanded upon is growing. It is essential that Tanzanians are able to communicate with the outside world, to capitalise on the strong growth in economy that all east African countries are experiencing, and that means only one thing, we all need to speak better English.

This is a double-edged sword of complication. For a start, primary schools are taught in Swahili. That means, like at home, there is one language each day for everyone to speak. Primary school runs 7 years from standard I to standard VII and then that is the end of government paid schooling. Students then need to pay to go to secondary school, which contrary to all sense and reason is taught in English, by teachers who on the whole do not have the grasp of English strong enough for it to be of any use to most kids. It’s easy to say, let’s just put everything in Swahili and get on with it, but it is not as simple as that, as the books that exist are torn and tattered, to replace them across the board with an entirely new Swahili-based curriculum would take time and lots of money that no Tanzanian government official is going to pay. So we are left with what we have, a broken system that is failing its students year in year out.

I came here to teach IT, or to at least provide some IT services to a community that has none. It began with a few individuals that could speak some English and I quickly realised that in order for me to really reach out and get into their minds, I would need to be able to communicate more effectively, and I began to learn Swahili. As time wore on, I realised that the few gifted students I had only appeared to be more intelligent or knowledgeable than others because of their education, their family upbringing or sadly their family income. Those families that could not afford to send their kids to secondary school at the first opportunity often fell out of the system altogether, learning about the world through the quite frankly awful television and radio services here, or by talking to other people around them. It’s not that they couldn’t learn how to use a computer rather that the idea of what a computer is for has been left out completely and they have no idea why they need these skills, or in fact what those skills might entail once they have been attained.

The classic model of showing someone Microsoft Word and Excel, working with spreadsheets and databases just does not fit the way people live here, and so I had to rethink exactly what it is we teach and how we go about it. It remains that students that say they understand English in Swahili but then cannot answer a simple question put to them by me do get left out. I feel bad that I cannot help them the way they want, but I have to stick to what I believe in and re-iterate to them, that the computer can unlock countless possibilities to them in their lives, but in order to understand what it is they are looking at, their grasp of English needs to improve first. I have trialled English tuition on a number of occasions, with limited success, as most don’t want to admit that they went through several years of secondary school not understanding what was being taught. Others who really try to learn more progress more quickly, and with the brightest of students, I always look to train them in the dark art of self-promotion and sustainability, using myself as an example of how an individual can achieve whatever they want should that person really put his or her heart into it and get stuck in. If I can learn Swahili in two years, then these kids can learn English throughout their lives. Once their literacy has improved, I see massive improvements in every aspect of their work. From their initial conduct, which is often shy, reserved and wholly submissive to authority, right through to their ability to work on their own initiative I try to help them see that yes I am here to help, but I am not doing anything for them, I am just giving them the tools they need to be able to do it themselves. I said this at the beginning and I stand by it right now.

From among all these people I have some good friends and colleagues, who are moving on their own lives and learning how to lift themselves up in this country which is not easy at all. They are taking the bull by the horns and pushing themselves towards new frontiers and it warms my heart to know that I have helped them on their way. From all of this mess; from within some of the poorest families in this country I have seen more than just a glimmer of hope that things will improve, I have seen the future of Tanzania, from within the eyes of the children who now have access to the outside world through the medium of internet and communication and who are seeing their country as a place that they aim to better themselves, rather than putting up with problems and issues that their forefathers did. Some of the most beneficial conversations we have are often nothing to do with computers or English, but rather just story telling about how the rest of the world is, how politics compare here and back in Europe, and how normal people live in such different ways across the world. It is highly motivating to reach out to a community in this way, and through nearly everything we do I aim to be part of the village to show them that there are some wazungu like me who do not wish to just go home when the going gets tough, but are here, like them, struggling with the daily problems as if they were my own.

Dispelling the fallacy that you “need” to go to a good school or college in order to get a good life is terribly important to me, as I honestly believe that before anyone goes on to further education they need to have sat down with themselves and really thought about what it is they want to do with their life. Without any knowledge of the outside world, or limited knowledge based on media and culture, it is incredibly difficult to make these decisions, and that is where I see the computer centre residing in the near to distant future. It is a place where people can come and have a go, learn about something without having to pay school fees, or just come and get familiar with the technology in a way that lights a spark in their mind. Its ran as a business, although heavily subsidised, but will continue even after that monetary input, as I believe that what we have built there will be able to survive the toils of time, and eventually become a successful place, ran by the people for the people. Sounds a bit cliché doesn’t it? Well all things are based upon experience, and mine is limited at best, but what I do know about the world I share as much as I can, and I just hope that moving forward, the people I have chosen to continue where I left off will see it this way as well, and be able to show each other what it is they are missing, and bring this wonderful country and its people right up to where they belong: known and not forgotten.

So what’s next? I believe that education is the key, but not in the traditional sense. Over the next few months I will be getting more involved in the work that VEPK does across the board in Tanzania, helping train teachers in schools around the Kilimanjaro region, and working more with the teachers and schools in the local area to help share this vision with as many people as possible; and always remembering where it all began, in Mshiri, above Marangu, where I call home.

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Highs and Lows

A raft of posts and updates on Facebook leave me feeling like I miss home. Not just a little bit, but a lot. Perhaps I’m being a little nostalgic when I see pictures of St Pauls Carnival, the pre party and after parties and all my friends enjoying their weekend without me. Not that I wouldn’t be welcome, but 4000 miles is a long way to go for a pint of cider. Scroll down and I see another of my school friends has got married, to a beautiful woman on a beach in Spain. Then there was another mate who is selling his car, for £6000. Someone else is asking for a lift to Bristol for a concert they have tickets for. Another friend who has just left VEPK is now doing well for another NGO in Moshi and seems to be happy and enjoying himself. All these things serve to give me an idea of what each of these people are doing, how they got there and what it is that defines them. It’s the curse of social networking that we now have this constant feed of what each of us is doing, yet without it how much of what we know about people would be different?

This all makes me wonder what on earth it is I’m doing, and at what point do I have the right to turn around and just walk away from it all. Of course that in itself is basically impossible as I have people who rely on me, I have dogs that I and I alone love enough for them to survive and have good lives, and then there is the vast array of things that I do each day that are going on regardless and all of it leaves me wondering at what point do I become who I want to be? Am I going to be forever just building up and building up with no direction or goal as to where it might lead? I have a reasonable amount of success under my belt, but why has that not translated itself into the life I should feel happy living come thick or thin? The grass is pretty green here, but there is always another field…

I am still struggling to find ways to make this work for me without lots of outside help. Still playing poker the odd evenings in the vain attempt to get a few more dollars, but it’s really a waste of time. Further down the road there is a huge amount of work coming when the cameras and other stock get back from China, but that for some reason leaves a funny taste in my mouth when I think about it. It’s not that It’s unethical, far from it, it’s a good business opportunity to make some good cash and get my skills used in a positive way; but it isn’t what I want to do, and given how I am surrounded by people who I am teaching to follow dreams it seems like a cop out to invest in something that I don’t fundamentally believe in. Also, it has only netted me £80 so far for a couple of days work and a fair bit of running around. There is much more on the horizon, and I know the others are fired up for this, so I am looking forward to getting started for real and see whether it fits in. Even if this doesn’t work, or is a short lived project, there should be a couple of thousand dollars in it for me, so I’d be a fool not to get involved.

Then there is the love and be loved issue. As readers will know I have had a few girlfriends here over the last couple of years, and none of them have lasted. Not for want of trying though, but I think I have been out of practice in how to treat women, nice women that is, in that I have no idea what’s happening to me and when something nice does happen, I have no idea what to do with it. Just last weekend I was with someone and I got the feeling that she liked me, so what would any normal human being do? Well, that’s not what I did, I actively made my way away from her, because I was scared as to what might happen. There have been many like this, and many more that I do end up sleeping with that I have no interest in whatsoever. I seem to have become the master of picking up for a Friday night and have lost all powers of allusion when it comes to women I’m actually interested in. Especially white women. At the age of 32 and 17 years after I moved in with my first girlfriend this is bad form, and needs to be remedied. I want to take someone on a date, show them a good night, get enthralled by their conversation and find out that we love the same bands, seen the same movies, want the same things from life or that she has a weird infatuation for Patrick Stewart (that last one has actually happened before!). In any case, I need more than what has happened of late, and in return I think I need to put more effort into what it is that I am offering, because from where I am standing, I’m not a particularly good catch right now.

But what does that in itself actually mean? What is it that defines us? Christian Bale in Batman would have you believe it’s not who you are but what you do that defines you, I’m not 100% sure. What we do and what people see us do are often two different things. Whether to the opposite sex, our prospective customers and colleagues or just to each other our outward presence is important to us, and to understand what we project is to perhaps understand what it is we are looking at and how that affects the perception of ourselves and each other. Looking more closely to the details of my own life it depends on which day of the week as to what shape, colour and mood I see in front of me. I am a man of highs and lows in every sense of my being and I often see things in a broadened polarised way that is hard to understand. This is the reason why I can be triggered by such silly details as a guy who I met a few years back on a beach in Serbia is selling a car that I could never afford will set me off when if I recall I have turned down jobs that would have enabled me to be in that position myself. I have lived in Bristol for a good few years, going to all the festivals and street parties and have enjoyed them, when now I am getting involved in that scene over here, and have the opportunity to be right at the centre of it all as a DJ. I actually have nothing to worry about save where to get next month’s rent money from. Looking around however, I do see a lot of people who are projecting a false sense of being and who are hiding behind the veil of secrecy that your online persona affords. Here in Tanzania a lot of people are yet to fully understand the power of putting yourself out there as someone you are not, but are very quick to do it anyway. Amongst my friends and colleagues back home it is a very different story, littered with subtle yet obvious tales of woe and suffrage. Behind it all however we are the same, we see green grass over yonder and wish that we could bask in its glory; we steal glances at those more or less fortunate than ourselves and make our judgments accordingly. For me I need to keep myself to myself for a while, try to maintain life as it comes, and keep working hard to get…. well, whatever it is I’m aiming at. From an all-time high, to the ultimate low, I have been there, bought t-shirts and sent postcards, and it never gets any easier to see the road ahead.

For today, I’m rocking my newly cut-short and freshly deep-cleaned dreads, clean and pressed white t-shirt and an array of Tanzanian bracelets and adornments that all serve to project who I want people to see me as, and I wear a whole-hearted sense that I am someone individual, I have something that nobody else has right now, and I’m gonna flaunt it, show it off, and be all that I can be yet again until it’s time to go home tomorrow and face the village again. Work continues, life continues, and despite it all my name remains the same, I am Craig, hear me roar, or if you can’t do that, then catch me every Friday at Pamoja Café in Moshi from 7pm- midnight.

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Taking a stand for what you believe in

Back in 1995, I was at home listening to the radio, and heard something that would change my life forever. Annie Nightingale, who was as centred in the dance music industry back then as she still is now was hosting a duo from UK who were about to come and play a two hour set for her in the early hours of the morning. Their name: The Dust Brothers, and the set still gets regular airtime from me, as it was truly epic, and formed the basis for my revision background music for the next three years of Exams in school. They had to drop the name Dust Brothers due to a dispute with some American DJs who already had that name, and you will all now know them as Tom and Ed, the Chemical Brothers, who from that moment until now have remained the single biggest dance music influence that has ever affected me. They are the main reason I began to DJ at university, and are the main catalyst for me branching off from the Rock and Metal I used to listen to almost exclusively beforehand.

When I left home in 1997 it was to a small bedsit in Gloucester and I moved in there the same week that I bought Dig Your Own Hole, the Chem’s second album. I had sex with my girlfriend for the first time to that album. I took speed, acid and extasy all for the first time whilst listening to the Chemical Brothers, and I also remember them as the best thing I had ever seen once I returned from Glastonbury that year at the age of sixteen. In short, they are responsible for a huge bulk of what makes my music taste what it is.

Fast forward another sixteen years, and it is another set from the Chemical Brothers that ignites the spark of creativity within me and has driven me to spend hours upon hours this week preparing to play out again in Moshi tonight. I’m not going to be taking the world on single handed, but I am going to take a stand for what I believe in, and I am going to play some damn fine music tonight. Followers of my blog will know that I have indeed tried this before, on more than one occasion, and it has always ended up further south than I’d care to admit. There are reasons for this, ranging from what the hell was I thinking to what on earth is wrong with these people, but needless to say I have not given up. What the Chemical Brothers did for me this week was prove that pushing boundaries and not containing yourself to the genre or scene that you think you’re part of is the key to real musical success, and if they had listened to everyone who was telling them that their particular brand of “living room dance music” was to amount to nothing, would have either given up or sold out and become much more commercial in their approach. But they didn’t listen to that, and over the 18 years of them playing music live and recording ever-evolving albums of dance and techno have created an almost entirely new genre all for themselves. Along with other bands like the Prodigy (well Liam Howlett to be precise), Gorillaz, Freestylers, Future Sound of London, Leftfield, the Brothers’ have allowed me to genuinely feel like music has a strong and complicated bond with the soul. The sounds we hear, and the songs we sing all give us our own identity, and through sharing this knowledge with others, we are only broadening all of our horizons to open up new opportunities and new ideas that we may become better people as a result. Music is the one thing that binds people across the globe and gives us a common language we can all speak together through thick and thin, no matter what your background or upbringing.

So tonight, I am taking a step backwards in time, I’m going to reintroduce some of the things that have shaped my musical outlook on life, and I’m hoping that there are people out there who want to learn more about all of this, and perhaps together we can begin to shape the future the way we all want it to be. The bar I’m playing at is called “Pamoja Tunaweza”, which in English means “together we can”; an omen for how it will turn out or just a mad coincidence, that is left to be seen, but rest assured that come 8pm tonight, our journey begins, and its one that will take us out to space, to the centre of the universe and back inside our own hearts and minds all within the space of a few hours. I hope you all enjoy it.

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Dar Es Salaam – well, a hotel anyway

Some may think I’m being incredibly sad, choosing to utilise my time in this rather nice hotel room, the second in as many months, to sit and write a blog post rather than go out on the town and see a bit of Dar Es Salaam. The truth is, I’ve just set myself up, and am sitting here revelling in the kit I’ve managed to accumulate and the prospects of the week to come.

My laptop, which has been through the thick and thin over the last two years, is still doing me proud, with a brand new LED screen, brand new motherboard with AMD 6770M gpu and running Windows 8, Office 2013 and all legal and legit. Funny how it took coming to Africa before I managed to get my computer above board. My phone is finally working well, with no random reboots and no need to enter a stupid code on each boot just to send SMS messages, and all in all, whilst I have my whiskey and a little stick of weed to keep me going, I’m fully prepped for what promises to be the best weekend of my motorsport career to date.

In the morning Gurvi will turn up with the other guys from AAT to begin going through the week’s events and start preparing to open Rally HQ at Tazara Station here in the city, also where the Super Special Stage will be held on Sunday afternoon. As the man in charge of HQ for the week, my number has already been published to all those that need it, and I just can’t wait to get started! It is a dream come true to be here in the middle of all this, with the opportunity to meet all the top drivers from East Africa and beyond, many of which are already good friends of mine, and get to not just go to the rally, but be an integral part of it.

It started last year, at a party in Marangu, where this crazy old mzee – John Bennett of the Golden Shower in Moshi – asked for my help with his laptop and wifi at his restaurant. The work I did lead to him helping me get my driving license here in Tanzania, and further conversations about cars and motorsport lead me to watch the Monaco Grand Prix with him on my birthday, and an invitation to join the Kilimanjaro Motorsports Club the following week. Just two weeks later I was in Tanga meeting officials from Abu Dhabi, including Ronan Morgan, who is a veteran rally navigator and main organiser of the Wales Rally GB for over twenty years. Roll forward a few months and we’re back in Moshi organising our first sprint event in the city to a crowd of over 4000 people, and push forward another year and after another seminar in Tanga with Ronan and his colleagues (I best mention their names as I know they she will be upset if I don’t – Tanya Kutsenko and Stewart Murray) and I find myself being invited to run Rally HQ for the Tanzanian round of the African Rally Championship.

None of this means I’m in any way more organised or sorted than I’ve been before, but what it does mean is that I am now much closer to my ultimate version of myself than ever before – the biggest revelation of all being that having money or not having money has nothing to do with it! I guess my own hard work and passion for something I genuinely love has finally found an avenue for release, so here I am, in top flight African Motorsport living my own dream. I have volunteered up to this point, and offered my services such as they are to genuinely help the sport in this country and push forward my own knowledge of Rallying and motorsport in general. I do this because I love it, and finally it’s paying off and giving me the experience to take anywhere in the world.

So as I pour another glass of whiskey, plop in a couple of blocks of ice and put on a movie to send me to sleep, I say farewell to my time as a rookie rally volunteer. Tomorrow I will be right in the thick of it, and despite the butterflies in my stomach and the ever growing fear of fucking it all up, I am prepared, my laptop is prepared, and I’m ready to take on the PUMA RALLY OF TANZANIA 2013!

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Oh well, it can’t all go my way…

Well, things were always going to start to go down hill at some point, I’ve been riding this wave of success for tooo long. Last night, myself and my German counterpart headed to Glacier with high hopes of bringing some half decent music to the table, and we failed.

It wasn’t the kind of epic fail you might think, rather a misjudgement on our part, and a whole lot of under-investment in terms of equipment and supplies…

We arrived at 9pm, as instructed, and went over to set ourselves up before realising that I didn’t have any of the necessary cables to do this job properly. Once we found a phono-jack cable I cheered up a little bit but it was essentially doomed from the beginning. It did however start rather well, as we played some reggae, and actually had the dancefloor full of people at 9.30. Around 11.30, after we had gone through several different genres to try some stuff out, we were told we could come back later, but they wanted to put the normal guy back on to allow people to dance. An hour and a half passed with him DJ-ing and nobody dancing, but better the devil you know eh? It seems breaking through with something new needs to be done on our own time rather than theirs, as even though they are employing a DJ, they want to control what he/she plays down to the individual tracks. Around 1.30 we went back on, and decided to try and up the pace a little. A grindy little number by Justice followed by Stanton Warriors went down better than expected, but again, even though we had the place heaving, the managers wanted us to play what they wanted to hear. We left the stage and allowed them to kill the dance floor once again with the same old shite they listen to every week. A big shame if you ask me. Most people were enjoying it, and given how much of a change in direction this meant, it really needed a few more tracks to get people on side, but alas, it was not to be, we were ushered away and decided to go smoke a joint instead.

So we pick ourselves up and try again, we can come back next week, but I’m not sure it’s such a good idea, I think we need to go back to the drawing board, forget trying to DJ in someone’s club, and try to promote our own night from the ground up, so we are not spoiling the fun of people who are used to having their ears filled with poo every Friday night. We can but only hope that things get better one day…

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FIA Approved…

On first arrival, within a few weeks I looked up the African Rally Championship and decided I wanted to go and see either the Kenyan or Tanzanian rounds and get involved as much as I could. Two and a half years on I am now a Senior Official in the sport here, and have three rallies under my belt as one of the main organisers, and two completed training seminars with officials from the FIA academy in Abu Dhabi.

It is incredibly exciting to be able to say that about myself, and for it to be true. I never dreamed of being right in the centre of a sport I love so much as this, and never thought I’d get this far in such a small time. Nevertheless, the last year has given me so much experience and time with the people in the middle of it all, that I am now a known face in Motorsport in this region, and have been offered the opportunity to work alongside the top Officials from AAT and FIA in the upcoming PUMA Energy Rally of Tanzania 2013 as the main results officer for the rally.

Working in a sport like this, that does not have a huge following or any real solid backing and funding is not just difficult, but incredibly frustrating at times. There are plenty of people around who say they are part of our club, or part of the system as a whole, but who do very little to actually drive it forward, and get really bogged down in the inter-club politics to the extent things breaking down and events cancelled with no real reason. As an outsider to not only the sport, but to East Africa as a whole, I believe I’ve been able to breathe a breath of fresh air into our little pocket of motorsport in Kilimanjaro and bring ourselves up from the worst organised bunch of losers to being, along with the Arusha club, among the most respected and called upon group of rally experts and officials that Tanzania has to offer.

Before I left for Zambia and Zimbabwe I spent the previous three weeks fairly busy day in day out working on bringing the cars and the show to Moshi for the 2nd round of the National Rally championship in the form of the Kilimanjaro Vasaikhi Rally 2013. From going around the town delivering sponsorship proposals and desperately begging our partners and suppliers for better prices and deals to the very day of the rally where I was stuck in an office with my laptop for six hours, I can truly say that this was my time to shine. The organisation and preparation for an eventlike this, be it in Tanzania or anywhere is huge, and in our country with the lack of funds available and lack of experienced people who you can trust with delicate jobs, it becomes ever more challenging, but we pulled it off, and had the biggest starting order of any rally this year or last. We had our problems, and at the time they seemed huge and daunting, but working with good people, and keeping our communication up and running meant that nothing was beyond our capabilities, and we closed off the event in the early evening as a resounding success.

Roll forward six weeks, and we get to the Simba Cement Rally of Tanga 2013, which it has to be said was a different story altogether. First off, I was not involved in the pre-event organising, sponsor drive or any other part of the build up. I was in Tanga for the seminar from FIA, and on arrival was asked to help out as event secretary for the Saturday and Sunday when the rally would be held. I never thought it would lead to what happened next. During scrutineering on the Saturday morning we had all kinds of delays and issues that pointed squarely at the apparently absent Tanga Motor Sports Club. During the day, I spoke to only one member of the club, and even he did not arrive until four hours into proceedings. How can a club organise an event, and then really just let it run without even being there to check on it? Its beggars belief. Needless to say, a group of us from Moshi and Dar Es Salaam took up the mantle and began unpicking the fabric of the event to bring it back up to speed, and got the cars through scrutineering and final meetings in the early hours of the evening. Day two saw us head out to service park which was on sponsors’ ground and set up for the day. No provision for electricity, water, printer, you name it, we didn’t have it. We carried on regardless, and got all but three cars through to the end, with Louis crashing out on the first section, and two mechanical breakdowns being the only retirements. I’m not going to go on and on about this rally, as I’d rather forget it, but the hard work that a few of us put in was not unnoticed, and I was approached by the CEO of AAT at the end of the rally to request that I do this job for each rally from now on, as the chief results officer for the championship. This just goes to show how putting hard work in can lead to things getting better.

In four weeks time I’m off to Dar Es Salaam to take this post up officially for the Tanzanian round of the African Rally Championship, and this is where it really kicks off, as I’ll be working with teams from across Africa and beyond to deliver the kind of event that we should be putting on, and to give the fans of our sport what they want: a well organised rally.

For now its back to work, with programmes restarting at the computer centre following my long abscence, and our new business installing and supporting security cameras and solutions kicking off in Moshi this week, and my first foray into DJing in Tanzania beginning this Friday at Glacier in town where myself and my German Dreadlocked counterpart Nils are taking to the decks for the evening in an attempt to improve the rather shocking music scene in this country and bring something new to the table. Moshi won’t know what hit it….

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Together and alone all at once

Writing a travel blog is as much about what you’re seeing as it is about what you feel as you enter each place and speak to the people there and experience their ways of life. The last three weeks have been a learning experience for me, not without its fair share of trouble along the way, and plenty of things that just can’t be written here for reasons that also can’t be written here, but overall, I have changed inside, I have become someone that has seen more and experienced more, and I want to share some of this with all of you, whoever you are that is reading this.

As a child life is something we witness, make our choices based on what’s around us and what’s happening to us on a daily basis, but as we develop we are able to make those choices based on a more solid grounding of experience and reason, and see the world and what’s around us with more open eyes. Had I done this journey ten years ago, I would have taken far less from it. Sure, I could have perhaps been more lively, learnt some of the things about me sooner rather than later, but my eyes would still have been half closed, and as a result I would have seen far less, taken in and processed very little, and become someone I would not be happy with in my present state of mind. Losing my father is perhaps one of the definitive parts of my life, but it hasn’t been something that’s held me back, rather it is the reason I am the way I am. We share a lot between us, from the dark hair to our eyes and even voice, but what sets us apart is that we went about our lives independently from each other, yet have become very similar people.

I’ve come to realise that I am a bit crazy. Not crazy as in going mad at the weekends, dying my hair pink and going to Tibet for some lost hope of self-realisation, but crazy as in incapable of ever being a full part of anything that I desire. I am at my own mercy when it comes to how I develop my personality, and in continuing the way I have done I am only making it harder for myself as time goes on. I had a burning desire inside to find out what happened to my father, to discover how I came to be, and in doing so I have found some answers, and re-connected with family I thought was long lost forever but in fact were physically very close for a long time, and it leaves you with a sense of what could have been should I have undertaken this journey a long time ago. I don’t think I was capable ten years ago of being as open minded as I am now, and I don’t think I would have been the kind of person that my family would have enjoyed being back in contact with. I have travelled down to Africa in search of myself, found out so much, and despite the pain and long nights of thinking about what could have been I do believe that things were always going to be this way. Crazy as I am, I see that my future can still be bright and full of love and wonder, I just need to keep my chin up, keep walking the straight line and never look back in despair. I am still socially inept for 50% of each day, I have tried being sober, drunk, stoned, busy, lazy and everything else that I can think of, and nothing has ever made me feel any different. I want to let this go, to be more than just the guy who moans about life and continues to destroy his ambitions, but it is who I am, and the sooner I embrace this the sooner I will find the salvation I’ve been searching for.

I’m on the verge of explaining exactly what has lead me to this line of thought, but as I said above, I really don’t think that I can be as candid as I’d like, and so I have to skirt around the issue, and try to explain what it has lead me to think without being too specific. Life throws swing balls at you, and when you’re put on the spot by anyone, it’s hard not to feel like you’re stuck in the middle, yet we are all capable of making our choices and mistakes with no input from anyone else. Some people have disappointed me in a way that leaves me feeling like I am being unreasonable or over-presumptuous, secrets I hold are both difficult to keep and burning me from the inside as they destroy those that are affected, but secrets they must remain, as it is not my place to get involved in affairs of this kind. Some things must be left to ruin themselves, and some things must be salvaged with an outside hand. It’s with this thought in mind that I change the subject slightly, and continue with my journey…

Whilst in Zimbabwe I met some incredibly interesting people who have helped me understand more about the human condition than anything you can read in a book or on the internet or anywhere else. Life there, as in many African countries has been a constantly evolving and changing animal that has influences ranging from both extremes of good and bad, yet among those that have survived the worst of it spring forward bright rays of hope that give me strength that I am not alone in my quest to be a proper person in the world. I have been told about land reform and how it affected the people who have been moved, as well as hearing exact contradiction from others in the same city. I listened and took in as much as I possibly could without being overly nosy or intrusive, and I can tell you it has opened my eyes even more. I wish I could share more of this story, but it is not the right thing to do, and so I will leave it as it is, and merely use that information for myself to help me understand how wonderful and evil people can be to each other. It is a miracle that humanity has survived this long given the huge disparity in beliefs and values that exist in just one country in one continent of this one planet. We are together and alone in equal measure even with different backgrounds we all share one common theme that we are alive and will continue to live together on this planet in whatever way might happen. Being crazy perhaps helps me to see this in a more open way, but in any case, my existence, short and sweet as it is in the grand scheme of things will be significant and nothing at the same time. It is up to me to become what I want to be, to fit into the world as my own person and being as one with my surroundings.

I’m sitting in a lovely hotel in Kigoma looking out over Lake Tanganyika at the mountains of Western Congo, and talking with Fionnuala about the horrific and indescribable atrocities that have and continue to happen over there, and it brings home the reality of how fragile our existence is. Within 100km of where I am sat there are people who know nothing of peace and prosperity, yet within their boundaries the notion of love continues to exist and even thrive. Our problems, my problems, your problems are all just leaves falling from aging trees, and we should all stop to realise how powerful each and every one of us really is. The next few chapters of my life are unwritten, they hold truths and falsehoods hope and despair, and I can’t wait to know what’s around the corner. When I return to Marangu I will be a different man than he who left there a month ago, and I can’t wait to see what he’s capable of. Maybe I’m being too emotional, maybe I just need to wake up and stop being such a crybaby. I don’t care what anyone else thinks, I am me, and that is something that I will endure for the rest of my days.

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