Tanzania Day 4

6 06 2011

Wood smoke drifting over bone white sand to the sea. Fishermen mending nets, blue, gray and red. Men, hip deep, pulling long silver fish, meter long, out of turquoise water.

The whitewash processing yard was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Piles of white rock gypsum atop a layer of smoldering logs. The smoke drifting across the beach as if some apocalyptical vision. Long, wooden fishing boats, laden with nets, decaying in the shallow water.

The quarry is down the coast, but they bring the stones to this beach for processing. Lean, young men covered in fine white dust separate the processed powder from the larger pieces with mesh bags. The fine particles fall through while the larger pieces are left in the bag, which go into another pile to be processed again.

Women draped in flowing cloths of purple, topaz, crimson, and gold walk to the water’s edge as the men return from their day’s work.


When first approaching the Mzizima fish market in Dar es Salaam, your first instinct is to run the other way. The aroma is so foul. Like one million dead things, which is probably pretty close to the truth. But once you are there, amidst the rows and rows of whole fish, squid, piles of pink prawns, deep red segments of octopus tentacles, you don’t even notice the smell anymore…all the rest of your senses have been hijacked.

Orange coals belch wood smoke that swirls around you as men dunk giant paddles into black, charred cristols and lift out steaming mounds of shrimp, octopus, and squid. The floors are slick with water from rinsing off the oil and entrails. You have to step carefully, worming your way through the throngs.

The haggling surrounds you like 5.1.

As I’m walking away to meet the car so we can get on the Kigamboni ferry that takes us across the bay, a young woman passes me wearing a t-shirt that reads: Greek Week 2009 – I’m on a boat!


The cloud formations above the cemetery set the stage for some dramatic panoramas. Adventures behind us for the time being, the rows of hand-made crosses and headstones reset my headspace and remind once again of what is at stake.

A family gathers around a fresh plot while a man trowels wet cement, smoothing the walls of the marker. They want money for us to shoot them. Of course, we pay. This happens frequently here. I don’t have much of a problem with it, but my producer is losing his hair. Hear that LA? You cannot escape location fees.



5 06 2011


Tanzanians take great pride in welcoming visitors. Karibu means welcome in Swahili. We visited a church service, surrounded by some two thousand people. A man came up and wanted us to know that we were welcome. Everyone is very curious about us everywhere we go. And when the cameras come out…forget about it. But when I appear with my sound gear (headphones, mixer rig, boom pole, fuzzy microphone cover) I get the strangest looks. As one member of our crew observed, it’s like people are thinking to themselves, “that is the craziest iPod I’ve ever seen.” Assuming they know what an iPod is. As if I didn’t stand out before, my equipment makes me feel positively alien. But one smile can change all that.

Mai, a Tanzanian television news personality, joined us for after-dinner conversation tonight. She asked us what we have really liked about Tanzania so far. Responses included the vibrancy, colors, language and spirit. For me, the first thing that came to my mind was that spirit of Karibu. Welcome. Everywhere we go, there may be someone uncomfortable with what we are doing, but the people’s curiosity usually wins out, and someone is always friendly enough to approach us and to first welcome us and to ask us about ourselves. It’s adorably charming, and humbling, and gracious.

Tanzania Day 3

4 06 2011

The day began watching the sun rise over the Indian Ocean. The tropics are best early in the morning, and here that rings true. The atmosphere was calm and pleasant as we drove through the palms on our way into Dar es Salaam. After a ferry ride across the bay, we were on our way to more remote villages down the coast.


A man yelled at me for taking a picture of his vegetables. Two boys playing with bike tires ran past me, and then back again.


While it has the smell of leaded fuel, burning garbage, and a pungency I haven’t identified, there is a purification going on in my spirit, a deep cleansing metaphorical breath.


Houses of mud, stick and thatch. Shirtless farmers in fields. Football jerseys and motorcycles. Lumber yards and piles of gray bricks. Tarp-covered pool tables and soft drink advertisements. Rainbows and rows of corn.


First location was literally in the middle of nowhere, but I still couldn’t dodge hits on the radio mics. A huge radio tower rose to the sky right behind the clinic.

The clinic director wouldn’t let us shoot, but there were used syringes lying on a table out in the open. When he left his office, the DP ran in with the 5D to get some inserts. A man saw this and ran over to the next building to tell the director, so we thought it healthy to jump in the vehicles and get out of town.


Dark brown backs, bent and rising just above the tips of the grass. A woman walking the road, a hoe over her shoulder, chatting cheerfully into a cell phone. Even out here they have service. You hear me AT&T? Oh yeah, probably not.


We stopped at a government clinic run not by a medical doctor but a “clinical technician”, who was less than thrilled to repeat his title when asked.

He had had twenty patients so far in the day. One syringe, damp on the inside, sat on his desk. When asked if he had opened the syringe yesterday or today, he answered, “Oh, yes. I opened it this morning!” It was noon.

Then we went to see a witch doctor, but he didn’t use syringes.


We got caught in a storm while shooting verite in a crowded market square in the center of a small town. As the rain REALLY started coming down, a young man asked me, “Are you trying to ruin our lives?”

Huh? We were in the middle of shooting, so I easily slipped away. But as soon as I settled in a new spot behind the camera, he was beside me again. “Are you trying to ruin our lives? What are you doing with this photography?” I explained our documentary to him and that the objective was actually to help Tanzania and save lives. He nodded but looked away towards the camera, only slightly interested.

“When you are done, where do you go?”

“Hmm? Oh. We’re all from California.”

“No. Today. How could I find you?” At this point I’m not sure if it’s a language barrier, but the line of questioning is cruising past my comfort zone. “What hotel are you staying at? I might have some friends who want to discuss their ideas with you on how the film should be.”

Um, not sure about that. I suggested he talk to my producer. Dissatisfied, he moved away.

The next moment a fight broke out between two of the guys on the street we had only moments ago been filming.

Tanzania Day 2

4 06 2011

Looking east towards India. Never imagined I’d be saying that. Perhaps that’s why it feels good. But it’s quite a dubious statement, in a way. I mean, it’s pitch black out there. The tide has pulled back so far I can’t even hear the waves. And a twenty-foot band of trash defiles the otherwise bucolic beach to the left and right fringes of its reach. I’ve applied so much DEET that it’s probably repelling people as well as it is the mosquitos. That’s a small concession to make. The Campari is wearing off, and 6 am call will come quick and rude.

Today our subject and sponsor took his presentation to an assembly of officials from the national health ministry of Tanzania, including the head minister herself. She surprised us all when (whether for the cameras of to save lives, she only knows) she enthusiastically endorsed not only self-disabling needles but also the need for more comprehensive needle management, including storage and incineration of used syringes. It was a big step towards the adoption of a safe needle policy in Tanzania, which would be the first of its kind in all of Africa.

That these were exciting developments goes without saying. It’s great for our film, and it’s invaluable validation for the team that has been working tirelessly over the last few years to make this dream a reality. But this is only a step. Until those in power really walk the walk and mandate the self-disabling/self-destructive needle technology, it’s all just pomp and circumstance. Until the health care providers who are reusing dirty needles change their ways, it’s all just empty self-aggrandizement.

The plan tomorrow is to drive three hours into the interior of Tanzania (malaria country) in search of some serious back-water medical clinics that reuse needles as the standard of care. The WHO nightmare. Ironically, or so I have heard, deaths from the reuse of needles is double that of the deaths from malaria. Yet the WHO employs hundreds if not thousands of people in the malaria cause, while they keep only one part-time position to deal with the issue of contaminated needles.

Millions of lives hang in the balance. Like the litter problem presenting itself on the beach in front of our hotel, awareness and education are key. Better choices must be made by parents, and clinics cannot continue thinking that they can reuse needles. Babies deserve to pursue a happy and healthy life, not to be infected with HIV or hepatitis before they know how to walk.

Tanzania Day 1

2 06 2011

Sunset comes at 6:30. We are recounting the first day of shooting at the roof bar of our hotel. As a call to prayer reverberates across Dar es Salaam from the north, we toast with Tuskers malt lager. It’s our ritual, easier on the knees, and besides, we like to know what kinds of brew our host country is capable of, from Kilimanjaro to Kingfisher.

So I am comfortable calling this day 1, after a modest but somehow adequate three and a half hour sleep. Today required us to shoot slightly covert. At least from the sound prospective. Our subject had a meeting with the secretary of the national health minister, which he had to pay $3800 to schedule (we filmed our subject counting the money).

Any sound guy would share my trepidation with having to trust a Canon 5D to record production sound and a DP who refuses to monitor. Not that he even could if he wanted to on this particular camera. It became clear, really fast, that all I had to do was test, test, test….and then trust.

The director and DP went in to film the meeting while the rest of us waited outside learning Swahili from the parking attendant and talking about soccer stars. He thought I looked like Messi, and called me that for the rest of our time.

We hung out for thirty minutes under broad reaching trees while women in respirators swept up leaves and dirt from the street. Students passed by, some with smiles for us and other with scowls. All of a sudden I see the DP making double time down the street towards us.

“Get in the car now. We are going back to the hotel.”

Evidently the ministry was not too keen on the filming and wanted the footage. Which, incidentally, includes a shot of the secretary taking the $3800 and putting it directly into her purse. No receipt, no ledger entry, no thank you.

The second half of our day consisted of visits to clinics to determine (and film) whether or not they maintained cleanly and responsible management of used needles. Naturally, many of the directors were uneasy at the presence of cameras in their facilities. But few of them had anything really to worry about…until the last one.

It was immediately clear from the used syringes standing by in cups that they were not destined for the incinerator. In fact, several were used to aerate an IV bottle for a woman suffering from malaria symptoms. Instead of letting gravity do the work, which I have heard is pretty dependable, they used the needles to puncture holes in the bottle to allow the air to push the solution into the vein of the woman who seemed positively unaware of the danger she was being subjected to.

However necessary for our documentary, the scene was simply quite gruesome. Misuse of needles is a massive problem. It’s responsible for millions of new cases of infectious disease every year. It’s why we are here in the first place. And according to our schedule, there is way more in store.

Tanzania Arrival

1 06 2011

After 25 hours of travel I am finally laying down in a bed. I can’t really call this post Day 1 because we landed at 9:30 pm and, due to some bags that didn’t make the connection in Amsterdam and a customs snafu, didn’t get out of the airport until midnight. Some for now I’ll keep it short, and leave you with a journal entry I wrote while waiting for the customs situation to settle. The entry itself references an older entry, in the case of any confusion.

“Read from my post from 3/24 just now:

‘It’s hard to feel enthusiastic about my career currently when friends have great things going on and I am bringing no income…’

Ha! Currently I am sitting at customs at the airport in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania while we are waiting to find out if we can bring our equipment with us. We have been traveling for 25 hours. Some of us don’t smell so hot.

Damn! When I wrote that (on 3/24) I had no idea how April was going to be (it was profitable)…and I obviously didn’t picture myself here.”

Sausalito Ferry

28 03 2011

Our hotel room has a view of the city’s southern skyline. We also get half of the last span of the Bay Bridge, and you can see the traffic coming in from the east bay. There’s a cathedral just below, its bells ring only once a day, so far as I can tell, at 5 in the afternoon. The MOMA is just beyond that, as is Yerba Buena park and the Contemporary Jewish Museum. I could write a novel with this view, and I could write another one about this view alone.

Romantic. We went to a crêpe place for breakfast. The real Normandy style (painstakingly made by a Latino). One savory, one sweet. Because that’s the way to do it. We ordered the savory first, with our coffee. Mushroom, cheese, and sausage on the hearty, chestnut brown buckwheat crêpe. We must have been hungry, because it didn’t last long. Halfway through it, we ordered our sweet crêpe (butter, banana, and honey) because that’s the way to do it. To ensure you enjoy it piping hot.

There is a ferry. It runs from the Ferry Building to Sausalito and back multiple times a day, even on the weekends. After our crêpes, we rushed to the 16th Street BART station so we could meet my mom and sister at the hotel, collect our bags, and rush off to catch the ferry. Apparently the overcast and darkening skies did not inspire maritime travel for them, so we decided to just drive, which worked out fine because Julia had never walked the Golden Gate Bridge, which we pulled off the 101 to do.

Sausalito is the kind of town that loves to have terrible parking on a sunday. Though I think we managed to find the last public spot in town. Our destination, Wellington’s Wine Bar, didn’t open until 3, so we stepped next door to Bar Bocce. They serve fine, modern Italian (shaved artichoke salad with fennel and pecorino, eggplant parmigiana with panko crust) and thin-crust pizza, and the patio is right on the water, looking out over the baylet to Tiburon. The wine was reasonably priced: I had a proper, earthy Napa Zinfandel that would have cost twice as much in LA, had it been offered at all. And yeah, they have a Bocce court just off the patio, in case you were wondering.

By the time we paid the bill, the mist in the air had escalated to a drizzle. Wellington’s had opened, and we were happy to grab a cozy couch by the window to watch the rain instead of be out in it. We enjoyed a 2001 Cabernet Franc from Diamond Mountain in Napa with the house charcuterie plate. As the wind picked up and the rain fell heavier, we couldn’t imagine a better activity to while the storm away.