29 November 2006

My Parent's 1951 Journey from Tanganyika to the Belgian Congo

(This is the preface to the letters my sister Kathy compiled for us 55 years later. I will add a link to the actually document later. Interesting that the kids were sent to stay with my friend Steve Cunningham's grandparents during those 3 weeks.)

A Journey From Tanganyika to The Belgian Congo.

Letters written home in 1951 by Luella Rowberg and compiled by Kathryn Rowberg as stories for the grandchildren of Raymond and Luella Rowberg.


Raymond and Luella Rowberg experienced a remarkable vacation in the summer of 1951. While friends relaxed at an ocean resort, Raymond and Luella decided to venture across four East African borders--destination Congo. Using a simple (but not always accurate) guidebook and heeding advice from friends and acquaintances, they journeyed from June 30 until July 18 without their children, who were in the good care of Reverend and Mrs. Cunningham. Although the trip was long and difficult, and they were often laden with road dust and worries about their vehicle, on their return, they painted a picture of this trip in letters home to America, with the dream of telling their grandchildren of their travels. Although neither Luella nor Raymond had much spare time in Bumbuli, Luella agreed to write the account and went to the task with her penchant for detail.
This chronicle begins with Raymond's letter to his parents, Hardy and Alvhild Rowberg (Mom and Pop) that summarized the 3020-mile trip that took 19 days. The story continues in letters typed by Luella, which Louis Brathole set on to Alvhild and Hardy Rowberg. He asked that they return the letters to him because Raymond and Luella might enjoy reading them some time after they return to the states. Louis died just as Luella and Raymond were returning from Africa via the Far East and entering Seattle by ship. Although he never heard their stories again, I'm confident the letters were cherished by him and his wife, Thea. Next, Alvhild Rowberg wrote to Raymond and Luella relating of others who had read the letters and had gone along on the trip. Finally, Luella typed 14 letters on their Hermes Baby portable typewriter, which now graces my home. The letters are ordered in sequence of travel and not always by date written.
I continue to learn about my parents and these letters revealed Luella's desire to reconstruct a good story for my grandchildren. Many times I badgered Mom to tell us a story. Little did I know she left a treasure trove in her letters. After reading these letters, may you feel that you have gone along on the trip from Tanganyika to the Belgian Congo.

Enjoy this good story!

Kathryn Luella Rowberg
Thanksgiving 2006

28 November 2006

Don't Assume

Most of the public transport in Arusha town are small vans that seat about 15-20 people and are called Kifodi or Daladala.

The Kifodi name came about because a fair number of them were Fords, and kiswahili says Fodi, and becuase of the noun class they became vifodi for plural.

Daladala came about because they used to charge the equivalent of a dollar at one time in Dar es salaam. So hence the name.

I imagine all over the world these type of transport are pretty much the same. There are many of them on our roads. They are privately owned and usually driven by men between 20-30 and hence they are aggressive.

both on the bicycle and in the car I tend to not like them. But they are getting better. A few weeks ago I had a kifodi driver wave and apologize as he cut me off on my bike. Now days on the bike they often wait for me to pass before pulling out back into the road.

Yesterday on the way home at the first intersection I maneuvered so as to not let a (pesky obnoxious) kifodi driver enter the road. Then at the next intersection a (nice) kifodi driver stopped and flashed his lights for me to turn right across his lane of traffic. So don't assume they are all obnoxious.

Technology Sucks.

Technology sucks. Sometimes.

A few days ago my cell phone woke me at 6 AM with 5 SMS messages one after another. "Mail Server Down". "Proxy Down". etcetera. So I can't have breakfast tea, a shower, or brush my teeth.

I run to the office to see what the heck is going on. Lousy way to start a day. Like 3 years ago no one would say much if some Internet services were off until 7AM. Those days are gone. That morning Customer Support had to field numerous calls from clients saying " @^%#()*#@ , we are losing money."

27 November 2006

Bicycles go faster than cars Dad.

That is what my daughter told me the other evening.

We were invited to friends for dinner on Friday night. I was running behind to pick up the family. We had gotten stuck in the mud at one of the wireless access cells and then had lousy traffic going back to the office and then home. I was in the car. So I was in a rush mood when I got home.

It was dark when we left home and as we drove through the edge of town I came upon a guy on a mountain bike frantically cranking away. I pulled out and went around him no problem. It might not seem wrong to you but right away I realized that was wrong.

First my car has a bumper sticker. "Share the road with bicycles." Okay, I gave him plenty of room. The problem was that I should of considered what hewas doing and going to do.

Within 200 meters after passing him there is a big speed bump and I had to slow down to 15kmph. A bicyclist doesn't have to slow down for these bumps. He caught me and it was his turn to go around me in the middle of the road. I made his commute a little harder. Me of all people. If I had been him I would of been thinking, "what a jerk drivers are".

Not only that but I now realized he really wanted me behind him so that he could benefit from my bright headlights. I changed mind set and now saw him as a fellow bicyclists and not someone impeding my speed. I followed him at just under my desired speed to the next speed bump and never saw him again.

Nashesha my 8 year old daughter watched the whole thing in the back seat and says, "Bicycles are faster than cars. Aren't they Dad?"

I think it is true that something happens to people when they drive cars.

Well, someone has to do it, and it might as well be us.

That is what Wes my bike buddy says as we are camped under this Baobab tree.

On a trip doing stuff like below.

Some background for Wes's statement.

This Baobab is one day bike ride from Arusha on dirt roads, eventually not even a track, just some game trails going our way for awhile. This is tetse fly area and so people don't live in this pocket of bush on the east side of Tarangire National Park. We ride pretty much all day to get here, the last few hours in bush, the first in farming / grazing land.

We look for a place to camp 30 minutes before dark and come up with this Baobab. Not ideal but will do. We scrounge wood , make a fire , and lay our bags out, and sit around the campfire cooking, roasting meat, talking, and drinking whiskey. Tetse flies have gone to sleep, there are no mosquitoes, no bugs, no lights, no roads, no cows. And we have no trail to follow in the morning, just a direction.

Now Wes says "Well, someone has to do this shit, and it might as well be us."

Next morning the cock ups start.

(1) We lost each other. Huh. Unbelievable but yes, we lost each other. I had given up and was planning the rest of the trip alone when we bumped into each other.

(2) I lost one of my panniers. Unbelievable also. I was stupid. Even more unbelievable is we spent 3 hours and could not find the bag in less than 1 km. Deep grass. No defined track.
Here is a link to movie about the lost bag.
Lost Bag Story
Be ye warned they are big files and the server is in dark Africa, but they are watchable.

So we take stock of the situation. The big losses are the whiskey and my bike tools. Next was the cooking pot, the only one. Next was all my spare clothes sweater and sleeping pad. We opted for continuing. The only real question was whether we dared continue without tools.

(3) Wes was caught by a wait a bit thorn. He dodge the first one, the second one took his hat. And the third grabbed his kisser and raked it good. I have a good video of his description of that. Wait a Bit Story

(4) Park ranger says " Well I should arrest you I guess." We lie that we were never in the park, that we just entered into the remote ranger station to see if they had any extra water. Yeah right. Well at least better than previous bike trip when we were way way into the park, and started seeing tour vehicles off in the distance.

Jeez I have almost told the whole trip. Someday I will write about the whole trip.

Lets get back to talking about cycling

Yesterday's ride was one of those rides when I couldn't help but smile. I used to smile coming down off Mnt Meru on a mountain bike because it was such a rush screaming down the dirt trails and roads. I haven't for some years actually smiled at that, seems more scary than a rush these days.

I tried to get out of bed early to make it a long one but in the end it was only a 50 km ride on the road. I went up to Oldonyo Sambu and then back down. It started to rain just before I turned around but not much but it must of been raining up in the hills. By the time I came down 2 km there were 3 places where there was 5-15 cm or water running over the tarmac road. It was a bit scary as there are potholes here and there. The last place was long and the water like chocolate. It should make me depressed at the erosion, but it was an adventure riding through it. I liked the color and the roar it made when it left the road and continued to gouge a canyon next to the road.

At one point there was 50 meters of ripples and it had a strange affect on my senses. Like the ground was out of focus. Or like the world was being vibrated. And the sun was reflecting weird like.

After that I was on dry road, the wind was behind me, I was in shape, sparse traffic, not worries, and it is downhill mostly. I actually smiled several times. Yep, that is right Erik Rowberg smiled.

There was another good thing about the ride back. I was listening to music on my mp3 player. Now wait a minute! Yes I agree one should not ride while plugged into music, especially while in traffic. I never commute with music, I need all my senses. This is the first road ride with earphones. It is a calculated risk, and I was careful to be able to hear cars coming from behind, and I kept turning a lot to check traffic from behind. DON'T DO IT FOLKS. But I will do it again. Which reminded me of one of the truths, "There are no absolutes". Should I have missed out on that feeling because one should never ride with earplugs?

I regretted not having my camera. It was a Kodak moment.

18 November 2006

Why Teenagers are bad.

Teenagers are bad. Well at least they are if you run an Internet Service (ISP).

I work at an ISP in Arusha, Tanzania. My company is called AFAM Ltd and we have a contract to manage the day to day running of the ISP, Arusha Node Marie, better known as "habari". Once upon a time I was the main technical person but as we grew to 40 emmployees I am more of a manager than a techie.

Recently I was reading on the website of our Bandwidth Mangagement software. They kept saying: "Kids are bad, teenagers are bad. Teenagers are bad." This is in reference to what they can do to bandwidth.

The following incident is a common occurrance in our business and something we discuss with clients every day. It could be a home situation or an office situation.

We have a client with a home connection. The family's name is Penda (fictional of course). There is a mom and dad, a 17 year old boy and a 14 year old girl. They have a DSL connection for a couple of years and are fairly happy with it but they never tell the ISP that.

One fine day the son, Wimbo, learns about downloading music from a buddy at school. That evening he goes home and installs a file sharing programme on his PC. I will call this type of programme peer-to-peer or p2p from now on. He downloads a few songs and gets pretty excited listening to free music. So he downloads another 10 and listens to a few. He calls his friend to tell him how cool it is. His friend invites him to come over. Wimbo declines as he wants to download music. Hassan explains that he should spend 15 minutes choosing 200 songs to download, then leave the songs downloading and come over for some food and watching a movie. Cool.

They have a good evening and Wimbo goes home and finds 80 songs on his computer. He puts another 500 songs on and goes to bed.

The Penda family is still happy, and Wimbo is really really happy.

On Friday Mama Penda wants to use the computer, email some friends, chat with some friends, and read some news. She has been busy the last couple of days and only now has the opportunity to sit at the computer.

Wimbo comes home and tells mom he is going out for pizza with friends in a bit after using the computer. Mama says okay and reads her mail.

Wimbo, the teenager, goes to his room and quickly chooses 500 songs and 2 movies to download over night, switches off the monitor and leaves the computer CPU downloading his choices. He says goodbye to mama and goes out for the evening.

Mama Penda suddenly sees the speed of the Internet access become slower and slower until most of the time she can't open her mail or read any news. She is slightly irritated and goes to the kitchen and gets a coke and goes back to the Internet.

Lets leave Mama Penda for a bit and look at p2p on the Internet.
The clever people who created p2p created new protocols for data transfer, much more sophisticated than email and web browsing protocols created in the 1980's. I mean very sophisticated. ISPs hate p2p stuff

First mail and web traffic, how does it flow? Over simplified, the home PC initiates(requests) a webpage. The host site recieves the request and sends the first part of the website. This might be the whole page or might be one part of 100 pieces of the website. It doesnt send the next part until the PC sends an acknowledgement (called an 'ack') that it recieved the first piece of the webpage. When the host webserver gets the ack (acknowledgement) packet it sends the next, and so on and so forth. The faster the ack is sent back the faster the packets are sent by the webserver. Same for email. When the network is congested (slow) the speed slows down.

Now p2p works differently. It doesn't wait for acks, it just sends packets and doesn't care if they are in the wrong order or missing, that will be sorted out later. In addition p2p looks for the file on multiple servers (actually a PC that has allowed sharing of their files), and they all participate in transfering the file according to complicated protocols. There are some acks, but basically p2p will not care about congestion, it will try to fill up the pipe as it were. So p2p runs faster and web and mail run slower and slower when on the same network.

If on a network connection, like this home, if someone is seriously using p2p it will tend to consume all the allocated bandwidth for that connection, and the mail and web will keep slowing down as the network is congested. Especially when the p2p user has chosen many files/music to download.

Back to the Penda Family. Mama is pretty fed up now as she really wants to do these emails. It is 6pm and she calls the ISP.

Customer support(CS): "Hello."
Mama Penda(MP): "My connection is soooooo slow. I am not happy. Why are you giving such poor service? I cant even read my emails."

CS: "I am sorry to hear that, let me check your connecton. What is your name?"
MP: "Penda"

CS: "Ok, give me a few seconds."

CS: "Hmmm, we see that the link quality is okay but that you have a very large amount of traffic. In fact it has been going on for a few hours. Are you downloading music?"

MP: "What is downloading music? NO, I am not doing that. I am reading my emails only on hotmail. Stop asking questions and fix the connection!"

CD: "Well, we see a constant upload and download of peer to peer traffic. Just a second."

CS: "From our database we see that you have a number of computers connected, is someone else using a seperate computer?"

MP: NO! I am the only person at home right now.

CS: Even though the person is not there they could have set it up to download music while they are away. Could you turn off that computer if it is on.

MP: I am sure it is not on, my son went out for the evening.

CS Maa'm, could you please check.

MP: Well okay, but I wish you would fix your lousy service instead of not trusting me.

Mama penda goes away for two minutes and comes back on line.

MP: My son's computer is off. So now will you believe me and fix my connection so I can work. I pay you every month, and alot of money. Do your goddam job!

CS: Ok lets try this. Please unplug the network cable to your PC.

CS explains how to do this and it takes awhile but Mama Penda agrees to find the cable and removes it.

CS: Hmm there is still traffic. I am sorry but are you sure there isn't another computer?

MP: I TOLD you we only have the two computers.

CS: Ok, please plug the cable back into your computer and could you do the same thing on your son's computer.

MP: I dont see how that will help.

CS: Please maa'm.

MP: well ok..........

CS: and see if any lights are on on that PC

a minute later Mama Penda comes back

MP: I removed the cable and there was a green light flashing back there.

CS: Okay now we are getting somewhere. Your traffic is starting to drop drastically, now try to look at your email.

MP: ok, wait a minute

a minute later

MP: Okay now I can get my emails. What did you do?

CS: Your son is downloading music and that consumes all the bandwdith and leaves no bandwidth for you to browse. Have your son schedule the p2p music downloads after you have finished your work and turn it off in the morning.

MP: Okay but please keep the speed like this from now on, I dont want more problems.

CS: Maa'm, the problem was the way your son uses the Internet.

MP: any way bye.

Son Wimbo comes home and finds his computer hasn't finished and he can't browse. So he calls the ISP in the morning to complain that the Internet doesn't work. It takes 10 minutes to get him to plug the cable back in.

Next night Mama penda calls again about the slow connection.

P2p traffice has protocols that behave differently that mail and web traffic. Web and mail traffic are self throttling, if the connection is slow or congested the traffic slows down. P2P traffic tries to run faster and faster regardless of congestion. Eventually it takes all the bandwidth if enough files are downloading.

13 November 2006

Ride down memory lane

I will get to the significance of this road later in this posting.

My wife Bernice is traveling to Bangkok on Sunday evening. Being a dutiful husband I feel I should be around some before she leaves on her trip, so I better not return too late from my Sunday morning ride. But I don't want to miss out on a long ride so I plan to leave a hour before dawn when she is sleeping anyway.

At the equator the days are the same length all year around. It gets light at 6am and it is dark at 7pm in Arusha. However during this time of year we get a few minutes more daylight in the morning, maybe 15 minutes.

It took me 15 minutes to actually get out of bed. I made my usual pot of milk chai and was off just after 5AM, coinciding with the time of the Muslim call to prayers, making me feel safe riding in the dark. At 3AM I would be more nervous about bumping into gangs of thieves who operate in the night. (Stealing our copper wire for one thing.) I only rouse up some dogs on the dirt roads and I am on the highway in a few minutes. I pass a few faithful off to morning prayers, pass a few bikes, and there is an occasional car or lori passing me.

My original destination when I left the house was a valley called Oldebesi below the Lengijave plains. On the bike I change my plans and decide to stay on the highway longer up to Oldonyo Sambu and check out the area I lived during 1977-1982. I will ride up to the forest and then stop in at a school I taught and lived at on the way home.

It will be partly a social trip. Cool.

From Arusha to Oldonyo sambu is 30km and 20km of that is climbing. I start at 4,300ft and climb to 6,500ft on the tarmac road to Cairo. My mtn bike with slime and tyre liners is really heavy as I slog up and up to Oldonyo Sambu. The morning comes and I turn off the lamp. With the recent rains it is glorious outside. Fluffy clouds and all that:

It takes over 90 minutes to reach the saddle and village of Oldonyo Sambu and coast down the other side.

I turn off the highway and use the paths I used to walk on 25 years ago to go to the village to wait for a bus to get to town. I get on a dirt road. It is twice as wide as it was in the 1970's, not a track anymore but a wide dirt road.

I cross a korongo(canyon) where I had so often repaired the road after heavy rains. It was now 7am and too early for visitors so I ride around the edge of the school on road and kept climbing up the mountain. I pass the old Eckman farm and am suprised the road is not a track but a maintained road. I stop and take a picture of a farm I have long admired with its big trees.

I must now be at close to 7,500 feet. People are awake and I greet lots of people. By 8 AM I make it to the forest and decide to have my thermos of tea and cheeze sandwich on edge of big canyon with solid rock walls. It was deeper than I remembered. There are the same old houses at the junction of the roads and across the ravine from Ghikas's farm. He is a Greek farmer who inherited many farms and is quite a character. Nothing much has changed up here.

After a 15 minute breakfast I coast down to the school. And there is that driveway/lane I remember.

Now, look again at the picture at the top. I fondly remember this lane/driveway lined with jacaranda trees that once a year burst forth with purple flowers and drop their petals on the road. What luck, today is one of those days. This has to be one of the best driveways in the world!

There are no priests or teachers who know me! But they know students I have taught. And it is obvious I was a teacher there. The housese and school have changed little. The house I lived in is pretty much the same. It was built by Boers who walked up from South Africa in the early 1900's looking for place to farm and hunt. The original part of the house is mud blocks about 50cm thick. There was no foundation, just the blocks on the ground! There have been additions over the years and now it is a long building with 6 bedrooms off a 2 meter wide hallway. a sitting room and a dining room and big kitchen at one end. No termites and mosquitoes at this altitude.

I talk and have breakfast with two priests and some young British visitors, get the tour of the school and snap a shot.

This is Father xxx who showed me around the school. My rig is in the background and the house I lived in for four years.

I hop on my bike and am home in less than 2 hours.

It is only a 90km day in like 5 hours but it has been a pretty good work out.

06 November 2006

Missed Opportunity

Tanzanian kids, especially in urban areas, like to yell at foreigners, usually "mzungu, mzungu". This is the name for all people of European descent, ie white.

It used to drive me crazy and spoil my mood. I felt it was so rude. Sometimes I would retort back, but that rarely helped. Later I learned from Steve Cunningham to make a joke of it with the kids. If I do that then it doesnt bother me. It often turns it into a positive interaction.

But somedays I still let it bother me.

When I am commuting by bicycle often young kids/men want to pass me and show off that they are going faster than me. I am commuting and not wanting to sweat. Then they swerve in in front of me and after a bit slow down and I have to negotiate around them. It seems it is all about putting me down.

What is the big deal about getting around them. Well, Arusha roads are pretty busy, noisy, and chaotic, AND I am 51. So I have a harder time looking back than I used to. I have to check traffic, pull out, avoid them as the wander into my lane. Not fun.

For that reason I am snobbish around other bike commuters.

The reader needs that background for this story.

On Wednesday of last week I was riding home from work earlier than usual, an hour before dark. I got the normal verbal assaults from bored kids. "Hey white man" "Good morning teacher" and the like. Traffic was a mess like usual and I was not in the greatest of mood. I pass a mtn bike.

Immediately I hear him stomping up behind me. It makes my mood worse, and , well, you know, I am competitive. I pick up the pace to punish him as we come to one 500 meter long hill on the last stretch of pavement. I am suprised he stays with me on the hill. In the middle of the hill I hear him yell " hello man" and he begins to come along side of me but I cant see him yet. For some reason that ticks me off. So I snarl "what do you want?" in English. Then the bike comes alongside me and it isn't who I expected it to be. It is a 16 year old boy who by his looks appears to be coming from school.

He whines, "I was just saying hello".


He drops off the pace and I finish the hill. At the top of the hill I fully realize I was a jerk to this kid. Maybe he is into biking and wanted to talk shop. Who knows? I am winded and need to cross the road at this point. I stop to wait for a break in traffic to cross. The kid comes along. He is looking straight ahead. He passes fast enough that by the time I am ready to apologize he is gone.

I cross the road and start up the dirt road to my house. Three hundred meters on that road and I am feeling guilty, ashamed, embaressed, sorry for the kid. I race back down and after the kid but either he is long gone or turned off on onother road.

I messed that one up. I will never recognize him...........

05 November 2006

for the pic

Theft and corruption

You can't live 30 years in Tanzania and not be affected by theft and corruption. This past week I thought about both of them.

Theft becuase the price of copper doubled in the past year (or something like that) from its already high price. It now makes stealing copper wire more rewarding. My business that runs the ISP Arusha Node Marie "habari" has 100's of kilometres of copper cable around Arusha. It can get discouraging for our staff and me. We put askaris, we dig it down, we report to police, and we still get it stolen. I just got a message that 30 meters of plain UTP was stolen two nights ago. That costs us about $6! So what is he getting for it? 50cents? Crazy. We put it in the ground and they dug it up!

Corruption comes in when I think about theft as police dont seem concerned or do very little as we are not going to ply them with money. The leaders in Dar only seem concerned with making a nest egg for themselves and not work on getting people employed so they dont have to steal.

The current word on the street (and some press) is that the purchases of new generators for electrical power generation is a big scam. Maybe even the shortage is created, a scam so they can get something out of buying more generators. At times you can get cynical. Munka my best friend said the other day: "Tanzania is a country that recycles inefficiency". If you screw up and get caught stealing you just get recycled in government.

That is kind of negative thoughts but need to be said. In general though I am positive about Tanzania, but the above issues and others are there.


Well I might as well have a blog, everyone else does.

I was encouraged by reading others' blogs, like Kent Peterson, duncan Drury, and David Houghton. As well I was encouraged by finding my old journals from college and periodically during my life. So this is more for me than for others. I would like to come back and read this in years to come.

How did I do?