05 November 2007

Paradoxes of wealth

I changed my weekend schedule as there were a number of people who wanted to ride on Sunday mornings, or so it seemed there were many until this Sunday.

Stephane was the only one who showed up, or more precisely the only one who SMSed "OK" . We head towards Ngaremtomi on the high road before following the Selian river down to the highway. The path and roads along the river are slightly down hill and slightly wooded making wonderful riding.

We cross the highway and pedal out the TPRI road and into the dust of Likamba, then up the hills of Lakilaki to taking a break on top, enjoying the breeze and some dates.

Four Waarusha boys out herding cows wander over to inspect us and our bikes. They have a few questions, and of course one has to beg for something, but the older one agrees with me that that is stupid, so the mood is not spoilt.

I appreciate the wisdom of this kid and stop trying to brush him off, instead I start asking him some questions. As we are sitting on the ruins of an old farm, I ask what he knows about it. Then wise kid asks don't we see it as a big waste and a shame that this white guy built up this farm and then left and it was all slowly carted away? I do not explain. Instead I think about this boy's confidence and freedom to tell me what he thinks.

We scream down the track into the Papadapoulis farm, across a flood plain, through a new housing area, find a track through the abandoned coffee trees, across the Ngaremtoni river and into Endurance farm. We pass huge new homes set on 5 acres each and we pass neat farm workers housing from colonial times, rows and rows of whitewashed 2 room houses.

It was mellow and I say "I wish we could stop at a coffee shop and have coffee and pie." Like that would happen in Arusha and this far out of town! But as we moved through the huge farms of Selian, Burka there was the buildings of Friedkin/TGT complex ahead and the idea that we could get some cake and coffee at the restaurant there.

We hit a big maintained dirt road circling around their Rhodes grass fields and decide on left. Pretty soon there was a new fence on our left. Those 2 meter high electrified fences. I wondered if we were on the inside or outside of the fence. Soon we were alongside the Rugby fields of the sports complex and I knew that we had somehow come into the Friedkin Complex from the back door. Cool.

Friedken is a family that made their big money with Toyota Franchise's in Southwestern USA. Follow the link or trust me this guy has serious money, or just pass the cursor over his name and think what Forbes (as in fortune 400) means. So what is a Texas millionaire doing with a big sports complex and Photographic and Hunting company offices in the middle of what used to be coffee farms west of Arusha? And rumor has it they don't make a profit.

Hunting. Now this is pure speculation but I speculate he originally started coming to Tanzania to hunt as a client. So he is using a company called Kerr & Downey and every year he sits around the fire and one day they talk about buying the hunting company for fun. It changed its name as some point to TGT (Tanzania Game Trackers) and broadened activities. It includes a charter airline, Northern Air, photographic safari, a NGO called Friedkin Conservation Fund, and so on. We used to sell them an Internet connection until they got to big and bought their own dish.
Along the way the General manager in Tanzania became South African and now most of the whites working there are South African, and there are "a ton" of whites working there. ALOT.

About 3 years ago they decided to build new offices, and while they were busy building anyway they built a sports complex, workshop, and lodging for hunters. As long as they were building the business they decided to build a houses for Thomas Friedkin and the son's family. So when they come for their 2 weeks per year they have a house , each, each fully staffed year round. The sports complex has two restaurants and a bar, 3 rugby/football fields, one field with lights, swimming pool, squash and tennis courts, etc. All set in a coffee plantation on one side and about 1000 acres of grass for horses.

How do I know all this? Some speculation and some I know as we did the data cabling for the new and old place. Fibre optic and cat6 cable all over everywhere. CCTV and digital phones and la di da. So I spent some time there when it was being built and have visited a couple of times afterwards.

ANYWAY so we pedal in dusty and sweaty through the paved car park , past white people playing tennis, and past the manicured lawns. Everything is quiet and proper. We ask a woman in waitress uniform if we can get a coffee and she says try the bar. I follow Stephane around the building and he keeps pushing his bike in front going around the front of the fancy restaurant / club with tables on the perfect lawn. shit. I follow sheepishly. I mean picture two hobo's riding their bike on the member's only country club lawn while breakfast is served if you please.
There is a group eating brunch at a long table with white table cloth.

We actually know most everyone at the only occupied table and say hello. Louise Hill a member of our bike club is there with her husband and his parents, the Schmidts. Yap Schmidt helped me back when i was farming as paying me partly in advance to grow flower seeds.

Brunch is 15,000shs a plate thank you, and actually looks worth it. We only have 17,000 shs between us and ask what we can get for that much. The waiter is cool and says just split a "all you can eat" plate. Hmmm. The food is incredibly delicious, food like these soft cheese balls, miniature quiches, bacon. The coffee is okay but not great.

We agree about how nice the place is but also how it is creepy or weird or somehow out of place. It is a bit too colonial or white south African feeling. The sprinklers are going around on the fields and a crew is moving some of them. The waiters are extremely competent. Everything is perfect and we look across playing fields and pastures . Way off in the distance you can see the parched fields of Kisongo.

Actually I have been thinking about applying to join the sports club here. I am told it is relatively cheap compared to other places. One part of me wishes they would not accept me, so I could bad mouth the place more than I do.

Before we fall asleep at the table we hop on the bikes and ride out the newly paved road to the main gate. The main gates guard house is about as big as my house. I have a slight fear they will ask for the ticket given to you when you arrive, but they just smile and open the gate as we are white and we say hello and ride on into the next coffee estate. on the other side we ride through urban sprawl and blight on dusty, rough, unmaintained roads, past houses worth $100,000 - 500,000 . Strange . And then in between you come to an old cluster of humbler buildings, kind of a village, with some shops, bars and houses tightly packed together, lots of people and noise. And then soon you some to more big fancy houses.

We part on the Silent Inn road, Stephane to roller coaster to Ilboru and me to mostly coast down home.

Where were the rest of you?

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