Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Back on U.S. Soil


We started off like any other morning: omelettes, pastries, coffee, baked beans, ox tongue. Wait, your mornings don't start like that in the States? No ox tongue? Hmm...TIA, this is Africa. Chris LeCraw Sickness Update (CLCSU): Took medicine last night. Looks to be receding. Shirt collars still hurt. Anyway, we all piled in the bus and headed to the US Embassy. When we arrived, we stepped outside and smiled. Yes, that was American air we were breathing. Close-cropped American grass on which we were treading. American cement under our feet now. And American people greeting us. Okay, maybe none of that stuff is actually American. And we were actually greeted by Tanzanian doormen/guards. Details, details. We were semi-home again!

After the obligatory awkward moment when I set off the alarm -- Even plastic sunglasses have little metal pieces. At least it wasn't an improvised explosive device, which is expressly prohibited. -- we all grabbed our American badges and headed inside. The first man to show us around just so happened to be a friend of the Ambassador from way back in Green Bay. Yes, that's right. Home of the Cheeseheads, Brett Favre (not really anymore I guess), frozen grass and dairy products. That Green Bay. He said he came over here with Ambassador Green (more on him right...down...there) for a trial year and might end up staying longer. Douglas had a minor scare when he drank the fountain water, assuming it would be clean, safe American water, only to realize that, once again, TIA. No worries, it was safe.

The Embassy got right down to business, and Ambassador Mark Green strolled in, blue suit/green tie (with elephants I think) and all. He even had a coffee mug that was a gift from a local university. And his mannerisms were impeccable. A staunch Republican and defender of Dubya, he executed the thumb point perfectly, but he followed it with a very Obama-esque thumb-to-forefinger-to-form-an-O move. Pandering to both sides, eh?

I could bore you with details of the talk -- which, from my third-row in the conference room of an American oasis/embassy weren't actually boring -- but I'll just give you some highlights. He said Tanzania is already one of the leaders on the continent, but we need to "lock in leadership" at the highest levels. In other words TZ must take the initiative both ideologically and politically in this part of the world. A few facts to take into account that will be a hindrance to such thrusts are the 100,000 Tanzanian malaria deaths per year and the 400 HIV/AIDS deaths per day. GWB and the TZ government, President Kikwete mostly, have already done a decent job addressing these issues through policy initiatives, but the problem (not problem, challenge, but we'll get to that a little later) is the Tanzanian people don't realize it. When Green first came on board, his sponsored events had banners from the CDC, USAID and others. But Tanzanians have no idea what these signify, so Green has now replaced those with a dozen banners that say simply, "From the American People" in both English and Swahili. Funny how Americans can seem so united from the other side of the world.

After outlining a few initiatives and goals, Green took questions. My question -- the only one I'm mentioning because it's my blog, sorry guys -- illuminated a point that has been present in several meetings this trip. Competitiveness. Tanzanians just aren't. When Kenya's Mombassa port closed due to the warring factions in the country, the ships housed there headed for Dar Es Salaam port in Tanzania. At this point the American embassy has this to say: "Hooray! Let's treat these ships better than Kenya ever did and earn their business permanently!" The Tanzanians responded in kind: "But we wouldn't want to hurt the Kenyans' feelings. Let's all be friends." There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to both responses, but the easiest way to expand the national economy is to gain more business. And they missed the opportunity. Just an example. The final point that Green made related directly -- maybe too directly...he might have plagiarized -- to my personal journal from last night. What Africa needs is not charisma. She doesn't need words. She needs actions. And not only actions, but results. I called it the "fierce immediacy of now" in my journal, but I'm pretty sure I heard that somewhere. Here's what I wrote in my journal:

"It's the idea that everything becomes magnified if it must be immediate. If it's on a time crunch. If it's crucial. If it can't be done at any other time. The people of Africa deserve results. They flat-out need them. And the effective leaders realize this. And they realize that their time horizon is very much abbreviated."

After a speaker about the politics and economics of the country -- not much we hadn't already heard -- we toured the whole facility. Even the warehouse, where "they store all the stuff." A fairly direct quote from our guide. Did you know that if you work for the embassy in TZ you can shop at the embassy warehouse and get all-American furniture and electronics? Even tires? Wow. CLCSU: The second speaker has a medical degree. Thinks it might be shingles. "Couldn't help" because Chris isn't an embassy employee. I guess Chris must have stolen that cream discreetly.

Then came lunch. At one of the nicest hotels in all of TZ. Where Dubya and his posse stayed on their visit. Where suites are actually only $200 per night (hat tip to Bryan Pruiett for in-depth research). It was a six-course meal hosted by Mr. Reginald Mengi. Think Ted Turner of TZ. Or the physical embodiment of General Electric. The man has his hands in Tanzanite prospecting, Coca-Cola bottling, broadcast news, print media and many other things. Incredible guy who came from nothing up in Moshi. Dirt-poor at birth, through childhood, and through teenagedom (made up the word in order to not sound repetitive). Here's a laundry list of quotes and observations from the lunch:

"Business is just organized friendship." Tanzanians are very generous...with hospitality, with wine and with thank-yous. "You must tell yourself 'I can, I must, I will.'" R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" comes on as a sort of theme song. The same R. Kelly that had the legal troubles, but I still think of Space Jam every time I hear the song. "And if you fail, turn on Destiny's Child 'Survivor' and just survive." I love that song. Karaoke 101. "Your world must be your honor." Tanzanians don't rely on contracts like we do. So their word carries a lot more weight. Hence: "I can forgive you if you break a contract. But I won't forgive you if you break a promise." Wow, how non-American! But refreshing to say the least. "You must give back." Spider-Man knew that with great power comes great responsibility. The same goes for money in a developing country. Mengi's responsibility is to the whole country, and his philanthropic reach covers most of the land. "Put God first." Now, I've heard this before, but from Chick-fil-A mostly. It was interesting to hear it so matter-of-factly halfway around the world. He made constant references to his Christianity, and it definitely gives an example of faith interacting positively with business. Serious business. Moneymaking business.

Then off to the hotel again, where we were informed that Hon. Gertrude Mongella would not be joining us for dinner. If you want info on her, go to Google. She's pretty incredible. So we hung out at the pool. Douglas and Addie climbed on the roof. I bathed in bug spray. CLCSU: Remember when Luke was recovering from injuries in The Empire Strikes Back? Or when Keanu Reeves was injured in "real life" in The Matrix? That's Chris LeCraw. He even cut the collar of a t-shirt to make it more open. I think he should make up some stories to go along with it.

Now off to watch the finals of the UEFA Champions League! Pretty chill night in TZ. I love you Mom, Dad and Kevin! And give yourself a hearty pat on the back if you read all the way to here.

[Editor's Note: Unfortunately, Ambassador Mongella was called to a meeting in Mwanza and had to cancel. Plus, the UEFA Championship is tomorrow night, but the meeting with Mr. Mengi was featured on the national news and the newspaper. check it out at http://www.ippmedia.com/ipp/guardian/2008/05/21/114830.html]


dtonn said...

I guess I should give myself a "pat on the back." I read the entire blog. Sounds like you're having fun.


Eric Tonn said...

Yay! The only person who read my post was my dad! Haha, I'm just glad someone did. And Chelsea lost...sad day.