Scott Hanselman

Arusha Tanzania 2006 Day 24 - Black Hair

December 24, '06 Comments [4] Posted in Africa
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CIMG6813smallLots of White folks don't realize how Black hair works. We regularly meet folks in the states that think that Mo's hair either grows really fast, or actually grows in already braided (or "plaited" in some parts of the world, including here in TZ.) When I was in high-school I wanted to go to school to do Black hair but somehow ended up in computers. ;) I taught my little niece how to braid years ago in Zimbabwe. I can braid decently, but I'm not good at cornrowing. Mostly I take Mo's hair out (remove the braids) which can take two or three hours depending on the size.

Folks can just cornrow their hair by starting a braid and using the next little bit of hair farther back on the  head to start the next bit of braid, so you're braiding against the hair. If your hair is straightened and healthy, you can braid it alone, but most people like to add extensions to their natural hair because most hair isn't thick or near long enough to support some of the more complex braid styles. Adding hair also takes the pressure for supporting the braids off your own hair. Extensions can be synthetic or natural; it's largely a religious argument, but a $2 pack of braids can often look as nice as the most expensive human hair. Human hair purchased for braiding black hair is often grown by Asian folks because of it's straightness and smooth texture. When buying synthetic hair some folks are careful to buy flame retardant hair - something to watch for.

CIMG6812smallBraiding or plaiting with extensions is basically weaving the human hair along side the added hair until they aren't easily distinguished. Typically the person's real hair stops somewhere in the middle of the braid and the extensions finish the rest of the length. The ends can be left un-braided or they can be held with small rubber bands. It's also popular to either boil the tips in hot water or - if it's synthetic hair - burn the tips with matches until the hair melts, thereby holding the braid together and preventing the whole style from unraveling. Black hair works much better for braiding than white because of the hair's texture. Black hair tends to be "textured" in such a way that the braids have something to grip, while many white folks have oily or slicker hair that braids can slip out of.

Mo always likes to get her hair done towards the end of trip whenever we're in Africa. In the states, depending on what you're having done, braids can cost over a hundred bucks. Also, unless you have a regular person you trust, you can get unreliable results. Good singles (smaller braids) should last at least 6 weeks and some folks can stretch them for a few months depending on how fast their hair grows. We came to TZ with Mo's hair in braids that were a month or so old, and since her hair has been growing, like artificial fingernails, you can see the "new growth" near the scalp and that makes the braiding look more obvious. At this time it's good to start over. Last night the girls took her hair out using nails and toothpicks to unbraid each one at a time. When they are all our her hair is combed, her scalp washed and greased (Black folks often have very dry skin, unlike my personal oil-producing nation, I mean, scalp).

CIMG6814smallIdeally we'd have taken her hair out a month ago and "let it breath" naturally before braiding it again, but we're only here another week and we want to cross this off our list of things that need done. Good braids virtually encompass all the hair in an artificial sheath and it can be hard on hair. Additionally, since the extensions are adding weight to the hair (and head) the roots need to be very strong, otherwise an entire braid can rip out, either at the root or, if poorly tied or tied to hair that's too short, just slip off near the root. Many folks like to get their hair straightened using chemicals before braiding, but Mo usually avoid chemicals and just has braids added to her natural hair.

The braider today charged TSH25,000 (about US$20) for very small singles, smaller than Mo usually gets done because in the states it's so very expensive. The smaller the braid, the more money it costs. With really small braids it can take from six to even twelve hours to do it all in one sitting. Often two or more girls work on the head at once. With my carpal tunnel-like symptoms, I can't personally do nice singles anymore.

I'm personally looking forward to doing Z's hair, although since he's mixed, his curls are much looser and softer and his hair will require significantly different maintenance. Everyone's different!

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Arusha Tanzania 2006 Day 24 - Kilimanjaro

December 23, '06 Comments [6] Posted in Africa
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CIMG6806modifiedWe drove to Mount Kilimanjaro via Moshi today. The trip took about two and half hours each way, so the day was pretty much consumed with driving. The road to Moshi from Arusha is one of the nicest I've seen in the country so far, although I'm sure the roads are much nicer in Dar es Salaam. The whole way we saw only clouds over the mountain...it didn't show its top at all. We're told that days and days can pass without seeing it, and then one day it'll just show itself, so it's a crapshoot. We had only this day free, so we just went for it.

Foreigners (Mzungu) have to pay US$35 a head to get even to the base camp, and we weren't that interested, so instead we found a local who'd take us to a "secret" viewing spot for 10,000TSH (about US$8.30) and we figured we'd give it a try. Certainly it could have been BS or a trap but we numbered six with 3 decent sized men so we took the chance. He had no car, so he got in the back of ours and we headed a few kilometers (way) off the beaten path over some of the worst roads I've ever seen, to the middle of his village. He then said to walk like three minutes off to one side and we started to get concerned it was some kind of trick. My brother-in-law paid a kid to watch the car and we went off. We saw a very nice waterfall from a great angle and had a nice side adventure, but didn't see the mountain as it was all overcast and clouds. The whole day had been gray since early morning.

We headed back, slightly bummed, towards Arusha as it started to get towards dusk and someone in the car turned around at some point and announced "oh my gawd" and we pulled the car right over and took this picture with my Casio Z750. It was a fine cap to a fine day, and a nice story as we move towards the end of the whole trip next week. (At that point I'll start the new year with more technical posts if I have any readers of this blog left!)

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Arusha Tanzania 2006 Day 23 - Where is the middle of nowhere

December 23, '06 Comments [0] Posted in Africa
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CIMG6732Anywhere that's far enough away from home starts to feel pretty far away. Yesterday we had to drive to Kenya to pick up a relative who was having an immigration problem. There's basically one road from Arusha to Namanga, Tanzania which is the border town with Kenya.

That's Mount Meru in the picture, not Kilimanjaro, by the way. That's the view out of the room upstairs in the house here in Arusha.

Some relatives came into Nairobi via air and were taking a bus down to Arusha from there, but they ran into an immigration snag (more on that in another post) and we had to make an emergency run from Arusha to the Kenyan/Tanzanian border.

Along the way we had some car trouble and we ended up in the middle of nowhere. We were on the side of a two lane kind-of paved road for about 20-30 minutes and no other cars went by. It was a very interesting feeling, for me at least, because not only was I in a different country, but I was also, I felt, in the middle of this one, at least 100km from really anywhere. We didn't even see any Maasai or huts or anything. Would we need to sip water from the tips of plants to survive?

CIMG6709smallSo, that got me thinking about what the "middle of nowhere" meant. I suppose if we drove OFF the road for 4-5 hours and then stopped, then maybe I'd be in the middle of nowhere. Still, we felt pretty isolated as we wondered if another car would go by, and if no one did go by, would we have to sleep in the bush. Because we'd left in a hurry we weren't exactly 100% prepared.

In the middle of my introspection and philosophizing, without another living thing as far as I could see in any direction up to the horizon, I checked my cell phone and I had 4 out of 5 bars for "Kencell."

Apparently I wasn't in the middle of nowhere.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Arusha Tanzania 2006 Day 22 - Finding a Fundi

December 23, '06 Comments [0] Posted in Africa
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CIMG6692

A fundi is a person who knows what they are doing. They are a specialist, a person in the know, a learned person.

Both Ndebele (or Zulu) and Swahili are part of the Bantu language family and while they are considerably different to the point that a speaker of one can't be easily understood by a speaker of the other, they share many similar word roots, kind of like French and Spanish.

For example, to say "I want to learn Swahili" in kiSwahili you could say:

Nataka kujifunza kiSwahili

where kujifunza is the infinitive "to learn." "Ku" is the infinitive prefix and the root is "-fun(z)-" pronounced basically "foonz." To say "I want to learn Ndebele" in Ndebele, you'd say:

Ngifuna ukufunda isiNdebele

Where "uku" is the infinitive prefix, pronounced differently from the ku in Swahili. In Ndebele it's pronounced "ugoo," but the root is similar. "Funda" versus "funza." Similar things happen in all the Bantu languages. In the house now we have Zulu speakers, Ndebele speakers, Siswati speakers and kiSwahili speakers and each has its little details like this.

Anyway, a fundi is a 'learn-ed one" and when you need something handled in Eastern Africa, you call one. While we've been here we've needed fundis for plumbing, electricity, and sewing. 

My wife went and bought some cloth and got measured to have a fundi make her a series of dresses. He was a very kind, genteel man who has a genuine interest in fashion and his little one-room shop was plastered with patterns and designs. Most fundis have been doing whatever they've been doing for a number of years, otherwise they'd be an amateur. You do have to keep on your guard because, unlike the states, there's no guarantee for the work. For example, we had a plumber who did some work for us, and while it was a flat fee, when we found the work to be unacceptable the next day, our only recourse was to either pay the same guy again, or find another who could fix the previous guy's screwup.  It's an interesting system largely based on word of mouth, reputation and who's got the tools.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Arusha Tanzania 2006 Day 21 - The Arusha Fire Brigade

December 21, '06 Comments [4] Posted in Africa
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CIMG6679My father was a firefighter in Portland for 30 years. He's retired now, but there's a bond between firefolks, he believes, and he loves to meet other firefighters and chat. I took dad with me to New Orleans in 2003(?) for TechEd and he immediately wanted to talk to the local Fire Department and compare equipment and such. Since this was the first trip out of the US for Dad, I thought it'd be cool to stop by the Arusha Fire Brigade and see what was up. That's my dad on the left, and my brother-in-law (our translator) on the far right.

A few days after we arrived, there was a large fire a few streets over and we saw the tanker truck (with about 900 liters) loping towards the fire. Just yesterday a man in a car was crushed and killed and two pedestrians lost their legs as a large truck's brakes failed and it smashed out of control into a wall just at the corner down the street from where we are staying. In the first case the Fire Brigade could respond, but there doesn't appear to be any emergency medical specialization. My dad was an EMT specialist and trainer for a number of years towards the end of his career, and my brother, also a Portland Firefighter, is a capable EMT-type, IMHO. The police responded to the multiple-death accident, but it is out of the scope of the Fire Brigade here, it seems.

Dad was just hoping to chat, see their setup and swap stories, but was pretty sad about the state of things. They just don't have the equipment to do their jobs correctly. Their helmets were donated from France and Denmark and appear to be pretty old. Their truck was donated from Demark, but the tires are bald and it is in a state of some disrepair. Their hoses are similar in type and size to those my dad is used to, with their primary host being 2.5" thick, but they are frayed and could break under enough pressure. My dad was the most distressed that they have no gloves or heavy jackets. Some fight fires in sandals because they have no good work shoes. Running a hose is hard enough, but running one without gloves is challenging to say the list.

It's clear, despite the language barrier, that these guys are serious about doing their job, and only wish they had the equipment. Of course, you can't help everyone in the world and there's lots of good causes, but...now that we've got a personal contact now with this Fire Brigade and relatives on the ground locally, if you're a firefighter (or know some, forward this post) and think your department might want to donate some gloves, boots, helmets, hoses, foam, or whatever etc, email me and cc: my dad (he's dave at this domain). Apparently the Tanzanian government will pay the shipping and handle duties and make sure the donated things get where they need to smoothly.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.