Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bongo vs. Rongo

Residents of Dar es Salaam frequently refer to the city as “Bongo,” using a slang word for head/brain, the idea being that life in such a hectic place requires that you use your head. I haven’t yet determined whether Rongo has any common nicknames, but as a small town it’s certainly less hectic. That said, you still need to have your wits about you, especially when crossing the street. This morning when I was out for a run with my Kenyan co-Field Coordinator, we saw a car hit a motorbike. This confirmed my decision to completely avoid motorbikes while I am here, despite their being a common mode of transport.

If I am honest, I am mainly comparing Bongo (my former home in East Africa) and Rongo (my present one) because it’s fun to say, “Bongo vs. Rongo”. But hopefully this can serve as a way to tell you a bit more about the place where I’ll be spending the next 11 weeks.

First off, Rongo is incredibly scenic. Not so much the town but the surrounding environment. Incredibly lush and green, with breathtaking views of rolling hills and valleys. “Bucolic,” if I may use a GRE word.

My precise coordinates in Rongo are at the Lasjona Hotel. I’ve already told you about my pimptastic hotel room (picture coming soon!). Other notable features include: extremely slow service at the restaurant, frequent power outages, and an entrepreneurial cleaning staff. (On my second day here, one of the cleaning ladies ushered me into a random room and whipped out some lovely soapstone carvings, which I was convinced to buy on the spot).

As an mzungu I am something of an oddity here, though given the high presence of churches and NGOs I am not a complete novelty. Today some of my American colleagues and I were resting outside one of the many Seventh-Day Adventist churches in the region and a woman came out and asked us if we had been there last year. When we said no, she said she must have gotten us confused with someone else. All us white folk look alike, I guess.

If Rongo’s amusements prove insufficient over the next few months, it looks like there’s plenty to do in the area. Wildlife reserves and a rainforest are possible weekend trips. Also, due to the fact that we’ve hired a bunch of great enumerators, I have an instant network of local friends. In addition, I’m extremely grateful to have found someone to go running with, though it involves waking up a bit earlier than I might like. We had plans to go this morning at 6:15 so I set my alarm for 6. As I groaned to turn off my alarm I got a text from my running buddy informing me that he was back already from his 5:30 AM jaunt and ready for another one. In fact, he got a bit tired during our 6:15 session but we came back and did boxing drills in the hotel parking lot. I showed him a few pilates moves in return and suggested we make a workout video: The Rongo Boxing and Pilates Workout. It’s totally going to be the next L.A. fitness craze.

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