Travel Stories

Moshi

          Throughout this trip I've held the view that my most valued possession was my iphone.  More even than my laptop, the phone is my connection to the world outside Africa, my most dependable email link, and, of course, my camera.  But on the last day of 2012, as I was getting off the bus from Arusha to Moshi - so proud of myself that I'd gotten from Arusha to Moshi – about a two or three hour trip - without a guide and on public transportation (for all of four dollars) - I discovered that my laptop shoulder bag, in which I carry my laptop, iphone, passport, important papers, etc (and keep with me at all times) had gotten quite wet resting on the bus floor during the ride.  So when I got off the bus I quickly took out my computer to make sure it hadn't gotten wet and, in my haste, left a zipper open on my laptop bag. 
          At this same time some teenaged boys came over offering to carry my rolling suitcase for me, picked it up, and were very insistent as one moved off with it - not at all unfamiliar behavior in Africa, usually in pursuit of a small tip – and although I said “no thank you” … more than once … I was also very distracted checking out and worried about my laptop being wet, about having my laptop out in full public view in the chaos of an African bus station, and about really not wanting my bag moved off, that I actually yelled at them, "Just put it the fuck down!" surprising even myself with this over confrontational undiplomatic attitude, although they did then put the bag down.  
          A few minutes later, having found an internet cafe and coffee shop in which to collect and orient myself in Moshi and decide what I needed to do next - mostly find a hotel - I discovered my iphone was gone, lifted from the open zippered compartment of my shoulder bag by one of the boys as I now realize I was intentionally being hassled by them.  (And yes, I did retrace my steps and even found and looked carefully inside the bus I’d travelled on, all without success.)  Hadn't I read about this very common mistake in the travel guides … more than once?  Don’t be an obvious tourist if possible.  Don’t stand around focused on checking maps or possessions.  Be aware of your surroundings.  Don’t be the only tall white guy standing around playing distractedly with his laptop in a big crowd.  Be aware that extra caution is always, always, hello Earth calling Bruce, always needed in bus stations.  Or as Joy’s son and my dear friend Loren might say of the boys, "Well played, sirs."  
          So here I am, severed from the tether that connected me inside my spacesuit with the mother ship, floating off more alone than ever, further into outer space, a wandering stranger in Africa, the ability to be in easy contact with my loved ones by phone if necessary, and the fact I could get emails anywhere my phone got reception, which was pretty much everywhere, now gone, and painfully aware that accessing email and the internet on my laptop, or even at internet cafés, had proven quite difficult everywhere in Africa thus far.
          Afloat.  Robbed.  Lost forever the 100s of photos I didn’t download (and that didn’t upload to my dropbox account) of monkeys, my sister, the moonrise in Stonetown, the list of contacts and bookmarks built over the years, the kindle book I was reading, the apps, particularly the alarm clock I used daily, the flashlight that served me so well and proved so necessary, the ease of just snapping photos of whatever scene I chose and being able to delete any photos that just didn’t work.  Being able to access CNN and ESPN whenever I needed a fix, especially during Patriots games on any given Sunday.  I loved that phone.
          Getting a new phone is one possibility, but I can't bear the thought of learning how to use a new phone system, and the one iphone I did find in an afternoon of touring electronic equipment vending shops in Moshi – a subject I am now one of the world’s leading travel experts on - of searching for a new tether/lifeline and camera, of almost learning how to say in Swahili, “What is most important to me is having good email and internet access” – translated from English into Swahili by curious friendly Tanzanians, some of whom had actually lived in Queens or Chicago - cost over 300$ and somehow was unable to access the internet.  An afternoon visiting electronics shops in Moshi, yes, that was definitely one of my planned safaris, I’m sure of it.  
          What I also did was to find an absolutely lovely hotel on a quiet street, with wifi in the lobby and a late afternoon view of the twin peaks of Kilimanjaro rising above the clouds that is completely breathtaking.  And I'm giving myself New Year's Day off, just laying about, welcoming the new year, licking my wounds, wandering around Moshi looking for phones and fending off safari guide touts, visiting a coffee shop that sells something they call and vaguely look like bagels, and figuring out what I’ll do next.  And maybe Joy will send me my phone number, and I can call my phone, thank whoever answers the phone for finding it, offer a substantial cash reward for reuniting it with its bereft owner … who is obviously still in the denial stage of grieving.  Hey, it’s a plan.  And as we say in the travel trade, if this is the worst thing that happens to me I'm a very lucky guy.  And I am.  Or, as we also say in Tanzania, “Heri yamwaka mpya.”  Happy New Year.