The 20’ container guest house

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The Container Guest House

Guest House Outside

Maasai boma

In life it is often interesting to observe how events and experiences circle back on themselves. I recently experienced an example of this that I would like to share with you.

My career was spent in the shipping business and the first year or so was as a container inventory clerk. Containers were still in their infancy and were a side show on the pier I worked on to the larger business of handling cargo by hand.  My job was to keep a board with the numbers and status of the containers that we did carry.  This is all done by computers today, but in the early days it was by list and index cards.  Repetitive and boring work. To this day I have nightmares about recording container numbers that are missing one digit.  But enough of that and off to East Africa.

The Round the World crew arrived in Tanzania to work on a project planting trees in three Maasai villages in the area of the Ngorongoro crater in Northern Tanzania.  We had just come from a Maasai village in Kenya so we had idea of the Maasai people and their customs. Although we had been told ahead of time that staying in the villages was probably not possible, I know I was holding onto the idea that we would be put up in some form of Maasai round house found in their Bomas.  My romanticism at work.

When we arrived at Mto wa Mbu (river of mosquitos), which was to be our operational base, we were instead lead to a Luthern chuch and put up in their guest house.  The guest house was reasonably nice. Wooden living areas built around a core of a rectangular set of small bedrooms. There was running water (a real treat after cold water bucket showers in Kenya) but no stove.  The cooking situation was quickly dealt with by a visit to the village and a purchase of a kerosene stove.

We proceeded to set up the sleeping quarters and rig mosquito nets over the small beds that had been provided.  As we were hanging mosquito nets, I thought to myself; “how convenient that they have rings in the ceiling to hang the net from”.  Usually we have to be a lot more creative in figuring ways to hang nets.

It was then that I realized…….

The reason for the rings was that we were inside a 20’ container. The guest house had been built around a core of an old, but still on good shape 20’ container.  And not just any 20’ container. This container was a fiberglass reinforced plywood (FRP) containers.  This method of building shipping containers died out early in the containerization era.  Further clues that this was an early container were found inside the structure.  The container had recessed securing “D rings” in the floor and oval securing rings welded to the inside of the top rail.  Both these ideas were tried and discarded early in the container age.

I inspected the container very carefully for signs of ownership.  Very few companies used FRP container and they were quickly abandoned for aluminum and steel containers.  One of the companies that did use FRP in their early days was Moore McCormick Line. Moore McCormick also served Africa and specifically Tanzania through their Robin Line subsidiary. It would have been the ultimate irony for me since my former company, U.S. Lines had purchased the services of Moore McCormick and for a number of years I ran this service from my headquarters in Dubai.

But alas after finding a couple painted over logos I came to the conclusion that the container was not Moore McCormick.  The shape of the logo was very different.  I am now on a search to find out whose container it was.

Never the less I thoroughly enjoyed the irony of that 20 year old container inventory clerk spending his nights 40 years later sleeping inside a 20 ‘ container.  Fortunately all the serial numbers were gone from the container so I avoided the nightmares of the missing digit.

One last word.  If life ever takes you to this part of the world, don’t spend all your time on Kilimanjaro or the $1,000 a night Safari lodges.  Wander into Mto wa Mbu or any of a number of other villages, stop at a local restaurant and find yourself a guide to take you to some of the Maasai villages.  The Maasai are a noble people holding onto their cultural heritage in a rapidly changing world.

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Posted on: December 9, 2010 | Categories: How People Travel, Reforestation- Tanzania, Tanzania



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The Container Guest House

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