Forgive Me, Character and Fitness Committee
I’m really happy that I’m not an up-and-coming copyright or patent lawyer. Not because I have anything against these professions; on the contrary, in a world of digital piracy, I recognize their importance. It’s just that if I were a copyright or patent lawyer, I would have to adhere to a higher moral standard than I do now. And then I couldn’t indulge in what has become my dirty little secret about visiting non-western countries: Bootleg media.
I know, it’s illegal. And it hurts the entertainment industry immensely. I’m not exactly sure how, as it seems that Hollywood stars and those who support them will make more money on one gig than I will make in my whole entire life, but I concede that it does. It’s just that, as an indebted law student, I don’t want to drop $20 on a new DVD. That there is drinking money! So, when I’m abroad, and only then (except for that one time in Brooklyn when a man was hawking DVDs in my building, no idea how he got inside), I indulge.
I try to tell myself that because I’m in a different country, with different laws (and perhaps different levels of enforcement), I can’t possibly be held liable for such a minor infraction, especially when I don’t even know if it is illegal where I am. (I’m sure I could look it up, but that seems like a lot of effort). But as every first year law student learns, ignorance of the law is no defense. So, I risk it. And I don’t regret it in the least.
While in Peace Corps in Botswana, my obsession was with 8-in-1’s, eight movies on one DVD. Most were organized thematically, like dance movies (Step Up, anyone?) or Brad Pitt movies, or mafia-related ones. Whenever you bought an 8-in-1, you knew that three movies would definitely not work, three would be fine, and two would sort of work OK, if you hit the computer a few times. In Cambodia, on a short-term work stint, I stockpiled bootleg CDs, from Tinariwen to Justin Timberlake to Cambodian pop. Here in Tanzania, I can’t resist buying Sex and the City.
To me, and maybe to most women of my generation, that HBO series has a certain nostalgic quality, like a good bowl of chicken soup or homemade macaroni and cheese. In undergrad, my roommates and I would watch late night reruns on our scrambled TV, a much needed study break during exams. I knew the show was fictional; life in New York could not be that fabulous 24/7. But it captured the women’s intoxication with the city, an intoxication I have felt in New York before, and nowhere else. So it makes sense that so far from home, I would seek solace in Sex and the City, especially when I was feeling under the weather. And let me tell you, these past 48 hours have been rather unpleasant.
I know I should heed health warnings when I travel. After all, they are written by the experts and designed to keep you healthy. But after about three days of being wherever I am, I get tired of boiling the water for a full ten minutes, or only eating cooked vegetables from reputable restaurants; I want to eat the street food and live life on the edge. Plus, boiling water is a pain. Unfortunately, this cavalier and stubborn attitude doesn’t always end well.
Food poisoning. It can strike anywhere. Incidentally, it started after having dinner with friends at a fellow intern’s house, an Italian gent who cooked a delicious Italian meal. That night, racked with chills, a fever, and severe stomach cramps, I was sure I would never get better. I spent the entire next day horizontal, mostly sleeping; I got a head rush every time I tried to stand up. When I woke up the following day, it was clear I needed antibiotics.
Fact: health care in Tanzania is not exactly world class. (For minor problems, Tanzanian health services are adequate; for anything major, as long as you can pay, you go to Nairobi), But this time, the Tanzanian health system worked in my favor. Things here are done with less…formality than I’m accustomed to stateside. And seeing as I know three words in Swahili, none of which pertain to medical conditions, and I was not up for braving a local clinic to get a prescription, I was pleased to get the (normally prescription-only) medicine I wanted without seeing a doctor.
I called a reputable pharmacy, written up in a Lonely Planet travel guide, and spoke with a lovely man, Mr. Singh, who told me exactly what I needed. He even said I could send a taxi driver to pick up the medicine if I wasn’t up for the trip. But I was eager to get some fresh air, and so I slowly ventured out of my apartment, into a taxi, and to his pharmacy. Antibiotics and orange-flavored rehydration salts in hand, I returned home, happy to know that I’d start feeling better soon.
As I mixed the rehydration salts (not caring that they were orange-flavored, even though I hate oranges with all my heart and normally avoid them at all costs) with my boiled-for-ten-minutes water, I thought it was time to watch some Sex and the City. I needed some comfort food for the soul.
I slipped the DVD into my computer and prepared for a few hours of pure entertainment—this would definitely make me feel better. Three episodes later, the DVD started to skip and stall. No big deal, I thought, I’d just nudge my computer, clean the disk, and it would go back to normal. No dice. The DVD was damaged. Dismayed but not completely discouraged, I threw my other Sex and the City bootleg DVD into the computer (so glad I bought two seasons!). Same story. After a few episodes, the DVD stopped. That’s what I get for supporting bootleg movies.
Now I was stuck in my apartment with food poisoning when I should have been volunteering at an orphanage with the other interns, still with no internet, and my DVDs were broken?! I was feeling pole for myself.
To be fair, Arusha is not a hardship post. I live in a big apartment with hot water, electricity and the possibility of internet, with a huge roof overlooking mountains. Any western items I’m craving are readily available at most stores in town. Roughing it, I’m not.
But in my food poisoning and antibiotic haze, I really just wanted my four gals and their escapades in the big city. The technology gods, however, were having none of it.
And in the end, I’m glad. I remembered that I’m in Tanzania, and something I relish about living here is slowing down and getting away from my computer. So when my head stopped spinning, but before I was able to face the world, I did something I don’t get to do much in New York.
I read a book.
And it wasn’t even a bootleg book; I borrowed it from my friend Bess before I left, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Now, I can’t promise that I won’t be buying more DVDs while I’m here, but maybe I can explain to the Character and Fitness board of the New York Bar that I was in dire straits, and that buying one or two bootleg movies shouldn’t preclude me from admittance.
But I will also use this my time here to do things I don’t always have time to do at home, like slow down, and enjoy nature, and read. And though I won’t join their ranks, I thank the copyright and patent lawyers, whose protections may well enable artists and inventors to keep creating.