Thursday, August 23, 2007

Back in Dar

I landed in Tanzania yesterday at about 2.30pm. The flight was, as flights go, not too bad. We had a bit off unpleasant turbulence on the second leg from Dubai to Dar Es Salaam, and I wandered like the undead around Dubai International Airport for ages in the early hours of the morning, but apart from that there's very little to say about it. So I won't. Apart from recommending "The Year of the Dog" as a film worth watching, and not recommending "Spider-Man 3".

My bag must have been one of the first to be put on the plane in Dubai because it took over half an hour to come out in Dar. The fact that I could see several other people from my flight still waiting for their bags only went a very small way to calming my nerves while I looked over my shoulder to see if Vende (my placement partner when I was an SPW volunteer) was waiting for me in the crowd outside. I didn't want to spend the next two days trying to negotiate the return of my clothes and sleeping bag.

When I came outside I quickly scanned the meeters and greeters to see if I could spot my old companion, before I heard a voice from somewhere in the middle shout, "Hey, Mister Philip! Bwana bomba! Vipi mambo!" and I spotted his head stretching over the shoulders of the people stood in front of him. I made an equally enthusiastic albeit stumbling and inaccurate greeting and dashed round the barrier to meet him.

We took a taxi to the Stanbic Bank on the outskirts of the city where he works as an IT technician, and the familiar smells and erratic driving of the city brought with it a wave of nostalgia before I was hit by the wave of exhaustion from the 20ish hours of purgatory known as air travel.

I sat on the comfy chairs in the bank intermittently dosing off and watching the soundless Marseille vs Nancy French football match whilst waiting for Vende to finish up his tasks of the day. I then tried to cash a traveler's cheque and signed it infront of the cashier before she told me that I could only cash it if I had an account with them.

Before leaving Vende made me say hello to his boss, the first of several slightly awkward introductions where I wasn't really in the mood to chatter and it took a lot of effort to remember any Swahili. I realised immediately upon arriving that while I still know quite a lot of the language, I'm not tuning into it easily and I don't feel as confident speaking when it takes a while to access the knowledge which is now stowed away in the deepest parts of my brain.

We then got on the bus across the road to get the ferry across the harbour (, trying to kill as few people as possible with my big rucksack as we did so. We met another of Vende's friends on the bus (we'd happened to sit infront of him), and he asked me all the usual questions about where I was from, what the weather is like in the UK, and what I was going to do in the country. I couldn't understand half of what he said though. He was speaking very quietly in English below the engine noise.

When we got to the ferry Vende and I squeezed our way off with my luggage, while twenty-odd people outside waited patiently, before scrapping furiously to get on once we were out of the way. The large mini-bus with dolphins painted on the window was already mostly full, but I wouldn't be surprised if most of them still got on. When I glanced back I couldn't help noticing that on the back it had been decorated with two Swastikas either end of the number plate. I can only imagine that someone once saw one and thought it was a nice pattern.

We paid for the ferry and waited under a large enclosed shelter, while a boy with a basket tried to sell us nuts and a group of South Africans on a safari vehicle nearby gazed into the enclosure as if it was part of their holiday. Vende introduced me to another friend, a girl whose computer he'd fixed and who still hasn't come to pick it up from his home. Partly because she doesn't know exactly where he lives.

He told me that there are two ferries, and for quite a while not long ago, one of them was out of action, and the other wasn't working properly and kept on breaking down in the middle of the harbour. Both are, he assured me, now working fine. We boarded and perched ourselves between two pick-up trucks while one of the ferry workers desperately tried to wash away the thick yellow greasy lubricant that had pooled near the engine a couple of yards away, using a small bucket of soapy water.

On the other side of the water, apart from the best beaches, is the Tanzania that seems a little more familiar to me. There is no tarmac and many people are trading from stalls by the side of the dirt road near the ferry port. A little further along the road, and it becomes largely residential, and homes are rather more basic. Vende lives in a relatively nice house with concrete even in the courtyard.

He's in just one room around the courtyard, but hopes to save a bit and rent somewhere nicer once he gets offered a permanent position at the bank in a couple of weeks time. When we walked in I recognised immediately his mark on the place, before he even pointed it out. He's not the tidiest of fellows, and his room is in a bit of a mess and he could probably do with washing his dirty dishes.

He does have electricity, which makes it so different from having previously lived in a house in a village in the middle of nowhere. He has an electric hob, kettle for boiling water (very handy), a TV, a fridge-freezer he doesn't turn on because he doesn't really ever get anything to put in it, a computer that works but isn't his, and a computer that's his but doesn't work. And a deep fat fryer, which no self-respecting Tanzanian should be without.

The people who live around Vende all either came in to meet me (the boys, mostly) or hung around just outside repeatedly walking past and giggling before eventually being enticed in by Vende (the girls, mostly). We chatted and flicked through the papers and magazines I'd brought out to him, before going round to see his brother just around the corner.

His brother wasn't in, but his sister-in-law and her friend or sister, both of whose names I now forget, were. We watched some trashy TV, including a Congolese programme about Tanzanian music which featured a bizarre music video which Vende thinks he can acquire for me. I felt much more comfortable about being in someone's home with a friend than I think I would if I were a tourist here, and staying in a nice hotel and not having any idea at all how the people from Dar really live.

I have been getting odd and sometimes slightly suspicious looks from some locals, particularly across where Vende lives, because they're wondering what an mzungu (white man) is doing there. And then on this side of the city, particularly near the hostels where I am now, I get loads of hassle from people who want to sell me something. This is the reason I was never particularly fond of Dar - you're never quite allowed to feel comfortable. And where you are supposed to feel comfortable, in the really (relatively posh) touristy places, it all feels a bit fake.

Vende ordered in chipsi mayai (chip omelette) from the food place round the corner and somehow he persuaded them to bring it to the house. Chipsi mayai was always a bit of a treat in the village, so it was nice to have some for dinner. We then went back to Vende's, watched the England-Germany friendly, drank some Kilimanjaro beer (It's Kili time, time to kick back and relax with your friends), and berated Steve McLaren's misuse of players' talents until about midnight and then went to bed.

I eventually got up at about 10 o'clock this morning, made a vague attempt at washing and left for the ferry. I just missed a ferry and so had to wait for the next one. It was odd to see the city and the large buildings of concrete, steel and glass (mostly Government buildings infront of the water) on the other side, in complete contrast to what stood behind me.

I boarded the next ferry when it came, and when we got to the other side, the other ferry was sat in the water near the ramp, empty of passengers, with a rescue boat milling around and four men trying to fix the engine. I walked along Kivukoni Front which follows the estuary, and noted how as long as the government buildings lasted, there was not only tarmac on the roads, but pavements with proper paving stones laid on them. Even the Kilimanjaro Hotel has crazy paving on its driveway. I find it a little ironic that in a city where paving is relatively rare, that someone would choose to pave a surface badly, on purpose.

I spent most of my time here today traipsing round looking for a bank that would change my travelers' cheques. And I couldn't find anywhere. I eventually took some money out at the Barclays ATM, which as the only ATM in the city when I was last here. Now they're all over the place. Sometimes you even get two next to each other. I'll save my travelers' cheques for a town without ATMs. Then a bank might accept them.

Decidedly hungry, thirsty and exhausted by this point, I decided to wander over to the part of town I remember reasonably well, near the Holiday Hotel and Jambo Inn. There I knew I'd find some food and an Internet cafe. I knew there was a place that was nice and simple for ordering food, with a proper menu (even with pictures, if I remember rightly), and it didn't seem at all dodgy. Unfortunately when I got there I found it half demolished. Now it is merely a concrete shell with wooden scaffolding all around it.

I decided to see what there was round the corner, and was immediately joined by a chap called David who wanted to befriend me, show me around and presumably get a tip into the bargain. I mentioned the restaurant, and he told me I wanted to go to the Chef's Pride round the corner, and took it upon himself to lead me there.

Which amused me, because I was just about to see if I could find it. The first time I went to Dar, I was with Adam, Stuart, Jenny and Sandy and we went to Chef's Pride because it was recommended in the Rough Guide, only to find it was being renovated. At which point some chap appeared out of nowhere and led us to the restaurant that has now been demolished. I'm tempted to presume that it's the same chap.

The food was okay and nothing special. But I've been here for two hours now and I'm going to go. Because you're pretty much up-to-date. I have to go and find out about a bus ticket to Moshi.

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