Monday, September 17, 2007

Arrival in Iringa

I arrived in Iringa just before 6pm on the Friday, ignored a couple of taxi drivers touting at the bus stand, and headed for the familiar budget hostels.

I planned to stay in the Lutheran Centre, it being the most comfortable and secure of the three I knew.

On my way I passed the SPW office, Top Internet Cafe (now closed, I found) and the cafe Hasty Tasty Too, the three venues about which we had all tended to gravitate when I was an SPW volunteer three years ago.

The timing of my visit was a little unfortunate as the working day was over and I would be leaving on Sunday, so the SPW office would be closed for the whole time and I would not be able to pop in and say hello.

Once I passed the dairy a short way further on, a young boy came up to ask me for money. I had forgotten, but it was a very common occurence on this short stretch, and I now became more aware of how few other people were around.

In Dar I had been okay. Vende had been more wound up about the robbery than me, and once we returned to his residential area I had felt much safer. It wasn't a place frequented by wazungu hence it wasn't a place frequented by so many thieves.

Iringa felt different though, especially as I was on my own just a day after having been robbed. On the road down to the Lutheran Centre there were just an odd few young people hanging about, and my paranoia imagined them to be waiting for someone to rob.

As I reached the guest house I relaxed a little, although I noticed the pile of rubble on the way in was a little larger than it had been three years ago, and a young lad was adding yet more to it from a wheelbarrow.

He looked slightly confused as I walked past, and replied a little absently when I greeted him. He stood and watched me until I reached the door and noticed that it wasn't as white inside as it used to be.

I asked if it had closed down (or at least something that approximated to it in my limited Swahili) and he told me they were being refurbished. I think.

I quickly scanned the windows to see if there was any sign that some rooms were still available but the whole place had been gutted.

I thanked him and braved the paranoia once more, heading back up the hill to Ambassador's. Not a guest house of which I was particularly fond, but it had eventually won favour over the Kilimanjaro across the road after belongings had been stolen from people's rooms there, and we had suspected an inside job.

I was pointed upstairs by two men drinking beer as I went in, noticing they had a rearranged the bar a little. There seemed to be more room than there used to be.

I asked the woman upstairs for a single, and she showed me to room number 5. As it was starting to get dark, I had already resolved to take what I'd got, and only remembered as an afterthought to check the price.

"6000 shillings," I was told.

"6000?" I repeated.

"What price did you think it would be?"

"Three years ago it was 2500 shillings," I told her.

"Ah," she said. "But now it looks so much nicer."

I glanced about the cold-looking cell and noted they had repainted fairly recently. And fairly badly.

"... and there's a TV now," she added.

I looked over my shoulder at the empty corner of the room, where I imagined her to be looking, wondering how I could have missed such a detail.

I hadn't. She must have meant the TV downstairs in the bar. On which I remember watching a Switzerland match during Euro 2004.

I grumbled a little to illustrate my reluctance but paid the 6000/-, signed the guest book, and pulled out my soap and towel for a shower after the long bus journey.

As usual, I found there was some building work going on in the showers. In all of the showers.

One night. Tomorrow I would find a new hotel.

I had decided to eat dinner at Lulu's Cafe. It was only around the corner but it was going dark and one or two people were hanging around, making me feel a bit nervous. At least they all looked like they had something to do and were there for a (good) reason.

Lulu's had just opened when I arrived, and when I entered I saw a large American family were already settling down in their seats.

They were a very cheerful looking bunk and for a short time I imagined they would see me alone and invite me to join them. They didn't, and they were also using all of the menus, leaving me alone with my thoughts.

Another happy group of Tanzanians and wazungu arrived and sat themselves down on the next table, and before long I felt compelled to move to the cafe tables and benches at the front of the shop, for at least some semblence of solitude.

I felt utterly miserable, and cursed Oswin for making Getruda wait for him in Songea, leaving me along in Iringa.

It did not help that the Greek owner of the cafe was absent. I had always found him to be very friendly and I'd been hoping to greet him. The waiting staff I was left with were in contrast inattentive and painfully slow and bringing even a simple drink.

I went to bed a bit miserable, hoping I'd feel more cheerful by the light of day.

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