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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Sunday 8 June 2008

In Tanzania

I'm so sorry that I've had to close the comments box as I'm not sure that I can return visits and don't wish to disappoint anyone. At the moment, I just don't have the time but will read my few favourite blogs when I do get the chance.
The thing is that I would have reached Tanzania a lot earlier except that I was linked to different locations from a short list of Emirates flights.
Emirates happens to be one of my favourites airlines. It serves up such a good menu and often seems to be ahead of the game with an array of sophisticated facilities that include the reading literature and communication channels.
So anyway, this time round the plane spotted a technical fault and the engineers didn't want to take a risk on it. So it really was quite an adventure at the airport although I'll spare the details for later. The bottom line is that we were driven to hotels, given refreshments and full luxury breakfasts. By this time, most of us had become pretty much acquainted with one another.
The next day, we were taken by coach from Birmingham to Manchester airport and had to board our flight to Dubai later in the afternoon. It was pretty exhausting. As a result, my connecting flight to Dar-es-Salaam stretched on to several hours. When we reached Dubai, some of us with long overhaul flights to Sydney, Singapore etc were already on the list for hotel accomodation. That was indeed a pleasant surprise.
The Arab immigration officer was curious I must say in a very pleasant way. He smiled a lot. He asked me questions about my race and which parts of India my parents were from. He asked me if there were nice beaches in Malaysia. He asked me how the shopping was like as that's where all his friends were going during the summer months.
He asked me if I enjoyed being a writer and with just a transit visa, gave me permission to stay for another 2 months if I wished. The Dubai hotel was truly luxurious. More vouchers. More English breakfasts. I'll say that Emirates looked after us excellently.
Well, when I finally got to Tanzania, I was completely knocked out. The immigration officer in Tanzania appeared maternal and beautiful. For the first time ever, I received a 3-month stay in just 2 minutes with not one question asked, unlike the others. My luggage was not lost. What the heart wants the heart gets. :-)
Today, was the day when it all started to take off. Lemington, my personal guide took me to see the real Africa which I longed for. In the end, I was completely besotted. You see, for the last 6 times or so that I was in Tanzania, I lived as an expatriate does and was always chauffered about. This time, I really desired to get to the heart of the Tanzanian people that I so adored.
Here are just some notes in pointer forms as I'd pin down the real detailing later when I get back to Ireland. I'm not jotting down anything to convey an atmosphere or mood at this point. These routes are were no tourists go with the exception of one whom I saw, a British youth tanned like anything and speaking perfect Swahili. Lemington told me that the youth had himself desired to know the real Dar-es-Salam and chosen to live with the locals.
We went on some truly shaky bus rides - I mean we're talking broken windscreen mirrors, breathtaking corner swerves and where if I had slipped from my seat, would have fallen straight onto the road. Still, I managed magically without having to grab the railings. The locals made way for me. Children gathered around me everywhere. They followed me as we walked. They smiled. Sometimes, they wanted to touch me and I let them; my skin, my hair, my pants. They had such soft and beautiful eyes and they stared as if they were reading me inside out. I wanted to gather all the babies into my arms. to the Kariyo market place, the fishing harbour and the waterfront where fisher-folk were off-loading, auctioning and selling their catch and where scores of women in colourful costumes sat waiting for the boats with their baskets, ready to grab the fishes a-plentiful for sale to the suburbs. We strolled over to the Kigamboni restaurant arcade and had ourselves a typical Swahili meal comprising different fish recipes and tasty sauces. Coke is one of the most popular fizzy drinks here. There are also luscious fruit juices that don't taste the same way anywhere else. We watched several of the dhow (small wooden boats made from tree bark with white flags, similar to the shape of a yacht on their way from the old slave town of Bagamayo gliding slowly on to the Zanzibar or Mozambique. We also watched the other patrons with interest even as others watched me. Lemington pointed out the drug addicts, the drug dealers and the prostitutes. In the middle of all these, were perfectly respectable Tanzanian families having Sunday lunch after church. There were also groups of Indian businessmen, high on beer. Lemington told me that they come here amongst the Swahilis to hide from their nagging wives who haven't a clue where they are and would be intent on divorce if they knew that their husbands consumed alcohol on a regular basis and spent the wages without thought.
Lemington also turned raconteur, narrating ancient proverbs and a couple of folktales, the kind you'd never find in books he insisted and which his grandfather had told him as a little boy.
We took a ramshackle but hardy ferry from Mujini (the city centre where we were) to Kusini (the south side of Dar-es-Salam comprising villages and beaches.) The ferry blared loud African reggae music, the breeze was soft and gentle and the lighter trees swung on their sides. Women selling fruit and fish were returning home. Mothers and fathers were taking children out for the day and young couples were courting in their Sunday best. The sea sparkled and with a ferryload of Tanzanians (I was the only foreigner, whom they were all discreetly eyeing up), I experienced a real sense of exhilaration. I just wanted to shout to the whole world, I AM IN AFRICA!
Later, on the south side we sat at the Sandahari Sea-Breeze bar and I had myself a South African Castle lager. Lemington doesn't drink. We watched skinny little African boys as happy as anything splash about in the water. They also took secret dives (unknown to the drivers) after having sneaked on top of each passing ferry. Lively African music filled the air.
I wouldn't call Tanzania an exotic place at all as I would say that it was probably dreamy and surreal. Later, we returned to town but I had a little jet-lag and so we made our way by foot to an Indian restaurant in the Indian shopping quarter and secluded in a narrow cobbled alley. A funeral went past, bearing with it a protocol of subdued respect that I had never seen before. Anyway, I had a meal with Lemington while every North Indian (because that is what I look like) stared at me with hopeful and what I supposed to be fascinating interest. But then in Dubai, many thought I was Arab too. It's simply the mix of my mother and father's unlikely heritage. From longtime experience I now ignored the stares. We then strode off to an internet cafe where the computers are dipped into shiny glass cases so it feels that you're typing into a mirror or acquarium as you have to keep glancing down instead of up. I've not seen this in any of the other countries I've been to, before.
Later, we took another comical bus ride back to my hotel. Because mine faces the Indian ocean and is a little out of the way, we had to change buses twice. There was a fierce quarrel between the conductor and an irate passenger and Lemington translated everything for me. Of course, I was eagle-eyed. Once more, I felt as if I was right in the middle of a film clip as you never get this kind of thing in Europe or Australia and even South-East Asia is completely different to this ancient African culture.
(I'm sorry I couldn't convey a proper mood or atmosphere for you. This is simply a skeletal composition of all I experienced today.) More later.