May 18, 2012

MAMBO! “Poha” I should reply. Which I haven’t understood what it means exactly.

Here I am, Dar es Salaam, the most important city. Most people that visit Tanzani avoid it. They fly directly to Kilimanjaro or Zanzibar airports. I arrived at 6 in the morning, after a sleepless night. Passport and visa formalities were easier than I thought. The visa cost me 50 USD, instead of the 100 euro the Consulate in Milan asked (65 for the visa, 30 for the train).

At the airport exit a taxi driver told me it was impossible for me to get on a bus to the town centre. It was the busiest time of the day (6.45am), when most people go to town to work, dalla-dalla (local buses) are super full and my bags and I will never be able to jump on one of them. He offered to take me to town for “only” 20 dollars. Of course I didn’t believe him and gently refused.

I walk to the bus stop. Other 50 people are waiting for the bus. No problem, I have the whole day. The mini-buses are actually very full and I don’t know how they manage to let 2 or 3 more people in. But for me and my bags it looks really difficult. Ok, never mind. I can wait a bit longer. Maybe in half an hour there will be less people, I tell myself.

In the meantime I look around and I fall in love. Boys that carry dozens of eggs packagings on a dangerous balance in the back of their bikes. Curious looks at me and shy smiles. Some dalla-dalla drivers look at me and shake their head in despair, as to say “Where does she think she is going? Why is she being so stingy in a poor country?”. A girl with weird eyes shouts to me “Welcome to Tanzania!” and I feel like the luckiest person in the world.

One hour later I was still there when I saw some people 10 meters from the bus stop jumping in a white car. Is it a shared taxi? I ask myself. And yes. 5 minutes later I am also on a taxi that for 2000 Tsh tips included (about 1 euro) takes me to the town centre. At 9 am I am at my hotel. I rest for one hour. Shower. I go out.

The first person I meet is a guy who offers to help me organize a safari. I didn’t think I was doing one, but it must be like the trekking in Nepal, you can’t come to Tanzania and not go to see crocodiles. But I’m not going to organize safaris here. I might go to Arusha and I will see if I can find something for my budget. I have nothing planned, I don’t know what I am doing tomorrow, but I am too tired to think about it right now.

Along the roads in Dar es Salaam it almost feels like India, but without horns. It’s a jungle of cars, that drive with no rules, and the poor pedestrian has to try its fortune every time he has to cross a road. Sidewalks are occupied by sellers of any type, shoe-shine boys and people enjoying the shade. The sun is hot, but in the shade it’s very pleasant because there’s a nice fresh breeze. Probably it comes from the ocean.

First things first: find a decent coffee. The place recommended by Lonely Planet is closed, so I’m just going around. I can’t find anything. I’m also getting hungry but the only restaurant I see is one that serves all-you-can-eat barbeque for Tsh 18.000, about 9 euro. Too much for me. Maybe I’ll come back for a drink, because it seems nice, refreshing and relaxing, in this town where it seems so difficult to find a cafĂ©. I keep on searching. I walk by an hindu temple and various Indian restaurants. I think I can see many Indians among the people walking in the street. But I refuse to eat Indian in Tanzania! After a while, to avoid to starve to death, I take a cheese pastry in a bakery. Ok, maybe it’s not african, but I needed something.

I go back to the hotel to rest a little bit. One hour is not enough this time. At 4.20pm I force myself up. I go out and I enter a restaurant just around the corner. And a little further there’s a kiosk selling kebabs. Where were they earlier? Anyway, while I drink my coffee (I must remember not to ask for a “macchiato” because they put the powder coffee directly into the hot milk, not water) I read the guidebook and try to sort out what I want to do. I am surrounded by middle-class Tanzanians eating grilled chicken with rice and vegetables. Looks yummy. 8,500 Tsh, about 4 euro.

My coffee break lasts about one hour. In the meantime I got a headache due to exhaustion. I go to a mobile shop and buy a modem to connect to internet. In a drugstore I buy a mosquito spray, to reduce the malaria risk. And I walk a bit more around town. I finally take out my camera and start taking pictuers. Men playing checkers (draughts) on the sidewalk on a chessboard drawn on cardboard, using bottle tops of two different colors as pawns. A guy carrying plastic bottles on a bike. Shoes of different sizes and types on display on the sidewalk. And it’s a continuous “mambo-jambo” and my “poha” and they smile and talk to me in Swahili but I can’t say anything else.

Some guys walk in the street offering stuff on display on a large rattan dish: cigarettes, gums, sweets, eggs covered in salt (are they the same eggs I saw in the morning near the airport?). To inform you that they are nearby they play with some coins they are holding. People do various noises to get your attention, like birds or others. At first vainly I thought they were for me, but they actually just alert you they are coming on a bike if you are walking on the street, or because they have something to sell.

6.50 pm. The town changes completely when it gets dark. Fires are lit and tables and chairs appear on the sidewalks and here we go with chicken and skewers bbqs. I take the kebab I saw a few hours back, at the price of about 2 euro. It must be the tourist price, because I don’t think the Tanzanian living in the street can pay 2 euro. And to digest it I have a coke at an open-air restaurant (Indian). There are 8 waiters for three tables (including mine, that I am only having a coke). The hotel where I am staying seems to have a lot of help too, even though it’s not busy. I guess this type of labor is not expensive here.

So I’ve decided to go to Arusha. Hopefully I’ll find some other people wanting to do a safari that I can join. I’m going to the most touristy part of the country, but the other option is to go South and in low season I might not find a person in the parks there, and I can’t afford to rent a 4×4 all for myself.

Once at school they taught me that you need a good ending to your essay. Is this true for blog posts too? Because I am actually finished for today. Good night.