June 10, 2012

My blog is getting a bit boring. Like this trip. I mean, in the last days I’ve just traveled from one town to the other, walking in the street, with few interesting things to tell, maybe because people in the South of Tanzania speak little English, and without real tourist attractions there’s not much I can do or write about.

Anyway even thought they don’t speak to me, people are very kind here. They are less used to foreigners (in Mtwara live about 800 Westerners, but they are all on oil platforms in the ocean, I’ve been told).

Mikindani is a Swahili town at only 10km from Mtwara. It used to be the most important harbour of the area. With the abolition of slavery, it lost importance and only at the end of the Eighteenth Century with German occupation it became an important commercial center. To testify this there’s the old slaves market, that now hosts a few shops, and the Old Boma, the headquarters of the German government at the time, that is now a beautiful hotel.

The place where I’m staying arranges dives in Mtwara, so this morning first thing I did was doing one. We went back to the fish market, I looked for my fisherman, but with the low tide he also rests. We were in the water for almost one hour. Visibility wasn’t the best, but I saw some nice fish and some scary ones; it was almost three years since the last time I dived, it was a quiet way to start again. It’s nice to go back with the fish from time to time.

Once we were back in Mikindani, just 100m from my hotel (very nice btw, and one of the most expensives I’ve been so far) I was caught by my friend-guide of the place. Ismu. He’s probably about 17, I didn’t ask. His English is not of the best, but he seems not to care and told me a lot of stories about the various buildings, of which I understood nothing. But it was nice of him. The good thing is that his friendship allowed me to get closer to local people. Here in Tanzania adults don’t like to be photographed, and if they don’t speak English they don’t even say hello, in particular women. At the market in Mikindani I bought some sweet fried bread and some nuts, that I was happy to share with some kids we met in the street (there are kids everywhere in Tanzania!); in exchange they allowed me to photograph them. They are so cute! A little further there were some ladies dancing while another one was giving the rythm beating on an upside-down bucket. They invited me to join. It was so much fun. They showed me how they move their butt and when I tried to mimic them, they laughed hardly. When I took the smallest of the kids as my dance partner, they laughed even more. I was then asked to do a small donation to a local charity, that I was happy to comply with.

After a couple of hours spent walking around the village, Ismu took me to drink a sprite at a place by the sea. There were three plastic sunbeds on a mezzanine above a beach full of plastic bags, with some cloths hanging to hide from the sun and curious eyes. Ismu wore my sandals and my sunglasses and asked me to take a picture of him. He was fun. I must print one and send it to him. Or better, to the hotel and they will give it to him. I noticed in Mtwara that at the post office there are some numbered boxes. I guess it’s there that families receive their mail. They should do something similar in Italy, considering how bad the mail delivery system is.

In Mikindani I found out that there are three levels of restaurants in Tanzania: those that don’t have a sign, they are basically the kitchen of a family, where you can have breakfast for 500 Tsh, about 25 cents, and 700 for the ugali with vegetables. Then there are the local restaurants, where breakfast is 50 cents and 2000 Tsh is dinner. And finally the western restaurants, usually managed by Westerners, that have prices similar to Europe, and of course I avoid these. I might visit them for a beer, if they have a nice garden or a special view. The hotel where I’m staying has a popular restaurant, well known in this part of Tanzania, and there are always customers coming from outside Mikindani, so they were surprised when I paid the room and had nothing to pay for the restaurant. Let’s say I’m not their best guest. Quite often foreigners living in Dar Es Salaam come here for the weekend. It is a nice place to relax indeed, you can dive or go snorkelling or rent a kayak and go around the bay. There’s even a “yacht club” (with no yachts) with a guard keeping away curious people if you want to bath (only with high tide though).

The night I was in Mikindani there was a group of people that caught my attention. I found out later that they were coming from different parts of Tanzania for a business meeting. The group was composed by an Austrian guy that has been living in Tanzania for 23 years and in Africa for almost 30, an Indian girl managing an agency in Arusha that organizes tours in any part of Tanzania, another guy of Indian origins too (or so seemed) that I don’t know what he was doing, and a Member of the Parliament of Tanzania. It was with this last one that I spoke. He came to talk to me and he proposed to ask the Austrian man to take me to Lindi. The MP would take a flight to Dodoma. He gave me his business card. I don’t know what I can do with the email address of a Tanzanian MP, but he was very kind and I think he can do some good for his country. I felt like I was speaking to Nelson Mandela. So with the Austrian we took the MP and the Indian-Tanzanians to the airport, and we drove to Lindi.

The drive was a nice change from the usual super busy buses. And I had the chance to talk to someone that knows the country quite well. He confirmed my feeling that people of the South are more welcoming than the rest of Tanzania. And despite what they say, it’s not true that they are lazy. He wouldn’t go back to Austria because here people can enjoy life better, not like in Europe where you only think of work. It might be because here if you have good ideas it’s not difficult to start a business, unlike Europe.

And people really laugh with joy. When was the last time I laughed whole-heartedly?