Today is my fifth day in Dar es Salaam. What very little Swahili I remember from my trip to Kenya has come back and I’m trying to learn a little more. I’ve found that no matter how much DEET I douse myself in that I’m still a favourite snack for biting insects, and I’ve rediscovered how nauseating the heat can be if poorly prepared. (In my defence, it is “winter” here, at a relatively bearable 25 degrees C most days, so yesterday’s spike to 32 degrees caught me a bit unawares).
So far, it’s been lovely to catch up with my friends Neil and Jean who moved here just over a year ago and who I’ve not seen for nearly eighteen months. We have done plenty of eating, both at the more upmarket peninsula end of town, and at the more Tanzanian Nyama Choma bars in the centre. Fortunately the Nyama Choma here includes fish & chicken, and I don’t have to find ways to avoid the frankly dodgy-looking and dodgy-tasting Maasai goat.
I’ve also had a good few wanders round, including to one of the tourist handicraft markets, full of lovely, if very similar-looking stuff that I’m sure in all honesty can’t be truly classified as hand made. The exception to this are the toy cars and vans made out of old oil cans, which are beautifully detailed both in their construction and their hand painted decoration.
We’ve also been to the bustling Kariakoo market which is full of brilliant, useful and ingenious stuff for everyday Tanzanian life and business. Amongst the sewing machine, laundry basket & farm implement stalls we stopped at a woodwork stall to buy some cooking spoons, and I found myself wishing I had need or use for a giant wooden stick with prongs on one end designed to be used as a food mixer. We’ve also had a wander round the compact botanical gardens here, and watched families of vervet monkeys chase after peacocks and each other, while the male monkeys strutted around showing off their very bright blue balls.
And yesterday we had a very lazy day, ending it at Coco Beach, refreshingly devoid of wazungu (apart from us). It was absolutely packed with people enjoying a beer, splashing in the waves, or offering cassava chips or cigarettes for sale – and that’s not counting the scores of kids swimming way out into the waves with their inflated tyre inners for support. The beach traders were joined by ingenious “photo-boys” who have somehow sourced portable photo-printers and digital cameras and who offer to capture and print (in 3 minutes) mementos of people’s beachside afternoon. Blackpool has nothing on Coco Beach!
I’m really liking how inclusive Dar feels. There are so many types of people dressed in different ways here: patterned dresses made at the tailors; bright kangas worn the African way or as hijab; the obligatory Arsenal and Man Utd shirts; an assortment of western trousers or skirts, T-shirts, tops or suits; and some Tanzanian mods in very shiny suits driving around on their pikipikis. There are Maasai in beads and shukas who will tell you where to park, one of whom has befriended Jean and is now determined to honour him with a gift of a goat to cement their friendship, and which he is eager to show Jean how to kill and eat it in the traditional Maasai way (Jean is not too convinced about this latter aspect…). There are friendly faces everywhere, the shopkeepers aren’t pushy and it’s been really easy to chat to them about what they are selling without feeling obliged to buy – most just seem genuinely happy to be meeting new people.
So what next for my stay? It looks like we will have to leave our planned Tazara train trip to Lake Malawi till my next visit as we are juggling with Neil’s work commitments (he works where it is notoriously hard to book leave so we just have to work round it). Tomorrow we are off to Zanzibar for a few days, and I hope to fit in a bird walk around Dar, a visit to the Tinga Tinga arts centre, a couple of potential live music venues, lots more food, a few more day trips further afield including to the old capital Bagamoyo, and a return visit to the Kariakoo market to pick up an African cooking stove which will make a perfect barbecue in my new garden at home – as long as I can work out how to fit it in my luggage!