On the 14th through the 16th we were in Dar es Salaam. Flying in from Julius Nyeere airport. Dar es Salaam – like many African cities bursting with overpopulation, lack of opportunity, intense poverty, lack of electricity and clean drinking water for the majority of the people.
One of the things that struck me however was how civilized driving was. After spending time in Algeria earlier this year, there wasn’t much horn beeping were aggressive driving. The other problem we saw in Arusha was the cops constantly engaged in shaking drivers down. It was kind of funny in a weird way. There was no radar or speed gun, the cop would say you were going to miles above the speed limit give me $12. Then they would give a printed receipt from a machine that look like a credit card reader. A very legitimate appearing receipt. But, the police are paid a pittance, and this low-level racketeering is endorsed.
We could’ve stayed at the higher end part of town by the beach, but we thought we could take in the older museums and the monuments. However, the downtown is broken sidewalks, buildings that look worn and shabby, and the waterfront was strewn with trash.
On this Sunday morning of the 16th we walked around the older part of Dar es Salaam. The previous night we had been at a vegetarian restaurant called Swastik. Though the swastika is an ancient Indian symbol it had been sadly hijacked by the Nazis. We met our dear friend Sarah who has worked with us for the past several years. She is on a fellowship here in Dar es Salaam. It was wonderful to get her local knowledge on this. It is exciting to seeing a young friend approaching life and her adventures internationally in the way we did some 40 years ago. During the daytime the city seems relatively safe, but it is dodgy at night. It is a simple equation. It’s just that there is so much poverty that even purse snatching or worse, is the alternative. Generally, we say hello and greet people in Swahili. It is part of our campaign always the matter where we are to master at least the basic 50 words. In some countries it is less and another countries a bit more.
On a Sunday it was very peaceful. Very calm. Tanzania is divided roughly half-and-half between Muslims and Christians. So on this Sunday it was very pleasant to walk around the old part of the city. No charm nor anything truly memorable. We did walk by one Lutheran Church close to the waterfront. Oddly they had a German Lutheran mass. There is also a Catholic Cathedral St. Joseph’s. We did not go in since both were full. There is also a mosque a few blocks away that was closed. I am sure like all mosque it would be open to us if we wanted to pray.In the morning at about 430 I enjoyed the sound of the first prayer call.
Dar Es Salaam much like most other third world cities is deeply divided. Though we are only here too brief over time, it is a familiar tale. This downtown area that has grown so shabby and worn, and then a few kilometers uptown is the beach area where the international community and the embassies are. It was like taking a rocket-ship to a different planet. We ate at Salt for an Sunday afternoon brunch. All the things that I can’t eat, pancakes and waffles, and it is like being at Bella’s dinner in New York. The only thing missing was the maple syrup. As a Vermonter, it is sacrilege to eat a pancake or waffle without maple syrup. Not just your ordinary maple syrup, but grade B syrup is best with that slightly smoky flavor. Though we are fairly lightweight travelers, generally we travel with some maple syrup and coffee. Delicious first world breakfast! We so enjoyed the time with Sarah and hearing of her adventures in Tanzania. Her story of staying overnight in a Masai Mara home, while welcoming, made my delicate stomach cringe. It is not just the idea of drinking blood and cow’s milk together, but according to her story you pee wherever you want, and you defecate outside the gate. No one washes with soap. There is none. There is no such thing as filtered water. I am sure their got ecology is robust and bullets would bounce off of it. I bet you none of them suffer Crohn’s disease. It is all those invincible parasites. However, I will take a cup of yogurt to assuage my delicate digestion.
I know there are travelers, who eats street food in Calcutta to Shanghai, and I am jealous of their intrepidness; however, my gut is made for slightly more refined fare. Sorry to be a woos!
Sarah’s story of after the dinner, they would store it underneath the floor and the mice would come out and eat all the leftovers from the pots and pans. She was trying to sleep and kept hearing the sound of mice crawling across the pots. I am waiting for her to write down the story.
That evening after we said goodbye to Sarah we went to this incredible first world shopping plaza on the waterfront, the Slipway. It was as if we had landed in Miami Beach or some first world waterfront Esplanade, but this Esplanade was filled with Tanzanians, Africans of all color, lots of East Asians, and a diversity of Mazungos (white people/ foreigners)
We had dinner at a Thai restaurant on the waterfront and watching the sun going down across the harbor in Dar es Salaam. The sound of a disco in the background, children wheeling around on little bicycles, families strolling along the Promenade, and occasional women in a burqa, a few women in the multicolored scarves for a hijab. The conversations in the wind were of Swahili, English with accents of all kinds, a bit of Lebanese Arabic from the table next to us, and it was a wee bit surreal. Coming from the other sides the track where the shabbiness and poverty were predominant, to this rarefied sanctuary on the waterfront.
This is the enormous chasm that so many countries face. Even in the USA as we travel through the rural south of the Carolinas’, Alabama, and Mississippi we see this deep ingrained poverty. In Tanzania, the new president is opposed to family-planning. He also has some other devastating policies. One of them is if a girl gets pregnant she cannot go back to school. Does this apply to the boy who got her pregnant? Or does he have to drop out of school to support her? Also the most horrific is that gays face a 30 year prison sentence for being gay. Oral sex will get you 30 years! This is a huge backward step for gay rights. This is also in Uganda now were similar right wing conservative recidivism is taking place. All throughout the globe now, there is this fascism that is blossoming around the world. I was hoping to meet with some of the artist and human rights centers in Dar es Salaam. We were there on a Sunday and it was impossible. I want to make a donation to their center. I also want to encourage LGB GQ protest against the harassment in Tanzania. Ironically, I found all people that we met to be extremely pleasant, courteous, and kind. Even in the streets when people are engaged with one another there was a sense of Kuna Matta– everything is cool. Some cities or places, like the fish markets in Naples, everyone seems like their arguing, and in fact they are probably just having healthy conversations. Even in the language of Swahili and the kdogo we are learning, it is a very easy-going language. It is very rhythmic and poetic. This does not belie the nature and the reality of poverty in Tanzania. As international Travelers and people who have worked in international development, our radars are keenly attuned to much of the social disparity and the tremendous poverty that surrounds us. In whatever modest way that we can do help communities and people were trying to address their local issues of poverty. The change in poverty we believe happens with these local community leaders. The corruption and craziness at the top are malicious part of the equation, but the real power and strength still lies with local communities.
We left on Monday morning the 17th at 530. I took the steps from the fifth floor. The electricity keeps going on and off in the elevator. This is part of the life of Third World countries. Electricity and services are dodgy. Arriving at the wonderful chaos of Julius Nyerere Airport. What would he have thought of Tanzania now? Our plane flies to Zanzibar. I learned a new word from Sarah “Shagalabagala” it means everything is a mess. If there was ever a word that called out for being a song it certainly was this. I keep writing part of this in a song while we are making our way through transit..
Tanzania! Kwaheri! Welcome But as I am writing these observations I am keenly aware of the persecution of gay people (LGBTQ) in Tanzania. It is weird in that we have been traveling through the country for several weeks, and people have been incredibly courteous and friendly. But the government has now put a law in effect that would lock up LGBTQ for 30 years!