It was a long way down, but now I’m here!
London was cosy as always, still feels like I’m coming home anytime the plane approaches Heathrow and when I sit down among my fellow Londoners on the tube. Met up with some friends and emptied half of Boots during my 24h long transit through London-town. From there I took Emirates (whose service was as great as it’s claimed to be) past the nightlights of Baghdad to Dubai, where I waited a few more hours before passing the Horn of Africa and the shores of Mogadishu. The white sands and turquoise waters on the Tanzanian coast turned into an urban dust landscape in Dar es Salaam as we touched down on Julius Nyerere International Airport. While the houses around were not of the luxurious type, the sun was shining, the palm trees were swaying and the hot African air greeted me upon arrival, everything looked incredibly pretty and I was happy to finally be on African soil.
Wow, is what first comes to mind. Tanzania is at the same time everything and nothing like I imagined Africa to be like. Though words won’t do justice to how amazing my first day in Dar es Salaam was, below might give you some kind of idea.
The visa process was quite simple but took a long time as the c. 10 people working at the immigration desks seemed to operate under organised confusion. Got my temporary visa after a long wait, picked up my luggage, got out of the airport and saw a man waiting for me with my name written on a sign. My new flatmates sent Mirage over to pick me up and drive to the house as he had helped them move there the day before and knew the way. I’ve heard that in Dar es Salaam, if you find a good taxi driver, you cherish his mobile phone number for life. Mirage was indeed a great guy, happy and very welcoming even though due to the visa procedures I was over 1½ hours late out of the airport. I had landed during the worst rush hour, so a 15-20km ride from the airport home also turned into a 2 hour long drive, which went by effortlessly however as me and the 31-year old taxi driver discussed everything from the upcoming presidential elections, my Swahili knowledge, his big family and our common interest: music. To the sound of dancehall, reggae and bongo flava (Tanzania’s own music which I’ll tell more about later) the scenery changed from open highway to central Dar houses to seaside villas while the asphalt changed every now and then to bumpy sand roads. Truckloads filled with people, cars, taxis, buses, dala-dalas, bajajis (a bit like tuk-tuks, small cars that are open on the sides and only have three wheels), bicycles, men running with large carriages, maasais guarding the surroundings, people criss-crossing their way around and others selling everything from inflatable ducks to mobile phone top-ups crowded the streets. Everything was so full of life, lively, and with the risk of sounding too cheesy and ignorant, driving through the streets of Dar in the setting sun was lovely.
My new home is set in a nice area called Mikocheni, a bit away from the centre but still bustling and is mainly inhabited by local, albeit somewhat richer than average, Tanzanians. I entered our house to the sound of songs of prayer from the nearby mosque and realised quite quickly I’m not in Finland anymore, not the least because of a missing stove and fridge in the kitchen, the currently non-flushing toilet and the banana tree backyard. The Tanzanian landlady, known as ‘Mama’ (as is common among older Tanzanian women), lives above us and has been extremely helpful with everything. We also met some of our other (really friendly) neighbours in the same courtyard, including four cute young kids, another Tanzanian woman and a Zimbabwean man.
Our landlady’s daughter Kemy has also been incredibly friendly showing us around. One of my flatmates, Tanny, had her birthday on Monday, so with no time to unpack we immediately set to the streets of our neighbourhood. I don’t know if it was the fact that we were walking with a Tanzanian or simply were so many, but at no point did it feel unsafe to walk in the lightless and nameless streets of Mikocheni. The only light coming to the streets were from the big houses and small stalls made of wood or set up on bikes, selling vegetables, water and all kinds of curiosa, sidelining the streets.
We went to a local restaurant called Rose Garden and sat down in the lightly lit and pretty garden on plastic chairs by a plastic table. We ordered nyama mbuzi (goat meat) and kuku (chicken) with potatoes, plantain and chips mayai (Tanzanian speciality of french fries mixed with grilled vegetables and a fried egg on top, sounds strange but it was very tasty). While we waited for the food a man walked past and dropped a pile of DVDs on the table, so we were entertained by browsing through some of the newest and randomest films available. After dinner we started bargaining for the DVDs and since it took longer than expected, we invited the sales guy Adam to sit down at our table for the hour with the end result of laughs and a pretty good deal of 10 DVDs for about 12 euros!
Being the last customers to leave the restaurant, all four of us jumped and squeezed into a small bajaj that took us home in a few minutes for 50 cents. Once home I hung up the mosquito net I got as a going away gift from work (tack!) and crawled into bed, falling asleep to the chirping sound of grasshoppers. Sounds too poetic? Well it was.