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On red soil

Bagamoyo

This Saturday me and a few friends decided to take a day trip one hour from Dar es Salaam up north to the coastal town of Bagamoyo. It’s Tanzania’s oldest city, founded in the 18th century and functioned as the capital of German East Africa during the colonial days. Now it’s listed as Tanzania’s seventh World Heritage Site and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism (MNRT) is working hard to restore the old buildings and facades to their former glory.

MNRT was caught a year ago for embezzling development funds provided by Norway worth more than 2 billion Tsh (over 1 million euros). And Bagamoyo just so happens to be President Kikwete’s home town (yes, he got re-elected and you’ll get the full scoop of the elections soon). Not that either of these are necessarily related to current efforts to restore the town, but just thought of them as interesting sidenotes.

What follows is a short photographic journey to the town of Bagamoyo.


Bagamoyo is known as a city of artists, and you didn’t have to walk far from the daladala station to find some world leaders (made of clay, stone, something else hard) plotted on the ground.


Of course with my luck, one of the most important sights, the Old German Boma where the colonial heads lived, was wrapped up in scaffolding (see this is not a new experience for me, same excellent timing showed me the Duomo in Milan covered in sheets).


What was most striking about Bagamoyo was the silence. I hadn’t even realised actually how loud and hectic Dar is until I came here where streets were basically empty, give or take a few bicycles and people slumbering under the shade of a house on plastic mats.


The streets were lined with shops like these selling paintings, clothing, carvings and jewelery, ranging from huge art halls to smaller wooden huts outside which artists sat painting and carving. Apart from the shops selling clothing, what I noticed was the few/none female artists around.





One thing I especially liked about this daytrip (and this is gonna sound stupid) was that I got to be a tourist. In Dar I didn’t dare to carry around my camera much in the beginning as I was unfamiliar with the environments. Now even if I had a camera when passing some sights in Dar, I can’t bring myself to take it out from the bag as everyone on the street of course remembers the mzungu girl who’s been around for three months already. In Bagamoyo I got to take as many pictures as I wanted and focus on the little details, like the colourful facades, pretty hand-carved wooden doors and the little quirks like the small blue door behind which ‘Bagamoyo Cinema’ lay, not showing movies but Premier League, of course.


We were very curious to know what non-bacterial ice and hand made bananas looked like, but contrary to this signpost saying ‘Smoke House Store’ is open 24 hours, it wasn’t this time.


There was also a big fish market in Bagamoyo, and by midday most boats were back ashore and the fishermen playing pool nearby, leaving the job of cutting, packing and frying fish to the ladies next door.


With streets like this, Bagaomoyo was an incredibly refreshing and relaxing retreat from Dar. This road, leading to an old Catholic church and German mission, had at the other end the sea (as can be seen in the picture) and a cross by the sea (which is too small to be seen), which told sailors from times past that they were close to Bagamoyo and protected by the mission.


According to Wikipedia, David Livingstone never visited Bagamoyo, but I say let the town inhabitants have their signs of proudness!


A short (and eventful due to set-up: a driver, four girls and ten dead chickens in boxes) bajaj ride away to the south of Bagamoyo are the Kaole ruins. It’s a small site of tombs and archeological findings, known to be the remains of the first Arab migrants during the 13th century. The place had an interesting history judging by the short tour we got around there, but as the sun was setting at closing time and for each camera used a separate charge was levied, our sightseeing did not last long.


As we took the bajaj back to the station where a daladala waited to shuffle us back to the hectic traffic and general atmosphere of Dar, we passed by some amazing scenery. Bagamoyo, which in Swahili means ‘lay down your heart’, definitely deserves it’s name.

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