I just finished M.G. Vassanji’s novel, The Book of Secrets. The story takes place in Tanganyika (German East Africa) and Kenya largely during the first World War years and into the aftermath of their independence. The protagonists gravitate between the cities of Moshi, Dar-Es-Salaam and the fictional Kikono; Voi, Mombasa and Nairobi respectively. The book resurrected memories of my 2017 work travels in Tanzania when I was writing home daily to describe my experiences. Rereading them made me realize the stories became the foundation of my blogging practice with their descriptions and observations.
A number of the emails dealt with the work itself and the people who I met in the process. I will spare you the detail; rather I will focus on a few of the humorous events but not before some initial, sober commentary. Except for minor editing for obvious typos, selected letters or portions thereof are reproduced here with accompanying photographs. The post is long so grab your favourite beverage, put your feet up and enjoy. I hope it brings the same thoughtful reflection and a smile to your face as happened with me in this Tanzania redux.
The front end of the May 2017 journey to the continent of Africa began in Uganda which I wrote about, in part, in an earlier post. I flew out of Entebbe, changing planes in Kigali, Rwanda, landing in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to join up with my work colleagues. The next day, we left in two vans for Dodoma, situated in the geographic centre of the country.
Sun 2017-05-21 4:43 PM Day 6: Dodoma, Tanzania
If today is Day 6 then I must be in Dodoma.
I have travelled to a different place for the night every day since I have been here. Today was no exception.
Dodoma was declared the capital of Tanzania about a year ago and the president is moving government offices here. The city is 470 kilometres from Dar es Salaam which took us 9 hours to drive! The inordinate amount of time is result of a combination of going through numerous towns/villages where massive speed bumps make sure you slow down; trucks, trucks and more trucks with seemingly full loads because they move oh…so…slow….ly; and roads with craters and pavement with ruts from the weight of the trucks. I spoke last time about Dar es Salaam having a better infrastructure than Kampala. Well, the quality of the road is in a direct inverse relationship to the distance from Dar es Salaam. The holes here in the rural part of Tanzania were equally as bad as what I saw in Uganda. It is perplexing that the main road into Dodoma, which is the capital, is in such bad shape. We even witnessed the aftermath of a head on collision between two trucks which our driver suspected was a consequence of one or both trying to avoid the massive holes in the road.
At the guest office of the hospital in Kamuli there was a young English doctor named Joe who was practicing there for the last three months. I was chatting with him and asked about his sense of the poor conditions. One of his comments was about feeling guilty that people had to pay for the medical services. And he also said the conditions were worse outside of town, in the countryside. We got a good glimpse of that today on the road to Dodoma. There were the shanty like “shops” in all the towns/villages like I had seen in Uganda but there was a closer look at the “homes” which were spread throughout. I was not exaggerating when I described my hotel room (including this one here in Dodoma) as bigger than these huts/shacks….They were a pile of red clay stones cobbled together, topped by a tin roof held in place by large stones on the perimeter. They had no windows and the lucky ones had a door, otherwise a cloth curtain covered the entrance way. The grounds were surrounded by mud because we are at the end of the rainy season; and in one case, the hut was surrounded by ankle deep water which did not stop the woman from standing in it to hang the laundry. I have no conception of what their lives are like on a day to day basis.
Equally as difficult to see are these stands trying to sell vegetables or fruits or sunflower oil. Tomatoes seem to be the most popular item with row upon row of stacks of the vegetable. I cannot figure out who is buying and what kind of market is there for all these tomatoes. It feels like an act of hope or desperation which is epitomized by this lone woman sitting on a wooden stump on the side of the road with a large platter of what looked like nuts while trucks and cars pass by. No sign to indicate what she had, no stand to attract and certainly no customers. Who would stop and buy? And why? I have difficulty understanding the thinking or the process.
Our vehicles certainly did not stop at these type of “shops”. We ate at a roadside gas and restaurant…. The selection was extremely limited and without the samosas (because they ran out) the only other safely edible item was French fries (they were fresh cut!). The stop resulted in a funny interaction with one of the locals. I went to wash my hands at the restaurant because there were no facilities in the bathroom. There were two sinks both of which produced nothing when I turned open the taps. A gentleman moved in beside me and turned the tap on the water jug propped on the edge, calling it “African style”, an apt description for much of my experience so far.
Tue 2017-05-23 Day 8: Dodoma again
Today was spent either at the workshop or at the hotel so my story today is related to….. the hotel! Alan, the co-ordinator of the funded project who is living in Tanzania for the 5 year duration, says the Moreno Hotel here in Dodoma is considered akin to a Hyatt or a Marriott. This town had little to attract people to it until it became the capital; so now, there will be a need for hotels like it… but they have room for improvement. Getting small things right would go a long way.
When I stepped into the shower yesterday, I realized there was no facecloth. No big deal, thinking it was an oversight. I was pleased later that day when there was a face cloth in the bathroom; but, this morning when I went in the shower, it was apparent there was no soap. Too late to call reception I made due with body lotion. This evening I returned to my cleaned up hotel room and what do I find………. Soap ……but no face cloth. Apparently you can have one or the other but not both at the same time.
Then there is the matter of hangers in the closet. There were four flimsy thin, bent out of shape hangers in my closet when I arrived. The quantity was apparently a luxury because others in our party had none. No matter, most of my clothes weren’t in need of hanging and there was enough for my suit, pants and two shirts. And for the first day I was wearing causal pants and shirt. Today I wore my suit and shirt to the workshops leaving the hangers empty. Upon my return to the hotel room, the hangers were gone!
I managed to get the front desk to deliver more hangers but my request for a wash cloth has so far been unsuccessful. Part of the problem is trying to explain a face cloth – small cloth I try to say, drawing the approximate size in the air. We had a good laugh over supper about the story and now I have been given the challenge to get both and to show evidence to the other Canadian contingent. I have offered my extra hangers to anyone who will give me a facecloth.
You gotta learn to laugh, it is the key to happy travels.
and then a couple days later….
Thu 2017-05-25 4:14 PM Men/women at work
……Finally, there is the running joke about my wash cloths. The one lent to me yesterday disappeared and was not replaced when my room was cleaned. I was determined to get a wash cloth so at the end of the evening I went again to the front desk. I was armed with a Swahili translation. The young receptionist was laughing as Alan and myself were trying to explain what I was looking for. Fifteen minutes later I got two face clothes! My mission here in Dodoma is complete.
The workshops finished, our group began it’s journey back to Dar es Salaam. This time, we were scheduled to fly back in a small plane as part of a regular commuting option between the two cities. I was looking forward, with some trepidation, to this new experience.
Fri 2017-05-26 4:36 PM In-Flight Safety
The pictures say it all. The thrill of the day was sitting in the co-pilot seat on our two hour flight back to Dar es Salaam. As advertised the plane is a small fifteen seater with one person sitting beside the pilot. You have all the gauges in front of you as well as a steering wheel. Seat belt on and away we go.
The view is beautiful going over the city and the country itself with small mountains, forests and farmland. We rose to has high as 13,000 feet above the clouds (when there – first part of trip was clear) before descending slowly. With the gauges in front of me, I can see that clouds are sitting at about 6,000 feet and it is total white, like a super thick smog when you go through it. The flight was smooth except for a bit of jostling going through the clouds.
We made one stop along the way to pick up two passengers. We landed on a grass runway. In the front seat I could see us slowly descending and approaching the town, clearly going to land. I am looking around and I don’t see an airport or a standard runway. As we approached the grass runway became apparent and we landed with unexpected smoothness. The terminal was a large tin shed, manned by a lone woman on a plastic lawn chair. With the brief stopover, the total flight was 2 hours compared to the 9 hours of driving.
The pilot was a character. I joked just before taking off if there was anything I could do to help. “Don’t do a thing and only do as I say”. Everyone had a laugh. He also completed a minor repair along the way. A handle fell off one of the levers. He fished around on the floor till he found the piece, took out his all in one tool to reattach. He joked with me about making in-flight repairs to keep the thing in the air. No one else noticed, but it did make me wonder about the plane. Clearly we arrived safely.
After a day in Dar, everyone departed to their next destination; in my case, back to Canada. There was considerable homework in-between to complete the deliverables for the project, part of which necessitated a return to pilot the accountability instrument with two institutions, one in each of Moshi and Arusha. In November, Quinn De Vries and I flew into Kilimanjaro International Airport for a week long work visit.
Sun 2017-11-19 3:01 PM At the centre of Moshi
We met Moses and his family today.
The story is biblical in the sense that Quinn De Vries and I ventured into the centre of Moshi via a cab and started our walking tour in the vicinity of a Catholic Church where an outdoor celebration was loudly blasted on the speakers for all to hear. We stopped to listen without any understanding of the context or purpose. A mosque was visible in the near distance so naturally we headed in that direction crossing the busy street behind a gauntlet of three young children who cheerily greeted us at the corner. A few more pictures and we were aided in the crossing of another street (it is confusing when the cars drive on the left hand side in British fashion) by Moses. Shall we say he helped identify a parting in the flow of vehicles which enabled us to pass.
Moses was excited to speak with someone in English, and of course, he had just met someone else from Toronto. Canadians are such kind and honest people so he was going to return the favour by walking with us further down the street, identifying landmarks and places to shop or eat and drink. Don’t worry, he assured us, I am not interested in money; my only motivation and joy was to practice English with people who did not simply walk past and ignore my greetings.
We were too polite.
Quinn and I tried to ditch him by crossing the street again, hoping he would not follow. That idea didn’t work.
Then it was repeating and repeating that we were only out for a walk with no money. That line didn’t work.
We did continue in the general direction of our ultimate destination, back to the Kilimanjaro Co-operative Union Coffee House, but that route was precisely along the way to his sister’s “shop” selling dresses on the street. And while there, Moses introduces us to his brother who happens to run a co-operative gift store with wood carvings and hand-crafted paintings on cloth, right beside his father’s restaurant; we shook hands with all of them, exchanged pleasantries, and perused their wares. Moses was so happy we could meet his family, none of whom resembled each other.
Finally, we tapped our watches stressing the need to get back to the coffee shop because our taxi ride was waiting. Moses eventually left but not before quietly warning us of another street hawker tagging along attempting to sell his unique, mass produced art wares. The coffee house with its rifle armed security guard became the ultimate cross to ward off all street vendors and provide a safe haven from the streets.
And just as we sat down, the electricity went out everywhere. The generator kicked in and we were able to laugh about our mini shopping adventure in Moshi.
Wed 2017-11-22 3:06 PM Splash down in Arusha
Having completed our two days in Moshi we were scheduled to spend this Wednesday travelling to Arusha about 70 kilometres away. I had hoped to participate in a tour of some local waterfalls and the coffee district especially since the area is known for it. However, we were travelling with four others, all Tanzanians, who were only interested in leaving directly. They did concede to stop at a hot springs because it was along the way for an extra 50 American dollars. The spot was a 30 kilometre round trip off the major road.
When the driver turned onto the “road”, he immediately had to navigate through a series of small lakes which had spouted up because of rain overnight. Once we carefully and slowly sailed past, the vehicle began its venture into the Tanzania countryside. The next 15 kilometres were the worst excuse for roads I have yet to encounter. It was as if we were driving over a rock pile that was wildly hacked with a seriated knife. The rosary hanging from the mirror was swinging violently as the van rocked and swayed its way over the terrain which was really only meant for goats. The local dump trucks didn’t care as they bounced along at a reckless speed sometimes teetering to the point of rollover.
At a tiny village, we made a turn down what could generously be called a trail. Normally you envision horses gently traversing along but they probably would have turned a hoof on the ruts and rocks. No markers, no signs, and the occasional person on a bike; the last was a young boy who kindly led us in the right direction.
But when we arrived, the place was an oasis. Picture the movie where in the dry arid desert, with the sun blazing, there suddenly appears a pond surrounded by lush greenery. That picture is precisely what we encountered as we arrived at the hot springs. 5,000 schillings for the locals, 10,000 for the foreigners (I wonder how they knew) and we were able to enter and swim in the clear blue waters. And if you stood still, or hung your feet in the water, little fishes would feast on your skin, nibbling away, providing a foot massage that would cost you a pretty penny at a luxury spa. It wasn’t busy since it is off the beaten path, but there were a handful of foreigners.
There was also a swing – check out the pictures.
We had a blast. The timeout was an extremely enjoyable escape.
After a couple days in Arusha working with another institution, I left for home aboard a late evening flight: one hour to Dar es Salaam; one hour stop then nine hours to Amsterdam; a five hour layover there before a final eight hour leg to Toronto. I would be remiss if I did not include at least a picture of our travelling group and the people we met in Moshi and Arusha. Their friendship and generosity were unforgettable.
There would be a third trip to Tanzania in 2018 to finish the project after which Olga and I departed for a safari to the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park before a resort stay on the island of Zanzibar. The experiences and the people keep me craving for another opportunity to return one day soon.