Dar es Salaam – Haven of Sweat

Full set of Dar es Salaam photos are here

I’ll start with Dar es Salaam at the beginning of the end.  We had been going through Dar regularly as we came and went from different parts of Tanzania.  We were flying out of Dar from the underwhelming airport but first we had to trek all the way back across the country from the Southern Highlands.  We decided to do it all in one horror stretch, a twelve hour bus journey.  With Felix guiding us we got a ticket on the second-most luxurious bus company in Tanzania (the most luxurious was sold out).  Getting on the bus in the pre-dawn was like boarding the Starship Enterprise with all the blue LED strip lighting.

The seats were certainly the most comfortable we’d had in Africa which was a bonus because we broke down about an hour out of town. At first we thought it was just a toilet stop.  In Africa the bus generally just pulls over in the bush and everyone piles off to have a slash (women included) but this time when everyone got back on, the bus wasn’t going anywhere.  This isn’t what you want at the start of a twelve hour journey.  We lost about an hour there and I still have no idea why.  To add insult to injury the bus was playing back-to-back Westlife music videos.  Soon after getting underway again we got stuck in a traffic jam.  A truck had tipped off the road, blocking the lane in both directions and causing a snarl-back of mammoth proportions.  Our bus reversed and fed everyone a free stale sponge cake and soda.  After about 30 minutes we just bulldozed our way through one of the lanes, going off the road and tilting precariously. Once through the driver tried to make up for lost time by driving at a fast clip but the damage was done.  We pulled into Dar at the 13.5 hour mark, at least thankful that Westlife didn’t make a comeback and we were instead subjected to quite entertaining local movies in Swahili, for once with English subtitles.  The same obese lead actor wrote, starred in and directed two of the movies where he is the romantic lead.  To be fair the ladies matched him for heft but he seemed an unlikely kind of guy to be caught in a love triangle.  The movies all rambled on for hours only to resolve absurdly in the last thirty seconds.  So despite the luxury furnishings, this bus trip sneaks into the top ten worst bus journeys of all time based on length and noise.

It was with tired relief that we bid farewell to our final bus journey in Africa.  Convenient at times they were always uncomfortable and generally hot.  The memory that sticks with me are the guys selling food who would swarm the sides of the bus whenever it pulled in to a town.  They banged on the side and proffered drinks and biscuits through the windows.  When Sarah bought a cob of corn that was impaled on a long stick and being thrust at her this way, other eagle-eyed vendors saw their opportunity and soon dozens of corn cobs were being shoved through the window like spears.  Sarah had to throw the money for the corn out of the window, and over the top of this heaving mass, as the bus pulled away.

We stayed at Jambo Inn once again, a place we were loyal to far beyond the quality they offered, but it felt like returning home, and at least this time we got a room with an air-conditioner quieter that a 747 jet taking off.  Twin single beds helped as well so that, rather than rolling into each other in the sunken middle half of a double bed, we slept blissfully apart under the cover of our mosquito nets.

Dar es Salaam doesn’t have a huge amount to recommend it as a city for tourists.  We really enjoyed all the Indian food.  There was a great little hole-in-the-wall place that did samosas and sweet potato balls with coconut chilli.  There being no sights within Dar city to spend our final two days on, we took the ferry across the harbour to the beaches south of the city and had a perfect couple of days lounging by the beach at a cheap resort.  Accommodation was a banda (straw hut) right next to the beach but we spend the rest of our time reading by the azure water.  It never gets boring watching cattle being herded along the beach while Maasai sit and watch.

And just like that it was time to leave Africa, a continent with experiences like no other place.  Equally amazing and frustrating, it was great fun to travel through but not comfortable and not a gourmet experience.  We’ll miss the friendly people but life there is not always easy.  People aren’t singing and dancing in the street but they are quick to strike up a conversation, laugh and see the humour in a hard situation.  So long as some worm doesn’t burst out of my chest in three months’ time, that portion of our journey was wonderfully memorable
.  It was sad to be leaving East Africa as we had just got a handle on a half dozen key words:

– Mambo or jambo (surely this is where the term mumbo jumbo comes from).  Mambo is the cool greeting the kids use with possible replies of vipi, poa (I’m cool), safi (I’m fine).  Jambo is used for older people and gets jambo replied.  Up to the end we were still saying “Mambo!” when someone said it to us but I think this is like saying “How are you,” in response to being asked that question.

– Habari and nzuri are also a polite greeting and response coupling.

– Karibu: ‘welcome’, which was uttered by almost everyone we spoke with, to welcome us to Tanzania and/or their business, neighbourhood etc.

– Asante (sana): thank you  (very much) – we used this a lot, particularly when we couldn’t remember please or excuse me until the last week (tafadali and nisamee respectively, if you’re wondering)

– Hamjambo / hatujambo: ‘how are you?’ and ‘we’re fine’ in the plural, said to and by a group of people. Sarah tried to remember these words by thinking ‘a group of people has ham sandwiches, and if they’re well, they’re wearing hats’.

– Nya nya – ‘tomato’. This word stuck in our head not because we were eating many, but because it sounds a little like Nelson’s catchcry on The Simpsons.

– Poa kichizi kama ndizi: ‘cool like a banana’ – this was taught to us by Juma, a young Maasai man working in the cultural tourism program we did at Longido and said it could be used in response to ‘mambo’. Sarah tried it out with a few groups of kids who seemed confused at first but then amused. It remains our favourite foreign phrase learned on the trip so far.

We were just starting to branch out into more advanced phrases when our time came to an end.  Our scant Arabic knowledge will be of no use in Turkey as they speak Turkish which has some words from Arabic (including hello), but also words found in French and English.  It’s back to the drawing board.

Full set of Dar es Salaam photos are here

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