Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Dar es Salam

Dar es Salam,

Arriving around 10pm local time, dog-tired after having flown with waiting times of approx 24hrs, it was hard to see anything of the area in the dark as we drove towards the hotel. Even with the lights and the resultant light pollution it was a black black night, making site seeing next to impossible. The smells however were very present - they were not anything like those you embrace in Latin America. These are very reminiscent of those we encountered in the drive in Doha. The lights cast an eerie shadow of yellow on the immediate landscape which is readily reflected by the yellowish landscape, giving a feel of not quite reality. Could all of this flashback to Doha have anything to do with our driver Rammah and his richly embroidered head cap? The traffic was sparse and the driving - yikes, on the other side of the road. We passed a couple of local Coaster-type buses and oddly enough, they were filled with not even standing room left.

Driving up to the hotel gave a somewhat uncomfortable feel as we drove through what appeared to be a not so good neighborhood. OMG did I get us a hotel in a bad section of town? An armed guard at the front door; a guard on the inside waiting to put you on the elevator to where you need to go; the reception on the second floor, away from the access: Yes, I couldn’t help but wonder, what had I gotten us into? The write-up and the cost puts us in a decent hotel but … The room was great, the bed very comfortable and the reception sleepy but helpful: Tiffany Diamond Hotel and Spa in Dar es Salam.

The next morning we rose to our first sight of the city in daylight. We had already been wakened by the Call to Prayer at sunrise.

 Was it anything like we imagined? How can one tell when one is 5 stories up from the ground? Once out onto the street, we were immediately immersed in the smells and sounds of a busy week-day.

People scurrying past in a hurry, without making eye contact; traffic congested with horns blowing in frustration; the fumes of cheap fuel which reminding me so much of my first encounters in Germany many, many years ago; no one overtly begging but they are there – the lame, the infirm, and the down and outers; no dogs and no dog poo to be seen or even worse, walked in; feeling the very awe of being in a new culture, and a multicultural one at that. It was wondrous to see the many different cultures all in one place. You pass the women in complete Islamic garb, the multicoloured hues and patterns of the African clothing, (one woman had a sarong skirt made of fabric with Barack Obama’s photo on it), the men and women in western clothes, and always the head cap, the head cap which so differentiates the African male from other cultures.

Our first real adventure was one that resulted from Danny’s desire to see the train station. Asking directions of a business dressed man on the street, we not only get the directions but were also asked where we wanted to go. He subsequently informed us that the station we wanted was not here in town but a ways from town and we needed to go to a taxi stand and get a taxi. We easily found the in-town station a few short blocks from the hotel, however. It was a simple block building, not that old in actual numbers but yet ancient looking. Wandering through we stopped to look at a map of the lines (currently running?),
saw lines of people and people sitting and waiting, old railroad cars behind the fence with armed guards leisurely sitting behind the gate. Danny boldly walked in and asked if he could take photos. Very politely the answer came back that permission was needed and we were referred to the stationmaster. So we sought out the stationmaster’s office, which, surprisingly, was crammed with people sitting on chairs. Waiting for what, we had no idea but we were immediately asked how could they help us. People here are so very polite and fall over backwards to help you. When we responded with our request, that we wanted permission to take photos of the trains, we were escorted into the bowels of the working man’s offices, far from the hustle and bustle of the street where the atmosphere was relaxed and unassuming. We were introduced to Midladjy Maez, the Public Relations Manager who then asked his assistant to escort us around the train yards and giving us permission to take whatever photos we want. Are we unusual in that we asked or is this the usual manner that visitors are welcomed? No matter, we get the tour of a lifetime, back into the very bowels of the working areas, where the obsolete and broken down are stored, repaired and otherwise forgotten. Our escort, Moshi Buttu turns out to be the official photographer for Tanzania Railways Limited who ends the tour with an offer of assistance should we need it anytime while we are in country, giving us his personal cell number. The tour ended with us thanking Moshi’s boss, and then his boss’s boss and finally his boss’s, boss’s boss. The whole event was treated as a special event and we were made to feel so welcomed and special by everyone we met.

Later in the afternoon, after a trip to the Tazara train station, walking around in the area near the hotel, we stumbled upon what looks like the same kind of central transportation system that we had in Colombia. We found the loading/unloading area but no buses.
 Now the area was run down and not used other than for loitering, waiting, or what have you. Surprisingly it had not been taken over by vendors as would have been in Central America.

Street food was also not readily available. Is this because it is not the norm, or were we simply too early for them to be set up and selling? We did stop at one vendor who was charcoal grilling and selling corn-on-the-cob on a corner. Another buyer stopped and asked us where we were from and how long had we been here. Informing him that we had just arrived, he replied that we were getting our first real African food, natural as it had been on the farm, in the ground the night before.
 Serviette? No just the corn husks acting as a serviette. 

Tomorrow we depart on another train adventure - this time from Dar es Salam, Tanzania to Kapiri Mposhi, Zambia... follow us then.