Exploring Dar es Salaam

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September 27th 2005
Published: September 27th 2005
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Hello everybody,

No internet access last night at our little cafe, which is why I'm doing this this morning. I went to placement but Ali is working on something that we need before I can continue with my work, so I said great, I'll be back in an hour. I'm happy -- this is a different internet cafe from the two I usually use, and the one with the best air conditioning so far. So I am quite content for the next little while.

I had a good weekend exploring the city centre. Saturday I got up and did my weekly Shoprite run (even found some candy -- how fun is that?) then in the afternoon I took my Lonely Planet Tanzania (travel guide, for those of you who don't know) and explored the city with it. I didn't get as far as I thought I would because I took a couple of stops along the way. One was to the National Museum. They have displays on the beginnings of man (East Africa is sometimes referred to as the cradle of man because the oldest human-like fossils have been found here, dating back about three and a half million years), the history of Tanzania, the biology of the area, and the cultural and ethnography. It's not the Smithsonian, but it was very interesting. I like to do what there is to do. On the grounds of the museum is a monument to the bombing of the American embassy in Dar es Salaam in 1998, as well as a tree-lined "Canada Walk" with a plaque presented by the Canadian High Commission in 1992 for "30 years of friendship with the Tanzanian people". Too cute. I didn't take a picture because there was a very steep photography fee, but I did sneak a picture outside the main ground of a tree with the biggest trunk I have ever seen. I asked the guard what kind it is but he didn't know. I'll find out though.

The most striking thing in the museum was a display on slavery and its aftereffects on the culture. They had leg irons that were used to chain the slaves together, and lots of pictures and documents to do with the slave auctioning markets. What can I possibly say about that? What I didn't know is that there are still issues in Africa for people related to the slave trade. One thing is that sometimes people who are known to have had members of their family taken for slaves are discriminated against, there is a real stigma to it. I guess "blame the victim" isn't strictly a North American phenomenon. Another thing is that in some areas people have a real aversion to farm work, because it's considered "slave work". There was a third point as well, but I won't lie to you, I can't remember what it was. The display was a little overwhelming, as I'm sure you can imagine.

After that I was happy to clear my head by walking along the botanical gardens -- not a whole lot to see but a bunch of trees and plants, but it was totally my speed after the museum. The road I was on led me unexpectedly to the ocean so that was a pleasant surprise. I stopped at the Holiday Inn Dar es Salaam for a drink, then continued back toward the centre of town. One cool thing I passed was a sign advertising a Terry Fox run! LOL I had no idea they were worldwide. Very neat. I'm sure his family would be so proud to know.

I managed to accomplish a small but important errand on Friday afternoon, which involved mailing a couple of letters. I searched out and bought envelopes, and figured out and purchased the right postage. It sounds like a very tiny thing, but over here where everything is so confusing and different to what I'm used to, it represents a major triumph. It makes me feel like I'm mastering the surroundings, finally, when I can do something like that.

Friday night I went with Thomas to Sunrise Beach, where we had dinner and I put my feet in the ocean. I loooooooooooooooooove being down by the water. The stars here are phenomenal, way way more than I have ever seen at home. And there were all kinds of crabs along the water's edge, trying to get back in but being swept back onto shore. Coming across on the ferry (it's still the mainland, but the land circles around in a way that means you can either drive for a long way, or take a ferry for a short way) I saw live jellyfish, a sort of clear white colour, swimming in the ocean. All this stuff just amazes me. Dinner for me was a spicy prawn dish, which required my removing my dinner from its shell, and not just the tail. Seafood here is a bit tricky -- it is not too far removed from its natural state, so that I always feel like I should apologize. Usually the head is still present, so I have something to apologize to. However fortunately for me it was quite dark as we were outside, so I was happy in my half-blind ignorance about what my dinner actually looked like. Have I mentioned I'm not very adventurous when it comes to food? Delicious though, one of the best meals I have had since I got here.

On Sunday I went swimming at the pool of the Royal Palm hotel, a big tourist spot. They let you in if you're not a guest, for a fee of course. I debated going to the beach to swim, but I was really tired and so feeling sort of vulnerable after all the walking and heat on Saturday. I kept thinking of the crabs and the jellyfish, and I thought, man, in my state of mind if I run into something creepy, I will take a taxi to the airport and jump on the next plane out of here. Hmmm...so maybe the ocean's not such a good idea today. So the pool it was. It was sort of disappointing in that it was quite warm, I like a good cold jolt when I get into water on a hot day, but it was all there was so I made due. The breeze was great and it was nice to just lie around and read a book (Saul Alinsky, Sam, very very interesting -- I was going to make you buy another copy and read it while I'm gone so we could discuss it, but I know you're busy).

Walking around one of the days I came across a traffic accident, which is incredible in the sense that this is the only one I have seen so far. Everybody was okay but there was quite a bit of damage to both cars and one driver told me the other driver was drunk. What was interesting is that the police were not called, but instead all the men on the street gathered around the scene and a big discussion ensued about the situation. I sat and watched for quite a while. There were about 20 of them and it seemed like they were getting the details of what happened. The driver of the car (the guy who wasn't drunk) told me that they had worked it out that the drunk guy would pay for the damages. Having settled that, everybody carried on their merry way, and that's all there was to it. I have seen that before here, how everyone gets involved whenever there is some kind of conflict, not to escalate the problem as they would at home, but to resolve it. One day I was on the daladala with Ali and there was an argument between a guy who wanted off and the attendant, who hadn't stopped the bus. The attendant said that the guy who wanted off hadn't said anything, the guy who wanted off said he had told the attendant where he was going when he got on. The guy who wanted off didn't want to pay for the ride because he got dropped at the wrong place. Two men on the street got involved and the dispute was settled (although in whose favour I couldn't tell). Everybody seems to accept that the word of the group is law. It's quite interesting. There doesn't seem to be any such thing as "mind your own business" here.

When I got home there was the biggest centipede I have ever seen crawling across the lawn of the hostel. I mean, this thing shook the ground when it walked! Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it did leave a big track in the sand. It was about five inches long and say three quarters of an inch thick, all round and glossy black, with vivid red feet. I watched it for a long time, following it along, and I took its picture. Sister Rita, who is in charge of the hostel, and who apparently has a hidden evil streak, said to me, imagine finding that in your bed. Yikes! I cannot tell you how hard I try not to think about that sort of thing. The lizards in the hallway are bad enough. The good thing is, the mosquito netting hangs from the frame of the bed and tucks under the mattress, effectively keeping everything out, not just mosquitoes. Thank God. We are very close to nature here, which for the most part I like. Every night when I come home there are two sparrows snuggled cozily onto the pipe that runs along the top of the wall in the hallway outside my room. In the morning they are gone -- unless someone has accidentally shut the hall windows, then they squawk to be let out.

Louise, who is on placement in India right now, says that everybody emails her and tells her how beautiful their placements are around the world. She said Mumbai India is so not beautiful, and wondered if it was beautiful here. It's not beautiful in the conventional sense of the word, not by a long shot, but there are moments of beauty, and I am working to seek them out and appreciate them.

Okay friends, back to work. Take good care of yourselves.


28th September 2005

You're doing so much! I'm in awe! While the wimp-in-me revels that I was even able to go to the dentist by myself yesterday and wonders how the heck you are managing, the permanent-student, the fun-person-in-waiting and my sense of adverture is SO incredibly jealous! Thanks for keeping me updated.

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