Two days in Dar Es Salaam

The name of this city is “Haven of Peace” in Swahili. So far, it’s living up to the name. A large contributor is the lovely Swiss Garden Hotel. The hotel is quiet, a 5-10 minute cab ride form the city center, and it’s the cleanest place I have stayed since I left home. The bedspreads don’t have cigarette burns, the bathroom has a new shower, the windows close, there is a mosquito net in good repair, extra clean blankets and a safe in the closet, steady water pressure, extra rolls of toilet paper just in case, no fleas and the floor is clean enough to eat from. To put the icing on the cake, there is free, continuous internet in the room. In short, I am in the hotel heaven of the developing world. Frangipani and gardenias are in flower, there are white sand beaches down the way, and beautiful people smiling at you everywhere you go.

A couple things make me wonder about trouble in paradise. For example, here on my street is a series of compounds with high walls topped with embedded broken glass and razor wire. My hotel is one of them. All the places have heavy iron gates that are locked at night, with a security guard on duty 24/7. I must be naïve because I haven’t seen any sign that this is necessary, but probably I’ve just been lucky. I have had a small taste of the African market in passing through the fish market today, and even inside my taxi, all the young men try to talk to me. I have no idea why – I am 40, for heaven’s sake. Maybe it is a ruse to get to my purse? Dunno, but I got a funny vibe off the whole experience and the cab driver knew something I didn’t about those guys. He said something in a combination of English & Swahili about too much traffic and too many young men. I have taken to answering them back in French as if I cannot understand English. We’ll see if that keeps working. On arrival the other night, my driver from the airport was worried about getting held up by thieves on the way to the hotel. The plane arrived at night (about 10:30 PM) and I had to go through the visa process, so it was probably 11:15 before we left the airport. Fortunately, the drive was uneventful.

This whole city is pretty clean so far, though I admit I have not seen the heart of the market place and the old town. I plan to see it before I leave in a couple of weeks. Instead, I have been recuperating from the long flights and enjoying the comfort of the hotel and its internet. I did go out yesterday to the bank and a shopping place called The Slipway for some lunch and a wander through the weekend craft souk. I am now the proud owner of a one-meter-long, $25 mpinge-wood carved crocodile. It weighs a ton and I have no idea how I will find a box to send it home, but I don’t care. It is the coolest thing ever. I bought some ebony bowls and other handicrafts including a copper-plate bracelet that the Masai say will protect me from bad luck and disease. I’ve been wearing it ever since.

Today I went to the National Museum of Tanzania, and read through some of the history of this country. They were traders in their own right for centuries, until what they call “outside visitors” came, generally in the form of the Arabs who made slave raids but also did trading, followed eventually by the Indians and the Europeans. The German East Africa Company managed to swindle some chiefs into crooked contracts and before you know it, the place was a province of Germany. When Germany lost WWI, it became an English commonwealth instead. Conditions under German rule had been bad enough to inspire bloody revolt in the citizenry. Eventually Tanzania joined with Zanzibar and regained its independence in the 1960s. The museum literature explains that the slave trade took away a lot of the native population and has given an ugly stigma to farming and agricultural work, along with of course, the obvious inhumane aspects. It was officially abolished in 1922, but went on a long time after that in secret.

The museum’s big draw is the work of Dr. Mary Leakey on exhibit there. She was the first person to make major anthropological finds in Tanzania, including the skull of Australopithecus Boisei (Zinjanthropus), who lived here 1.75 million years ago. I got to see it, right there in a glass case in front of me. Now, how cool is that? It was found near Arusha. There was also a large exhibit about the 3.6 million year-old footprints found in Tanzania by the Leakey’s in volcanic ash/cement, and it told about the efforts being made to preserve the prints.

Tomorrow, Zanzibar…

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