Last weekend I’ve abandoned my comfort zone yet again. I’d been given the opportunity to go and work with the lovely folks in the Taarifa Project. This blog post is aimed at letting you participate in the first day of my journey to Africa.
My first steps on non-european soil were loaded with new impressions, and the thing I found most interesting in the beginning, even more than the warmth at 10pm, was this very different smell of everything.
It was sweetish sensation that massaged my nostrils and filled my lungs with anticipation and excitement. Even though I had gotten up at 3am, I was wide awake, to an extent I probably couldn’t even reach through coffee. Everyone else had left the plane before me, because I didn’t realize the people that were still staying in were actually flying onwards, back to Amsterdam where I had just come from. It was a solitary experience, the walk to the (immigration?) point, where you handed in the forms saying you were entering greater Africa, but it also was my first encounter with a very different culture.
When I finally did catch up with the folks who were on the plane with me, I realised that I really should have filled out those forms they gave to us on the plane already too – leading to a frantic exercise in filling out forms that clearly were not made to contain a place of birth with 12 letters. But eventually I made it through, and it turns out I was too nervous to even notice what my fellow traveller Jeremy Morley pointed out how different everyone began to act when I answered the question of where I would be staying – the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Dar es Salaam, where a room was ~USD120, and a single breakfast USD45.
We were picked up by a cab driver who, in a very friendly tone told us he had someone else to pick up at the airport in 15 minutes time, which was clearly not doable. I didn’t pay too much attention, too astonished by how subtly different everything outside was. a huge billboard in a language I had never seen before, next to a small but brightly lit ad for my former employer, Bosch. The roads were good, at least the vast stretches between the potholes wider than a witches cauldron, and probably just as deep. The product of short but wall-density-like rainfalls in the weeks before, as I was told.
“So if you’ve only ever seen the mediterranean once, then this is probably the first time you see the indian ocean too, right?”, Jeremy said, pulling me out of my pondering and gazing. “Where is it?” “Just over there, on the right” – and I saw it and what I presumed to be city lights in the distance turned out to be reflections of the stars on the water. (OK, this might sound a bit cheesy, but I swear I’m only making a third of it up 😉 )
After 20 more minutes of traffic that had me noticing how different the license plates were, marvelling at the traffic lights (that for some seemed to be of a rather suggestive than imperative nature) the cab dodging cauldrons, being honked at and honking at others (It seems like almost a social thing, people simply using the various communication facilites of their cars a bit more than back home) we arrive at an indian restaurant where the rest of the party had been waiting for a while already.
So first contact with food in Africa was made, and while the food itself was very good, the experience itself was as if we had entered another world. It was very clear that some of the group had gotten used to how we were treated, I however was not at all. The restaurant, apart from two other tables was empty and in my memory had what felt like the size of a quarter of a football field. Five staffers made sure we had everything we needed, without it being intrusive – just incredibly friendly.
After finishing the dinner, we left for our Hotel, which didn’t turn out to be the Hyatt after all, but the Rainbow Inn, substantially cheaper, and, as it turns out, still a bit overpriced. “They really saw you coming”, as it was put. Our vehicle on the journey, a tuk-tuk sporting three of us in the back, plus my overzealously packed big piece of luggage, braved the very calm roads, and we arrived in the city center, in a scene that could have been out of a movie. Well, actually, it’s probably just that that’s the only means I have to compare the two.
The hotel wasn’t as bad as everyone told me hotels in africa would be, but that could be just because they did so beforehands. The duvet sported a few faded stains, and when I saw the bathroom wet cell I realised what they were going for when they designed Mos Eisley in Star Wars: A New Hope (yes, that was the movie I was talking about earlier 😉 ). But it was fit for the job, I washed my feet and felt good. After brushing my teeth with water out of the bottle – good practice in africa, as the tap water doesn’t have drinking quality.
I went to bed, tired, excited, and most of all happy that after a long time of thinking about whether or not I should do it, I overcame my initial doubt and made the decision to work with the Taarifa Project.