Driving into Dar es Salaam the only way to describe the sultry thick air was Bonfire Soup mixed with a hint of pineapple. At the foot of huge billboards for mobile phone providers Zanatel and Airtel little stalls lit only by candlelight were crammed with tropical fruits, the diesel fumes from the traffic constant. The taxi driver would stop when the traffic lights hit green and drove when they went on red which I found confusing. He drove on and on until we came to the Arab Asian district of Kisutu where we would be staying. Dar es Salaam is boom town – I haven’t seen so many construction sites and huge buildings covered in scaffolding since Berlin after the fall of the wall. Dar is racing headlong into the future leaving it’s inhabitants far behind. Glass skyscrapers sprout up on a daily basis, the smaller damp covered apartment blocks lost in their shadow – trapped in a place where there is no air. Everything was exhausting, carrying our luggage into the hotel had our clothes soaked in sweat.
We were starving. The flight from Amsterdam had been interesting – flying over the Adriatic and Egypt we followed the course of The Nile and were able to see the patchwork fields of South Sudan and Ethiopia before darkness fell. The only downer to this amazing experience was the food KLM served up and the smiles of the stewardesses which were minimal. It was obvious they were just doing their work and as soon as foods and drinks were cleared up we were just left to fend for ourselves. It was obvious we were just cattle as the switch-the-light-off manoeuvre was seen as a way to keep us quiet – it was the middle of the afternoon! The inflight entertainment system was broke. I haven’t flown with KLM for about 15 years and all I could think was how the mighty fall.
The next morning we made our way to the TAZARA train station to buy our tickets for Mbeya from where we would then make our own way to Lilongwe. To our surprise we couldn’t get tickets and had to brainstorm. Make our way to Lilongwe by bus or forget it. As we would be travelling from Lilongwe to Nairobi by bus we decided just to forget it. The train journey would have been cool, now that it was impossible we didn’t like the idea of a trip spent on buses. We decided just to focus on the north. We bought tickets for Nairobi at the Dar Express office on Morogoro Road and then spent a lazy day wandering around Dar. I had a vision in my mind that Dar would have been boring but I found it quite interesting.
It doesn’t feel like the idea of Africa you have. If I could compare it to another city in the world I would say somewhere like Amman. The streets are full of men in Muscat hats selling prayer mats and Korans, girls walk in the hijjab and the muezzin’s call to prayer radiates across the whole city. It’s a mishmash of different cultures.
Close your eyes sometimes and you could be in Paharganj the smell of Indian perfume caught in the air. Alot of shop owners are Indian or Arab. It really is a melting pot.
The next morning we had to get up at the nightmare time of 3am to catch our bus to Nairobi. I’d assumed it would be from the massive Ubungo Bus Station but to our surprise it was from somewhere called Millenium Business Park. It wasn’t that far from Kisutu but it was scary because we were the only two there, easy targets for a mugging. We found a small cabin where a security guard was stationed and hung around there for 2 hours until the Dar Express turned up.
The bus looked in okay condition and after alot of commotion with luggage we set off, driving through the endless sprawl until we were in green lucious landscapes. Hours later the landscapes became more arid, the Eastern Arc mountains rising from the right. I was enjoying myself recording it all on film but as we drove into the bus station in Korogwe a man who was selling bread spat in the window which hit me right across the face. Spitting on someone’s face is considered assault in many countries. I was mortified, the people on the bus were mortified. A Tanzanian man came to me and apologized for the behaviour of the man. I managed to capture it on film:
The bus continued but my perception of Africa had changed, it now seemed dangerous and unpredictable. After a while noticing the amount of children waving to me from roadside villages made me realise that the man in Korogwe was in no way the majority.
Africa is stunningly beautiful, you have an amazing photogenic image no matter where you look. The landscapes of Tanzania change so often from jungle to desert to dramatic rainforest covered mountains.
We had some apprehension about going to Nairobi. It is nicknamed Nairobbery. We were aware that there is alot of tribal tension in Kenya, it’s not like Tanzania where everyone lives in peace. As soon as the bus crossed the border at Namanga it didn’t help that the t.v. show they were playing on the bus was switched to a disturbing drama about a man who thinks it’s cool to murder people in daylight. Every two minutes a violent scene would unfold…gunshots set to hiphop music. It was horrible and driving into the suburbs of Nairobi the road seemed to be lined with police checkpoints, dance bars, neon and girls in miniskirts. In Africa beauty seems to be measured in legs and bottoms. My perception of Kenya is that it seems like a rough diamond but with alot of exciting energy. So far Africa has been interesting but I don’t have that wow factor yet that I found in India.