Monday, January 28, 2008

"Dr. Zhivago, I presume?"

After a nano-second of consideration, I decided to skip the torture of spending the day with the bureacratic officials who had yesterday urged me to "proceed with action" against the wayward youth who had relieved me of my brand-new shiny red Blackberry. I imagined him feasting on the proceeds of the sale of his booty, roasted goat (popular here in Tanzania) and a cold Kiliminjaro beer. I almost wanted to share the meal with him, if only to break the beer bottle over his little head.

Not to be deterred from exploring the unknown, that night I treated myself to a cold Kiliminjaro at the Movenpick hotel bar, ordered a Tanzanian version of an Indian sandwich (contents unknown, but it tasted like chicken), and made my way to the nearest taxi stand. Given the time of day and the lack of streetlights even in central Dar, I decided now would be the right time to hail a cab rather than walk.

"I'd like to gamble. Can you take me to a casino?" Mussa, my amicable taxi driver took me to The Las Vegas Casino where I wiled away no more than 15 minutes and just 7000 "tush", which is the way the locals pronounce Tanzanian shilling. I'd hoped to join the craps table but the regulars already seated there didn't look too welcoming of the overly-excited blonde American who just wanted to gamble to say she'd done it. Instead, I purposefully (and quickly) lost my $7 minimum bet.

I invited Mussa for a beer, as long as he promised to take me to a very local pub. I figured I would be safer with a local, and I'd get the added bonus of seeing where and how they hang out. Mussa ordered us a couple of beers and told me all about his four children and numerous grandchildren. We watched with interest as an old fat married white man propositioned the hostess who was wearing almost nothing accompanied but a pair of clear plastic stilettos. I asked Mussa what he thought of Americans, the USS Cole bombing, and Chinese construction projects in Tanzania. The only topic on which he had any firm opinion was the Chinese, "They are not good people the Chinese. They don't mix with our people. They stay by themselves."

Mussa's lack of opinion and my jet-lag were causing the rims of my eyelids to stick to eachother like glue. Twice as he was talking I found myself falling asleep. "You are very tired, no?" he asked as he ordered himself another beer. I replied that I was, and he poured the rest of my beer into his, presumably to relieve me of the effort of drinking it. After he finished his beer and mine, he drove me back to the hotel.

"Mussa, how much should I pay you for taking me around the city tonight? I am not sure how much to pay," I said honestly.

"You pay me nothing. We are friends. You buy the beers for us, for friends."

"Okay," I said, still unsure, "what if I give you 5000 tush?"

"Give me 6000," he said firmly. I handed him 6000. "Thanks, Mussa," I called out to the driver as I walked into the hotel.

"That's Mister Mussa," said the concierge, correcting me.

I fell fast asleep and woke up 13 hours later, interrupted only by a very welcome call from my mother telling me she'd cancelled my mobile phone account.

The following morning, I drank six cups of weak coffee and read the local paper. Two articles in the National section called for sinners to repent to God. Somewhat disturbed by the religious bent, I read on to find that one of the government ministers had recently hopped a plane to London, gone straight to a Range Rover dealership, and bought a new model, in cash. He paid extra, a lot extra, for the car to be airlifted to Tanzania. The editorialist writing in the local paper worried this purchase came from government coffers, and therefore from foreign aid. It was interesting to me to see this sort of criticism being published.

I took a malaria pill on an empty stomach (a mistake) and walked into a local bookshop. Bill Clinton's recently-published "Giving" was prominently displayed. A nearby food court offered chicken lollipops, an assortment of Indian food, Chinese food, and American burgers. I ordered chicken tikka and sat down next to a group of three Chinese men, eating noodles and drinking Pepsi.

"My sister, that you have fun!" a bony black woman called out to me. Grateful for the encouragement, I smiled back a surprisingly emotional thanks. Hot, dusty, windy, and so humid I felt like I'd been walking with a wool blanket covering me, I paid a taxi driver to take me to the Village Museum, a museum entirely devoid of tourists, aside from me. As I walked to his car, I noticed the hood was open and another man was banging on the engine with a rock. "Broken car?" I asked. No no, he assured me.

The Village Musuem features replications of Tanzanian houses: mud huts, straw huts, thatched wooden huts. There are captions beside each of the huts. One of the captions beneath a hut used for iron-smelting haughtily noted that, "Despite the westerners' belief that the Africans were neither capable of using machinery nor of being sophisticated, this iron ore smelter proves that the Africans are neither incapable nor lacking sophistication." One of the houses on the museum grounds appeared to be lived in, and I found myself stepping into someone's home, complete with a fire burning and rice on the stove. There were signs above each doorway, indicating the sleeping quarters of the "Senior Wife" and the "Junior Wife". The latter, if you have to ask, was smaller. Outside the museum homes, a group of locals was dancing to music that they were playing on a set of wooden drums. I sat and listened for a while, then made my way back to the Movenpick.

I listened Musak at the hotel, which has been playing the theme song to Dr Zhivago since I arrived. I leafed through a local recipe book compiled by a westerner, who oddly states in the introduction to her book that, "Only a few African recipes are used." I noticed what seemed to be just one truly African recipe; the rest were instructions on how to make apple crisp and English sweets.


lmschifferns said...

You have my rapt attention. Please include photos if at all possible. Safe travels!

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!