Our First Day in Africa

We are generally calm about the whole thing, the Dar airport has a vaguely familiar feel to it. One of a dozen airports we have been to in the last few years. We are thru the international side, into the great outdoors and back through security to the domestic airport in a flash. Spartan decor and mostly deserted, the departure lounge is our home for the next 5 hours.

We touch down in Arusha, disembark, walk across the sweltering tarmac and thru the arrivals lounge. The exit doors are locked and the guard is taken back when we do not have any luggage to collect. He produces the magic key and we are allowed to enter the world outside an airport for the first time in 30+ hours.

Andy awaits us with sign reading Murray and “Dobbie” in hand. We are in the car and as Debbie mentioned the streets that are lined with commercial establishments quite reminiscent of India or parts of SE Asia. We turn onto a side street (a two track dirt road) and pick our way through the labyrinth to the Tomaini Cottage.

Andy turns on the water pump so Debbie and I can have a shower and as luck would have it the power goes off. Debbie has no water to rinse her half soapy body. I duck out and find Andy who says no problem he just has to start up the generator. Five minutes later the water is restored. Constant supply of electricity is something that we rely on without even a second thought but here they do not give a second thought to the disruption of the supply.

Debbie made an assumption when we booked this place and that was that it is close enough to the center of town to walk. Ya no. The hotel is about 5km from the action and we have to get some sort of mobile transport. I think we could walk and we may try that tomorrow but with being so tired and the limited time we have today we are not going to set out on that type of adventure.

Sitting in the room Debbie has the idea that the other group of people staying at this place may be headed to town and maybe we could join them since they too will be back to the hotel for supper. Bingo, that is exactly what they were up to and we are indeed able to tag along. Don’t know where those intuitions come from but you have to be happy when they pan out.

Now we have something to keep us busy this afternoon and in fact it is how we had envisioned our day going. Andy dumps us at the local craft market. Things are cheap but we are not really intending to buy anything on our first day in Arusha. The store owners are very persistent, extremely nice and polite but persistent. “Just have a look, come in and just have a look, no thanks, just look, OK but I am not going to buy anything, a kuma matata (that’s fine), how about you buy something for a dollar, no I do not want to buy anything, assaunti (thank you), and so it goes, at every stall in the place and the stalls are only 2.5 meters wide so it takes a long time to move down the aisle. Again I cannot stress how polite these folks are they just don’t take no thank you for an answer.

Debbie and I finally break free of the iron grip that has been clamped on our arm each time we pass a stall and head out onto the open road to see what kind of place Arusha is. We head to the clock tower, the center of town, so we can get our bearings. Standing at the square containing the clock tower I am a bit perplexed. I know which way north is, I know that we are in the southern hemisphere, yet the sun is to the south of us. Our shadows are still on the north side of where we stand????? It takes me awhile but I finally get it. Although we are south of the Equator we are north of the Tropic of Capricorn and since here we are in the spring and heading towards summer the sun is figuratively heading south and on its way to meet the latitude to which it shines on the Earth’s surface at right angles, the aforementioned tropic, we are to the north of the sun and all the navigation tricks I know from the northern hemisphere still apply. This should change when we head farther south and I will have to re-evaluate how I determine our whereabouts.

Standing at the periphery of the square trying to figure this out Debbie and I are accosted by at least 4 of the local unemployed youth trying to make a buck off the tourists. We start walking and the troop walks with us. We use a couple of diversionary tactics and loose a couple of them each time. There is one tenacious fellow that we cannot shake. As we walk another joins us and we are 4 walking along the streets of Arusha. I have not been here long enough to loose my temper with them but I explain to each of them, I do not want the services of a guide and I will not give them money, I do not care where they take us, what they show us, or how many explanations they give us. Both of these fellows speak very good English and they know what I have said. It really is quite hard to wander and look while having a running conversation and trying to make sure that all of your belongings are safe.

Crossing the street is of course different anywhere we have ever been. First the roads are left hand drive so we have to get into the habit of looking left first. I neglect just once and of course it was the time a car was coming around the corner and it almost had a tourist as a hood ornament. Second, it is pole pole, pronounced with all the letters, poley poley, it means slow slow. Just walk across the street slow, like we learned in Vietnam, and the drivers with afford you a certain amount of respect. Last, do not step out in front of a vehicle, they drive quite slow here but pedestrians do not have the right of way. That said I think they do have a huge tolerance for tourists and us white folks are easy to pick out.

Our two friends stick with us for about an hour and a half, sometimes they lead us in a certain direction and sometimes we dictate the route. Serendipity led us by an open air church service and Debbie’s and my ears perk up when we hear singing. Coming from over that there direction was a choir of about 200 voices belting out with the greatest of gusto some song in Sawhili. Our little troupe head in that direction and we stand and listen and watch for 10 minutes or so. To the participants it is just part of the way they go about their life but to Debbie and me the sounds are wonderful even if we do not understand the words. In fact maybe better because we do not understand the words, we only have to listen to how the sound is affecting our ears and minds and do not have to get all involved with any meaning or intended meanings. Would stay longer but the service is transitioning from the singing part to the preaching part and although it might have held some interest to watch an orator mesmerize the crowd it did appeal as much as more singing might have.

A quick trip though the Arusha market. Could be the most ‘traditional’ market I have ever seen. Although most cities have a market that resembles what it started out to be so many centuries ago many have morphed into a tourist attraction and a good portion the merchants sell junk to tourists.The same junk is available in every corner of the globe. The Arusha market sells goods, fruit, vegetables, spices, meat, and other things necessary for daily life but does not have the generic junk that is so common in other markets we have visited.

It is now time to head back to the meeting spot so we can get a ride back home. Our friends do not expect money for the guide service they have provided. They do however produce a roll of “original” paintings, done by them of course, and want us to buy one. They are kind of neat paintings although I do not believe either of the two guys is the artist. My guess is that the paintings are mass produced in some factory somewhere and the signature is added later, so it could be Swahili painter if I so desired. They want $50 for it and I still do not want to buy it. I ended up buying it for about $25. Probably still got burnt but that’s OK. The problem I have with myself is that I did not stick to my guns to not buy anything. Tomorrow I may have to get blunt to get rid of the tag alongs.

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