Finally, I am taking the time to reflect something that I will put online about Tanzania thus far. As I stepped of the plane and walked into the airport, I was slapped by a dense, thick and overwhelming humidity. The airport consisted of one really big room, one carousel for all of the luggage, and one table for all the mzungus who were purchasing visas. Don’t let the simplicity fool you; it was a madhouse in there. My clothes clung to my body, soaked from my sweat, other people’s sweat and the spiced scent of tropical heat. Once past the shouting, pushing, and hustling, I found my taxi driver and the journey began.
I walked up to the car, and by habit, I walked to the right side to get into the passenger’s side only to find that it was the other way around. On the dashboard I noticed a prayer from the bible. I cannot quote the whole thing but I remember it saying a that famous serenity prayer something like God grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. Looking back, I think that prayer was the Universes’ way of telling me to prepare to surrender and to just go with the ever so slowly Tanzanian rhythm of life. Pole Pole.
We stayed in Dar for a couple of days in order to collect all of the people. In total we are five students. My first impression of Dar was a kind of beautiful chaos. Cars and people darted from every direction within seconds. Right when it seemed impossible to find a passage through the puzzle of cars, carts, and people, everything would synchronize together, and we would get through. Damn I thought we had horrible potholes on Western, but these ones here in Dar, sometimes almost a foot deep! Everything was vibrantly alive and colored. Electric blue with whirling white puffs, the sky immediately captivated me. Something about the tropics, perhaps being so close to the equator makes everything so bold and vivacious. Huge Baobabs with their peculiar huge trunks and tiny branches, huge jackfruit trees hundreds of feet high and exotic trees with cream- colored flowers: there was every possible shade of green. Oh and as sunset approached, my favorite time of day: that golden time of day. Oh did the sky transform into masterpiece. Orange, pink, magenta, purple, blue, and slight streaks of green slowly appeared from the blue in a matter of minutes. The contrast between the puffy white and heavy grey rain clouds against the soft sunset colors of the sky made me feel like I was living in a painting
Zanzibar also had all of these natural wonders. Yet without the madness of traffic, trash, pollution, and desperation, this sweet Island proved to be not just beautiful but enchanting. The kind of enchanting that makes you love being alone in it. Not like Dar, the city, where the last thing I want is to be meandering slowly along the streets by myself, in Zanzibar I felt so easy. After a two-hour ferry ride from Dar es Salaam, we landed in Stonetown in the evening. Just in time to watch Mother Nature paint the sky and the ocean with dozens of shades of coral pink, golden orange, and deep blue- green. We drove past winding streets listening to the muezzins of the various mosques, which made me think of the medinas of Morocco or the Albazyn of Granada, mangrove forests, and lots of coconut trees. We were on our way to Machui—a small little village about 30 minutes away from Stonetown in the middle of dense jungle. We had very simple accommodations and I was fine with that. After staying in various hostel throughout Europe, I learned how to be low maintenance. It was hot. No problem, I love sleeping naked. But the bugs, oh no I just had the most difficult time accepting that part. Once I found a spider bigger than my own hand just chillin outside the bathroom. Snakes, scorpions, and lizards I can deal with but spiders really make me nauseous.
The Jungle noises. It is really like an orchestra of its own kind. All of the animals seem to take turns making their calls to one another. Or maybe they are serenading one another. The jungle music was both creepy and calming. The crickets, toads, and monkeys made me feel like I wasn’t alone, which was comforting at times while also a little bit unsettling.
Now I have been in Dar for a little over a month and I think I am starting to find my own rhythm. When I first got here, I had this idea that I had to find the rhythm here and adjust to it. And that has proved to be partly true. But one thing that I have been reminded of since being here is that although it is critical to be aware of your own surroundings, it is even more important to understand the way you glide within and react to them. I have been reading this book called Shantaram, and at first I thought it was kind of corny and cliché story with this white westerner who goes to a foreign place and saves the third world people from their own ignorance, and for me, those pieces are still there but the author is extremely reflective, honest and self aware which I really enjoy. He says so many things that just stick. Here is one of the things he says when he and some other Indian mafia guys are discussing perceptions of power, The only kingdom that makes any man a king is the kingdom of his own soul (905). And being here in this crazy hectic city as a female, as a foreigner, and as…well…me, I have had countless moments when I needed to just close my eyes and search for my own truth and find a balance between action and observation. I have been here for nearly a month and still have not registered for classes yet. I have been attending class but unable to register because my documents have not been processed yet. Oh the joys of the UDSM system. For those who are planning to come and study here in the future just know that when you get here, nearly everything you expected will be changed and it will take time to get your classes settled.
Everyone stares at me here—ranging from a frank and curious stare, to almost a loathsome and unsettling one. Some of the men stare with hungry eyes and while I am dancing at the club those hungry eyes turn into aggressive approaches. I don’t mean to generalize. And the truth is that I have met a lot of Tanzanian men who are respectful and kind. It is just that those few spoiled apples make a woman have to feel on guard and tense, even when there is a sincere opportunity to be friendly with someone. Whatever. This is nothing new. I have experienced this in nearly every place that I have been.
But hardship is always accompanied with some sort of raw and natural beauty as well. And when I feel like I cant take much more of the drama and miscommunication here, it rains. And when it rains here it’s as though there is a warm waterfall flowing right onto you from above, below and the side. The rain here seems to have so much rage, determination, and vitality to it: completely different from the misty and slightly clingy rain/fog that we get in San Francisco. Then if the river falling from the sky does not overwhelm you enough, then you hear bombs in the sky, loud bangs and rips that on any other occasion would be terrifying; however, this thunder is one of my favorite phenomenon that occur in nature, second to tropical rain. I guess dreams really do come true.
University of Dar es Salaam is like a little village in and of itself. It is tucked away on a hill in the middle of a large forest, far away from the congested, polluted, and hectic city of Dar. My backyard is a forest with lots of trees and plants. Wild monkeys with white and brown bodies and black faces and of course the infamous glowing blue balls patrol the campus like policemen. Sometimes they come and jump on my roof and play right outside my window. So because we live in the forest a lot of weird things go down. Like yesterday morning, I got up and made my bed and saw the usual two lizards that like to chase each other on the wall next to my bed. Then I turn my back and these fools plop down onto my bed and are tangled in what seems to be like a wrestling match of some sort. I usually don’t mind the lizards, matter of fact I like to think of them as good luck because they eat the mosquitoes and spiders, but that was just weird. Like I wonder what they do on my bed when I am not here…
I have not traveled much besides Zanzibar. I just been to some local beaches and another inhabited island called Mbudja where I had the misfortune of stepping on a sea urchin and being attacked by a snake all in the same hour. Thank God there were these group of South Africans who came to the rescue and helped me with my foot and took the snake away.
Anyways I am getting used to the life here. Although the city can be a hot, polluted, congested mess, the rain can come and clean all of that away in minutes and make everything silent and glistening. Living in a forest has also been such a learning experience. Learning to deal with the bugs and wild animals has been good for me. We have running water sometimes, but most of the times we take bucket showers in the bath, which I have come to love. It reminds me of going to the Korean bathhouse back home when you sit and wash yourself and then throw buckets of water onto your body. It is way more eco-friendly.
Just went on our Safari in the Serengeti. Next post! Until then, love peace and understanding.