Travel


The name alone is the stuff of dreams, like Timbuktu that we almost visited in Mali; and Veena’s description had left me hoping for an exceptional visit. Indeed, the Stone Town, as they call the capital (to distinguish it from the part of the city on the «other side» of a bay, poorer, whose buildings were once of dried mud and now of concrete and corrugated iron) contains a souk of old buildings one enters through magnificient carved wood doors. (Some photos, but I remind you that Veena had already taken pictures of Zanzibar in her first trip there.) But some of those old buildings have suffered from being converted into social housings after the revolution; and even if touristic development was late enough so people had a clue about consequences and could avoid the worst traps of uncontrolled development, it is clear that the tourist influx is already taxing the island’s capacity, both on the ecological and cultural side.

But before going on with our experience, I should give some historical context. Zanzibar always was an important port for commerce on the Indian Ocean, which was, much like the Mediterranean, at the centre of much cultural exchange and population mixing. Commerce was bound to the rhythms of the Monsoon, bringing the boats eastwards one season and westwards six months later; in between, high winds or no winds made travel impossible. The traders, first Persians (around year 1000) and later Arabs or Indians, had to settle for six months in the opposite country, and would often establish house and family there, hence partly the abundant ethnic mixing. Were being exchanged, coming from inner Africa, gold, ivory, precious woods… and already slaves. The Portuguese, following Vasco de Gama’s explorations, happily pillaged the coast, so much as to kill the trades that made it rich in the first place; until the Sultan of Oman chased them in the first half of seventeenth century and chose to move his capital to Zanzibar, constructing a fort that can still be visited, and that was at the origin of what would become Stone Town.

At that time, the slave trade had become one of the most important sources of riches in Indian Ocean trade; imported in great quantities by the Arabs (throughout the Middle East), and later by the Europeans in their oriental colonies. This history of this oriental slave trade is much less known, but at least as important as the triangular commerce with the Americas. (On the site of the old slave market in Zanzibar, there is a notice explaining the triangular slave trade, which goes to show how much less well documented the oriental slave trade is, at least in English…) The oriental slave trade also contributed to the population mixing, this time in the Arab world, where the children of the african slave-wives were considered legitimate, unlike those of European slave masters.

The Europeans, despite using slaves themselves, pushed for the abolition of slavery, starting with the famous Dr. Livingstone (I presume…) missionary and explorer. The Omanis, of course, resisted this push for abolition, that they judged both hypocritical (given the use of slaves in European colonies) and also driven less by humanitarian motives than by the intention to break one of the economic pillars of their empires; and probably were they right on this account as well, even if the intentions of someone like Livingstone seem quite above reproach. But the European powers, especially England, put continuous pressure on Zanzibar to end the slave trade, as the latter was one of the main commercial centers of that trade, and hence quite rich (one of the very few African states to have an embassy in Europe…), and we can suspect that the political motivations behind this pressure could indeed have been less noble.

The other source of Zanzibari wealth was the spice trade; the Sultan Seyyid Said, feeling that the writing was on the walls for the slave trade, imported a number of clove trees, which also contributed to his wealth, so much as to allow his successor to break ties with Oman. It is the pinnacle of Zanzibari power; the next Sultan, Bargash, saw his fortune wane as, first, a cholera epidemics decimated the population, followed by a cyclone that destroyed his fleet as well as most of the clove plantations; soon after he had lost his fleet, the British fleet could impose the abolition of the slave trade… At the same time, the Germans were taking over Tanganyika, which until then was also part of the old Omani empire, or at least its sphere of influence. Bargash could only witness the end of his empire, leaving behind magnificent constructions, and died bitter as Zanzibar became a British protectorate, and the following Sultans lost all real political power, even if they still owned the island’s resources (including cloves) for awhile.

When the British granted independence to Zanzibar (1963, two years after Tanganyika), the parliament was still dominated by the Omanis, following a series of rigged election; the African majority of Zanzibar (led by an Ugandan) revolts the following year, and most Arabs and Indians (who, though without political powers, were however big landowners thanks to commerce) are either driven away or massacred. Following this revolt, the economy of the island is in tatters, and the new president of Zanzibar has to accept the offer of union from Julius Nyerere, from which is born modern Tanzania (TANganyika+ZANzibar.)

Let me glide over recent history; the cultural and religious tolerance that characterizes Tanzania as a whole is slowly seeping to Zanzibar, after further persecution of the remaining Indians in the 60′s. I have already mentioned the importance of tourism in the new liberal economy, characterized by prices given in US$. You may have heard about the accusations of corruption during this last election. It is not absolutely clear that this election was rigged, mind you; but if not, it would be a first in Tanzania’s short history of multipartism. The party in power, ex-socialist, systematically sets aside the CUF, which favours comparatively more political independence for Zanzibar from the mainland, and also seemingly greater islamisation of internal politics, though the public discourse of CUF centers more around social issues.

So… How does it feel like on the ground? I’m not so sure. Clearly, Zanzibar is more rich culturally than Dar (I am not speaking for the whole of Tanzania, much too diverse.) The old «House of Wonders», an elegant building, of hybrid architecture, with then-modern amenities built by Sultan Bargash, is now a mostly excellent museum, with among other things a reconstitution of an older style of dhow (Indian ocean boats) whose wooden beams are sewn rather than nailed, which allowed it to better resist collisions with corals, and according to legend, to avoid losing all its nails to some mythical marine magnet. There was also an old Aladdin lamp, said to be complete with genie; and many traces of the time when Zanzibar was a commercial hub of the maritime trade, for example a Chinese bowl which was as remarkable for its size as its quality.

In the evening, at a restaurant named after Freddy Mercury (of Queen fame, yes, he was a Zanzibari!) we finally heard a concert of taarab, a form of Zanzibari music which mostly reminds one of classical Arabic music, but with some echoes… not so much of Africa specifically, but of a bit of everywhere. (Not to mention recent fusions with rap and Jazz! But the concert we heard was more classical.) We came back quite enchanted. You’ll hear the CDs when we come back. Meanwhile: description and samples

The following day, Christmas eve, after visiting the old slave market (converted to an Anglican cathedral, with superb embossed copper iconography behind the altar; but they kept some of the old slave holding cells, where one is torn between claustrophobia and stark horror.) We then did some shopping: as in any touristic location, one finds a bit of everything, Indian clothes, Arabic jewellery, spices from everywhere…. I guess what is typically Zanzibari is properly the mixture itself. But we’re especially happy with our musical buys, the most representative. But I also needed new lighter pants, my old jeans (seriously worn down by now) being a tad on the heavy side for Tanzanian summer! Oh, yes, summer is here. Veena is suffering more than I do, when the heat becomes stifling; at home it’s still fine, as our apartment has wonderful cross-ventilation, but the hotel we stumbled on in Stone Town was quite ordinary, and did not have the same degree of wind, and I myself had some moments of weather-induced stupor. (While you’re freezing, from what I hear…) That said, lack of sleep did not help: We were quite happy to note that our hotel was far enough from neighbouring mosques, but we had yet to find out that, as sonorous as they might be, the muezzins are at least not as persistent as common roosters. There was obviously some kind of henhouse thereabouts, and for those who never experienced it, the myth that the cock crows at sunrise omits to add that it also does so a fair amount of time beforehand and even longer afterwards. Darn the silly beast!

We splurged a bit for the Christmas dinner at the Sweet Eazy, one of the better restaurants in Stone Town, where they had promised us an orchestra with «African music»; but if we did indeed eat well, musically it was a minor disaster, as they were playing American pop standards, though some had indeed been translated into Swahili. Darn. We knew the Mercury was offering an evening of Christmas Carols, and were not so keen; it felt slightly disconnected in a Muslim island… Well, there are one or two churches in Stone Town, and we almost went to hear mass in Swahili. We ended up finding a local, open-air bar, populated almost exclusively with Africans, where the DJ was giving solid reggae fare, and we finally could dance. Yes, despite the importance of Islam (and also Christianity, except in Zanzibar) we find a fair number of rastafarians in Tanzania… Go figure. Then, they happen to be the people most interested in speaking to wazungu tourists…

Another word on cooking: They sell us the spice island, the originality of this cuisine that combines the best elements of the Arabic, Indian and African cuisines… Beans! (No, not even spiced beans.) I must have got too used, by now, to the complex and pungent flavours of Indian cooking, not to mention Arabic cooking, but as far as I am concerned, many of the African cuisines (excepting of course North Africa, and Ethiopia, and to a lesser extent ex-Zaire, where they at least know how to use chilies) are desperately bland, and Zanzibar is unfortunately not that much of an exception. The fish and seafood are fresh and tasty, no doubt; but as for the tamarind coconut curry sauce… Well, I do see the coconut paste, but where is the tamarind? Yes, there are cloves and cardamom in the spiced rice, but the spice mix is quite approximate and does not approach a good biryani. The cloves tea, it must be said, was not bad at all. There are absolutely charming conical copper coffee makers, where the street vendors would traditionally brew and sell Arabic coffee, but which I have only seen used as ornaments. (I could get decent espresso, Zanzibar is amply touristic enough for that… But how exotic is that? I finally could drink a good Arabic coffee… in a funky, eco-friendly hotel owned by Palestinians!) To add insult to injury, the service is often times abnormally slow. Yes, I know I am in Africa, but even in Dar I do not have to wait 40 mins. for a salad! To sum it up, as a gastronomical destination, we’ve both seen better. OK, I’m complaining again, but as you know I am spoilt; and the flavours could have been composed more subtly, but they were not totally absent. We ran into a Canadian on mission in Zambia, she told us that the food there was absolutely tasteless. The horror….

So… Day after, to the beach! We went to Jambiani, on the east coast, of which we had been told that it was not the best bathing beach, but that we could make wonderful walks at low tide. Indeed, the slope is most gentle, and at high tide we could walk over 200m into the sea without the water ever getting much above the knees. But we discovered it was a very bad idea. Thank heavens the water was clear, by the way; so that between the (very plentiful) seaweed I could spy in time why this was indeed not a bathing beach. Flash-back: At the age of six, travelling through Africa (Karl was doing a series on Africa, that had him shoot six months on site, and Geneviève and I accompanied him for slightly less) a wave had me lose foot, and I only found it again on a colony of black sea urchins. It took my mother a good twelve days to remove the needles embedded in my feet (using a syringe needle, yes we tried thousands of other ways before that one) (and of course, during that time, she also had to carry me! Anyways…) So, I recognized with some terror that my old sea urchin friends had come to greet me in numbers amidst the seaweed. I am still surprised (and grateful to my lucky star) that I did not trample them anew.

The hotels have set up sand corridors between the seaweed to walk safely until the boats, whence one can snorkel in higher seas. Once the finally told us about them (a bit late, incidentally….), those corridors allowed us to walk further on in the sea. We decided to pass on the boat trip; We had only one day at the sea, and did not want to do too much. Later, we indeed had a charming walk at low tide, and some chance meetings with other travellers allowed us to have a nice time that evening. The voyage back was painless; except that the 13:30 ferry was full (impossible to reserve more than 24h ahead, grrrr.) and we had to take the 16h ferry, of which Veena had a scary tale to report on her first trip (strong sea, over 80% of the boat was sick…) But we ended up having an exceptionally quiet sea. (We learnt later that there is a season as well as a time for bad trips.)

What do I make of it all? The architecture is superb, but we feel it has suffered; and the Stone Town, with the exception of the Omani fort, is after all of fairly recent make. An older mosque also seems amazing, from what little we could see; but it is surrounded by modern buildings that hide the outside, and of course the inside is forbidden to non-muslims. Even the souk is a mere 150 years old, which explains why those beautiful wooden doors are still standing. The population is indeed mixed, and once was cosmopolitan; but they turned inwards when their fortunes waned, and the revolution did not help. So tourists are welcomed, but one feels some reserve. The feeling of reserve is not unique to Zanzibar, mind you; we are still waiting to make Tanzanian friends (well, except one but he grew up in Sweden, that doesn’t count!) (To be honest, I did not yet take time to work on my Swahili myself.) We feel some more affinity to Zanzibari culture, which has the advantage of having inherited more directly from the richness of Arabic culture, and to have been less neutralized by modernity than Dar is; but that makes it in no way more accessible.

Our stay there was lovely, I would not want to denigrate; yes, Zanzibar is worth seeing. But… the centre at least of Stone Town is quite touristy. When we go back, it will be a real beach holiday (including some diving, it’s been ages, but that will wait for me to make some money again) and otherwise we will try to avail of some of the cultural tourism options to meet people in the villages. It is still somewhat artificial, but it should be better. There are some around the beach we had selected (partly for that reason) but we did not have the time or energy this time; and indeed the hotels, though infinitely more opulent than the surrounding village, did not seem completely disconnected from it. There is some hope. But the identity of tourist (i.e. revenue source…) is quite the social handicap.

Again, I am ill placed to complain about prices; as a resident, the ferry cost me only TSh 10500 (around US$9), vs. US$35 for ordinary tourists. That’s not much; the difference should be more welcome for safaris, whose fees are supposed to jump in January due to increased park fees. However, that residency permit, beyond a paltry US$120 (paid by CUSO), cost me at least fifteen visits to the various immigration departments (I did not keep an accurate count, but that should be the ballpark, without exaggeration.) Not that the process is so painful in and of itself, but it is almost impossible to obtain accurate information as to the documents required, where to obtain the forms, which form applies in my case, how much I will have to pay, where, when and how ($US, of course, each bill of which I had to write the number on the registry!), how long each step should take, and so on and so forth. One of the reasons why it is so difficult to have answers to these questions is that the civil servants are rather unavailable; count many hours spent in front of an empty wicket. Impossible, when they are there, to get any estimate about waiting times other than “soon” if it is the same day, and otherwise estimates are worthless. Veena did not have so much trouble, partly because CUSO had prepared her arrival better, and partly because the last steps had been given to the HakiElimu driver, who as a Tanzanian could more easily get the full story. As Haki is being singularly unpopular with the government right now, they deemed it safer for me to do it on my own, which ended up being a peerless occasion to practice the paramita of patience. (Paramita: Buddhist virtues.)

That said…. I finally send an (almost) complete theory chapter to my director, and I’m waiting for detailed comments. So to all those who were asking me where I’m at: Finally halfway! But that unfortunately means quite behind deadlines. I am not unhappy with what has been written so far (63000 words and counting, I hope to reach 2^64 by year’s end ;-) , and my director has granted me yetsreday the grace of an extension to go on. I intend to write the second half much faster, the foundation having been laid out. But that also means I will not set up internet at home for another few months.

Speaking of setting up: The curtains are finally up (Yay!) Electricity has been more stable lately, but we were told such an anomaly was sure to end soon. I thus bought a spare battery for my dear laptop, which is holding out in the heat.

This was your correspondant from downtown Dar es Salaam, and exceptionally surrounding areas. Stay tuned for another episode, and happy new year until then!

Marc-Antoine

Today, I am a bit too tired (mild belly-ache) to think through my thesis, which is still progressing, although still at at tortoise pace…
After the Albatross and the Hydra, the bestiary image that struck me recently was that of Snoopy endlessly typing “It was a dark and stormy night” atop his house. In one episode, he starts adding disjointed fragments: “A door slammed. The maid screamed. While the children were crying from hunger, the king lived in luxury.” (Comment from Snoopy: I will make all the connections in chapter 2… Which you will understand is what I’m writing now.) The he starts chapter 2 with even more disjointed fragments and comments: “I am making life difficult for myself!”
No, it’s nowhere near that bad. I laughed more than cried when this image came to me, which is both a good sign for my thesis and a bad sign for my sanity. Hopefully mostly the former ;-)

So while we are on the topic of fragments, and since people are asking me about my Tanzanian impressions, which I feel utterly unable to provide from our lovely little pad whence, like Snoopy, I am spending part of each day writing, another part just flopping in the heat (summer has started in earnest here…) and another part trying to organize said lovely pad (lovely, but that except of course we’re still waiting for the curtains to cut the sun. And the poles to hold the curtains. And the holes in the wall to screw in the poles. And the drill to make the holes. And the electricity to power the drill. And a new generator in the city to make electricity. (Two broke!) And the boat to come from India to bring the new generator… Does this begin to sound like a calling song?)

So speaking of fragments, here are fragments for a Tanzanian dictionary that I’ve been working on and off, in my spare time, with Veena’s help.

Sidewalk
Uneven strip on the side of the road. Is used by stores to display their wares, street sellers to set up their stands (for clothes, phone cards or Coconut water (q.v.)…), trucks and taxis parking, guards chatting, idlers playing draughts, mendicants with their family… And hence totally unsuited to actually walking. Pedestrians meander between the sidewalk and continually skirt the traffic on the main road. We propose ‘skirtwalk’.

Coconut water
«The real reason why we’re here». (Veena)
Curtains
An obscure object of desire, to quote Bunuel. We tend to forget this, but curtains depend on basic infrastructure, such as poles. Those, unfortunately, have to be installed by Fundis (q.v.). Fundis, to compound the problem, cannot work without Electricity (q.v.).

Fundis
Kiswahili for handyman. A Tanzanian swear word.

Electricity
A strange beast, without fixed schedule though mostly nocturnal, clearly not indigenous to Tanzania. Seems to be kin to the Cheshire Cat.

Schedule
We know we have to make one up, sure. (example: there is a schedule for when electricity is cut.) Er… do you mean you expect us to follow it as well?

Logic (VG)
The expectation that events will follow an orderly sequence. Leave it at the airport (hopefully you can collect it on your way back!)

Gratification (VG)
What you expect to get through payment, social interaction, using basic infrastructure. Forget it!

Instant Gratification (VG+MAP)
Are you out of your mind?

Respite
Ah. A more realistic goal. I mean… you can always sleep, right?

Mosque
A peaceful, quiet place where people go to pray. Quiet, that is, except when the Muezzin call for prayer through loudspeakers (seemingly undeterred by lack of Electricity) five times a day, from 5AM, loud enough to wake us up through closed windows and earplugs.

DalaDalas (VG)
Dirt cheap, somewhat crowded rattle traps with funky music and friendly locals, that actually get you to some nice places.

Beaches
White sands, strong sun, gentle waves, families outing, fewer touts… Can we go again?

Kindness
A constant.

On that last note… Yes, contacts are difficult. Tanzanians are indeed kind, but it is hard to make friends; among Veena’s Tanzanian colleagues, we have had the best chats with a few people who studied abroad. Of course exposure means we have more in common, but on the other hand how many Tanzanians are in that case? Well, not that few as it turns out but yet not enough. We are breaking through the isolation, which is a good thing, but sad to say, mostly through meeting other wazungus (foreigners.) Not exclusively, though. We are here for the long haul, there is hope.

Tanzanians are not only kind, but very polite; I must say Tanzania is beginning to feel suspiciously like Canada. Remnants of a social system still apparent but being dismantled, politeness often to the point of conflict-avoidance, of not making waves… (sad for a coastal country!) The government is very top-down and paternalistic, and people are getting very sick of the way the elections are run (esp. in Zanzibar, but even on the mainland all does not go well for the ruling party) but still, it is only talked about in understatements and a strange mix of anger and fatalistic comments. (And I am quite sure it is not fear, but simply a reluctance to rock the boat.) I hear Zanzibaris are more open about their points of disagreement, and many of them squarely resent the federation act; by all accounts, one feels it is a(nother) distinct society.

So… I hope all is well for you. Deep thanks to the few hardy souls who do answer my collective emails with personal ones, and deep apologies that they mostly go unanswered at this point; I am still trying hard to focus on the thesis. I do treasure these points of contacts, I promise that when my life is more normalized (Chantal told me there is a life after the Masters), I will catch up and you will get more personal answers for your pains…

Tutoanana tena
(See you!)
Marc-Antoine

Hi folks, I’m working on my email list…
Writing does not come easily to me, as you know; but things are made even more complicated than before, due to the number of friends I have who can speak only one of French or English. I intend to mostly write in French, and translate in English as much as I can, such as now; but I do not want to exclude the possibility that some posts will be in only one language.
Be aware that, initially at least, this will seem like a lot of work for nothing: I am still struggling to finish my M.Sc. before the end of the year. This means that I will mostly not be in touch, and not writing many emails, until early 2006… But keep hope, I do intend to write some time after that.

Those technical aspects of the message behind us, here is a short summary of the situation for those to whom I have not given news for really way too long: Veena having found it somewhat difficult finding a third job in Ottawa, after South Asia Partnership started really scaling down, she chose to apply for a volunteer posting in Tanzania through CUSO. The upside of this posting is that it provides her with her first position as a communication director, which is the most logical next step in her career. So she’s been working for the past three months for Haki Elimu, a NGO which works on citizen involvement in education policy, and I myself have accepted to follow her for the greatest part of these two years in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, from where I am now writing. CUSO makes it possible for me to follow her as a common-law spouse, and takes care of my plane ticket and a basic allowance, which will give me leisure to finally finish my MSc thesis (this year, final deadline) after which I may finally be able to start appreciating the country, learn Swahili, maybe look for some volunteer work myself, and start developing some research projects that I’ve been thinking about for some time for the future. As it is, it’s a wonderful opportunity to make new contacts in a new context.

So… After having spent those first three months without Veena back in Montreal to get some more serious work done on the MSc, about which you may get to hear more some other day, (thesis and celibacy apart, it was otherwise a very nice stay in a beautiful apartment in Verdun, which belongs to my friend Sangeeta, who I thanks again for her hospitality!) I made my baggage (in a very chaotic fashion, as too usual) to make a mostly uneventful trip on British Airways, unless you count as events the slightly unusual occurrences of actually sleeping on the plane, competent service, and plane food that… well.. tried hard to live “up” to the reputation of british cuisine. I met a charming couple at departure in Dorval, and the man traveled with me, though I could not always leave my seat to talk with him and my immediate seat neighbour had nothing to say to me, which also suited me, as I also did need that sleep. Managed to chat to Rob on the first leg of the flight. On the way, I had the pleasure of an almost full day in London; Sorry I did not call any of my London friends, but it was working hours, and since I did not know what state I would be in I did not dare ask you to get out of your way. Finally, I was in a good enough state to rush through selected rooms of the British Museum, Tate Gallery, _and_ National Gallery! (OK, I mostly saw the Turner room there, breathtaking indeed.) I would not even have reached that last museum if I had not come (barely) too late to visit the Westminster chapel, which I had to simply view from the outside. The Tate was impressive, though my strongest impression will remain of its neighbourhood, an old working class neighbourhood whose architecture reminded me of many a movie (most recently Cronenberg’s troubling Spider, which for all I know was not even set there.) That said, if the London architecture was well worth seeing, I could not establish a contact with the Londonians, who seemed to me as reserved as they are made out to be, though I admit I could have tried harder to meet people instead of running after painting and old stones. Of course, if I had budgeted time (and pounds! argh!) to hang out in a pub, I am sure I could have had more of a chat; but usually I manage to do it one way or another. Well, it did finally happen, in quite telling a fashion: in the tube that was to bring me back to the airport, while trying to make sure the next train was going in the right direction, I received directions from an enthusiastic… indo-tanzanian(!) with whom I shared a great chat along the way. (Hello, Aash! How did that dinner go?) Well, I think it was high time for me to actually get to Tanzania….

My arrival was equally uneventful: customs were a breeze (no, nothing to declare. Thank you.) and Veena took a day off to come and get me at the airport, I was not completely dead from the trip (though my body did complain later) and I could appreciate the wonderful apartment she got right downtown. As I arrived Friday morning, we had a long weekend ahead of us, of which a goodly part (besides our reunion of course) was taken by logistics: De main reason being that, in Dar es Salaam, the shop hours are still intended with families with at least one member staying at home in the day for shopping, be it the wife, in richer families the maid, or in our case the common-law husband. Veena is working long hours, and until my arrival had to do all her shopping on Saturday mornings exclusively. So she had to indicate to me the main markets and department stores so I would know where to go. Moreover, the apartment (incidentally quite spacious… Yes, there is space for visitors) must still be furnished in parts, though Veena already did a lot on her own; we should in particular still buy a solid (thief-proof) filing cabinet for our laptops and a writing desk for me (I am currently writing this on the living room low table, sitting on the ground as is my wont), and we started exploring furniture shops. Alas, being downtown, most of the furniture we could buy is imported and upscale; but I think we found an OK place finally. Finally, we had to find a phone for me, or rather connect my cell phone to a local provider. So: you can call me at 011-255-787-228-393. SMS is most welcome (and much cheaper for both sides!), though I think in that case you would use a “+” instead of the initial “011″. I know SMS usage is still rare among you; at least I sent a few and had few responses! But if you want to contact me, it is much more efficient than email, which I will check two or three times per week. Of course, my SMS answers are bound to be more laconic than these emails. Yes, I could, and intend to get home internet access… once the thesis is done! (you must be hearing the Leitmotiv…)

While I’m at it: I am happy to notice that the prepaid phone provider here even provides a voicemail box (though, typically, it was a mess to set up: neither their pamphlets nor the computerized information line provide the correct number for voicemail service. Sigh.) The voicemail is especially welcome since I often use the cell phone as a home phone, and do not bring it with me all the time. On the second day of my arrival, someone whom I had indeed brushed with my backpack started pointing to his feet, and complaining (in Swahili) that I had stepped on them (sure) while his partner was searching my pockets. They were so unskilled and obvious that I felt it at once, while Veena yelled at him to stop. So, the amateur pickpocket took his hand from my pocket without my cell phone, and just acted innocent by the sidewalk without even bothering to run away. And then why? I was obviously not going to pick a fight with a group (more than these two were colluding) and there were no police nearby. We decided against attempting a scandal and just walked away. And frankly, once past the shock, we felt they were mostly pathetic. Their incompetence and attitude might suggest junkies. According to the neighbours, also indo-tanzanians, there is quite an upsurge of crime these days (mostly, according to them, by Kenyan immigrants, who are reputed to be more aggressive than Tanzanians. How justified is that prejudice? Hard for me to know at this point, but it is widespread.) due to the fact that the police is mostly busy overseeing the elections, coming this October 30th. At least until that is over, we are advised to avoid Zanzibar altogether, and I will especially avoid carrying valuables.

Whether or not those thieves were indeed Kenyans, I must specify that this episode is most definitely not the main picture I get from most Tanzanians: People are indeed welcoming, and I am often greeted in the street, people asking me where I am from and welcoming me to Tanzania, often enough without even (!) a follow-up commercial proposition (safari touts, black market money changers, etc. abound here as elsewhere.) However, my near-total ignorance of Swahili, though not crippling in downtown Dar es Salaam, is a definite social handicap with most Tanzanians, with the conspicuous exception of indo-tanzanians, who are for the most part of Gujarati origins (that’s the province immediately north of Mumbai’s) and trilingual. The indo-tanzanian community is large, economically important, has been here for generations, has established its temples, etc. In many ways, I feel I could be in India: the british colonial architecture of Dar es Salaam inevitably reminds one of the british colonial architecture of Mumbai; especially downtown, many shops belong to indo-tanzanians, and for the linguistic reasons above it is still easiest for me to interact with them; and of course at home we both find it easier to cook indian than western, if only because of the availability of appropriate ingredients. Well, we also eat african food sometimes, esp. when the maid cooks. Yes, Veena got us a maid. I have to admit, though I’ve always be reluctant, I cannot protest too hard: as it is quite warm here, we absolutely need the draft, and leave the windows open, which entails very regular dustings; we do not have a washing machine, nor space for one, nor a nearby laundromat; and other constraints which technology alleviates in the west, but which here, demand hired help, or for most people a lot of work from the wife and eldest children. If not her, it would be me, and I could certainly do more than I do now for the house, but I will not pretend I have the wherewithal do laundry by hand for more than a few days. (Have you tried? Yes, maybe while camping but for two years?) Let me recall an anecdote from a CUSO worker, who himself comes from Sierra Leone, and is clearly very strong: he came to Dar es Salaam, many years ago, and got an apartment on a fourth floor, as I recall it. There was no running water, so he started hauling water up in buckets, as most people were doing. He gave up after a few days. Too darn demanding. He managed to convince his (male) neighbours to contribute to buy money for a pump for the building. None of them had thought it worth doing before him, since hauling water was, again, done by the wife and older children. So. Yes, the invisible work is often the hardest. So we do have a maid, who comes every weekday morning. (Maybe a lot as far as I am concerned, but it seems less than that would not suit her either.) Her name is Mary, and Veena manages to give her instructions in Swahili, which quite impresses me. Also, Mary seems quite smart herself; it is quite clear she could have another type of work in another context. As for me… Well, in a few months I will start Swahili, and maybe I will be able to talk to her, as well as to most other Tanzanians.

Let’s admit it, I do not have so much to tell yet because I am a bit home-bound right now: Mornings I stay home, since Mary is here, and her presence also allows me to get work done. After lunch I walk around a bit, but though I do appreciate the convenience of being downtown, I will not pretend it is the most scenic neighbourhood to walk about. Evenings, Veena comes quite late, we eat, we spend some time together, and occasionally we go a bit further. Last week-end, she brought me to a nice beach further north in the city: from downtown, I was almost forgetting we were living on the coast! The beach was very nice, especially for a city beach: I’ve seen much more polluted in north america. Nice sand and shoals, I had not brought my trunks as we were just looking around but it did help me get out of my shell. At the same time, and (again) until that year is done, I am not yet truly here, heart and soul; not at all that I regret coming, but my focus is elsewhere. Let us see what 2006 brings me. I am quite convinced that there is a lot to do and to feel here, though even then I will likely need some time to adapt. Life here can be sweet, but I will have to find my place, and I feel that the type of issues that I care about are quite foreign here. And Veena finds it somewhat difficult to re-form a social network, even though she has the advantage of being in a work environment; I will have no such access to this society for a while. Many say that India is a difficult country, and it is true in many ways; but having a common language makes a world of difference, for one thing; and the second time, I could get access to the insider’s view thanks to Veena’s family, and the first time I was mostly approaching the Tibetan culture, which being exiled was more vulnerable, and more open to talking with another stranger. I suspect that, if I am to find some way to get access to Tanzanian society, it might be through its (thankfully many) more marginal cultures. Tanzania is a very plural society, and that is something that does speak to me. Anyway, one thing at a time. (Pole, pole, as we say here, which means something like the italian’s piano, piano…)

Enjoy,
Marc-Antoine