“GIMME YAH BAG!!” “NO!!” “GRRRRR!!!”
An enormous tug of war ensues between me and a giant Masai warrior. There is a very large spear in his hand. He is dressed in traditional garb and his coal black skin stands in strong contrast with the red of his shuka. I’m not intimidated. This is my dive equipment. Nothing will separate me from it. Crime is rife here and the equipment is expensive. He’s fighting to carry my bag to the plane for loading in the hopes of getting a few bucks for his service. Everything at this airport happens manually. We have been warned not to hand over our bags unless it was to actual airport officials, as things often get stolen or loaded with unsavory trafficking materials in this part of the world.
We’re at the Dar Es Salaam airport in Tanzania on our way back home to Botswana after diving, sailing and eating amazing food on the island of Zanzibar off the east coast of Tanzania. Before getting to Dar Es Salaam from the resort in Zanzibar, we had to catch a ferry from the island to the main land. To get to the ferry, we had to catch an African mini van taxi from the resort to the ferry. This proved to be an interesting experience. An African mini van taxi has character brought to it by the people that squash into it like sardines in a can. The smell is not much better than the sardine can either. People, luggage and live chickens share the seats and roof. As we pull away from the hotel there is a hard thump on the side of the van. A guy on a bicycle – more than likely drunk on strong African home brew – lost his way and cycled into the taxi, HARD. He connects with the earth with a loud OEMMMPPHHH! Some yelling ensues, but he’s ok and we’re on our way. After a long journey, we’re finally at the airport and we hope our luggage has made it to the plane. We have to take a seat and wait for hours to get out of the country. It is uncomfortable seating, no air conditioning, humid tropical heat and a very unsavory smell coming from every corner of the airport. As is typical of the culture in this area, the toilets are holes in the ground and it is a brutal experience. We look around. There are buckets standing everywhere and there is liquid dripping out of the ceilings everywhere you look. Turns out a sewer pipe had sprung a leak. Africa is not for the faint of heart.
A few months earlier, I had set a goal to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. My husband told me I’m on my own. Now I had come to Zanzibar via Dar Es Salaam and came to the realization that I would not want to make this journey on my own. My dream literally disappeared down the toilet. Oh well. There are other dreams to pursue.
Mombassa, Kenya: “Get your arm back into the car and wind up the window, FAST!!” We’re in yet another African mini van taxi taking us from the airport to our resort on Leopard Beach on the east coast of the country. It is a long ride and there is no air conditioning. The smell of stale, old sweat once again assaults the senses. We had the window open in the hopes that the polluted air in the congested traffic of Nairobi will be a better option than what we’re facing right this minute. Apparently not a good idea. Crime in Kenya is violent and ugly. They chop off arms for watches and rings and shoot you for a cell phone. Being from South Africa, we’re quite used to this behavior, but here in Kenya there has been war. The city is ravaged and the people are poor and angry and it shows on all the sooty faces outside of the van. I don’t feel comfortable.
The resort is beautiful, the beach is beautiful, the ocean is beautiful. The local beer is cold and delicious. The food is world class. We go for a walk on the beach. Suddenly there is a man with a gun by our side. “Not safe to walk here. You need a guard.” He’s in uniform, but I don’t feel comfortable. We turn back to the resort. Lazing by the pool for the rest of the time seems like a good idea.
Our room is gorgeous, air conditioned and in beautiful tropical gardens, but I have trouble sleeping. After 3 days the insomnia is bad enough that I risk going to an African hospital for sleeping pills. I must be desperate and I’m seriously starting to miss our peaceful home in Botswana.
We’re at another hole of an airport and I have issues getting OUT of the country. My passport had expired. I had applied in good enough time for a new one, but it being Africa, it still had not arrived in time for our trip six months later, so the South African embassy in Gaborone, Botswana assured me the temporary passport they issued me for Kenya will be sufficient. Turns out not to be the case. Stan gets through immigration and waits for me on the other side. The official won’t let me through. He starts shouting at me. Stan has turned whiter than a sheet. I let the man shout until he is finished. There is a photo of a woman and children behind the glass on his desk. Out of desperation, I point: “Beautiful family.” He grins. “Madam, don’t return to Kenya.” He stamps my passport and I’m out.
Both the resorts we stayed at, the food, the diving, the ocean, the east African art all made up for the mishaps. Our trips were memorable, the countries were of incredible beauty and the culture was different, albeit harsh. It is not a place I will return to, but I do like to re-visit the flavors every now and again in the safety of my own kitchen.
For a Kenyan and Zanzibari sample recipe from my book, please visit the Recipe section of this blog and for more on the inspiration behind the food, see the Foreign Lands section