No one should be walking the streets of Dar es Salaam at 3 in the morning, but the wretchedness of the Cockney Muslim hospital had forced me onto them. Cockroaches like shiny black eggs crept into corners in my peripheral vision, a wake disturbed by my passing down the sheltered pavements. The night nurse, whose laughter in her sleep had part set me on my way, had warned me about gangs of children who roamed the night, the time of their rule. “They may try to sell you tea” she said with a shudder, urging me to take a taxi the few streets to our hotel. Shillingless, I was unable and unwilling to take this advice, and felt safe in that I had little to steal. Besides, was Dar es Salaam any more dangerous a city than London, a city I had wandered at length during darkness, experiencing nothing more than new perspectives on familiar locations.
Water dripped in big drops from long dry gutters into long empty puddles, refreshed by an earlier heavy shower that marked the beginning of the long rains. This year the rains were predicted to be light. The air had lost much of its heaviness to the rain. Heaviness that had clung on in the hospital ward, barely shifted by the thunderous ceiling fans. The air and the darkness outside I found refreshing like a cold drink at the end of a long sweaty confined bus journey. The ward’s stark neon strip lights shone relentlessly, although the other patient, the one with the rotting feet, required a torch in order to see the progress he made as he tore deliberate strips away from the scabs. That I could see this with or without the torch was another prompt to escape.
Down each street I passed cats would run at each other, making brief, noisy but mostly bloodless territorial losses and gains. These howling squeals percussed and rattled from the plain metal doors which hid the identity and purpose of all the shops. Unlike in Europe or America the streets of Africa at night are free of deliberate distractions. One is free to avoid the cracks in the pavement, imagination not drawn to flickering adverts and enticing displays. One is free to evade the tea selling gangs of street children.
I’d had three litres of fluid dripped into my body, and imprisoned by needles and tubes attached deeply in a vein on my right hand I hadn’t had much opportunity to lose much of this. My eyes and skin bulged with the moisture, the street lights cast curving beams that arched out as if the whole world bulged with me. I thought I was on Libya street, but with no shops and this new geometry to get used to I was a little confused and hoped that perhaps a tea selling street gang might be able to give me directions, but the streets were mine alone that night.
I felt elated at my decision to leave the hospital. The doctor hadn’t mentioned anything about Cyprofloxacin IVs, nor about any overnight stays. These had been revealed to me at each step of the way. I had confirmed with the night doctor that I had completed my treatment, and chosen to spend the last few hours of sleep available curled up with my wife, rather than hiding my eyes from the Indian chap’s endeavours with his feet.
I finally saw the sign for the Safari Inn, and made it to bed. Tomorrow would be day of rest, and then on Wednesday we would return to Arusha.