Arriving in Tanzania we were greeted by great clouds of moths, swarming around the arc lamps at the airport, in their futile struggle to reach the moon. Stepping out of the plane we were hit by the unmistakable smell of the country, impossible to disassemble into its constituent parts. Smoky, foody, peopley, animaly, vegetably, woody.
Having spent three weeks in the UK, we had become acclimatised and were equally shocked by the heat and humidity as we had been by the icy winds and unheated houses in North Yorkshire. The body acclimatises very quickly, leading to surprise when one moves quickly between continents.
We were fast to the front of the immigration queue this time, and despite the recent tourist stamps in our passport, they let us through without let or hindrance. The immigration officer even told Yuki that she was a lucky woman to be with me. Such flattery! The approaching customs officials that I thought were going to scrutinise our luggage (packed with seeds and exotic foods) were actually opening the doors for us. A grand welcome to the country we are beginning to call home. Returning to the friendliness of even taxi drivers was refreshing.
In a way we are like celebrities here, stared at, and followed by children. This is sometimes a nuisance, but it enboldens us, along with the general friendliness of Tanzanians, to speak to anyone, which is a very comfortable situation to be in. I had a long conversation with the forex teller about the Tanzanian economy. The dollar is down, which is good for Tanzania; petrol is up which is bad. The teller told me that (like tourists) politicians never visit the villages where life is really difficult. They only see the towns where things are Ok. This means things don’t really change much outside the towns. Nyerere used to visit the villages, and he is greatly missed. The teller summed it up – before the money was in the hands of the people, now it is in the hands of the government. It is interesting that this is the perception in a country which to the outside world appears to have deregulated so much. Life has got better for the tourist, for the tanzanian businessman, but what about the man on the street?
Whilst waiting for Yuki’s colleague whom we had bumped into on the plane (how much of an international does that make us feel!), and had dissapeared into the Visa queue, we met up with the driver from TechnoServe who would drive us home. He described the situation at the airport as “bongo” – brain fillingly confusing. Too much to see. After about an hour Paul emerged, having watched two people deal with each Visa application form, stamping and signing each triplicated sheet.
Arriving at Kilimanjaro airport is usually a night time affair, so the atmosphere is different to that of the day. The great vistas over the plains between Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru are obscured. The view is restricted to the banana trees lit by headlights at the side of the road. That and the signs, all of which had aquired large red crosses, scrawled through them. The red crosses persisted all the way to Arusha, and we were all puzzled as to their significance. One suggestion was that they were a sign that the establishments advertised hadn’t paid their sign tax. Another more likely one was that a four lane highway between Dar es Salaam and Nairobi is planned, and that anything by the side of the road will be demolished to make way. This included, we later noticed, a number of houses and shops, not only signs. Some had recently been built or look near completion. As much as a safe, fast road linking major cities in East Africa would be a luxury, I wonder how many people’s dreams and lives will be shattered, acceptingly as African’s always are, by the development?
Eventually we arrived at Mary’s. We were briefly savaged by her dogs before destroying the neatness of our room by exploding our bags all over the floor. Back at home.