My mind can hardly believe I am here, and at once I am enraptured by the world around me.
Several people have asked me whether Mama Afrika is all that I expected her to be. After all, I have known for two years that I would be moving here. As much as I used to romanticize my future in East Africa, I also knew that I wanted to soak up all that would be my new life, without expectations. So, I will tell you about the past one and a half weeks as I have experienced them.
Departing from Tampa on Tuesday, May 25th, I had a surprisingly smooth flight, no delays, and not even a hang up while getting my visa at the immigration counter at the airport in Dar es Salaam. As I picked up my backpack from baggage claim and stepped outside of the airport into the night, I was overcome by an emotion that can only be described as pure euphoria. I could not stop smiling.
There have been a number of people here in Tanzania who have made my transition here incredibly smooth. I cannot recount the past few days without expressing my heartfelt gratitude to them. The African night is as vast as she is seductive. It is easy to feel overwhelmed. That night, I had the good fortune of being picked up by my hotel’s shuttle service, and delivered safely to my home for the night. Julius Nyerere International Airport is a substantial distance from the city center, so while my driver and I sat in traffic inside our air-conditioned Camry, I asked him questions about the local shamans (waganga), in Swahili of course. My stay at the Blue Pearl hotel in Dar es Salaam was arranged by Mr. Apurva Verma, an old friend of my uncle’s back from when they studied together at India’s National Defense Academy. Apu Uncle, as I call him, has been like a guardian, relaying messages to my family the first night when I could not call home, checking up on my transition, and delivering valuable advice. It was around 11:30pm that first night and I had finally settled in to sleep, when I realized how ravenous I was. To my relief, there was 24 hour room service, and Lo and Behold! A veggie burger on the menu! And hour later, my food arrived, and I wolfed down that veggie burger like my life depended on it. Definitely one of the best meals I have ever had in my life, I can’t forget it.
I slept well that night, and awoke in the morning to the anticipation of finally meeting someone I call “the mythical creature of Dar es Salaam.” Lydia Hartsell was as lovely as my friends Jacquelyn Tolliver and Rebecca Correy said she would be. We spent that afternoon exchanging our thoughts on the 13th floor roof-top balcony of the Blue Pearl. My aspirations, her reflections. My worries, her condolences. Lydia, a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar like Jacquelyn, Rebecca, and me, has spent the past 10 months in Dar es Salaam working on her Master’s in Public Health at Muhimbili University of Allied Health and Sciences. She is gracious and kind, and I am convinced that without her help I would have fallen into a ditch or off the dock into the harbor. She also has a mastery of the dala-dala public transportation system that I am positive very few foreigners have reached. And she took me to this fabulous restaurant last Friday called Addis in Dar which has left me with such a craving for Ethiopian food, I cannot shake it.
The second two nights that I spent in Dar, I stayed at a hostel in the heart of the city, suggested to me by none other than Lydia, called the Luther House. I highly recommend it for anyone coming into Dar on a budget. Writing this in Zanzibar, I will say this about my time in Dar es Salaam: I positively enjoyed it, but thank goodness Rotary placed me on an island. Dar is exciting, the city’s pulse is youthful, it is a bustling metropolis, and a place of staggering extremes. But I prefer to take it slow, having grown up in the suburbs all my life. The morning of Saturday the 29th, as I boarded the ferry to Zanzibar, I was sad to leave Lydia behind, but anticipated the island in the Indian Ocean that I would soon call home…