I don’t want to show off or anything but we just had a really, really lovely holiday in Dar es Salaam. We were by the sea, got a tan and soaked up oodles of hospitality.
In fact we were spoiled, spoiled, spoiled by our old friends whose children kindly provided non stop entertainment for ours without a single fight breaking out and hosts who seemed to effortlessly roll out endless delicious meals enjoyed while sitting around large recycled dhow wood dining tables. We stayed in their beautiful house in town and their very chic ‘barefoot luxury’ beach house south of Dar that they built stone by stone themselves. A few years ago, only they could see the potential in a few acres of tangled thick bush many miles over the ferry and far from home (I saw it in the early days so I can tell you I missed it, in fact I have to admit that I thought they were mad) – now it is a paradise. Our friends brought prawns and calamari in cool boxes and threaded them onto palm fronds to barbeque. We collected shells and lounged in the bath temperature shallows of the deserted beach by day and later lit a fire and watched the moon rise. There was no electricity at the house so at night we gazed at the stars. Our friends managed to produce cold drinks and enough food and water for all ten of us for three nights on the trot in forty degree heat. Thank you, thank you!
Another best bit was the time for chatting with an old friend. Do you think clothes made of local African fabrics (kanga, kitenge) work for expats? Answer: yes for children, yes if you are in your twenties, yes if you have a complexion that can carry off very bold colours and patterns. We shopped in the depths of a local African market out near the airport, Ilala, in search of Indian kangas with softer colours and flowers. I used to go there with a baby strapped to my front in a sling and sweat it out as I browsed through fabrics piled on trestle tables and second hand clothes. We went to Kariakoo and spent hours digging out dinner plates that looked like Emma Bridgewater’s multi-spot dots but cost relatively nothing.
We talked about if or when our children should be exposed to living in Europe? Was it fair on them to keep them in Africa. Help, no easy answers there!
We drove past our old house lots of times and I noticed how much the new occupiers had done to the garden (it was in shameful neglect when we left thanks to my criminal lack of interest at the time) but that for some reason they had taken out the lime trees at the back. Most of Dar was the same and the changes I noticed in the area we used to live were positive ones like better shops or roads that had finally changed from dirt to tarmac. We haggled for Zanzibar benches on the side of the road (don’t ask how we are going to get them to Nairobi) and couldn’t chose because, frankly, we had so little else to concern ourselves with. I visited the Tingatinga painting workshop to order painted fish and children’s name boards. We all swam in the sea and ate pizza at the yacht club where hundreds of mums and babies and children frolicked happily looking tanned and relaxed.
My daughter’s first observations when we arrived were; ‘people are sweeping the roads here, they never, ever do that in Nairobi.’ and ‘the traffic lights actually work!’
There’s something about the light in Dar es Salaam, the blue sea and the palm trees that makes it all seem like a dream as soon as you step off the plane and get back home. Of course I remember living there with the frustrations of power cuts that were all the more painful because of such dripping humidity and heat, trying to shop and rush about doing chores in that heat with sweat trickling down the back of your legs. Nothing ever really dried on the washing line. I remembered about the sugar ants everywhere (you have to keep the sugar in the fridge otherwise it's alive with them) – they even run up your legs, down your arms and into your underwear and of course the invisible mosquitoes.
Our eldest daughter had a memorable close encounter with a vicious jelly fish but she’s now proud of her impressive war wound (our host was wonderfully prepared with first aid for such an incident and thankfully no weeing on the sting was necessary). Our daughter recovered quickly and now has the perfect back to school show and tell, ‘this is where a jelly fish wrapped itself around my neck in Tanzania!’