I’ve been in Tanzania nearly a month now. It’s hard to believe that it’s been that long – that it’s been only that long.
I’m in Stonetown, on Zanzibar, which is gorgeous. It’s all of the white plastered walls and arches, heavy wooden lintels and ornately carved doors, winding mazes of unnamed streets that everyone promised. I took the ferry from Dar yesterday.
The excavation wrapped up and finished last Friday, we got into Kilwa Masoko that afternoon (to stare in wonder at things like toilets, and showers, and coffee – not to mention electricity) and then to Dar on Saturday. I spent the weekend running in crazy frustrating circles trying to pick up a Western Union money transfer, properly and finally cancel bank cards, buy a new phone, and try to reach my insurance company – because, true to form, I managed to have another sort-of-travel-disaster-slash-misfortune and get robbed. (It’s the sort of thing that, by this point, I’m not sure I’d belief that I was me or that I was really traveling if it didn’t happen, I think.) We were camping on a remote island, in the middle of sixteenth century ruins, two hours by boat from a small town on the mainland and six hours south of Dar es Salaam I was woken up at 4am by the two dig directors to find a foot and a half slash in the side of my tent. I’d slept through a man cutting a hole and taking my laptop, ipod, everything electronic from battery chargers and cables to flashlight, first-aid kit, all of my anti-malarial medicine, and my wallet. (They’d also taken a laptop and two camera from the main house and had cut a hole in Stephanie’s, one of the directors, tent and were fishing for her phone with a stick and woke her up.) So, between making police statements, discovering that I’d done something to my foot – probably attempt to walk around the rubble and work site in flip flop sandals when I couldn’t be bothered to put on boots – which meant that I couldn’t move my toes for a couple of days, the last week of the dig was a bit frantic. And I’ve run away to Zanzibar to relax for a few days. (Cold drinks. Showers. Real coffee. Reveling in the luxuries of creature comforts!)
Really, though – my trip has been great. Flights were all fine, actually checked in early, plenty of time between, minor hassles regarding currencies and bank cards (it never seems to end), aside, things have gone surprisingly according to plan. I moved out of my flat in Bristol a few days before I left, throwing all of my things into suitcases and plastic rubbish bags, dragging them down the street to Rob and Sophia’s. We had a sort-of-goodbye-party, where they refused to allow me to panic by being incredibly distracting (and baking brownies) but indulging my need to pack and repack everything multiple times in their living room. The next morning I wasn’t that close to being late to the coach station in Bristol (mainly because I gave in, called a cab, and managed to get a guy who forgot that he was in the UK rather than whichever country in the Indian subcontinent that he was born in; I told him that my coach was leaving in five minutes and he took the opportunity for a wrong-way on the one-way-streets, driving-on-sidewalks, not-using-his-brakes, largely-in-reverse sort of race that he must have been secretly wanting to do for ages).
Amani borrowed a car to meet me at the Dar airport and we drove into the city at dawn, palm trees against the sunrise, an impossibly cliché mirage, incredibly welcoming after so many months in England. I can’t really characterize Dar es Salaam; its broad and sprawling, oddly homogenous; everything seems to lean or slope, and the smell – the smells – have weight.