By Mitterand Okorie
On the fifth day of March, I landed Julius Nyerere International Airport Dar es Salaam via Addis Ababa. There was no tube channel to walk from aircraft into terminal, so we disembarked into a scorching sun. The atmosphere was as humid as hell itself, but there was nothing strange about this at all. Certainly not for me. If anything, it reminded me of the many times I landed at the Ercan Airport in North Cyprus as an undergraduate student. I was just happy to have finally reached my destination, after what had been a long and tortuous journey.
In Abuja where it all began, I had been nearly harassed like a common thief. All airport authorities seemed to cast incredulous gazes at me. I couldn’t tell why the sight of a young, well-dressed Nigerian heading to Tanzania for a two week holiday attracted so much interest. My bag had been ransacked to check for any trace of hard drugs, and just before I made my way to the waiting lounge, some officers of the NDLEA (National Drug Law Enforcement Agency) checked me into a room where those suspected for trafficking drugs are x-rayed.
“Are you going for an official journey?” one asked.
It was, to me, a very stupid question and I did not border to respond.
“Why are you going to Tanzania?” he rephrased.
“What do you do?”
“I’m a businessman. I work in my dad’s company as his Personal Assistant. We import used trucks from Europe and sell in Nigeria.”
They continued to gaze at me with a curiosity that got me seriously peeved. I began to wonder what was strange about anything I’d said. That I was off to a two week vacation? That I was a businessman, or that I was too young to afford either status? It would have been easy to assume a mentality of wretchedness was at play for them, given their demeanour. But they were men who earned decent wages, so it was a case of being annoyingly uncultured. I have been to a handful of international airports, but only in the ones in my own country do I suffer such abrasive heckling.
In Dar es Salaam, the cab man skids off the asphalt over to the dusty pedestrian path. The car bounces against the potholes as he tries to manoeuvre against the traffic.
“I’m sorry about that” he said, “Dar has a very terrible traffic and we would not arrive early if I don’t do this.”
It was obvious he had mistaken my shock for censure whereas it was only a moment of discovery. They break traffic rules everywhere in Africa! I found it interesting how traffic wardens were stationed beneath dysfunctional traffic lights. Pray, what is the cost of simply repairing them? Just like in Nigeria, I saw in Addis Ababa, and now here, that these wardens, despite their best efforts are often undone by an army of unruly and impatient motorists.
As we drove on, the cab man who had now introduced himself as John takes time to point out the important buildings or places he thinks I should know in Dar city centre. With the state of the roads, the hawkers in the streets, the rickety tricycles, a picture of the political situation in the country was already beginning to form in my mind. But since John looked pretty excited for a conversation, I asked him what he thought about the political leaders in his country.
“Thieves. They are all thieves!”
“I often thought corruption was only rife in my country, and that most other African countries where better off…” I said, goading him to say more.
“No!!! Here… I think here is the worst.”
As we arrived the hotel, a cosy bungalow apartment with a serene beer garden, John hands me his card. When I flip to the other side, I see he’s also a Real Estate agent. I smile. Everyone in Abuja is a property agent too – from penthouse office bosses down to the roadside vulcanizers. I pay him 45,000 Tanzanian Shillings; 5,000 more than the agreed price for being excellent company.
My friend Mr. Kay arrives in the evening to take me out and give me a proper welcome to the city. When I had told him a week before my arrival of where I found a budget hotel with a gym and swimming pool—a place called Manzese, he screamed in horror.
“You can’t stay there, Mitt!” “I don’t think it’s very safe. Street gangs are rife over there. Please, I’d recommend somewhere else for you, tell me exactly what your budget is.”
Mr. Kay is one of the managers at the Double Tree Hilton Dar es Salaam and generally well versed in his country’s tourism and hospitality sector. When I arrived Msasani village and moved around, I understood exactly why Mr. Kay had recommended it. Coco Beach was less than 10 minutes away, my own hotel had been just overlooking the Hilton. This was Oyster Bay zone, which featured exotic streets and an array of foreign high commissions.
The Double Tree Hilton was magnificent, especially at night – when the outdoor dinner tables were lit with candle lights as they overlooked the shore of the Indian Ocean.
Mr. Kay brings back the Manzese discussion.
“If you were in Manzese now, I swear bro, you’d be crapping in your pants”, he said and then laughs heartily.
I smile and tell him how much I’ve grown aloof to such stories of violent neighbourhoods, and how exaggerated I find them. I had after all lived in Catford, Elephant & Castle, and New Cross. All three were among London’s notorious areas; yet despite staying in these places for a year period, only on one occasion did I see someone get stabbed with my own eyes.
I was however very pleased to be in that part of Dar, where remarkably, and to my utmost surprise, every restaurant, chicken & chip stall or beer parlour had high-speed WiFi. It’ll be a miracle to get free high-speed WiFi in many majority of Abuja’s three or four star hotels let alone beer bars or restaurants.
Over the next few days, I met, first with Jo, and then with Quintus. The first was a childhood friend of my friend Albert—with whom I studied together in Wales five years ago, while the later was his uncle. I had requested for Jo to take me to a normal bar where ordinary citizens had their fun, because everywhere I had been to before then—Hilton, Capetown Fish Market—were all filled with white tourists. I felt I needed to see how the locals spent time, how they unwounded, if they were as noisy as Nigerians, how they partied, and whether their girls were as audacious on the dancefloor as ours.
“You are my guest. You let me take to where I want to take you first, and then we can discuss the rest later”, was Jo’s reply. His girlfriend looks at me in a I-think-he’s-right manner, and I could say nothing else. I sensed it was the age-old African hospitality tradition at play.
As we ate, I told Jo that I had gotten around the last few days and not only have I fallen in love with Tanzania but was now thinking of buying a piece of land where I could build a holiday pad in the future.
“I learnt also, that doing so is only possible if I find a local who can co-own with me, and must have at least 50% stake” I added.
“Maybe you should marry a Tanzanian girl”, his girlfriend cheekily interjects, and then smiles.
“This is my problem with this country. Socialism is killing us. Seriously, I keep telling them down here, they don’t know how money works. This year, I bought a piece of land in Uganda and another one in Rwanda. None of this co-owning stuff exists over there. But I tell you, even for us locals, you never truly own a piece of land here, because the government can re-appropriate it after a certain period of time.”
“That’s ridiculous isn’t it?” Jo continued “but the people fucking love it, and that’s what I do not understand. Same way they were happy that our President built for them a giant stadium to watch football when that money could have been injected into our comatose healthcare sector.”
His girlfriend argued that his many years of being in American has made him incapable of understanding why socialism worked best for their people.
When I met with Quintus at the Slipway Restaurant, which by far, I would say, the best place in Tanzania to watch the sun go down, he had a totally different view. He was an Audit at the Tanzanian Education Ministry, and had returned from London to Dar about 8 years ago. We spoke about our times in London, even though they were of different generations. We agreed that resettling back home after many years of studying or staying in the West was a particularly arduous challenge.
I put to him the question of socialism, land rights, and its inhibitions on economic development.
“No…no…no. I do not see it that way. First, you need to understand that for many years now, our country has been by far the biggest custodian of refugees in East Africa given the strife in the countries bordering us.”
He thought neoliberalism was a contributory factor in those wars, though never comfortably explains why.
“Here, people feel without lands, they have nothing. They have no problem if they aren’t rich, but having a land gives them a sense of wealth, of owning something of worth, and that alone is sufficient for many. If we liberalize things the way you suggest, yes, more investors would come in, the lands would be hurriedly bought off – with countless structures erected on all corners, but…people would begin to feel dispossessed. And before you know it, the class barrier widens, and so will crime and social strife.”
He sighs deeply and adds “I think things are fine the way they are.”
Quintus drove us to a Night Club later on, at about 11.00pm. The place wasn’t looking as lively or bubbly as I would expect; and my dismay was clearly written on my face.
“Actually, in Tanzania, the clubs are filled only at the end of the month, when salaries must have been paid” he tells me.
“Hmmm… I see. Obviously I have no right to think everywhere was Abuja where people partied every day.”
“You have oil in your country, why not?”
“Yes… not just oil though”, I cut in, “there’s just too much unearned money to throw around”, I said as we both laughed.
Three days before my holiday was set to end, I travelled to Zanzibar. It would have been unforgivable to be in Tanzania without seeing Zanzibar. So on the fourteenth day of March, I set forth at dawn to the harbour. As we made our way into the ferry, I was struck by the massive number of white people who were marching in; British holiday makers, Americans, Serbs, Croats, Turks, and others whom I couldn’t catch a glimpse of their passport.
It was reminiscent of what I witnessed on the flight to Dar; I could count only about ten black people in a flight of nearly 200. White folks obviously have a serious liking for this place. I must admit, that emotionally, I felt a little jealous. How come they don’t like my own country just as much? White visiting us only come around to make money, not spend it. I can’t blame them too much. I understand exactly why.
When the ferry docked at the Zanzibar port, I feared I may not be allowed into the city.
“Where is your yellow card?” The aged woman, dressed in mufti asked. I could see everyone pulling up their yellow card; how then was it that only I did not know I was entering a new territory? All my life I had known Zanzibar was part of the Tanzanian territory.
“I left it in Dar es Salaam, Ma. I showed it to the Airport authorities when I landed there, and wasn’t aware I’d be required to bring it here with me.”
She takes a look at my passport, sees my Tanzanian visa, and saw the stamp in on it. My heart now raced in a frenzied manner as I awaited what she’d say next. I had paid $80 for the trip and getting turned back would have been a personal tragedy.
“This is Zanzibar not Tanzania. You need to come with your yellow card next time.”
I thanked her profusely and quickly made my way out of the port and into Zanzibar’s Stone Town.
I get into the Maru-Maru hotel, a small but supremely clean lodge. On stepping in, I saw a picture of Bill Clinton, proudly displayed on the stairwell. It was taken when he lodged here while attending a UNESCO event in 2012. At the of the top of the building was a very fancy bar which features a gorgeous view of Zanzibar, though one needs to have at least a 20x optical zoom camera to see beyond the thatched roofs and rickety buildings within the immediate surroundings. Zanzibar was a contradiction in many ways.
Naturally, it was obviously a place of extravagant beauty, but the locals barely had the means to enjoy the fullness of it. And so everywhere I looked, I found it hard to reconcile beauty and the squalor that lay on the other side of it. After the colourful evening at the promenade in front of the House of Wonders – adjacent to the shore of the Zanzibar coast, I knew my time there had to be called short. It had been a wonderful twenty-four hours of meeting new people, good food, drinks and tasting different varieties of grilled meat. The next morning, the ferry—named Kilimajaro III arrived at the dock. As the vessels sailed back to Dar es Salaam, I roamed helplessly on the vessel’s balcony, casting what would be some of my last gazes at the beautiful Indian Ocean, with the ferry sailing and bumping mildly on top of water.
On the nineteenth day of March, two thousand and fifteen, I landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja. After making it past the immigration, I took my baggage from the carousel and made my way to the exit.
“Oga, where are you coming from?” the NDLEA official asks, quite abrasively.
“Tanzania. Please my taxi is outside waiting for me” I replied with a tone of impatience and dissatisfaction.
“Follow me” he replied.
Déjà vu. It was to the damn x-ray room again.
Mitterand Okorie is a lecturer at Michael Okpara University of Agriculture Umudike, where he teaches Peace and Conflict Resolution. His book, All That Was Bright and Ugly will be published in October 2015.
Get more stuff like this
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.