Saturday, February 4, 2012

Da Da Daaaar!

So, I've spent this week in Dar es Salaam, relaxing a little more, hanging out with my friend Kara and her friends. There is quite the ex-pat community here in Dar, with lots of the foreigners hanging out together in regular friend-groups, and then bumping into an ever changing selection of non-regular friends at various social events. For example, on Tuesday when I got into town, I was taken to "Dining in Dar" which is a weekly event where "everyone" meets at a different restaurant each week, organised by one particularly efficient guy. In this way, folks get to meet new folks, catch up with folks they don't see that often and try out new places to eat in the city - and there are many places to eat in the city! I felt like a bit of a fraud, as the new folks, including myself, made their various introductions. While everyone else was able to explain their mostly worthy reasons for being in Dar (working for NGOs, volunteering, some other form of employment), I had to boldly state that I was just a tourist - although I spun this so that I was actually "supporting the local economy".

It was a great night, at a superb Indian restaurant, and I met some interesting people and reacquainted myself with some others that I'd met a couple of weeks early. There seems to be a constantly altering flow of people, which makes for interesting times.

One of the new arrivals (another canadian who is based in Denmark of all places) lives just round the corner from Kara, and was not due to start work (other than occasional meetings for a few days), so we have been able to hang out this week - a double bonus for me as it not only gives me a buddy to hang with but also one who is also familiar with the area, as this is her 2nd time back here, so I got a bit of a free tour guide too. Not only have I once again been able to relax and enjoy my local neighbourhood, but I've also been out further afield to, for example, the Welder's World, where local people stricken with polio and other debilitating conditions make their living turning scrap metal into amazing works of art, often on the theme of African wildlife. Imagine a ten foot tall steel giraffe made from re-shaped and burnished steel drums and bicycle chains, or a 5 foot long crocodile with old door hinges making up the armour plating on its back. They are amazing things, and there are many smaller items too, but all sadly too bulky and heavy (and expensive) for me to bring back.

I also went to the Mwenge Craft Market today, which is a whole area of narrow but curiously deep shops full of carvings (wood and stone), bead work, paintings, you name it, if you imagined it might come from Africa, its probably here. It's a strange place to go - there's such competition for the customers that the store owners sit outside and bid any passing Mzungu (the term used by locals for all tourists, and carrying with it maybe a small amount of controversy about its adopted mis-translation of "white person". Its actual translation is more like "wandering person" or some such, but as people tend to do, it has become synonymous with tourists, who are more often than not white, and now some people are choosing to take offense from a word that is not usually used in a derogatory manner) welcome and come and have a look, looking is free. Some of them seem bored, some mercenary, others genuinely lovely, and its hard to resist stepping into the gloomy interiors that seem to stretch deeper and deeper, almost like going back in time, as you are confronted by an amazing array of intricately carved dooby-dads. Some of the work is breath-taking - more giraffes, 8 feet tall and carved out of one piece of wood; others made from palm trunks, hollowed out and then carved to create lamp stands; rhinos, elephants and big cats; Maasai warriors that seem to have had an almost Dali-esque makeover; the imagination is almost endless, but at the same time there is a feeling of mass production in a lot of the work. Don't get me wrong, it is all clearly hand made, but I could almost picture the individual crafts-folk knocking out the same statue over and over again, while their neighbour does the same with another design. Certainly a lot of the paintings give this impression too (pardon the pun). Regardless, it is amazing work and, lost in the moment the urge is there to buy so many different pieces, before the obvious budget issues sober you up, closely followed by the thought of how much more it would cost to freight back to wherever and the realisation that you probably wouldn't have anywhere big enough to display it anyway, and besides, these things always seem to look somewhat out of place once you get them home anyway....Just as well I have neither the funds to purchase nor the house to decorate, so my hands stayed pretty much in my pockets. Although I do have a goddaughter who always appreciates a good giraffe.... I'd have loved to take photos, but it seemed a bit rude to snap away and then not buy anything, so I only managed a couple of hurried shots in a mask shop while the owners back was turned!

Other evening activities this week have included a trip to an excellent Lebanese restaurant and a night hosted by some Canadian diplomats (I move in high circles, you know that), and tonight is bingo night, complete with more fantastic Indian food. Apparently the bingo caller is hilarious, so I'm looking forward to that! Tomorrow is a 5 hour guided bike ride through some of the less frequented areas of Dar, then its off to Zanzibar for my last week, bright and early on Sunday morning. I know, you all feel so sorry for me...

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