Tuesday, February 7, 2012

On Yer bike!

Last full day in Dar? Wondering what to do with yourself? Why not go on an Afriroots bike tour with Meja (I spent the whole day thinking his name was "Major", but that's just how it sounded...)? It will truly allow you to see a side of Dar that you would not get to see otherwise. I went with 3 friends (Kara, Lisa and Afton), two of whom had spent considerable time in Dar, and both of whom wished they'd done the tour sooner to appreciate the place they'd be living all the more while they were/are there. Lisa, who is here for a while but only arrived the day after I did, is very glad she got to do it so soon and get an alternative view of the city she will be calilng home for the next 6 (?) months.

We started at 9am or there abouts, were given decent mountain bikes with suspension and brakes (never misunderestimate (sic) the value of good brakes), and headed straight across what is affectionately known as Suicide Road (but more correctly known as the New Bagamoyo road). We were taken through back streets and alley ways, through markets and people's back yards (or so it seemed), with numerous breaks to meet (in no particular order but as chronologically as I can remember): the street coffee sellers, roasting their beans in frying pans before grinding them with traditional wooden pestle and mortars (you know the kind, you've seen them on the Nat Geo channel being used by village women to crush grain). We even had a taste with some of the peanut caramel you have to eat along with the coffee to beat the bitterness. Every 6months or so, Meja changes which group of coffee boys he visits, thus spreading the fee he pays between the struggling entrepreneurs (the whole Afriroots tour company is all about supporting cultural tourism and local businesses).

We had breakfast cooked for us at the side of the road by local woman, after having been shown one of the oldest original houses in Dar, sadly being taken down as the area is being redeveloped. All very well, the government developing these areas, but apparently they didn't ask anyone who lived there if they minded, and all the current inhabitants will be unable to afford to live there once its finished, so they'll have to move on. Meja was not impressed, I think.

On through the streets, getting slightly suspicious looks by a few folks, friendly greetings from most others, and an on-going cheer-fest from the small kids along the way, who would stand at the side clapping and dancing and jumping up and down chanting "wa-zung-u, wa-zung-u" (that's the plural of Mzungu, which I mentioned last time) as we went past. It (and they) was hilarious. There had been a whole facebook thread amongst TZ ex-pats about whether they should or did find "Mzungu" insulting or derogatory. If they had seen these kids, they would have seen it for what is was, just a word, used for fun, not for nastiness. We paused at a bridge in one of the poorest parts of the city where all the waste and rubbish gets clogged, especially after the flooding that happened at the end of last year. the houses round here all have 2 foot high barriers cemented to their front doors, effectively the equivalent of permanent sandbags, as a preemptive precaution. They were about 3 feet too low during the last floods apparently. We also met a local herbalist here, a traditional healer growing and using the plants that have been used for generations to fix up the locals. Some people still rely on them heavily, either due to restricted financial capabilities or aversion to modern pills, others dip in and out as they see fit. The lady was sad that there were no youngsters keen to learn the old ways though.

On, on and we went through various markets, one virtually disused despite having been purpose built. it just never caught on with the locals, and its now slowly dying. Another was as crazy and chaotic as I've become used to seeing. There were some real characters on the stalls, some of whom were a bit surly and reluctant to have a bunch of 9 tourists take pictures, others played up to the camera were hilarious. I think they see these groups regularly and don't mind them a bit.

We had some wedges of pineapple carved off the fruit, some with the convenient leafy handle still attached, and stopped off for a soda (I had a grown-up's soda) just before finishing. It was an excellent day, and a good way for me to finally get rid of any residual nerves I may have had about wandering about in Tanzania. Common sense must still be taken into account, but I am not nearly so anxious as I was at the start. I am actually finding the place to be very enjoyable indeed now, which is how I'd hoped it would be.

I left for Zanzibar the next morning on the 7am ferry and, without wanting to give any spoilers, am having a great time here too. Stand by for more on that another time. Internet cafe time almost up...just...have...time...to...publish....

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