The past few days have been intolerably hot. One last heat wave before I leave Dar. Is this the city’s way of saying goodbye?
On Sunday morning I lost myself in the maze of downtown for one last time. Sweating, dehydrated, and cursing the heat, I stopped to buy a coconut from a vendor on the street corner. For 500 Tsh, he lopped off the top with a machete, gave me a straw, waited for me to drink the coconut milk, and then scraped out the flesh for me to eat.
Coconuts on the street corner. One of the many things that I will miss about this sweet, sweaty city.
One of the unexpected joys of writing this blog has been the ability to connect with people from all over the world. On Monday night I had dinner with the wonderful KN, who wrote to me in December because she had moved to a small town about an hour outside of Dar and had no idea where to buy contact lenses in Tanzania. I don’t know where to buy contact lenses either, but I was able to hook her up with some great Ethiopian food. I am looking forward to visiting KN in Bagamoyo.
This evening I met up with Maia, who is in Dar for a few days as part of her year-long tour of Africa (seriously, Maia, how do I get your job?). I took her to Mamboz, which is one of my favourite restaurants in Dar. This joint sets up at sundown on a sidewalk at Libya and Morogoro and serves amazing grilled chicken and garlic naan. We bonded over the joys and frustrations of traveling alone as a woman, watched two little boys share a set of rollerblades (each had a rollerblade on one foot and used his free leg to propel himself down the street), met a family from Toronto, and drank kungu (nutmeg) juice for desert.
Stalls that sell chipsie na samaki (Tanzanian fish and chips) are located on almost every one of Dar’s dusty street corners. The dish tastes almost the same everywhere – slightly salty fish with slightly soggy fries.
A few weeks ago, when I was in Selous, some friends took ER to Kawe Beach House for the city’s best fish and chips. Not salty or soggy, apparently.
Last Friday night, ER and I went to the beach house for dinner so that I could try the fish and chips. Although Kawe Beach House is only about a fifteen minute drive from our house, the bajaj driver managed to get lost. He turned off Old Bagamoyo, puttered down a long and dark dirt road, dropped us off in front of a quiet hotel, and told us that the beach house was a short walk down the street.
Almost immediately after the bajaj left, the owner of the hotel and some of his employees came out to ask where we were going. This is not unusual; I attract a lot of attention in the less touristy areas of Dar and people frequently call after me on the street to ask what I am doing, where I am from, and where I am going.
The owner told us that the beach house was about a ten minute walk down a dark and deserted road and that, under no circumstances, should we walk down the road alone. It’s not safe for a mzungu, the owner insisted, even I am too scared to walk down that road. When we appeared indecisive, the warnings escalated into the realm of the bizarre: just turn around and go back home, these fish and chips are not worth your life. And: if you stay here I will make you some fish and chips at the hotel restaurant. When we continued to contemplate walking to the beach house, the owner offered to drive us in his car. Although the darkened road began to appear ominous, we politely declined.
The hotel owner’s warnings were strange. We were in a safe neighbourhood and it was difficult to determine whether there was a real threat or whether the owner was simply paranoid, joking, or trying to convince us to eat at his restaurant. After deliberating for several minutes, a taxi stopped in front of us and offered to drive us the rest of the way to the restaurant.
Kawe Beach House is not quite a restaurant. Rather, it is an assortment of plastic tables and chairs strewn on a beach. There is music but there are no utensils. A water fountain has been installed in the middle of the yard so that customers can wash their hands. Three spotlights are staggered around the beach and provide limited light. Fish and chips are the only item on the menu, and the beach is alive with cats who feed on the leftover bones.
The fish and chips were fantastic.
We stayed until the waiter came over tell us that the generator had to be turned off for the evening and waited while he phoned a bajaj to come pick us up from the restaurant.
Not sure whether we had successfully evaded a lurking danger, or just a hotel owner out to profit off our insecurities, ER gave me a high five as we turned off the dark road back onto Old Bagamoyo.
The supermarkets in Dar es Salaam sell a strange collection of food imported from the United States, South Africa, Europe, Dubai, Qatar, and India. Grocery shopping is a mix of the familiar and the unexpected, where items like Special K are often located next to unrecognizable products with labels that I can’t read.
My latest find at Shoppers Plaza: cola and cream soda flavoured milk.
Our landlord recently purchased a bajaj for her nephew, C, so that he could make some extra money.
C is in his early 20’s, walks with a small swagger, and lives in his own one-bedroom house on our landlord’s property. He had initially offered to drive ER and I to work every morning, but clearly enjoys sleeping in far too much for this to be a realistic option. The first and last time we attempted this, ER and I hovered by the front gate until our landlord yelled for C to hurry up. Several long minutes passed until C emerged from his house. He was still buttoning up his shirt as we pulled out of the driveway.
A few weeks ago, C offered to drive ER and I to the Kariakoo market to pick up some supplies for our new apartment. We were on our way to the market when C twisted around in the front seat to ask us whether we had ever tried kiti moto. When we replied that we hadn’t, C announced that we were taking a detour and pointed the bajaj towards the nearest kiti moto restaurant.
We said, what is kiti moto? C replied, kiti moto, kiti moto, don’t you know kiti moto? You don’t know kiti moto, you don’t know kiti moto, you really don’t know kiti moto? And then he threw back his head and laughed.
The bajaj pulled up to a small wooden and metal stand surrounded by a plastic chairs and tables. C gleefully asked the chef to show us the kiti moto and the chef grudgingly produced a slab of raw meat for us to inspect.
It turns out that kiti moto is a dish that is made with very fatty chunks of pork that are fried in pork fat. It is ordered by the kilogram.
Apparently, kiti moto, which literally translates to “hot seat”, is used as a code name for the popular dish because Dar has a significant Muslim population that is prohibited from eating pork. In 1993, during riots that are attributed to heightened religious tensions, restaurants that served kiti moto were targeted and burned. Stalls that serve kiti moto are now designed to be inconspicuous and are frequently tucked away behind larger restaurants.
Despite its fascinating history, kiti moto is not very good. ER surreptitiously fed little bits of the kiti moto to a cat that was curled up under her chair. I stopped eating when I noticed a thick pig hair growing out of one of the pieces. C poured himself two large glasses of Konyagi (Tanzanian cognac) to help with “kiti moto digestion”. Don’t tell my uncle, he said.
We didn’t, but we did find alternate transportation home.
In Dar es Salaam, it is not unusual to turn a corner and find yourself staring at Barack Obama. Obama’s image adorns everything and anything, including kitenge fabric, clothing, backpacks, and lunch kits.
So far, my favourite Obama product is the Magic Obama strawberry flavoured bubblegum that I found at a market near our house.
Apparently, in Ghana there are also Obama cookies.
On Saturday, ER and I woke up at 5 am to catch the 7 am ferry to Zanzibar. After checking into our hotel, I dragged ER to the first coffee house that I could find. Nescafe is only edible when one is truly desperate and I have been without decent coffee for weeks now.
I took a sip of the coffee and fell instantly in love with Zanzibar. Zanzibarian coffee is spiced with cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, and chilli pepper. It is served in cafes nestled amongst Stone Town’s maze-like alleyways and by vendors who set up at street corners at dusk and pour their brew into little glass cups.
I like the spiced coffee best with a little steamed milk in a cafe that overlooks the Indian Ocean.