Someone asked me recently, somewhat facetiously, if there is ever a dull moment in Dar. In between weekend trips to Rwanda, riding whale sharks, climbing the highest mountain, and getting hit by a bus on my way to work.
There are no dull moments in Dar. Not yet. Not for me. I’m still turned upside down by the beauty of this place, by the bright blue ocean, the flashes of colour on the street, the pineapple season that never ends. And lost in the crush of the heat, the electricity that doesn’t work, the pipes in my apartment that are bone dry.
My life in Dar is punctuated by the extremes. All at once I am happy infuriated thrilled angry upset. There is beauty in the familiar, but that is not the beauty of my life in Dar. There are no moments in between.
I have yet to settle into the rhythm of the seasons. When I arrived in September, the temperatures were starting to climb into the upper range of stifling. There were months of unbroken heat. And then, two days ago, perhaps in response to a signal I am not yet able to hear, my neighbours started preparing for the rainy season, sweating under the midday sun to clear summer weeds and a season of garbage from the gutters that line the streets.
It rained last night. This morning the sky was iodine blue and the air smelled like water.
I haven’t seen what comes next. After the oppressive heat rolls away and the sky changes colour. Maybe if I was here next year this scene would unfold again, the blue of the sea would no longer be a surprise, and I would learn to navigate the maze of things that don’t work. Maybe my life here would become a pattern rather than a series of Staccato notes, with the dull and the predictable alternating between the joyful and the frustrating.
But I won’t be in Dar next year. I have one month left here, which is not enough time to watch the rains fade back into the heat and to be able to know what comes next.
My internship officially ends at the beginning of April and I’m planning on spending the next five months working remotely and traveling around Africa. On my own.
My first stop is Uganda. The second is Madagascar. I don’t know what comes after that. But I don’t think it will be dull.
Dar is a dusty city. I am usually covered with sweat and dirt at the end of each day and the white cardigan I brought with me is now a distant memory. A few weeks ago, one of my colleagues remarked frankly that it was time for me to get new shoes because the ones I was wearing looked “old and dirty and ugly”.
Given this state of affairs, there are stalls set up all around the city, where shoe shiners are always at work sparkling, shining, and buffing tired leather. I pass this shoe shine stall on my way to work everyday and wonder whether a poet, social critic, or political scientist works there.
Yesterday was my 30th birthday. Time must have been set to fast-forward, because the last time I checked my watch I was only 22.
I had always imagined 30 to mean a steady job and a mortgage and maybe a marriage, an equation that adds up to the sum of a comfortable predictability. At least, my facebook feed tells me that is what most of my friends are doing.
I put a wrench in predictability last summer when I quit my job and moved to Tanzania. Sometimes I wake up in the dead of the night still terrified by what I’ve done, the future now a great unknown just outside of my grasp. Other times, when I’m sitting in the back of a bajaj, on my way home from work, the wind kissing my face and the sun low in the sky, I feel like I have stumbled upon a great secret that nobody else has thought to look for.
Last year, I celebrated my birthday with old friends. We went to the best brunch place in Vancouver and then looked out over the skyline from the windows of the beautiful new apartment I had just moved into. I had no idea that a few months later I would break my lease and that my next birthday would be spent with new friends. Dinner at a wine bar on a hot, muggy night while a band played happy birthday and everybody got up to do a Tanzanian line dance. The next day, lying on the white sand of a small tropical island, my reflection blue-green in the salt water.
Life has changed so quickly that I don’t know where I will be for my next birthday.
I don’t believe is astrology but my online birthday horoscope provides a small measure of irrational comfort: “This will be a year of huge changes, the kind you look back on one day and realize that’s when you branched out on a completely new path. Will it be a better path? Most likely it will be the best”.
If I had a print copy, I would cut it out and tape it to the small fridge in my apartment in Mikocheni, so that it could whisper its comforting message to me every morning.
When I woke up this morning, there were about 300 notifications from WordPress informing me about new subscribers and asking me to moderate comments. A few more comments than I usually get from my five loyal readers.
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On Tuesday evening, ER and I took our neighbour out for dinner to celebrate her 17th birthday. KK moved to Dar eight months ago with her parents and two brothers and was not looking forward to a birthday away from her friends at home.
We went to a Mexican restaurant located at Sea Cliff Village, a development with dozens of restaurants, three coffee shops, an ice cream parlour, and a flashy outdoor square.
A few lessons from the evening:
- Although most of the food is breathtakingly good in Dar, Mexican restaurants should be avoided. You can walk into almost any Indian restaurant and legitimately declare it to be the best Indian food you have tasted. Addis in Dar, the Ethiopian restaurant on Ursino Street, is my new favourite restaurant. There is an Italian restaurant on the Peninsula that makes pizza so good that it rivals Nicli Antica in Vancouver. And the Chinese restaurants are equal to those I have been to in Hong Kong. Dar, however, doesn’t do Mexican. I am still trying to figure out what exactly was in the “sour cream” that was served with my fajita.
- Do not trust a 12-year-old kid to drive you home in a bajaj, even if he quotes a lower fare. The bajaj will break down, the route will be bumpy and the turns will be sharp, and your arms will be sore from trying to grip the side of the open vehicle so that you do not fly out onto the road.
- The cinematic masterpiece that is Dirty Dancing was released in 1987, which was before KK was born. During a conversation about our favourite Hollywood movies, KK disclosed to me that she had never heard of or seen the movie. An anxiety provoking fact on the eve of my 30th birthday.
- Despite the above, I do not wish that I was turning 17 instead of 30.
Today is Friday and there is electricity.
J, one of the lawyers that I share an office with, is particularly happy about the electricity. J was called to the bar last year and is a source of entertainment in our office, with his loud and unrestrained sense of humour. J also has a fondness for technological gadgets. He has three cell phones, and usually has one pressed up against his ear while the other two ring in his hand.
On days when there is electricity, J also has the remote control for the office air conditioner in hand, which he adjusts to lower and lower temperatures until we are all shivering and my other officemate, L, intervenes. A battle for the remote control usually ensues. L usually wins.
Today is Friday and there is electricity and L is not in the office.
This morning, J was perplexed to find me sitting at my desk with the air conditioning off and the window open. Megan, he said, today is Friday and there is electricity. I love Fridays. Life is too short to sit here in the heat. We must turn on the air conditioning. We must seize the moment. All too soon the work day will end and we will have to go home and there will be no air conditioning and we will be hot all weekend. Okay?
Okay, I said. And I wondered whether L would be back in the afternoon to rescue me from the sub zero temperatures.
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.