Tuesday, July 28, 2009

more backlogged notes

From: July 22, 2009

Arusha is the gateway to the Serengeti. With a native population that is 1/3 the size of Dar, it is subject to a mzungu overflow that practically dwarfs the city itself. Every which way there are western-style restaurants and kitsch for sale. Paper-mache alligators and elephants line the sidewalk outside the glamorous Impala hotel. It’s not just the thriving tourism industry, though: Arusha is home to the International Tribunal investigating the Rwandan war crimes, and we live just past “Pleasantville” which is the gated community occupied by UN folk. Eating pizza outside of a fancy rock-art shop, I watched a European lawyer-sort totter through the gravel in a tight skirt-suit and high-rise heels. At moments it’s hard to believe that the Serengeti is just around the corner…aaaaand then a vervet monkey goes scrambling across the rooftop and the wild savanna doesn’t feel quite so far away.

The city is surprisingly dusty for such a lush place, and running errands around down leaves my throat parched and sore. I saw a man come into the Bulk store where we were buying meter after meter of iron t-bar (on which to put the camera traps if we didn’t have any trees) completely covered head to toe in fine dust. His clothes, skin, hair, eyelashes. Perhaps he had been working in the Tanzanite mines. There is such a thing, you know – Tanzanite. Apparently it’s a very rare gemstone that turns blue if you heat it up. I’ve never heard of the thing, but then again, my earrings tend to run $5 a pop and come from the same stores that sell hello-kitty mini-backpacks, and I have maybe one necklace that I haven’t lost yet. So I’m not the one to consult on such things.

We are waiting for Meshack, a brilliant mechanic and our ride into Serengeti, to arrive with the land rover and the 80 feet of iron t-bar. Craig says it’s a 7 hour ride into the park, but my sources tell me to expect 8 or 9*. Susan’s dogs look dead as they nap in the sun, and I am briefly sad to say goodbye to the only animal life I will be able to reach out and pet for the next 6 weeks (if I want to keep all my limbs). Before departing on our next great adventure, I take a minute to reflect on the things I’ve learned and seen in the past week.

From my time in Arusha:

The things I have seen carried on the backs of bikes.
-People, not just small people, but full-sized people.
-7 milk-crate sized rickety wooden boxes, piled so high and wide you couldn’t see the rider.
-A dozen yellow buckets, similarly piled.
-A dog.

The things I have seen people carry on their heads:
-baskets of fruit for sale
-a bag with two mangos
-5 gallon buckets that look reaaaaaally heavy
-a bushel of socks for sale

Other randomness:
-you need a land rover just to get through the roads around town.
-Everybody smiles and nods, but you’re never quite sure if they mean it.
-“Hello” takes about 10 minutes to say, and you can never quite tell if what the other person said is a response or another question, as “Salaam” can go both ways.
- People carry guns. Big scary guns. They are security guards that are hired to watch storefronts and doors, but when they sit down for beer and tandoori chicken with the guns they look like regular people in polo shirts and khakis….regular people sitting down with big, scary guns.
-Despite the dust and the honking and the death-defying driving, I like this place.

*P.S. It took 10 hours.

1 comment:

  1. Ali,

    Habari za Serengeti? I love following your blogs because the eloquence of your writing really lets me imagine the places you are talking about. But having been there, you are now bringing back very fond memories (and making me kick myself for not going with Cathy this time).

    I think you heard that Cathy is in Saadani NP now and is basing herself out of Dar. At the end of the month, when her mother and sister join her, she'll be going on safari in you rneck of the woods. Do you have any contact info for the off chance that you might be able to meet up?

    Have fun, stay safe, and keep me dreaing of Tanzania.

    Safari njema