Tanzania: part i

London - Dar

wednesday 25th july:

When you are cruising 35000 feet up in the air, it seems to me a good time to consider courage.

Heathrow Terminal 5

I met Milly at the airport with her dad, about to head off on her own adventure, and we shared a pain au chocolate while looking out of the wide glass windows at the jets.

Sunset over southern France, early morning over the Congo, sunrise over Tanzania

A man with a sign which read 'Karibu Rosa!' appeared, and as we walked out of the airport into the heat of the car park the sweet, heavy smell was the first thing I recognised, the first thing which was truly an 'again'.

We drove for an hour or so through the city towards my guest house. From the back of a beat-up Ford I watched an Africa appear, half remembered and half revealed. This place comes to me like mismatched memories. Swazi roadside shops and signs, Mozambican palm trees, South African billboards and consumerism. Kombi toyotas - here called daladalas - swerve in and out of traffic emblazoned with company names like 'God is Alive' and 'My Brother'. So too do larger buses, where passengers sit atop one another and look down at me, a mzungu girl who is more pale than ever. I have not seen the enormous trucks which carry stacks of glass Pepsi bottles before, nor the cyclists who pedal at the edge of the highway with a tower of eggs, eight or ten boxes high, on the back of their bicycles, but equally I recognise these things as African.

The chaos of the traffic, of course, comes back to me quickly. Children run across the six lanes on their way to school, indicators are non-existent, and brakes are for wimps. At crossroads traffic wardens stand in the middle with a whistle and a walkie-talkie and nerves of steel, and stop traffic for as long as they please. During these interludes boys rush out into the jam with bundles of newspapers. The American I am sharing a ride with wants a Citizen,so the boy rustles through his stack until he finds one and they exchange through the window. We pass over what might be railway tracks and past children picking through rubbish beneath a palm tree grove. The radio station we're listening to is in English, and the host intersperses 90's pop and Michael Jackson hits to give the news and surprisingly political commentary. [...] Car horns blurt through the traffic and palm leaves rustle against the cloudless sky, and I know I am somewhere entirely new.

In bed, I think about the pictures I haven't taken yet. Cocooned and alone in this safe box it is easier to imagine the possibilities of the next forty-five days. In his letter this year Dad tells me, "Second time around can be harder going than the initial venture. It's not quite all-new", but also that last year's experiences "gives you [...] a sense of the rhythm of the whole, the likely peaks and troughs across the duration". I see these now, like those mountain spines in forty shades of blue, reaching out into the distance.

friday, 27th july

We walked back along the road in the dust, stopping to let a 4x4 out of the Red Cross compound, and met the others to catch tuk-tuks into the city. [...] The boys haggled down the price of our fare and used the Lonely Planet guide to show our drivers vaguely where we wanted to end up, and then we jumped in. I wedged myself between Yemi and Jacob as the engine spluttered into life. "Are you religious?" Yemi asked, "Well you better get religious!" And we were off.

We were bustled into a small yard at the side of one of the houses, fenced with dried palms, where two tall metal poles stood in the ground and bunting stretched down from the top like a circus interior. A small group of children on the floor looked up as we entered, and we were urged to sit down and welcomed to the Happy Centre.

When they weren't posing for an audience I found in the children's faces snatches of Mlindazwe's. A young girl in a peach top noticed my lens on her and her impulsive, slightly shy grin beamed in the same way Nokwanda's does. [...] Looking back over the photographs later I had a sudden pang for the mountains of Swaziland, a hurt which was almost a homesickness. I am still feeling like I am there-but-not-there.

sunday, 29th july

On the move again. This morning we packed our bags and  moved round the corner to CEFA, into the rooms Group One have just vacated. [...] I took advantage of the hot water supply to wash my hair, and then joined the others for our first afternoon of in-country training.

Group Two, about to set out to our regions

The evening was spent at Mbalamwezi having farewell Fantas (and farewell mosquito bites), and back home [...] we set our alarms for 0500. I have just begun to find my feet here - I can barter down a bjaji journey and walk up to the bakery for lunch and ask for bottled water and phone credit in Swahili at the shop outside the compound gates. I know by sight the children who play in the street below our walkway, the rooster which wakes me at six each morning and the lone bicycle which appears every so often to lean against CEFA's back wall, with a Tanzanian flag in the handlebars and a rider who comes and goes like a ghost.

I know this place a little now, and I will know it no more. But: atangaye na jus hujuwa. He who wanders around by day a lot, learns a lot.