Man, was I naïve.
I thought it’d take me more than a matter of hours in Africa before that thought popped into my head. Suddenly I get what people meant when they said I was brave to come here.
It’s really not that bad, kicks in my rational mind, hurriedly thinking back to first impressions of other places I’ve ultimately grown to like or love. A whole year??, protests my gut. A whole year in this heavy heat, in this sad backwater that calls itself a major city, with these people I just don’t get? I’m wondering why I didn’t think of any of the above before. My only conclusion is that wanderlust works something like the urge to procreate – the pain of childbirth just doesn’t figure when the impulse tells you to go for it. I’m hoping that it also holds true that, like childbirth, I’ll be able to black out the trauma at the start and ultimately focus on what’s come out of it.Ok, Dar is really not that bad, even my gut knows that. But it is a shock. When I visited a friend in Tirana, Albania, earlier this year, I found it interesting to see but my god I wouldn’t want to live there. I’m feeling kind of similar about Tanzania. I had been dubious about accepting an apartment in the posh, expat part of town. Now, having seen the “posh” neighbourhood, I’m fairly sure I can drop my principles of living like a local. With malarial mosquitoes out at night and dengue-carrying ones by day, I can probably find enough to worry about. I haven’t seen the city centre proper yet – we’re out in the peninsula, just north of the centre – but the modern metropolis I was expecting has so far only revealed a lazy suburb of unmarked roads travelled by tuktuks. Charming – and especially with the sun setting over the bay – beautiful sometimes too, but… is that it?
I spent all that time reassuring people – worried family, and those I wanted to visit – that Tanzania is a holiday destination! and Dar is modern, it has three sushi restaurants! that I didn’t really think about it being among the poorest places in the world, and possibly, a difficult place to live, even if you have the money to take taxis and live in the nicer area.
But I also mean that I was naïve in that, well, seeing something from the other side always makes you wonder at how little of an idea you had back then. It doesn’t matter how much you try to imagine something, how much you prepare yourself, how much you find out about a place. Arriving in Africa and I already feel like I’ve left that person I was, with those images I had, far behind.