My childhood hero, the writer Roald Dahl, lived in Dar es Salaam just as the Second World War broke out. That was the first time I’d heard of this city: reading his autobiographical Going Solo as a spindly-legged primary schoolchild. Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika – what strange-sounding names they were.
I read about Roald’s eccentric fellow passengers on the boat to Dar, about his houseboy who beheaded a man with a sword, about encounters with deadly snakes – black and green mambas – and man-eating lions, about witnessing a German shot in the face as war breaks out.
Once in Dar es Salaam myself, I read a recently-published biography, and discovered a rather more mundane account of his time here (“bugger-all to do here but sweat”, he wrote in a letter home). It turns out the tales of murder and wild beasts were vastly embellished or fictional. I feel a little cheated, but I forgive him. As the great writer himself said: “I don’t lie. I merely make the truth a little more interesting…I don’t break my word – I merely bend it slightly”. His stories are worth the bending and tweaking.
Dahl lived in a nearby neighbourhood to where I live today – the peninsula must have always been inhabited by the privileged and the expats. Not far from where I sit now is a large baobab tree, where legend has it Dahl got the inspiration for James and the Giant Peach. Across the bay, you can see a factory far off in the distance, which may have been the germ of the idea for what became Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Of course, that’s not actually true. The factory wasn’t even built back then. But I don’t think Roald would object to us making the truth a little more interesting.