Tag Archives: safety

Golfers and gun-handlers

Darkness drops quickly near the equator, making the sunset hour even more precious. You notice it especially if you’re taking photos: wait mere minutes and you miss the best light.

As the sun went down on the outskirts of Mbarara this evening, people were strolling home after Sunday visits; armed and uniformed security guards were heading out to work — and a group of elderly gents were finishing up a round of golf. It’s good to be out of Kampala.


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Urban legend

Keep walkingNairobi, Nairobbery, they say. One of those places you’d never want to visit.

Except that you do, because there’s a buzz about this place and stuff happening like nowhere else on the continent: the developers and innovators building ‘silicon savannah’; the newspapers and corporations making this the bolshy media and business capital of East Africa; the donor money settling in offices here, trailing the idealistic and the cunning behind.

This is no hilly Kampala with her jovial motorbike-taxi drivers, or Dar es Salaam with her Indian bingo clubs and beach bars. This beast of a city has everything in more extreme measures: more choking traffic, more crime, more high-rise buildings and more low-rise shanty towns and all the problems they bring. Continue reading

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Keep driving

This is what a photo of  (my) fear looks like – taken from behind a blacked out (still moving) car window.  It’s the edge of the infamous dump in Dandora, a suburb of Nairobi. At 30 acres, it’s one of the world’s largest urban rubbish dumps, and a site of gang violence, pollution and daily desperation.

Dump Continue reading

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Blissfully uneventful

Family portrait

Landing was just the beginning.

It’s not only Kigoma’s runway that’s not paved; most roads in the region – far from any big city and close to the borders with stricken Burundi and DR Congo – are rough roads.

Driving from village to village, thick clouds of dust swell with every passing vehicle, turning the roadside vegetation orange-brown. We narrowly miss a dog, a goat, and a huge lizard that runs across the road; a bird is less fortunate. One afternoon, in Kigoma town, a man has collapsed in the middle of a main road: he tries to get up, but fails. Malaria? Something else? Just drunk, it turns out.

When I buy my bus ticket for the return journey towards Dar, I get a seat number that’s next to one of two armed guards. My colleagues had been joking all week about what we do when we meet the bandits.
Continue reading

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Fashion on the farm

Spice farm style

Trying not to write another blog post about crime in this city, because I’m sick of hearing about it, talking about it, even dreaming about it. So maybe: something about the absurdity of days here? A morning struggling through the thick knots of desparate, angry young men in the city centre – taxi drivers that nearly start a fight to get your custom, snarling market hawkers resentful of your rich white faces, opportunist thieves and their violent fists – and the same evening, finding yourself admiring the modern art and marble worktops of a four-bathroomed apartment with sea view and private gym.

I hate lazy travel writing that sums up a destination as a place of contrasts – you can always find them if you look – but I can’t get away from the disjointed reality of Tanzania sometimes. Continue reading

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Trepidation / Inspiration

Putting things positively

Bad experiences accumulate: another friend gets violently robbed. It’s hard to resist the negative feeling that causes, especially when they talk about giving up and going home.

But the good Tanzania is also a bit contagious – the little sparks of inspiration here and there that remind me I’m not done here yet, only just beginning to get to the good stuff.

There’s actually no shortage of media setting out to change the negative images we have, to tell more good stories out of Africa. By now they too seem to be becoming a bit clichéd.

Even better is encountering the positive stuff directly.

In no particular order, then, some of the people I’ve met recently who aint put off by what can be an unforgiving climate to actually make things happen: Continue reading

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Morning warning

At least there aren’t many wild animals in Dar

One of those ubiquitous white 4x4s cut across my path on the way to work this morning, pulling up in front of me. The driver didn’t say “hello sister” or “hey mzungu”, just a polite “excuse me?”, so I stopped. He was a mzungu too: maybe he needed directions.

“You are aware that there’ve been a lot of bag snatchings on this road,” he says, a statement more than a question.

On this main road, at 8am, with a constant stream of jeeps and bajajis and pedestrians all on their way to work? I sigh: “Yeah I know… it’s usually ok in the mornings though…”

Poor naïve girl, says the look he gives me. Continue reading

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Crime scene

Survived my first drive-by mugging attempt yesterday. Luckily they were truly rubbish at it: the car was too far away so the guy leaning all the way out of the passenger window couldnt quite reach my bag to pull it off my shoulder. Even luckier, it was one of the rare days I was carrying both a camera and a laptop. What a rookie.

By now I’ve realised that almost every expat you talk to has a similar story. Some are a bit scary – being dragged along the road as they try to wrestle the bag off your shoulder. And the leafy, quiet neighbourhood popular among expats where I live seems to be one of the worst places. Still, it’s not till it happens to you that you actually take it seriously. So thank you, useless muggers, for reminding me to be more careful.


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The good, the bad, and the ugly list-making habit

In Mama Dar, a book of short stories about Dar es Salaam, one writer recalls her first few weeks here as being not positive, not negative – just experiencing a numbness as she tries to figure out how things work. Another friend who’s just arrived says the same: trying to answer the question of whether she likes it here or not just doesn’t work.

I had the same feeling – I still do. Living here is still just a mish-mash of the wonderful and intriguing, the infuriating and depressing. My answer ends up involving listing a few examples of the good and bad stuff. Maybe for wherever one lives, whatever one does, it’s like that. But being somewhere new, I guess, makes you a bit more receptive to the everyday experience. The unfamiliarity makes for deeper impressions.

So – now that I’ve accepted that I’m never going to break my list-making habit – here it is, in no particular order. Now stop asking us if we like it here. Continue reading

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To Kampala

Where's my bus?

Welcome to Uganda: Land of weapons and wild motorcyclists. Actually, they call it the Pearl of Africa, but I think my version is more accurate.

I didn’t get too close to any arms – though did notice the hostel security guard was brandishing a rifle, and signs outside bars stating “No weapons”. The actual security checks might be fairly low-key – a token gesture rather than a serious check, and largely a result of the 2010 terrorist attacks in which over 70 were killed. But it’s still a bit disconcerting when you’ve come from a peaceful place like Tanzania. (That said, driving through Kagera region in NW Tanzania today, my colleague announced cheerfully: “this is bandit country”….) Continue reading

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