Unexpected. It felt to me like I had left Tanzania while I was still in the country. It was such an odd feeling.
To explain, I left Dar es Salaam to meet my partner, Brad, and a couple friends to go on safari in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. I flew to Kilimanjaro, was met at the airport and driven to a lodge near Arusha. That was when it started. The lodge, Mountain Village, is lovely. Arriving early in the morning, I had nearly a full day to myself to settle in before Brad arrived that evening.
For further context, I felt like I left Dar es Salaam midstream. I had finished all that I had intended to complete during my time there, but also now had a much clearer sense of how far the project still had to go. Plus, I found myself missing the wonderful people I worked with in both Dar and Bagamoyo. Further, I realized how much I enjoyed the whirl of people and constant stream of activity in Dar. It had its moments, but for the most part the act of simply walking 10 minutes between home and office offered intense stimulation. People actively engaged in their daily living, calling out "Mambo!" as I passed by, laughter and "thumbs up" when I called back "Poa!," watching cars navigate the potholes and enormous puddles of unknown depth in city streets, the fruit vendors selling perfectly ripe papaya, bananas, mangoes, pineapple, and peeled oranges, the smell of grilling corn and beef mishkaki, the vibrant colors and wild patterns of the kangas worn by women, the contrast of Maasai men in their bright draped fabric and white plastic sandals, keeping an eye out for the bread man selling delicious loaves and homemade cookies from his trunk, vendors cooking on charcoal braziers on the street, people lined up early in the morning waiting at the clinic, taxi drivers beckoning me for a ride and surprised that a mzungu chose to walk in the heat. Lots of smiles and laughter. Every day. Every time I walked outside. Dar is a place that simply doesn't jump out at you and you fall in love. There's a long courtship process accompanied by ample frustration, electricity outages which could be 10 minutes or 10 hours, internet so slow and unreliable I called it my meditation practice, showers that sometimes trickled, trash, unwelcome smells, and drivers that seemed to be unaware that their cars were equipped with brakes. And again, lots of smiles, laughter, and polite (and proud) help with stumbling Swahili accompanied by more laughter.
At Mountain Village, I was plunked into an American-esque environment that was luxurious, things worked, the abundant food was familiar to American palates, was sedate, and was frankly a bit boring in comparison. The environment became even more jarring in the unlikely location of the Western Serengeti. We flew west from Arusha toward Lake Victoria, spending our first couple days in the bush at Kirawira Luxury Tented Camp. It was even more over-the-top than Mountain Village. To me, it was a miracle. This place, in the middle of nowhere, ran with a precision that had become completely unfamiliar in the preceding months in Tanzania. The electricity worked, the water worked and was even drinkable (it even had a beautiful pool), it had working internet, the decor was amusingly sumptuous, the meals were delicious if distinctly western, and the staff was incredibly helpful, efficient and prompt. Clearly money could even buy these things in Tanzania. I was astounded. But was it really Tanzania?
In the midst of this, what made it more difficult was to hear complaints. I could imagine what the staff was thinking but didn't ever express or let it be known in any way that these silly people had no idea what a phenomenon this "camp" actually was. I also wondered what it was like for the camp staff to work in this over-the-top pampered environment when I had an idea of the stark contrast between their work and private lives. It was strange to be in this environment, in Tanzania, finding myself missing the vibrancy that I came to love about living in Tanzania. There were occasional funny moments, like when Brad ordered a latte with hazelnut syrup (in itself, a rather unfamiliar moment in Tanzania) and having the waiter substitute strawberry syrup for hazelnut (it is still syrup, after all) with a sweet earnestness and impeccable flourish. The flavor reminded me of my childhood memory of Strawberry Quik and there was nothing for me to do but to giggle.
It was oddly jarring to find myself in the luxurious confines that I quickly thought of as "cocoons." I found myself at a strange juncture of culture and expectations that were so dissimilar as to be almost unrecognizable from one another. I was still in Tanzania, but the experience seemed to miss the point a little. And yet, there was little to do but smile, be amused, and laugh. Qualities that I did find in abundance everywhere in Tanzania and which made even these bizarre "African experience" environments seem, well... a bit more African.