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Event # 259: HEROIC
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LAST WEEK's EDITION
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I landed in Dar es Salaam so numb from grief that I felt detached from everything.
Tanzanians amaze me - they have a languid self-assurance I have seen nowhere else. It really goads us Kenyans - we like to feel that we are a progressive people who have left all this commmunal African nonsense and acquired a hard-nosed get-with-the-programme attitude.
In which other African airport can you get real assistance?
I walk from one official to another, irate that my luggage seems to have disappeared. Everyone is hugely supportive and soon the entire airport seems to know that my luggage is missing and I am headed for a funeral. I am overwhelmed by assistance.
The lady at the Air Tanzania office is nearly in tears because she can't organise a flight for me to make my mother's funeral on time. She makes me coffee, supplies me with two vetkoek (A deep fried cake-like dough eaten by South Africans. Common in some version or other all over Africa) and sends somebody to Terminal One to see if there are any charter flights leaving for Nairobi early in the morning.
The smell of earth and life is carried from the ground by the moist air and I feel almost consoled.
I have been wracked by visions of a coffin and a deep hole - and a vast silence emanating from it that I can't break. My mom had such a distinctive voice, like bells wrapped in cotton wool, but I can't hear it.
I sit on the airport's vast veranda and inhale Dar's humid air.
I feel dizzy for a moment and Mom's bells ring in my head.
Again she consoles. The greatest sense of loss is the fact that I never had the chance to be the one who gave, who sacrificed on her behalf.
My luggage has been found. It is 11 p.m. and I seem to be the only passenger left at the airport. The taxi drivers congregate around me and I am suddenly afraid. How am I going to get a hotel room? Won't it cost the earth to go searching for one by cab? I have never been to Dar before. Eventually I settle for the least pushy taxi driver. The special-branch policeman who helped me get my luggage is obviously waiting for a tip. I give him some rands. He looks offended and returns them, telling me that I should buy him a cool drink the next morning.
We take off in the taxi. I go straight into negotiating mode but the driver calmly tells me the fare is fixed. Nevertheless he takes off 1000 shillings. It is quite cheap but I am worried that he might charge me more if we have to drive around looking for a bed. He tells me the truck in front of me is full of stowaways who were caught trying to hide in the cargo hold.
Both sides of the road are filled with people. Shops are open and bars are cooking with live rumba bands. Everybody is outside escaping the heat. I feel like joining in - a cold beer would be paradise now.
The driver suggests that, since I haven't been to Dar before, he drive the scenic route alongside the sea. And he promises not to charge me extra.
We sit in the car, parked by the harbour, for 15 minutes. The sea smells like fresh crayfish. My tension ebbs away.
It is after 2 a.m. by the time I get a bed in a guesthouse after searching all over Dar. My concerned cab driver insists on checking the room for hot water and towels. I haven't the heart to tell him that I would happily sleep on sawdust.
I ask at the reception if I can get anything to eat. The kitchen is closed. The cab driver insists on taking me to find something to eat.
We end up on a street full of open-air traders. We sit on plastic chairs under the stars and I eat the best chicken tikka and chips I have ever had. There are five sauces that accompany it, all made at the restaurant. Thank God I rejected his offer to take me to Nando's.
Why does paradise always have to be poor? Everybody looks so sane, so relaxed.
There seem to be no fences and everybody mingles freely. People chat without anxiety. I ask the driver if he has locked the car as my luggage is inside. Surprised, he says nobody would steal it.
We talk and talk as I flex my Swahili. Everybody here speaks it as a first language - Indians, Africans, Arabs. I ask Kesho, the driver, what tribe he belongs to. He is surprised and tells me, but laughs and says that we Kenyans are so tribalistic, no Tanzanian would ask him such a question.
It transpires that the restaurant will not accept dollars. Kesho pays the bill. You can sort me out tomorrow, he says.
He takes me back to the hotel. We agree to meet at 5:30 a.m.
The phone rings at 5:20 a.m. Apparently Kesho was worried that he wouldn't wake up on time so he has slept in the car. We have coffee and head off to the airport. I have been anticipating dawn, but find to my surprise that I am more interested in seeing people than the sun.
I feel great. Like I am really home. The night before I was a South African. Now I am an East African.
Kesho apologises for not taking me to his home to spend the night. He says he thought I was suspicious of him and so did not make the offer. His wife will be upset that he let a brother away from home spend the night in a tourist hotel.
The lady at Air Tanzania puts her kettle on the moment she sees me. I feel like an old friend. I buy cold drinks all round, and find the special-branch guy has bought samoosas. I can't win.
Within an hour I have a ticket to leave at 10 a.m. I have been pushed up the waiting list.
I give Kesho all my Tanzanian money and tell him I will be back. Soon.
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