Monday, November 30, 2009

Is home where the ♥ is?

{image from Stock Xchng}

So the silly season in Dar is quite a different experience. Seeing that Tanzania is roughly divided 50/50 between Christians and Muslim obviously Christmas has as much significance as Eid. This means that the feeling of Christmas gets a little diluted. The big grocery stores (there are only about 5) have tried with garishly kitch Christmas decorations and of course the usual Christmas Carols, but thats about it.

Another phenomenon in this time is that every single person you run into asks the same question; "When are you going home?" this is usually followed with an sigh of joy (or relief) and a long winded explanation of when, where, for how long and usually ends with something along the lines of  "I have to get out, this place gets too much!"

So people decide on the expat life (especially in Dar) for different reasons;
1. Money
2. Career Opportunities 
3. Running away from something(?)
4. Different lifestyle

But still, without fail, come this time of year there is a massive exodus of expats returning joyously to their 'homes' where they will relate tales of struggles in Dar. This brings me to the point of this post. Where is 'home'?

Using trusty google I came across these two explanations of the well known proverb 'Home is where the heart is'.

Home is where the heart is.
1. Prov. People long to be at home.; Your home is whatever place you long to be.

I don't disagree with this one. "Home" is definitely the place you long to be. But if you are an expat does that mean you always long to be somewhere else? Why can you not long to be in Dar and why do you then choose this life?

2. Prov. Something that you say which means that your true home is with the person or in the place that you love most.

I don't completely agree with this one. Especially with the first part about the person. I know of couples in Dar, with children who have stayed here for 10 years who still go "home" every december? I mean when does Dar then become "home"? They have 'the person they love the most' with them? 

After having thought about this a lot I think "home" is where you have made the most memories, where you have the deepest roots. The Photographer had a good comment, he said that if you plant a seed it takes time to grow deep, strong roots. 

So my conclusion to this interesting question is that your "home" will always be the place where you have the deepest roots, although you might wish to plant seeds in other places. Maybe when you have been there longer than anywhere else that will become your "home". And the beautiful thing of this is that even though "home" might have a complex set of issues you will still love it unconditionally almost like a parent loves a problem child. 

I am also one of those people, constantly comparing "home" and dar, I have to remind myself of the good reasons to enjoy life here but am still idolizing life "at home". It is a complicated situation seeing that every time I go "home" there are things that drive me up the wall. But I am counting the days until I go "home"(12!)

So after much deliberation I am changing the proverb to say;

Home is where your history is

Anybody have anything to add?


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Queen for a Day

The whining, high pitched nag of a kid... "Moooooooom, pleeeeeeease its not a really tattoo it fades"  goes hand in hand with the smell of sunblock and the sounds of crashing waves on any busy Natal beach in December. I mean who haven't walked past two long haired  hippies smoking something (?) under a tattered gazebo advertising "Have your name on a grain of rice" or "Henna tattoos, any design". The answer to my nagging was usually..."Your body is a temple, I will not allow you to desecrate it!".

So I would spend the rest of the vacation enviously glaring at girls (with COOL parents) who had tattoos on their backs and arms. THEY could go back to school in January with something cooler to show their friends than a bikini tan. But as I grew older the tattoos on the beach started to loose their appeal, but I still got my name engraved on a grain of rice (who didnt?).

A weekend on Zanzibar brought back all these memories when a friend from South Africa insisted on having some Henna(the tattoo) done. We found a tiny swahili lady wrapped in colourful khangas in a duka(small shop) on the beach. After enquiring if she does henna she produced three different albums filled with designs, and not your usually chinese writing or dolphin jumping through a heart. Beautifully crafted patterns to be applied to hands and feet. I immediately fell in love with a particular hand design and just had to have it. With the back of a matchstick she carefully drew out the design, using the thickness of the henna to aid the design. Her hand was so steady as the henna stains wherever it touches. It takes about 20minutes to dry and then the henna starts to flake off, beneath it the skin is stained and stays that way for about 2weeks.

After this experience, which was so glaringly different from the Natal beach version I was interested in the history and tradition surrounding Henna Body painting. According to Wikipedia Henna has been used to adorn young women's bodies as part of social and holiday celebrations since the late Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean. In Tanzania Henna is used to adorn the Bride's hand and feet to make her more attractive for her husband. The bride is more elaborately bedecked, more deliberately attractive than the groom, and stands out above even the bridesmaids and female relatives; in essence, she is queen for the day. This tradition is taken very seriously and my henna painted hand suddenly took on great significance.

{Images from Rahim Yar Khan Online}

So, after years of whining I eventually got my tattoo, although I would rather call it a henna adornment and so experienced a tradition that is older than time.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

From the backseat of my bajaj

Hibiscus is living it up in London, so got an sms to ask if I can stand in for her on blog duty. While sitting in the back of the bajaj (see below) going to work this morning, I was thinking of what to say. I think I have a serious case of end of year blues. That combined with the unbearable heat, crap at work and the fact that my hunter’s gone has me feeling a little low the past couple of weeks.

But this is what I am loving about our little blog experiment – it has made us all soak up our surroundings like when we first arrived! And driving through the winding, bumpy roads of Dar, really taking in my neighbourhood, I realized again why it is that we live here and tolerate the dust and dirt. The frenzy of everyday life in Africa is just addictive! Every day is a crazy, sometimes unpleasant, mostly wonderful assault on your senses.

The beautiful flower “nurseries” next to the road provides burst of colour that mix and clash with the pretty kangas worn by the local ladies. In contrast the children wear mostly rags or nothing, but their laughter and happy shrieks add to the noise of goats bleating and taxi’s hooting. In every open space someone is selling peanuts, bananas, tomatoes or onions and outside dingy dukkas men fry cassava chips over big open fires. Long, regal looking Masai sporting beautiful beadwork jingle while they walk side by side with woman covered from head to toe in black burkas or bright sari’s. The sun beats down mercilessly on us all…

Some expats come here and hardly venture past the neatly manicured lawns of the Peninsula (an area known for big houses occupied by even bigger egos) and then go back home complaining bitterly about how harsh living in Dar is. And that is certainly is! But if you do not immerse yourself in Dar es Salaam and her people how can you say that you have really lived here an complain?

Yes I am counting down the days to my holiday in South-Africa and I cannot wait to run into the nearest Woolies food and buy everything in sight! But I will be back - hopefully minus the silly season blues! I will be back buying freshly roasted corn next to the side of the road and drinking cold local beers with my feet in the sand at Dar Live. It is the noise, the people, the vibe…and all this observed from the backseat of a bajaj, how much more is there not to discover in the hidden alleys of House of Peace?

Photo source: Google

ps...This is what the humble bajaj looks like, my preferred mode of transport. Actually, correction, this is what a brand new out of the box bajaj from Google Images looks like! The ones that we flag down are considerably more run down or in other cases pimped up! They have engines like mosquitoes and noisily wind their way through Dar traffic making them at once very dangerous and very convenient!


Saturday, November 21, 2009

A feast of flavour

I once paid $3.50 for A (as in one) tomato. It was a beautiful deep red A-grade fruit. As a tomato lover, I just added a dash of salt to what turned out to be a rather average taste bud experience.  With the current global trend to towards organic foods, it has become a costly luxury to enjoy pesticide and hormone-free produce.  And yet, my little splurge was 80 grams of water…5 steps out of my front door, I have found the most tasty fruit and veg from our local duka for 15 cents. Piled high and unassumingly between bursts of green, orange and yellow I now enjoy delicious tomatoes everyday cooking in the Mill house kitchen. Its just one of the things that I love about life in Dar…


Thursday, November 19, 2009


# 2 It Takes 15mins to get to Zanzibar

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Khaki Fever Ends

{image from}

I was introduced to the term Khaki Fever at one of my first girls nights in Tanzania. I thought it was a brilliant description of girls falling madly in love with the hunters and all the romantic notions that goes with them. The love struck ladies are either first timers in Tanzania or the daughters, grand daughters or wives (!) of the clients that come along on hunting safaris.

I vowed that I would never be so clichéd and get The Fever! How does that saying go…never say never! 8 months down the line I finally have to admit that I am as boringly predictable as the rest of them. I fell for a hunter.

The seasoned female ex-pat warnings fell on deaf ears and starry eyed months were spent yearning for sms’s from the bush or glorious weeks in between when he was in the city. That is until last week when his hunting safaris ended and the long dreaded fair well had to happen. He has left now to hunt in many different exotic locations until next year July whilst I stay behind to miss his strong arms wrapped around me and gentle unexpected kisses.

So may this very melancholic first post serve as a warning to any other ladies looking for love (or lust) in the dusty bars of Dar. When the hunting season starts, stay away from the often handsome, sun tanned, strong looking guys. They are most probably hunters, the gypsies of Africa. Great manners, always ready for a laugh and a party, the most fun, but inevitably on their way out of the city and away from you…

You were right's tricky, but we will be ok!


Monday, November 16, 2009

Our Profiles

Infamous for her dinner parties that start with a lovely feast and end in 80’s music and dancing, Hibiscus is a bubbly baker with a love and zest for life that is infectious.  She laughs a lot and aloud!  She is a gifted chef and generous gal and if you are looking for her at any social occasion, she is the one that arrives with a fresh melktert, cheesecake or lemon tart decorated with flowers on a baking tray.

Desert Rose, like her name, is both strong and sweet.  Even in the most trying circumstances you can count on her to come up with a plan, stay focused and then embrace and care for anyone that needs comforting.  She is a tough problem solver and the most tender wife and mother.  She is the proverbial pillar of strength to so many friends and family with an open door and open heart.

A little naïve, a little quirky, a lot of sunshine, that is Frangipani!  The youngest of the gals, Frangipani parties till late, sleeps later and still loves everything about life in between!   She will amaze you with her creative talent, her intelligence, her ready smile and her ability to dance in heels until the sun comes up!

Maisha means “life” and there is little of life that goes unnoticed by our girl!  She has a keen eye for fashion and can see the wonder in a kanga pattern or a cow horn button.  Soft and gentle and always beautifully groomed, she is like the Dar Animal Haven kitties that she so often adopts.  Always poised, always elegant, Maisha is a real lady with a bright smile and kind heart.

A loud, deep, warm-hearted laugh and a flurry of expressive hand movements characterize the story telling of the gregarious Andizi. A dedicated helper, wine lover and friend, this lovely lady is always surrounded by people after a long day enjoying a glass of vino, on the phone with someone from home or planning an adventure into the African bush. Her intelligence and motivation have taken her to soaring heights professionally and now, taking a step back she soaks up the sun, always out and about in the markets or at the beach not allowing any opportunities to pass her by…not even a game of chess and especially not a good debate.  


# 1 The Sunsets

Swahili Time vs Mzungu Time

Photo Source: Google

Monday wasn’t a good Tanzania day for me. It took me 7 hours to buy two Zanzibar beds and makuti (braided palm leaves) for my gate. ….. Really not difficult items as far as I’m concerned. Both items are available to buy next to the road. All you have to do is pull your 4x4 up onto the side of the road, haggle a bit over the price, load it up, and off you go….

Look, I speak the language fairly well, after all, I’ve been here for 5+ years, AND one of the 1st things that I learnt was to keep time – the SWAHILI way!!

It works like this: as we are almost on the equator, you tend to have perfect 12 hour cycles, no matter what the season. The first hour after sunrise is 1 o’clock (what we know as 7 o’clock in the morning), hour number 2 after sunrise is 2 o’clock, therefore – in SWAHILI TIME – midday (12 o’clock for us) is 6 o’clock.  The same for night time “usiku”, not too difficult – even logical if you think about it, but you need to make sure you have your wits together when discussing time with our local friends. 

Coming back to the story…. Time was of essence on Monday, my mom was visiting and I was really anxious to have a decent bed in the house for her. After repeating VARIOUS times what time I’ll collect my precious new beds and makuti – IN SWAHILI TIME , I paid my 50% deposit to dismantle everything and went away in a flurry of hand shaking and huge smiles.  The agreed return time was in 2 hours so I gave them half and hour extra as I did not want to be upset, the required job should take a whole 15 min.  Returning later as discussed to find that neither items were anywhere near ready, everyone was sitting exactly where I left them. No one would look me in the eye and explanations were all over the place with some dust kicking and shrugging of shoulders…. “samahani mama…” (sorry mama) Eish.  

My frustration was mounting, my mom arrived in a few hours time and I had no bed in her room. Biting my tongue, we agreed on a second time – in SWAHILI. It was one of those really hot days where the humidity surrounds you like a cloud, hampering your breathing and clinging to every inch of your body.

I returned the second time to find the situation wasn’t any better, the day just ended up in pure frustration (and tears….) and my duka (shop) friends couldn’t understand why this mzungu dada (white sister) promptly voiced her disapproval at the utter lack of co-operation after literally paying for everything upfront, she promised that she’ll never come back EVER to buy anything from them. I mean how difficult is it to unscrew a few bolts and tie a couple of makuti leaves together…….

Alas, my mom arrived to a bedroom without a bed. Finally at the dusty end of the day, hot, humid and without power, I heard this chink chink on our gate and here stood these wonderful people of Africa with what I’ve been fighting for all day….

Question remains: Who’s time is the right time? We got our bed and makuti, no one slept on the floor, so why was I so impatient?




I went back two days later to buy another bed.

Desert Rose

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I still have sand in my shoes...

Coco Chanel famously said: 
"Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening. "

May I add in the sand?
Arriving at the 2009 Swahili Fashion Week I was amazed to find beautifully dressed women in 8inch heels tottering around in desert like sand. I mean this was definitely not New York Fashion Week. But why should it be, Africa should be proud of being African and not try to be a poor imitation of the Western World.

With the current economic recession fashion has turned inward to find its identity and this was very apparent at the Swahili Fashion Week. The humble Khanga was reborn on the catwalks. 

Originally inspired by Portuguese traders' "lenço" (handkerchief), the khanga is worn in various different ways and used as tablecloths and in wedding ceremonies. 

{images from Swahili Fashion Week}

I was very fortunate to be seated next to the extremely talented Doreen Mashika who has truly taken the humble khanga from the streets and made it into high fashion. Her accessory line of bags and shoes are highly regarded and exported to Europe and South Africa. A girl can but dream as they are quite pricey...but maybe for a treat?

{images from Doreen Mashika}

Another Designer I was very impressed with was Robi Morro of MAPOZI DESIGNS. Her collection combined Khanga, Kitenge and Denim in the latest trends. The amount of raw, undiscovered talent on this continent is staggering, and even without formal training people are making it happen. This is a sign of the pure determination of the Tanzanian people to improve their lives and the lives of others.

DAVID TLALE of South Africa ended off the show. He was awarded Fashion Designer of the Year at the recent Arise Africa Fashion Awards, and then went on to show his collection at the Mercedes Benz New York Fashion Week in September 2009. 

So, the African continent is getting there, and it all starts at these small local fashion shows where you sit under beautiful trees with the stars peaking through, feel the balmy ocean breeze on your skin and feel the sand in your shoes.

That night Tanzanian fashion was in the sky, in the street and in the way we live.


{Further reading} 

Coffee and Amarula Ice-cream

"Never eat more than you can lift." – Miss Piggy, Muppet extraordinaire    

Dar weather to me is a constant flow of sun with one or two (thank god) cloudy days… And when things get too warm, get ice-cream. I did this recipe without an ice-cream machine, to me all ice-cream recipes should work without it (although it does produce something quite heavenly, undeniable). The coffee in this gives it that glorious caffeine loaded flavour, whilst the Amarula simply has you begging for more…  

Kilimanjaro coffee Ice-cream with Amarula & Bougainvillea    
500ml Cream 
80-100ml very strong Kilimanjaro Coffee (plunger/espresso) 
110g Sugar
6 Egg yolks
5 tbsp Amarula 
Bougainvillea flowers, to decorate

Heat the cream on a low heat until just starts to get hot – the top will quiver slightly. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and the sugar until pale and cream. Whisking all the time, pour the hot cream into the egg yolks Stir in the Amarula – taste – you may want to add another spoon or so… Chill in the freezer overnight Serve big scoops in sugar cones, and use the bougainvillea flowers to decorate. 

Enjoy! Hibiscus
ps. many thanks to our favourite photographer Hendri Lombard for the lovely pics!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Musings under the Mango Tree

The temperature was high and the humidity even higher. The Golden Tulip Hotel, equally infamous for its bad management and for the lovely seaside pool is where 5 friends took refuge from the Dar es Salaam heat. While dipping their toes in the water they where discussing life in general in “the house of peace” aka Dar. The irony of the name given to the seaport by the 18th century Sultan of Zanzibar did not escape them. And it was here, while pondering over the different lives they have all left behind in return for an East African adventure that the idea of a blog was born.

They all come from different places and they all have different interests. A Harare homebody with a flair for baking to a crazy creative Grahamstown girl. They are in various stages of their 20’s and in various forms of relationships. From a 25year old hitting the quarter life crisis and all the related questions to a 28year old wife and mother of beautiful Moo.

What they have in common is a love for the wild continent of Africa and the life she offers those who can embrace the adventure along with the allure. They also share a longing for friends and family from all over the world to experience a slice of their daily existence….so karibu (you are welcome) to Musings Under The Mango Trees of Dar es Salaam.

May we introduce Hibiscus who arrived in Tanzania in 2004, meandering up from Malawi on a coal truck. All sorts of unique events (which I’m sure you’ll come to hear about) lead her to Dar es Salaam, then onto the Selous Game Reserve. Since then, she has spent some time out of the country, pursuing food. She returned to Tanzania again in 2006, to once again take a dip in the safari pool. Currently living in Dar es Salaam, but traveling to the bush for work, Hibiscus is passionate about the country; from the downtown dala dala mayhem to the palm fringed shores of the coast and crocodile infested waters of the Rufiji River.

Graduating from University earlier this year Frangipani stood at the crossroads thinking ‘where to now?’ Doing the ‘two-year year London work thing’ didn’t appeal to her so with a phone call and a friend on the other end she moved to Dar in search of adventure. “A life-long desire to explore the continent brought me to this beautiful country where there are no fences, the juiciest tomatoes, traffic jams and the warmest people.”

Andizi used to be a career driven, corporate animal. “And then” she exclaimed “one day I sold my car, packed my life into a suitcase and moved to Dar es Salaam! An impulsive life changing decision – most definitely! Wrong move – not for one second! It was a life long passion for Mama Africa and her children, my (until then) unexplored sense of adventure and I suppose the big three O creeping closer that resulted in this relocation to the equator.
Living in Africa surely has its trials, but I am incurably in love with the people, the colours, the savanna plains, the fresh fruit, the beaches, the bush, the bougainvilleas in every garden…How do I explain my choice for living in a city where goats roam the streets for rubbish? How do I explain life where everyday there is red dust on your feet but also frangipani’s in you hair?”

Maisha left Joburg in a whirlwind to follow her heart with big ideals and little money. She loves Tanzania; its got the bluest sky, greenest trees and friendliest people.

Last but not least is Desert Rose who has lived in this African city the longest. She explains…”I've always had a passion for travel, people, adventure and most importantly Africa. The red dust, the rain-soaked forest floors, the beautiful people and the colours of this continent. I came to Tanzania by default – 3 bottles of excellent red wine, a very special friend, the back of a cigarette box, no convincing and a map of Africa…..We planned to stay 2 months, but alas, it is almost 6 glorious years later. Enjoy our journey through the days in and around Dar.”

“Safari Njema”…