The oddities of being a Mzungu in Dar

I get to drive the pick-up over weekends, as I need to keep up my driving skills, and although I initially thought it would be very daunting, I quickly embraced the culture of signaling your intent with a blow of the horn. One blow is to say “stay out my way please” (yes, I know they don’t actually say “please”, but believe me, they are more considerate drivers than I’ve ever seen in South Africa), two blows mean “here I come”, and a long blow is “what the ….. do you think you are doing” (with respect!). As traffic is going at a much slower pace, one feels a bit safer, and if you hoot and ask to be let in after picking a wrong lane, you will normally be greeted with a smile and allowed in.

So, it is then as I sit behind the wheel, all hot and sweaty, that I observe the reaction of the locals to seeing a mzungu (white person) drive, husband next to her, and more often than not, another white mzungu on the back with three dogs in tow. Now remember, the locals are not used to having dogs as pets. Apparently the Islamic belief is that you become “unholy” if you touch a dog, and then you cannot pray, so we are an oddity to them, for sure. We took the dogs out for the first time yesterday after they were so sick, and headed for the close-by site again. Now this is not a camp site as we would know it in South Africa. It is small reed huts on the grass verge of the ocean, with sand inside, grass around it and a view one would pay a lot for. There are two locals operating the site and the charge is 5000 Shillings per day per person, or R25 (about $3). For that you can then have your shade, a beady eye on your belongings whilst you are cavorting in the ocean, a bucket with clean water to rinse the sea water off, and it is a priceless bonus to enjoy such pristine beauty and peace. Yesterday we had waves for the first time – some quite big! We played and laughed a lot, reminiscing about our childhood summer holidays spent at Still Bay, a picturesque holiday resort on the South African East Coast, where the waves are so rough and huge, they once knocked my sister’s false teeth right out of her mouth!

For me, a typical white middle class South African ex business woman, used to structured neigbourhoods, huge shopping malls the likes of Canal Walk in Cape Town, or just the local mall where I can pop in quickly to find just about anything I want and need for feeding the family, this has been quite a culture shock to start shopping locally. I have been to Kenya often, but it is one thing being a tourist and eating whatever delicacies the hotel dishes up from their kitchen, to now being a “local” and having to source such delicacies yourself. Potatoes looked like a no-no initially, as they were all dark brown skin and full of scrapes and dents, until we plunged in as we really wanted to make a stew with some potato in, and bought some. Well, we were bowled over with the exquisite taste, and I found that once I’ve scrubbed the dark-red African soil off it, they were as good as any potato I’ve had before. So upon our return from the beach yesterday, we did our weekly shop at the local huts. They are either made from reed again, and some looking as if they are about to topple over, or small squares are built in a row, each housing a different little shop or perhaps some container is used to sell wares. The Tanzanian people historically are traders, and one has to barter for anything! Kobus hopped out to buy some veggies, and joked that the chap was “killing him” with the asking price. Once he negotiated a fairer price, the seller joked back that Kobus was now “killing him”. We bought mangoes, avos, paw-paws, potatoes, tomatoes, pineapple, cucumber (not the English long Cucumbers we have in Cape Town, but the fat shorter ones I grew up with as a kid – far tastier!). And yes, some of them see the mzungu coming and then double the price quickly, so we have also learnt to send our askari to the shop so that we can buy at cheaper prices.

Kobus felt like fish on Saturday night, and so we asked “Sangoma” (translated as “witch doctor”), our one Askari, to go to the fish market and buy us some fish. Heaven know what sort of fish it was – I guess it was the local “leer fish”, and literally translated to Afrikaans, it could not have suited the name better, as it was tough as leather. Dark, fleshy meat, very dark blood, and very very tough – not tasty at all, and a huge disappointment.

In and amongst the shops and houses, you will find goats tied to some tree stumps, or chicken running around. Talk about chicken – the chickens here are tasty and cheap, so it is a staple food and used often. Most “fast food” outlets are merely a small shop as described, with a glass cage displaying very greasy chips, pre-fried, and then the roasted chickens. As electricity supply is such a problem, many Tanzanians eat on the run, either from work, or to work. One of the local delicacies is a small fish that looks like the small tinned pilchards we get in S A, just dried and apparently caught in Lake Victoria. Vendors sell them all along the streets, especially along the curb where you wait in queue for the ferry ride to Kigamboni. Two weeks ago we sat in our vehicle and watched a vendor making small heaps of this dried fish on a makeshift table top of cardboard placed on a bucket, carefully shaping the little heaps to look as appealing as possible after scooping a handful out from a plastic packet. With every second scoop or so, most landed on the pavement, and he would just casually gather them together with the sand, and re-shape them on the “table”. We sat and watched this for about half an hour, and only one person actually bought some – perhaps the buyers could see it was not great quality. My askaris often eat it in a stew made with spinach as well. I have not tasted it, but cannot imagine a stew of spinach and little dried fish to be a treat to my taste buds. Good source of protein though!

We have a fish eagle entertaining us with his haunting cry every now and then, and again, we laugh at the memories it provokes of a story we used to listen to on radio, long before television came to South Africa, called “Die Geheim van Nantes” (the Secret of Nantes). And then we sing the theme song and marvel at the fact that we are such good friends – this man God sent me so late in life, and I. And that we come from the same era, and that we have the same memories and likes. (Like playing all the Queen songs out loud via our Laptops, and singing to them!) And I count my blessings.

All toilets are fitted with a small hose, and tradition for Muslim people is to wash down rather than wipe down. Toilet paper is expensive, so I have started using the same tool where appropriate, and find it refreshing. Maybe we should incorporate it into more households in the world. We went to Mlamani Shopping Mall on Friday night to watch a movie and actually saw Snow White and the Huntsman, with Charlise Theron as the witch – proud to see our South African export to Hollywood doing so well. On the way back in the dark, we took a wrong turn in front of the Aga Khan hospital, and hey presto! We had stumbled across the lane where the local prostitutes hang out! I was flabbergasted, but could also see the reasoning for them choosing the street – well lit and frequented!! Wonder how many a man has succumbed after visiting a sick wife in hospital…….

About suletta

Fell in love again at age 50! And followed my man to Zanzibar, for him to set up a dairy farm. I managed to travel into Africa a few times in my life, always loving it and experience the "fever" that grips you on African soil - the one that especially the Europeans now and in years gone by, suffer from. Except I am an African by birth - a South African. A Mzungu.So I discovered at this late stage in my life (not that I feel old!) that some people find my babblings about life interesting, and I quote: "live their lives vicariously through me".
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2 Responses to The oddities of being a Mzungu in Dar

  1. Yvette says:

    Hi Suletta, ek het uiteindelik ook die geleentheid gekry om jou ‘blog’ te lees en moet erken: Dis moerse entertaining! Klink maar rof so tussendeur die idilliese ‘surroundings’, maar ek is seker dis vir jou elke muskietbyt werd! Ek sien uit na die volgende brokkie nuus! You’re very good with words! So bly jy is so gelukkig, en keep the creative juices flowing!!

  2. Wendy Mallandain says:

    Hello Suletta,
    What a host of experiences! I have to admit that I’m really happy just to stay in CT after all the Jhb years, despite14 degrees & rain expected here tomorrow, (so enjoy the sunshine & warmth there!)
    Love hearing all your news & hope the doggies are well again. Think of you often & waiting for your next episode of your ongoing tale! Love to you both.

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