Coast of Tanzania, within sound of waves breaking and within sight of the ship-laden horizon, sitting down on last-legged chairs and a patio quality plastic table with 4 other people who, after our travels, have become some of the best friends I have. In front of us lies the fruit of our good fortune and bargaining skills…but certainly could never described as labor. Snapper, Flounder, Scallops, Blue Crab, Octopus, Squid. Homemade lime & chili sauce. With no utensils, or plates (and without asking for either) we begin our feast. The romanticism was no doubt made all the greater by the fact that it has been over a year for most of us since we’ve had food of any kind from the sea. Made greater, also, by the 3 continuous days of speed bumps, broken trains, baliwood blaring from bus speakers for which it took to get there.
The fish market of Dar Es Salaam not only made it worthwhile, it became one of the parts of the whole of our Dar experience which transformed our trip, and even made us question what our real vacation destination was. In the beginning, it was Zanzibar or bust; Dar was meant only as a pit-stop. For me, the shorter we were to be in Dar, the better. Now our only regret was not to have flown(as some of us surely had in our minds, 22 hours into the final 29 hour bus ride into Dar), but rather to the other volunteers who would fly. Missing Dar Es Salaam, looking back, would have been devastating.
To have found not only respite but perhaps our greatest enjoyment of the trip in the largest city in TZ was as surprising as it was welcome; having been used to the capital city of Uganda, we expected chaos, organized in ways only a true veteran might understand. On the contrary, within 24 hours of our 3 days in Dar we found ourselves getting a feel for the layout and taking risks that we would never have done in Kampala. The city is fundamentally different insofar as there were signs of proactive effort towards making the city livable. Bodas were outlawed within the city, the taxi parks were outside the city centers. Sidewalks were large, streets were well marked. It gave the city something I’ve seen in only in the likes of Soroti, in Uganda: a sense of style.
And then, after handfuls of experiences like the one above in Dar, we traveled to Zanzibar. The food was fantastic, if perhaps a bit priced towards those who came from across the world to enjoy it. The water was pristine, and whether you were in the snorkeling renowned blue lagoon or just walking with your toes in the water, you couldn’t help but be mesmorized by the bustling of life all around you. It was the first time the sea ever made my life feel mundane; there is so much going on there, every minute of every hour of every day.
To be fair, it wasn’t just the town itself that gave us the amazing heartening feeling. After all, it was Christmas. We arrived on Christmas Eve, after what was on paper quite a miserable traveling of well over 50 hours cumulative spent on various buses. Dar was our first real stop for us to brush the dirt out of our hair, sleep in a bed, and get food other than peanut butter and cookies. Papa Boddie provided for us an amazing Christmas Eve celebration, on speaker phone over 11,000 kilometers away, telling us the story of “Night Before Christmas.” Smiles got an amazing email, signaling not only his acceptance but also significant amount of scholarship into UCLA business school. We found local ice cream shops, baller Lebanese mez plates, were given fish by locals who were appreciative of our extreme appreciation of their food. It was one of those unable to plan, elusively perfect series of days that will never be understood, only appreciated. It will be impossible to speak of it without a smile.
Zanzibar was a lesser victory of vacation in my eyes. I expected it to be amazing, to be awe-inspiring, to have jaw dropping views of “utopia.” Don’t get me wrong; I was not disappointed in any of these expectations. It was truly wonderful. But being surprised by Dar, by how easily it accommodated us, awed us, and made us even fearful of leaving it for a place like Zanzibar because we simply couldn’t imagine how it could get any better…that is pretty amazing. Looking back, it will be Dar which I talk about with excited breath and stumbling, ever-changing versions of everything from which we found there. Unfairly, though, it will most likely be “Zanzibar” for which the title of the trip will remain in my mind. Some things get all the glory.