Saturday, August 16, 2008

Wow Woops

How did I end up here…..

It’s a long day’s story. I left Joburg in the early morning, paying up and getting out of my nice service apartment there. It felt like packing up a house a bit..but was easy enough to do.

I had forgotten, however, that most of South African Airways’ Africa flights depart at 9 a.m…so the airport was a complete mess. Because baggage theft is so rampant, people now prefer to have their bags shrink-wrapped before loading them on to the planes…endless queues and discussions while bag after bag (not mine) was engulfed in plastic.

Ok fine, then on the plane. Then we sit. I look out the window and see one bag – MINE – sitting on the tarmac, unescorted. Why? Who knows. But there it was, and in it were all my notebooks (foolish move I know…not to be repeated). After a while the airplane began its countdown, and there was my bag. Outside. I had my face glued to the window and was just about to make a scene when some bag guy saunters by and throws it into the hold. Ok.

Arrival in Dar es Salaam is always a little hectic. They require visas from almost everybody, and the promise that you can obtain one at the airport means you queue and queue and then someone takes your passport, forms, and $100 and disappears. I’ve done it before so I was pretty sure the passport would come back but it’s always stressful…especially when an Air India flight had just landed and LOTS of people were freaking.

Made it. Next was the taxi queue. Some driver grabbed my bag and we headed to the parking lot..only to see him accosted by about 10 other angry drivers. He’d jumped HIS queue. My bag went from shoulder to shoulder as the argument progressed..and eventually, as these things seem to do, a victor was declared in the person of the angriest and most voluble driver. He took my bag and off we went to the parking lot.

The airport road into Dar is much nicer than the one in Nairobi…but heavily patrolled by police. At one stop light, a police lady (wearing the odd Catholic School outfit that policewomen seem to have here) stopped us for some kind of infraction. We were pulled over, the driver sweating and swearing, and she plunked herself in the back seat (I was sitting in the front). Fifteen minutes of sweating and swearing later, the driver finally handed over the equivalent of $2 and she got out. Totally brazen on all sides.

Then I end up at Q-bar. It is one of those things that seemed reasonable enough when was planning the trip in Cambridge in April, but in reality? Woops. Basically I’m staying in a sports bar. It’s a four storey, concrete building built around an atrium of huge television sets. One for soccer, one for rugby, and the other two flashing a mind-boggling array of “sport” ranging from yachting to motocross to whatever. All at high volume. Inside, on arrival, the place was packed with bloated beer drinkers of every description. It’s a dream come true for a certain kind of person (straight, alcoholic, temporarily unattached, sport fan) – but I fail on (most?) of those counts.

I called an old reporter friend in Dar and was greeted with gales of laughter when I told her where I was …”The prostitutes totally take over at 9..take cover”….was her advice. And judging from the pretty raunchy outfits that were already on show in bar, I think she was about three hours too late.

Strangely, the room is fine. My fight or flight instinct led me to an Internet café where I checked out other options..but at my self-imposed $50 night limit there’s not much in Dar, which is pretty expensive. I’ll see how it goes. My door is bolted.