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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

#Tanzanian Mosaic by John von Daler

                Dar es Salaam. The smell of muggy money. How can a city with so much poverty smell of money?
                 Our air-conditioned private bus with its six passengers waiting on a red light beside a large, decrepit city bus in which, on which, out of which teeming, sweating passengers hang, swing, fall.

                We pass the multiple guards at the entrance to the village of mansions where we have been given lodgings. We are white, waved on past, no threat here. We pull into the elegant driveway and get out of the car into the velvet darkness. From a tree in the front yard our invisible guard, the man they will arrest immediately if anything should happen to us, whispers his soft Swahili greeting like a verbal caress, Jambo! Jambo!

                Kilamanjaro. Finally a mountain that looks like the ones I draw. Reading Hemingway in its shadow. "Smokers find it easier to climb than non-smokers," someone says. He-men always find a way to win.

                The Danish highway built as a gift to Tanzania, the little Danish signs with their picture of a modern bus, This is what we have in Denmark. The road that soon will disintegrate in the rains, because Swahili has no word for maintenance. Dear Hans Christian Andersen, Keep your swan, this duckling might just want to stay a duck.

                We arrive at our lodge long past sunset, that abrupt curtain fall. We are worse for wear, scared after a troublesome drive. In the leopard dark of the parking lot a kind, black voice bids us welcome, "Would you like a gin and tonic?"
                Hundreds of elephants wandering past our tent/hut, tail to trunk. The magnificent silence of their migration. Their proud solidarity: the morning mantra of each elephant step, Us! ... Us! ... Us!

                We decide to take a walk down the beach at our hotel. Out of the shade of a tree steps an El-Greco Masai in his plaids, machine gun in hand, and follows us at a respectful distance. In the long run, who needs to guard whom?

                 The curve in the road built to avoid a huge baobob tree where spirits dwell. Just like Iceland and the Huldur Clan: the straight highway suddenly swings into a comma and back again. In faith, what's one little swerve for one man or for mankind for that matter?

                On the road to the airport we pass small, tin-roofed huts in long rows. In front of each people are making food on open fires, singing and laughing in their beautiful, colorful, cotton clothes. Flecks of rich pigment like a painting, a happy Van Gogh. Or is that an oxymoron? Then again, that is what Tanzania is about: incompatible contrasts that coexist. 

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