Before I came to Tanzania, I got some very good advice about getting used to people coming and going. Both the volunteer and ex-pat communities are pretty transient and as Dar is the biggest city, this is where everyone arrives and departs from.
There are about 20 volunteers based in Dar, many of them in a little VSO enclave around me. In my compound, I have Clarifel from the Philippines, Natascha from the Netherlands, Thomas from Canada and Tom from Ireland who is here with his Finnish wife, Liisa. In a neighbouring compound is Mary, from Kenyan, my work colleague until recently and who has become a good friend.
Then round the corner are Robert and Hanna, both Canadian who work for the same organisation. Next door to them until this week was Claire, a fellow Brit, also from Oxfordshire.
There’s something about the transience of the ex-pat community and the fact that you’re all in an alien environment that means friendships develop quickly and with an intensity that is very different to home. Having a support network here is crucial for all the times that you’re frustrated by bureaucracy, discover corrupt practices, get fed up with being called ‘mzungu’ (foreigner) or haggling with the bajaj (tuk tuk) drivers who want to charge you three times as much because you are a mzungu. For me, the UK almost seems like another lifetime away and as much as I enjoy interacting with local Tanzanians, sometimes you just need the company of other people from a similar culture and context.
However, what’s also great is the diversity of my current social circle.
Take last week as an example. My lovely friend Mary celebrated her birthday, so a crowd of us went out for dinner together. In the group were two Tanzanians, three Kenyans, a Canadian, a Filipino, a Belgian and a Brit (that’s me!)
This week it’s been a whole round of farewells. Fellow Brit, Claire has been in Tanzania for a year and spent almost half of that in Kagera, in the north west close to the Rwandan border. She changed placements and came to Dar in December, which is when I got to know her better. Living at other ends of the same county back home and being a similar age meant we had familiar points of reference and didn’t have to keep explaining ourselves. So we hung out together quite a bit, bonded over shared meals, walks from the office, beers or shopping trips to buy gorgeous African fabrics as presents for the folks back home.
Claire’s farewells started over a week ago when VSO hosted a little party for her and two other Dar based volunteers who are also leaving (my neighbour Clarifel and Tijana, a Canadian). Volunteers and staff came together for speeches, certificates, food and drink.
Then a few of us treated Claire to dinner at Epi D’Or, a rather lovely Lebanese style coffee house and restaurant (and favourite ex-pat hang out) which is a real treat for those of us on a budget. She had a week full of various goodbyes after that.
For Claire’s last night we went to one of our favourite places, a little beach side café at Coco Beach. We were right on the sand, listening to the waves crashing on the shore, staring up into the moonlit sky dotted with stars against the shadows of the coconut palms. We toasted Claire with cold beers and enjoyed great beef and fish mishkaki (kebabs). We got onto the subject of things Claire hadn’t done in Tanzania, which was how we ended up in a place called the Q-Bar later. It’s a sports bar but is notorious for all the prostitutes that hang around the ex-pat guys. I’ve never seen so much lycra or dangerously high heels in one place – fascinating. The bar was also packed as they were showing the Euro 2012 football matches. Great fun and just a little rowdy!
Last night was a triple farewell. My lovely Filipino neighbour, Clarifel leaves on Tuesday after 17 months in Tanzania. Also, my friend and former neighbour Carl has been back in Tanzania with a Belgian friend of his being tourists and flew back home this morning.
Mary joined us for drinks at local restaurant Arizona as did her Kenyan friends Roy and Bilha, plus former colleague Aika. After dinner we went on to see a local band with the great name of Banana Zorro play. They had an ever changing line-up of really good singers and played a wide range of upbeat dance music, both English and Swahili songs. We just had to dance! Being there for the last song (at after 2am) was a pretty jaw dropping experience. A group of guys and girls danced around in a circle, stopping every so often to grind very suggestively into the person behind them or taking their turn gyrating their hips very suggestively whilst holding onto a chair in the centre of the circle. Roy told me that this is a particular speciality of the coastal region (all down the coast from Mombasa in Kenya) but that we were seeing the tame version.
Suitably educated (and doubtful that my behind would ever be that mobile) it was time to bid farewell. I’ll miss you Claire, Carl and Clarifel.
The next batch of new volunteers arrives tomorrow so time to form new friendships…