Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

The majority of tourists to #Africa ‘connect’ with the continent from within the secure and somewhat sterile capsule of a big-ass 4×4, all while hurtling through the chaos constituting the Mother Continent’s go-to stasis. When they do disengage from their virtually-real journey, it is often just to transit into another first-world space, with instagrammable plates and curated interiors, and just enough local flavour to allow them to harvest likes for their travel #selfies.

These #FirstWorldians are separated from reality by a 4mm-thick slab of tinted glass for much of their trip, sanitizing so many of those gritty blessings served up by #MamaAfrika. It does mean they unfortunately miss out on experiences so authentic and in-your-face that they can never be packaged by a tour operator. #DarEsSalaam is a case in point, and as usual, this perception gap is often centered around – and perpetuated by – cooking and food.

On the one end of the scale, there are the expat clubs and eateries, flouting an approximation of what you will find on your menu back home. Then, you have those no-frills Mtaan-vibe establishments catering to the burgeoning local middle class. Here, you order in #Swahili and still eat with your hands, and can chose between local staples like nyama choma, ugari, kuku wa kapeta and machitzi. A DJ thumps out local Tanz tunes, the #Serengeti beers are not quite cold, and – when you’re done – you get a bowl of soapy water to wash your hands before you hit your next hustle. Hard.

Finally, you may just get to experience an off-kilter broadside into the frenetic energy of a dark-zone roadside market on some random back road. Here, you will wade into the very thick of the freak show throng, high on Konyagi gin (read: paint stripper) and heady weekend fumes. There’s an intoxicating rawness to these truck-stop junctions, poised somewhere between Barter City and a Bladerunner ghetto, and they brim with an edgy mediaeval mojo.

Anything goes, from fleeting ghost-in-the-night #Maasai encounters, the sizzle of goat-fat brochettes flaring over open fires, a furtive scuffle or two, and a free-for-all disregard for personal space. You cannot help but tap into a visceral sense that you are connecting directly to the baseline of primal human instinct, while a full scale of emotions ebb and flow around you within this theatre of bold dreams and dashed hopes that shape our Africa’s contemporary reality.

To really get under the skin of a country like #Tanzania, you need to occasionally drop your guard in order to engage on each of these levels. Otherwise it is a bit like watching a #Natgeo documentary inside your car. But then, maybe that’s just me.

#Karibu #AsanteSana

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