Kivukoni Fish Market >> Fish Auctions

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Kivukoni Oceanfront near City Centre is a lively place in town; a peek into the REAL Dar es Salaam: Where Tanzanians flood the streets, old German colonial-style buildings line the ocean front, an old painted ‘Tanganyika Swimming Club’ sign restricts intruders from its long-since popular facilities, where the Kivukoni Ferry shuttles hundreds of passengers and vehicles to and from South Beach several times a day, and where the fish market, the biggest in Dar es Salaam, has been operating for decades.

fish market views

Here, fishermen in wooden dhow boats bring in their daily catch, once at 7am and again at 10am every morning, selling to restaurants and individual patrons alike. Anything that is caught in the water is up for sale, from tiny sardines, to huge kingfish, to stingray and octopus and squid, to shrimps of all sizes. Fish and crustaceans are hawked for some of the cheapest prices in town within these narrow concrete aisles of the downtown fish market.

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Perhaps the most fascinating scenes at the Kivukoni Fish Market, aside from the outrageous species of sea animals that are sold (for food? fodder? who knows.) are the continuous auctions for fresh catch pulled in.

It may be hard for a common bystander to tell exactly what the circular crowd gathered around a low scuffed wooden table is doing.  But give it a few moments, and one will quickly be able to pinpoint the main players in any auction: auctioneer, sellers, buyers, and money collectors. Suddenly an old scuffed wooden tabletop is transformed into a platform for exciting possibilities and tension. Much like an art auctioneer at an art sale, the fish auctioneer at Kivukoni calls out bids in monotone drone, starting at a base amount and raising in increments of 500 to 1000 Shillings. His pace is not terribly quick, but it’s slurred and it’s faster than my rudimentary knowledge of Swahili is able to decipher.

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On one side of the platform-made-auction table are the sellers, and on the other side, the buyers. These women–and the buyers are almost all women–line the auction table in a seated row, firmly planted on buckets that are later used to carry their purchases home on their heads. They are the meanest-looking, most serious women I have seen in all of Dar es Salaam. Like card sharks around a high-stakes game, they sit entranced, staring from fish to auctioneer to seller and back again at the fish, and occasionally cast a brief scowl towards the likes of any one (me) who distracts this ping-pong vision of theirs. I barely see the minute notions that are given to the auctioneer that indicates bids, but it seems the auctioneer does not miss a beat.

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From shrimp, to squid, to giant eel-like fish and tiny sardine-type fish, all creatures of the ocean are presented for auction. If there is a science or logic behind the auctions, I certainly haven’t figured it out. Then again, I’m not about to ask one of these women. I mean, check out the scowl on that one in the front…

Kivukoni Fish Market

Located on Ocean Front Blvd. just before the South Beach Ferry terminal. Entrance is facing the street. Price and availability of seafood vary…especially price. Don’t forget to bargain!

Sandzibar

IMG_1839 Dar can be a very polarizing place to live. Sometimes it’s nothing but love for this amazing country, and other times there’s nothing but sheer frustration for this backwards country. A lot of days, when your tire is flat from running over one too many potholes, and your power is out the half day that you spend waiting for the water delivery to come, and all you want is a jar of kalamata olives so you can make a Greek Salad but NO ONE is selling kalamata olives…well, life is rough, my friends.

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But then, every once in awhile, on a perfect weekend afternoon, you will pack your coolers with beer and wine, pick up sandwiches from a local cafe, and head to the Dar Yacht Club. You will hop on a friend’s boat and motor out, away from land and to the vast blue beyond, seemingly away from every day problems and towards something much more blissful. You will use your Google Maps GPS to look for a sand bar that you’ve only seen from above, on the way from Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam. You will find aforementioned sandbar, and nickname it, “Sandzibar” (said only in a grand, vibrating baritone voice), then spend a great deal of time debating important matters (where to anchor, whether to re-apply SPF 50 for the 15th time), and hop off to watch the tide recede and slowly uncover an entire island in the middle of the ocean. You will drink said beers and wine, eat said sandwiches. You will be surprised by two kite surfers that have come from the coast of Dar, and be even more surprised when you see that you know them. Gosh, Dar is a small place. They, too, will be surprised that at the end of their journey they have a beer waiting for them. You will talk about everything the way friends do, effortlessly and aimlessly, with topics ranging from ‘the 5 signs of showing love’ to ‘how to be a human bobsled on the dance floor’, all while silently baking under the hot Indian Ocean sun. You will decide that it’s getting too hot, after four short/long hours on the island, and pull up the anchor that was, in the beginning, such an ordeal to anchor. You will head back to shore, but not before taking a long cruise around the bay, stopping to watch the sun set and to take another dip in the ocean. And to polish off that last bottle of white, of course.

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So in the end, we must all keep in mind that Dar is really not so bad after all; that for all the insanity in day to day life, there are some major pockets of sanity out here.

Painted Walls

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Good day from a very rainy and very dreary Monday in Dar. I thought it was dry season…?

Anyway, one of my favorite things about African cityscapes is not the rain, but the usage of hand-painted signs and advertisements on various buildings and walls around town. From advertisements, to store signs, to government-funded AIDS propaganda, African sign painting is a lucrative profession that exists in large cities and small villages alike. While this practice has since been lost in the Western world, here in East Africa they can still be found in most parts of towns and along roadside villages. I’m treasuring the ones I see on my trips in and out of City Centre, as I sense they will soon be lost to the emergence of blinding electronic billboards (I’m looking at you, you eyesore on Ali Hassan Mwinyi Blvd!).

Anyway, here are a few of my favorites from a (much less rainy) recent visit to City Centre. Also called, Pepsi vs. Coke, who wore it best?

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Asian Thanksgiving

Each year the full moon that appears on the eighth month of the Chinese calendar calls for great celebrations, heralding the past year’s harvest or praying for the next year’s bounty, and celebrating the full moon in the sky. In the old days, royalty and peasants alike would take a break from their regular routines to celebrate with friends, family, and feasting. Called Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhong Qiu Jie) in China, Chuseok in Korea, Tsukimi in Japan, and Tet Trung Thu in Vietnam, this year the lunar holiday falls on this date, September 8.

Me, full on erudite in Chinese, circa 1983.

Me, fully erudite in Chinese, circa 1983.

Those who knew me growing up are familiar with my 12-year struggle in the once-a-week Friday night torture session that was more formally known as Silicon Valley Chinese School. (How better to traumatize a high school student than to rob her of her Friday night dances?) But of course, like all things your parents say you will eventually thank them for in the future, of course I now thank them for sending me to Chinese School; for instilling a good sense of Chinese language, both spoken and written, and for the various aspects of culture it cemented within me. It was at Chinese School, in addition to at home, where I learned the romantic folklore surrounding the Mid Autumn Festival, telling of a famous archer who shot down nine out of ten suns in the sky to save the earth from the scorching heat, who was subsequently rewarded with a magical elixir of immortality. The story continues to tell how the love of his life then drank this elixir and was transported to the moon for the rest of eternity–along with a rabbit, although how this rabbit came to be in the moon, my memory fails to recall.

Myself aside, many of the Chinese diaspora who have since emigrated to countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and elsewhere, brought this holiday and its lore to their overseas communities. Unbeknownst to me until this year, the Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese cultures also celebrate this harvest moon, though with different folklores and slightly different rituals.

Hong Kong Holiday

Streets of Hong Kong during the holidays

Chinese culture is something I rarely recall in my life here in Dar, other than the fact that Tanzanians always scream out “China! China! Japan! Japan!” When I pass by them on the streets of City Centre. I actually tried speaking Chinese the other day, only to find myself stumbling over the most basic of words, and leading the Chinese man who asked me where the milk was in the grocery to ask/accuse, “You’re not Chinese….? What are you?” A bit offensive, but unsurprisingly Chinese of him.

I find myself yearning to celebrate holidays so heavily traditional and culturally rich as they have in China. Here in Tanzania, Muslim holidays aside, the year is chock full of non-celebratory bank holidays: Workers’ Day, Independence Day, Nyerere’s Birthday, Boxing Day…you get the point.

A typical Asian potluck--too much food.

A typical Asian potluck–too much food.

This year, myself, a Korean friend, and a Singaporean friend decided that we needed to round up the Asian population in Dar for a feast in celebration of this great festival to the moon. We called it Asian Thanksgiving– because how much more appropriate could you call this Pan-Asian merging of family and friends and supreme feasting?

We had what was likely to be Dar’s all-time best Asian cuisine: An Asiatic mix that included Japanese pork belly, Korean bulgogi and fried chicken, Vietnamese chicken salad, two different kinds of Philippino Adobo and fresh homemade buns, Thai Green Curry and coconut fish stew, and tons of homemade noodles, and rice. Best of all, we had sweet sticky rice and moon cake for dessert. Moon cake, here in Africa…what a treat!

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I was too busy running around the party to remember to take detail shots of the party, but here are a few overview shots of the group. Happy Mid Autumn Festival….or, more appropriately: 中秋節快樂!

My Asian family here in Dar.

My Asian family here in Dar.

UGANDA >> Queen Elizabeth National Park

Queen Elizabeth Park

While in Uganda, we took advantage of the fact that we were driving across the country and planned a small detour after visiting the Gorillas to drive through Queen Elizabeth National Park. Famous and expansive as the Serengeti ’tis not, but beautiful it certainly was in its own right.

Queen Elizabeth at dusk

We witnessed a truly drop-dead gorgeous landscape, with scenery that would make any Hollywood director jealous to the core. The Diploman kept saying, “this is what I imagine when I picture Africa“. It had a lot to do with the light, which was gorgeous and plentiful, and also the weather, cool and comforting, and finally the trees: majestic, umbrella-like beauties home to dozens of bird species. We didn’t see many cats or dogs, but plenty of elephants and monkeys, and after dark we were amazed at how many hippo sightings we were privy to on the banks of the rivers next to the main roads. What strange, huge, and blubbery creatures!

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After an overnight at the park’s Hippo Hill Lodge, we organized a river ‘cruise’ the following day—getting us closer to hippos than normally would have liked. We were lucky to catch a glimpse of the famed national bird, the Ugandan Crane, beady blue eyes, mohawk and all.

We also saw herd after herd of water buffalo and lining the banks of the river, and learned (witnessed, too) that the older adult male water buffaloes are exiled from their herds after a certain age; these small clan of 5-10 old elder states-buffalo wind up living together in retirement-home-like groups down the banks from the rest of the groups, giving proof (and a bit of relief from guilt) that we humans aren’t the only ones who disregard our elders.

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We cruised down the river until we witnessed the DRC horizon just beyond us. We saw a local village, existing in the area far before designation of park borders and thus who were left in relative peace— as peaceful as one would be surviving among hundreds of pods of hippos, I suppose.

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Africa, you always trick me with your crime-ridden statistics and your dusty, packed cities, but ultimately you win– big wins, for your majesty, your gentle giants, and your natural grace.

 

 

On Travel Checklists, The Gorillas, & A Visit To The Impenetrable Forest

I’m back! And I want to talk about travels—I’ve done lots in the last two months, and I’m excited to resume a regular writing schedule and share with you all that I’ve seen, now that my unintended and unannounced no-blog summer break is at an end.

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Sleeping Silverback

Speaking of travel: We all travel with a checklist of things to do; goals we must accomplish while spending time in a foreign country. While these goals can be as vague as trying a local dish or as specific as visiting a famous landmark, these goals quickly become more a checklist as one spends more time abroad. So that when you’re living overseas, this checklist becomes exponentially grander, with a scope of activity and achievement higher, faster, bigger, and more accomplished.

This stint of mine living in Africa, well, it might just be that—a stint. The Diploman and I aren’t really hard-core ‘Africa’ folks like some of our friends here; those who studied abroad here, served in the Peace Corps here, and have since made their living working in development here. Neither of us imagine ourselves in Africa for long, although of course we’d both love to see what a country like Senegal has to offer, perhaps live in a place like Mozambique or Morocco one day. And certainly we could both see ourselves living in South Africa in a heartbeat—although that is hardly Africa, to some.

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As the Diploman and I peruse through a list of options for our next post–as close as one year away– we realize how lucky we are to have this option of seeing drastically different corners of the world. We also clearly see that our tendencies lean towards Asian and European countries. And as such, I have a few things I definitely want to check off a great big, grand ol’ to-do list while living here.

Above all else, there are five things I have really wanted to do while living in this region. Going down to Cape Town and seeing the southernmost tip of Africa at the Cape of Good Hope was one-check. Another is to witness the grandeur of the Serengeti, which I will accomplish when my parents come to visit later this year. There’s also the obligation of living here and having to climb Kilimanjaro, although that’s definitely more of a guilty ‘I-can’t-live-here-and-not-do-it’ ordeal rather than something I actually desire to accomplish. I also desperately want to see Madagascar and the singing, dancing lemurs, although this one thing that probably won’t happen, sadly: Both the fictitious singing, dancing lemurs and the actual trip to Madagascar.

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The last must-do on my ‘Top-Five’ list is to see the Gorillas, which was scratched off the list in early May. The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest that spans from Uganda to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) along with the neighboring Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda are two of the few areas on earth inhabited by the rare species of Mountain Gorillas, who purportedly cannot live in captivity. Half of the world’s population of Mountain Gorillas live in the Uganda part of Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest—quite a daunting name, and though not completely eponymous I will say it comes close enough.

These three countries are the only places in the world where tourists are able to see these magnificent creatures. While obviously, entering through the DRC is not recommended, most to travel to Rwanda for this experience simply to minimize car time; Volcanoes Park is a 1-2 hour drive from Kigali, Rwanda; Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, on the other hand, is a rough 8-10 hour drive from Kampala, Uganda. But, a good friend was living in Uganda, so from Uganda it was.

(On a side note, Kampala is a great city, and minus the homophobic bullshit happening right now in that country, I’d love to go back one day and spend more time there. A lot more cosmopolitan and buzzing, a lot more sprawling and connected than Dar, Kampala is also called the city of 7 hills, with a landscape slightly reminiscent of the Bay Area’s similarly hilly sprawl)

Kampala

We drove far out of Kampala, west across the practically the entire country of Uganda (though, not without car troubles—a car whose lug nuts from one tire had been stolen, thus leaving us close to without a tire on a stretch of highway…but this is perhaps a post for another day). We arrived at our lodging after midnight, well past a much earlier midday ETA. Stumbling around in the pitch black around to our modest cabin accommodations, we tucked ourselves into bed— thankful to be lying down rather than sitting in the backseat of a car. Again, I’ll stress, go to Rwanda if you if you are planning to trip to see the gorillas.

The next morning we woke up to a dewy, misty, magical jungle scene. We received a quick briefing and split up into two groups of eight, the maximum group number enforced by authorities. There are only 9 or 10 gorilla groups tracked at the moment, three around the area of our park entrance. The tracked gorilla groups are the only human-acclimated groups thus the only ones allowed for tourists to view. We are told the acclimation begins by locating the groups and sending in one human being every day until the human is accepted as a non-threatening presence. The gorillas eventually allow any human to get closer and closer until the gorillas are adapted to the groups of tourists that are brought through each day.

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After a short drive up the mountain, we began our hike from a little village bursting with banana trees and coffee plants. A one-hour hike led us around the mountainside, past local children selling crayon drawings of gorillas, up a sloping hill past drying coffee beans, and through brush and bush. We arrived at the edge of the protected park area. At this point, we were instructed to ready ourselves for the gorillas, which where about an hour’s walk away.

trackers

The trackers, mostly locals who grow up in the surrounding area, follow these gorilla groups virtually 24/7 without the use of any high-tech devices, lest you consider a two-way radio a high-tech device. The trackers tag team their efforts, leaving the gorillas at night and finding them again in the morning, monitoring their route through the dense forest. Despite seeing humans on a regular basis, the gorillas are by no means completely acclimatized to human civilization. They do not depend on food left by humans nor are they vaccinated against human diseases. As such, it was stressed the importance that we on the guided trek do not leave a single item behind, and that we do not step more than 3 meters close to any of the gorillas— less for our safety, than for the protection of the gorillas. Also as such, the time with the gorillas is limited. Each group, upon finding a gorilla clan, is only allowed one hour.

gorillas

Most of this hour is spent in the quiet (minus the click-zoom-click’ing of camera devices), and observing the unpredictably gentle creatures. Really observing the most mundane of inactivities, such as watching one gorilla pick his eye boogers and eat them, watching another gaze up unenthusiastically into the tree canopies, and watching the two little ones run around and tumble into one another like tumbleweeds across the desert. An elder gorilla provided great action as she plucked roots and shoots and leaves from beneath her and chomped away, and Alpha Silverback and his huge hands provided entertainment with his mere size as he sat meters away from us watching over his clan while scratching the nether-regions of his hairy body.

The hour goes by quickly, the camera batteries and SD cards deplete and fill up just as fast. It’s one of the most hard-to-describe feeling of simultaneously witnessing something so mind-blowingly amazing yet so incredibly mundane and uneventful at the same time. The probably has to do with the obvious fact that these creatures are so similar to us humans. Seeing their gleaming intelligence (really, you could see the intelligence!) in their observant eyes, seeing the fingernails and knuckles that are so similar to ours on their black, hairy hands; it made me wonder whether this was the experience I thought I would have, and wondering exactly who was watching who. I think we humans are just the suckers that ended up paying several hundred dollars each for a permit to do so, leaving me to say: who’s the smarter species now?

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To read more about the gorillas and Bwindi, check out the Bwindi National Forest website, which has some great condensed info about both topics.