The International Writers Magazine: Africa

Arusha Safari
Trista Mrema on the city lowdown

The locals mad-dog (stare) like crazy...and I'm not just talking about the ogling perv-y men. Women, children and men alike stare you down until you think you're soul will pop out of your body because it can't take the steady gaze anymore. Seriously, put some of these mothers on celebrity poker and see how much money they take home.

And don't try to stare back to make them aware they're staring so maybe they stop staring...they know they're staring, they don’t need any help from you. I usually smile back. Sometimes I get a smile in response but mostly just these steady eyes. Since this seems to be custom and I'm in their hood, I don’t huff and fact, I probably act up a little more, give them a good show and all.

The pool attendant at the Impala hotel has a degree in computer science and religion...Caleb is his name. He told me he was lucky enough to get fees to even attend school. Now that school is over however, there are no jobs. All dressed up with a computer science degree and no place to compute his science. The only jobs available are in the service industry...this frustrates Caleb because he can't apply his trained mind. He picked the pool job because it gave him the opportunity to engage with a variety of people. There are loads of educated folks around here, cleaning hotel rooms and tending gardens.

It's best to be born a man in Arusha. A boy is still considered the jewel of the family; he is tended to and favored much more than his female counterpart. I remember traveling here as a child; my older sister and I had dinner outside with the rest of the women while my little brother supped with the men on a set dining table in the warm glow of indoors. There was actually a window from which we could see this scene take place; my brother, stuffing his face, tipping his chair back, having fun trying to balance on two legs while I squatted on a stool and ate with my hands. I was so pissed at that little shit...I guess I knew it wouldn't help being pissed at the adult men so I took it all out on my brother...I know better now. Which brings me to me father's victory party: tents and chairs, meats roasting on the grill, women breaking out in song and dance and, of course, drink.

Arushanites (I don’t know what you call them) drink; it's dangerous to sit and drink in their company if you can't hang. I managed my intake because I was playing dutiful daughter. I went around saying 'ungera (congrats)' to everyone, meeting elders and fulfilling drink requests. I dig hospitality and I like making sure people are happy, but the partygoers soon took the piss. Here, children and females act as servants; you would send a young guy or an adult women to fetch a glass of water (or, more likely, whiskey) before daring to ask a grown man. I am both child (i.e. unmarried) and female so they were running my ass all over the place. 'Trista, I need a glass for my cognac...Trista, I need a Heineken...Trista, a double whopper with cheese, please.' I felt like they were making up for the five years since I’d been to Arusha. After four or five trips between backyard and kitchen, I hid my ass in the house where the sound of their demands wouldn't reach. It sucks because I wish I could enjoy the drunken party from a cozy seat, gripping my vino rosso...I can get wasted and sing Swahili campaign songs too.

With this whole election business, I feel like the third world Paris Hilton; Paris gets entrance to great parties and posh events, I get to be checked out by the doctor next door without any insurance. Can you believe it? I had to come to the third world to be properly checked out by a doctor. Some of you already know, something has to be bleeding or falling off if you want a Dutch doctor to even take your pulse. I was so jazzed when Dr. Chamba took my blood pressure and used his stethoscope...I didn’t even mind when he busted out the 1950's, Dr. Frankensteinian equipment...the stuff worked and he was sweet and knowledgeable. When you go see a Dutch doctor, you go to her office, you sit in front of her desk, the examining table is off to the side (more like decoration) and you talk, you talk about what ails you. The last time I saw a doctor in Amsterdam, I wanted to start making shit up to see how far this non-practicing doctor's practice would go on not practicing medicine, 'ok, I’m bleeding out of my anus and my right leg is bright green, wilt u zien me nu doctor?' Bless Dr. Chamba for his homemade-looking EKG and Tupperware piss least he uses the bloody things.

Being connected to an MP does get you booked in the safari lodges (during peak season) at the last minute. Me, me ma, me aunt and her two kids were taken by our driver, George, to the Ngorongoro Crater. You're going to think I’m crazy, but I wasn’t that fussed to go on safari...I had been to the crater already and done a couple of other safaris in Kenya. Plus, I knew I was taking my big-cat-hungry boyfriend to Arusha one day soon so I didn’t want to burn out on the wild kingdom. Listen to me...complaining about getting the chance to see nature's bad asses in their hood...I AM totally spoiled. Ngorongoro is 610 meters deep and 260 km squared (the internet told me so) and is particularly stunning for it's views. My favorite part was the lodge we stayed in, situated atop the crest of the crater, looking down into it.

Oooooweeee...places like this remind you human beings aren't all that, nature and wildlife like to show off too. The day after that, we headed to the Serengeti plains, the highest concentration of wildlife in Africa. Again, I’m going to sound like an asshole, but, really, how many zebra, wildebeest, and Thompson gazelle do you think one has to see in a two-day period? It was like seeing a squirrel or a duck; the numbers made you get over the whole experience pretty quickly. It was amazing to see giraffe, rhino, elephant and...simba. I can't act like cool guy on that one...our car got up close and personal with a lounging pride and I didn’t know whether to run or move in for a cuddle. They fucking knew they were the king of their shit...they didn’t move for nothing...basking under the shade of a tree, after a kill perhaps, not worried about anything because nothing in those plains was going to come after them...king of the jungle and all.

Animals aside, the most exciting part was when our Land Rover over-heated on the way back from Serengeti to Arusha. Our driver George, bless him, wasn't so inclined on the tougher terrain...he pushed are vehicle way too hard on the gravel road and it had to give up. We were stranded for 3 wasn’t as dire because we had left the big game in Serengeti and it was still before midday so the heat didn’t get to us. Locals in a truck stopped and totally did a MacGyver on our truck; this one dude took out hoses and refitted them, blew excess air out of the water tank with his was absolutely brilliant. It was great to see someone so efficient handling his shit with such confidence; poor George paled in comparison. Drivers would stop and offer a hand...I love it when guys get so curious to fix a problem and don’t have to be told to do it. After a little work on the Land Rover, the main mechanic dude found that the problem was bigger and that we needed a tow. The big truck would tow our Land-Rover and we would hitch a ride from one of the nearby lodge's vehicles. Long story short (too late), these gung-ho guys were too impatient towing our vehicle along the windy mountain-like roads; these guys pushed our Land-Rover up the hills and free-wheeled it down the curvy paths with no gears...big, giant, hairy, sweaty Arusha balls!! They looked like they do this shit every damn day....

We're back home now and between hot weather, safaris and over-heated adventures, it hardly feels like winter at all.

p.s. my Swahili is now in the mix with my French (merci, mon amour) and my Dutch....and my English is totally screwed. Kwanini je ne peux pas praten in een taal for Christ's sake?

© Trista Mrema April 2006

Welcome to Arusha Part One
Trista Mrema

Mother Africa
Trista Mrema

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