Dar es Salaam: Africa's gentle corner

A trip to a street restaurant in the alluring coastal city of Dar es Salaam has Rehana Loonat dreaming of returning to Tanzania 

A crew member brings in the catamaran anchor

PHOTO: REHANA LOONAT 


“This is the life,” I think as I sit on the deck of the CQ, a catamaran leaving the bay in Dar es Salaam for Sinda Island two hours away. It’s a hot, cloudless day and the water laps softly at the sides of the twin-hulled craft.

I am part of a media group visiting the east African country of Tanzania to mark SAA’s 20th year of flying the Joburg-Dar es Salaam (fondly known as Dar) route. The airline has partnered with Tsogo Sun to feature Dar’s potential as a holiday destination for SA visitors.

A short while later, with the sway of ocean swells, my legs have turned to rubber. A wave of nausea follows. Dashing blindly to the stern, I promptly throw up overboard.

But the seasickness is worth it as Sinda soon unfolds like a picture postcard in front of us, all sugar-white beach and turquoise water with a large, thatched boma nestled against the rich foliage.

“I feel like I’m in the Caribbean,” I think, as I wade into the ocean to cool off. A toot-toot from a truncated vuvuzela on the boat announces that the on-board braai is done.

Afterwards, we make our way back to catch the splendour of a Dar sunset and drink a toast to the city as the blazing orange orb in the evening sky sinks gracefully behind the mainland.

Then it’s off to the hotel to shower and change for dinner at an inner-city restaurant.

If Sinda feels like the Caribbean, Kisutu is like night-time Fordsburg on steroids.

Large, open grills on pavements send plumes of smoke into the balmy night as an assortment of spiced beef, chicken, fish and kebabs are cooked. The area bustles with people making their way by car, on motorbikes and on foot to the hub of 10 street restaurants. Scattered among them are ice cream vendors, hawkers and beggars, all hustling.

The pavements bristle with rows of plastic tables and chairs as people dine on food straight off the grills and on hot, buttered, naan bread being made in concrete-lined kilns.

Shane Nayani, owner of the popular Mamboz Corner, proudly proclaims himself a fifth-generation Tanzanian – his forebears had arrived from India in the 1800s. He’s been operating here for six years and business is booming.

“Street restaurants started in the CBD in the early 90s with sekala [known in South Africa as tandoori] chicken and grew from there,” he explains.

“Street restaurants open from 6.30pm to midnight. During the day, you will only find deserted pavements here. The activity starts at night. People like eating on the street because they’re getting good food at a cheap price.”

Nayani’s staff busy themselves serving us a tasty selection of Indian and Chinese dishes. He speaks fluent Swahili with them. These are exchanges between equals with no hint of race or class divisions.

Shane Nayani (standing, centre) explains his menu

PHOTO: REHANA LOONAT

Our tour guide later tells me English and Swahili are two compulsory, official languages taught in Tanzania from primary to high school. This harmony between the different people of Dar, bound by a common indigenous language, should serve as an example to South Africa.

South African Ross Mackay, a Southern Sun manager, says: “In the three and a half years I’ve been here, I’ve neither heard nor seen a race group being targeted by any Tanzanian.” Small wonder then that he’s reluctant to return home.

I find this gentleness everywhere I go in Dar. I never turned around at the sound of a loud or raised voice or witness irritation between people.

It is a quietness that will lure me back to this gentle corner of Africa.

Loonat was a guest of Southern Sun Dar es Salaam and was flown courtesy of SAA. The three-hour flight is popular with businesspeople, but SAA is on a drive to make people aware of Tanzania’s leisure options

Joburg to Dar es Salaam, SAA economy class, R6 814 return.

Southern Sun Dar es Salaam, per room per night sharing, excluding breakfast, R2 603.58 to R3 591.28

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