Tag Archives: Tanzania

Who Spiked My Dinner?

Guide books should teach one to say “What the hell?” in the local lingo

The campsite was clearly marked on the map and equally clearly wasn’t on the ground. Some bright spark had put in a wrong GPS position and invented a campsite on paper that would never exist on earth.

Giant shade trees on the banks of a small chuckling stream. The cacophony of a canopy-full of colourful birds. There’d have been monkeys. And probably a host of other forest critters. But no cleared piece of ground for a human to put up a tent.

The perfect position for a camp, we agreed, giving up any hope of staying there and pushing deeper into sparsely-populated central Tanzania. The Chinese were re-building the road; we zigzagged across it and alongside it on deeply rutted and potholed truck tracks. It was getting dark. We needed lodgings.

On a section strewn with boulders kicked up by monstrous oriental graders, our increasingly incompetent map showed a plethora of small towns which turned out to be barely more evident than the idyllic forest camp.

There was equally nowhere to pitch a tent in the bigger town of Kondoa, on an unannounced detour off the under-construction future Chinese timber-poaching artery, so we passed instead through the portals of the Grand New Geneva Hotel In Africa.

A power failure throughout the town saw an askari night-watchman lead us by the dim light of a cellphone screen down a long white-tiled corridor to a room named ‘Lion’, sporting a couple of adequate beds and a shower and loo which appeared to be connected to a water supply. More astonishingly, the shower would later turn out to be hot, although with all the pressure of fine Scotch mist.

But that was later. The priority now was food and we ventured out into the darkened streets, where the night air was filled with shouting and laughter although we could barely make anybody out in the gloom.

Here and there a guttering candle gave away a stall selling biscuits, pots and pans and soap, but we hadn’t eaten all day, so a packet of Maries wasn’t going to sustain us. We ducked down a particularly rowdy side-street.

Half-way along, the light of a couple of paraffin lamps spilled out onto the roadside, throwing ugly jumping shadows of drain-strewn litter onto the walls. On crumpling garish plastic chairs sat two dozen people at non-matching tables, drinking milky Swahili coffee and tucking into omelettes and chips. We looked around for a kitchen.

There would be no English here and our Swahili was limited to dated greetings gleaned from a guidebook of the kind that teaches you how to say “Is it possible to buy toothpaste on this train?” but not how to ask “What is that spiky-looking thing lurking in the corner of that broken glass-fronted warmer?”

We pointed to said spiky-looking thing and shrugged our shoulders in enquiry to a busy-looking owner. He glanced at the thing, looked back at us and said “Hedgehog”. Eish!

We tried to order an omelette but the eggs had run out so – what the hell? – we pointed to the hedgehog after all. We’d give it a go. With tepid soggy chips and lots of taste-masking chilli sauce.

Gingerly prodding it with a knife to split it, we pushed though the spikes into the hard crust, expecting an explosion, any moment, of little hedgehog guts. Nothing.

The hedgehog was a batter-spiked scotch egg. Hedgehog. Scotch Egg. I suppose they sound similar.

But had we wanted a real hedgehog, there would still be plenty creeping around the forest where the campsite was supposed to be, we thought. Until the Chinese discover them, that is.

Just Lion Around

The writer pursues the ‘King of the Jungle’ in a less-than-co-operative Landy

We were calling it the Lions Tour. By the time we reached the Serengeti we’d seen no fewer than twenty different prides in three weeks. We’d even seen a dead black-maned male lying on the roadside in Ngorongoro. He could only have been dead for half an hour. No flies on him.

No-one had stopped to take photographs, which was odd especially given that dead lions look the same as lions doing nothing. In fact we watched it for a while to check that he really was dead and not just doing nothing.

We’d been in the Serengeti for two days and seen only a thousand zebra, several thousand wildebeest, two cheetah, two hundred Thompson’s gazelle and a few dozen Grant’s gazelle. No lions.

Leaving Seronera camp, we crossed a cutline where I had seen lions excruciatingly mating four years earlier. Not that I thought that they’d still be at it. I hoped not, for their sakes. Have you ever seen the agony on the face of copulating lions? Brings tears to your eyes. And they can do it up to forty times a day.

I was following a hunch, I told Matthew. We were going to Maasai Kopjes. We’d find lions there. I lurched off the road into a riverbed. The area was badly eroded and wet. We traversed the river, fording various channels. Land Rover. Can’t get stuck. Never lets you down.

And there they were. Lions. Three. A male and two females; one beautiful, one scarred and ugly. Coming straight towards us. A couple of game-viewers pursued them for a while then gave up and went away. We followed the lions along the river until they settled. We pulled up alongside them.

I turned off the engine and we sat. One female meandered off. The ugly one. The male, a fine creature indeed, rolled over onto the beautiful female. Would they? No.

They wandered away. I turned the key to follow. Nothing. Dead Land Rover. Then the alarm – whoop whoop whoop like a zebra in panic – shattered the peaceful Serengeti air. We didn’t have the code to override the immobiliser. The lions were walking away.

The battery was under Matthew’s seat. Lions notwithstanding, he leapt out, loosened the positive terminal, tightened it again and vroom – vehicle outwitted!

We caught up with the lions. Thwump, thwump, thwump. Eish! Puncture, back right. We stopped. So did the lions. What to do? Obvious. Change the wheel. It’s not going to change itself. Lions kept a wary eye on us and we on them. It was an exceptionally fast wheel-change.

We followed the pair for another hour until they leapt onto a kopje, Pride-Rock-style, and disappeared. Probably to mate, forty times, away from prying eyes and broken Land Rovers. Or maybe to lie down and do nothing.

That afternoon, on the same road, three pristine male lions strode, one after another, through the long grass and came to rest under a tree alongside the track. In search of the perfect shot, I reversed quite hard into the game-view which had crept up from behind. We had smashed our back light and there was a bit of a ding in the door. . No damage to the opposition. Just a very irate driver-guide.

The lions lay still but for a flick of the tail, seemingly unaware of the fracas. Matthew ill-advisedly asked the jolted American passengers if they were OK. “Just in case they want to sue me for whiplash?” I suggested to him. They were fine.

Unlike the Land Rover. Unlike mating lions. The Lions Tour. When the lion lies down with the Land Rover.

Hands in

What is the capital of Tanzania? Wrong! It’s Dodoma, a quirky country town right at the geographical centre of the country and with a population of 325,000, compared with almost ten times that number in its predecessor as capital. Dar es Salaam lost the title to this country bumpkin in the mid-1970’s after a referendum.

I somehow doubt that the South African government could win such a plebiscite to obtain permission to move our state capital to our geographical centre, Douglas, 107 km west of Kimberley, although, being at the confluence of the Vaal, Orange and Riet rivers, there could be worse suggestions and the Griquas would be delighted. Dodoma, against similar odds, prevailed.

However, capital city or not, Dar, as it is affectionately known, is a strangely beguiling place. Addis, of course, is not in Dar, it is in Ethiopia, but there is, nevertheless, a little and very important bit of Addis Ababa in Dar, down Ursino Street, a bumpy backstreet off Migombani Street to the north of the city.

If you didn’t know, you’d never find it. I was very relieved to have a pre-negotiated 5000-shilling taxi as I was far from convinced that the driver of the traditionally suspension-free Corolla knew the way either. It was R25 well spent. Or maybe he was simply too absorbed by our discussion of the iniquities in the judging of the previous evening’s Miss Tanzania competition and missed the turning a few times.

Addis in Dar is a restaurant and it is, not to beat about the suburban bush, superb. An unimposing entrance to what looks like (and obviously once was) a rather unattractive two-storey house, deceives the visitor into low expectations, as does a lack of reception of any kind. Wandering around downstairs amongst the camel portraits, pans and pipes, we wondered whether we had stumbled on a Bedouin’s town house but, bravely venturing up the stairs, we uncovered why we had been told that we MUST come here. Out on the huge balcony, perched on upholstered stools with comfortably sloping backs, at Ethiopian Messob tables, were the faithful, and the place has quite a following.

Tanzanians are naturally unassuming and respectful people and this has been taken as step further by Senait Mekonnen, owner of Addis, who has imbued the restaurant, in addition, with traditional Ethiopian hospitality. Honey-wine (a bit like mead) was offered and politely declined. A menu appeared, clear and easy to follow for wot-virgins, and we ordered.

Seemingly moments later the conical lid made from colourful woven straw was removed and the basket-table underneath became a huge serving plate of wall-to-wall injera, a huge pancake made from a slightly fermented mix of water and millet-flour, with various dishes perched on it. There was spicy lamb, chicken flavoured with berbere, cracked lentils, spiced pumpkin, spinach and any number of interesting side-dishes. Never mind the Muppets, Swedish chef, this was Everything-in-a-Basket.

You eat with your hands and dip, dunk and dollop your way through the injera, tearing it off and filling it with delicious wot (stews) and sauces and hurtling it towards your mouth before collapse, fall-out or disintegration prevent its arrival.

It takes a bit of practice but don’t all foods taste so much better without the impersonal metal of a fork or spoon? When you get really good, you can progress to gursha, where you wrap a mouthful of something messy in injera and feed it to someone else at the table, following the tradition that those who eat from the same plate will not betray one another.

After the meal comes the tranquillity of the Ethiopian coffee ritual which again emphasises the importance of trust and friendship and brings peace (which is probably essential in the event that gursha has left everybody covered in food).

Addis in Dar is capital. In fact as the name suggests, it is almost doubly capital. It’s the Tanzanian way of doing things, Ujamaa, the community of family and the backbone of Tanzanian society, combined with the Ethiopian way. It’s share and share alike. It’s ubuntu in more attractive packaging, a very refreshing way to add significance to a meal (and to get through napkins and shirt-fronts). What’s more, the food’s delicious. What happier way to prove that an injera to one is an injera to all?

The good news is that Cape Town is to get its own Addis, so next time, we won’t have to drive 8000km for dinner.

Addis in Dar, 35 Ursino St, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. (+255) 0741 266 299. Noon until 10.30 Monday – Saturday. Closed Sunday.

Addis in Cape, 41 Church St Cape Town Tel 021 424 5722. The same ownership.

Going bananas in Tanzania

It seemed that we had arrived in the Usambara Mountains in the middle of the harvest festival. From every hilltop and slope, every shamba and stream of this misty range in NW Tanzania there poured forth fresh produce. A tantalising sight for these dust-choked travellers from the South.

The capital of the region, Lushoto, was chosen by the Kaiser as the putative capital of German East Africa in the early part of the last century. He had a spectacular house built for himself, on a crest looking down to the Maasai Steppe below, and employed a German housekeeper or ten (naturally).

Sadly he only managed to stay in his African Alpine schloss for one or two short visits before the perfidious British, for totally irrelevant European reasons, hoofed him out of his colony and then foolishly established their capital on the sultry disease-ridden coast instead.

That was the problem with the British. No sense of the romantisch or the praktisch. Out there in the midday sun, beavering away building colonies and stealing other peoples’, when even the hard-working native was sheltering in the bananas.

That’s what they do around here. Bananas. A bit of mieliemeal from time to time and a spot of cassava here and there, but basically it’s bananas. Not, though, those sweet, yellow bananas we all eat at home. These are unripe green plantain bananas that form the staple matoke here, boiled and then mashed to a grey pulp. And they taste as awful as they sound. Bland doesn’t begin to cover it.

But luckily this is not all that is coming out of the hills. Tanzania may not have a huge variety of produce but after good late rains such as these, the streets are filled with food.

Beans, red onions, peppers, brinjals, chillis of all shapes and sizes, sweet potatoes, huge shiny tomatoes and avocados the size of rugby balls are overflowing from the stalls in the market and travelling down the hill in bowls on heads. (The occasional truck comes up for the cabbages, which don’t balance too easily, or in great numbers, on a head).

The market also boasts stalls of fresh herbs, spices, seeds, lentils, coconuts, cashews and groundnuts. There is no meat to be seen although there is a rather alarming butchery – not for the faint-hearted – nearby.

The Tanzanians make the best coleslaws (I know nobody really likes coleslaw but these are really good) and ratatouilles and shebas; they make wonderful tomato and avocado salads doused with a tangy onion vinaigrette and a spicy shredded salad with chilli and lemon called kachumbari; they make clever use of groundnuts, chilli, ginger, garlic and herbs. They make so many diverse combinations with so many baffling flavours out of so few ingredients that there is a never-ending line of bowls of spicy, toothsome side-dishes to supplement the matoke, which, let’s face it, is a good thing because matoke needs all the help it can get.

As local celebrity Father Peter Kelly of the Rosminian Mission in Lushoto explained in a philosophical Irish moment “the good Lord has torned a dairsert into an ooaysis, a famine into a feeeast; Oy don’t know whether it was intentionally good work by the Lord but it was good work anyway”.

In other words, as the food flows out of the Usambaras and into the markets of Arusha, Tanga and Dar-es-Salaam, the local Sambaa people know that whilst this is a time of plenty, they must eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we’re dry.

The best recipe was picked up at the Marangu Hotel at the foot of another Tanzanian mountain, Kilimanjaro. Contact details may be found at www.maranguhotel.com.

Jackie Brice-Bennett’s Marangu Groundnut Sauce

(Any number of known and unknown uses, but especially recommended in a roll with avocado and boerewors).

4 medium onions coarsely chopped
10 garlic cloves
6 red chillies
350gms skinned, roasted groundnuts/peanuts
4 tblsps sunflower oil
2 tblsps Soy sauce
1 tblsps tomato puree
2 tblps water (optional)
300-500 ml coconut milk
2 tblps brown sugar
Salt (taste first)
Blend, onion, garlic, chillies to a paste in a food processor. Scrape out as best possible and, without washing the bowl, grind the peanuts in the food processor.

Heat oil in wok or large flat bottomed frying pan. Add onion/garlic paste and fry for one minute.

Add peanuts and stir until combined – you may want to add the water here to loosen the paste. Add all other ingredients, except extra salt. Gently cook until all flavours combine and a thickish sauce is made. (I actually put in as much liquid as it will comfortably absorb). Then taste and see if you need to add the extra salt.