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Tales of Tanzania Part 1

Friday, 24 June 2016
Jonathan Purnell
Tales of Tanzania Part 1

"I write this while lounging in the heat of Dar es Salaam on the coast of Tanzania, the place which has been my home for the last week and will be so for the coming 6 months."

I write this while lounging in the heat of Dar es Salaam on the coast of Tanzania, the place which has been my home for the last week and will be so for the coming 6 months. Now that I’m here, I’ll be putting together a blog of sorts so if all goes according to plan (which I’ve found seldom happens out here), I should be sending through a note on my adventures every two weeks.

As a bit of a background…Norton Rose Fulbright has put together the International Seat Program which is basically an exchange whereby candidate attorneys, like me, can trade places with another clerk from another office for one of their six month rotations. From the South African offices, we are able to apply for seats in London, Dar es Salaam and a few Australian cities. Thinking I had a shot, I sent through a motivation in application for the seats in London and Tanzania with equal hopes of catching either of them. I applied for London for the sheer business experience as I knew the lifestyle would have been difficult considering the heavy workload and Rand/Pound exchange rate! My desire to go through to Tanzania was inspired more for the adventure of it all as I knew living in a truly African city for six months would be an experience I wouldn’t easily forget and would help me to develop myself and my understanding of the world.

Let me introduce myself…I am Jonathan Purnell, a candidate attorney who started with Norton Rose Fulbright at the beginning of 2015. I’m only 23 years old and am admittedly quite a loud and boisterous character who has gotten a bit of a reputation for how much noise I make when speaking on the phone and for my workplace shenanigans. In fact, one of our guys from the Joburg IT team heard me all the way from Tanzania while on the phone to one of my colleagues up here in East Africa. I try to be an outgoing and sociable creature when the work allows me to, something I think I developed through 10 years of boarding school in the Midlands of KwaZulu Natal, but even when I’m working, I like to think that I’ve got a unique outlook on the world, something that could have been inspired by my time at the University of Cape Town. I have been lucky enough to have travelled to many of the beautiful countries of Africa and have spent time in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland and now Tanzania. The more I travel through Africa, the more of it I want to see and when I was told I was awarded the Dar es Salaam seat, I could barely contain my excitement!

So now that you know the ‘who’ and the ‘why’ about my trip; let me move onto the what; here are my tales of Tanzania.

Having kept to my true form, I had packed all of my bags in about 2 hours on the morning of my flight and surprisingly managed to remember almost everything (my toothbrush still, quite stubbornly, sits on the basin in my apartment in Morningside). Because my friends had taken it upon themselves to have two separate farewells on the two nights preceding my flight, I had had very little sleep and was worried I would actually lose consciousness in the airport and miss my flight. Luckily, I managed to hold off my eyelids descent until I was folded up in my seat aboard the plane. I use the word ‘folded’ because, as someone who stands around 1.9 metres tall, there are few words that better describe the positions I needed to adopt to keep myself from wedging in so tightly that I became a permanent fixture of the plane. Despite all of this, I still managed to sleep through the entire flight waking only to prod at the brown mass labelled ‘beef option’ with my plastic fork. Eventually I picked up my hand luggage and shuffled towards the door without a clue about what awaited me outside.

Though I may have used the word, I don’t think one can actually ‘lounge’ in this heat because of its pervasive relentlessness. Though it rarely exceeds the mid-thirties, the temperature comes hand-in-hand with humidity which always sits around the 60% mark. The combination of the two is literally breath-taking as your first step out of the air-conditioned plane feels like you’ve been punched in the stomach and had a bucket of bathwater poured over your head. And needless to say, this feeling is intensified on the day following a night of fervent farewell celebrations as a light headache and uneasy stomach don’t take too kindly with a sudden 20 degree increase in temperature. So, when walking from the plane to the terminal, I wouldn’t say I was euphoric but the excitement and expectation of adventure definitely put a fair whack of spring in my step! My cheerful driver and first acquaintance in Tanzania, Francis, tried his best to make sense of my English while I tried my best to make sense of his Swahili (something which has become quite a fun little game that is played with almost everyone I meet). As I have spent some time in Zambia and Zimbabwe in the past, I expected the roads to be a bit more chaotic than the ones back in Johannesburg so I asked Francis about the quality of Tanzanian driving as we were pulling out of the airport parking lot. “Good! Good, good! Me, I have never had a crash” he boasted while a bus in front of us decided there was enough of an opening to pull into the oncoming lane to get around a bujaji (tuk-tuk) with a trailer filled with wooden pallets. The first 20 minutes of that drive were by far and away the most interesting I have ever spent in traffic. The traffic in Dar es Salaam is horrific and honestly makes 8am William Nicol seem like an expressway but at least it gave me an opportunity to see the city and try to get a an understanding of the lifestyles of the people with whom I would be spending so much time.

Geographically, everything out here is very flat and I don’t think I’ve actually seen a hill since my arrival. From the little I’ve seen of it so far, the city seems to sprawl across the coastline with its own characteristic bustle. There are people everywhere and though they’re not in a hurry, everyone seems to be moving somewhere or doing something with the occasional towering Maasai dressed in his traditional red toga standing stock-still as a security guard. There are a few different cultures out here with religion being the main differentiating factor. You’ll find there is a large population of Swahili Christians (mostly Roman Catholic) with a slightly smaller population of Muslims with the, quite different, Zanzibar Muslims being seen scattered about too. It seems religion plays quite a large part in the lives of the people here and religious practices are quite seriously enforced (for example, I can no longer buy street food from my usual spots during the day because all of the Catholics are fasting for lent). Because I’m not a particularly religious person, I find these commitments interesting yet admirable and I’ve had a few discussions about how someone can survive this heat while fasting while I can barely do it on a full stomach! The city itself isn’t particularly good looking with only a handful of buildings showing signs of original architectural ideas. The streets are generally poorly maintained with only the roads which carry regular traffic being tarred. But regardless of its looks, Dar has its own shameless and cheerful character which I’ve found quite endearing…I knew that I was going to enjoy my time here.

Once Francis got me through the city, we came into Masaki, the suburban area in which I’ll be living and working. Masaki’s definitely a wealthier part of town and the chosen area for embassies and hotels which line the white sand and rocky stretches of coastline. The office actually sits on the beachfront above a Cape Town Fish Market which boasts one of the best decks and outdoor bars and sits before a beautiful vista that is unrivalled in my somewhat limited experience. I was then introduced to everyone in the office (there are only 14 of us in total) and was quickly whisked off to my new apartment (which is bigger than my flat in Joburg and comes with a cleaning service, DSTV and a somewhat temperamental wifi connection. I settled in and went for my welcoming drinks back at the office. I took ‘settling in’ to mean dumping my bags into a corner of the room and standing in front of an air-conditioner for 10 minutes. But once I was completely settled (having changed my shirt and stood in front of the air-conditioner for a further half an hour), Marcel Buys, the previous Johannesburg candidate attorney who I replaced (and basically my spirit guide in the world of Masaki) walked me back to the office and into one of the friendliest teams I have ever been a part of. I can truly say that everyone had a great time that night as the conversation flowed almost as quickly as the sunset gin and tonics! From there I was put into a taxi and taken on a whirlwind tour of the Masaki nightlife which was all about loud music accompanied by my uncoordinated dancing, good local beers and having a great time with everyone around you. It should come as no surprise that through all the poorly timed pop-and-locks and uncontrollable laughter, we all lost track of time and only got home as the sun was about to start its next daily onslaught. On my return, I fiddled with the air-conditioner until I found its Antarctica setting and had a comfortable and happy sleep in the knowledge that I would be spending the next six months in this amazing place with people who had accepted me with open arms despite my zany and somewhat exasperating character.

From such a successful first day came a week of new experiences and surprises. I found out that food out here comes at a premium with almost everything being quite a bit more expensive than in South Africa. I have also gotten used to the fact that you can’t drink the tap water as absolutely everyone (including some of the most poverty-stricken locals) stocks up on twelve packs of 2 litre bottles. I’ve learnt that you can barter for pretty much anything without causing any offence especially when looking for transport as you’ll find a line of bujajis waiting on almost every street corner. Strangely, the one thing that has been so difficult for me to wrap my head around is the friendliness of pretty much everyone I meet. For example, on my second day, I decided to take a walk to Coco Beach (a beautiful stretch of white sand with a sea so hot it’s no relief from the pounding sun) and while sweating my way down Chole Road, I started playing guess-what-I’m-saying with one of the local guys who was going in the same direction. As his English was substantially better than my Swahili (which still basically consists of ‘hello’ and ‘I’m fine’), we had quite a successful conversation which included me asking about places where I could get cheaper food. His response was to quickly pull out his phone and get hold of one of his friends who had a car. Though all of my South African scepticism and paranoia had my mind racing with excuses to avoid getting in with them, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and hopped on board. My bold leap of trust was rewarded by a guided tour with my new-found translator that wound through an informal marketplace. I grabbed all the food I could carry including (which I’m sure a lot of my South African colleagues might find quite astounding) avocados for around R3! He even dropped me back off at my apartment and while shaking my hand in farewell, his kindness and generosity had literally left me speechless (something that isn’t easily achieved, I can promise you). Though I had put off my first visit to Coco Beach, I had had one of the greatest and most memorable human interactions of my life thus far.

Though I have been trying to engage with all of the Swahili locals as much as I can, I have also spent much time engaging with the people I’ve come to know as the foreign locals. These are all the other expatriates who have been living here for considerable lengths of time and have come to call Dar es Salaam their home away from home. I’ve played pool with Syrians, danced with Italians, drank beer with Brits, watched football with Germans and shared hamburgers with Belgians and each and every one of them has a unique story of this world and their own tips on how to survive it. This town truly is an adventure all on its own.

To avoid looking like all I’m doing is having fun (which is actually pretty much the truth), let me close off with a paragraph on the office and work life. From my front door, it’s about 850 metres to the office so I have a toasty walk there every morning followed by my customary 30 seconds in front of the air-conditioner (punctuated by my disbelieving questions of the sanity of all those who have chosen to live in this furnace). As always, everyone goes about their work with the characteristic Tanzanian cheerfulness and chatter and (thankfully and luckily) everyone speaks English. I work for Angela Mndolwa and Adam Lovett, the only two directors in the office, and have been involved in cross-border transactional work which is both interesting and engaging (so engaging that my second day of work kept me in the office until 00:30). I have tried to keep myself from causing too much havoc with my co-workers but cannot keep myself from joking around with them. In fact, I think I may have made the place considerably louder! The interns and trainees (the Tanzanian equivalent of South Africa’s candidate attorneys) have taken it upon themselves to introduce me to the local street foods which almost always contain chips. You can have chips kuku (chicken and chips), chips mishkaki (a small kebab-type-thing with chips), chips samaki (fish and… you guessed it… chips) and (probably the one of the weirdest chip-based dishes to date) chips mayai which is an egg and chips combo which basically ends up as a potato omelette. Everyone works extremely hard because it’s such a small office which handles some pretty large clients and transactions. Luckily, everyone here is very social and after work, there are usually some interesting drinks or shenanigans which help keep everyone in good spirits. There is one thing which makes working in that office quite difficult though- the absolutely magical view. Every time I look out the window I’m reminded of the beauty of this country and this continent and am transported through daydreams of adventure. When I left Johannesburg, Sbu Gule, our Chairman, told me that of all the NRF offices he had visited, he had never found one with as beautiful a view as the one here in Dar es Salaam and I don’t think I would believe anyone who told me he was wrong.

So if you’ve actually committed to reading this entire piece, you will see that I’ve been having an astounding adventure up here in East Africa and loving my experiences. I do have moments where I miss my life in South Africa (and that’s usually when fishing in my wallet when buying food) but I would never trade places anyone back home; this is an expedition into understanding and just far too much fun!

Otherwise I hope you’ve enjoyed my little snapshot of Dar es Salaam and that everyone down South is having a great time while I’m away (and regaining a bit of sanity in the workplace without my usual nonsense).



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