Friday, February 10, 2012

Good bye, Dar es Salaam


The sun is setting on Oyster Bay on the last evening of my visit to Dar es Salaam.  I'm sitting at the hotel pool trying to decide whether my sun downer should be a Tusker or a Kilimanjaro.  Having lived three years in Nairobi, I'm partial to Kenya's finest, but think I'll opt for my first Tanzanian Kilimanjaro.

My first visit to this Tanzania capital was in 1979 and my second in 1985 while the family and I were living in Nairobi.  In the 1980s, Julius Nyerere, the Father of Tanzania and its long time president, was still pushing his African socialist agenda even though the country was in economic tatters. Sisal was the primary export and the country had barely tapped into its incredible tourism potential. Many Americans and Europeans thought that such famous venues as Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Ngoro Ngoro Crater, the Olduvai Gorge, Lake Manyara and the Serengeti were in Kenya because they were primarily visited as side trips from Nairobi. My  family and I crossed over the border to visit all except the Serengeti which is an extension of Kenya's Masai Mara which we visited.  The Ngoro Ngoro Crater and the "Cradle of Mankind" known as Olduvai Gorge, are among the most important tourist venues in the world, regardless of continent.  

Many of us posted in Nairobi in the 80s had regional responsibilities including some in Dar es Salaam. Because the hotels in Dar were so spartan, we inevitably packed basic hotel provisions in our suitcases when going there.  A colleague often told about her first trip: after checking into the hotel and taking her belonging to the room, she returned to the reception desk to ask a question.  When she returned to the room, someone had stolen the bed sheets, the toilet paper and the light bulbs she had just brought from Nairobi.  Today Dar is much improved: through government and private sector cooperation, supported by foreign investment, Tanzania has new roads, hotels and safari camps, as well as upscale beach resorts on Zanzibar and Pemba Islands. Tanzanian destinations are now among the most desired in Africa, competing very successfully with Kenya and South Africa.

In 1997 I fulfilled a long time dream of visiting Zanzibar.  Its reputation as one of the original spice islands and as an stopping place for Dutch, Arab and Portuguese traders rounding the African Cape fascinated me when I was still in my teens.  It was every bit as interesting as I had expected with the spices still being grown and traded, and the walls of ancient Stone Town echoing its incredible history, including its infamous role in the slave trade. With world class beach resorts one can now spend a vacation on Zanzibar that is both comfortable and educational.

People in my age group, may remember that at independence in 1961, Tanzania was first named  "The United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar."  In 1964, the country's leaders created the new name "The United Republic of Tanzania" which rolled off the tongue easier and which better represented the unification of the two former colonies into one new country.  Prior to World War I, Tanganyika was part of German East Africa (Deutschostafrika).  After Germany lost the war, it became part of British East Africa which it remained until independence.

Below are links to some of the places and personalities mentioned above:

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