Coming back, nearly two years on. This really is Africa. This time I arrive from the UK. I land in Dar on the 22nd December and reach Mwanza on the 23rd, just in time for Christmas. All of mum and Ian’s friends here in the city are very glad of this fact. Family here for Christmas. As it should be. We all smile. Habare? Nzuri!
The last time, the first time I came here (in early January, 2015), I arrived from Sri Lanka, straight out of a five month deep immersion in Arugam Bay. The transition wasn’t easy, the transition to anywhere wouldn’t have been easy.
I arrived then full of infection (sand fly bites on my feet close to explosion), had ingested parasites from well water, and had developed my first-ever stye. I was a physical mess. Too much high life – lots of fun times with friends there – and too much hard life, living without electricity and running water allowed me to experience the huge amount of energy it took just to eat and live, which meant that when exhausted I often neglected to eat in favour of the opportunity to live in a way I never had before.
Arriving in this state – stye notwithstanding – I couldn’t really see where I was. The 30 degree heat seemed normal but the beach and the surf and the new friends were missing and I was so hooked on all that I had no time for the new.
So it’s like being given a second chance. This time I visit I come from the relative cold (I hit the UK for two weeks of very mild winter, actually wishing it were colder than it was a lot of the time – only in those places where I had swift recourse to warm interiors, that is) and embrace the heat with a sense of relief and relaxation that only gives way to exhaustion if too tired, or too hungry, or slightly dehydrated (that ‘it’s-so-hot-I’m-losing-it’ feeling is all-too familiar from the last two and a half years of travel in tropical climates).
We are on the fourth floor of an incredibly spacious building in Mwanza city centre, above Manji’s Keys. We have stunning views all around of the hills bordering the city. I watch with wonder as flocks of kites circle high up over those hills. Looking down I am mesmerised by the bustle of the street traders, the beat that pulses through you just slightly more softly than it does when walking amongst it all down there in the dust and startling, baking sun. I am delighted to spot a family of mongoose living in one of several discarded buses parked in an adjacent lot. In the days ahead I may watch the mongoose scamper about below as the kites circle overhead.
This is a rare corner to see. This isn’t tourist Africa, it isn’t beach resort Dar, or Zanzibar (although I do love those places, and will be going back). This is inner-city Mwanza, a developing ‘third-world’ city and there are many changes since I was last here: we drove back from the airport yesterday along the newly-expanded road, one of several new construction measures.
On my first night back, we ate out at Tilapia, one of the hotels edging Lake Victoria, the body of water sometimes considered to be the source of the Nile* and pondered the changes it has seen over time, the lake itself as tranquil as it has ever been.
*”The source of the Nile is sometimes considered to be Lake Victoria, but the lake has feeder rivers of considerable size. The Kagera River, which flows into Lake Victoria near the Tanzanian town of Bukoba, is the longest feeder, although sources do not agree on which is the longest tributary of the Kagera and hence the source of the Nile itself.” Source: Wikipedia.