Tanzania and Kenya – East Africa fucking sucks.

By: Mike Boyle
Picture: www.africaontheblog.com

Yep, this is just one the problems we had to deal with.

I recently went on a business trip to East Africa, stopping in Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania, and the Kenyan cities of Nairobi and Mombasa. The trip basically started bad and turned into a disaster. For a start, Kenya is a mere squirt of piss from Somalia. For those of you who have never read a newspaper, Somalia is among the only remaining places on earth where pirates still operate, and home to the Al Qaeda-linked group Al Shabaab. And don’t expect to see Jack Sparrow and crew banging out jokes and acting fruity. Expect to be held at gunpoint by very poor and very angry people who would think absolutely nothing of blowing your brains out for refusing to cooperate.

We flew to Dar Es Salaam via a 6 hour layover in Nairobi. There are sort of touristy areas in Dar Es Salaam that are relatively safe, but my hotel was near the port in the middle of a slum – not safe at all. Tanzania is among the least policed countries on Earth, and people are generally free to do as they please. Outside of the relatively safe haven of Oyster Bay, if you’re a white person, you better hope to god that you make it back to your hotel before dark.

I landed with all my gear I needed to carry out the job. Paid 30 bucks for my visa with relative ease, and was greeted with a smile and a “Jambo” by the passport-stamping guy. I was just starting to think that maybe Dar Es Salaam wasn’t as shitty as people made it out to be, but then I got to customs.

This slimy looking little bald dude who looked like a typical cartoon bad guy sauntered over with a smile on his face. I thought he was just happy, but I soon realised that he was grinning over how much money he could potentially get out of me. He told me I had to pay US$1000 customs charges for my equipment. We had already paid the customs charges through my company, so I called my agent who was standing outside waiting. He came inside and had a chat with the customs guy and suddenly I owed $1400. After trying (unsuccessfully) to call my manager back in Dubai several times, I approached my agent and said, “I know what this asshole is after here. How much is it going to cost me to get cleared?” The agent told me to pay him $400. I went inside and asked the customs guy the same question. He gave me this sneaky look that made me want to rip his fucking lips off and kiss my arse with them and said, “400 will be enough”. I took out my wallet, gave him $100 and told him to talk to the agent if he wants more, grabbed my equipment and walked out the door. He didn’t come after me so I guess the $100 was enough to shut him up. In hindsight I could probably have given him $20 and got the same result.

After a 3-hour drive from the airport to the hotel (which was really nice considering its surroundings), I checked in, had a shower and power nap then headed for reception to see about exchanging my big strong US Dollars into Tanzanian shillings. The receptionist at the hotel was a nice guy, very helpful and seemed to genuinely care for my well-being. I asked him where I can exchange money. He told me the hotel offered exchange, but they’d rip me off. He said, “There’s a place downstairs in the street that offers a much better rate, but please don’t go there now, my friend, it’s not safe for you outside.” So that was it, I was stuck indoors from sun-up till sundown. Luckily the hotel had a bar that was showing the World Cup games, and they accepted US Dollars as payment, so I was all set for the night.

I didn’t have to work the next morning because the vessel I was joining at the port hadn’t arrived yet. So I had the whole day to fart around and explore the slums of Dar Es Salaam. So I threw on some shorts and flip-flops and headed out into the rainy morning. First thing I noticed was that the single person I saw that day who wasn’t black was a Chinese dude leaving the hotel and getting in a taxi. Second thing I noticed was that people kept staring at my right leg. It freaked me out for a while then I figured it out. They were staring at the giant Buddhist symbol tattooed on my calf. Dar Es Salaam is an Islamic city and tattoos aren’t allowed in Islam, so they were no doubt silently judging me. I guess I deserved it for wearing shorts.

This particular area of the city was pretty chaotic. There were roads closed for no apparent reason, and people pushing small carts on wheels were sharing the road with motorcycles and cars. There were guys marching around with trays full of peanuts or cigarettes or bananas, shaking piles of coins in their free hands to attract potential customers’ attention. There was poverty everywhere. There were whole families sitting on street corners, hungry children crying and people trying to sell what was effectively crap just so they could eat. I felt so guilty. Even after removing my watch and necklace before going outside, the clothes on my back were probably worth more than a lot of these people could ever afford. I’ve always had an intense sympathy for people who are just victims of circumstance. I happened to be born into a relatively wealthy family and I have a decent job, but I don’t consider myself a good person. These guys all around me were probably good people who were born with nothing. Of course, there are exceptions. The week before I arrived in Dar Es Salaam, two sailors from a ship at the port signed off for a night of shore leave. They were held at gunpoint by thieves and when they didn’t have enough money on them to satisfy their captors, they were covered with petrol and set alight. They were both found dead the next morning, only identifiable by the ID in their wallets that the thieves had dropped nearby.

I found a small supermarket, bought a few things then headed back to the hotel. I was doing fine but when some guy tried to get me to follow him up an alley towards a bunch of shady looking characters, two of whom were visibly armed; I was reminded of where I was and the reality of the situation. I was a white guy in a place that’s extremely unsafe for white guys.

Next morning the agent picked me up at 8 and we set off for the port. The vessel had arrived during the night and I was all ready to go. I was going to miss the staff at my hotel, the bartender, security guard and receptionist guy in particular, but at the same time I was just eager to get the hell out of Tanzania. I boarded the vessel and was bombarded with another attempt to get money out of me for something I’d already paid for. I won’t go into detail, but long story short the port customs guys wanted me to pay for the visa I had already paid for in the airport, with the added charges of $200 because I was “working in the country”. I travelled with a Seaman’s Book, which is basically a passport for people who work on ships. It gets me some pretty funky bonuses, like shorter lines at passport control, an extra 10kg baggage allowance and free passage from seaport to airport through whatever country I happen to be in. My seaman’s book and the fact that it had been stamped in the airport basically invalidated the customs guy’s claims that I had to pay more money, but he kept twisting his argument and I shot him down at every turn. Eventually I gave up and said to my agent, “This is your responsibility – fucking deal with it and stop wasting my time.”*

And with that, I boarded the vessel and waved goodbye to Tanzania. Next stop was Mombasa, Kenya.

The next day we sailed out of Dar Es Salaam and headed north towards Mombasa. The plan was to sail straight into the port and for the ship to start unloading. I was pretty tense about this because it left me very little time to complete my job and sign off before the ship sailed to Oman, which is a one week voyage. Luckily Mombasa port control ordered us to stay adrift at sea for a few days while other ships unloaded at the port. This was good news because I now had more than enough time to finish my job. The bad news was that the coastal waters from some town in northern Somalia all the way south to Dar Es Salaam were at MARPOL Level 3 security status, which basically means that the whole area was on red alert for anything from piracy to terrorist attacks. We had 24-hour heavily armed security on board, and I got chatting with one of the night shift guards when I got off duty that night. He told me the reality of the situation and it was pretty grim.

A boat loaded with explosives had been seen leaving from some Somali coastal town and headed south. After the bombings in Mombasa on May 2nd this year, it was highly likely that they were coming back for a second attack, and we were going to be right in the firing line. Everyone on the ship was on edge and it showed. I don’t think anyone got much sleep the few nights we were adrift, with every boat that passed possibly being the one that was going to detonate, and there was every chance that we’d be the target.

I cracked on with my job, pulling 14–16 hour shifts so I could get it done early and sign off. I finished up only to find out that due to the elevated terrorist threat in the area, there were no service boats operating to bring me ashore, so I had to stay on board with no work to do for two days. I don’t mind staying on ships as long as the food is good, but the food here was nothing to be happy about. The crew was all Indian, and such so was the food. I like Indian food once in a while, but eating it for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a week solid did a number on me. I had permanent acid reflux and could probably have shit through the hole in a Fruit Loop at ten paces. I couldn’t fucking wait to get off this ship.

After a long and boring few days, we finally got the nod to come into the port. I was already showered, packed up and waiting on deck before the ship had even moored alongside. I was missing my girlfriend and my cat, but the most immediate priority was getting some decent grub. We got alongside at 11am and my flight to Nairobi was at 1, so it was a mad dash through Mombasa traffic to get to the airport on time. I made it with minutes to spare, paid my overweight luggage fees and settled in to enjoy my brief period of respite before the flight. I sat in the airport cafe, had a cold beer and couldn’t hide the smile on my face. I’d never been so happy to be in an airport before.

I arrived in Nairobi and found a bar outside the airport where I got really drunk while passing the 5-hour layover. By some miracle I made it on to my flight back to Dubai without any problems. When we took off, I looked out of my window and could see Kilimanjaro looming in the distance. I had big plans to climb her this summer, but after my few days in Dar Es Salaam, I vowed never to set foot in Tanzania again. Kilimanjaro will just have to wait.

 

Liked what you read? Click here to like us on Facebook and follow us for more weird adventures and fucked up stuff.