Mystery Meals in Dar es Salaam

Aside from a little swerving on the runway during takeoff, our flight to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania was thankfully uneventful. We exited the airport after acquiring our visas and the humidity rolled over us like a wave. There were dozens of cab drivers waiting for people to come out. We thought our hostel was nearby, so we balked at the going price of a cab, but as it turned out, Juba hotel was over 20 minutes away.
I was struck by how densely populated Dar es Salaam was. Each bus that passed was crammed to the windows with people. There was bumper to bumper traffic and people on bikes and mopeds sped around kombis and between cars, flirting with death. The slow traffic gave us a chance to see more of the city even though it was dark. It wasn’t as developed as Gaborone, but it was definitely more lively. It reminded me a little bit of Maputo as well, but much less dystopian. There were tons of store fronts, cramped streets, wet laundry drying over apartment railings, and tons of street food being cooked over grills and open fires. I saw meat kebabs, chicken, chapati, men hacking open fresh coconuts and pulling ice cream carts around.
We checked into Juba, which was undergoing construction, and after maybe 10 minutes we experienced our first power outage. They started up the generator and the power came back on, so we headed upstairs to our rooms. The hostel felt a little sketchy. Not to mention the mosquito nets were full of holes and the wooden door to the bathroom in my room was literally rotting. But for one night, it was okay. I thought it was curious that the entire bathroom was the shower. There was a sink, a pink heart mirror, a trash can, and a toilet. And then a shower head next to the sink and a shower drain near the toilet. I had never seen that before.
We went to a restaurant down the street for dinner. We had passed some real hole-in-the-wall places, so in comparison, this one looked better, but in reality we had no idea what we were getting into. We ordered our food and sat down near an out-of-use counter after grabbing large bottles of water, because we had been warned not to drink the tap. We shared rice, beef mince, chapati, peas and vegetable stew, and goat tiki masala. The food was tasty enough, but we were all mildly concerned about food poisoning, and with good reason. Suddenly, a gray blur flew across my friend Jess and onto the floor. Jess screamed. A rat had run off the counter and across her lap before scurrying under the table. Everyone in the restaurant turned to stare at the commotion we were making. Laughing, we tried to return to eating. My friend Cristina stared at her beef and in a deadpan voice said, “rat mince,” before pushing the bowl away. A few minutes later, Jess found a fly in her vegetable stew and put down her spoon. The fly hadn’t just fallen in either. It had probably been warmed up in the bowl and served to her. We stopped eating pretty quickly after that. I didn’t want to waste food, but I didn’t want to stick around long enough to see what was in my stew, and by that point I was seriously concerned about food poisoning.
We returned to our hostel and turned in for the night. My friend Wendi discovered a hole in the back of our tv, but by that point, I wasn’t surprised in the least. We maneuvered under our mosquito nets and tried to sleep in the muggy heat. Our first taste of Tanzania certainly hadn’t been bland. It made me look forward to what adventures (and comforts) Zanzibar would bring.

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