Saturday, May 7, 2011

Dar-es-Salaam to Dubai – 30th April 2011

Having fallen behind on the updation of the blog I spent the whole morning translating the aide memoire into readable format.  In the meanwhile, I also got confirmation of my flight to Dubai.  The timing of the flight is such that one could not have utilised any part of the day more productively than what I had planned to do.  While waiting for Irfan and Omar to join me I scrolled some of the tourist attractions in Dar on the web and came across the mention of Mwenge carvers and tinga-tinga paintings. The description was such that I wished to see the art, if not buy some if affordable, if time permitted. As soon as Irfan and Omar came in I asked if it would be possible to visit the places where I could appreciate the carvings and the paintings. Omar, as is his wont, immediately jumped up and said, “Let’s go.”  He assured Irfan and me that we had enough time to visit the places, have lunch, come back to the hotel to check out and be in time for the flight at the airport.  It took time to get a taxi, despite it being a Saturday. The roads are relatively free during the weekends. However, after a while we got stuck in serpentine queues and traffic jams. Omar’s incredible knowledge of the lanes and bylanes and the taxi driver’s skill saved the moment.  We reached a small market place where the carvings and paintings are arranged in numerous shops.  Handicraft and wood carvings are some of the major attractions of Tanzania's tourism industry. The Makonde community who originally hail from the southern part of Tanzania is among those that have made it possible to showcase the carvings. Handcrafts and carvings are sold in some other places in the country but Makonde Village Market in Mwenge Dar es Salaam is supposed to be the best among all.The Makonde village market does a lot besides just the art of selling, final touches on carvings like decorating, smoothing and polishing work are done at the village market yard. The art work comes from places like Mtwara, Bagamoyo, Chanika and Kimanzichana. The carvings are incredible. The exquisite art in ebony made me spend more time than I would have otherwise.  I have heard that ebony is the most difficult wood to work on because it is the hardest wood of all. That makes the carvings all the more valuable.  The detail and the translation of skill to wood were awesome.  I wanted to buy all I could lay my hands on. But, ebony is heavy and I picked up just two pairs of wall hangings.  Bargaining is heavy. I paid Tshs 50,000 against the 75,000 asked for.  With some more time I may have been able to bring the price down some more. But then, art is art and the money paid goes to sustain the artists.
The tinga-tinga paintings are named after the person who started the ‘trend/school of painting’.  Edward Tingatinga began painting in Tanzania around 1968. He employed low cost materials such as masonite and bicycle paint and almost immediately attracted the attention of tourists. The paintings of African life are colorful, childlike and almost surreal. When Tingatinga died in 1972 his style had become so popular that it had started a wide movement of imitators and followers. Due to paucity of time I could not sample many and hence left the purchase for the next visit!!
I thanked my lucky stars that I left the Mwenge market tearing way from the lure of the tingatinga paintings.  The traffic jam had become worse.  Again a combination of Omar’s knowledge of the bylanes and the driver’s skill behind the wheel took us to the hotel in good time. Lunch was forgotten. I checked out in good time, but not before learning that they do not accept USD currency of vintage prior to 2001 in Tanzania.  The traffic to the airport seemed to get worse every 100 meters.  I started mentally preparing to stay another day in Dar.  At a couple of junctions we could not move for over 20 minutes. Omar assured me that it could be worse!  He confirmed from the Emirates counter at the airport that the counter will be open till a half hour before departure.  Sweat and exasperation all the way.  I finally made it to the airport with 45 minutes to spare for the flight.  I did not have much time to thank Omar and Irfan for making my stay in Tanzania memorable.
I checked in and was given a lounge card.  I hogged all I could in the airport lounge for I was famished and had expended a lot of anxious energy in the humungous traffic jam to the airport.  Accompanying the shorts eats and the single malt (!) was the traditional Tanzanian smile and graciousness. I boarded the flight to Dubai hoping that I will be able to come back to Tanzania for an elaborate tour of the tourist spots.  The friendliness and the smiles of the Tanzanian people remained etched in my mind long after the visit was over.
I spent the time of the flight watching two movies, Guzzarish and Pokkiri Raja.  I enjoyed the poignant Hindi movie with a power packed performance by HritikRoshan.  The latter was a slap stick Malayalam flick that had some laughs but was mostly forgettable. I did not have a visa for the stay in Dubai.  Hence, I had to check into a hotel to obtain a transit visa.  The process seemed to take forever, especially since I was extremely tired from the flight.  Finally, I checked into the Floris Grand at 3.30 am!  However, the counter at the airport had got me a good deal at the hotel - $257n for two days plus visa.  I did not wait to change clothes; saw the bed and hit it hard.

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