Friday, July 8, 2011

Mtwara, where there's no rush

After my previous experience in West Africa, today it was rather pleasant to see the other side of Africa again, literally and figuratively. I left Dar-Es-Salaam this morning on a 1-hour flight to Mtwara which is situated a few kilometres north from the Tanzanian border with Mozambique. Precision Air stayed true to their name and the flight was executed with precision. We landed at Mtwara 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Mtwara’s claim to fame was the groundnut industry from many years ago (read about this on wikipedia, quite funny), but today it is nothing more than a town where time literally stands still. The driver was on time at the airport, but that was where his precision ended for the rest of the day. It seems that there’s absolutely no rush in this part of the country and when you see the place, you realize that there is no need for it either. This is the Africa I love, the one where everyone is keeping themselves busy with their own business and greet you friendly with a big smile when you walk by. When I landed I was even brave enough, despite the fact that there were a couple of military guys standing around with machine guns, to take a picture of the airport building which interestingly enough says “Terminal Two”. There wasn’t any indication as to where one would find Terminal One, as there is only one small building which functions as the arrivals halls, departure hall, check-in, lounge, carousel and "your last-minute shopping" store . The guys with the machine guns turned out to be a security company collecting cash that was send to Mtwara via air. No-one even blinked an eye when I took my pictures.

The road from the airport to the hotel was typical remote African style. Money is pushed into the major centers and the small towns hardly see any of it, except the cash that was on the plane earlier, but I’m sure that was not to repair the roads. The stretch from the airport to the president’s home of course is tarred, but that’s about it. The rest is gravel and/or potholed. Most people live in mud huts but funny enough each with its own satellite dish. One can only wonder what these people do for a living, because they seem to be loitering around town with no sense of direction. Yet they all seem to be well-fed and happy.

I am staying in the only hotel in Mtwara, The Msemo Hotel and Tours LTD. My hotel room is literally on the beach, and during low tide I took a stroll on the coral to see what the locals were picking up from the rocks. It turned out to be anything that is either edible or beautiful, especially the sea shells you normaly see on these tropical island holiday brochures. They sell a shell the size of your hand for less than 1 dollar, but I didn't really want to encourage their business. I don’t know yet what effect the removal of dead shells have on the ecosystem of the sea, but soon they will be selling them for 10 dollars a shell and starting to kill them to keep up with the demand. I took some pictures on the beach, but an old lady was mumbling something in Swahili and didn’t look impressed with me taking pictures there. I guess that is just a general African thing then.

At the hotel for lunch I tried one of the local fish species, Changu. It was a bit dry, but not to such an extent that I had to swallow it down with anything. The restaurant wasn’t very full, but it nearly took an hour and a half for the food to arrive. But that is how it goes in Mtwara, there’s just no rush. The Stoney Ginger beer was cold and in this heat it was really all I needed.

Later the afternoon I went for a walk along the beach and really regret leaving my proper camera at home. There are just so many things to take pictures of, and the place is beautiful. At some point I was cornered by a man claiming to work for the Port Authorities who asked me why I was taking pictures. His English was very good and it wasn’t difficult to explain to him what I was doing. He later said that there’s no need to worry, that I am welcome in his country and that I should enjoy my stay. A little bit different from the guys who tried to rob me at the airport in Libreville last week. Somehow I just feel safe in this country. Maybe it is because most people can communicate in English, but I guess it is more an attitude thing. I think the French really pissed off the people on the West Coast of Africa many years ago and the locals still blame them for everything that’s wrong, taking it out on anyone that looks like he or she might have some colonial connections from the past.

My stay in Mtwara was really one of my good experiences in Africa and definitely a place where I will go back again and make better use of the time. There seems to be plenty of it in Mtwara anyway....

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