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Stone Town Ruwi

11th March 2013

Morning at the Fish Market, A Delightful Experience

No Problems with Pollution Control Here
    I awoke bright and early, showered, and headed down to breakfast.
    When I interacted with the staff, I tried as far as possible to communicate in Swahili, a far cry from when I first breakfasted here 17 days ago. They were tickled pink and became quite animated when I did so, repeating what I had said in stunned amazement. I got the impression not many non-East African visitors to the hotel try to speak their native tongue, they certainly appreciated my amateurish attempts.
    Leaving my luggage at the hotel, I set off to navigate my way to the Kivukoni Fish Market. I had greater ease finding my way around the maze of alleys in Stone Town than picking a route across Dar es Salaam. My landmarks here were the street running through the town that was closed for repairs, and the pair of adjacent mosques.
    On my way I came across a 3-phase high voltage transformer standing on the ground. Cables snaked out of the ground and were bolted onto the exposed terminals. I stood in awe, how could this be? If the cables were live, then it would represent a lethal piece of kit waiting for a disaster to happen. It was beyond my comprehension, and if it rained, what then? I scratched my head in disbelief and walked away.
Potentially Lethal High Voltage Transformer
    After sheltering in St. Joseph's Cathedral from a heavy downpour, I set of towards the fish market, curtly dealing with taxi touts on the way; these guys never give up. The sun was now fiercely beating down, it seemed to be hotter after rain had fallen. Many small ferries berth at Kigamboni Ferry pier just before the market, disgorging whole villages of passengers. They streamed towards the city like a huge, noisy, laughing, colourful millipede, and I was struggling in the opposite direction against the current. Government buildings, all dating to the German era, lay on the landward side of Kivukoni Front, while Indian almond trees graced the seaward side.
Looking into St Joseph's Cathedral
    On my way I passed by the Azania Front Lutheran Church. This striking edifice, a whitewashed building with a red-tile belfry rising above the surrounding rooftops, served as a recognizable landmark in Dar es Salaam. The church was built at the turn of the 20th century by German missionaries in the Bavarian style of the time, and is still in active use for services and for choir rehearsals.
    The Kivukoni Fish Market was organised into different areas. There was an auction area (sadly I was too late for the action here), stalls for cleaning, a freezer, areas dedicated to large fish with a separate outside one reserved for small fish and shrimp. In these sections, fish were displayed in neat mounds and lined up in rows.
The Ice Men Cometh
    Hoards of men and boys hauled large trays of fish from the boats tied up just meters away. The trays contained a multitude of sea creatures: kingfish, changu, turquoise parrot fish, red snapper, dorado, tilapia, slimy queenfish, giant stingrays, cole cole, mackerel, sharks, eel-like snake fish, squid, octopus, flaming orange shrimp, crabs, leopard-spotted lobsters and more. Many such trays would end up in a covered area containing large stone slabs on which the sea food was being processed by hand. Here gangs were devoting their working day to gutting, chopping and dissecting, their whole bodies being splattered with fish scales, blood, ink and offal. The floor was awash with a crazy mess of fish, bloody guts, and inky water. This was fly paradise. The stench was beyond belief, not just the overwhelming smell of raw fish and offal, but hints of sewage too. The stink, combined with the noise of humanity chopping, slitting, squirting and splattering, to drown the senses. For some reason, the scene made me think of the Hieronymus Bosch triptych, "The Garden of Earthly Delights", that I had once seen in the El Prado Museum in Madrid.
Fish for the Chop
Processing on Autopilot
    Outside, under the baking sun, groups of women sat gutting, scraping, and peeling an ocean of smaller fish. They seemed to be having a whale of a time chatting, gossiping, and laughing without even looking at the intricate operations they were performing with fingers and knives. Industrial quantities of hand processed sardines were spread out on tables or the sea wall to dry out in the sun.
    Hand carts laden with vast blocks of ice stood in an aisle, which an army of lads attacked with machetes to produce bucketfuls of ice for the legions of fishmongers.
    The sea wall ran alongside the market, and a swathe of golden sand quickly fell away to the sea's edge. A collection of wide, almost barge like fishing vessels floated by the shore, swarming with groups cleaning the decks down. Along the water's edge, the colourful hindquarters of several women pointed skywards, the ladies engrossed in cleaning the contents of large bins in the sea water.
It was that Big

    One enclosed end of the market was totally under the control of a mass of women, and comprised two identical sections. Each section contained an earthen floor "central reservation", on which numerous cast iron charcoal burning braziers heated cauldrons of bubbling fish, soups and quantities of unknown other dishes, many being stirred two-handedly with huge paddles. Iron tables also stood on the earth floor, where women prepared all manner of dishes. Along either side of each central reservation were stone floors, on which tables and benches stood.
    People milled up and down the small aisles between the seating areas and the cooking area: market workers, fishermen, locals and the odd foreigner. I became one of the milling crowd, and noticed some tasty pancakes being prepared. I asked the lady making them what the price was, and within no time at all she had managed to persuade me to buy two, and I had been pointed to a place where I should sit. She nodded across to a warm water urn, and using actions, made it clear I should wash my hands first under the dribble. Did I want fish with my pancakes? No, I didn't. Did I want tea? Yes, please. The lady called to someone further along the cooking area, and a minute later a mug of scalding hot sweet lemon tea was delivered to me. An African chap sat next me, guzzling a large bowl of "grey" fish, which he explained to me was sea salmon. He munched through it and pancakes with great gusto. I enjoyed my tea and pancakes, sitting on my bench watching the commotion all around me. These women were hard working, sharp sales-women too. As I got up to leave, I was politely told to wash my hands again.
Small Fry Drying on the Sea Wall
    The market had been a pleasure to behold, an experience, full of a myriad of hard working honest folk, all working industriously as a team, like an army of ants. It was pleasing to see one and all had a valued part to play.
    Braving the merciless sun, I set off walking back to the city centre through the fumes of traffic which was going nowhere fast. For one moment I wondered if I stunk of fish; I had been sat on a fishy bench by a fishy table, and had walked along floors running with fish innards and scales. What the hell, this is Africa, though Oman might not appreciate it when I land there just before midnight.
Who Will Buy My Wares?
    By a miracle of my internal navigation system, I managed to find my way back to my hotel. Not far from the hotel was the long road under repair. I gazed at some road menders laying down a stretch of tarmacadam. A huge, state of the art, German tarmac laying machine was being operated by a young African man and woman. As the machine slowly crawled along, depositing a new road behind it, the roof of the cab, where the two operators were perched, was getting caught up in the web of electrical cables that criss-crossed the road. The girl simply lay out of the cab and used a stick to feed the cables across the top of the cab. At ground level, workers busied themselves with rakes, steam-rollers slowly trundled over the newly laid asphalt, drain covers were adjusted, and convoys of trucks full of fresh asphalt arrived.
    Meanwhile, the world carried on around them; people, bikes, motorbikes and handcarts just weaved between the workers regardless. There was no demarcation zone between road works and the rest of the world. And if a toddler happened to get flattened by a steam-roller, what then?
    The time had come to take my leave of this land. My cab driver to the airport decided to take a longer route, the direct one being gridlocked. Even the longer route had its fair share of problems; tuk-tuks broken down on roundabouts, trucks broken down, and cars being pushed in the fast lane. My driver was not averse to going around roundabouts the wrong way!
Women's Cooking Area in the Market - Cauldrons of Soup and Fish Bubbling Away
    The airport routine was fairly painless. I sat patiently by the assigned gate five, and smiled as a flight load of passengers shot up en masse and careered across to a gate for their long overdue Precisionair flight. A tanoy relayed unintelligible messages in a thick accent, which seemed to be uttered out of a mouth stuffed full of handkerchiefs. Apparently they were telling me, in particular, that I was required to check-in immediately at gate two. So much for the display board indications. It wasn't until I was on the plane that I realised I still had a bottle of water hanging on the side of my hand luggage; they obviously don't bother about such security hazards here.
    I'd had two very brief stays in Dar es Salaam. Sally had told me that there is a better side of town about 30 minutes way. However, the centre where I was based was very run down and lacking in facelifts. By day, the place was awash with taxi touts and people begging. At night shadows lurked within shadows. I never felt threatened, but I was constantly on my guard. Fortunately the fish market gave me an uplifting experience.
    In the early evening my big bird swept high above the turquoise Indian Ocean, behind me that great continent of Africa gradually melting into a golden smudge below the setting sun, before fading into an indigo haze that was swiftly engulfed by darkness. Unseen far below me, I traversed the Indian Ocean towards the Arabian Sea that skirted the south-eastern shores of the Arabian Peninsula. By the time my plane reached the Tropic of Cancer it was circling over the Gulf of Oman picking out its final descent to Muscat, capital of Oman.
    A short while later I had purchased my Oman visa, and was trying to decipher the maze of tape barriers, the type used to herd long lines of people and drive them insane as they see their objective 25 layers along. I managed to make my way down to the front row without being reduced to a twitching wreck, and to my horror saw an iris scanner being brought into operation back at the start of my queue. It had been idle and not manned when I passed it earlier, but now a line of folk were lined up for an iris scan. Crumbs, I would be fuming if I was sent back to the beginning again. But the Gods looked down on me favourably.
Azania Front Lutheran Church
    Once out of the airport, I paid at a central ticket office for a cab, and a cab picked me up; no hassling over price fares at the airport. My driver wore the traditional white robe and hat, a wrinkled smile, and lacked a few of his teeth. He spoke no English, and my Arabic was minimal, but we had an animated conversation all down the motorway, laughing at the groups of young boy-racers on their motorbikes as they were flashed by the speed cameras along the highway. He was highly amused by their actions.
    Now cars like mine have a CD player in them, and more advanced ones have satellite navigation. This chap had a DVD player and a screen showing a film in the middle of his dashboard. I hoped it was for my benefit and not for his. It wasn't much use to me, I couldn't understand a word being said.
    After checking in, I retried to the hotel's small bar to unwind over a beer. It was after 1am and a cool 28 degrees outside. I also took the opportunity to catch up with the rest of my family on their different time zones; thankfully my phone worked in Oman. In the background a small stage stood, on which a young fellow operated a laptop that performed the same function as a karaoke machine, and two pretty Oriental girls, wearing tight green dresses that barely covered their nether regions, sang a selection of music, with the chap adding backing vocals. They were quite talented, and had an excellent command of English music. By the bar, a middle-aged Chinese chap joked and laughed with a woman who I presumed to be his wife. She wriggled and jiggled her body while he clapped to the music.
    There was a handful of tables at which the only two other customers sat. One of the customers was a tall, slim but powerful looking Arabic chap, sat close to the singers. At the back wall, the other customer sat, a stocky, jovial chap wearing traditional white robe and hat. He waved his arms and body about like a puppet on a string, totally out of sync with the music, but he was clearly enjoying himself.
    I savoured my ice cold beer and caught up with my notes, before drifting off to bed.
Dar es Salaam Harbour from the Fish Market      (please use scroll bar)

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Stone Town Ruwi
Last updated 21.4.2013