With Covid in the background I might pack a bag and head out

Friday October 14 2022

In the event the travel bug bites me again, and I hope it does soon, the likelihood is that like everything in the After times my ambitions will be much more localised and hopefully more thoughtful. PHOTO | POOL


Y’all know how Tanzania has been a designated Poor Country for most of its existence, right? Well, with that came the experience of growing up in a culture that regards travel for reasons other than migration, trade or family obligation with great suspicion, even derision.

I used to hear about these fabled things called “holidays” while young, but they were for people who lived in books and television and bore no relation to the dutiful annual pilgrimages to the villages of my grandparents to deliver soap and collect jiggers.

But, eventually, good times came and I got to experience the magic of travel.

It is hard to believe that Covid-19 hit the world so hard only two years ago. There is a distinct feeling of a Before and After the year 2020.

Before 2020 dreams of travel for me were splashy and colourful fantasies of great cities like Tokyo and Istanbul, and maybe Prague, Havana, Timbuktu.



Post-2020, with Covid-19 in the background of life, my dreams of travel have become much quieter and humble. Though Tanzania certainly didn’t go into lockdown, many of our neighbours did, along with much of the world.

I have always liked the Kiswahili saying tembea uone, but hardly practised it. It wasn’t easy to realise that my curiosity about the world was based on the exotic stuff and I had fallen into the very Tanzanian trap of being comfortable.

When you are spoiled by living in such a glorious part of the world, filled to the brim with world-class safari options, you just sort of take it for granted.

Up until recently the living was good — peaceful country, friendly society, functioning social contract that made the deprivations of a humble circumstances easy to withstand.

Then along came the Royal Tour, which made me itch to correct its branding of Tanzania for myself.

But also, being still and mostly in Dar for a couple of years made me aware of a different kind of travel — that of safety. Because Tanzania didn’t close down during the pandemic it attracted communities of disease refugees from other parts of the world.

Rastafarian neighbours

These communities were conspicuous in Zanzibar. They also put me in the mind of the quieter migrations of other groups of people who come to settle for various, hopeful reasons. Like my temporary Rastafarian neighbours who felt their family would thrive better here than in the wealthy country they had emigrated from.

In contemplating this, some memories of the Before times came back to me: Young African men with full beards and tight patterned shirts; our mothers bearing majestic Afros; the pulse of dance music and the glow of panache emanating from cities like Lagos, Addis Ababa, Kinshasa — even Dar es Salaam.

Dar es Salaam, a centre of culture and pan-Africanism and who knows what else? But mostly pan-Africanism, when the dream was fresh and fiery.

This self-same Dar es Salaam, underneath its increasingly generic modern skyline, was once a cool destination.

I am a product of my time, steeped in endless rhetoric about development and development rhetoric in Africa is always about valuing anywhere else but here.

What is left of the Africanists is a minority concern wielding long memories and a collection fine kitenge shirts…but they are my people, nostalgics.

Historians and dreamers and the kind of folks who would get excited to travel to the Olduvai Gorge or Timbuktu after all. Slowing down enough to remember this is a boon from the pandemic.

Travel bug

In the event the travel bug bites me again, and I hope it does soon, the likelihood is that like everything in the After times my ambitions will be much more localised and hopefully more thoughtful.

I don’t know my neighbouring countries as well as I would like, to begin with. What is Bujumbura like now? Is Kampala’s nightlife as wild as the rumours imply? What are the latest fashions in Kinshasa?

Is Lagos truly a sensory overload? What is triggering this sudden interest in travelling this continent? Am I in the grip of an excitement about the upcoming Black Panther movie?

Perhaps. Ten years ago, a guy twisted my arm into writing a journal article musing about re-branding Africa and I meandered off topic, quite like this article, to conclude that the concept of African Renaissance was a much more interesting and holistic concept for our desired future.

If I want to think and write about where Africa fits in the world, then I have to think and maybe write about where Africa fits in me from time to time. Where better to do this than out of Dar es Salaam?

At the moment, it is safer than Nairobi, which I understand might be under imminent threat of invasion.

Whatever else Wakanda may be, it is never boring.

Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report: E-mail: [email protected]