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Upon completion of the World Economic Forum, I got into a car. I slipped out of my suit, took my necktie off, and unbuttoned my shirt. In the car, I changed into shorts and a polo shirt, and put on casual shoes. The change of clothes was in exactly the opposite direction from the switch I had made on my way from the Dar es Salaam Airport to the Forum the previous day. My talk at the panel discussion was a success. With the combined effect of the casual clothes, a feeling of achievement and a sense of release, I inadvertently tweeted, “It’s over! It went well!! The speech was well-received!!! I’m happy!!!!”
My destination was Bagamoyo, a city that faces the Indian Ocean. Until the 19th century, this port city had functioned as a center for Arab trade in African slaves. Captured Africans are said to have cried out, “Bagamoyo,” meaning “Leave my soul here,” as they left this place to slave markets in various parts of the Arab world via nearby islands of Zanzibar. My mood become bleaker, as I pondered about the lives that awaited those Africans sold into slavery.
After Arabs developed the city, Germans built a presidential office. The British took it over in 1916, in the middle of World War I. Bagamoyo was returned to the Tanzanian people following their country’s independence from Britain in 1964. I found the ruins of the slave center in the Arab period on the ocean front next to the site where a German custom house once stood. Local people were moving cargo onto and out of old barge-like boats on the beach, which looked as if it hadn’t changed for more than 100 years. In my head, the sight of the local people carrying goods across shallow waters overlapped with an image of the slave trade in old days. I found the sight depressing.
I walked around Bagamoyo. There were no other tourists. Disconcerted by the eyes of the local people, I returned to my car. We drove down the city’s main street (which was wide enough for one vehicle only). The name of the street was changed from “Kaiser Street” to “King Street” as the colonial masters were switched. Today, it is called the “India Street,” after the sea.
The driver turned the wheel towards the coast after moving slowly down India Street. Having found a stylish resort hotel immediately after the turn, I asked the driver to park the car and walked in.
After having negotiated with a hotel employee, I went swimming at the hotel’s private beach for a change. I put on my swimsuit and walked into the Indian Ocean. The water was warm, but it was unexpectedly opaque. The water was very shallow, and I couldn’t swim unless I walked out far from the beach. But the thought of going far and swimming alone offshore where the sea was deep was somehow worrying, so I swam the crawl in shallow waters. I could only do the crawl with bent elbows. It was a little uncomfortable, but I swam on. The turquoise African sky came into sight each time I breathed, by raising my head out of water. I felt great.
I looked around. Loading and unloading operations were still in progress on a shore nearby. Sailboats that looked like those used in ancient times were rocking in the water. These sights produced the illusion that I was looking at a landscape painting from the 18th century.
I kept swimming doggedly. It’s obvious that the sea was larger than any swimming pools on earth. I swam in the shallow waters up and down in parallel with the shore, because I was afraid to swim any other way. I practiced my routines for all strokes in preparation for a masters swim meet in July. I left the hotel after washing off the salt in a swimming pool. I had enjoyed my brief stay at the resort.
The car traveled straight back to Dar es Salaam from the hotel. At the beginning of the 20th century, Germans decided to relocate the capital of their colony from Bagamoyo to Dar es Salaam. I believe they wanted a port after all. After a long wait in a traffic jam, our car arrived at the exclusive Kilimanjaro Hotel facing Dar es Salaam Harbor.
After checking out of the hotel the next morning, I visited the National Museum of Tanzania. The 3.6 million-year history of Tanzania, which might more accurately be called the history of mankind, was on display, together with pictures from the slavery and colonial periods, and cultural objects from local tribes.
The footprints our ancestor left 3.6 million years ago were the oldest record of a human biped. The 1.75 million year-old skull of an australopithecine offered a clue to the search for our ancestors. Explanations for exhibits described how hominids evolved over the subsequent period, from Pithecanthropus to Homo Neanderthalensis to Homo sapiens. An explanation of contemporary humans said, “In the course of evolution, contemporary humans achieved dominion over all the animals on Earth through the strength of their civilization. However, they could fall from this position if they fail to respond effectively to the problems confronting the world.”
Makonde sculptures (ebony carvings) made by an artist called Huluka were being sold in a courtyard as souvenirs. I bought a pair of sculptures depicting a man and a woman for a bargain price equivalent to 700 yen.
Having left the museum, I headed for the airport. Many thoughts crossed my mind on the way. The first thing I recalled was what a hotel employee told me. He said the number of Chinese guests had been growing in number in recent years, although North Americans and Europeans still comprised the major customer base. Japanese cars had an overwhelming market share, but many electronics in Tanzania were from South Korea. Chinese companies were closing in on battling Japanese and South Korean firms at a furious pace. East Asian companies were fighting an economic war in the distant land of Africa as well.
During my bus ride to the venue of the Forum, I heard that Tanzania had an exceptionally stable government in Africa. I heard that the country’s founding father and first president Julius Nyerere adopted Swahili as Tanzania’s only national language and instilled in the hearts of his people the sense that they are Tanzanians first, before any tribal allegiance. These initiatives proved successful. Intertribal massacres occurred in neighboring Uganda and Rwanda. Kenya is also politically unstable. Meanwhile, Tanzania has experienced no civil war or tribal unrest. The country remained peaceful.
Tanzania is a country with many children. However, an average life expectancy is only around 45 years and AIDS is another serious problem. I heard that national literacy was about 70% and per-capita GNP was below 500 U.S. dollars. These figures made me think of the actual educational and economic conditions in the country.
But the Tanzanian people were exceptional warm. They greeted each other with the word, “Jambo,” and thanked people, saying, “Asante.” Communication in broken Swahili gave me a chance to interact with local Tanzanian directly.
I had had little contact with African people before. To be honest, I never had a great deal of interest in Africa in the past. This Tanzanian trip enabled me to understand and interact with African people for the first time. During the course of my trip, I began to understand the geographical relationships of African nations, the economic and political conditions on the continent, Africa’s diversity, its potential and its challenges.
I departed Dar es Salaam Airport and flew straight back to Tokyo with many fond memories. They included the feeling of being in the embrace of Mother Nature in Ngorongoro and Serengeti, my dialogues with elephants and hippos, the history of slave trade I glimpsed at Bagamoyo, the swim in the Indian Ocean, and above all, the panel discussion at the World Economic Forum on Africa.
I have a policy of not taking photographs on my travels, because I feel that I become like a tourist being divorced from my subject the moment the picture is taken. I want to feel integrated into my surroundings at all times. I want to feel the place with my five senses and enjoy the emotions that arise within me.
Instead of photos, I take notes when I travel. I try to engrave the scenes in my mind, write about the sights and events that were impressive, and verbalize the emotions that seized me. These travel sketches serve me in the same way as travel photos.
I began using Twitter in place of notes on this trip. I converted moving sights and strong emotions into words as the impulse took me, and tweeted them using my cellular phone. Later, I sit in front of my computer, and turn those impressive sights and emotions into columns by joining my tweets. I think what I do resembles a process painters adopt; first sketching impressive scenes encountered in the course of their journeys on a piece of paper and painting it on a canvas in their studio later.
In any event, I’d like to thank you for completing the trip to Tanzania with me. I hope you will join me in my next column.
May 9, 2010
Written on a flight to Kansai International Airport