Double: 15$ breakfast included
‘Do you like it?’ My wife Mariam is smiling very wide above a bowl of hoof soup. She’s laughing when I describe the stuff as a rubber compound with the taste of solution. We’re in the roof restaurant of Destefano Hotel in Dar es Salaam.
The best things in life you discover by foot, and not knowing where you go. That’s how we found this hotel. It happened after Mariam and I left the Durban Hotel. The service there was poor, the room to small, and too humid. Maybe it was because we arrived there late in the evening by a far too expensive taxi, after a 19-hour-long bus drive from Nairobi. Trips like that can do funny things with your mood, even your perception. ‘Where are we going?’ asked Mariam the next morning when we were pulling our suit cases over an unpaved road in the Kariakoo estate, known for its thieves and other petty crimes. ‘I don’t know,‘ I replied. ‘Another hotel,‘ I said, wondering why we always end up in these areas, which are often quite okay. The streets here are narrow and on every odd meter there is some business housed in a shack covered with corrugate metal sheets. The makeshift walls are mostly blue and it’s incredible how versatile these constructions are. There are salons where women plate their hair, kiosks with milk, matches, Coca Cola, bananas, and scratch cards. At some points there are restaurants where the smell of goat is sneaking through the front door curtains. While walking for five minutes and complaining about the weight of our luggage we discovered a brand new building with stained glass windows. Hotel Destefano it shouted on a huge signboard. Why not? It’s always nice to step through silver stain glass doors, and see what comes up behind. In this case it was a small reception with a big television, a flowery sofa set with some silent men, and two ladies smiling and polishing their nails. Above their heads was the image of Al Jazeera, the only channel they seem to offer in hotels.
‘Yes,’ said the lady in her tight white shirt. She was filing her nails. ‘We have a double available for 15,000 Tanzania Shilling. There is also the executive.’ The last word was pronounced a bit slower. The price was just 5,000 Shilling higher. So we went, and happily this time it was on the second floor. Don’t know why, but many hotel receptionists tend to bring you as high as possible. Unless you like this exercise it’s okay, but I and certainly Mariam don’t. She smiled when the bell boy was carrying our huge bag against the stairs, containing my camera stand and all that. Travelling light doesn’t mean things cannot be heavy. We were in Dar es Salaam for reports of which we didn’t know the subject yet. We just took a bus to see what comes up on the way. We booked the standard room, but when the lady upstairs gave us the key, we noticed another room with the door open, the executive. It was spacy, and even had an air-conditioning. So we decided to grab it. It was like they stacked a suite into one room. It had a twinbed, a table and a television, but also an Indian styled sofa set with a glass coffee table. The shower was cold. Mariam told me later that they still had to fix the hot water.
The room would be good for work. The first thing to do was finalizing the editing of a report on tuberculosis I took from Kenya. Mariam had some discuss business proposals to discuss for her sister in Zambia.
Editing from the room is something which is easily romanticized, but it’s a lonely process. As usually when thinking I am staring through the window. Here from Destefano I enjoyed the view on unfinished multi story buildings. Judging from the drying lines parts were already inhabited. Laundry swaying in the breeze always gives these building their color, like an expressionist painting. The editing went well, and Mariam returned. Then we took the stairway to the roof terrace. Here from the sixth floor the view is stunningly wide.
Don’t know how we managed but from all the mosques around the call for prayers started. We were there right in the month of Maulid, the celebration of the prophet Mohamed’s birth day. It’s not exactly clear on which day the good prophet was born, so that’s why the celebration takes a whole month, to make sure that his birthday is somehow included. At least that’s my theory which I didn’t present to Mariam yet, she being a Muslim. Also I became careful, because I noticed that it’s difficult to ask Muslims questions about their faith. It’s a delicate matter, and can easily lead to misunderstandings, don’t know why. The view over the corrugated roofs is deep, and stunning. We decided to have a beer as a sun downer. It‘s a beautiful sight to see the night slowly covering the roofs with patches of darkness. Mariam is taking a warm beer, which is custom in East Africa, and me (like a Westener) a cold one. You have to tell the waiter which one you like, other wise they bring you warm. I do that, and even in Europe I started to mention cold or warm, which the waiters there find funny. Think it has something to do with saving energy. In Europe we are used to take hot showers and cold beer, here they prefer cold showers and warm beer. In both cases you save energy. We’re enjoying the beer in the warm breeze on the roof. The waiter also happens to be the cook, and apart from serving he’s preparing food in the open kitchen. The only thing we can see know is smoke emerging from the charcoal stove. The cook is stirring throug a huge pan. ‘Shall we take a soup?’ Mariam asks. She hauls the waiter who inmediately leaves the pan. ‘Do you have bone soup?’ she asks in Kiswahili, the national language in Tanzania. The man replies with a long sentence, and meanwhile he is still holding a wooden tray with serviettes. ‘They only have hoof soup,’ Mariam translates for me, with a big smile.
The sun is down now, and in the middle of the corrugate roofs there is a patch of light, a bit too small to really see. There are men in long white dresses walking rounds, and people sitting around them. Didn’t mind to go downstairs to the room to get the video camera. It has a good zoom, and now Mariam and me could see what was happening there. In the view finder we can see the men have beards and small white caps. They’re singing to the people sitting. ‘They’re celebrating maulid,’ says Mariam. We decided to switch off the camera, otherwise it would have been a kind of major peeping. The waiter is now bringing the hoof soup. It’s not my cup of tea, but still I enjoy it in the warm breeze on the roof of Destefano. The best things in life you discover by foot, not knowing where…