From the very moment that we drove into the town of Arusha, I understood her.
Arusha is the overlooked sibling. She is used to being away from the spotlight. She has become accustomed to her sisters Dar-es-Salaam and Zanzibar luring all the eyes and feet to their beautiful beaches and crystal waters. She has learned to wait.
I understand that unintentional humility that the town possesses. She has learned not to expect others to be impressed by its concealed sweetness. She is that girl at the club holding the bags while the vixens get drinks sent to them by wolves on the prowl. She simply waits. Then, in a brief encounter, as you stop by the table she is sharing with your preferred conquest, she says something with such casual double entendres layered in it, that even later as you caress someone else’s back, you wonder whether her skin is as soft as her mirth-filled voice…
Arusha has become accustomed to waiting for her charm to supersede the aesthetics of others.
We arrived on the first day just a little while after night had fallen over the dusty landscape. Even the air was different. Submissive. Conversations among the travellers in the shuttle eased to a hush. It is almost like we unanimously agreed that talking would ruin the magic of first entry into new territory. And as we drove in, I caught a glimpse of the full moon through the window.
It quickened my pulse, that moon. Staring at me with eyes that had seen everything and were therefore compelled to nothing and no one. That must be what the moon looks like when your mind isn’t sullied by thoughts of bills and babies and dampened dreams, and kisses that have become ghosts on your lips…It was a moon that wasn’t blurred by the blemishes of the big city. It was graceful and yet glaring. It crept up on me, tapped my shoulder and sashayed away before I could fully grasp what was happening to my suddenly parched throat.
My first night in Arusha was uneventful, save for the dinner we had at the “mall”. It was called Bugaloo. I may forget the name, but oh lord, not the meal! We had an assortment of biryani: chicken, mutton, fish, served up in the cutest little hot pots and these endless baskets of naan and rice. I ate like the devil had my stomach. The meat in that biryani was so sinfully tender that my teeth still have an inferiority complex. I think I heard one molar whisper to another that they were finally old. That could also be effects of drugs (hearing my teeth talking) we will never know. We ate so much food, that all I wanted to do after was curl up in a ball and purr. That was wishful thinking though. We hit the club soon after. My bones are still in therapy. “She swore that her twerking days were over Dr Phil *sob*”
I almost feel sorry for the humble folks that we found shuffling to trance music (seriously) on that dance floor. They really did not see us coming.
Our second day in Arusha dawned bright. I remember just how bright. My hangover then made sure that I spent most of the day sieving the sunlight through my sunglasses. We decided to do tourist things and set off into the modest town. We even stopped in the middle of a street to look at sandals sold by Maasai women, and this crazy mad man decided to piss of our driver. Tanzanians are so sweet. Even when they are yelling at each other their voices have a musical politeness to them. I cannot quote how it was said, because my Swahili is about as useful as a fork when you need a corkscrew, but try to imagine someone threatening to split your brain in sweet Swahili. I wanted to hug them both.
Later we went on to discover the Cultural Heritage Centre, where my irrepressible bff decided to molest a hapless sculpture. Samantha and Liz tried to stop him….
But then they just had to let the zone pass and walked away while I laughed my insides off.
It is also at the entrance that my self esteem received an unexpected jolt. It was like fate knew that after this trip I would need that memory. (A story for another day) Right at the very entrance, I asked Samantha to get a picture of me since we weren’t allowed to take any once inside. As she raised the camera, this guy just appeared out of thin air. (Well, after he spoke to me the air was thin!) He put his arm around me, all suave and smouldering with some accent from somewhere yonder but no doubt quite sexy and said, “Hello, I think you are very beautiful. Can I take a picture with you too?”
Samantha had to answer for me. I was all grins and gasps. Could have been the accent, or the hangover. Or his ridiculous eyes –snake charmer material right there. We will never know. All I know is I was blinded by the eyes and could not take a second look. Eventually a picture was taken…and then my crazy friends jumped into the picture. I am still being teased about my sudden loss of words till now. Did I mention the arms on the brother from the continent that will henceforth be named sexy? Arms that liquidize knees, my friends. Magic arms. McDreamy arms. Arms that do things to the spine. You get the idea. The man had arms!
Inside the cultural centre, Alan and his wifey Liz discovered a baby hippo that they wanted to adopt. It was too cute a picture not to take.
I absolutely loved that place from the very front of the building all the way to the fourth floor. There seemed to be a story behind every single aspect that built and decorated the place. There was a reason it was built in that shape, and a reason it adopted a circular theme once inside. It is surely one of Arusha’s hallmarks for me. An architectural masterpiece. One of the footprints firmly planted in the sands of my memories. I have always had this awe of artists…and at how exceptional you must to be to be able to paint, sketch, draw, and sculpture something so lifelike, and so effortlessly moving. That entire building and the gallery was like a humble homage to stunning artistry. There is no other way to describe it.
You see, Arusha is not the kind of girl who speeds up your pulse the first time you meet. She doesn’t instantly mesmerise you. You may even feel a slight anticlimactic twinge when you drive in…
But then you assimilate yourself into her temperament and find yourself changing. You find yourself putting flowers in your hair and taking endless pictures with your infectiously happy friends.
But then you meet a handsome foreigner who calls you beautiful even as you are surrounded by even more beautiful women and you find, for a brief second, that you forget the person you wished could have been with you on your adventure. You find yourself forgetting the pangs that come with loving someone you should have forgotten by now.
But then you discover that in the most unlikely setting, you make friends with people who you didn’t think could understand who you are. You chance upon a resort, and it seems to be carved out of the rocks, at one with the landscape rather than a separate entity…and you think what a wonderful place the resort would be to write a best-selling story…
You discover Fanta passion…and can’t believe you won’t get to drink it back home. You introduce your resilient liver to the dangerous combination of Fanta passion with local spirit Konyagi. And later, when you visit the local Maasai market, you will swear that you can’t feel your feet, and giggle at least once every millisecond.
And as you leave the resort, you meet a stunning cat languorously sprawled out in the evening sun. It is a photo you simply can’t resist taking, because you are a hopeless cat person. You want the picture so you can show it to your son when you get back home, knowing that when you give him tales from mommy’s trip, you will omit the amount of alcohol you took and emphasise on the pictures of “Garfield” that you have in your phone. The cat is luxurious. It knows how shiny its coat is. And as you snap the picture, it pulls a “Miley Cyrus” and you love that. You are tickled beyond reproach.
You take a walk up a mild hike known as “Pentagon” as evening dawns. The air is sympathetic to the heavy lunch you had at Tembo club, home to the most succulent roast chicken your taste buds have ever met and roasted bananas that pretend to be light until they hit your stomach, and where you met a waiter who was happy to serve your table and who used words like “naomba” and who warmed your skin with his humility. You find yourself staring at the unassuming Mt Meru…who is just as underestimated as Arusha, but nevertheless so proudly sublime in its bed of clouds…and you feel things. You feel your heartstrings tugging and stand there…breathing…feeling…changing.
Your friends chase the sunset for the perfect picture, but you linger behind, staring at Mt Meru as it watches over Arusha. The irony of the mighty Kilimanjaro now only visible behind Mt Meru isn’t lost on you. You realise how greatness is only a matter of perception, and from which point you stand. You stare at Mt Meru as the clouds dissipate until only a simple puff is left…
You start your last day in Arusha with mixed emotions. And as you walk through the town, you find an Ethiopian restaurant named “Hebs and Spices” written exactly as it is pronounced and it makes you wish you lived in a world that allowed people to play to their own tunes …and you find a salon with the most unintentional double meaning signage smack on the road…
And you find, hidden somewhere in the back streets, a quaint little hotel named “Vumilia”, where patrons often do not have seating-hence the name. You are surprised when all the people eating rise to give your group seats and tables since you are clearly guests to the town, because something like that would never happen in your town. You sit and eat the largest home cooked meal known to your now confused digestive tract.
And finally your trip draws to a close and you find yourself in another shuttle heading back home. Evening is gently arriving to whisper a goodbye to you, hot on the heels of a humid and sweltering afternoon.
You are not as chatty as you were on the trip coming in, or as drunk. In fact your drink of choice is sparkling apple juice. You find yourself realising that you have been mesmerised by Arusha without even seeing it coming.
And as if to embellish the point, before sleep overcomes you, Arusha decides to show you dusk. The sky seems to explode in a medley of colour and unbridled beauty as the sun takes a bow…
And you realise that Arusha has bewitched you.