Tanzania: Arusha, to kick off vacation

The gardener using his giant machete to cut down dead palm fronds

Settling into my friends’ place is easy.  They have a beautiful garden, and though the electricity is at the whim of the city so sometimes they need to turn on the generator to get water for the shower, it’s not too complicated.  I feel immediately at home, thanks to their welcoming personalities and demeanor.  I have arrived on the weekend, so the day I arrive (as I’m exhausted due to rough flight times) we take it easy, and they show me around town.  We start off with some breakfast in the garden, watching the gardener use a HUGE machete to prune the plants – something I’m not entirely used to! Then, we go into town and stop in a few shops and to grab a bite to eat.

One thing I am impressed by is that I keep seeing Obama’s name everywhere.  It takes me a bit by surprise, as, though I recall seeing some Obama references while in Yaounde, Cameroon that showed evidence of his popularity in Africa, but the degree to which he is embraced in Tanzania & neighboring Kenya as possibly the greatest local success story is impressive.  When we stop into a little art gallery/store that has locally made artifacts, I pick up an Obama-newsprint purse that I plan to give to my friend K when I see her in DC next month, as she’s a big fan and I think will get a kick out of both what it is and where I got it.  There is also west African batik print fabric that you can get that is emblazoned with Obama’s face and name.  I don’t know about how I would feel about having a dress made with my president’s face on it (you’d have to make sure you have a politically correct tailor to avoid placing his mouth anywhere too controversial, I guess), so I pass on the fabric, but feel much better about the wares that I’m being offered here than I do about the Osama Bin Laden cigarette lighters that the street vendors in Djibouti seem convinced that Americans really want to buy….. I still haven’t figured that one out.  (Side note, they aren’t just lighters with Bin Laden’s face on them…. they actually have an LED flashlight that projects his image out of them.  I’m almost tempted to buy one just to show people how unbelievable it is, but I really don’t want to support the practice of trying to push these lighters on every American who walks through Menelik square).

Tomato + Mozzarella, with pesto

Right across from the gallery, is a cute little cafe.  Like elsewhere in Africa, Starbucks hasn’t bothered opening a franchise here in Arusha (not complaining, just commenting).  In its place, and at least apparently unconcerned with any possible trademark infringement issues in a manner that is classically African, is Stiggbucks, a cute little cafe with good food.  I order a sandwich with tomato & mozzarella, and some yummy pesto.  In keeping with my own rules for staying healthy, I forget to ask them to hold the lettuce, but conveniently enough for me, apparently when you order a sandwich with lettuce at Stiggbucks, the lettuce comes on top of the sandwich, so it’s easy enough to remove!! After our yummy meal, D&E show me around town and we end the day with a lovely dinner with some friends of theirs at this great restaurant with a lovely outdoor dining area.  What a way to start my Tanzanian vacation!!

A glimpse of the beautiful Mt. Meru can calm you at the most irritating intersection!

I spend a couple more days in Arusha (& vicinity – but I’ll post about neighboring Moshi separately), enjoying the city that lives next to the beautiful Mount Meru.  As E is still settling in, having just moved here, he has some time to hang with me while D unfortunately had to work, E could take me around a bit.  After a visit to the Cultural Heritage Center, which has a wonderful museum and fantastic gift shop (though not inexpensive – Moshi is a much better place to get good deals on souvenirs), we went to this other great place – the Arusha Coffee Lodge – for lunch outdoors.  I have a perfectly cooked & spiced cheeseburger, and enjoy the atmosphere, while sipping on a local beer.  This place is a luxury hotel & restaurant, and I think that if I ever return to Arusha at a time when D&E (with their welcoming guest room) are no longer living there, I would definitely want to stay here.  The weather is perfect, and I really can’t imagine a better place for us to have gone for lunch.

Our coffee-bean shaped table

A glimpse of the coffee plant pool at the entry of the hotel/restaurant

The Arusha Coffee Lodge is set in the middle of a coffee plantation.  Coffee is a major crop in Tanzania, especially in this region.  To say that Coffee is the theme of this business is an understatement, as that doesn’t seem nearly comprehensive enough.  The concept of coffee is everywhere around you.  There are coffee grounds in the ashtray on the table.   The table itself is shaped like a coffee bean.  There are rows coffee plants surrounding the area where the tables are placed.  There is a picture of a coffee plant tiled into the floor of the pool by the entry way.  I could go on and on!   I was so inspired by the decor and surroundings that I did something unusual for me: I ordered a cappuccino!  I know, it doesn’t sound like much, but as a girl who started to develop a low tolerance for the acidity of coffee when drinking too much of it when studying for the bar exam several years ago, this was BIG!  I opted for the cappuccino so that the milk:coffee ratio would be high and minimize any stomach intolerance, and also dilute the caffeine, as I’m now unaccustomed to it, and when I drank my giant cappuccino, I have to say: YUMMY!  The perfect way to end a delicious meal.  Good company, good food: a great time!

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