Updated: Feb 7
Without a big excursion planned for the weekend, a few of our original crew thought it might be a good idea to get to know Arusha on a more personal level. We decided Saturday would be our day.
~ Experience the hidden parts of Arusha.
~ Meet the locals.
~ Taste the traditional food.
We caught a dala dala into the heart of the city… and let chance lead the way. Essentially, we hitched our wagon to Arusha’s star. What better way to experience true Tanzania than to set off on foot? We were determined to experience everything the day handed to us.
... and that is exactly what we did;
Mylaina & Brittany (USA), Franny (Germany)... and me!
We wound our way through the chaotic labyrinth of the city’s dusty interior, and lost ourselves in the true hustle & bustle. It was a lively atmosphere and everyone we encountered was so friendly and welcoming. The 'mambos' and 'poas' were frequent and the locals were absolutely beaming.
Our first stop was Kilombero Market, a whirlwind of sound and a true sensory overload.
Women lined the dirty alleys, sitting on the ground with their fruit and vegetables piled in front of them. As we walked through the market, they would offer up their goods, begging for us to just stop and see what they had for sale. When sales were down or the exhaustion of the barter took over, they simply crawl under one of the vendor tables and have a nap atop a makeshift bed of bags, torn tarps and old clothes.
From Kilombero, we made our way to Soho Kuu, which translates to the 'Big Market.' It's difficult to imagine how something could be bigger than Kilombero, but Soho Kuu definitely did take the cake. Its lively and bustling atmosphere was almost magnetic, drawing us into the enchantment of it all, Without many mzungu's (white people) around, it became evident that these markets really thrive and survive off the local trade of fruit, coffee, nuts, spices and other assorted items. We were definitely in the minority. Although they appreciated our presence, they definitely were not relying on our patronage, like the Maasai market. Perhaps the pick-pockets were happy to see us... but no one else. I had read how important it was to be careful with possessions, but fortunately none of us suffered thievery.
Not that we've noticed anyway...
A few people followed us for a portion of our journey; some in an attempt to lead us to certain booths, others trying to secure an unwarranted guide tip. We did buy a lot of candy to hand out, which attracted many of the young children. A few became quite greedy, thinking the gift of sweets gave them permission to hound us for money.
It got bad at one point.
Along the way, we stopped to feast on bits and bites of various products, such as yuca, tamarind, donuts, biscuits and bananas. We also took the opportunity to try some of the more bizarre and unidentifiable. Sometimes we would inquire about a particular product, and our simple English questions were met with a look of pure confusion.
It can be very easy to forget that not everyone understands English. These reminders are very good lessons.
A few of the stalls had large reels of plastic packages hanging from a rod. Each package contained something inside… such as spices, sardines, plantains... etc. But our attention was pulled towards some colourful, puffy ABC-shaped items.
I pointed in the direction of the colourful ABC's and asked, “What are those?”
The look on his face was one of utter disbelief, lik he couldn't believe what an imbecile I was.
“ABC’s!!” he said.
Of course they are.
Of course they’re ABC’s.
What else would they be?
They looked like ABC’s.
They are ABC’s.
So we bought the ABC’s... and we ate the ABC’s.
They were just that... nothings... almost like a tasteless cross between foam rice crackers and pork rind pellets. Mysterious and unrecognizable… apart from the obvious alphabet recognition.
ABC’s. ... duh...
Another strange product, in similar packaging, were colored balls. They were approximately the size of small nuts, and each package of 'nuts' had different colouring, which we assumed was a candy coating.
We asked the guy if they were candy nuts and he nodded... so we bought the candy nuts.
They were not candy nuts.
It wasn't meat (added bonus)... and it wasn't nuts... and it definitely wasn't candy... and other than that... we were completely in the dark as to what we were attempting to eat. As I write this, I STILL have NO idea what they were.
None of us do.
We even brought the remainder of the bag home to let the other volunteers try and identify them. Nope... nothing. No luck.
I was the only one that ventured as far as to try seafood.
Brave... I know...
When I say ‘seafood,’ I actually mean a fish... a dehydrated sardine. Why I thougth this might be a good idea is completely beyond me. I made a very good effort, but unfortunately the dried up little fish only lasted less than 3 seconds in my mouth. Apparently you’re supposed to cook them first… but no one let me in on that little secret before I attempted to swallow it.
Well… to be fair… no one told me in English…
The day was really wonderful and a refreshing change from what we normally do on a day out on time off. There were no bougie hotels, expensive menus, hotel pools, spa treatments…
This was raw Arusha.
This was Africa.
We split most of the food purchases, and then we distributed anything left over amongst people we met on the streets. Frannie purchased a bag of mango biscuits, and she handed them out to some of the impoverished people begging on the sides of the road.
Frannie is a true humanitarian and a kind soul. She is German, of Hungarian descent, and has just left Ireland, after 3 years. While she was there, she started an initiative called Consider It Cakes. Consider it Cakes is a project that delivers birthday cakes to people who are either homeless, asylum-seeking or simply cannot afford a cake because of their current situation. Such an admirable person, an incredible heart… and she has even been on Ted Talks. Franny finds happiness in giving the gift of food. She is now one of my new heroes and I am so happy to have met her.
After Soho Kuu, we took a lunch break, deciding it might be a good idea to get some actual substance in us. An active afternoon filled with tidbits of nuts, seeds, bananas and biscuits didn’t quite fill us up. When I had first arrived in Arusha, I had read up on a restaurant called Five Chutneys, and I suggested we try it.
Everyone was in... so off we went in search of it.
Not so easy to find, but this hidden gem has been awarded #1 Traveller’s choice every year since 2017, and rightfully so. It was a tiny orange restaurant, decorated solely with menu item photos. Five Chutneys serves authentic Indian vegetarian cuisine with a definite fusion of Asian and African cuisine. The friendly owner made incredible recommendations and each dish was even tastier than the one before. We split a variety of items... and not one single morsel was left on the plates when we finished our feast.
Highly recommended for anyone wishing to dine out in Arusha.
Our final stop was the NMC Market.
I don't know what NMC stands for... so don't ask.
NMC was an explosion of everything. You could find everything here; everything from second hand shoes to pots & pans to fruit & vegetables to bubble-blowers. The floor of the market was a mix of dirt, mud, rocks, boulders, wooden planks and occasional tiling. It was imperative to watch every single step, as the probability of tripping was very likely. The place was full of narrow, dark alleys, ditches and uneven ground.
I couldn't even imagine going down here.
It would be BAD.
I read this was generally not a place recommended for foreigners, but we didn't encounter any issues. Quite the opposite, actually. Everyone in Tanzania is so friendly and there is always a smile waiting to greet you. Despite living on the edge of extreme poverty, most people here are exceedingly happy. They are always eager to say hello, teach you a little Swahili and of course, take your money. There is no threat of danger... not that I have encountered yet.
I have not once felt afraid.
I am getting quite comfortable actually.
Anyway - we videoed much of our journey for the day and it can be found here on YouTube. You can seem me attempt to eat a fish, get pushed trying to eat an A, hobnobbing with locals at the NMC... and more...
So... what a day...
It was fabulous... our self-guided food tour of Arusha. We never once took pictures or videoed anyone that we didn't either ask permission, purchase product from or contribute to their financial well being in some tiny way.
There were a LOT of fist pumps... a LOT of high fives... a LOT of laughs... and four very full bellies. We were stuffed when we finally got home.
The surprising part?
NONE of us ended up on the toilet... for any abnormal amount of time, anyway!
Would we do it again?
In an Arushan heartbeat.
A Day in the Life of Us in Arusha - YOUTUBE VIDEO