Welcome to Dar: Why Bed Bugs, Prostitution, and Immigration Patrols Don’t Mix.

Hi everyone. Before we get to the story behind the title (which is what you are all obviously here to read), just a small little intro – hello Tanzania! For those of you who don’t know, I’m living in Dar es Salaam this summer to intern with the UN. I find blogging while travelling to be one of the best ways to keep you updated with this round of Kailee’s Adventures in Africa, so hopefully you enjoy. Now onto this story….its a bit long, so I’ve broken it up into three parts you can take your pick from.

Part One: Bugs

I arrive in Tanzania in the middle of the night. I say this every time I get here, but there’s something about stepping out onto the Tanzanian tarmac, some mix of tropical heat, sweat, and a warm breeze, that is such as distinct reminder of “o hey you’re back again.” My VERY broken Swahili (Mambo? Habari? Unaenda motel?) gets me a taxi driver, and a hotel right beside the airport to spend the few hours before dawn, trying to catch some sleep. Bucket showers and mosquito nets might not sound like your cup of tea, but they leave me waking up feeling refreshed, happy, and ready to take on the city.

I think this might be where it all started to unravel. I had planned to spend the first week at a hotel near where I was trying to find a place to live, hearing that it was pretty popular with both locals and expats. I’d booked an actual room for the first three nights, so I could settle in, and then planned to move into the dorm for the rest of the time. The place seemed normal, with a bar downstairs, pool tables, and cheap beer. By Africa standards, my room seemed great, clean sheets and a proper sized mosquito net. I went to bed that night feeling preeeettyyyy pleased with my plans, glad that everything was going smoothly. Until I woke up the next morning to the tiniest little bug crawling across my arm down into my bed.

I know what you’re saying, you’re in Africa and you’re scared of a tiny bug? See, that’s what I thought too, no biggie. Until I started to wake up, and looked at my legs.

Remember what you looked liked when you had chicken pox? Just the worst kind of red bumps all over your body? That’s was basically my lower half, from the legs down. Not really getting it at first, I fumbled with the mosquito net, not understanding how I could have been bitten that many times when I’d only seen a couple of mosquitos around all day, and had been under a net all night. And that’s when the bugs started running across my laptop. And my blanket. And down my legs. The phrase, “don’t let the bed-bugs bite” has never held more meaning than Day Two of this trip. Bugs in the bed, eh that’s fine, not a huge deal. Bugs that leave your legs looking like itching war wounds? Not so cool.

Part II: “Wait…how do you know all of these girls are prostitutes?”

Thankfully, having a room infested with bed bugs means the hotel upgraded me to a bigger, nicer room all to myself – sans bugs in the bed. Decimated legs hidden beneath pants, I ended up venturing out to meet some of the other backpackers staying at the dorm in the hotel. After a couple minutes sitting around drinking beer, some of the guys started talking about the ‘crazy’ night that they had before, when I was passed out cold being eaten alive upstairs. Supposedly, at night, the hotel turned into a raging party. “Ya, we were up so late, it was so crazy,” one of the guys said,” …and duddddde, did you check out all of those prostitutes? Pretty much every female in the bar was one.”

Well, that made me perk up. “Wait what? I mean, how do you know all of the girls were prostitutes?

The guys kind of sniggered. “Well I mean, other than the fact they were all trying to get some D? Mobs of flashy girls dancing up on you and asking for money was probably a give away. But in all seriousness, there were a lot of men going off with girls last night. And not in a ‘we’re both drunk and want to hook up’ way. In a ‘she’s twenty and he’s sixty’ kind of way.”

I didn’t really know what to make of those comments. Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with sex work (although it will always give me the creeps to see some older white man paying for sex from a young, twenty year old African girl), but did I really want to be staying at a place known as a Dar hot spot for that? What if the guys were just exaggerating? It didn’t have to be that big of a deal, right?

Over the next day or two, what the guys had been saying was definitely confirmed as true. During the day, the hotel was perfect, cute, central, and with very friendly staff. At night? If the loudspeakers didn’t wake you up, the drunk howling definitely would. Other travellers at the bar made comments about seeing older men making out with much younger girls, and the same group of guys made comments the next night about having a very similar experience yet again. The clincher was when I went to meet a potential landlady about an apartment. After asking me where I was staying until I could find a place, she gasped in shock. “You absolutely cannot stay there, that is a brothel! A single girl alone – no, you get out of there right away!”

In defense of the hotel (which shall remain nameless), during the day, it was actually quite lovely. They had the nicest staff, a cute balcony to eat breakfast on that overlooked the palm-trees, and when the noise from the bar didn’t bellow through your rooms, they were quite quaint and lovely. But as single woman travelling by herself, hearing story after story about nighttime prostitution, that definitely made me feel uncomfortable. I vowed to leave the next day, only letting myself spend one more night in a place that gave me the creeps.

Part III: Immigration Patrol

The final night in the hotel was not one of my finest travel moments. Trying to sleep in a room that felt like you were sitting beside the speakers downstairs, freaking out every two seconds over the possibility that a drunken patron would stumble into your dorm, is not the most conducive to a calm and collected. Kailee Finally falling asleep around 5am, I woke up by crashing my head on the bunk above me as someone yelled,

“Hi. Wake up. Immigration is here for you. Come out now.”

 

Lets go back a step.
Technically, I am not supposed to be just a “tourist” in Tanzania. Even though I’m not being paid, unpaid employment counts as a different category of visa. But given that the Tanzanian visa process is a completely nonsensical system, my supervisor advised it would be easiest (and supposedly the norm) just to enter into the country with a tourist visa and then they would figure the rest of it out from there. I’ve been here twice before, and had done that every time, so it shouldn’t have been a problem.

Until it was. Here I am, barely slept, hair everywhere, having a full blown panic attack in the middle of some random Dar es Salaam hostel. I swear, every thought that I could have possibly had ran through my head in a matter of 8.5 seconds. O SHIT, they’ve found me, how did they know I don’t have the proper visa already, o my god, why is immigration here, are they going to interrogate me, I don’t know anyone here, what if they kick me out of the country, what if I cant do my internship and fail graduate school, where the FUCK is my contact at the UNs number, o shit she’s not even in the country until next week – O MY GOD WHAT IF THEY TAKE ME TO JAIL?!?!?!

Ya. You can tell I went a bit overboard . But hey, you get three hours of sleep and then wake up to Tanzanian immigration at your door, I bet you’d be freaking too.

Giving up on trying to find my only contact at the UN, I leave a frantic message for my roommate in Tanzania who is still back in the States, going something along the lines of “Elyssa I’m about to be taken by immigration, I don’t know whats going on, contact our supervisor.” Figuring I can’t stall any longer, I go outside and try to face the patrol.

I swear these guys must have thought I was crazy. I looked like hell, my hair was everywhere, my pajamas were a ratty pair of tights and tank top that were almost falling off, and all I can think is “MAKE THEM THINK YOU ARE JUST A TOURIST RIGHT NOW, CONVINCE THEM YOU ARE JUST A TOURIST RIGHT NOW.” So I start rambling. And rambling. And rambling. I think I said some words in Swahili, and then I went off about how they woke me up and I was feeling sick and o my goodness, so sorry for their wait, and no no no, I didn’t want to go to the hospital for malaria because I wanted to go to Zanzibar today because that’s whats tourists did, and have they ever been on safari because I REALLY WANTED TO DO A TOURIST SAFARI!!! After five minutes of nodding politely, and smiling along with my crazy rant, they looked at my passport, made a few notes, and told me to have a good day.

I was literally shaking. I went back and forth between thinking that they were going to come back and take me with them, to thinking I need to go to the UN office right this second so we could process the proper paperwork ASAP. Half-way through my meltdown, the receptionist walks into the dorm. “O they got you to? Immigration checks all of our guests nowadays, just to see their passports. They’ve been here all morning.” Turns out, this was just a routine check.

While you sit there laughing at how dumb I could be, a word in my defense; in all of my trips to Tanzania, or elsewhere in East Africa, I’ve never had immigration show up to check passports at a hotel. I’ve also never been woken up, still half-sleeping, to be informed that immigration is here “to see you.” I mean, if he woulda said, immigration is making the rounds, maybe I wouldn’t have thought they were going to deport/take into custody/arrest me. Who hears “immigration is here FOR YOU” and thinks anything else?! I probably could have stopped to think how technically I am a tourist, since I haven’t started working yet, or that my paperwork will be processed soon, or how immigration has larger things to worry about than a 23 year old intern, but those were all afterthoughts.

As much as it’s funny to sit a day later, in my beautiful new place, and laugh at how silly all of those stories sound, the last couple of days have been pretty frantic and rough. Contrary to popular belief, I’m actually not that great of a traveller. You know those people that pack light, can figure their way through anything, and are always making friends and seeming in control? Totally not this girl. My hectic-ness back at home multiplies abroad, especially when I’m navigating a foreign city completely on my own. I hate flying solo, and I do best surrounded by people I love, not holed up in some hostel where I know no one. Bug bites, illicit sex work, waking up to a panic attack over immigration status – on their own, or back at home, something to laugh at. In a new city, where you know absolutely no one, not so much. Moments like these leave me cowering, lonely, and afraid to have to navigate this by myself. Everyone always talks about their “amazing experiences” while travelling, but can’t a girl have a moment or two discuss how shitty some travel moments can actually be?

Thankfully, my love for Tanzania and the rest of this beautiful continent overrides those fears, and pushes me to keep coming back here. Regardless of a few bumpy days, at the moment of “okay world I’ve had enough,” comes those amazing moments where life just works. Where the kindness of a stranger led to me finding the most beautiful apartment. Where I walk down the street and find that I still remember some Swahili and can converse with the boys lounging by the banana stand. Where the guard in my complex comes up before I go to bed just to make sure I am settling in okay, and know how to use everything. Where I stand on my porch, watching the sun set over the city, feeling the breeze of the Indian Ocean, and realize that being alone in Dar is scary, but it means I’m back in Africa. And there’s nothing better than that feeling.

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