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My Father, a flight engineer on a Central African Airways Viking aircraft was killed off the coast of Tanzania when the plane crashed in 1953. I was eight years old at the time and always believed that a day would come when he would return and it would all have been a bad dream. Although various family members had visited his grave, opportunity never came my way.
On May 5th 2012, my opportunity came. The fulfilment of a lifelong goal, to visit my father’s grave.
I left London Heathrow by Air Kenya and flew to Nairobi, then on to Dar es Salaam.
A close friend and a taxi owner, were waiting on my arrival in Dar es Salaam and drove us to our hotel, an elegant Southern Sun establishment.
The weather was lovely albeit a bit humid and after a shower, my friend and I enjoyed a superb dinner and nights rest.
Next morning we woke very early to go to Tanga, site of the cemetery. The taxi drivers promised 3 hour journey became 8 hours!! Thank goodness the vehicle was air conditioned.
Stopping for the loo was a real cultural shock, a hole in the ground with no running water or paper, only a bucket of water with a jug (used by Muslim women as they must wash their privates after going to the loo). Well, I certainly was not going to use the water; it was green! Wearing sandals and standing to pee was very messy, but wet wipes saved the day!
We arrived in Tanga and even with a Google Earth map, the taxi driver had to ask several people where the cemetery was; we finally found it after more than an hour of searching, my emotions rising, as it was getting late.
The road leading to the grave was shocking, great big pot holes and mud, as it was rainy season and dirt roads become quagmires. I was so emotional by the time I got to the cemetery that I rushed in and started searching; walking through long grass, being bitten by insects in the hot and humid atmosphere. I was shocked at how untidy and desolate the whole place was; overgrown with weeds, gravestones were covered in a black moss. I was bereft.
At last I stood by my father’s grave, his name, amazingly legible on the headstone. My friend was very comforting and held me whilst I wept; I had finally, after 60 years, found closure. I knew my Daddy wasn’t coming home!
After the cemetery visit, we spent the night, at a hotel overlooking the bay. It was tremendously healing to sit with my friend in the lovely garden watching the sea.
Next morning we started back to Dar es Salaam and the day after we caught a flight to Zanzibar, 20 minutes over the bay.
Zanzibar was wonderful, so old world; evocative and exotic; renowned for its spices and yes, doors; hundreds of beautiful thick, carved Teak doors, huge and studded with brass or steel.
The visit to a very old Church in Zanzibar was interesting and emotional. It was built on the site of a slave trading post; shocking to read how the slaves were treated, crammed into the bowels of ships, chained together so tightly that they couldn’t even lie down. After long sea voyages from different parts of Africa they landed in Zanzibar and were thrown into dungeons, dark and dank with tiny windows; holes really, a few inches square, for air. On market days they were brought out to be sold – still chained, soiled by urine and faeces and shoved into open pits to be viewed by potential buyers. They have sculptures of these pitiful humans in a pit which still exists to this day, so one could see how they suffered. Man’s inhumanity to man made me weep. It brought to mind, the deeply moving hymn, Amazing Grace, penned by John Newton; previously a slave trader and who once sold a man for a pair of boots!
We visited an old palace belonging to the first Sultan; it was dirty, dusty and generally unkempt. Then we went on to the home of famous explorer, David Livingstone, in which he lived for a couple of years and is now used as a government office.
We enjoyed lunch in a really old and elegant hotel facing the sea – it was colonial in every way, going back in time; highly polished floors, cane furniture; the black waiters wore spanking white uniforms with red fezzes. Outside was humid and very hot, busy and noisy with people, cars, buses and motor bikes, all going where? I wondered.
We flew back to Dar es Salaam in the late afternoon as the sun was going down over the sea; that sunset was breathtaking!
I had to get ready to fly back to England that same night – my friend was only flying to South Africa in the morning. Well, I packed in a rush and got into the taxi for the journey back to the airport. A journey which should have only taken 45 minutes, took 3 hours –the traffic was absolutely horrendous and at one time the taxi driver, very seriously said: “I think we should park the car and take motor bikes which will get us to the airport in time and I shall carry your suitcase on my head!!!!! I told him in no certain terms that there is no way I was going to get on to a motor bike.
Anyhow I got to the airport literally 5 minutes too late! The airport manager, to whom I appealed, to let me go through, said the security staff had already left their station…………the airplane only took off ¾ of an hour later!! I just cried and told him that I had no more money to pay for another taxi driver to take me back to the hotel and that I was so scared to take a taxi driver that I didn’t know –he was very kind and said he would find someone we could trust. I went to the toilet while he was trying to locate someone and there on the stairs was sitting our taxi driver, well I wanted to kiss him as I was relieved to see him.
He said he saw that I hadn’t gone through and would just wait and see if I was able to get onto another plane. Well the airport manager was incredible, really, as he had organized for me to fly the next night and I was to go to the airline offices the next morning to pick up a new ticket; I was not charged for the issue of a new ticket because as the consultant told me so many people miss their flights because of the traffic. And so I flew back the next day having got to the airport 5 hours before the flight –I was sure going to make certain I got there in good time…………………..!! Even though it cost me well over 30 thousand Rands, it was all worth it as I had accomplished something I had wanted to do for 60 years.
Well I hope you enjoyed reading all about my Safari to East Africa.
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