Dar es Salaam is a major city and commercial port on Tanzania’s Indian Ocean coast. Once a sleepy Zamaro fishing village, the city is now home to over four million people and straddles some of the most important sea routes in the world.
We arrive at Julius Nyerere International Airport, located approximately 12 kilometres south-west of the city. We will not be staying in Dar es Salaam however it is a necessary stop for us en route to Zanzibar. We begin to feel the heat and humidity as soon as the airplane doors open.
In the terminal we look for the Visa desk. The single large room that is the arrival terminal is chaotic and airport workers and security guards are shouting and indicating for passengers to follow contradictory directions. We spot a couple handing their passports and some money to a man behind a counter and figure this must be where the Visas are purchased. We are correct and join the queue.
Soon it is our turn and we hand over $50.00 each, along with our passports (a transit Visa is supposed to be $30.00 however arguing with the staff here is not easy). The man behind the counter barks at us to place our fingers and thumbs on the fingerprint machine before walking away with our money and our passports. We are left waiting amidst the madness until he returns and instructs us to make our way to the other side of the room and wait. We set off in the direction he indicated and a security guard shouts at us to go back where we have come from and join the queue. After a long journey and half an hour standing in a windowless, fan-less room with hundreds of other exhausted passengers, we are becoming a little frustrated.
Eventually we are allowed to join the large group on the other side of the room to wait for our passports and Visas. After another half an hour we hear names being called and see that an immigration officer is now handing back the passports. We struggle through the crowd to collect our passports and then join the queue for passport control – the final obstacle between us and the luggage collection room.
We have been waiting in the queue for over 20 minutes and the room is becoming stifling as more and more people wait for their Visas. We have our next flight in a few hours and are beginning to wonder whether or not we will make it.
A security guard wanders over to us and asks ‘why are you standing here?’. We reply that we saw the large sign that says ‘Passport Control’, along with a ‘Wait here’ sign and assumed that we should join the queue for passport control, along with the other passengers who now have their Visas. We are asked if we gave our fingerprints for the Visas, which we did, and the security guard takes a rolled up piece of paper and jokingly hits me on the head with it as he tells us that we didn’t need to be standing at passport control after all.
Now for the next challenge – we have been told that we must collect our luggage and take it through the ‘transit’ passageway into the departures lounge to check in onto our flight to Zanzibar. The luggage collection room is (if it is possible) even more manic than the arrival room. The suitcases are being piled onto the single conveyor belt so densely that the belt routinely breaks down and only starts again after one of the workers gives it a hard kick.
Cases and bags are being dragged off the belt and we find ourselves dodging luggage, people and trolleys as we try to locate our belongings. The man in front of me has spotted his case underneath a pile of heavy-looking bags and is determinedly yanking at the handle to free it. It slides out from beneath the pile but the man had not yet eased the strength with which he is pulling the bag. The bag and the man suddenly come flying backwards and I jump out of the way before being bowled over. As I do another passenger behind me seems to be having the same problem and as he rescues his bag he knocks the luggage trolley which comes hurdling towards me and stops only when it crashes against my hip.
Finally we have our suitcases (and a few bruises), we stick them on the x-ray machine (which is obligatory despite the fact that no-one appears to be monitoring it) and we head to the departures hall. We have to check in for our next flight and, of course, that process involves waiting in a long queue. The queue doesn’t move for over half an hour and once again there are no fans or windows. Passengers are fanning themselves with passports and pieces of paper – anything they can find.
Eventually it is our turn to weigh our suitcases and check in for our flight. We watch as our suitcases are dragged away and thrown onto a pile and wonder if they will ever reach Zanzibar. After hours of sweating in this suffocating heat we don’t dwell on it too much and head to the departures lounge in hope of finding a fan or a window.
As we collect our hand luggage from the security scanner we brace ourselves for the next step, not knowing quite what we will find. To our delight we spot a cafeteria with overhead fans. We choose a table directly under one of the fans and order cold bottles of Kilimanjaro beer. As other passengers emerge from the security check we see expressions of relief and one by one they make their way to the cafeteria and sit under the fans sipping their well-earned refreshments.
We initially thought that we would have over three hours to wait in Julius Nyerere International Airport and had been wondering what we would do for all that time. Now we have around 20 minutes to drink our beer before boarding the plane for our final flight to Zanzibar.