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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 19, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 47
Week 18: Back to Dar Es Salaam, some very brave LGBT activists and when missing a flight connection is actually a plus.
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Week 18: Back to Dar Es Salaam, some very brave LGBT activists and when missing a flight connection is actually a plus.

picture - Maasai Woman we bought some gifts from

As strange as it may sound I was ready to move on. Zanzibar may be a vacation fantasy, with some amazing history thrown in, but I was really hoping to get back to Dar and meet the LGBT activists. My contact with CPSS, seemingly the prominent group in Tanzania seemed to have broken down. I had started to build them a website and had a 'relationship' with them when we first started our travels. Now I couldn't reach them and Monica, my contact in Cape Town with the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission - iglhrc.org - seemed difficult to reach too. I emailed Sharon (our friend in Joburg who had so generously housed and looked after us) and asked if she could call Monica and get me some information. She did and thanks to her, Louis and I made 'contact'.

You must be aware being 'Gay' in Tanzania must be very, very difficult. Unlike South Africa, where LGBT rights are written into the constitution (SA was one of the first countries to grant 'Gay marriage'), Mozambique, where it is illegal but the government looks the other way, and in Malawi where it seems you have to 'do something' like want to get married to be imprisoned. In Tanzania it seems, just being 'Gay' can get you detained or perhaps imprisoned for a time.

Meeting our new activist friends reminded me of all the travels I had done to Communist East Europe and the Soviet Union, but perhaps with even more of a consequence. In the Soviet Union, I would have to hide behind trees in the park, or sit on a street bench and wait inconspicuously for my 'new' friends to arrive. They weren't allowed to 'meet' with me. Once we met up, we would go off to a bar or restaurant, or a friend's home to chat. There was no fear once we would end up in a restaurant or bar to chat.

Here it felt even more difficult.

When our friends arrived at the YWCA where we were again staying, I suggested that we sit in the dining area and chat. We tried this and they were most uncomfortable as there were lots of other people around that could hear our conversation. We ended up going up the street to the Holiday Inn and finding a rooftop bar where we were the only people. Whenever the waiter would arrive, the conversation would abruptly come to an end.

We met with Isabella with the Tanzania Lesbian Association (TALESA), Lulu with the Cool Brain Family (CBF), John with the Tanzania SISI Kwasni Foundation and Emmanuel representing CPSS.

Tanzania Lesbian Association (TALESA)

Cool Brain Family (CBF)

Tanazania SISI Kwasni Foundation

CPSS

More information coming from each of these organizations very soon

We chatted about being LGBT in Tanzania and the impossibility of going out to a 'gay' bar or restaurant. I admired the four of them so much. 'Please promise me that the next time I am in Dar that you are not in prison some place', I asked. Seemed they are all risking so much for recognition and equality in Tanzania. It seemed so strange now in retrospect. When I first made contact when I was still in Seattle, I was planning on going dancing with them in some little underground bar in Dar Es Salaam. How naive and unaware I was about their lives.

The next day I met with Sonyoro Hussein and Emmanuel from CPSS. I had meet Emmanuel the night before. Our meeting had became confused when Ally (the contact I had originally from CPSS with the website) and Tulabegomapoli also showed up at the YWCA. Seemed Ally and Tulabegomapoli did not want to join in the discussion with Sonyoro and Emmanuel and we made a time to meet the next day. CPSS had fractured.

I felt a little nervous getting in the car with Sonyoro and Emmanuel and taking off, especially after 30 minutes, as we were still traveling farther out into the suburbs of Dar. I only let it happen because I had met Emmanuel and with the others which gave him some credibility. Sonyoro wanted to take me to his home, show me around and tell me 'his side of the story' of what was happening with CPSS.

Sonyoro was a wonderful host and I got to see around his home and meet some of his colleagues with the oil distribution business they have. Although Sonyoro had a larger two story house, he had been dealing with a brain tumour over the last 18 months and here in Tanzania, people like Sonyoro do not have health insurance. He assured me that he was much better now, but very financially challenged as his bill for his healthcare had been expensive. Seems Emmanuel is what I like to term 'gay orphaned'. Sonyoro took him in when asked by Emmanuel's uncle about four years ago when his family abandoned him for being gay. Sonyoro was also providing a home for another 'gay orphaned' boy that I met.

The next day Ally and Tulambago arrived at the 'Y' and we sat in the dining room and chatted. Although they certainly were discrete, they didn't seem too concerned if anyone heard our conversation. Ally has been with CPSS for over 15 years. He also wanted to talk about his viewpoint of the organization and the rift he was having with Sonyoro. Hopefully this will be all sorted out when they have a meeting at the beginning of December and re-elect their Director and Board Members.

We chatted a little about the history of CPSS and what its role is in the community. The organization was founded in 1996 and in 1999 they were raided and spent two weeks in jail where they were tortured. It was the Dutch, from the Dutch Embassy in Dar Es Salaam that came to their rescue. Ally is focused on creating a coalition of LGBT organizations. Called GALCOT, Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Tanzania. He said that they have funding, but at this time could not tell me who was helping them. The planned members of the coalition are:

CPSS (Gay)
TALESA (Lesbian)
COPESS Group (Sex Workers -LGBT)
CBF (young Lesbian)
Tumanini Drugs (LGBT)

This start date for the coalition is in December.

Ally, who is older and a 'seasoned' activist also surprised me when I asked what he was planning for next. On World AIDS Day, the 1st of December, Ally and a number of other activists are planning to march in the parade in Dar Es Salaam under the banner CPSS-MSN (Men who have sex with Men). I asked him first about how they were getting themselves involved in the parade. It seems they know some of the organizers of the parade and also some fairly prominent politicians. I also questioned him that it seemed to me that they might be marching into a fairly long prison sentence.

Ally didn't seem daunted. Seems the 'marriage in Malawi' incident had only emboldened them. I felt that perhaps their intent is to go to prison and have the 'International Community' come to their rescue, especially like the US Congress and the British government did in Malawi.

We will see if any of this actually happens. I will do my best to keep in touch with everyone in Tanzania and write some stories for the SGN as things happen.

The remainder of the week Louis and I spent exploring more of Dar Es Salaam. It is a city that once you get to know it, it can really become interesting. In our travels, people we met were usually very polarized about the city, either really liking it or not caring for it at all.

We met two girls from Ottawa and spent a wonderful evening dining out at a restaurant called Adis in Dar - an Ethiopian restaurant close to the US Embassy. The food was remarkable and was a welcome change from the chicken and rice we had been eating so often. What was not a treat was the over 2 hour Daladala ride we had a 5pm rush hour to get there, a ride that took us about 25 minutes in the morning the week before.

Dar has some of the worst traffic jams I have seen and makes Seattle look good. Louis and I spent some time shopping and exploring around the Kariakoo Market, looking especially for some African fabrics for a friend in Seattle and some other gifts.

Friday arrived and we got a taxi to the airport for our flight back to Joburg, via Zanzibar and Nairobi, Kenya. Louis was finished 'backpacking' through Africa and I had to admit I was getting 'tired'. Flying back just seemed so easy and I was looking forward to being back in 'civilization' at Sharon's, with good internet access.

I had stumbled upon a new internet booking site , Travelstart, with an office in Dar and one in Joburg. We managed a one way fare, including all taxes and fees for $385 for two of us. It was also interesting to fly back through Zanzibar.

The plane was quite empty when we took off from Dar. Upon arriving in Zanzibar, everyone but four us deplaned. Then the tourists from Europe all boarded the plane to capacity. It felt so different from the last two months. Almost everyone was white and obviously had money. They had just come from a 1 or 2 week holiday in Zanzibar and were flying back to Europe. I felt for our flight attendants. Everyone was so demanding and so 'in your face'. I suddenly really missed the 'other Africa' from the last two months.

We arrived a little late in Nairobi and rushed to the Kenya Airlines counter to find our way to our connection to Joburg. We found our connecting flight had already left 15 minutes before. I asked the airline representative 'what happens now' and my heart sank. She told me she could book us on the 7am flight, 11 hours from now. I casually asked if there was somewhere we could stay.

Well, eat your hearts out those of you that have flown on any American flights in the last 5 years. She proceeded to ticket us, and then get us accommodation in a great downtown Nairobi hotel (turned out to be a suite), dinner passes for an incredible buffet, and wonder of wonders, she escorted us down to the front of the immigration line and paid for our Kenya visas.

We had met a guy from Joburg who was in the same situation and the three of us boarded our special shuttle into town. The driver knew I was very interested in Nairobi, so he gave the three of us about an hour tour of the downtown part of the city. From what I saw that evening, Nairobi downtown is hopping at 10pm on a Friday night, and is truly a beautiful city from all appearances. It is going on my must visit list for a return trip to Africa.

The next morning, we took off from Nairobi airport on our way to Joburg. Right around the time we were enjoying a wonderful breakfast, I looked through the window and watched Mount Kilimanjaro for the next 10 minutes as we flew by. I was greatly moved and felt very emotional. I wondered where our Australian friends, Sean, Jess and Libby were on the mountain. How I in some ways I wanted so bad to be with them, and the other part of me just wanted to stop and rest.

We arrived in Joburg and Sharon was there to pick us up. It was a great finish to another incredible trip exploring Africa or so I thought. I was now a little late to work on the SGN and get it online, although I wasn't concerned. With my own computer and a good (relatively speaking) internet connection I would be able to sail through my work. I wasn't prepared to open the bedroom closet at Sharon's and find my computer and the valuables left in my computer bag gone. I couldn't believe it and Sharon was devastated. And to make matters even worse, the house seemingly had not been burglarized. Nothing in our room seemed out of place and credit cards and some money were left alone in one of Louis's bag.

After I had got the SGN online I was not prepared for the aftermath of the missing computer. We sat down with Sharon and made a list of all the people we thought might have had access to the house and the computer in the closet. As we started to talk to people on our list to find out what they might know, everything started to crash. Perhaps there was a different way I could have approached things, but the way it was done stirred the pot and made one of Sharon's friends very angry. From my point of view, it was like a 'who done it' plot. You knew it probably someone you knew. Then things even got worse. People suggested that I had miss-placed the computer or had even taken it with us and lost it. I could see their point of view because of the 'strangeness' of the situation. Louis got very angry and wanted to move.

After a heartfelt conversation with Sharon the next morning, the energy changed. It's sad to say that some of our friends we had spent so much time with when we first arrived wanted nothing to do with us now. We will see how it all works out.

We are getting rested and planning our GRAND FINALE....Cape Town! The extremes of Africa, from some of the most 'basic living' in the world, to some of the best, from a homophobic two months to one of the Gay mecca's of the world&where LGBT people have full rights guaranteed by the constitution and live in one of the top 10 most beautiful places in the world. Glad I have time to rest for our travels next week!

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Ally Tulambago - CPSS
John, Isabella, Lulu and Emmanuel
Emmanuel and Sonyoro
Sonyoro Hussein's home
Dar Es Salaam
One of the many over half empty buildings of Dar
Kariakoo Street near the big market
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