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The colours of Kigoma
From August to October 2011 Danish photographer Pernille Bærendtsen made regular visits to Kigoma in west Tanzania, having been invited by local MP Zitto Kabwe. She documented her impressions visually throughout her stays, in a bid to capture the uniqueness of this remote part of Tanzania - Kigoma shares the northern shores of Lake Tanganyika with Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
For Mambo, she has contributed a photo essay that will give readers a window into this part of the country, as well as information for potential visitors about how to get to Kigoma, where to stay and what they can do there.
Taking in the vastness of Tanzania
I fly to Kigoma. I look out of the window all the way from Dar es Salaam over Mwanza to Kigoma. It is 1,700 kilometres from Dar es Salaam to Kigoma. In Europe we would have crossed several countries by now. Below the plane sprawls the vastness of Tanzania. Neatly cultivated fields form patchworks in sparkling nuances of greenness. Mabati roofs and rivers reflect the sunshine. Lush forests of palm trees meet the blue surface of Lake Tanganyika.
‘Pleasing and beautiful location’ says the Tanzanian Tourist Board. People in Kigoma say ‘Mwisho wa reli’ - the end of the railway. ‘Kigoma is where Tanzania ends’, I am told upon arrival.
Not only is Kigoma one of the most remote Tanzanian regions measured in geopraphical distance from Dar es Salaam, it is also distant in the sense of a highly fragmented infrastructure. During my stay in Kigoma I came across writing on a bus that services the route between Dar es Salaam and Kigoma. Someone named it ‘Big Punish’ and it literally underlines the ruthlessness of travelling this far overland. ‘Big punish to the road for being rough. I punish you back bigger,’ a friend explains to me when I ask for possible interpretations.
’Hey, how could we forget the yellow ones?!’
But... where there is an end, there is also a start. Kigoma is only remote if you see it from Dar es Salaam. Seen from Lake Tanganyika, Kigoma is central to Burundi, Rwanda, Congo and Uganda, and the gateway to Tanzania. The streets are bustling with people going this way and that way. To the airport, on the daladala, over the lake, or simply on foot. Trading, commuting and working. Agricultural crops pass through many hands from the surrounding communities, over land, the lake and the mountains surrounding Kigoma.
An invitation to a game of Bao
Some call Kigoma ‘undiscovered’, which in fact is far from the truth. First, the Arab slave traders came through Kigoma, then the European explorers and missionaries. The railway was built in the 20th century to transport agricultural produce from the African hinterland to the East African coast. A plate in the wall explains that the railway station won first prize in 1965 for being the best maintained station. Those days are long gone.
After the rain
"Most people who are born in Kigoma will die here without ever having seen any other place." The sombre words are produced as an answer to my question: "What do you see as the biggest challenge for Kigoma today?" I am having lunch with a native of Kigoma, a doctor, who has studied in Dar es Salaam. We are talking about why it is important to leave one’s hometown to learn, but also about the importance of returning in order to strengthen the community. We’re having mgebuka for lunch, the long, thin fish that everybody talks about when you tell them that you are travelling to Kigoma. The conversation circles from what to add to the fish – ugali, rice or chips – to the political situation, which again is related to the fact that few people who leave Kigoma come back again.
Coffee and politics at Kijiwe cha Urusi
Conversations about politics are commonplace. A lot of them start with where (and how) to drink coffee. The photographer is asked "You want to drink coffee like you do, or like we do?" (The photographer fortunately chose the Kigoma way, or she’d have been drinking Africafé on her own in Lake Tanganyika View Hotel.) Kijiwe cha Urusi (translated as 'Russian coffee place') is situated on the main road between Kigoma and Ujiji. It is famous for its wazee – the elders, politicians, local leaders and decision makers. It is also known for the TV sessions screened from Bunge (parliament) and for the writings on the black wall at the road side, where outcomes of debates in the coffee place are published.
Lanterns on the night horizon
When Lake Tanganyika is cloaked in darkness a fine line of lights marks the division between the water and the sky - like a string of beads on blue velvet. People from Kigoma love to tell newcomers that the distant lights are big cities along the shores of Lake Tanganyika. In fact, electricity is scarce or non-existent. There are no cities. In fact there is no electricity, but imagination. The light comes from the hundreds of kerosene lanterns used by fishermen to attract dagaa, a nocturnal, silvery sardine.
A selection of Baerendtsen's photgraphs from Kigoma is being exhibited at the Alliance Francaise in Dar es Salaam, from 21 February to 3 March 2012.
The photographer has worked for over ten years with people who work for change. She has lived in ex-Yugoslavia, northern Uganda and Tanzania, where she has engaged in campaigning, activism, communication and photography. You can see more of her photographs and blogposts from Tanzania at www.duniaduara.org