“Wonderfully cigarettes, Embassy light!” -how not to buy cigarettes in Dar es Salaam

As I am waiting in the blistering Tanzanian sun for the ferry to take me from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar, I crave a cigarette, yet I possess none, and am also oblivious as to where I could get some.  I ask an eager looking man with red teeth and a kufi if I could possibly obtain a package somewhere. Enthusiastically, he requests 5000 Tanzanian schillings (a little more than 2 euro’s) runs off, disregarding the busy traffic, and dissappears into a narrow alley across the street. Seeing a man take off with my money, I look a bit worried, which is noticed by some men standing nearby. “Jambo, do not worry, this man is our friend”, he is trust!” I am put at ease by this statement, obviously, if somebody not only can be trusted, but actually is trust, the embodiment of it, I shan’t worry a bit. We talk for a while, mainly about cigarettes (wonderfully cigarettes, Embassy light!) and Tanzanian women. According to one man they are ‘most juicyness’, and I believe him. Another claims they can bite your penis off with their vagina. I doubt it, but take his warning serious nonetheless.

After 15 minutes my kufi-wearing, red-teethed friend returns with my cigarettes. The package has been opened though, and some cigarettes are missing. I point this out to my new friends. Not to worry! they respond, it is normal in Tanzania for packages to be previously opened. Government regulations, another assures me. I light my much anticipated cigarette and share some with my new friends and they happily accept. My kufi-wearing friend respectfully declines. He explains: “Much running make me thirsty!” I nod. I have also experienced thirst after much running. My nodding however is not seen as a satisfying respons. The second man, a pleasant fat fellow, tells me I should give him some more money, so his friend can procure a refreshing beverage, to quench the thirst caused be the running for my cigarettes. I understand, but I respectfully decline. I explain to them that I never required this good man to run for me. He could also have done his job strolling leisurly and I would have been equally grateful. Thirdly, I point out the fact that cigarettes are only 2500 schilling and I have yet to receive some change.

The three men quickly discuss their stragtegy in Swahili: They come to a new approach. The third, a bony man wearing a jellaba solemnly speaks: “These cigarettes are very special, they are import cigarettes! Please, some more money sir.” It takes but one look at the package to see it: Made in Tanzania. I read it out loud. The men are baffled. They did not expect this turn of events. Another round of intens discussions in Swahili takes place. It seems that concensus among the three men cannot be reached. A vague attempt to renew the ‘import cigarettes strat’ is attempted: they now tell me that the barcode on the package somehow means that it actually is import, and thus more valuable. I can do nothing but shake my head and smile. The men are getting a bit sour. Angry looks, whispering of insults (I can only guess at those) and some more men join our little group, if I wasn’t so sure of the friendlyness of the Tanzanian people, I would feel a bit threatened by now.

As a sign of peace, I decide to buy a bottle of water for my friend, the kufi man. Somehow, this has angered them even more. Yelling ensues. Obscene gestures, even some grabbing of clothes, mine to be precise. Our group swells to dozens. I am as baffled as they were. What has happened? Why the sudden consternation? “Ramadan! Ramadan!” they yell. Offering water to the kufi-wearing man was apparently very insulting, I was tempting him to break his holy vow of fasting! I try to remind them of the cigarette they smoked, and of the fact that they, themselves, had requested more money for a drink. To no avail. I am doomed to be the centre of a religeous row. Luckily, the ferry blows its horn in anticipation of departure. I sneak away into the blue glass building. Inside people are curiously looking at the commotion in front of the doors, a shotgun-weilding guard is standing up and looks concerned. “What’s going on out there?” an American guy asks me. “I do not now, good man”, I reply. These Tanzanians are crazy.

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1 Response to ““Wonderfully cigarettes, Embassy light!” -how not to buy cigarettes in Dar es Salaam”


  1. 1 Jaap Pronk 17/07/2013 at 12:10 pm

    Apparently, July is a bad month for smokers. Maar dat zorgt altijd wel weer voor goeie inspiratie! Ik lees je blogs met veel plezier, 1 puntje: Is het niet Dar es Salaam?


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