Testing the waters at De Hoop Nature Reserve

March 31, 2018

South Africa features a promontory just east of Cape Town that points down toward Antarctica. This area, reached by climbing Sir Lowry’s Pass over the Hotentots-Holland mountains, combines the high Overberg plateau with l’Agulhas peninsula. Natasha and I set our sights on visiting “De Hoop” Nature Reserve to the east of this peninsula, using the historic town of Bredasdorp as our base camp.

De Hoop is centered on a massive brackish body of water fed by the Sout River that has been cut off from the Indian Ocean by 2.5 kilometers of sand dunes. It draws its name from a farm established in 1739 by Frederick de Jager, a free burgher, on lands granted by the Dutch East India Company. De Jager had “the hope” that this sandy, rocky soil could be coaxed to produce good crops.

Driving to De Hoop, however, is a bit of a challenge. On the map, it seemed straightforward. We would follow R319 east from Bredasdorp and then diverge to the east on the road to Malgas (pronounce the ‘g’ with a good throat-clearing). Finding R319 was fine (it’s the same thing as “All Saints”), and we followed it for a couple of miles before finding our sign for Malgas. We were less than thrilled to discover that our path from that point forward was entirely gravel and rock, leading from one dusty sheep farm to another. Forty cautious minutes on the Malgas spur brought us to the sign for De Hoop, and we followed a rougher road still to the entrance gate.


The view of the reception area from the bluff

I must say, at this point, that I was skeptical of the claims that De Hoop was a beautiful pearl. Natasha’s report that the reserve had been closed for a period in the early 2000s due to a fire, combined with our area’s historic drought, did not fill me with confidence. Just the same, we paid our 80 Rand to a charismatic gate guard, and over the hill we went. As soon as we began our descent from the 200m bluff to the coast, the variegated greens of this coastal plain became apparent.



Natasha and I both caught the thrill of the place as we drove down a side road to the reception area. It lies between two plains, and each featured quite a few groups of animals. The most common type we saw was the bontebok, an antelope that was generally outnumbered by springboks when we visited the Northern Cape. We were particularly excited to see a Cape mountain zebra, but we didn’t have the camera handy until we reached the parking lot. Natasha spied an eland at a distance, too!


We walked on a shelf that mirrored this one.

The reception office had a handy and well-executed booklet available for 20 Rand that supplied a historical, geographic, and biological appraisal of the area. We grabbed a copy since it documented the points of interest on the 3km hike that we elected to follow along the vlei (like “flay,” frequently meaning marsh, but here meaning the body of water). In no time we had started our walk. For much of the path, we were striding along a limestone and sandstone conglomerate shelf, approximately eight meters above the water’s surface, though we did occasionally dip down to meet it.



Where fuzzy creatures were concerned, our hike was something of a bust. The dassies were MIA, though their droppings were not, and our much-anticipated visit with the Cape clawless otter was fruitless, though we did see evidence of their dinners of crab. We did enjoy the little blooms along our path, though. The area is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site spanning to Cape Point due to its wildly diverse fynbos plants. We also enjoyed the touch with the area’s history as “Die Melkkamer” (the “Milk Room”) mansion complex came into sight on the opposite side of the water. The earliest building dates from 1872.


Not a beach for swimming

Eventually, the path dumped us onto a pebbly beach that was covered in some sort of salt-tolerant grass. We didn’t dip a hand in to feel the water. Instead, we turned back to the north to return to the reception center. We passed a long-dusty watering hole, along with a tree that we eyed warily, since it looked like it might serve as a home for baboons. As we approached the reception center, more bonteboks came into view. A scout from the herd kept a watchful eye on us. We loved the massive fig trees (brought here from KwaZulu-Natal) that have graced that drive since the 1950s.


Fynbos, dunes, and tidal pools, oh my!

One must be careful when using the phrase “tidal pool” near Natasha. She was intent on seeing the Koppie Alleen (“Lonely Hill”) Rocky Shores. We drove toward the beach and took the side road heading east to the site. We had once again found a long gravel road stretching into the distance. For an added bonus, this one was limited to half its width for traffic in both directions since the park is paving a new road with strong bricks. We puttered along for half an hour at 20 kph until we found the Koppie Alleen parking lot in good repair.


Looking southwest from the top of the dune wall

Just as De Hoop is separated from the rest of the region by a 200m wall of hills, the hills and plain of De Hoop are separated from the beach by a range of sand dunes. At Koppie Alleen, one can follow the right fork of the path to the to nearest dune top, or one can follow the left fork down to the beach.


Sandstone beach

We started on the beach. We arrived with the tide already high and rising. Many of the pools in which Natasha might play with stars, anemones, coral-worms, and limpets were already submerged by the waves. The rocks were fun to climb on though, and the sandy beaches were as near unspoiled as one can imagine. I shot a few moments of video to remind me of their crash.

I saw some odd bubbles enclosed in a blue membrane in the sands though. Natasha warned me off the “blue bottles” right away. Portuguese man-of-war jellyfish are quite prone to stinging the unwary finger.


Dave, moments before succumbing to sunstroke

At this point, I fell into a bit of a swoon. Natasha coaxed back up the walkway to the food trailer and poured a Diet Coke into me. I had touched too much sun and not enough water today! From there, we climbed to the dune top to get one last look at the beautiful coast.



As Natasha drove us along the endless gravel road back to Bredasdorp, she spotted a female ostrich, outlined beautifully by the declining sun. We paused for one last snapshot.



Did OMICS International make me a legitimate offer?

In today’s post, I want to illustrate a conundrum that faces many scientists in clearing their crowded email inboxes.  In brief, I was asked to contribute a manuscript on short notice for publication in a journal.  The closer I looked at the offer, though, the more I doubted that it was legitimate.  I would be curious to hear your evaluation in the comments!


by oksmith at Open Clip Art

March 21, 2018  Initial solicitation

The ball began rolling with this message from the editorial assistant of a journal (if you don’t mind, I will omit the particular journal title):

We are in shortfall of one article for successful release of Volume 11, Issue 3. Is it possible for you to support us with your transcript for this issue before 5 April, 2018? If this is a short notice please do send 5-6 pages Short commentary or Mini review, and hope that a 5 pages article will not take much time for an eminent like you.

We are confident that you will always be there to support us.

Looking forward for your positive response.

Promising, right?  I think most professors have a few ideas that they’d like to get out in the literature that might not be big enough for a full research article but are still worth jotting down.  This solicitation offered quite a lot of latitude; if I wanted to write a position paper on a controversial issue in my field, this might be a nice vehicle. (For example, I might use the title “Can we trust the False Discovery Rates from Open Search?”)

Let’s pause a moment to consider the language of this request more closely.  Did you notice the flattery?  I am not just some random prof, I am an “eminent!”  Do you see the sense of shared struggle in the phrase “always be there to support us?”  At this point, you are probably wondering what my prior interactions with this publisher look like.  The answer is essentially zero.  I have never knowingly published a manuscript with this publisher, and I am sure I have never published a manuscript with the journal in question.  As I look at the Editorial Board Membership for the journal, however, I see many people with whom I have collaborated over the years.  This is unsurprising, since the Editorial Board enumerates 90 senior researchers!  A friend of mine in HUPO-PSI, however, serves as one of four Executive Editors for the journal.  Could this request be coming from her office?

omics-logoOMICs International has a checkered standing with me.  My mailbox is always littered with requests to attend conferences, and a fair few of these come from this group.  Their webpage contains a laundry list of meetings on almost every conceivable topic.  The typical mechanism is that organizers find an exotic location researchers might want to visit, round up a group of eminent people who agree to be used in publicity, and then they sell tickets to junior researchers who pay the steep registration fee and travel costs from grants.  I essentially never attend conferences unless my travel is paid by the conference, so these have been of little interest to me.  I eventually managed to unsubscribe from this continuing barrage.  Unlike many organizers, OMICs International seems to honor unsubscribe requests.

Regardless of who is asking, I need to know that publishing with the journal would be worthwhile.  It is a significant “ask” to marshal one’s team to knock out a manuscript in so short a period.  A quick look at the calendar showed only ten working days from the date of the request to the due date (South Africa has a four-day weekend for Easter, coinciding with the end of term for learners– the Monday after Easter is “Family Day”).

logo_footerI discussed the journal in question with others.  My friend (and Dean) Ndiko at UWC used the Scimago Journal and Country Rank website to interrogate its reputation.  Scimago reported an “H-Index” of 14 for the journal.  My most commonly targeted journal is Journal of Proteome Research, from the American Chemical Society.  By comparison, Scimago reports its H-Index to be 133.  A very heavy hitter like Nature Biotechnology rates even higher, with an H-Index of 361.  Scimago also related, however, that the OMICs International journal had not been tracked since 2014, so I understood a potential reason that they were unable to populate their next issue with enough submissions!  This left me with the impression that my investing effort in a publication with this OMICs International journal would be like dropping a pebble into the ocean, with hardly a splash.

support-resources-logo-pubmedI had nearly decided to blow off the request when my colleague Helena reminded me that graduate students at my university can receive a “bounty” of 2000 Rands for authoring a paper in a listed journal.  Since my student seemed quite gung-ho about knocking out a rapid manuscript, I decided that the criterion I most cared about would rule the day.  Can people search the OMICs International journal in NIH PubMed?  Yes!

March 27, 2017  Caught short

We rapidly set the battle plan in motion for our quality control manuscript in response.  I sent word to the journal office that I intended to write a paper for them and gave them a draft title.  Our team of four began marshaling data sets, analyses, and text into a Google Doc.  We got excited about the idea we had for a new application of quality metrics in proteomics.

Something started nagging at me after I read the instructions for authors on the journal website.  First, the variety of formats considered by the journal was essentially all-encompassing: “original articles, reviews, abstracts, addendums, announcements, article-commentaries, book reviews, rapid communications, letters to the editor, annual meeting abstracts, conference proceedings, calendars, case-reports, corrections, discussions, meeting-reports, news, obituaries, orations, product reviews, hypotheses and analyses.”  Essentially they’d publish anything.  One of the possibilities I was seeking, however, was not given on this list: a protocol article would let us provide training to readers on how to carry out a particular quality control process, one that I had taught in 2017 at Moscow.  I wondered if our battle plan for the manuscript would fly with the journal.

My bigger concern, however, stemmed from the text on the instructions for authors that detailed “Article Processing Charges.”  When I returned to the initial request, I noted that charges were entirely omitted from the message.  I wrote them right away to confirm that because this was an invited manuscript, the article processing charges would be waived.  I received no immediate reply.  On March 27th, however, my reply arrived after I asked the journal a second time about this issue.

I would like to inform you that our group is an open access journal group which is running on the gracious contribution of authors. Since we have invited you for the submission, we can provide you with the maximum discount on the publication fee.

We are confident that you will always be there to support us.

By now the journal was more confident that I would always be there than I was!  My reply was terse:

When you say “maximum discount,” do you mean “no page charges?” Any fee for publication will not be acceptable to us.

Their next message contained the kicker. The “maximum discount” would equal $719 (USD).  The journal office noted that their standing as an open access journal required these fees to continue operation.  After a quick discussion with another professor who had joined the writing team, I replied that no manuscript from us would be forthcoming.  At base, I know that the ideas forming in my research group are good enough that we can get them published in a journal that doesn’t have a publication fee.  I recall that some of the journals I read regularly mark paid-for papers as “advertisements” rather than as research.

March 28 Aftermath

Was it all a misunderstanding?  Was the journal intending to bring up the fees only after my manuscript was already in their hands?  Am I just as unreasonable about paying for publication as I am about paying for parking my car?  I don’t really know.  I think it’s worth assessing the effects of this incident:

  • This was not wasted effort.  We assembled a team of four to produce this manuscript, and our two trainees received the message that what they are working on is not just a cul-de-sac but rather something novel that the investigators want people to see in a proper paper.
  • If we could publish this little nubbin, we could publish a thorough investigation.  We are distilling out the key points we want to make about quality control, and we are organizing the data sets that we will need to tell it in a more representative way.
  • Dance with the ones that brought you.  My publishing career spans eighteen years.  I know exactly what to expect when I submit a manuscript to the key journals of my field, and I can trust that the review will be fair (not always positive, but fair).    When I move to new publishers, I am going to encounter knocks as I ram into barriers to which I am unaccustomed.

Given the extended conversation my field is not having about predatory publishers and the high prices of access to academic research, each professor should ask him or herself what we prioritize in communicating our work.  I sometimes come across as a bit of an old-schooler on the topic of publication; I see it as the primary deliverable of being an academic.  This brouhaha with OMICs International may demonstrate that I have bounds on “publish or perish.”  I do not believe that any price is worth paying just because it results in a published paper.

Dar es Salaam: The Cultural Village Museum

An index to this series appears at the first post.

Natasha and I spent our last full day in Dar es Salaam visiting the Cultural Village Museum! The National Museum of Tanzania has five component institutions, but the only two institutions in Dar es Salaam are the museum we visited yesterday and the Village Museum. Visiting Zanzibar had given us a great perspective on how the Arabs and specifically the Omanis had shaped Tanzania, but Natasha wanted to understand better the indigenous chiefdoms that existed here before and after Zanzibar became a sultanate.


A 2005-2007 Toyota Spacio, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

We had arranged for a taxi to pick us up at 9:30 AM for our journey to the Cultural Village, wait for us at the site, and then drive us back to our hotel (for a cost of 60,000 shillings = $27.00 USD). Happily, the taxi arrived about ten minutes before the scheduled time. He was driving a Toyota Spacio, which confused me since it looked very like a Prius V that didn’t shut off its engine at traffic lights! As we moved north from downtown, we reached Ocean Road, a road curving along the shoreline. I felt a little tingle to realize that the road had been renamed “Barack Obama Drive” in the aftermath of the President’s visit to Tanzania in 2013. We saw some lovely beaches, though the sight was marred by quite a lot of rubbish. Soon we passed the old U.S. Embassy compound, closed since the terrorist attack of 1998. The new one is considerably more substantial and more secure.


A tuk-tuk, courtesy of Getaway.co.za.

As we continued to the northwest, we passed into an area under extensive construction. It seemed that every block had a sizable office building or apartment tower underway, with a large sign naming the construction company (frequently in Chinese lettering). The driver said that Chinese firms had been hugely involved in construction for quite some time. Our route on Bagamoyo Road separated Oyster Bay (a very wealthy area) from the middle-class Kinondoni area. After a while, our progress slowed considerably, and a fair amount of pooled rain water had gathered on the shoulders. Through the night, we had heard several rain storms pass through the area. Insufficient drains in this area had nearly rendered the road impassible! Just the same, three-wheeled tuk-tuks were trying their best to create their own lane on the shoulder. Our taxi pushed through a large, submerged area to reach the muddy and rocky Cultural Village parking lot.

The Cultural Village Museum


Yao homes


The migrations that proliferated Bantu languages

How many ways can you make a hut? It turns out that there are plenty of different materials and designs to choose from, and the chiefdoms of Tanzania have sampled an impressive variety. The groups who had structures represented by the museum included the following: Sukuma, Zanaki, Washambaa, Swahili, Haya, Yao, Makua, Kwere/Doe, Iraqw, Rundi/Ha, Wamwera, Zaramo, Chagga, Gogo, Ngoni, Pimbwe, Fipa, Hehe, and Nyakyusa. Almost all of these groups can be described as “Bantu-speaking,” but it’s worth noting that Bantu is a highly diverse family of languages (both Zulu and isiXhosa languages from South Africa fit this category). Swahili is a widely-known African language in the world at large, but in fact it represents a combination of several Bantu languages with Arabic; it became a widespread trade language across several nations in East Africa.

I would highlight the Yao as a chiefdom that played a key role in the historic slave trade in East Africa; additionally, their commitment to Islam made this group a stalwart against European powers’ domination. The Ngoni are a group that migrated up relatively late from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa in the aftermath of the Zulu Wars. I mentioned the Fipa in connection with a one-piece carved wooden door that we saw at the museum yesterday. Depending on the type of farming, the climate of the regions they occupied, the contact they enjoyed with other groups, and so on, these chiefdoms turned to rather different approaches for home construction.


Fipa iron-smelting furnace

I would emphasize that the Bantu-speaking chiefdoms spread to cover a huge fraction of Africa because they developed iron-working technologies and had a rich and diverse agriculture to keep their populations fed. Many of the movies about African populations in the last century stereotyped them as bloodthirsty savages, but this image has little to do with reality– these groups were actively participating in international trade back in the fifteenth century and before! That’s why I was delighted that the cultural village included a smelting furnace in connection with the Fipa people. The smelting furnace, constructed almost entirely of clay, reflects that the Fipa were producing iron as far back as the seventeenth century. This process combined iron ore, charcoal, and flux (various types) at a temperature approaching 1000 degrees Celsius (~1800 degrees Fahrenheit) to produce liquid iron which could then be smithed.


The Hawa hut is an example of the “Mushonge” type.

The huts that we observed were large enough to be subdivided into several spaces, in some cases by internal walls. I particularly liked the Haya homes, called the “Mushonge” type. These banana and coffee farmers use bamboo, sticks, and grass to build round huts with an entry hall that can be divided into storage, cooking, and sleeping spaces.


The Gogo people of the Dodoma region are pastoralists.

Structures for the Washambaa, Sukuma, and others featured internal ceilings that left room for storage (or children!) above and work and sleep space below. The complexity of these homes definitely stretches well beyond what we think when we say “hut.” By the time we examined the clay walls and verandas of Mwera houses, it was clear that only a small step in complexity differentiated it from a Swahili house with plastered coral and lime walls.


The matrilineal Mwera community built homes with clay walls on wooden pole frames.

As we finished our tour of the village, Natasha and I were treated to a rousing music and dance performance by a troupe of six. They put their all into the show, even though their audience numbered only two! At the close, the group sang a local song including the words “hakuna matata” (not the Disney one), and a dancer enticed Natasha and me to join them. Each of us was adorned by cowrie shells and headdress to join them dancing.


Some of our musicians

On the drive back to our hotel, I was startled to feel a roach crawling across my neck. I shrieked and swatted it into the air. Sadly, it was flung in Natasha’s direction. She responded with greater aplomb. When we reached the hotel room, the roach scuttled out of her backpack. I smote it with my flip-flop.

Our excellent adventure in Dar es Salaam had come to a close.  The next morning we were on a flight back south to Johannesburg and Cape Town!


Dar es Salaam: the National Museum of Tanzania

An index to this series appears at the first post.

In many ways, the National Museum of Tanzania is the obvious tourist destination for Dar es Salaam.  Natasha and I were especially excited to see the controversial “Nutcracker Man” remains housed there.  We were somewhat uncertain what we would find, though, since we could not find a responsive web server for the museum!

The National Museum and House of Culture


This is the street-facing side of the museum, not the more ornate House of Culture!


Al Qaeda killed many Africans in its quest to defeat Western powers.

After photographing some historic buildings along the waterfront, we strolled northeast along Sokoine Drive.  We spotted two or three casinos within a mile on our walk.  The National Museum complex has greatly expanded since it originally opened its doors in 1940.  The main museum building has an open structure lining Shaaban Robert Street.  Our two tickets cost 13000 shillings ($5.85 USD).

When we entered the courtyard, my attention was immediately drawn by a display of thoroughly wrecked vehicles.  I wandered closer, and my attention was transfixed.  I was looking at a memorial remembering the 1998 al-Qaeda attack on the United States embassy in Dar es Salaam.  It combines three destroyed vehicles (a bicycle, motorcycle, and a light truck) with a sheet of shattered bulletproof glass and a statue of a woman without arms.  It’s important to remember that the first al-Qaeda attacks (this one was simultaneous with another in Nairobi) cost many Muslim lives.


The brownish structure behind the Sacred Fig houses most exhibits and classrooms for the National Museum.


This door from Ufipa was carved with iron tools.

The courtyard also features a truly massive Sacred Fig tree.  This specimen was planted in the early 20th century by the Germans as part of the botanical gardens (just across the street to the Northwest).  It’s the same kind of tree that Siddhartha Gautama sat beneath in the 6th century B.C. as he became the Buddha.

With that, Natasha and I climbed the stairs to the exhibit hall of the museum.  She and I both returned several times to examine a door that had been carved from a single tree trunk by the Ufipa in southwestern Tanzania.  By contrast a bed frame created in the 18th century for the grandfather of Sheikh Hussein of Kilwa was a sublime example of both woodcarving and joinery.  Many of the photographs and maps emphasized the history of Kilwa, an East African coastal city that played a substantial role in the slave and other trade networks leading to Zanzibar from the 13th century to the 15th century.  The World Heritage Site comprising the ruins at Kilwa is far off the beaten track, though, so it seems unlikely I shall ever see it!


Master-work from Kilwa

I was glad that the museum covered the history of Kilwa, but more about the history of Dar es Salaam would have been nice.  For example, why were the British so powerful in Zanzibar during an era when the Germans were dominant on the mainland (“German East Africa“)?  I appreciated a bust of Dr. Richard Hindorf, who introduced sisal as a drought-resistant crop (of 1000 bulbs sent from Florida, only sixty-two arrived safely).  The museum also featured a 1951 radio transmitter used to launch Radio Dar es Salaam!


Hindorf: some Europeans were able to contribute to the growth of this area.

Three art galleries complemented the art collection.  The first featured prehistoric and historic rock art, to Natasha’s delight.  A second, contemporary, gallery featured a variety of art from modern Tanzania.  Julius Nyerere, the first president of the modern state, featured prominently.


President J.K. Nyere: two 1970 paintings from B.N. Desai

We saw another example of the banana leaf art we had first observe at Zanzibar’s art museum.  This gallery had several carved ebony pieces including one titled “socialism,” in which each level of figures supported the one above it.


The House of Culture occupies the original building of the National Museum.

The third gallery, over in the original building for the museum, was largely photographic, detailing traditional methods for food preparation, iron smelting, and for crafting dance masks.  I came back to the contemporary gallery to photograph a few of the masks for Mapiko dance.


These Mapiko masks are for dance, not candy-gathering!

What can I say about the museum’s star exhibit, Louis Leakey’s discovery of “Nutcracker man?”  On this front, I must say I was profoundly disappointed.  The museum exhibit was being renovated, and the fossils were not available for view.  The front desk reported that it was expected to reopen in February, 2018.

As the sun lowered in the sky, we ventured over to the Bibi Titi Mohammed loop to find Mnazi Mmoja Hospital and Park.  Amongst the street hawkers and some child pick pockets-in-training, we found the eternal flame of the Uhuru Monument.  This word, meaning “Freedom” in Swahili, is commemorated by a flaming torch.  Well, the flame looks a bit like red plastic.  I liked the fact that Lieutenant Uhura’s character on Star Trek was adapted from this term!


Uhuru for all!

Natasha and I celebrated freedom by eating barbecue chicken at Mamboz Corner BBQ again.

Dar es Salaam: peaceful harbor, thriving city

An index to this series appears at the first post.

Just as we cannot tell the history of St. Petersburg without Peter the Great, to tell the history of Dar es Salaam without Majid bin Said, first Sultan of Zanzibar, would be impossible.  In 1862, Mzizima was a fishing village beside an extensive harbor, populated by Swahili who had moved down from Somalia and Zaramo inhabitants who had come from further inland.  By 1879, many partially-completed city blocks had been constructed along the waterfront to form the nucleus of Dar es Salaam, the “harbor of peace.”  What would inspire the Sultan to invest so heavily in constructing a city from scratch?

From village to city


Sultan Majid bin Said, from the British Library

Zanzibar’s economy thrived on two sources: transit trade and plantation agriculture.  The area that became Dar es Salaam incorporated the largest natural harbor in close proximity to Zanzibar.  The Sultan saw that a well-developed port could further boost the flow of goods from Sub-Saharan Africa into Zanzibar.  As his reign progressed, the attractions of a second home away from the constant strain of the court at Zanzibar also became apparent.  Sultan Majid passed away in 1870, however, leaving the sultanate to his brother Barghash, who had contested Majid’s selection as Sultan.  The second Sultan of Zanzibar was much more interested in developing the infrastructure of Zanzibar than he was in building a city on the continental coast.  A French missionary visited the city site in 1886 and had this to say:

Situated on the shore of its harbour, like an Arab woman in rags in the home of her former husband, Dari Salama appears to mourn its isolation and poverty. To the left, the palace of Said Majid is still to be seen, half concealed by mass growth… (Brennan and Burton, pg. 18)

Because Natasha and I had found a hotel close to the ferry terminal, we were quite close to the oldest structures in Dar es Salaam.  The “Old Boma,” constructed in 1866-1867, stands just opposite the ferry terminal.  Many British colonies in Africa constructed bomas as a single building housing government offices and police startions.  The building currently houses an organization dedicated to architectural heritage.  When I see the walking tours they made available, I really wish we had signed up for one or more!  Sultan Majid’s palace has been demolished, but an ancillary structure, possibly built to house his harem, evolved in time to house the “White Fathers” organization in 1922.


Atiman House may have begun life as a harem, but now it houses missionaries.

Rebirth at the close of the 19th century


A mission stands near St. Joseph’s Catholic Cathedral.

These older buildings were subsequently joined by two substantial churches that were for years the tallest buildings in the city.  A building that was once a mission has been repurposed as some sort of government building.  Quite close by we found St. Joseph’s Cathedral.  The foundation stone was laid in 1898, and the construction was completed in 1902. Just a couple blocks away one finds a rather different kind of church.  German missionaries constructed a Lutheran church at roughly the same time… and they used a Bavarian Alpine style!  It’s quite a striking departure from the Catholic design.


The Azania Front Church was constructed starting in 1898.

Carl Peters, violent colonizer

If the Sultan of Zanzibar had turned his back on Dar es Salaam, what led to this growth boom at the end of the nineteenth century?  At this point we must introduce Carl Peters, a German colony builder who was largely responsible for the creation of “German East Africa.”  Representing his “Society for German Colonization,” he toured what is now Tanzania through 1884 securing “treaties” with leaders throughout the region.  He returned to Germany to found the German East Africa Company. He attempted to convince an initially unwilling Otto von Bismarck to grant him an imperial charter to transform these pieces of paper into an actual German colony.

The influence of Carl Peters on German East Africa was highly aggressive, first in the sense that he single-mindedly pursued more “treaties:” “most of [the Society’s] funds were absorbed by financing treaty-gathering expeditions” (Perras p. 113).  In the second sense, Carl Peters actively advocated for the use of violence to maintain control of the local citizenry.  He was apparently fond of asking “Haven’t you shot a negro yet!?”  It was in connection with Carl Peters’ efforts to achieve leverage in this region that Emily Ruete (sister of Sultan Barghash) returned to Zanzibar with a German fleet.  Peters’ heavy-handed aggression led to a late 1880s rebellion against the German East Africa Company which was overcome through use of the German military.  After that involvement, it was clear that the colony would be officially supported, and an 1890 treaty swapped territories between British and German areas in East Africa to reduce the tension between the two (Perras p. 168).

In other words, the last decade of the nineteenth century brought the “Scramble for Africa” to what is now Tanzania.  What the Sultan of Zanzibar had started at Dar es Salaam would be expanded upon by the Germans.  The church buildings I showed above reflect this area passing from Sultanate to German control.  World War I, however, brought a substantial shift in power.  The Treaty of Versailles stripped Germany of its African colonies, and France and Great Britain were the recipients (apparently returning the inhabitants to self-rule wasn’t a popular idea– that would wait until the independence movements long after World War II).

Today’s Dar es Salaam

In 2009, the World Bank estimated the population of Dar es Salaam as 2.7 million.  Tanzania has become the second most populous country in East Africa (after Ethiopia) with 40.4 million people.  The city is the economic centre of the country, even if the capital is the much smaller Dodoma.  In 2012, Tanzania’s national bureau of statistics reported that Dar es Salaam had reached 4.4 million out of 45 million; people continue to migrate to the city from the countryside to find work.


The Port Authority (left) and twin towers (right) dominate the area near the ferry port.

The Dar es Salaam skyline has been changing dramatically in recent years.  The Tanzania Ports Authority (2015) and PSPF Commercial Twin Towers (2014) are the only buildings in Tanzania to exceed 150 meters in height.  The PSPF is the Public Service Pensions Fund for the country, while the Tanzania Ports Authority is a parastatal organization to manage the busy port of Dar es Salaam.  These are just the most visible examples, though; the tallest seven buildings in Tanzania were all constructed since 2010, and all were in Dar es Salaam!

Dar es Salaam: Botanical Gardens

An index to this series appears at the first post.

Today was our big return to the mainland part of Tanzania, returning to Dar es Salaam by ferry. Since mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar in many respects are separate countries operating in union, I was unsure how our experience in “Dar” would compare.  Happily, we had a light schedule, thinking we would see the botanical gardens.

In transit

Frustratingly, though, the day dawned with heavy rain showers, ruling out our walk to the ferry with my roller bag (besides disrupting our sleep).  We said our farewells to the staff of the Riverman Hotel, and one of them drove us over to the terminal by 8:15 AM.  As we passed the Old Dispensary, I realized that I had missed getting a photo of its lovely woodwork.  Natasha and I breezed through the accesses; our passports and paid tickets got us into the terminal, we completed our immigration forms to leave Zanzibar, and waited in the posh VIP departure lounge, with leather recliners and extending foot supports.  In another half hour our group was boarded, and Natasha’s heavy backpack and my roller bag were packed onto a luggage cart.  We read novels for most of the two hour ferry ride back.  Natasha’s Stugeron prevented her nausea from the bouncing seas.

When we were reunited with our baggage, some twenty minutes after arriving at the Dar es Salaam terminal, we exited the terminal with baited breath.  Once again, the scene was a maelstrom of shouting people.  Porters looking for tips kept grabbing at my roller bag. Taxi drivers continually interrupted us with demands that we ride with them.  The flow of people clamoring for tickets or waiting to enter the terminal and cars depositing more humanity on the site made for a highly charged situation.  Natasha,  however, was a trooper, and she led us away from the terminal like an infantryman charging the line of battle.  She led us southwest along Sokoine Drive, then away from the waterfront on Railway street.  We parked in a barred driveway for a moment to get our bearings, then turned northeast along Samora to walk directly to our hotel.  Her planned course worked like a charm!

A Dosa Lunch


A streetside view of our hotel (from Jumia travel service)

The organization of Harbour View Suites Hotel is a little odd since its registration desk is on the eleventh floor.  Our hotel room, however, is ridiculously comfortable, with a kitchenette, private bathroom, and wraparound floor to ceiling panoramic window. Unfortunately, the window faces toward a plebian district of construction among aged apartment buildings.  We didn’t enjoy it for long before we headed out for lunch.


The view from the tenth floor

Natasha found an Indian restaurant named Chapan Bhog just seven blocks north and west of our hotel (see the red star at the top left of the attached map– our hotel is at the bottom).  We had barely gone a block before we picked up a straggler.  He claimed to be a refugee from Ethiopia whose family of 28 members were murdered by Al-Shabab.  Since he was going in the same direction, he joined our stroll.  He demonstrated that the way to cross a road was simply to hold up a hand toward traffic in the “stop” gesture and walk confidently.  Natasha received his full life story (much of it in excellent Afrikaans), and when we reached Chapan Bhog, of course he asked for help toward bus fare.  By the time we were in the restaurant, it was after 13:00, and we demolished our masala dosa and paneer masala dosa in record time.  Chapan Bhog is essentially Indian fast food, but it’s the best grade of fast food!


While we were out, we thought we would preview the neighborhood we will visit tomorrow for the National Museum.  We strolled down Jamhuri Street until it became Garden Ave.  As we continued on our route, the noisy neighborhood markets gave way to nice roads lined with embassies and consulates.  I visited another ATM (this country devours currency), and the machine shut itself down after refilling my wallet.  Natasha ran inside a Native American-themed Spur restaurant to acquire two cold half-liters of water.  We continued for a couple more blocks and then entered the Botanical Gardens.

Dar es Salaam Botanical Gardens


Although the gardens are formally closed on Saturdays, the gate was open, so we wandered in.  The botanical gardens definitely have seen better days; weeds have grown tall on the lawns, and plenty can be seen poking their way between cobbles and gravel paths.  Many of the walkways are just dirt, at this point.  We were surprised by swarms of moths that scattered from the flora as we passed.  Natasha and I passed through the garden and then settled near a massive tree with many birds nesting in its upper branches.  At this point, a kindly gentleman approached and changed our trajectory through the gardens.


Herons in the crown of a tree

Mr. Shabaan has worked at these gardens for twenty years, so he knows every plant as an old friend.  He explained that those were herons nesting in the the tree, and he reported that the teak tree had been growing there for 200 years!  The heron chicks each year struggle to fly for the first time, and he showed a couple mounds of feathers for hatchlings that had died in the attempt.


The gardener is also an artist! This ebony was grown in the garden.


Happily, the monkeys only return at nightfall.

The gardens at Dar es Salaam were originally created by Arabs, then were developed by Germans (who built the now-empty flower greenhouse, among other structures), were further shaped by the British, and now are maintained by the Tanzanian government.  He was happy to show us trees from which quinine can be isolated (cinchona tree), soap can be manufactured (sabuni tree), or even trees that can help asthma (sounds like mukuyu).  The gardens featured many trees from Polynesia and India, and the garden is distinctive for featuring examples of the “coco de mer” tree from the Seychelles.  He laughed at the monkeys for preferring the mangoes from the Indian tree when the Tanzanian mango tree produces such tasty fruit.  He pointed to a massive jacaranda tree that had stood for more than 150 years.  Each night around dinner time, the monkeys return from their adventures around the city to their home in that jacaranda tree!  Of course we paused to snap a photograph of Natasha next to her favorite tree, the baobab.  I also liked the ahoka tree; its branches were all wrapped closely down the trunk, so the whole tree looked like it had been grown inside an inverted test tube.


Might one of these be the coco de mer?

Askari Monument


On our walk back to the hotel, we paused at the Askari Monument. The site along Samora Ave has an interesting history.  It originally held three statues celebrating the German triumph in establishing “German East Africa” by sending its fleet to the region in 1885 (this is the same fleet that carried Princess Salme back for her only visit to Zanzibar). When the British claimed this region during World War I, they pulled these statues down.  In the aftermath of the war, they honored the contributions of Askari soldiers (soldiers from British colonies who served in that nation’s forces during the war) by erecting statues here in Dar es Salaam, in Mombassa, Kenya, and in Nairobi, Kenya.

Brilliant Barbecue

Natasha and I decided to head back out for dinner after some time in the hotel pool (outdoors, on the ninth floor).  We were unsure how safe it would be to walk the streets of downtown after sundown, so we opted for a nearby Indian restaurant called “Sheesh Mahal.” Unfortunately, this restaurant is no longer open!  We struck west along Jamhuri Street since it has lots of restaurant options, but all of them seemed to offer many menu items containing a lot of gluten, so we continued on our way.  We ran out of street as the road intersected the Bibi Titi Mohammed highway, so we looped back through a night market to find a corner barbecue with smoke rising from the cookers.


Mamboz Corner Barbecue

We had arrived at Mamboz Corner Barbecue.  Natasha was able to confirm that the cooking would not give much gluten exposure to the meat, and we happily placed our orders.  I went with “Dahi Lasooni Tikka,” a dish I hadn’t heard of but which would feature chicken chunks in a creamy garlic sauce, and Natasha ordered “Chicken Sekela.”  When the food arrived, we both dug in with a passion. Many people know that barbecue is not my first love, but I am reconsidering that judgment after this meal.  The spices, the sauce, and the delicately grilled meat was probably the best meal I’ve experienced on this trip.  Natasha was enraptured, and after twenty minutes, she pushed back and groaned, “I cannot believe I just ate half a chicken!  This has never happened before!”  We may need a return visit.

Zanzibar: the Victoria Garden Museums

An index to this series appears at the first post.

Our last full day on Zanzibar gave us a chance to visit a pair of museums grouped around the Victoria Garden.  They don’t get much attention in the guide books, but we enjoyed our look at the Zanzibar Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum.  Just what would we find beyond the archway at the southern traffic circle of Stone Town?

Rather than scurrying about as our time on the island drew to a halt, Natasha and I relaxed with a bit of light shopping during the morning.  We began with a couple of women’s collective arts stores in the Hurumzi district at first.  We liked some appliqué pillows, though they were priced a bit higher than we thought appropriate.  We saw some shirts and shorts that might look nice for me, but again their prices were high (going to $30 USD for shorts seems excessive to a frugal mind).  We enjoyed a couple of antique shops.  At one, Natasha found a box with pivoting lid intended for salt and pepper; she acquired that for holding earrings.


A coin minted in India features a British monarch but is used off the cost of Africa…


The High Court of Zanzibar

At another, I spotted an Imperial British coin from India featuring Queen Victoria. I think my brother might use that with his students to show that Africa and India were actively trading with the rest of the world around the time of the American Civil War.  I also found a Quran in Arabic that I wanted for my brother’s classroom.  We returned to a T-shirt shop near our jetty from last night to purchase some T-shirts for little ones in the family.  It was a good run!

From there, we took the road south past the High Court and State buildings (photos of government buildings are not permitted, though I snapped the High Court without realizing what it is).  The way ahead was blocked, so we headed away from the coast, and happily that course led next to the Victoria Gardens. This park, also called the People’s Gardens, was dedicated to the people of Zanzibar by Sultan Hamoud in 1899 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.  A 1996 renovation has produced a park that still looks a bit ragged, but some of the trees there are still rather pretty.  A large house adjoining the garden that was originally constructed as the British Residency now serves as the State House: the official residence of the Zanzibari president.

Zanzibar Museum of Art


The Peace Memorial now houses the art museum.

The park adjoins a complex of two museums that we both enjoyed.  For 6000 Tanzanian shillings ($2.70 USD), we gained access to both the Peace Memorial Museum (now the Zanzibar Museum of Art) and the Natural History Museum.  The Peace Memorial building dates from 1920 during the reign of George V.  It was constructed in honor of those who lost their lives in the “Great War,” commemorating the “victorious peace.”  Why would Zanzibar have cared who “won” World War I?  As it turns out, the British used the island as a repair base for its navy.  The “Battle of Zanzibar” saw the German cruiser Königsberg sink the British cruiser Pegasus during 1914.  The Peace Memorial building looks quite unlike other World War I memorials that I have seen, such as the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City.  One might easily mistake it for a mosque, with its high dome surrounded by six smaller domes!


The minaret of the Mnara Mosque may date to the seventeenth century.

As I mentioned, the building now houses an art museum.  Visitors are not going to see long galleries full of oils flanked by a massive sculpture garden, though.  I would highlight a few items as worth seeing.  The first is a set of miniatures.  Since Stone Town has dilapidated quite a bit, it can be hard to imagine this city in its prime.  The minaret for the Malindi / Mnara Mosque, is one of the oldest structures standing in Stone Town, though it is now matched to a mosque below that was constructed in 1834/5 (Sheriff pg.51).  It now abuts buildings on almost all sides, so the miniature version at the museum is the only way to see the mosque as a separate structure.  “Zanzibari mosques are very plain and unobtrusive, hardly distinguishable from domestic buildings.  They normally form a continuous line with neighbouring domestic houses…” (Sheriff pg. 5)


The Old Dispensary (1899) incorporates a strong Indian influence.

The Old Dispensary is a major landmark in Stone Town.  Its story revolves around a fabulously wealthy Ismaili businessman of the late 19th century named Tharia Topan.  As one measure of his wealth, a tract of land he owned in the Ng’ambo (the other side of Creek Road) was so large that it contained 1300 huts (Andriananjanirana-Ruphin pg. 101).  When he decided to create a hospital to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, he spared no expense.  He chose a plot of land that would be prominent on the coast (though the extension of the port later blocked its view), and he brought architects and craftsmen from Bombay to create a building better suited as a palace than as a hospital.  The building uses teak imported from India throughout its structure.  He crafted a golden trowel for the ceremony of laying the building’s foundation stone and shipped it to London for exhibition.  Unsurprisingly, he was knighted in 1890, but a year later he was dead.  He never got to see the completion of his triumphant creation (Battle pg. 91-99).


This evocative statue is displayed without details.

Next, the museum gives a corner chamber to the topic of ceramics, mostly a set of pots and vases.  On a shelf, though, stands a small statue of a chained female slave, looking down but not defeated.  I was really moved by the work, especially since our visit to the Slave Market Museum had reinforced the importance of female slaves in the role of “concubine” or “second wife.”  Many of these women decided against accepting freedom since it would mean separation from their children and other violations of dignity.  I had noted that the Slave Market Museum relied heavily on photographs and text; incorporating this statue could add depth to their presentation.  As it stands, the statue is presented without annotation of sculptor, date, or even title.

Natasha called my attention to Mr. Naaman‘s brilliant recreation of an 1840 photograph by Gillian depicting Stone Town from above.  What makes it brilliant?  The artist made it entirely by pasting together fragments of different banana leaves in 2005, using different species to achieve different shadings.


Stone Town, executed in banana leaves

Everywhere Natasha and I have gone in Zanzibar, we have been greeted with Jambo (“Hello”), Karibu (“You are welcome”), or Hakuna Matata (“No worries”).  I learned another phrase from a museum piece showing a woven fish trap.  It reads “kuingia demani,” which means getting into problems that one doesn’t know how to solve.  I think we can all relate to that!

Natural History Museum


Natural History doesn’t get a dome.

Visitors to the Art Museum are also encouraged to visit the small natural history museum next door.  We were both worried that the chamber would be filled with dusty Victorian taxidermy animals. While some stuffed animals were indeed present, we encountered a few things that kept our attention.  For me, the first was a partial skeleton in a glass box locked in a wire cage on the wall.  The description indicated that the skeleton represented the bones of a dodo bird from Mauritius (a gift of W. Harold Ingrams, Esq.).  This might not seem so remarkable, but remember that the last accepted dodo sighting took place in 1662!  These bones are either fakes, or they are more than three and a half centuries old.

We puzzled over a really large vertebra standing on a small table. It must have been a foot across on the central column.  At first we thought it might be from an elephant when Natasha snapped her fingers and realized it was from a whale.  My attention was also grabbed by the jaws of a largetooth sawfish (Pristis microdon) and a common sawfish (Pristis pristis).  They look something like a chainsaw blade with inch-long teeth sticking out on either side. Outside the building, Natasha noticed that the museum was once home to giant tortoises.  Gladly, the animals have been moved to nearby “Prison Island,” where we hope they have more room to maneuver.


Sawfish teeth

Abyssinian Maritim Restaurant

For dinner, Natasha and I decided to break from Tanzanian food (which we like) to enjoy an Ethiopian restaurant we had spotted near the SW corner of Stone Town.  The restaurant had large posters of sites in the country to tell some of the nation’s history.  Because we started accumulating insect bites the moment we sat down, we decided to move to a more internal table; sadly, the insect bites continued.  We realized from the menu that our dinner was going to cost substantially more than we had been spending.  A normal lunch at a local food joint might cost 12 or 13,000 shillings.  We opted for a vegetarian entrée for me and a chicken entrée for Natasha, and we added a bottle of water and a spiced Ethiopian tea on top.  The total bill came to 49,000 shillings ($22 USD), so ultimately it was “much of a muchness.”

We wandered north toward the tourist area when Lady Hellen appeared at her shop door.  Where had we been?  Didn’t we know she was waiting for us?  Laughing, we stepped inside.  Natasha found two refrigerator magnets, and I bargained for a watercolor of a Zanzibar door that would form a nice triptych with our dhow and street paintings.  She seemed nonplussed at the small purchase, but she still showed good grace.


Our three watercolors: town, dhow, door

Our efforts to get back to our hotel produced an unusual result.  I headed for the southeast corner of the Old Arab Fort, and then I marched us into the maze of alleys.  The Friday evening crowd on the streets had collectively decided to close up the shops.  Somehow I got us entirely turned around, and we popped back out near Freddie Mercury’s house!  This time Natasha took the fore, and she charged us back into the maze.  Once again, we took a wrong turn, and we bounced out of the maze near Lady Hellen’s art shop!  We decided to play it safe with our last effort.  We headed south and east along the belt road, and then we walked northeast along a familiar track back to our New Mkunazini Road, bought one last bottle of water, and then collapsed into our room at last!