From the patio of the house I grew up in, you can see Nairobi slightly above the rolling ridges. On the other side, there’s the main road, and cars whizzing past.
At night the lights of speeding cars disappear momentarily between the trees. You can see them, but you can’t hear them. And that’s all that matters. On the side where you can see the city, the lights flicker in the distance. It’s serene, deceptively serene.
I think growing up in that house affected my later choices of home. When I moved out, my first proper home was right next to the highway. It was above a supermarket that was itself next to a bus stop. A huge warehouse-like studio apartment that I finally accepted adulthood in, it was noisy and dusty. But it was mine.
I think those experiences affected me more than I care to admit. I love travel, and I get paid to do it, but city hotels freak me out. They feel cold and distant, and everyone is so serious. They don’t feel like home.
From my room at Dar es Salaam Serena, I felt a weird nostalgia. Here is the city, in all its splendor. Huge apartment and commercial buildings, some complete and others under construction. This is Dar in all its might. In all its heat. I can see it, but I can’t hear it. And that makes me happy.
We land back in Dar so smoothly that it doesn’t startle anyone from their Selous-fatigue-induced sleep. I suspect it’s because the pilot, Keffa, has his girlfriend on board. We are back in concrete jungle. With a night scheduled at Dar es Salaam Serena. It was our first stop on the way to Serena Mivumo River Lodge, which first triggered an idea of home. But now we have a night.
To a business traveler, a hotel room is a home from all the chaos of work and responsibility. It’s where, after a long day of endless meetings that should have been emails, you walk in, close the door, undo your bra, or belt, and let loose. After that, you either go for a dip in the pool or a double of whatever charms your liver. Or both.
Business travel is often lonely. You are often alone or with people you see everyday. You pray and hope that whoever designed this experience knows what David Brooks of the New York Times calls “The Haimish Line.”
Haimish is a Yiddish word that suggests “warmth, domesticity and unpretentious conviviality.” It’s the hope that if you say hi to someone who is clearly lonely, they’ll say hi back, and either invite you to sit or ask you politely to leave. The hope that Hussein will keep refilling the doubles and asking me how my day was. How Selous was, and what I do. Do you know how one-sided that question is from a barman? Because you can’t ask him back without looking stupid.
The consensus, as the darkness sets in, is a quick shower and then dinner. We meet downstairs in 40. We don’t say where exactly but it’s implied it’s the Kibo Bar and Restaurant. Its ambience is vivid, and one wall is covered with historical images in a classic fashion I’ve come to expect from most of Serena’s properties.
When I walk into the room and throw my shoes off, I need sleep. My body just wants to lay on that gorgeous, inviting bed and just let loose. But then I try the Wi-Fi and all that goes into naught. Whoever redid Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and built it on Wi-Fi wasn’t lying. You think you don’t need it, until you go to a place where it’s either absent or sketchy. My two points of contact with Wi-Fi in TV, at the hotel and at the airport, made me wonder what they are doing that we aren’t. This isn’t the last travel story you will ever read about Wi-Fi, by the way.
The room is big and cozy, with a huge TZ opposite the bed. There’s an elegant office desk and chair on one side, where the fainting couch was at Serena Mivumo.
After I wash Selous off of me, I dress and head out. In a moment of absent-mindedness, I realise just after I have locked the door behind me that the keycard and I are on opposite sides now. I panic, and have a discussion with myself of whether to wait for someone to use the lift so I can hop in too. I don’t realise that I don’t need the key card to go downstairs.
And that’s how I end up in the service stairway.
I wander into one end of the kitchen to find a bustling workplace with tens of kitchen staff. A guy called Kelvin helpfully leads me to Kibo Bar, where I sit on one end and tell Hussein, the barman, to give me a double of rum before I can tell him about my keycard problem. The lobby is on the other end since the main one is being redone, and I simply don’t have the energy to walk there now.
Patience joins me, and as she sips on her gin and tonic, we talk about life and work. About the need for peace at the end of a long day. About why it’s her work to figure out what a guest needs before he does. I awe at the attention to detail and worry that I might have to leave my liver here, in Tanzania.
After dinner, we move out of the safe air-conditioned space and into the warm outside. It’s a full table, with more and more people joining us. At some point we pull seats and get a permanent waiter, and banter until there are only 2 people left at the table. A group of coincidental friends meeting in the darkness on a humid night in Dar. In an imposing, majestic hotel tucked on a neat corner of Dar’s thriving CBD. You forget work, you forget emails, and office politics, and everything else but this. At least momentarily.
If you are on business travel, you need a place in Dar that’s on the right side of the Haimish Line. Dar es Salaam Serena Hotel is definitely on that side.
One Story is good,
till Another is told.