Landing in Africa for Christmas

By Mark Wiens 17 Comments

Note: This post could be a little spontaneous and may jump around a little…!

As I write this the electricity is off (means no internet) and we have just lost fresh water to our pipes…

This is normal (I used to not even so much as think twice when this would happen, it was an everyday occurrence) but as I’ve grown accustomed to the technologies this world has to offer, it gets ever so harder and harder to cope with the problems that used to be so routine.

Some things have changed, but I do know that there’s no feeling like being back in Africa!


It’s a always a thrill to land in an African capital, you look out the window from above and see lights that appear like candles flickering below.

The vast strength of the African darkness remains pure, less polluted by ostentatious bright lights trying to make things day again.

“Is this really a city of 5 million inhabitants?” you ask yourself as you land on a quiet runway strip.  In Africa, people like to clap when the plane lands, and rightfully so after defying gravity by riding in a metal bird, 30,000 feet above ground.

My Egypt Air flight touched down at 4.30 am and by 5, I was at immigration.

The immigration officials were slouched in their seats, half of them still dozing and startled when I arrived.  Knowing the visa  system, I had pre-printed my form and filled all the information out for a speedy customs procedure. Of course, the official side wasn’t quite so in a rush and I got my visa when time allowed.

In some ways things are still a little less complicated (does that mean less convenient?) in Africa: we buy our fruits and vegetables at the market, buy our rice at the rice man, and get our meat from the meat lady.

Shopping centers aren’t quite the glamorous establishments of things to buy, as they are elsewhere.


From our apartment near downtown Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, we are entertained by the battle of the sounds.  From one window comes the Islamic call of prayer, another window a Catholic church choir, and yet another enters music and shouting from the bar across the street.  I’m not talking about small background noise,

but rather booming speaker blowing volumes of African drum beats and microphone singing carrying through the night air.  These seemingly clashing of cultures are within meters away from each other, yet the situation balances together in harmony.

Signs of Christmas are but a few fake pine trees being hawked in the median of the highway and a few strands of Christmas lights, halfheartedly strung on top of a bush at the airport.  In fact, if you didn’t know the date, you might even forget it were Christmas time at all.

In the West, people worry for weeks about what gift to give, who to give what, and what someone will think about the gift.  Half the time, the gift given is smiled at, thanked for, and then remains useless for the rest of it’s life, sitting in the closet, waiting to be re-gifted to the next culprit or simply thrown out.

In a African society where being spoiled isn’t an option, where credit cards aren’t free for using and most people have zero funds for entertainment, Christmas hasn’t turned into a material free for all.


This year for Christmas in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, on the coast of East Africa, it’s easy to steer away from the hype of commercialization and to avoid most of the signs of society telling you it’s time to celebrate Christmas.  This year, I am accepting the small things as my gifts, gratefully thankful for the cultural travel adventures and amazing food I’ve eaten, things that I call gifts!

Wherever you are in this world, have a wonderful Christmas!

17 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Senafp

    13 years ago

    I really enjoyed reading your blog and found it very interesting. We here in the US take alot of things for granted. Not that we really mean to but just that we have become so accustomed to them since they are readily available to us. It is always wonderful to hear and to learn about other cultures.

    Have a happy New Year 2011!

  • Sofia

    13 years ago

    Haha I love it when everyone in a plane starts applauding after landing!

    Hope you had a great Christmas!

  • Robin

    13 years ago

    What an exotic location for Christmas and some great shots!

  • crazy sexy fun traveler

    13 years ago

    Interesting! And the food looks great 😀

  • Mark Wiens

    13 years ago

    Hey Kat,
    You are right! No, I’ve never had Christmas in the Philippines, I would love to be there for Christmas sometime though. Hope you had a great time!

  • greg urbano

    13 years ago

    great posting, thanks reminding us where things are plentifull about the true menaing of the holiday

  • Kat

    13 years ago

    I like the thought that Christmas is truly celebrated for the reason its around in the first place. It’s become sadly commercialized in the recent years, and it’s become an obligation for majority to give something and expect something in return.

    Hope you had a good day Mark. Makes me wonder if you’ve ever experienced Christmas here in the Philippines. You should give it a try sometime. 🙂

  • Mark Wiens

    13 years ago

    @Andrea: Thank you, and Merry Christmas!

    @Joel: Dude, the Durian and Jambada…priceless!

    @Paulo: Merry Christmas to you too!

    @Rommell: Very true, Merry Christmas!

    @Clare: No problem, thanks for checking it out. Yes, it was quite a hot day here today, we were sweating it out! Wish you all the best for Christmas too, Thanks!

  • Clare Coburn

    13 years ago

    Hi Mark – thanks so much for your lovely post about Christmas in Tanzania. My daughter, Laura, is in Dar es Salaam for Christmas – the first Christmas she’s been away from home. She’s been living in Tanzania for six months now. I spoke to her this morning and she said it’s absolutely boiling there with high humidity. She and her boyfriend were travelling on a ferry from where they live to meet up with some friends for a meal. As you said, if you didn’t know it was Christmas, you wouldn’t know! Thanks again Mark – great to hear what it’s like. Enjoy a very peaceful and happy Christmas. Best wishes, Clare

  • Rommell Pravia

    13 years ago

    I enjoyed this post! If only the world could realize that living simple is the way to go…Merry X-Mas Mark!

  • paulo

    13 years ago

    Continued fun and safe travels Mark. Have a very Merry Christmas.

  • Eating Thai Food

    13 years ago

    killin it man 🙂 a beautiful post. its cool to think about too (as you say), how infinitely massively more i would rather have these experiences that we have enjoyed the past 18 months in this life and in these new cultures than any material item on earth.
    yeah i think i can really say that, upon second thought i would still choose our lives here over a life in a residential box in america with a lifetime supply of durian, mango and jambada.

    great post as always!

  • Andrea

    13 years ago

    I’ve never been to Africa so I really enjoyed this arrival story. Hope you have a great Christmas!

  • Mark Wiens

    13 years ago

    Thanks Ayngelins, Hope you have a great Christmas too!

  • ayngelina

    13 years ago

    What a wonderful way to spend Christmas. Feliz navidad!