There was a time when I and my-then boss at the Tanzania Tourist Corporation (TTC), Amant Macha, lost a whole day on account of our global trotting.
We had some official business in Brussels, Belgium, and soon afterwards we had to find our way to Osaka City in Japan, where we were scheduled to attend and manage our TTC pavilion at the Osaka International Travel Trade Fair.
Being major players in the travel trade in Bongoland (read “Tanzania”), the-then Belgian national airline Sabena had granted us complimentary air tickets. Those in the travel business know that such tickets are non-transferable.
So, come rain or shine, we had to “fly Sabena” not only from Dar es Salaam to Brussels, but also from Brussels to Japan – and back the same route.
After checking with the Sabena office in Brussels, we came to learn that the only Sabena flight to Tokyo from Brussels passed through Alaska, that northern-most state of the USA. And, the flight goes sort of behind the global map to that far eastern country, Japan: Land of the Rising Sun!
So, one chilly morning – for, it was in the middle of wintry December – we boarded a Sabena flight from Brussels. I remember it was a Thursday.
We flew for about 10 hours before making a stopover in Anchorage, Alaska. The whole airport and surrounding land was covered in thick snow and ice. Actually I and my boss had a benign laugh when the pilot, before landing at Anchorage, asked us to look at the Mount McKinley Denali Peak. It was not a jaw-dropping experience since – apart from being wholly covered in snow – the peak was part of a well-defined mountain range. Indeed, Denali was not as stunning as our “Roof of Africa,” Mount Kilimanjaro which, at 19,349 feet above sea-level, is the highest free-standing mountain in the world.
It was at the Anchorage Airport that I and my boss felt really out of place. We were the only two blacks in the whole airport, and everybody seemed to note this fact. The children, in particular, were curiously pointing at us. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was a museum piece! No wonder when a group of US troops, which included a sprinkling of blacks, landed and were checking out inside a glass-walled hall nearby, we could not resist the temptation to wave at our black colleagues who positively responded by waving back at us. What a black camaraderie it was.
Well, soon afterwards, we boarded our Sabena flight to Tokyo via the North Pole. It took us another 15 or so hours to arrive at Narita International Airport some 60 kilometres east of Tokyo City.
Know what? On reaching Tokyo, we were utterly disoriented. After spending 25-or-so hours flying from Brussels to Tokyo beginning on a Thursday, we arrived in Japan on a Saturday morning. That is a whopping 48 conventional hours. We had lfor all practical purposes lost a day somewhere.
We were received by a TTC friend whom we had at one time hosted in Bongoland: Mr Sadao Watanabe.
I knew him as a jazz musician who had even played at a concert we hosted in Dar es Salaam. He took us to a hotel – and, later, to a celebrity restaurant in the Shinjuku Kuu suburb of the Tokyo metropolis.
We were richly feted in his company. I and my boss were actually astounded. It was only much later that we came to learn that Sadao Watanabe was a big celebrity not only in Japan, but globally. The Japanese jazz musician played alto-saxophone, soprano-saxophone and the flute. He is known for his Bossa Nova recording and has been awarded, among others, the Order of the Rising Sun, the Japanese Imperial Medal of Honour (for contribution to the Arts), the Order of the Rio Branco, and an honorary Doctorate by the Berklee College of Music.
Watanabe was typically a humble Japanese. He volunteered to accompany us to Osaka for our trade fair mission, where he played his celebratory saxophone and attracted a generous amount of visitors. Managers of other African pavilions at the fair could not understand how we were able to attract all those show-goers.
What they did not know was that our Watanabe was the core celebrity attraction. And, when this combined with the Japanese love for natural flora and fauna attractions like the Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti National Parks and the Selous Game Reserve, we subdued all our business rivals.
Six months later, when I was back in Dar es Salaam, I and my boss Amant Macha were delighted to receive the first group of 800 Japanese tourists led by Watanabe. To honour the occasion, we had the Muungano Dancing Troupe gyrating their Sindimba moves. And that sealed the deal.