Like the “Bar Tab” feature from “The New Yorker,” but in Tanzanian dives
In the dirt lot that is the Njombe bus stand, through the rows of idling buses bound for Iringa and Songea and Mbeya, behind ever-shifting stacks of drink crates being loaded and unloaded, past the mamas sitting behind their piles of fruit for sale, you’ll find the entrance to Macheche Bar: just to the right of a tiled outdoor kitchen, where kebabs and half-chickens roast away at all hours, is an incongruous glass door, almost always marked “Open.”
Through that door is a large courtyard, the dirt tiled by the countless bottle caps crushed underfoot over countless years. While Macheche means “prostitute” in Swahili, it’s more of a family name for the bar and less of a direct advertisement. A variety of football matches mixed with local news blare from the myriad TVs in the multiple open-air gazebos and structures that make up the bar, but the best bet is out in the courtyard, where cold beers can be had hiding from the hot highland sun under umbrellas, relaxing on the plastic patio furniture that populates the majority of bars in Tanzania.
The big crowds come and go with the football fixtures, though the regulars politely keep to themselves. Any drunk interlopers, eager to practice what little, slurred English they have, are quickly run off by the proprietor, Bwana Macheche. He’s friendly and protective of his regulars—quick with a smile or some smack-talk about football loyalties (he’s a Chelsea man, himself).
Food is available—standard Tanzanian fare—but the smart money is waiting until 7:30 or 8, when Sambusa Mama comes around, armed with a hotpot full of piping hot beef sambusas, an infectious laugh, and a generous understanding of the economies of scale when the whole crew wants to chow down. As the weather gets cold at night, the dadas bring around small charcoal stoves piled high with red-hot coals, placing them at the tables for patrons to warm themselves. Macheche Bar is a dive, but it’s Tanzania’s Southern Highland hospitality at its best.