The Old Dodoma Hotel

June 2, 2016


Though I was born in Tabora, I was brought up in Dodoma  and we were often at the Dodoma Hotel.  My father was a great raconteur and this is what he wrote about the hotel as he knew it:


  “At one time Dodoma had been at the railhead when the Germans were building the railway from the coast to the lakes. It became the administrative centre for Central Province and boasted the railway station and a very large Fort ("Boma" in Kiswahili) built of stone with heavy timber doors, loopholes in the upper storey and a well in the centre of the courtyard. The lower rooms were used for storage and office space and the upper floor for living quarters.  It was certainly built for defence but there is no record of its’ ever being attacked, although southern and central German East Africa had their share of uprisings. The main north-south highway also passed through Dodoma to Arusha in the north and Iringa in the south crossing the railway by a level crossing.

The countryside is scrub semi-desert dotted with granite inselbergs. To the north lies Lion Rock, fancied to resemble a recumbent lion with Imagi hill to the south with the dam, at that time our only source of water, at its foot.

The station was quite a handsome two storey affair containing the usual offices. The Post Office was opposite with a very grubby hotel next to it, patronised only by unfortunate travellers but never by the locals. It was replaced in 1946 by the magnificent Railway Hotel, being completely rebuilt by the Railways’ Department in the manner of railway buildings all over the world, where a two-inch nail would not be used if a six-inch nail could be forced in. In its day the new hotel must surely have been quite the finest in Tanganyika.

A superb four-course dinner (for which one was expected to dress) cost five shillings, with a bottle of good South African wine at four shillings. The unit of currency was the Tanganyika Shilling, fixed at twenty shillings to the Pound Sterling. The shilling was divided into a hundred cents, the smaller coins having a hole in the middle for carrying on a string, rather like the Chinese cash (from which our word "cash" is derived). These cents (with the hole in the middle) were very useful as washers to the handyman. The same size washers at the hardware store cost three cents each.”


Even though I was very young, I still remember that in the fifties the hotel was run by the fearsome Ma Stafford, a lady who was large and top-heavy, like a ship in full sail. She ruled the premises with a rod of iron.  Today one can still see a lot of the original hotel, though there have been many modern additions, including most of the rooms behind. In those days, there were about 12 rooms, above and to the side of the main reception area, each with its own veranda with a criss-cross white parapet. The reception is much as it was, with the bar and restaurant behind. The restaurant is a fine room, with pretty square-paned French doors and the floors are dark hardwood. 

I particularly enjoyed going with my parents for lunch on Saturdays. This was a Curry Lunch in the Indonesian style, with smart waiters bringing in the many dishes for the laden buffet table. The table linen was crisp and pristine white with folded napkins. Often there would be a band playing gentle background music and sometimes the clientele danced on the well-sprung floor, surrounded by potted palms.

The Railway Hotels didn’t seem to run on any kind of budget. If the proprietor ordered lobster and prawns from Dar, along they would come in iceboxes,  - by train of course - regardless of whether the hotel was making a profit or not. The standard of service and food was excellent. I never stayed in the rooms but in 1991 I went to re-visit Dodoma together with my father and brother and we did stay in the hotel, which is really quite good, being much in demand for Government Personnel. It was nice to see the successful marriage of past and present, which illustrates perhaps how little things really change.


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