Saturday Series / No. 41

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04’19’14 >> #daladalasofdar

Happy Easter! In Tanzania, Good Friday is a bank holiday as is this coming Monday (to celebrate Easter), so almost everyone is in the midst of a four day weekend. While the Diploman and I were, at first, bummed to have stayed behind, it’s already proven to be a great decision– so many of our favorite people in Dar have stuck around, as well. Throw in a little birthday in the mix, and, well, it’s been a good weekend.

Kilwa

Due to an aforementioned hit from rainy season, original plans to go on a self-drive safari through nearby Mikumi and hiking in Morogoro a couple weekends ago were called off at the last minute. And what is I am sure a saying somewhere in the world, when the jungle won’t work, pack up and head to the beach.

So after a dinner party with friends where the conversation led to stories of a successful road trip to Kilwa, it was settled. Kilwa is a small fishing village (there seem to be so many in Tanzania) about 300km south of Dar es Salaam, along the main (only) highway, B2. Like any other road trip from Dar, getting out of the city is half the battle— it took us about 45 minutes to get out of the city proper, and that was considered a good day.

Screen Shot map of Dar to Kilwa

After 4 chicken sandwiches, one roadside restroom stop, a short stretch of unpaved road, lots of checkpoints, countless speed bumps, and one split second where I thought our car was going to end up nose diving into a deep mud pit, we made it to the little town of Kilwa.

kilwa post office

Kilwa is a sad little story of a 14th century powerhouse (due to its strategic location between Africa and the Eastern Arab and Asian world), who rose to power under the rule of one former Persian prince who arrived in Kilwa town to purchase the neighboring island. Legend says he purchased the land for “enough silk to wrap around the circumference of the island”. Thereafter, great palaces and mosques were erected on the tiny island, and soon enough it became the seat of power in East Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries. After centuries of domination as a stopover for ships and tradesmen, it changed hands to the Arab, Portugusese, and eventually over to the Omanis.

kilwa locals

That’s a quick, one-minute history of Kilwa. Today, it is far overshadowed by Dar’s large and deep water port. It’s island is now inhabited by local villagers who have since built up their farms and huts under the shadows of once-great mosques and castles. On mainland Kilwa, a small strip that is the center of town exists, with one bar, small single-standing shops propped under metal sheeting, two two-pump gas stations, one bank, one post office, and a few guesthouses scattered along the beach. We were witness to bustling weekend activity, as villagers walked back and forth the strip of beachfront, performed running exercises, played with their children in the shallow ocean bay, and in general gathered to hang out along the breezy shore.

kimbilio lodge, kilwa

We stayed in a beachfront property recommended by friends, a place run by an Italian woman who preferred the quaint quiet life of Kilwa even to the more glamorous paradises of Zanzibar and Fiji. The lodge itself was a perfect balance of rustic amenities and modern comfort–Housing were bandas that opened up to the beach, with sparse yet comfortably furnishings: the locally familiar four-post beds and mosquito net, along with large open showers that pumped out hot water at any time of day and electricity available at any time. No a/c was available, but powerful fans were supplied in the rooms and a strong island breeze swept through each night.

Speaking of the night, with a waxing crescent moon our party of four saw more stars than ever visible in Dar es Salaam; More stars than I’ve seen since spending time in Montana two summers ago. It was as if a careless painter completed a haphazard paint job, splattering droplets of white paint against a massive wall of black. With the lights off in our banda and no devices to connect to internet, the blackness and silence was completely humbling. It certainly called my attention to how much artificial stimulation is constantly present in my life, where every night in Dar there is always the glow of the security lights just outside my room, an a/c humming throughout the night, and my phone(s) sitting beside my bed and occasionally glowing upon the reception of an alert.

Both night and day, Kilwa was a nice break away from it all, and such a great road trip from Dar.

It Rains Down in Africa

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At first, the rains here in Africa (cue Toto) seemed completely unlike the monsoon rains of Asia, as they occurred with far lesser frequency and for shorter periods of time. Here, at first, the rainy season meant something less palpable than a few monsoon months; an ambiguous length of time where downpours of rain might occur at oddly short intervals, interspersed between periods of beautiful blue skies. The rains didn’t come everyday, and hardly for more than fifteen minutes at a time.

That was at first. And indeed, for the nine months I was first here, Dar’s ‘rainy’ weather was like this, all the way until two weeks ago. Then for four nights in a row (and during some mornings), rain thundered on rooftops, conveniently pausing during most of the daytime hours but inconveniently coming back again each evening and flooding homes, businesses, and roads. Medical supplies washed up on our beloved Yacht Club’s typically pristine beach. Our household staff’s homes in the poorer areas of town washed over. Typical 20 minute commutes extended to 1.5 hours. It was the rainiest I’ve seen Dar in my near one-year living here.

GoldStar

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This is when I am reminded—despite the fact that I can find Nutella on my supermarket shelves—that I am living in a 3rd world country. Severe lack of infrastructure and planning caused what would be a nuisance in America: four days of rain, to render much of the city frustratingly unaccessible. And when I say a lack of infrastructure, I’m not talking about the fact that we need to pave a stretch of road; I’m talking about the need to create complicated irrigation systems, implement systems of drainage, and re-map entire communities and their layouts.

Last week, I felt terrible pangs of irony as I watched rain water pool into muddy pits and sloshing about the sides of the roads. In a country where untainted water is scarce, there it was just falling out of the sky, potentially available for anyone who could collect it, but instead wreaking havoc to the same folks that desperately needed it. It seemed like the most vengeful example of the snarky comeback, ‘you get what you ask for’.

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It’s been raining a little more lately, not for four straight nights, but on most days viscious downpours for fifteen minutes, half an hour, a few times a day. This morning I left the house, looked at the bright blue sky, and forwent my umbrella. Three hours later sitting in a second-story coffee shop, I thought we were being attacked by flying monkeys on the roof (it was just, disconcertingly, very VERY loud rain). Bless the rains in Africa.

I don’t have any of my own photos of the rains and flooding it may cause here in Dar, but in order of appearance the photos are from 1), 2), and 3) a blog I just came across called ‘View From Dar‘ (no longer updated), 4) Al Jazeera, from a feed with weather photos from across the world, and 5) an AllAfrica.com article from the floods last year

Daladalas

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Daladalas, this city’s crazy and colorful buses that shuttle the general public from one end of town to another. I could post a million pictures of these things and not get sick of them, and I probably will, so I hope you feel the same.

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They are a big part of city life here- along with the bajajis (tuktuks) that zip along ‘sidewalks’ and in between cars. After spending some time in Dar, one could definitely not picture the urban landscape of this town without them.

These Magic Schoolbus-like Mitsubishi minibuses run to all corners of the city (and beyond), serving as Dar’s only form of public transit. Aside from being fun to say, I am infatuated with daladalas because of all the character that packed into each tiny bus and the mystery behind the system of operations.

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Daladalas, like buses anywhere else in the world, make daily regular pickups at pre-established stops in each neighborhood. Unlike the buses that most of us know, however, there is no schedule, no marked stops (not even any benches or stations to determine a stop), and no information that is listed…anywhere. Forget a public transit card. It’s cash n’ carry, and it’s word of mouth. To someone completely new to this city, he or she would have no choice but to ask around to find out where the closest stop is located, what the fare is, and if there are any rules (there are, but they are few and simple).

From personal experience, location of stops can be deduced fairly quickly based on a few factors: an empty dirt corner on a major street; a place where people seem to naturally congregate at dawn and dusk—Tanzania’s working class heading to and from work each day. To figure out if your home is along a stop, you simply ask your neighbors, and to get to where you want, you might just have to guess (really though, just ask).

Needless to say, it’s extremely daunting for a newcomer or when visiting an unfamiliar area.

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It’s been said that the name of these buses come from a bastardization of the English word “Dollar”, since back in the 70s when the daladalas started servicing Dar es Salaam a trip was in some way equal to a “dollar” or two (hence, “dollar-dollar”). There’s also some legend that says the Tanzanian shilling was once equivalent to the dollar in international market, but I can’t confirm the truth of that anywhere. These days, a trip on the daladala costs 400 shillings to any point in the city, or roughly 25 cents, but the name has stuck. Aside from walking and biking, it’s the cheapest form of transportation around.

Fare is collected once on the bus (at no particular time, often when you reach your destination) by the conductor, a person who is important to one who does not know the system, because despite their seemingly hasty and gruff exterior, they will remember you and help you out (just sayin’). There is always one conductor to to every driver, and I’ve often wondered the hiring mechanisms and contracting details of this entire system. The conductor isn’t distinguished by any uniform or badge, but rather is usually identifiable because he hangs out of the door or is the only one holding a wad of cash in public. Supposedly they call for stops, but I’ve never seen this happen.

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Daladalas are color coded depending on where they go, with one color marking one end of the stop and another color marking another. They are also marked with painted slogans or holographic decals on the back of the bus, anything from photos of Osama bin Laden to random soccer balls and star decals to the words “Inshallah”. All in all, very colorful, and also making me wonder–who is responsible for choosing these images?

Each mini bus seats around 25. Or, I should say, it has enough seats for 25, but usually holds anywhere from 12-40 passengers, maybe even more. If you look through the huge glass front window, you’ll see people crammed in the aisles, some even sleeping while standing up. I have yet to encounter a daladala with a/c, so the windows are always open, even during the rain. The lucky few who do get a window seat are just short of hanging out of the windows, which makes for a photographer’s delight.

As we see daladalas regularly circulate around the peninsula, I wonder where these workers come from—some ride as long as an hour or two from their home to homes like ours, to work at jobs for $80, $100 per month (but, that’s another story).

That’s about it for my musings about the daladala. Now some more pictures! And, follow my thread on Instagram, I’ve ‘hashtagged’ (oh geez, that’s a verb now) it: #daladalasofdar

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Saturday Series / No. 38

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03’29’14 >> A Zanzibar Chest

The Diploman took a trip to Zanzibar last weekend and purchased this beautiful chest from a man who makes them by hand. These chests, along with similarly ornate but large Zanzibar doors, are two of the more beautiful  ’souvenirs’– if one can call this massive thing, or a door, a souvenir. It’s not something that I would typically call my style, but I keep going downstairs to look at it, so I guess it is?