Dar es Salaam, the ‘city of peace,’ a title that has largely been upheld, interrupted only once in 1998, though through no fault of any Tanzanians.
It’s my first time in ‘Dar’ for almost four years. My day begins at dawn, as a warm blue sky glows through the thin curtains at the YWCA. I can hear the welcome patter of rain on the iron roof, though it has done nothing to ease Dar’s mugginess, my ceiling fan has been spinning all night and I have no intention of switching it off until I leave. Dar’s fleeting hour of peace that was 4am – 5am is slowly eroded as the morning sounds begin again. Car horns, the groaning exhausts of city buses, their conductors shouting and the street vendors selling ground nuts and cigarettes, with handfuls of coins they produce a slinking sound, as they begin their daily journeys walking the city streets.
Breakfast is taken at the makeshift tables adjacent to the bus stands. There is a wider selection than I remember. All the usuals are on display, chapati, vitumbua (an oily, spongy rice cake), dried fish, mandazi (fried balls of dough) and chai. For around $1.50 I eat two chapatis a vitumbua and wash them down with a warm cup of chai.
Ubungo bus station is roughly 12kms from the town centre and I expect it will take most of my morning to reach there and return. Less than one hour later I am pleasantly surprised when I have a ticket in my hand, I’m travelling to Arusha the following day. The main road to Ubungo has undergone a dramatic transformation since my last visit to Dar. What was once a wide, potholed tarmac path and resembled a car park after a football match, is now an almost fully functioning main road. Dar es Salaam’s urban planning department is finally living up to its name. At regular intervals along the road are bus stations, while concrete dividers create lanes ensuring traffic flows. The bus stations, which are yet to be fully operational, are impressive and stand out like an idea, a plan, in a city which has seemingly developed without any.
On my way to lunch, at a shack restaurant on the water’s edge (it sounds more romantic than it is) I detour past some of Dar’s second hand book sellers on Sokoine Road. On past trips I found some good books there, but today, amongst the academic text books, I can only see Danielle Steele novels and a variety of ‘Get Rich Quick’ books, their covers all strikingly similar – manic looking business men with perfectly straight white teeth and bundles of cash in their hands.
After dining on the Tanzanian specialty, chipsi mayai (a chip omelette) I bump into Beatha, a friend from Arusha.
‘Eeey, Stoo!’ she says, as surprised as I am to meet her.
After exchanging pleasantries,
‘Stoo, you look different,’
‘Fat?’ I guess its coming next, as each time I return to Tanzania that is what I inevitably hear.
‘Yes, so fat,’ she says without a hint of venom in her voice. By Tanzania standards, by any standard I’m far from fat, but over here fat is equated with health and wealth and is far from an insult.
Beatha is studying in Dar and takes me to the island of Kigamboni where she is staying, to show me her room before she rushes off to the ‘saloon’ to have hair extensions put in. She is also travelling to Arusha the following day and we’ll meet again there.
No trip to Dar would be complete without a visit to my favourite shop in the whole city. A shop without a name, with only one door and only marginally bigger than the room I am staying in. The shop that sells the sugar cane juice. I order a kubwa baridi – large and cold – glass of the delicious tooth dissolving goodness. For a shop with no name it is extremely popular and in the time it takes me to finish my juice, around two dozen customers have passed by, some downing theirs in a few gulps, others taking more time, some using straws and a group of street kids are given a zawadi – gift – and share a cup with each other.
By 8pm I am wiped. Dinner at a local street vendor and a cold bucket shower – because a mains pipe burst and the water is off – are the final events of the day and I lay on the bed reading ‘Exile’ by Jakob Ejersbo, a rare book of fiction in that it is set in Moshi, the closest main town to Arusha. It’s December 1983 and Samantha, the central character, is in Tanga for Christmas, but instead she wants to be where I am, in the city of peace, Dar es Salaam.