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My romance with Dar-Es-Salam was stirred by the ambles I took into the streets where life around them built into pictures of awe in my mind.
On these jaunts my eyes were drawn to the high-rise buildings that densely stood along the roads; the manifold of street markets that burst with dazzling colours, the shoulder rubs of people on a hurried move but it was the distinct modes of transport that truly tugged at my soul. It was the unalike use of transport to what I’m generally accustomed to that actually called my attention.
This is a short tale of Dar-es-Salaam, affectionately called ‘Dar’ a city that breathes life from the domineering country of the East African region, Tanzania.
I travelled there for five days (May 29 to June 3, 2017) on an assignment sponsored by World Bank where about 80 journalists from 42 countries had gathered to garner wisdom on crafting stories on the pressing issue of urbanisation on the continent.
One of my rules on visiting a new place is that the first morning should start with a saunter that ventures into the streets, without any particular direction. The exploration began as I walked out of the hotel gate - the Peacock Hotel located in the Central Business District -where I stayed.
My eyes pounced on the bajaji (the tricycle) which I had been seeing on the road since my arrival. The bajaji is a common mode of transport in the same way a car and bus are. A woman stepped off it and I was suddenly arrested by a craving to ride it seeing it as a rarity to Botswana.
I vowed to myself that I will not leave the city without riding it. Through what I call a stunt of fate my wish came true following an unplanned turn of events during a field tour of Tanzania’s newly introduced bus transit system three days later.
Had a few of us not been stuck in the elevator for close to 20 minutes and consequently being left behind by the rest of the group (I’ll leave this story for another day) the opportunity to ride a bajaji would not have presented itself.
After the elevator rescue we couldn’t find taxis but on the street were bajajis waiting for customers. We were exactly those customers. I think the elevator scene happened as rather an act of God than it was my plan which in hindsight I’m highly appreciative of.
What I found mind-boggling during the ride is the manner in which the different modes of transport zip across each other, this especially in a city with an evident poor traffic management. Accidents are an immediate threat but I witnessed both skillful and dangerous steering of movement on the road which caused a slight rise in my pulse.
Following this exhilarating drive we arrived right about the same time as the buses that carried the rest of the group which of course had left much earlier. Out of the five modes of transport I had wanted to ride I had been on only three: car, bus and bajaji.
Missing were the bicycle and the boda boda (motorcycle) which of course give me a reason to return and finish the mission. The boda boda is a name that is common with the East African region and is found in the English dictionary. I received a few warnings from conversations with city dwellers that the boda boda isn’t safe but that is not the reason I didn’t ride it, the opportunity simply did not present itself.
Besides the first experience of a bajaji another first was eating a boiled banana. Had anyone asked me before this trip if I would eat a boiled banana I would have undeniably questioned their sanity. Why boil a banana when it can simply be peeled off and gobbled up? I would have thought.
My breakfast often consisted of a boiled banana and I would indulge. Taste? The same but firmer. Most of the food was familiar but the preparation was completely different to what I’m used to. What I enjoyed the most was the rice which was something of a mix between tastic (South African brand) and basmati rice.
As a bid to this mystique I took a stroll on the meandering streets with another journalist from Ghana, Joseph Boateng on the final night prior to my return. The vibrant street markets sang melodies of a defiant trade that extends the borders of time. The building landscapes, of both homes and businesses, oozed their infrastructural charm from the street lights that shone on them. The people radiated an air of full existence as they walked past us determinately. An in the company of Joseph friendship was etched.
Darling, don’t be fooled, romance isn’t only a thing for lovers, it’s also found in ordinary people and things. It was difficult to write this story without drifting to romance given that how my mind captured Dar is akin to how a heart stumbles into love for the very first time: without caution.
Perhaps that’s what makes this story different because it was absorbed unpretentiously and relied simply on the imagery that presented itself in every corner I saw.