Habari za mchana!
I wanted to write about my first impressions of being here before everything becomes too familiar. The first thing that hit me comming to Dar es Salaam is that it is a city full of contrasts! In a way, all my expectations where met and prejudices confirmed. But at the same time they where deeply challenged and contradicted.
First of all, I’ve never been to any of the African countries before. I think my view of the whole continent is very colored by the one-sided picture the media provides. We often read about diseases or some corrupt leader. And commercials for aid-programmes often focus on the urgent need for donations. I am not saying aid is unessecary, but that the image we make up of African countries (sorry for the generalization) is based on incomplete information
I don’t know what you picture when I say «Africa». Rich and colourful tribe culture? Loud dancing? Primitive farming villages? Malaria? Uniqe nature and intense sunsets? Corruption? I think a lot of us living in the developed world can recognize some of those images of African countries, like Tanzania.
I must admit, a good amount of my preconcieved notions have been confirmed. It is dirty roads and caotic markets here. There is a culture of «it’s more about who you know than what you know». And the sunsets are stunning. But my views have also been deeply challenged. For instance, the city is full of well educated people and has a huge university. Entrepeneurship is thriving, there is a business on every corner. There is a concious focus on hand hygiene before and after every meal, and a relaxed relationship to malaria in the sense that mosquito nets does the job. Christians and muslims, which make up respectively 30 and 35 per cent of the population, live peacefully side by side (Venkatraman, 2015). Dar is a very urban city, known for its pulsing nightlife. But it is also home for a lot of people trying to make a living and provide for their families. It is obvious that the city life is tough for a lot of people.
That is why the term «developing» is more covering than underdeveloped, though one can argue that too is outdated. I’ll use infrastructure to give you my point: the roads are pretty bad and not constructed for the daily masses of traffic. Everything goes slow and there is no way of prediction how much time you will spend from A to B. A our collegue put it: «it can take everything from 20 minutes to 1,5 hours». «Foleni» - traffic jam - is a part of daily life, and you have to put up with jam packed buses during rush hours. Which by the way is pretty much all day in a city with 7 million people. We have witnessed people fighting to get on the bus, and been told that students sometimes are rejected to enter the bus when it’s filling up because they pay half price. They earn more on letting people who pay full price on. So there is no secret that it is caotic here. We haven’t yet been in villages or rural areas, but my impression of people living here in Dar is that they are modern people, active users of social media, working long hours and enjoying karaoke in one of the many night clubs on the weekend. The system of society, however, is slow.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that my first impression is that Dar is a city full of contrasts; there is a woman cooking on open fire next to a brand new, modern office building. Businessmen have cows in their back yard. Everyone owns a smartphone, but most people also live in a room in a small building shared with four other families. It is a lot to wrap your head around, especially coming from a small, organized and homogeneous country like Norway. I’m still trying to adjust and create an idea of what’s «normal» here. But on that I’m constantly challenged.
In some areas one could even argue that they are living further into the future than we are. Uber is for instance a widely common (and safe) way to get around. M-pesa is another example. You can call it «mobile money» and is basically money on your simcard. Even at the simpelest fruit stand you can pay this way, moving society more towards becoming a cashless one. I would claim both of these technologies are very modern. Development does not always come in the ways and order we expect.
There is no secret that Tanzania is facing a number of challenges before it can be considered a developed country. Unemployment and corruption being two of them. But I hope what I’m telling you can give you a slightly more nuanced and optimistic impression of Tanzania. Because development is exactly that: a process. And as my Tanzanian friend says: «trust the process».
Meanwhile, you'll find us stuck in traffic.
Venkatraman, C. (2015, February 5th), Religious Intersectionality in Dar Es Salaam,
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