I am conquering yet another new place in my life; Dar es Salaam. As in the beginning in Mtwara also here I tried to start by aquiring a map. Not an easy task. And without the help from my friend and landlady Anoek probably wouldn’t have succeeded – fortunately she had one left over from her parents’ visit – since I was not able to find anything even remotely resembling a tourist information center. This has probably something to do with the fact that I’m staying in Kariakoo, which is one of the least touristic areas in Dar es Salaam – I’m sure in the city center where all the big fancy hotels lie one can find maps of the city relatively easily. Or then not, since from what I’ve observed, most of the tourists in this chaotic city travel from place A to place B either by taxi or by tourist bus – no wandering around by foot like some ignorant Finnish persons like to do… For me, pedestrianism has always been the means of getting to know a place (and it’s people).
Here in Dar this is especially challenging – let alone that I’m doing it in fierce sunshine (the temperature never dropping under +30 C) without the mercy of almost any shade – since I have no-one (Anoek being tied down to her work from early morning to late evening) to instruct me in where to go to buy something that I need, which ‘store’ sells what, where to find some nice cafes or restaurants, where I should NOT go etc. My previous five months in Mtwara haven’t really prepared me for anything in Dar. It is whole another world here… The situation reminds me of the time in the early eighties when I, fresh from high school, having done just some backpackers’ trips to other European countries previously in my life, moved into New York City with one suitcase in my hand and an address of a friend of a friend in my pocket. I remember the first morning there and how I started roaming the streets for a cup of coffee, finally found someplace that looked promising, went in and ended up with something totally different from what I wanted since I didn’t even know how to order properly… But gradually I learned and in the end of my 18 months stay there was able to function as normally as at home.
Back to Dar now. So I got a map. Unfortunately, that doesen’t help very much here since the names of the streets are not shown almost anywhere in this city. I guess that has something to do with the fact that this city is not planned or properly constructed, it has just happened; at some point people started to move in in increasing numbers and build homes for themselves where ever. And of course after they had their shack somewhere they had to get to it daily and that is how many of the streets just happened… Actually, this city has many steets that just stop somewhere without leading anywhere because they were not constructed according any plan… So instead of finding the names of the streets marked on the map I just try to navigate according to landmarks and such that I can recognize from the map…
What makes navigating on the streets even more interesting is the traffic. The constant flow of cars, bajajis and pikipikis doesen’t leave much space for pedestrians especially since everybody is fighting for space on the packed streets and jamming traffic. We, pedestrians, walk on the narrow space left over from the vecihles on both sides of the streets; sidewalks, if they exist, are occupied by street vendors. Here the drivers have never even heard of letting the pedestrians cross the street first so when you need to cross you have to wait patiently, watch carefully for an opportunity and then dive!
Wandering the streets in Kariakoo and it’s vicinity also gives me a clue of how it is to be different from everybody else. Here one seldom sees other mzungus, but the locals pay you attention freely and unaffectedly. Daily I have several discussions about my family relations, my occupation here in Tanzania, my country, it’s good features, Tanzania’s good features etc. not to mention the countless greetings everybody wants to share with the mzungu. And mind you, here greeting is not just some simple hello, it’s always about inquiring the news from home/children/work/’things’ etc. and one has to know how to answer correctly to each separate greeting. But still – somehow being the only one of your kind makes me feel – hmmm… I don’t feel scared, I don’t feel lonely, but somehow not 100 % comfortable either… It’s something like ‘what if something happened to me that would shake me in a fundamental level, would these people who live in such a different reality, who approach it from such a different cultural heritage, would they be able to relate to me…? I guess this is something similar what African immigrants that come to Finland are experiencing and that also explains why they so willingly gravitate into each others’ company. We, as human beings, need fundamental understanding of our beings. But having said all this then again I have to say that I DO feel really good here 🙂
To make my experience here even more spicy I decided to pay a visit to the local immigration office to inquire about my work permit that was applied and paid for already six months ago. When I reached the office I was told that in my case I had to go to the Immigration Head Quarters situated in quite far away corner of the city. So this time the distance being notable and me having already walked some hot kilometres to get to this office I negotiated a bajaji prize (remember; no set prizes here) and got myself transferred to the faraway HQ.
When I arrived there it was 2:05 in the afternoon and to my horror I saw a sign on the gate informing that the working hours ended at 2pm. I pleaded the gate keeper and to my great ashtonisment he let me in! I didn’t even had had the sense of trying to bribe him, just appealed that I had just come a long way and nobody in the city office had told me they close so early. So – in I was and went to ask from the nearest official how to advance in my case. The guy behind the glass scolded me like I was a child behaving badly having arrived in such silly hour but – again to my great ashtonisment – started to rummage through a pile of papers that seemed like fresh permits.
After not finding my permit he took me to the second floor of the bureau where I was greeted by a Kafkanian scene: Half of the room’s floor was covered by files with thick piles of messy papers in them and there was one official adding more and more of the same stuff on the floor. I was taken to a jovial young man who was playing merrily with his cell phone. After not having found my name or my application anywhere from their information system (this was checked in such a short time that it left me wondering how extensive their digital archive can be…) he started to rummage through a thick book full of hand written names of the applicants handing me another similar one to inspect in case my name would appear somewhere on the pages… Neither of us got lucky and I was asked to come back the next day so they could find the official who had signed the receipt of the paid application fee (USD 550, so not an insignificant amount).
Even though all the gatekeepers and the officials had been friendly and helpful I decided to let my Kafkanian experience end here and did not go back the next day. What I have learned here from bureaucracy and functioning of things I could easily be travelling to that faraway office every day for the rest of the time I’m here in Tanzania and still no work permit would emerge from the endless depths of the bureau. I decided that peace of mind is more important than money…
So, what comes to my reference to Jay McInerney’s famous book Dar es Salaam is a big city (population 4 million and increasing rapidly), but of bright lights one cannot really talk – everywhere where I’ve been in Africa including this city the lighting is really bad, I’m always suffering from not being able to see properly and I believe often people suffer from all kinds of eye problems because of that – some Waka Waka solar lamps or something like that would be great here… Unless of course if you count in the sun which definitely is bright – all of the time…