I am in DAR

I’m in Dar es Salaam. I’m typing from my posh office in possibly the nicest neighbourhood in the country. It’s populated with embassies and residences for said ambassadors and their families. It`s my second day at work and I’m supposed to be reading background documents to prepare for my impact assessment job. I’m too distracted. This is the third country/ continent I’ve stepped on the past 3 days, Canada, England, now I’m in Tanzania!

So much is going on here. It’s busy, it’s noisy, it’s exciting, it’s beautiful. There are hustlers weaving in and out of stalled traffic, hawking hangers, cigarettes, and inflatable beach floaties all at once. Conductors hanging out of dala dalas (public busses) yelling out their destinations as people jump on the vehicle mid-motion. Ladies by the roadsides crouch by their deep fryers, flipping chapatis and vitombua (rice flour balls). This article written by a longtime resident of East Africa gives a vivid sense of a drive through Dar’s asphalt arteries.

I pictured Dar as a larger, more hectic and traffic-laden version of Arusha that I visited last year. That trip came after spending about 7 weeks in a rural district in Shinyanga where I was the only mzungu (Westerner) for miles. Slight reverse culture shock upon arriving in Arusha took me by surprise. I’ve lived in cities most of my life. Yet it was difficult to ignore the contrasts between the quiet of Meatu, Shinyanga and Arusha, and within Arusha city itself.

Not that I was in much want while in the sticks: Guesthouses with floor tiling and very hospitable staff; semi-regular electricity and phone reception; sufficient water for daily bucket showers; nightly entertainment included a TV with endless bongo flava music videos; full meals topping out at 4,000Tsh (CAD$2.50).

In Arusha, I CouchSurfed at a penthouse with a glorious view of Mt Meru in the centre of town. My host took me to posh and fun places that most in Arusha would never be able to participate in.[1] I’ve always enjoyed a comfortable life whether in Singapore or Canada, but up to then I’d never felt on the other side of the privileged, expat coin. This is the mental space I’m in again in Dar. The past two days I’ve been doted on at fancy restaurants and been surrounded by chatter describing the merits of the no less than pretentious sounding Yacht Club.

The asymmetry of circumstances between expats and the average Tanzanian isn’t going away. At least not nearly as soon as one would like.[2] It`s not that we shouldn’t be able to enjoy creature comforts that remind of home. This is just a sense of consciousness that I’m very privileged. Very privileged. What right do I have to it? How do I go about managing living and working within the stark contrasts that define where I live and work and that of the average Dar resident? I just hope that I’ll be able to find ways to moderate my stay in Dar as an “expat” with ways of appreciating and experiencing other, un-expat sides of the very happening Dar city, (holier than thou attitude notwithstanding).

Need to improve my KiSwahili first!

[1] Nightclubs (cover 10-20,000Tsh); dessert cafes; a choice of Japanese, French and Italian restaurants where entrees start around 15,000Tsh. Decent daily local salaries in the city I’m told is about 10,000Tsh for unskilled labour. We rode in his air-con, green SUV everywhere.

[2] Though one can argue that the prospect of perpetual poverty benefits the development industry.

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