Monday, July 14, 2008

Bongo Series: The Reality

It is very easy for folks to regard you as a pretender when you first land in Dar. There are funny little things that you could do. Excluding this latest trip back home, I had gone to Tanzania in December of 2004 and my brother had come to pick me up from the airport. Knowing that I could not drive in Dar, I had slowly headed towards the “passengers” side. I didn’t realize what was happening, until I saw my brother’s wicked smile!

Please raise your mouse if you can relate. Sometimes, your brain just goes on auto drive. So this time around, I headed towards the true passengers’ side. I had learned my lesson in 2004!

On our way home, my brother-in-law, who came to pick me up from the airport slid a question to me: What tells that one has finally landed in Dar?

I had decided to enjoy my trip this time around. I learned that opening a critical eye all the time could spoil even moments that should be savored. But here I was, being asked to compare and contrast between my daily experiences in Columbus to that in Dar-es-Salaam. To keep the conversation going, I had to give my response.

Apart from the heat wave, Dar provided me with a sense of chaos. I don’t remember the last time I heard random honking in Columbus. Probably, I never will. Not only that, but there are subtle cultural differences that speaks a loud welcoming language. One of them is the recognition of personal space. While it is a “crime” to crowd another individual in Columbus, it isn’t so in Dar-es-Salaam. It is OK to breathe on the other person’s neck while standing in line for the immigration check-out. Did I also mention those askaris walking aimlessly at the airport with sticks or clubs?

Another cultural difference is a sense of casualness from “professionals”. I was amazed at how the immigration officers acted as if the passengers, and even they, had all day. I can never imagine any office in the States (even government offices in the States which are notorious for laxity) that could to the extent you see in Bongoland.

I don’t know what my brother-in-law thought of my comments, but I had to be honest. But again, this is a guy who got his first degree in Australia and his graduate degree in Sweden. I guess he had forgotten the difference between those countries and Bongoland after assimilation!

For me, there were mixed feelings once I stepped into the Dar open air. There was a sense of freedom and belongingness. On the other hand, there was a feeling of strangeness. I felt belonging because I was among people who truly know me. There was sense of pride, as I just landed in the very country that gave birth to me. On the other hand, anxiety crept in. I knew I was getting out of my daily routine I was used to in Columbus. I mean, as strange as it could sound, it is an adjustment going to the bathroom squatting as opposed to sitting and reading a magazine. It is an adjustment showering using a bucket as opposed to a shower!

On the way, we stopped at a “super market”. I know some people hate free-market economy in Tanzania (I couldn’t blame them, as bad implementation of a good idea typically results in a resented outcome). Nevertheless, the existence of a “super market” in Mtoni Kijichi, as opposed to “affluent” places like Oyster Bay speaks volume of the positives that free-market economy has come with. Obviously, I am ignoring the fact that the majority of the goods in this wonderful store are not made in Tanzania (we could talk about this some other time).
Of the things that I didn’t like about Dar-es-Salaam, traffic jams tops the list. For those in the Diaspora, try to imagine going less than 10 miles in 2 hours. I am not kidding, less than 10 miles in 2 hours. Yep.

This is not to make a comparison between my experience in the West to that in Dar (though I have no point of reference other than the West, really), but it is more for my fellow Tanzanians. I was sitting in this super slow traffic, I couldn’t help but wonder: What about a business person in Mbagala who relies on commuting to and from downtown? How many trips can they make in a day? The saddest part is that even employed folks get up at 5:00am just to make it work at 7:30am or 8:00am!

The worst part is that having your car or boarding a daladala does not make any difference. It is not a surprise, then, that many people opt for walking. I was amazed at a long line of pedestrians climbing the Mtoni Mtongani “hill”. I later learned that pedestrians actually beat cars in short distances.

As I sit in the ride home and mesmerizing at my first few hours in Dar, I just couldn’t help but let my mind do the wondering: Was I ready to enjoy the City where pedestrians go faster than cars?

Despite of all things I still had to discover, I knew one thing for sure: I was so craving for organic chicken or beef barbecue. Nyama choma anyone? Ain’t anything better than a really good nyama choma and a cold Coke (Sorry Jeff Msangi, I don’t drink that hard stuff).


Jeff Msangi said...

Thanks for sharing with us your "diary".I know you'll keep the pages coming.

A cold coke in the heat of Dar-es-salaam is actually better than the flavor made in Ilala.But don't get confused when you realize that "gahawa" is actually a favorite drink in Dar.

Anonymous said...

At such intervals yo'll always feel like a fish out of the water!
The best way to deal with it is annual visits then you don't have to adjust that much!
By the way we were born and bred there imagine how exotic it is for westerners first time round!
Have you ever been there with your loved one's that is if they are not bongolanders?
I've taken mine there twice before, after much preparation to try to reduce the shock[soft landing] but it was quite an experiance for them nonetheless!Last year we even travelled to the villages and to my surprise they even enjoyed it!
On a hiace[kipanya] from Musoma to Marasibora village my daughter made me laugh when she said "hey dad this is just like the flintstones" as the thing had some holes on the floor!And my wife actually liked the thatched roofs rather than the corrugated iron roofs due to the heat much to the surprise of the locals![thatched roofing is much more expensive and is considered a luxury and ecological,trendy etc where we live!]As for your choice of nyama choma accompaniment man you are missing a lot!I prefer it with castle/serengeti and lots of kachumbari on the side and they go down well with ngege[tillapia] and maybe even kamongo who knows?!
As for the cokes try lights when available,the sugar content in soft beverages is so high down there!
We are awaiting eagerly for further posts of your experiances there,keep them coming.


Jaduong Metty said...

The love of "gahawa" could sound unbelievable, given the heat in the city. Nonetheless, it is happening. What a wonderful world!

I actually enjoyed the countryside better. While the urban setting has its own little conveniences, but the kijiji side offered a more relaxed atmosphere. I am yet to take my little "Americans", but surely, they have to have a free petting zoo. Having a meal while swatting flies have to be their experience. That is guaranteed.