By Dr John LeBlanc, September 2012
Final day in Dar-es-Salaam and what a day! Terrilyn and I went on a bicycle ride through Swahilitown (one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Dar). Our university-educated tour guide, Meja, started a company, Afri-Roots, to promote the use of bicycles in Dar. He also offers 3-hour tours for wazungo (foreigners) for $40 to see what life is like for most Tanzanians living in Dar.
We first visited a market with hundreds of shoes on display sorted by type but not by size; one needs a lot of time to find a pair that both fits and looks nice. There were also many shops selling second hand clothes that had been beautifully washed and restored. We then went to a local coffee vendor. The vendor obtains raw beans from the Arusha-Mosha area, roasts them in a simple pot over a charcoal fire, pounds them with a pestle in a large wooden mortar and then makes the coffee Turkish style. We had that accompanied by a delicious amalgam of wheat, sugar and nuts, a home-made peanut brittle refreshingly less sweet than the commercial type. We continued to ride our bikes through back alleys and visited a traditional healer. She grew her herbs in a nearby garden and if she didn’t have the right herb, she’d write a prescription and send you to a traditional pharmacist!
The tour continued with a short visit to a home built in the traditional style of six large rooms (one for each wife and their respective children). The houses are made with coral walls and roofs of mango struts. Mango trees are no longer allowed to be used for building. We learned that people didn’t own their own houses; they had 99-year leases, which the government could revoke at will, and did, when they wanted to build something. This created insecurity in people’s minds and some difficult dislocations.
This neighbourhood raised money locally to build a bridge when the various levels of government were unable to provide the necessary funds. We stopped for home-made chips in pilipili (chili) sauce in the local version of a fast food takeout. This consisted of five ladies chatting around a pot of boiling oil while one cut potatoes and put them in the pot.
Next stop was a local cinema with wooden benches, a 30” old-fashioned TV and a DVD player. They showed pirated Hollywood or Bollywood movies that were overdubbed by a Tanzanian who told the story while the scenes unfolded. This wasn’t true dubbing as, according to Meja, he didn’t speak Hindi and perhaps not even very good English. Nevertheless, he was an excellent story teller and his overdubs were now distributed even to other East African companies. People paid 200 shillings at these theatres rather than the 10,000 shillings one would pay in a regular theatre ($1 Can = 1500 shillings). We later passed a theatre with a satellite dish that was showing live football games. These live shows cost 500 shillings and you can hear the cheering throughout the neighborhood!
We continued our bike journey through another market area where clothes were 1/3 to 1/4 as costly as the first market. Clothes were in large unsorted unwashed piles. The vendors from the other market bought many of their clothes here that they then cleaned, repaired and sold at 3-4x the price.
Returning to the hotel after an afternoon of cycling and learning about urban life in Dar es Salaam, we were greeted by Bob and Michele Bortolussi who had arrived from Uganda. Cycling in Halifax will be hard to resist after this experience.
Has anyone else taken this bike ride in Dar? Or had a similar experience that they would like to share with us about their cycling and learning about the local communities?