A quick post to relay two cool things that happened here in Dar this past week or so. These took place in addition to all the other weird stuff that goes on daily here, of course, since the US is not the only WTF nation in the world right now.
First, friends in our apartment block (Unit A, 6 stories tall w/ 13 units total) held a get-to-know-thy neighbor party. Dar operates dynamically with lots of new people moving in, albeit less so because of dynamic innovation and change and more reflecting locals from the undynamic countryside migrating en-masse to try to find anything to engage in. Plus, expatriates seem to operate now on higher frequency arrivals and departures to avoid the increasingly xenophobic immigration crackdown of the government. In short, lots of new faces—30,000+ net per month—appear throughout the city, including in our upper tier oceanside mtaa. So, new neighbors to meet.
With only 13 units, a lot of singles, and reps from 3 of the apartments missing, the number of people at the get-to-know party—held in our friend Christine’s house—only hit around 15. But look at the below, shaded areas representing the birth country or most-recent home of our building mates. A bit of a UN, plus everybody there does righteous stuff. In addition to the amazingly important work on urban infrastructure and agricultural conservation that Sarah and I take on, my partymates teach Arabic (to learn Quranic prayers), save refugees, build big buildings, build little buildings, build medium size buildings, import stuff, fight for legal justice, save marine areas, and promote household solar energy uptake around the country.
The last guy, Solar Man from France, has terra incognita to make cognita in Tanzania. I read earlier this month the jaw dropping stat that less than 1 in 3 households in all of mainland Tanzania are electrified, only about 1 in 6 in rural areas.
This makes solar a potentially big deal in vast areas of the country, where the grid hasn’t yet bothered to show up. And in fact, some rural areas have 100% OF THEIR RURAL HOUSEHOLDS connected to electricity powered by solar!! But no fist pumping yet. Remember How to Lie with Statistics, the 1954 best seller about the little dodges used to massage messages with numbers? The fact is that many of those regions with super high solar penetration—Shinyanga, for example, in northwestern Tanzania—have super low electrification rates. All of the 7% of rural households in the region that are electrified get their electricity from solar, yay, but the other 93% get their electricity from only dreams at night. Bonne chance, Solar Man!
OK, I got to run, but briefly, the other cool (in a metaphorical sense) event this past week, my ½ marathon through the streets of Dar. It started at 6:15 AM at 70o F and 94% humidity, finishing a (long) while later at 77o F and 85% humidity. I ran very controlled so as to not show up the hosts—and since I hadn’t run even half that distance in my previous 5+ years—and still managed to beat the winning marathon time of 2:11:11. And I did not wake up in Aga Khan hospital.
Just a small town hurl, stomach in a lonely world I took the daytime plane goin’ anywhere Just a city boy, born and raised as quite adroit, I took the daytime plane goin’ anywhere
Don’t Stop Believin’ Hold on to the feelin’ Heathrow, people Ohh-Ohhh-Ohhhhhhhh
Had a bumpy but brilliant trip from Wash DC across the Atlantic on a day flight back toward Tanzania this month, reaching London just as dark dropped down on the Thames. After clearing border control, I happily checked into my Terminal 4, coffin-like, rent-by-the-hour Yotel bed for some gloriously horizontal sleep, before continuing on to Dar es Salaam early the next morning.
Highlight of Heathrow was a half-dozen arriving bonvons boomboxing out one of rock’s all-time saccharine pop greats—with spot-on Journey(man) Steve Perry vocals—on the kilometer walk from gate to the passport counters. They crushed it. Retro 80s, for sure, but it made the hundreds if not thousands of us making that immigration trek forget the misery of the many+ hours we’d all just spent strapped in various aluminum tubes hurling through the stratosphere.
The Nyerere airport in Dar didn’t offer such fanfare, but it kind of felt like arriving home. It didn’t surprise me to see that neither the new airport terminal nor the first-in-city flyover just down the road from the airport had opened, but both had progressed in visible ways. And the usual traffic jam getting across town never materialized, a mystery without any clues.
But the rest of my favorite Dar usualities soon appeared:
our 5th floor view out over the Indian Ocean
Tamarind, our I’ll-slit-my-wrists-if-I-have-to-cook-again go-to-place for dinner
Frank, our bajaj driver
collection (small, but high quality) of friends from around the planet, some who don’t look anything like me
miles of body-friendly local dirt or mud or inundated (depending) roads for running
weird, intriguing, nearly (but not quite) intractable environmental risk problems on which to apply my finely honed research skills
spice and weird green thing adventures at the local market
my daily insipid but nonetheless appreciated .5 liter cans of 8% ABV Bear Beer, in the face of insipid but nonetheless tolerated 800/80% humidity days
political intrigues that don’t involve the DTs, MPs, PR, or M&Ms
smart colleagues and other worker dudes who greet me every day like a long-lost friend
our Rav 4, licensed as a “light passenger vehicle for less than 12 passengers”
the salaam of Dar
Big event for my University colleagues and me this week takes place Wednesday-Friday, an international conference on “knowledge for climate-proof urban development in rapidly changing environments.” Some pretty cool people have helped organize it, and we hope to have both the Minister of Education of Tanzania, and the country’s Vice-President open the show. I can’t say I know them well yet, but they for sure will outshine DeVos and Pence.
FYI, I aim to beat my 2016-2017 record of blog posts from here, a sad sack 7 posts/10 months.
This new “Protecting the Nation” executive order creeps me out from Africa. I mean if “our number one responsibility is to protect the homeland,” as House Speaker Paul “1984” Ryan asserts, will I not get “approved for admission” at Dulles airport when I return to the States this summer? I don’t intend to terrorize my fellow Americans, but I have to admit that a bunch of white, Christian-raised dudes that look like me have done exactly that. Maybe we need maximum utilization of available resources for the screening of chaps w/ my profile?
Hey, we all remember Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichol’s number in Oklahoma City, for example, and maybe Wade the Page’s shootings at the Sikh temple in Milwaukee. Both kind of seem white mini-Christian jihads to me. And while less religion-motivated, don’t forget Eric and Dylan’s deadly actions in Columbine nearly twenty years back. Add my former next door Unabomber neighbor in Montana, Ted Kaczynski, and from way back when, Charles Whitman, former-Marine turned U. of Texas sharpshooter. Don’t disremember Jimmy “Jonestown” Jones, white kid and early Christian evangelist from Indiana, who helped wiped out over 900 Americans in Guyana, mostly black people, in 1978. Or most recently, what about Dylann Roof’s shooting those nine black churchgoers in Charleston, who apparently were culpable because of all of “the innocent white people that are killed daily at the hands of the lower race.” Really, white Christian America under threat from brown, Islam non-America?
Hey, I know the “Protecting the Nation” order applies only to foreign nationals, but who’s to say who’s “foreign.” Maybe anybody who doesn’t get with the program? I do have German heritage, after all, and we all know we should hold every German-affiliated individual on the planet alive today personally responsible for the Holocaust. As an aside, the first genocide of the 20th century took place in Africa, again black people victimized and again Germany the culprit (to its credit, Germany is owning up to it 100+ years later). And I know from watching all three films in the Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo trilogy that my Swedish relatives can get pretty bad ass too.
I hate to say it, but for common sense you should demand that the Department of Homeland Security keep Kris Wernstedt bad people types out of the country until it can ensure that he and other potentially bad white guys approved for readmission do not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States.
Hey, a bit of a scree here from Tanzania, but as I’ve said before, it’s hard to go into my office these days with American First hanging over my presence. Or White America First, perhaps. Most of the English language newspapers here in Dar es Salaam do better reporting on bile coming out of the White House than on counter demonstrations erupting everywhere (like President Trump having to cancel his visit to Harley Davidson in Milwaukee because of protesters, yes!!).
On an(other) side note, many of my University colleagues in Dar paradoxically think that the legitimacy and unity conferred by a fair election trumps the right to protest against its results. The George Washington of Tanzania himself, President Julius Nyerere, famously wrote that democracy is stronger in a single party representing “America First” than with multiple parties, each representing only a section of society (okay, not the “America First” part, but he did assert the larger claim of opposition being anti-democratic, anti-nation-building).
In a poll of 1,600 Tanzanians back in August, for example, 7 out every 10 respondents agreed that democracy is preferable to any other kind of government, but 8 out of every 10 agreed that “once elections are over, the opposition should accept defeat and help the government develop the country; the other 2 out of 10 said that “after losing an election, opposition parties should criticize and monitor the government in order to hold it accountable.” I go with the second, clear thinking group, at least as the sentiment applies to the US system.
Back to the embarrassment part. While I feel crushed by the bigotry coming from the Administration, want to hide under a rock out here in the other 95.7% of the world, and might even be willing to convert to Islam while simultaneously taking a citizenship oath in Canada, Sweden, Namibia, Vanuatu, South Africa, Bhutan, and/or a hosts of other countries to cover my shame, my Tanzanian colleagues continue to treat me totally graciously. I’ve not seen a hint of personal animosity, resentment, or taint because I’m filthy rich (relatively), come from the world’s leading arms exporter and military drone user, and am white.
On the latter, I’ve begun to realize that race gets just as complicated here, albeit with different manifestations. The overwhelmingly majority black population in Dar camouflages residential segregation along racial lines with economic screens, for example, except for the notable expatriate community on the Msasani Peninsula. Having said, this, while I’m going out on a shaky limb, I’d guess that systemic racism against whites didn’t ever and doesn’t now exist in Tanzania. Other insidious forms of rac- and other –isms, but not with a “white person is lower race” spin. More generally, I haven’t heard many “those” or “you” people comments, although I suspect they populate many conversations.
Ending w/ non-sequitur, I went to clinic for minor medical problem on Tuesday. Only $11.19 charge. VERY IMPRESSED. RIGHT DECISION. GREAT.
The Spanish word for border, la frontera, always evokes in me the possibility of an unexpected, Davy Crocket kind of experience. Admittedly, this image requires a bit of imagination when traveling northward across la frontera from Dar es Salaam to Mombasa,
since Kenya seems less frontiery than Tanzania, boasting a 50 percent larger economy (w/ fewer people), super highways with flyovers, a history of nearly 100 Olympic medals, a worthy competitor to Kahlua, a hyper-convenient eVisa system, and, of course, the DNA claim to a U.S. President. Still, the usual pre-adventure travel tingle struck me before my 1st out-of-country trip last week.
While I’ve a mundane reason for my journey—the need to reset my year-long-but-only-90-days-at-a-time Tanzania visa—bus travel always offers the opportunity for weird, on any continent. Long, cheap, and long seems the norm in Tanzania motorcoach travel plus, as I’ve blogged before, a bit dodgy on safety if you believe what everyone says.
However, with Mdemu, a similar-aged, born-again, Pentecostal businessman as my seat mate—Pentecostals make up 10 percent of Tanzania’s Christians, by some estimates—rather than chickens or pregnant goats, the first 6 hours of my Dar to Mombasa run go by tamely. Along the way, Mdemu volunteers a different take on the recent clamp-down on corruption in Tanzania that I’ve praised, claiming that the government has sucked up money from free-spending individuals and squeezed the economy, sort of a supply-sider’s argument for graft and misconduct.
We travel through lots of nondescript, nonblinkable villages, but I can tell la frontera nears when we reach the town of Tanga. I get off to pee, and a couple 20-something guys speaking good English and carrying giant wads of currency—and quoting numbers to the 2nd decimal—meet me at the bottom of the bus steps.
Walking Wechsels! Caminando Cambiadores! Money Merchants! First time ever I’ve paid shillings to buy shillings, TSh for KSh.
Back on the bus, we continue north, reaching a gate across the road at the scraggly Lunga-Lunga border outpost an hour after leaving Tanga, maybe 7 hours after departing Dar. I’d last entered Kenya in 1985—when over 2/3 of its current residents hadn’t yet been born!—and never by land, so don’t know what to expect with border control. Tanzania and Kenya’s citizens belong to a common East African Community, so need few papers other than passport identification and an international yellow fever vaccination certificate to cross the line. Americans need a visa (eVisa rocks!), plus the passport and yellow fever certificate. Fortunately I knew that Tanzania takes its yellow fever certs seriously, and got re-vaccinated before I left the States, bringing an up-to-date international immunization certificate with me when I entered the country in August. And knowing from experiences that these cards are easy to lose, I stowed it in a locked suitcase in a locked room in our locked apartment when we first moved into our place in Dar.
Stupid, stupid Kris . . . .
So, I arrive at the frontier outpost with one of the required documents to enter Kenya secure back in Apartment #11, Dar es Salaam. The Kenyan border police guys tell me to turn around and go back and get it. But in addition to not wanting to spend the night in Scragglyville and wait until tomorrow’s return bus can take me back to Dar, my Tanzanian visa only has 9 hours before it expires, or maybe 33, depending on how immigration officials count to 90. I’d get back to Dar either a few hours before or a few hours after the law required me to exist elsewhere. My Lunga-Lunga dilemma thus puts me in a rights-less zone between two nation states—a little like living in DC, the capital of Free World democracy, where living between two states means you have no right to select representation in Congress.
A spark ignites when I see a little clinic for getting a convenient, on-the-spot, $50 yellow fever vaccination only 2 meters to the right of the immigration portal. But the door sits closed tight, and the clinic appears as if a medical person hasn’t visited it in months. It also looks a bit sketchy. While I fret about travel risks less than the average American, asking an immigration police kind of guy to stick a needle into my arm in the middle of nowhere in a country with an HIV prevalence rate exceeding 5 percent strikes me as imbecilic.
As my hope evaporates at la frontera, a miracle arrives in the form of a traveling medical professional from Médecins Sans Frontières. She just happens to have some yellow fever vaccine with her, and it inexplicably works quickly, shortening the usual 10-day waiting period for my body to develop protection to mere minutes. $50, and Voila! My problem amazingly squared away without physical pain (if you catch my drift), I get a new official yellow immunization card with an official yellow fever stamp on page 1.
No worse for the encounter, I get back on the bus with my Pentecostal friend and enter Kenya. Mdemu quickly points out the obvious, the road narrows and turns bumpy. In addition, my sensitive Fulbright antennae for household solid waste immediately pick up a marked increase in nasty looking trash along the road. Kenya doesn’t work as well as Tanzania, Mdemu claims, with poorer roads and other infrastructure, more violent crime, sharp inter-tribal tensions even within government offices and private business, and more lame Kiswahili (English more ubiquitous, Kiswahili less so). Gross generalizations, biased, and unfair to Kenya to be sure—the Kenyans I’ve met suggest that others often have unfairly caricatured them this way—but the post-independence history of the two countries invites such comparisons.
More to come on this theme in the future, perhaps, but suffice to say now that Tanzania’s founding president, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, seems to have concocted the right potion to catalyze the “united” aspect of the United Republic of Tanzania. While that name literally refers to the joining of mainland Tanganyika and the Zanzibar archipelago in 1964, the more profound unification has occurred across tribes, regions, and ideology. Zanzibarians may differ with this characterization, but regardless, the Tanzanians that I have talked to exude a one-nationness.
On a related, sort of, concluding note, we sure could use some of Nyerere’s unity elixir after January 20th’s Inauguration Day back in DC. Likely too much to hope more, however, as the contrast between President Obama and his successor on this virtue defies comprehension, equivalent to dividing 100 by 0. Our new Divisor in Chief.
My university teaching here in Dar es Salaam has sucked up all my hours for the last month, turning this already intermittent blogging rivulet completely dry. My instruction ended last week, however, meaning time this week to write up tales of my mwalimu experience. But then I woke up on November 9th to watch the November 8th election returns roll in, and the bottom dropped out of the America I thought I lived in.
Enough (better-crafted and more insightful) polemics and hand-wringing accounts appear elsewhere, so I’ll not add my talking-head account to this page. And the Fulbright program has cautioned all of us not to get too political in any case (yes, Mr. and Ms. Fulbright Coordinator, I’ve added the disclaimer that you want us to post). Still, being here while you’re voting there—and then watching states turn red while many of you sleep through the night hoping for a miracle—whacked me out as totally weird.
Remember Silent Running, the Bruce Dern movie from the ‘70s? Bruce pilots a big ass cargo spaceship that carries around the solar system the last living plants from a post-apocalyptic Earth. At some point his bosses tell him to destroy the plants, and he (or everybody else?) goes crazy. He turns confused rebel, drifting alone, unmoored to anyone, anything, or even the plant-less Earth outside his spaceship window. I felt unmoored as well today, watching from Africa a blight spread in the darkness of North America and wanting to shake everybody awake to stop it. A really lonely feeling.
The other strong emotion? Embarrassment. I couldn’t go into the University this morning. I’ve a wonderful group of people at the Institute of Human Settlements Studies that hosts me, always curious about my life and what’s going on in the US, particularly this election season. Some of them even got out of bed at 4 AM for each of the three Presidential debates, and watched them from beginning to end, plus all of the post-debate commentaries. And while almost all criticize America on some accounts—most of it justified in my opinion—all volunteer how much they appreciate and envy our rule of law, civil society, transparency, and diversity. No joke, I couldn’t face my Tanzanian colleagues today.
Fakejina, one of the PhD students in the class I just taught, emailed me this morning (stay away NSA snoopers, I changed the name to protect anonymity):I couldn’t bear to write back right away, but eventually . . . . which prompted the followingThe response intrigues me. Tanzania’s President Magufuli (and maybe his CCM party) now appear to have huge support from wide swaths of society—out of 100 Tanzanians I’ve talked to, I’d say 80 enthusiastically applaud the changes he has made, mainly because (they claim) he has thrown out a lot of bad actors and finally made public officials accountable after decades of the opposite. But it doesn’t sound like it started that way at all. Unfortunately, I can’t imagine a more ill-suited person for such a turn-around in the US than the guy we just selected.
To end on a metaphorical note, Frank, the three-wheel bajaj driver who gets me to and from my university, works magic to move quickly through the nasty traffic every morning. Look below at a typical route. We come in from the upper right on Rose Garden Rd. and exit to the upper left on Bagamoyo Rd. Putting America in the bajaj’s passenger bench, as it approaches the intersection of Rose Garden and Bagamoyo, the bajaj veers right in a post-primary bounce, before doubling back to the left in mid-summer and turning sharply right as irrelevant emails continue to fester. Then, as tales of widespread groping appear, it goes left on a clear trajectory headed for downtown, before inexplicably reversing course against all odds and exiting on a long dark run to the right.
Why have I come to Dar, dozens of Tanzanians and wazungu alike have silently wondered? In a word, I came east to find “trash,” or “rubbish” in local parlance. While I’ve devoted much of my research career to hazardous waste—up to a handful of people (5!) in the US even recognize me as a brownfields policy expert—my Fulbright sabbatical in Tanzania specializes lower down the residuals chain in household solid waste. How and why do people generate trash, get rid of it, and haul it off to somewhere less homey? And how can the generation, ridding, and hauling work better? So, you’ll hear more about trash than you ever thought possible over my next N blog posts!
To set the stage . . . . first recognize that Dar es Salaam disposes of roughly 2,000 tons of trash every day (not including recyclables) in its un-modern, un-sanitary landfill. Such a volume requires 200-250 garbage truck loads daily driving to the recent disposal site, which lies 35 kilometers from the city center. This represents a lot of garbage, maybe 5 or 6 times the daily production of Washington DC. But now understand that another couple thousand tons of trash in Dar every day need disposal, but never make it to the landfill.
This second 2,000 tons represents the dirty, hidden, illegally-disposed half of Dar’s daily generation of more than 4,000 tons of garbage! Of these off-the-record tons, the vast majority (three-quarters by some estimates) end up scattered in open spaces and stream courses, with some burned and the rest buried, like Jimmy Hoffa. I don’t want
to exaggerate that trash appears everywhere, because some areas have only minimal amounts visible. But a lot does appear across the landscape . . . my eyes and nose don’t lie.
As a simple example, on my run this morning through an upscale neighborhood I saw a bunch of (more than a hundred) VHS tapes smoking away on a rubbish burn pile. Maybe you’re thinking no great loss to torch some of these B-grade, American export slasher films, but the smoldering heap threw up noxious fumes to an air column already high in particulates (dusty dirt roads comprise about 75 percent of Dar’s 2,000 kilometer street network).
Given the ubiquity of garbage in Dar, lots of trash talk takes place around the donor and community based organization crowd here, as it does elsewhere in the world. Solid waste disposal unquestioningly represents a planetary BFD. And donors, local municipalities, and community-based-organizations (e.g., Nipe Fagio) have come through in Tanzania with funds, studies, capacity building, education, musical PR events, and on-the-ground community activities to put action behind this talk. Tangible results include the upcoming contentious ban on disposable plastic bags in the country, and a volunteer beach cleanup every month around the city. And if you have money and can pay helpers to do the schlepping for you, or you don’t mind driving your bottles and cans to one of a couple repositories around the area, recycling also has arrived.
Still, the problem likely will grow, heap upon heap, in the near future. The big trashy downside of higher, more western living standards for many in Tanzania comes from its associated higher per-capita trash generation. Dar’s garbage generation exceeds Washington DC’s five-fold, not because its residents profligately generate trash, but because its population exceeds Washington, DC’s seven-to-eight-fold (that is, not a higher per capita rate here in Dar, but rather, vastly more capitas). As it moves up the western consumption and packaging curve, Dar’s generation of trash likely will increase faster than technical improvements in trash collection and landfilling.
To close, in a one-half-floor elevator pitch soundbite, my work here aims to unearth clever household-level behavioral approaches to lighten Dar’s heap-upon-heap garbage problem.
You have to love a mellifluous way of communicating with “pole pole,” “kukutana,” “mimipia,” “nawewe,” “Shikamoo!” “pigapasi,” etc. in its repertoire. And, as my book club mate, Eric, points out, Kiswahili seems to use more vowels than any other Earthly vernacular. The language is simply terrific, more or less accessible to anyone intent on learning it, although more so for under-30 types. Sarah and I spent a week at a shule ya lugha outside of Iringa, daily tearing our hair out at our poor memory retention—could ease of acquiring a new language be an undiscovered early marker for Alzheimer’s?—but nightly pumped up by the unconditional joy we provided to restaurant staff when we could use our Kiswahili to order beer (bia) to eat (kula) and rice (wali) to drink (kunywa, not to be confused with kunya or kuma, which I think belong in the Kiswahili Urban Dictionary).
We also benefited from daily rides—from center city Iringa to the rural “River Valley campsite” location of the language school—from an Australian Anglo Anglican, a minister spending several months in the area with his family doing volunteer work and hosting a contingent of Australian teenagers helping in the local schools. All of the others taking Kiswahili with us at the “campsite” represented missionary organizations primarily engaged in primary-secondary education and public health. Our life in Dar seems Saks on Fifth Avenue in comparison to theirs, since most would be living and working in underserviced rural areas and taking on work well outside their comfort zone. For example, one experienced German neurologist and psychotherapist at the language school had just finished a
quick retraining to perform Caesarian sections as part of her medical duties in a remote village in southernmost Tanzania.
Iringa itself is a sparkling little town, comfortable on the skin and lying at the center of the Southern Agriculture Growth Corridor of Tanzania, an effort sponsored by the national government, international donors, NGOs, and the private sector to promote agricultural intensification in an environmentally friendly way. Among a cast of thousands of stakeholders, World Wildlife Fund has a presence, Sarah’s raison d’être in Tanzania. The town also hosts the understated Commonwealth Cemetery, a sweet but sad spot with ~150 graves of mostly WW I soldiers from British colonial regiments in the Triple Entente forces.
With over 150,000 residents, the Iringa municipality represents the primary urban center in a largely rural region, but one that actually has experienced an unusual decrease in rural population since 2000, according to Tanzanian census figures. The nearly 50 percent increase in the municipality’s population in this new century also reflects national trends, where even as rural areas still house a majority of the country’s overall population, urban centers make up a rapidly increasing share of the rapidly growing overall Tanzania population. This rapid urbanization of course makes Tanzania (and particularly places such as Dar) a captivating ground central to an urban-enviro guy like me, even as other urbanophiles may shake their heads in dismay at the upshot on the ground.
Dar locals complain about their heat and humidity as much as do DC area folks, although in the time I’ve slept in Dar so far—parts of May, June, August, and September—each day has dawned pleasantly temperate. Mid-day in the sun smacks me about a bit for sure, but all in all, Dar weather has welcomed me well (karibu sana!). Still, when Sarah and I decided to travel to the southern highlands in Iringa town for her work and a week of Kiswahili classes, the need to wear a light jacket in the evenings sounded great!
Iringa town lies about 500 kilometers from Dar over a macadam road, realistically a 9-hour trip by “luxury” bus. “Luxury” in this case means a reasonably comfortable bus only 4 seats across with mostly working AC, and only several stops along the way. Plus non-stop music videos, interrupted only by 2 episodes of a Tanzanian television series and Colombiana, a forgettable movie set in contemporary Chicago where a little girl all grown up now takes revenge on her parents’ druglord killer from 20 years earlier (this genre is popular here, as everywhere else I’ve traveled). Long-distance bus travel gets a bad rap in Tanzania—over 100 bus passengers have died in accidents already this year—as drivers compete for faster travel times and road and vehicle conditions get a little shaky. It can be more risky than flying, for sure, but the “luxury” buses appear a bit safer, and the carbon nasties from air travel will kill more of us in the long run.
Just as pressing, bus travel from Dar entails navigating the Ubungo bus station, a chaotic scene riddled with touts and an environment largely opaque to non-Kiswahili speakers.
I’ve used the station four times now, on each occasion drawing a mob of helpers trying to pick up commissions. Arriving at Ubungo by bajaji—a motorcycle-based three wheel transport—twice in the last two weeks, people jumped into and onto the vehicle as it entered the bus area, trying to get my and the driver’s business. No, no, no (Hapana!) doesn’t deter the attention, it just draws a bigger crowd. Chalk it up to the entrepreneurial spirit of touts, as well as financial desperation driven by a labor market that can’t come close to keeping up with job demands in a place like Dar.
Once on the road, the trip to Iringa went smoothly. It took at least an hour to travel the first 20 miles (and even longer to travel the last 20 on the way back) since Dar and the commuting zone sprawls far west (and south and north). But then the road opened up, particularly past Morogoro, Tanzania’s 2nd city, and into the sisal, tomato, onion, and
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other ag producing areas. The road traversed the Mikumi National Park for 45 minutes—with zebras, antelopes, elephants, giraffes, wildebeests (we saw all), lions, and packs of wild dogs watching the traffic go by—and eventually zig zagged up the Kitonga escarpment, where our bus weaved in and out of the heavily-loaded (and scarcely moving) trucks coming to/from Zambia. Eventually, we make it to Iringa town, at over 1,500 meter elevation.
At 35,000 feet and reading Dogs of God, the head-shaking James Reston Jr. book that places Columbus’ New World voyage against the backdrop of brutally violent changes roiling Spain and continental Europe at the end of the 15th century, I couldn’t complain about my hermetically sealed, climate-controlled, scurvy-devoid, and fatality-free megatrip from Washington, DC to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Nearly 13,000 kilometers in only 20+ hours, crossing both the Prime Meridian and the Equator. And to channel Jimmy Buffet, the change in latitude also argued for a change in attitude.
Not surprisingly, transport hiccups began shortly after leaving Julius Nyerere International Airport around 11 PM on a Friday night. Dar traffic notoriously congests, daily sapping the energy from in- and out-bound commuters during the work week and shifting unpredictably to other parts of the city and clock outside of rush hour. Our personal bottleneck came near the port, where the breakdown of several transport trucks leaving the docks had created fully gridlocked intersections all along a 5-kilometer stretch. It was a wild scene, making the worst of Beltway traffic comically juvenile by comparison.
But such craziness makes Dar es Salaam enthralling—a rapidly expanding collection of 5 million that creates a perennially mishmash of urban problems defying easy solutions, but remaining susceptible to game-changing interventions. Ergo, the planned construction of the first-ever flyover (interchange) in Dar to relieve one headache, and the recent opening of the new Dar Bus Rapid transit line to offer hope to those eschewing cars.
Dar roads almost NEVER EVER look this empty. I know it’s because many locals left their cars at home this afternoon and instead took the new Dar es Salaam Rapid Transit (DART) bus system.
Leave it to an urban planner to find inspiration in urban perversities.