Dar er Salaam, ‘Haven of Peace’ would be the direct translation but the journey there was anything but!
Some years ago, as part of a church group, we hopped on a Kampala coach and headed south of the border for Tanzania. Well, it wasn’t as spontaneous as it sounded. Some of us didn’t have passports so we applied for a temporary one at Nyayo house. Technicalities aside, we were off!
From Nairobi to the border isn’t that far. In two hours, were at Namanga, a bustling town full of legal and not-so-legal activities that are the hallmark of a border town. From Namanga to Dar however is another story. People forget how big Tanzania is, it is the biggest country in East Africa by area. It was another 12 hours before we’d get to our destination. In between, we had a few adventures and observations.
One that stood out was the culture shock of finances. At Arusha, we stopped for a break. You had to pay a small fee to use the facilities. The man demanded 200 shillings! After a double-take and we huddling to do some math, that came to 10 KENYAN shillings. Phew! Right now the exchange rate is 1 Ksh to 17 Tshs. So going through the country seeing advertising claim products in the millions made us feel quite ‘rich’.
The long road to Dar was a lot of bumps and turns and a gradual descent into the lower parts of the country. A lot of the land was quite empty. Mostly Savannah grasslands. We pointed out that Kenyans would have farmed every space in sigh. Everything seemed more relaxed generally. Even at another rest-stop, the service seemed frustratingly slow but in hindsight it was a cultural difference. Kenyans are used to things chap-chap while Tanzanians take their time. In that case, I’d definitely go back for a holiday but daily life would be quite frustrating!
Finally, we arrived. Hours later and quite exhausted. We were staying with host families, my friend and I were put up with a lovely Malawian expatriate couple and their two kids. They stayed in an upmarket part of the city. We really didn’t get to hear a lot of the Tanzanian Swahili from the home end. That happened later.
Dar was full of “dala-dala”(matatus), but pronounced “dara-dara”. Its city-scape was mild. Not too many dramatic buildings aside from one stunning apartment block right at the beach-side. It looked like something out of a movie. The police were quite friendly in their all white attire leading us to joke about the stereotype that they are so polite to a fault that they’ll plead to arrest you. All in all it was a low-key city especially for its size but pretty and charming all the same.
Cuisine is just a small variation of our own coastal dishes. Very soft ugali with indigenous vegetables served with fish. Coconut-flavored everything didn’t feature as much as it would in Mombasa for example.
The trip was fun. As most trips should be. Culture-shocked as usual but not too severe seeing as we are in the same region. Dar is a great place for any holidaymaker and if you are into business, expect a more relaxed attitude than the Kenyan one. I enjoyed myself and you should too!
By Nyambura Kariuki