Hakuna Matata

21 07 2010

It is hard to believe that I have only two weeks left! Seven weeks seemed like so long when I was planning my project and my summer, but now that I am here, it doesn’t seem like long enough.

I’ve loved every-day-life in Dar es Salaam, and know I could be happy here for much longer than 7 weeks. I realize that from my past postings, I might not have painted the prettiest picture of life in this city! Despite the traffic, the heat, the dust, the trash, and the propensity for electricity, running water, and internet to stop working for extended periods of time, there is something refreshing about the lifestyle and culture here in Dar es Salaam, and generally Tanzania, something that matches my personality very well.

For one, Tanzanians are very friendly with their greetings- you say hello to everyone you pass on the streets. On my 45 minute bike ride into work, I am guaranteed to have small exchanges with at least 15 people or groups. It starts when I pull out onto my street, with the security guards tucked into his booth at one of the nicer homes along the coast of the peninsula- I’ve never actually seen the guy, tucked away in his mini watchtower, hidden by the branches of a tree. But I know he’s there because he always yells down a hello. After the doubletree hotel, I turn right, onto a small dirt road: too thin of a street for cars, but a busy one with people starting their day. I get a friendly “jambo”, (hi), “mambo” (whats up) or “habari” (whats the news?) from half of them. At the corner of Kimwere and Uganda road, a toddler stands by the fence and always shouts “HELLO!” as I zip by. Uganda road is where the quarry stands are. Each woman in succession momentarily stops her work to shout mambo and wave as I bike past. Next comes the corner of Kenyatta and Ali Hassan Bin Mwinyi Roads, the point where I no longer can take side roads and join the traffic of commuters through the city. Against a telephone pole rests a young man with crutches. I say “mambo!” as I pass, and get an answer of a huge smile and a thumbs up. The massai family who lives under the billboard at the corner of Ocean Road all wave to me as come by. The final stretch of my bike ride is lined with men selling fruit from their bicycles, who’s favorite greeting is “Hello Sister!!” On the way home, it’s the same- same people, same friendliness…with the addition that, regardless of what time I leave the office, I almost always run into Henry on his bike, heading the same direction as me. As someone who enjoys very simple things in life, someone who doesn’t take much to be happy, my bike rides have been a huge joy in my life here. There have been days here in Dar es Salaam that would have been frustrating, disappointing, difficult, or just boring… if not for my bike ride home.

I’ve also mentioned how people will walk between the lines of traffic selling nearly everything to passengers, how stopping to look at anything at a shop or a stand invites unrelenting pressure to bargain and buy things. Sometimes, even pausing for a moment too long at a street corner results in a push from a man with DVDs or sunglasses that he is convinced you need to have. While this, in ways, can be annoying, it’s also a fun aspect of life here, if you let it be. A few weekends ago, I drove with friends to Mikadi beach, which is in the southern section of Dar and you need to take a ferry across a small channel, there is no bridge to drive over. Waiting almost an hour to get our car onto the ferry (another thing I’ve complained about: the traffic), we had a great time with the street vendors. We bought ice cream, tried on sunglasses, and entertainingly gave a donation of 500 shillings (30 cents) to the cute old man who’s unique begging tactic, so we thought, was to offer a receipt for donations—though you have to fill out the receipt yourself. After then talking briefly, and getting a picture of him holding the receipt, we found out it’s actually donations for his mosque—hence the receipt.

Taxi drivers and store-front vendors can be just as pushy as the street vendors, but you learn to play with them as well. Favorite lines include “it’s free to look”, “I offer you the best price”, and “I give you for the rafiki (friend) price”. While this could be annoying bargaining to some extend, it’s also fun to turn it around and use the same phrases back, before they get a chance. Last night, leaving a restaurant, we were barraged with taxi drivers ready to fight for the business. My friend, who had drove, quickly replied by offering them a ride for “the best price, rafiki price!” as he we walk to his car..an offer that both the taxi drivers and us found entertaining.

I’ve mentioned in my blog, and complained a fair amount to those I’ve talked to, about the struggle to make appointments with people—I’m told over the phone that they will be available for me to call back in one hour, but then when I call back I’m told try again later. I’ve had to wait and wait and wait because when someone says they will meet with me at 9am, they actually mean noon. When I needed to pick up paperwork for my research permit, I had to go back to the office 4 or 5 times over the course of a week and a half. Then there is the frequent loss of electricity and internet connection failures that make it even harder. While it’s made my project frustrating, it’s also a stereotypical example of Tanzanian culture. I joke with my friend at work about “Swahili time”—which basically is no sense of time or slow, unrushed time. The day we went to Bagamoyo, we had lunch at a small restaurant that had about 8 employees working, and no other patrons in the whole place. We ordered, and were told it would take 30 minutes to prepare. We got our food over an hour later. This is Swahili time. When someone agrees over the phone to do an interview with me next week, they tell me to call next week to decide when. No real commitment… this is Swahili time. Frustrating, sure, in some ways. But Swahili time also means that its ok to just relax. I’m expected to sit on my porch with a cup of coffee for an hour, that’s what you do. It’s normal for me to sit by the port and just watch the fishermen work, or to plop down on the steps of the grocery store and just rest. On Monday, when I arrived at work at 9am the power was out, back-up generator failed. I worked outside on my laptop, for about 3 hours until my battery died. Then I leisurely ate lunch. When the power wasn’t back still, I decided it was time to go home, and spent my afternoon reading a book and sunbathing on my porch. Not a bad life, huh? Swahili time doesn’t just mean slow or non-committal, it also means not rushed in a way where you can enjoy the simple passing of time. Hakuna Matata. Swahili time, in this no-rush, easy-going sense, works for me.

– Kristn Pfau




One response

21 07 2010

Not only the sense of time is different, the Swahili clock itself is different too – http://www.kamusiproject.org/?q=swahili_clock. I can get one for you for rafiki price.

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