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On red soil

Nimechoka kungoja highway

Traffic jams in Dar es Salaam are a chapter of their own. Getting from home to work, which is about 10 kilometres, can take anything from 20 minutes to 3 hours, depending on the time of the day. When I finish work at 3.30pm, the traffic is supposedly not that bad yet so that getting 5 kilometres forward with a daladala may only take 15 minutes. Those 15 minutes are some of the most unbearable minutes of your life however, as I experienced yesterday.

First of all, the daladala ‘stop’ in the city centre isn’t really a stop as we know it in Europe – it’s a 100 metre strip of road where over 10 different daladalas can choose where to stop on. They’re marked with the beginning and end destinations at the front, so I’m always looking for the Mwenge-Posta signs. With miniature text they also mention via which road they travel between these two destinations. I’ve already twice made the mistake of jumping on the wrong Mwenge-Posta daladala, which takes about double longer and passes through some neighbourhoods you probably wouldn’t go to otherwise. Luckily I’ve found a seat both times so the trips haven’t been that uncomfortable, and with the radio turned loud with good music, they’ve actually been quite enjoyable.

Anyways, in the afternoons/evenings this is a rarity and I’ll get back to telling about the daladala stop in the city centre. Once you spot your own daladala, you have to be lucky for it to stop right where you’re standing on the strip. In the worst case scenario you may have to run in zigzag between hundreds of people to get to the other end of the strip only to find that the lucky people who had been standing at the right spot filled up the whole minibus to the rim. And then you wait for the next one, run, push, squeeze in and sweat.

Yesterday I was one of the last people to fit in my daladala, so that the conductor standing by the door, collecting the 250Tsh fee (circa 0.13 €), jumping in and out notifying – aka screaming – for stops had to complain about my mzungu foot blocking the closing of the door (by the way, from what I’ve heard, mzungu isn’t meant as an insult but just a common way of referring to whites on the street). There I stand, squeezed between the rest of the working folk in business attire, sweating away, holding on to the railing in the roof until my knuckles are white, my legs getting numb for standing stooped and my butt in someone’s face, dreaming of the second I get to stick my head and rest of the body out of the hotpot. Imagine this in a 2-hour traffic jam in a 30 degree heat… Luckily a woman from work lives quite close by so unless I have to stay later at work than normal or have other things to take care of in the centre, I can get a ride home in an air-conditioned car. Either way, traffic jams around here can be quite a frustrating affair.

One of the first songs I heard when I got to Tanzania, and which is conveniently played by Mirage if we sit in a traffic jam is ‘Pii Pii’ by Marlaw. My flatmate found a video for it on YouTube which seems to mainly be filmed in Dar es Salaam, so watching and listening to this gives you some visuals (particularly of traffic jams, daladalas and bajajs) for my daily life here. “Nimechoka kungoja highway” as they sing in the song means “tired of waiting on the highway”.

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