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It’s the little things

It’s been a while again since writing here, apologies. When moving to a new place, of course you pay attention to all the things that make it different from your home country or previous place of residence. Tanzania, being a world of its own compared to Finland or UK, offers a lot of curiosities. Having been here for over five months now I’m starting to become accustomed to so many things though, so before I forget, here are some of my favourite Tanzanian specialities.

Before getting to Dar, I was asking my new flatmates the address of our new home so I could check it on Google Maps already. They didn’t have a name for the street but could only give an approximate location, so I was a bit disappointed not to be able to see where I’d be living, like I was able to do before moving to Finsbury Park in London a few years back. Now, after five months here I still don’t know the name of our street, I think our landlady mentioned it once but I’ve already forgotten and the street signs are not to be seen, so it doesn’t really even matter. In the city centre, the peninsula and main roads have names but the rest is a labyrinth of bumpy sand roads and strips of tarmac street. It’s all about names of bars/shops/mosques/”the corner where they sell corn” and other landmarks when a friend explains which way to go to find a place.

That’s why it also good to have familiar bajaj/taxi drivers as you save a lot of time explaining when wanting to be picked up at home or having a friend brought over. My list of bajaj numbers is nicely growing although I’ve restricted myself to 12 different drivers in different areas now, always a safe and hassle-free ride home when you need it!

First time I called a bajaj driver’s number I had just gotten, a bongo flava song started playing. I was disappointed and ended the call thinking it had gone to the answering machine, until I found out that one can change the waiting sound from a normal beep to something more tropical and fitting the summery atmosphere. There are about 5 different songs I’ve now heard as waiting tunes, I know the lyrics by heart and often get startled when my listening moment is ‘ruined’ by someone actually picking up. If only I could find the songs on YouTube…

On the topic of mobile phones I could also mention that it’s completely normal for a Tanzanian to have two or three mobile phones, one for every sim card of different operator. Calls between the same operator are cheaper than from one operator to another, so when exchanging numbers it’s always good to check that you get you get the same number as you operator. Now I always know to ask for the Zain/Airtel number.

Out in the streets, there’s a whole lot of other calling going on. Every single day, walking past the same shoe shiner guy I spoke to once in my first week in Dar, calls me with a loud ‘eeeehh weweeeeee’ (heeey yoooooou). At one point I was getting so annoyed by it I went to the other side of the street anytime I passed the area, other times I tried to rush past when I couldn’t see him, until I hear the ‘weweeeee’ again, jumping out from behind the bushes and over benches. I’ve come to the realisation that the best answer is to say the exact same thing back, that’s the end of conversation.

The shoe shiner guy isn’t the only one who greets me on the street though. When I was still in the early stages of learning Swahili I was really struggling with the replies as questions always seem to come in packs of three, but have now come to master most greetings. Here’s a reference guide:

Shikamoo (greeting to older person, I even get to hear it sometimes from little kids)
–       Marahaba (a thank you to the greeting)

Hujambo/hamjambo? (do you/you all have problems?)
–       Sijambo/hatujambo (I/we don’t have problems)

Habari yako/zenu? Habari za kazi/nyumbani/likizo/leo/asubuhi/jioni/etc? (how are you/you all?) (how is work/home/holiday/today/morning/evening/etc?)
–          Nzuri/njema/salama/safi (good/well/safe/clean)

Mambo vipi/mambo/vipi? (how are issues?)
–          Poa/fresh/safi/schwari/schwanga/bomba (cool/fresh/clean and other slang words)

Mzima? (all good?)
–          Mzima (all good)

Remember all of them now? Can you answer all questions naturally and without hesitation in whichever order they come? Didn’t think so =)

There’s one more thing I hear people on the street say to me everyday, whether it be the row of guys sitting in front of our neighbour’s house, someone selling papayas from a car passing by, or a fisherman in the middle of gutting the day’s catch: karibu (welcome). Tanzanian hospitality at its finest.

Ok, I did exaggerate with the papayas, haven’t actually seen anyone sell that from inside their car. But it’s the little things that count.

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