“The airport is
like a rural bus station, somewhere at the end of the world. It’s
dark. A couple of unwashed guys offer me a taxi ride, and in the end
I have to go with one of them to get to my hotel.
The taxi coughs and
rattles, and hardly even starts. There’s no meter, but the driver
grunts that the price is ‘twenty-five’. But twenty-five what? It
turns out he wants Tanzanian shillings, but not twenty-five –
twenty-five thousand. They’re a liberal kind of people in Dar es
Salaam, and the thousands evidently go without saying. I do a quick
mental calculation, and it comes to about ten or twelve euros. Not
the end of the world, I suppose…
I ask the
receptionist what parts of the city are worth visiting, and she gives
me a quizzical look. I try to explain – what are the sights? What’s
worth a visit? She still doesn’t understand. It turns out she
speaks excellent English – that isn’t the problem at all. The
problem is that there simply aren’t
any sights in Dar es Salaam.
Can you imagine a
capital city, anywhere in the world, with literally nothing to see?
Well, visit Dar es Salaam and you’ll find out what it’s like.
There’s a local tourist magazine called ‘Where’, which lists
tourist activities, and there’s not a single word in it about what
to see or do in the capital. It just recommends a few restaurants and
hotels, then moves straight on to the – horrendously expensive –
safaris. One night in the Ngorongoro nature reserve, for instance,
costs $1000 per person. Those are the sort of prices they’re
In spite of
everything, the next day I decide to take a taxi into town. ‘Show
me whatever you think would be interesting,’ I tell the driver. He
takes me to the fish market.
The first thing that hits me is the appalling
smell – at first, I don’t even want
to get out of the car. At last, for the sake of getting a few photos,
I clamber out. It isn’t easy to walk – a major source of the
smell is the fish offal on the ground. Then there’s the fact that
everyone especially wants to sell me something. Whether it’s an
inflated angler fish or giant, shiny mussels or a gutted barracuda.
There are even small sharks, whole tuna, and anything else you can
The women carry huge
boxes and buckets on their heads. You can see that one or two almost
buckle under the strain, but still, they carry them. That’s just
life! Women don’t seem to have much status here.
The market is
unbelievably noisy, and there’s no refrigeration. I don’t see so
much as a single ice cube. They just lay the fish out on the ground,
or on a slab of concrete. They have to sell their fresh catch
quickly because it won’t stay edible for long. That’s life here,
the struggle to earn your daily bread.
I hurry back to the
taxi and we drive on, towards an attractive beachfront area. It turns
out that this is the part of town where the embassies are located,
and the villas of foreign diplomats. Poor ambassadors and attachés!
Anyone sent here by their nation’s government would quickly see it
as more of a punishment than an honor, because however much money
they earn, however, many parties, tennis matches, and golf tournaments
they attend, the minute they walk out into the street they’ll find
themselves in the same chaos and dirt as ever. Not for them the
excitement and luxury of a few days’ Serengeti safari – they have
to spend their days in Dar es Salaam…
In our search for
sights, we travel on to a few handicraft shops. The prices are
undeniably very reasonable. Leather slippers, women’s dresses of
fine material, high-quality handbags and carved wooden figurines are
all on sale for a fraction of the price elsewhere.
I buy a few
souvenirs and we drive on to the painters’ street. Here the stalls
of the local artists are all grouped together in one place. The
paintings are just laid out on the ground, or leaned up against a
fence, though of course the more prosperous have a little shop. There
are portraits of Masai men, chaotic street scenes from Dar es Salaam,
and pictures of wild animals. That’s what’s on offer. I don’t
see any other customers.
Most tourists only
spend a maximum of one night in Dar es Salaam, before heading off on
safari or traveling to Zanzibar. I was heading for Zanzibar myself,
but before setting off for the ferry terminal I decided to take a
a quick look at the old town.
Well, I only thought I’d seen pandemonium. The streets are lined
with vendors, and their wares – shoes and clothes – are simply
piled in the street between the parked cars. Everyone is rummaging
about in the piles. How anyone can keep track of what belongs to whom
and who bought what and when is completely beyond me…
I’m fascinated by
this sea of people, and the frantic bargaining going on everywhere.
Many of the women on the streets here wear veils, as there is a
substantial Muslim population. The Arabian influence. Men here are
protective of women, and you can get dirty looks, or even an angry
confrontation if their veiled wives happen to step into the frame of
your camera lens. You have to watch out, lest you offend local