Tianna and I arrived in Dar es Salaam in the middle of the night on a Sunday. Immediately walking out of the airport, we felt the humidity and saw a couple people sprawled out across ground. It was dark, so sadly we did not get a clear view of the city but there were immediate notable differences. For instance, the driver’s side is on the right and they drive on the left side of the road here, people are always honking, they drive very close to one another, and motorcycles tend to swerve around any and all traffic, disregarding regulations and their own safety.
After about a 45-minute drive we got to the house and settled into our rooms. I was very aware of how hot it was even though it was almost 1 A.M. I got to unpacking and I was sweating more from that than I have during some of my workouts at the gym! I finally laid down in bed and stared at the very loudly spinning ceiling fan. It finally started to set in that I was going to be here for the next 3 months. 3 months.With that thought in mind, I eventually drifted off to sleep.
The next day we went out to get familiarized with the area and we finally got to see Dar es Salaam properly. Everyone was out and about, and the roads were busy with traffic. There were cars, buses, motorcycles, and Bajajis weaving through traffic, all the while vendors attempted to sell their goods to the vehicles stopped at red lights. Shops lined the sides of the roads and advertisement boards for businesses were plastered anywhere there was space for them. It was a lot to take in.
I wanted to be in shorts and a tank top but the culture in Tanzania is different, women do not typically expose a lot of skin here. Despite temperatures being, on average, 32 degrees Celsius, some women wore jeans, some wore burkas, while others wore dresses and skirts that were not above knee length. A lot of the women were dressed in business-like attire, which I assumed to be working women or students attending university. I wondered how they weren’t dying of the heat because in Canada once it’s even a little sunny out, everyone is wearing the least amount of clothing as possible. I even noticed a few male students at the university wearing black dress shirts with black jeans and shoes, just casually walking around in the sun. I felt myself sweating a little more just looking at them and I wondered if I would ever get accustomed to the heat.
Often when people think of Africa, they immediately think of underdeveloped space. However, being here I have noticed that it is a combination of both developed and developing structures. There are parts of Dar es Salaam that are still under development while simultaneously, there are large intricate buildings present, making you feel like you are in an entirely different place by driving just 15 minutes East. For example, the town of Masaki has very well-developed buildings alongside tall skyscrapers, but you would not see that in an area like Mbezi Beach. Even on the street that we live on, there are houses that are very poorly built and falling apart neighbouring gated off mini mansions. There are distinct markers of those living above and below the poverty line, all residing in the same area.
We have been making an effort to learn Swahili as we are making all efforts to immerse ourselves in the Tanzanian culture. Yet, communicating with locals has not been as difficult as we once thought, since everyone speaks English quite well. The people are very kind and welcoming here, as we have been approached with friendly smiles and greetings from everyone. Our biggest battle continues to be with the heat, but as we are nearing the end of our second week, it is becoming easier to distract our minds from it.
Tianna and I are thankful for #QEScholars for giving us this opportunity of a lifetime to experience Africa in a such a unique way, while also allowing us to give back and help out at Ardhi University. Working with the CityLab Dar es Salaam has been a great learning experience already. Our colleagues there are very knowledgeable in their fields and we are excited to learn from them. We are looking forward to exploring other parts of Tanzania and improving our Swahili over the next several weeks.