Hi guys! I’m writing from Dar-es-Salaam – I’ve been here a couple of days now.
I got into the city late on Sunday night after what was a pretty grueling, 23-hour journey from Boston to Dar. I had to leave for the airport at 3:30 in the morning, so I didn’t get much sleep beforehand. The flights weren’t too bad, though, and I watched two movies: Clone Wars (nerdy, unentertaining) and Babylon A.D. (improbably good). The trip finished with a (predictable) battle with Tanzanian customs officials over visa documents. The problem, apparently, was that I had arrived with a black-and-white photocopy of my work permit, which made the headshot photo on the permit look black. The customs official insisted that the picture couldn’t be mine, because the picture was black, and I wasn’t. What? That doesn’t even make sense.
Ultimately, I managed to sort that one out and I slipped through. I had some general expectations about my life in Dar-es-Salaam, probably based on the time I spent living in Dakar. Those expectations were all way off.
Take housing, for instance. I knew that I was going to be staying in an apartment provided by TechnoServe, but I thought it was going to be a modest place in a less expensive part of town. I mean, we’re volunteers, after all. Turns out I’m living in a gigantic, 3-bedroom pad with a guard, chilling air-con, 2 full bathrooms, and a giant kitchen. Even has a fine collection of pirated DVDs – third season of 24, here I come! Instead of riding to work in a daladala (local, inexpensive shared transport), we have drivers to pick us up, ferry us to lunch, and take us home in SUV’s every day.
So things are shaping up to be a bit cushier than I expected, probably because my apartment, work and the nearest watering holes are all on the Msasani Peninsula, an ex-pat-heavy part of Dar located away from the city center and next to the pretty coastline. I’m not really complaining – I can certainly deal with the non-hardcore nature of my day-to-day routine if it means I have nicer arrangements.
On first impressions, I like Dar a lot. The Indian food here is incredible. I’ve eaten three massive Indian meals already. The first night I got here, Chris (my roommate) and I went out for a quick bite at a local restaurant. I ordered a chicken biryani, easily one of the better meals I’ve ever had an Indian restaurant. I suspect the trick involves adding large quantities of trans-fats and butter, but who cares? At the rate I’m eating naan and rice, I’m going to become either: a) tired of Indian food very soon, or; b) a fatticus.
Also, they have Masai valets here. I’m not sure if this is common in other parts of the country, but around here, there are Masai tribesmen (you know, those guys from Kenya with staffs who are tall and good at hunting) outside all of the stores and restaurants. They wear traditional robes and carry staffs, and they help patrons to park their cars and find taxis. When we came out of the restaurant last night, we saw three Masai crouching in a copse of the trees across the street. One of them came over and called us a taxi, presumably so he could get his cut. I think the valet system is a great idea, but it’s strange that these guys are all from one ethnic group, especially one from so far away. Apparently the Masai have a reputation for honesty (supposedly, they can’t lie) so people like to hire them.
I’ve also been hunting for a Swahili teacher so I can improve my skillz. Rosetta Stone has been quite helpful, but I think a teacher could teach me some local expressions so I can blend in better. Blend in better for a redhead, that is.