Remember that time I told you about the interesting things I learnt about Tanzania? I Member (South Park fans, hello). Well I wasn’t done. There’s so much to write home about Bongoland, I could almost write a book. But I won’t, I’ll leave that to one of our readers here. Anajijua.
Weather and Nature
Dar es Salaam is truly a coastal city. Sand covers the whole area, even by the tarmac road. Palm trees are in plenty, tucked in between houses and buildings. I imagine before there was ever urban development, the whole land was covered by palm trees. And a few mango trees.
As you drive through the countryside, you will see a whole collection of them. Tall green palm trees looking down on the short ones, showing them new heights to reach. They bend towards the wind direction, their leafy branches angled awkwardly yet naturally as if that’s how they were made. I guess that’s how human minds are also conditioned by circumstances. To look only one way.
Have you ever complained Nairobi is hot? Dar will laugh at your face, before wiping its own with a handkerchief. You know you’re a tourist when you use a long route just to evade the burning sun. Even the locals, Wanadarisalamu, complain about the intense coastal heat as they sit on the ferry.
I wouldn’t have survived there without the constant day breeze. It offers much-needed relief in the scorching 30°C + heat. Temporarily cools off your body, before the next heat wave hits your tanned skin.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not always hot and sunny in Dar. Sometimes it rains. An hour later however, the sky is back to aqua blue and clouds are snowy white, like nothing even happened. The only evidence left are the muddy roads and flooded roadside shops.
Interestingly, it is never cold. Even when dark clouds cover the sky, you still feel the heat. That’s one of the things I love about Dar; there’s no need for sweaters, even in the dead of night. Hear that Nairobi?
I know you’re wondering… how about their nightlife? Well few people beat Kenyans when it comes to partying. And drinking.
Culture shock hit me hard when I found out you have to pay about Tsh 10,000 to enter most nightclubs. That’s about 500 Kenya shillings. Even the high-class clubs in uptown Nairobi like Kiza Lounge don’t have an entrance fee. What was this?
If you hate paying money to enter already expensive clubs, you will find free local clubs every 500 metres. They are open from morning to night, selling food, drinks with a side of Bongo music.
I once visited a local with an interesting design. There was a small indoor club for youngsters, and an outdoor bar for those too tired to dance. They had fantastic dance music inside. A clever mix of Tanzanian, Kenyan and international music. The place, Bulls Park Club near Mlimani Mall. They also have karaoke on Wednesday.
Shots and bottles of liquor are pricy in clubs, just like in Kenya (sorry to disappoint). If you have a small wallet and a parched throat then Konyagi is probably for you. Don’t allow the stereotypes to mislead you. This is the true spirit of Tanzania, loved by both young and old, college students and working adults alike. It is cheap yet effective, an 800ml bottle goes for only Tsh 8000 (400 KES) at a localshop. Call it their Kenya Cane or KK.
Beer lovers, Dar truly loves you. It’s cheap to get buzzed in TZ, a beer bottle sold between Tsh 1500 and 2000. Now you know where to grab some cool drinks next weekend.
Tanzanians are forever in love. With their music that is. Replay is their favorite button. It is an unwritten custom here to replay the latest Tanzanian song until it sneaks its way into your head, and gets stuck.
I was not surprised when taarab music played in long distance bus to Bagamoyo, or when the driver replayed the new song between Ne-Yo and Diamond. Marry Me. As I listened to it for the fifteenth time during the one hour trip, the music critic in me started to wonder. What exactly happened to Neyo’s impressive songwriting skills? You know, the ones that wrote classic love songs like So Sick and Take A Bow?
There is one song that was played more excessively than the rest during my five-week stay. You guessed it, Muziki by Darassa. They called it the Tanzanian anthem. There’s not a single day I didn’t hear it playing on the street or in our intern house. I tried every single day to resist its constant charm. I didn’t understand what was so great about it.
But by the second week, I was singing along to it. Shika, kamata.
I waited for a whole week to hear Kenyan music. You don’t know how excited I was when I finally heard a DJ set full of Kenyan hits at a swanky restaurant. It’s exhilarating to hear your own music playing in a foreign country. To know that they also dance to Madtraxx’s Get Down, love Sauti Sol’s Nerea and sing along to P Unit’s Kare.
I simply don’t get it when people say we lack good music.
Tanzanians love to dance too. Especially to their music. At one children’s home, the kids had even created their own dance choreography for Salome by Diamond. I was quite impressed. Not so long after, I found out the veiled meaning behind the naughty song.
It is totally unfit for children’s consumption.
If only Kenyans loved their music the way Tanzanians love Bongo.
Swahili is the native tongue for Tanzanians.They are the true gwijis of the language. Among themselves they talk so fast, it almost sounds like a Swahili rap. In addition to, the conductors speak incomprehensibly – I barely understood what they said. You almost think it is a different dialect, exclusive to conductors only.
They like to mock our Kenyan Swahili. I don’t blame them, it sounds like a joke in comparison to their Swahili sanifu. Like the -anga prefix we like to add to verbs. Tunafanyanga. And our utter disregard for ngeli. It’s embe hilo guys, not hiyo.
Sasa is not considered a greeting there. Many times I would sasa my kids, to no response. How rude, I thought. I later on found out they say mambo, or habari yako.
I also got a chance to learn new Swahili words. Like saying shusha in a daladala to tell a conductor to stop the vehicle. I also heard many locals say kausha. That means cool down your temper… easy like a bird something, soft like a whisper.
Pardon me, I got carried away.
Being in Tanzania inspired me to practise the little Swahili I had been tested on in school. I tried my best to speak fluently around them. Used ngeli in the proper way. Uttered words I had only used in inshas before. Sadly, my high school Swahili failed to impress them.
Despite being Swahili experts, their English requires a higher education of its own. They learn all primary school subjects in Swahili, and only start to learn Chemistry instead of Kemistria in high school. That is where we beat them.
It was amusing to listen to them. They pronounce “e” when it should remain silent. Confused becomes confusEd. Say Adele while pronouncing the last e. Try it.
You’re now a Tanzanian.
The roadside signs tickled me the most. Like a “Repier” shop that offers “Spear za TV na radio”. Would you like some “sosege“ with your morning tea? At “Flolida” hotel? Or maybe you’d like to ride around town. I know a place with bikes “forsel”.
OK, I’m done now.
Dar es Salaam is a growing modern city. New tall buildings crop up every other day in the foliage of palm trees. It looks uncannily like Nairobi with the modern buildings and wide tarmac roads. But with smaller pedestrian pavements and more signs in Swahili.
They have way less malls than here in Nairobi. Or maybe, we have too many.
The city center is always clean even though you rarely find a dustbin on the street. Blame it on magic cleaning fairies?
Hawkers can be found on almost all streets. Unlike in Nairobi, they are not harassed by city council daily. This means you can comfortably get anything by the road, from your next outfit to your next meal. Moreover, every food vendor has a trash bin. Maybe that’s why the city is so clean.
Here’s something I didn’t see coming. Most of the toilets I found were low, like the ones you see in the village. And they are everywhere, from small houses to big malls. This can only mean one thing. Tanzanian love to squat.
Another notable difference is that the rich live together with the poor. There are no high fences or distinctions separating the two. Ujamaa. It’s not uncommon to see a polished stone house with a fancy gate and huge compound, surrounded by a cluster of small old bungalows.
There are too many mobile networks in TZ; one is spoilt for choice. Some I had heard of like Tigo and Airtel, and strange ones; Halotel, Zantel and TTCL.
Vodacom is the Tanzanian Safaricom. It’s probably the least affordable network, but the only one that works with M-Pesa. Mobile money is a big thing there, thanks to us.
Speaking of money, you may love Diamond, but he is a bigger deal in Tanzania. They call him Simba. Lion. He is kinda like their Eric Omondi, advertising everything from mobile network services to tomato ketchup.
By the way, have you watched the Salome parody by Eric Omondi? It’s a rib tickler.
I still miss mkwaju juice. And the starry nights. Being covered by a blanket of bright shiny crystals, scattered on the blue-black sky. What I don’t miss are the frequent night blackouts that only affect a small part of the neighborhood – usually yours. Forcing you to light up the kitchen using the flashlight from your phone as you cook. The charge quickly depletes, especially when there’s a blackout.
Tanzania is like a second home to me now. The home I never knew of before. It feels so familiar, even with its oddities and strangeness. A stranger recently asked me if I was a Tanzanian.
My amazing trip and cultural experience would not have happened without the youth global organization AIESEC. The young and passionate Tanzanian AIESECers who warmly received me and showed me the Bongo way of life. The small innocent kids who I taught and played childhood games with. I don’t usually like kids (except my nephew and niece) but these ones snatched a piece of my heart.
I won’t forget the young global citizens I met all the way from Argentina, Germany, Ghana, and Botswana. It was such an honor to learn their different cultures. My fellow Kenyan sisters made me miss home a little less.
I’m extremely grateful for taking the brave leap and going for student volunteer exchange. And to my mum for supporting me on my first-ever solo trip (Love you mama). It was worth every dime and second of my time. I wonder where I’ll travel to next. Kagame-land maybe?
P.S. For being such a dedicated reader, here’s something a little extra for you. EnJoy.