Karibu- Welcome to Tanzania
“Karibu sana”-meaning you’re very welcome, is a phrase you will hear often in Tanzania and is for most people the first encounter with the language Swahili-spoken far and wide in East Africa. It’s been 2 weeks and 4800 km away from my home; here I am in Dar es Salaam learning a new language, learning about a new culture and getting accustomed to the new environment. When you think of Tanzania, the first thing that comes to mind is the Kilimanjaro or the Serengeti or Zanzibar and not really the port city of Dar es Salaam. Dar es Salaam, or “Dar” as the locals refer to it, translated in Arabic means “residence of peace”. Dar is a major economic hub and one of East Africa’s richest cities not only in terms of the economy but also in terms of arts, food, trade, culture and music.
My first impressions of Dar is this-the weather can be quiet fickle, sunny and breezy one moment, humid and cloudy the next, a quick spell of rains and its sunny again. The people are welcoming, friendly and have a much laid back attitude. Women here are beautifully dressed in colorful traditional long dress gowns known as ‘Kanga’ or ‘Gomesi’ and their footwear and jewelry is festooned with stones and beads. The skyline of Dar is adorned with high-rise buildings and the concept of small cars seems to elude the roads as everybody drives around in an SUV or mini-van. Also, for some reason, there seems to be a large number of people riding dirt bikes. Traffic can be incredibly overwhelming; a 3-km stretch can take up to an hour to cross, the only solace being that you can get some shopping done while sitting in the car. Hawkers sell everything from clothes, accessories, household items to fruits and snacks at every traffic jam. One can also see that a lot of communities have made Dar their home. The Indian community especially has a strong presence in Dar with a plethora of restaurants, businesses, temples and grocery stores. The Indian community, to my surprise is already gearing up with dance rehearsals for the Indian Independence day celebrations on August 15th.
Dar also has its fair share of malls, beach hangouts, pubs and fancy restaurants. But don’t let this sight fool you, at every other corner there is a homeless family begging. Mothers send their toddlers to ask for alms as soon as they see somebody crossing their path. The toddlers, clearly annoyed with this interruption to their playtime, break away from their toys-a stick and some sand and address me as “Dada” (sister) with their palms open. I don’t think they even know what they are asking for. When I look at this contrast, I can’t help but marvel at the paradox observed in most developing countries. Rapid urbanization has led to beautification of cities with high-tech infrastructure but has not considered the consequences for the people living below the poverty line.
There is much to see, much to do and much to learn in Tanzania. In the coming weeks, I hope to explore the music, cultural and food scene of Dar and to understand how the different communities have had an influence on them. Until then, “Asante sana”-meaning thank you very much.