Kariakoo neighbourhood, Saturday 10pm: the main market hall may have closed, but some traders on the poorly-lit streets nearby are still open for business, and people, flip-flop-clad or barefoot, are still milling around. Atop the concrete steps of the market hall, a row of beds – bare sheets of cardboard – are already occupied.
From behind the locked doors and windows of my Tanzanian friend’s car, I’m getting an oddly close-up view of a place I’d be cautious about visiting even in broad daylight. Earlier, a German friend had admitted even he’d gone too far by venturing in there alone, having been surrounded and nearly robbed within minutes of arriving.
I’m safely tucked into the passenger seat however, and our brief tour takes us from Kariakoo, one of the city’s poorest parts, past various ministries and State House, and past lengthy tailbacks of cars waiting to cross to the other side of the bay on ferry that can only take 60 of them at a time.
My Tanzanian friend, telling me that crime in Dar has risen significantly in the past few years, echoes countless other warnings I’ve had of muggings and robberies of traffic-stopped vehicles. She says the wealth divide has increased – one argument in favour of the post-independence socialist system that lasted until the 1980s. By now, there’s an emerging middle class – still small enough so that “everyone knows everyone”, she explains, as we bump into a schoolfriend of hers in the Kempinski hotel; but significant enough to enable places like the 8th floor Kempinski bar, with view over the twinkling harbour lights, to exist.