Still in the dark

Window-shopping from your bus seat

What makes you feel lost, unsure – a foreigner – in Dar?

It’s a fairly safe city. But there are no street lights, and those that exist are long broken, so travelling after 7pm always feels eerie, and nothing like being in a big city; there are few street names or house numbers (people laugh when I ask the address), so you can’t find your way round with a map; bus stops aren’t marked and your “taxi” might just be a man with a car; and there aren’t many traffic rules that people actually obey, so the roads are chaotic and dangerous; and when your bus slows down the boys hawking cold drinks or pineapples are frantic in their insistence on selling you something; and elbows and arms of your fellow passengers thrust into your face on the daladala, people are even climbing in through the back window to get a seat; and people don’t understand my broken Kiswahili because all the words are so easy to mix up; and opening times might be given in Swahili time; and cafés don’t have menus, or if they do they don’t actually have what’s on the menu; and men ask you personal questions before they even know your name (Do you have a husband? How old are you? Can I have your phone number?).

Daladalas – minibuses – may be chaotic but they’re conveniently colour-coded

But see it all a few times, and it becomes kind of normal and manageable. Except that just when you’re congratulating yourself, sitting back nonchalantly in a traffic jam at dusk, in the back of a bajaj thinking, a few weeks ago I’d have been nervous now about the pickpocketers… that’s when the driver tells you, be careful here, and you’re back to realising you know nothing about this city, about what is safe and what’s not.

Of course, no one knows what’s safe, or rather, no one agrees: the beaches in Dar have a terrible reputation for muggings; but expats go jogging there; people warn you off the markets, but I’ve found them among the among the friendliest places in the city.

My only remedy – apart from walking against the flow of the traffic, and carrying my bag on the non-traffic side, to limit drive-by muggings – is to make a conscious decision. That the worst that’ll happen is losing my possessions, and that it will happen at some point.  So you can get lost, confused, hassled, harassed, elbowed, frustrated, bumped about on endless unpaved roads, and at some point, maybe robbed, but – hopefully – you’ll be alright in the end.

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