Bongo through the eyes of a French student
By Ewen Le Clec’h
Last call for boarding in Dar es Salaam. It is 9:40 p.m. in Paris, and I am leaving for Tanzania for the first time. I plan to live there for four months, alone. I don’t really know what to expect from the place.
I saw some photos of Dar es Salaam on the internet of buildings close to the sea, and that was it. I wonder if I would see giraffes when I got on the plane. I feel a mixture of excitement and stress. Will I be able to get used to life there? Wouldn’t that be too hard for me?
I come from Saint-Pabu, a commune in the Finistère department of Brittany in northwestern France. It is a small village, 30 minutes by bike from the nearest town and about 30-40 minutes by car from the nearest town, Brest.
To get to Tanzania from France, I have a 13 hour journey with a stopover in Qatar. After a short transit, the plane took off in the middle of the night.
So I can perfectly see the city lights shining and map all the wide avenues.
After a few hours, I see huge white mountains; I am above the white sand deserts of the Middle East. The sun is just beginning to rise when my plane lands at Doha airport.
In the distance, I can see the tall skyscrapers of the Qatari capital. Two hours later, I’m back in the air, en route to Dar es Salaam.
From my plane, I see the Tanzanian coast approaching. From above, the city is much more colorful compared to France.
The roofs are of all kinds of colors; red, green, blue, while the roads are dirt or concrete surrounded by lots of green plants.
The sky is a little cloudy, not as blue as I imagined because I arrive during the rainy season. After landing and the few formalities, I am in front of the airport. The weather is hot and heavy, and the sun is beating down.
In fact, I’m a bit lost, feeling the new context of sensations around me. A guy approaches me, asking me if I need a taxi.
It’s a bit expensive, but I don’t know how to get to my hotel and what are the transport prices in Tanzania. So even though I know that the 40 dollars he charged me was way above the real price, I decide to let the driver take me to my place of residence.
I’m really impressed with how the traffic works here. The horn rule seems to prevail. The vehicles slide between them with a certain fluidity. I see daladalas full to bursting and motorbikes going everywhere.
Finally, the taxi drops me off at my hotel. I put my suitcases in my room, and go for a walk in the surrounding streets. Also, it’s a special day with lots of locals in the pubs. The national football team is playing an important game.
I can feel that people seem to be curious about me; a white, far from European tourist areas. They assume I’m lost, and they offer me their services. They call me and someone even asks me for a photo with him.
My first mission is to find a supermarket where I can buy water, food and get a Tanzanian phone number. After a look, I hear about Mlimani City Mall.
When I arrive, I notice that the mall looks like those in France. There is a KFC, just like the French. It’s quite amazing that even when traveling the planet, the big capitalist brands are everywhere, with a very confusing resemblance.
I will take money from the bank; it is difficult to realize what a banknote represents because the unit of measurement of the currency is really different from the euro, since a note can contain several zeros.
Otherwise, I like the food here as I look forward to trying the local cuisines.
Compared to my native village, I see such big differences. My village has a population of about 2,000 people in the winter and that doubles in the summer. There is a lot of agriculture in my hometown and it’s not a busy place like Dar.
Then my first days of internship at Mwananchi Communications Limited came two days after my arrival.
When I get there, I realize that the place is really huge; a large newsroom with about 100 people working on their computers. It is a large open space.
After introducing myself to the teams, my first task is to try to express my experience of Tanzania so far through an article.
There are a lot of things I find interesting about this place, but considering I haven’t been here long, here are some of my experiences in Dar es Salaam:
I’ve heard of the really colorful daladalas, which are the local buses and the most common means of transport here. It’s what I use to get to work. You really need to know how it works here to be able to take them.
Unlike where I am from, buses in Tanzania are not regulated by the district municipality and are still around. Most of the time, the ride goes well with them.
However, there are occasions when I ended up at the wrong destination, even after asking the bus driver if the bus is going to stop where I am going.
The conductor is a very interesting person; at each bus stop, he gets off the bus and calls loudly for customers to get on the bus.
They drag out of the bus while it’s still moving, get off or jump off after it starts moving. It’s not sure but no one seems to care.
I also saw, at some bus stops, tables full of coins and I didn’t understand what they were for because and I didn’t see anyone nearby. I assumed it was related to buses for people with no money, but that didn’t make sense to me.
It turns out there is a simple explanation for this. The coins are there for someone who needs change.
In addition, I also used the bodaboda, via transport applications or at the roadside. I have to be careful with the costs, because even here people will charge higher prices because of my skin color.
power and money
I noticed that the electricity can be very fluctuating here. Power outages are fairly regular.
It’s difficult if we want to keep a refrigerator cold with food inside. Also, it’s not easy without lighting and air conditioning at night.
Also, it seems like a lot of people don’t have a washing machine, so I have no choice but to wash my clothes by hand.
At first I walked around with cash because I had trouble using my credit card. So I was afraid of losing my money.
However, I heard about e-wallets through my mobile service provider. I still have to learn how to use this service as I understand it will be much safer than walking around with wads of cash.
Food and entertainment
I went to watch a football match alone at a local pub. In fact, people seemed intrigued to see me arrive there. Nevertheless, at the same time, they welcomed me to watch the game with them.
I didn’t know the local teams, but it went very quickly: at half time, one of the teams was leading with a score of 5 – 0. At the end, the final result was 7 – 0, a difficult score to imagine. possible for me before.
I had the chance to discover more about Tanzanian dishes. I tried beef liver for the first time in my life, fried chicken, rice, boiled eggs, fried banana called ndizi kaanga and maandazi. I also tried the famous Kilimanjaro beer and I think it was good. I also had ugali with meat and vegetables and found it to be a very hearty dish. The yai fries turned out to be a very unique way to have fries and I really enjoyed it.
Work and social life
Thanks to my internship, I have the chance to attend different events. The first event I attended was a press conference at the Tanzania Police Headquarters. It was an official welcome speech with a donation from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for the gender office.
I then went to a press conference at the French Embassy following President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s visit to France and her meeting with President Emmanuel Macron.
I then went for an interesting visit to an art exhibition about love and life at The Drum cafe in Masaki. A nice place for culture in Dar es Salaam.
On Sunday, I was woken up very early by outside noise. In fact, after asking around, I learned that it was a regular time for prayer.
It’s really different from France, where people don’t shout at all in religious neighborhoods.
With my different experiences of the city, I started to visualize and understand the different neighborhoods of Dar es Salaam.
I remember being super impressed with the train, when it came out of nowhere to cross the road.
Secondly, I was lucky to have been invited to discover the north of the city for a drink at the Mama Africa restaurant and to see the beautiful beaches. It was the first time I saw the Indian Ocean.
Finally, to the northeast, there is the Msasani peninsula, where there are tourist and trendy districts. I went for a drink there, at the Slipway Hotel with some French women who worked at the embassy.
The place is really nice, with a breathtaking panoramic view of Dar es Salaam under the sunset. In the sea, I saw fish that I had never seen before: little ones that jumped out of the water in groups.
the hunting house
Even though I have arrived and am currently staying in a hotel, it is important that I find more affordable accommodation.
As a student in a foreign country, the cost of living may become too high if I have to buy food every day.
I was lucky enough to see houses in the suburbs of Tabata that are quite different from what one would find in my area.
I also considered using the Airbnb service which seems much more convenient and affordable.
Take it in my stride
For the moment, I am benefiting from my experience in Tanzania. It’s culturally different from France and I need some time to adapt to life here.
I’m also starting to look at the activities I want to do here: going to natural parks to see lions, giraffes and elephants, seeing Kilimanjaro, diving in Zanzibar, meeting Masai, etc…
This experience looks promising and I can’t wait to learn Kiswahili.