One year of experiencing Dar es Salaam and visiting other parts of Tanzania gives me just enough voice to share some of my personal impressions and anecdotes with you. I have been asked many times How is Dar es Salaam? Is Tanzania safe? What language do you speak? What is the food like?
My response invariable begins with Tanzania is an incredible place and Dar es Salaam is as vibrant, hot, congested, multifaceted African coastal hub. Much of the city life occurs outside, on roadsides, in the crowded streets where motorcycles, bajajis, people and animals, wave through traffic effortlessly. Much of the local cuisine are simple delicious dishes. The Tanzanian culinary experience is largely based on barbecue meat (chicken or goats) cooked slowly over hot coal; beans, rice, vegetables and starches such as sorghum and corn. If you come you’ll have the opportunity to explore a number of delicious meals but it is the fruits that will impress you the most! For just a few cents you can buy large plump creamy avocadoes, juicy sweet mangoes, pineapples the size of watermelons and oranges at every corner.
Swahili is the language at the heart of the Bantu culture. It is the second most spoken language in Africa after Arabic and it is the first language of Tanzanians. Greetings are central; it is customary in the Swahili culture to exchange greetings back and forth before engaging in any conversation. Greetings are a sign of care and respect. So don’t be scared to try some words. Greet people with a ‘habari’ or ‘Mambo’, ‘Hujambo’ or ‘Habari za leo’, respond with a ‘safi’, ‘salama’ and never forget ‘asante sana’. Part with a ‘kwaheri’ and a smile. It’s a beautiful language. You will enjoy trying it.
It was not difficult for me to follow the modern African dressing styles. The fabrics are simply amazing and can be tailored perfectly to anyone’s shape and style. I now own a judicious mix of colourful and bold cotton-based pieces. In Dar es Salaam you will see many women wearing ‘Khangas’, a rectangular shape cotton fabric wrapped around their waist. Khangas are purchased in pair, they are used for multiple purposes: worn over other clothes, to carry children, as decorative hanging objects and as tablecloths. They contain messages all around their periphery and are particularly fitting to Dar’s climate.
A propos climate: yes it is hot in Dar es Salaam. However, the hottest months (December, January and February) will be long past by the time of the Symposium. September falls into the dry season, the climate is moderately hot. It is the perfect time not only to discover Tanzania’s most important city but also to visit other cooler parts such as the Southern Highlands or the Northern region around mount Kilimanjaro. Dar es Salaam is also an excellent port of entry for discovering African history through the distinct and magical island of Zanzibar and the neighbouring city of Bagamoyo.
The IAPS symposium in Dar es Salaam provides a unique opportunity to experience an emerging city. Many of the themes addressed in the Symposium are reflected in everyday life. Modern skyscrapers amidst modest single unit shacks in poor neighbourhoods will have you wondering about the gap between those who have and those who don’t. This is a place you will not forget easily, so come and experience it for yourself.
Dr. Nathalie Jean-Baptiste is Co-conveyor of the IAPS Housing Network. She is as a Marie Curie Global Fellow from the Technical University of Darmstadt based at Ardhi University in Tanzania