First Impressions of Dar Es Salaam

Dar Es Salaam, the biggest city in Tanzania, is our home until Christmas time. We’ve been here two weeks now, and I wanted to share some our first impressions about the city. As a disclaimer, a lot of these will probably sound like complaining, and a negative post in general. But overall, we are liking our experience here, and it has been SO nice to unpack and stay in one place for a while. However, Dar (as everyone calls it) is a place unlike anywhere else we’ve been in the last year, so we thought we’d try to introduce some of its quirks.

It’s Hot

Not much to say, except that we are in spring now, and it’s only going to get hotter. Right now are days are in the mid 80s, but we are told to expect low 100s by December (ack!). This is compounded by the fact that few places, aside from more upscale restaurants and shops, have air conditioning, makes it really hot. We’ll definitely be acclimatized by December! On the plus side, there are several really nice beaches a short drive away, and the water feels really nice to swim in.

It’s Boring

Dar is easily the least touristic place we’ve been. There are no hostels or backpacker lodges, and most tourists only connect through the airport or take the ferry to Zanzibar. As such, there are no tourist attractions and no tourist infrastructure (things like free walking tours, an information center with maps, restaurants with English menus). It’s bizarre. So we’ve had to rely on the expat community much more than in other cities to keep ourselves busy figure out where movie theaters, good restaurants, etc are. We are learning the ropes but definitely much slower than in other towns.

One of the most common sites in Dar

One of the most common sites in Dar

It’s Congested and Noisy

Traffic sucks here. There are way too many cars, motorcycles, motorcycle taxis (called a bajaj), and buses (dala dalas) on the road. All of the major roads are perennially under construction, and there is no public transportation besides the buses. All of this leads to horrible congestion and chaos. For example, we live about 6 miles from the peninsula (the expat area). On a good day (Sunday, in off hours) we can get home in 20 minutes. On a bad day (like today, Tuesday, around 1PM), it took us two hours! On the plus side, one of our favorite activities is riding in a taxi or bajaj during traffic. Some of the drivers are crazy and are able to navigate through the mess with grace. And you often get to see things like busses off-roading across a muddy hole in the road with a two foot drop, and then the riders getting off to push it up the other side. All in city center!

It’s Expensive

This was the biggest shocker for us. We should change this byline to “It’s Expensive for Foreigners and For Nice Things”. Where we live, which is in a more locally-inhabited suburb (Ilala), everything is cheap. Our accommodation is $23/night, a meal out is $3.50/person, and a beer runs about $1.50. The expat area, which is primarily an area called the peninsula, is full of nice accommodation and better restaurants. They pay the price for it though: a 3 bedroom apartment is around $3000/month ($100/night), a meal out is $15-20, and a beer is at least $3. Most of the premium is because nearly every foreign worker has a housing allowance and a high salary from their company, and the prices have shot way up because companies are willing to pay. Taxis are expensive for all foreigners, who pay about 5-10 times the local rate, except on the busses (which are hot and crowded). With the traffic, it was easier for us to stay closer to Sara’s work and avoid the high lodging and transit costs every day.

So, again, we don’t hate it here, it’s just different. It’s exciting for us to live and work amongst local Tanzanians, something we haven’t really experienced on the rest of our trip (although it wasn’t our goal to). We will post about where we’re living and about Sara’s projects in the next few days, so stay tuned!

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