Part bicycle, part car, part art-project, the vehicles are often decorated with bright paintings of Barack Obama, Jesus, and Che Guevera. Good company. The best have also been outfitted with sound systems, churning out cheesy R&B mixes and pounding rap songs, an inspiring soundtrack for my commute to work.
Three passengers fit comfortably in the back seat. Seven are less comfortable – three in the back, three sitting on their laps, and one up front with the driver.
Every morning, a series of negotiations with the drivers that pick up passengers two blocks away from my apartment. “How much to Kinondoni?…near the hospital?” An exorbitant mzungu price is quoted and outrage is feigned. I pretend to walk away until the driver yells at me to return.
Most of the drivers are adept at negotiating the worst of Dar’s rush hour traffic. When the parade of cars heading down Old Bagamoyo Road comes to a standstill, they jump the curb and barrel down the sidewalk, playing a game of chicken with angry pedestrians who jump aside at the very last minute. If there is no sidewalk, the drivers slip across the line separating the right side of the road from the wrong side, swerving from left to right to avoid the oncoming traffic. An hour long commute is compressed into ten minutes.
Frequent words of warning from those who grew up with a view of the streets from the back of a bajaj: never get in with a young driver, choose the older drivers instead, they usually have a wife and children and more to live for.
After more close calls than I can count, finally last Wednesday I looked up to the words CITY BUS and felt the crunch of metal. And walked away from a head on collision with a dalla dalla.
And now, new words inserted into my morning routine: pole pole (slowly slowy).
On Tuesday evening, ER and I took our neighbour out for dinner to celebrate her 17th birthday. KK moved to Dar eight months ago with her parents and two brothers and was not looking forward to a birthday away from her friends at home.
We went to a Mexican restaurant located at Sea Cliff Village, a development with dozens of restaurants, three coffee shops, an ice cream parlour, and a flashy outdoor square.
A few lessons from the evening:
- Although most of the food is breathtakingly good in Dar, Mexican restaurants should be avoided. You can walk into almost any Indian restaurant and legitimately declare it to be the best Indian food you have tasted. Addis in Dar, the Ethiopian restaurant on Ursino Street, is my new favourite restaurant. There is an Italian restaurant on the Peninsula that makes pizza so good that it rivals Nicli Antica in Vancouver. And the Chinese restaurants are equal to those I have been to in Hong Kong. Dar, however, doesn’t do Mexican. I am still trying to figure out what exactly was in the “sour cream” that was served with my fajita.
- Do not trust a 12-year-old kid to drive you home in a bajaj, even if he quotes a lower fare. The bajaj will break down, the route will be bumpy and the turns will be sharp, and your arms will be sore from trying to grip the side of the open vehicle so that you do not fly out onto the road.
- The cinematic masterpiece that is Dirty Dancing was released in 1987, which was before KK was born. During a conversation about our favourite Hollywood movies, KK disclosed to me that she had never heard of or seen the movie. An anxiety provoking fact on the eve of my 30th birthday.
- Despite the above, I do not wish that I was turning 17 instead of 30.
I start work tomorrow, and ER starts on Thursday, so this morning we set out via bajaj to find our offices. The addresses that we had been given were a bit vague. I was told that WLAC’s offices are next to the Soja pub off Kinondoni Road and ER was simply told that the offices for Lawyers for Human Rights was located behind the Institute for Social Work. Dar is a large city of about 3 million people, and there is a language barrier that prevents us from giving directions to most drivers, so we were mildly concerned that we would not easily be able to find these landmarks.
After only a few wrong turns and several stops to ask for directions, the bajaj driver found WLAC’s office pretty easily. The offices for LHR proved more elusive. It quickly became clear that the bajaj driver had no idea where he was going and he had to stop every few blocks to ask for more directions. This didn’t really help, as nobody else seemed to know where either the Lawyers for Human Rights offices or the Institute for Social Work were located. We turned down dirt road after dirt road, passing homes, office buildings, mosques, and stores. We were enjoying the ride, and it proved to be a good way to tour the city, but the bajaj driver seemed to be growing frustrated. Eventually a group of men having tea on the corner told the bajaj driver they knew where to go, and that the offices were right around the corner.
We turned the corner and arrived at a Baptist Church with English language services. Not exactly what we were looking for, but I can understand the reasoning.
After a few more wrong turns we eventually found the offices for LHR, although the bajaj driver must have thought we were slightly mad for driving around all morning to find an office that was clearly closed.
I’m hoping that the drive to work tomorrow morning takes much less than half a day.