Today, I awoke as I usually do – cocooned beneath my mosquito net, listening to the sounds of the already-bustling streets of Dar es Salaam’s market district. Picture the lyrics of ‘What a Wonderful World’ set to the tune of a call to prayer. But today, in addition to this warm morning welcome that I’ve been fortunate enough to receive for the last 8+ months, I was greeted by some seriously shocking news in the form of a Facebook post.
According to the article delivering said shocking news, Conde Nast Traveller has spent the last 4 years collecting the opinions of its readers on the ‘friendliness’ of the world’s cities – ‘especially with respect to where you felt welcome’. 128,000 people took the survey in 2015 – and now, according to this exceptionally humble publication, ‘for the FIRST TIME EVER’ we can see how US cities compare to the rest of the world.
And according to those 128,000 cultured explorers of our Earth, Dar es Salaam has snagged 4th spot on the unfriendly list.
Now I am doubly disappointed in this one, as Canada didn’t make the cut for either list (I could argue a plethora of reasons for why Vancouver should receive both top spots) – but more so, because over the past 6 months of living in Dar, I have never felt more welcomed in my life.
Ok so I haven’t travelled much outside of North America & Europe – but according to the list, I don’t have to since over ¾ of the friendliest cities are located in the southern states! And yes, the 2 sentence justification for Dar’s placement on this unfriendly list does also admit that maybe “Dar es Salaam is a city one has to live in or stay a while to appreciate” – so maybe I’ve just been ‘round long enough to form a more holistic opinion on the place. But the award still disappoints me, because it has now had the chance to shape the perspectives of approx. 800,000+, clearly already biased, Western readers – perpetuating an age-old toxic image of this incredible part of our world.
I’m well-aware of that image as I was guilty of letting it terrorize my views on the continent before coming here, so much so that I almost declined the opportunity in favour of living & working in BURNABY, BC (now there’s a ‘city’ that could be tossed on the unfriendly list). However, I didn’t let the fear-mongering likes of Conde Nast & crew let me down. And so, in an attempt to ensure that the wonderful and curious readers of my blog are not led astray – I’ve compiled an equally FB friendly, click-bait worthy list of reasons for why Dar es Salaam is the friendliest city in the world. Here they are: 7 reasons why Dar es Salaam is friendly as f.
Jambo, jambo bwana, habari gani, nzuri sanaaaaa
“People speak to each other!” one Conde Nast reader manically wrote in support of Charleston being one of the Friendliest Cities in the WORLD (also once the Slave Trade capital of the world, but let’s forget about the history books for the sake of Conde Nast here). In Dar, people also speak to each other. And I don’t mean that in a patronizing way, because I completely get what the Conde Nast reader means by this notion. It’s alarming how much people speak to each other here in comparison to most American/Canadian cities. And in Dar – this begins (and sometimes ends) with greetings. Each interaction demands at least one greeting, but the limit is seemingly endless. Here’s a transcript of the generic conversation that I have with my building guard each morning:
Me: Shikamoo (respectful greeting)
Abdullah: Marahaba (respectful response to said greeting), umeamkaje (how well have you awoken)?
Me: Salama (well), habari za asubuhi (how is your morning)?
Abdullah: Nzuri (good), habari za kwako (how are you)?
Me: Sio mbaya (not bad), nimechelewa kwa kazi badaaye (I am late for work, see you later) << must include or the greeting train would never end.
And this is not just because I know Abdullah on a personal level. My walk to work is inundated with mambos and habaris. I once went on a road trip with a Swahili speaking driver and every effort to ask for directions came complete with a minute-long intro of greetings.
Dar es Salaam is an exceptionally conversational city, more so than anywhere I have ever before visited – and its greetings alone should be reason enough to move it off of the unfriendly list (and imho secure a spot on the friendly list), but as Tanzanians would say, “hamna shida” (no worries).
“Welcome food” is the direct translation of that phrase and it is usually accompanied by someone (often a complete stranger) physically extending his or her hands with a dish of food as an offering. Before I came to Dar, I thought I understood the whole idea of the ‘sharing economy’. I mean…I rented my room out on Airbnb pretty consistently, I often received congratulatory emails from car2go for how many ‘trips’ I had taken with their vehicles (still nursing debt from those), and I was never seen to refuse a free meal. But wow was I ever wrong. For Tanzanians, the notion of community is taken very seriously – maybe a cultural remnant from Nyerere’s socialist era, a foundational period that forged much of the country’s sense of unity.
Dada and Kaka
Expanding off of that point – once you enter Tanzania, you are immediately considered family (though the Immigration office likes to remind me that this is purely symbolic). I’ve quickly gotten used to referring to complete strangers as ‘dada’ (sister) and ‘kaka’ (brother – not kidding).
And expanding off of THAT point, most new friendships are accompanied by a (somewhat) mandatory trip to meet the family. And I don’t mean like Mom & Dad family, I mean entire extended family and probably a few neighbours. In the time that it has taken some of my ex-boyfriends to mention my name to their parents, I have been to a wedding, a graduation party, and two big family dinners at the home of a close Tanzanian friend.
Map coverage of Dar es Salaam and Tanzania as a whole is severely lacking. A comparison between the Google & the Apple map of my neighbourhood of Kariakoo is a testament to this. Street names are misspelled, or completely wrong, and some streets are forgotten entirely. This is a problem that my current project is working to resolve (ramanihuria.org). Tanzanians, however, seem to overcome this instinctively through the practice of offering each other informed directions. As alluded to in #1, pulling over to inquire upon local expertise is common practice here – whether lost in the heart of a city like Dar es Salaam, or in a rural village in the Usambara mountains. Although these directions are never as straightforward as you would hope for them to be and require a lengthy round of Swahili intros (once again see #1) – they are far more useful than a GPS and they force human connectivity in a form that has nearly become extinct in North America.
For Fundi Sake
Where I come from, there is little incentive to become a ‘jack of all trades’. In Dar, however, this does not seem to be the case. We’ve already discussed how there is always someone keen to help you navigate the city, but this willingness to help extends to all realms of life. Fundis are evidence of this. Fundi translates to ‘craftsman’, and signs advertising these ‘craft’ services can be found on every block in the city. You need a dress tailored? Ask a fundi. Hot water heater not working? Hit up a fundi. Cracked your iPhone screen for the 100th time? A fundi’s got you sorted. These Tanzanian craftsmen are at your beck and call for tasks that would (more often than not) require scheduling an appointment with a specialist back home.
From my perspective, relationship-building is critical business practice in Dar es Salaam – particularly within the service industry, and even more particularly in the taxi service industry. My contact list is predominantly comprised of B for Bajaji * insert misspelled name here *. These are people whom I trust with my life and, even more importantly, my belongings. One relationship-building marketing ploy many of these bajajis use is periodically sending a pleasant greeting as a lil reminder of their presence and of the presence of their vehicle as a safe, reliable form of transportation. I can confidently say that I’ve never loved a cab driver in Vancouver, but I truly ❤ all of my bajajis.
… I could go on, but I think these reasons should be convincing enough.
Those surveyed by Conde Nast viewed this city as an “unremarkable transit point,” experienced en route to a safari, a cruise, or Mount Kilimanjaro. And so I should note that if you are only visiting this fine country for a postcard perspective, you might struggle to see the beauty in Dar. But, just as we have been taught to behave on an interpersonal level, do not confuse the aesthetics of a city with the value of its soul. Dar es Salaam is friendly a f and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in experiencing the culture of Tanzania in its raw, unfiltered form.
If you’ve been exposed to the friendliness of Dar, please feel free to expand on this list in the comment section below – or just spread the word.