For the past two years I have wondered if my love for Dar es Salaam was real or if it was skewed by a few experiences. Today, not even a week into my trip to East Africa, I can tell you that I am truly in love.
The city is, well, in a developing country and thus has its challenges. The organized chaos of the traffic is what you are greeted with but there is a charm to it. Communicating through horn honks of different lengths, flashing vehicle lights in a strategic manner, and ensuring you do not make eye contact with those walking by your vehicle to sell goods or ask for money is oddly charming. Waking up to individuals walking up and down the street yelling mayai (eggs) or various fruits and household goods like brooms is a daily occurrence. The tone of their voice is hard to describe; slightly shriek like with a poetic rhythm. All this topped off with the hospitality of the individuals that call Dar es Salaam home, makes this one of the perfect places to be, at least for me.
The days seem to be moving along as if I was right at home. They are busy at times and relaxing at others. Bugs are slowly starting to leave me alone as my blood becomes bitter like the locals, according to my friend here. I have not had the urge to venture too far, it does not feel like a city I need to be a tourist in, anymore. Yet, each day I return to somewhere I fondly remember with people I am happy to share time and space with. So, what exactly have I done?
Unlike life in Victoria, BC, I wake up and head downstairs to a kitchen I itch to make my own breakfast in but patiently and with the very very little kiswhaili I know, I ask for chai. I do not usually drink chai but it is the drink of choice here in Dar es Salaam and I am not really sure what to replace it with as I am not a fan of the milk. I have been having bread and butter for breakfast because to me that is the perfect fit with chai (thanks Dad) but my body is quickly reminding me of the effects of too much wheat. Then, I spend some time reading, writing, and catching up on emails, local and international. While I am here in Dar es Salaam I am hoping to be as beneficial to the community as possible, which means that my evenings are spent in meetings or consulting with families in need and their support systems. Transversing the different contexts has proven the benefits of local knowledge; I constantly find myself referring to my peers who reside here on the ground for their input, for their engagement, and guidance.
Yesterday, however, was a day for me. My morning routine was the same, my afternoon was about self-reflection and self-care. I, with the assistance of my hosts driver, went to a strip mall style place that boarders the area of Dar es Salaam that many expats reside in. Here you can find a grocery store that offers many of the same items as you would in a small Canadian store including British chocolate, coffee shops, and other international goods. It used to house a video store but I did not see it this time around, sigh. Sea Cliff also has a hotel and an ocean view cafe. Karambezi Cafe was a place that I and the other interns would go to when we wanted home-like food or wanted to grab a drink during the afternoon.
My time at Karambezi Cafe was really nice. I sat there for nearly three hours enjoying the view, journalling (because caring for the self does not stop based on where you are in the world), and reading.
Upon returning home, I realized just how tired I was. I cannot even blame the heat this time around as it is not nearly as hot as it can get or has been in the past. Perhaps vacation mode took over. The twenty minute nap was perfect before I headed to prayers, a regular and consistent evening activity for many Ismaili Muslims here in Dar es Salaam. Then, just like the night before, prayers was followed by an evening out for food with a friend.
There is much more to say, many of my thoughts constantly wandering through my mind. I wonder about when I will get to return to Dar before I have even left the city, I think about the community life here versus back at home, I desire more time here but yearn for the freedom and independence living in Canada provides, and debate drastic differences in religious and spiritual practices based on context. Oh wait, it was exactly these thoughts that propelled my doctoral research project!