Thursday, 27 October 2011

What Do Daladalas, the Dalai Lama, and Dead Rats Have in Common? Bienvenue a Dar!

The Calm Before the Storm - Heading to Posta

So I had been here for a couple months and still had not been on a Daladala (local “buses”) either in Dar or Zanzibar.  All of this changed in the last few weeks as I had the “pleasure” of travelling on both.  First  in Dar about 3 weeks ago when attending VSOs In Country Training (ICT) for a week, with the newly arriving volunteers.  I had arrived at the end of July “out of cycle” and so had missed the ICT then, including all the “pleasures” such as learning to take a Daladala, staying at the Econo Lodge or dodging rats and roaches on the streets of Dar.  The newly arriving group of 15 persons was mainly Canadian, British and Dutch, mostly couples and quite keen to get to know Dar…the sort of keenness one displays when arriving in an exotic locale.  Encountering a dead rat on the pavement close to Econo Lodge within the first few hours of arrival, just as the rigor mortis was setting in, was surprisingly taken fairly stoically by the newbies – including a very British “Owh” (must have been the jet lag).

Hanging Out the Door - Jam Session
For the first day of actual training we had the pleasure of taking an air conditioned bus to the VSO office and everyone was a pleased as punch (if this was the Caribbean and I was ten years younger there would have been some actual punch on that bus).  This temporary bit of luxuriousness soon evaporated upon entering the VSO compound.  While the bus was at the gate waiting for the security guard to open it, just outside my window I noticed an Indian crow had dissected a dead rat and had it sprawled across a branch on the beautiful flamboyant tree, and was hungrily picking at its legs.  Lots of thoughts rushed through my mind – how come I could never dissect like that in Biology class; was this part of the ICT training welcome; if that crow was West Indian might there have been some pepper sauce and ketchup on the branch as well; why is there a crow eradication programme in Tanzania (for another blog) as they seem to be doing a darn good vermin control job; was the crow also staying at the Econo Lodge and had the pitiful breakfast we had every morning and thus had to resort to drastic culinary measures to supplement his calorie intake; and finally, should I alert the others.  It was early in the morning and my stomach was still adjusting to the greasy coffee and spartan breakfast at the Econo Lodge (2 slices of white dry toast, a dab of butter and jam, a piece of watermelon smaller than my palm and if you are early, a banana so small it must have been bred for pygmies), so I stayed quiet.  Vanessa (Greek-Canadian volunteer and my liming buddy for the next week) did notice crow’s le petit dejeuner de rat,  and we had a good laugh about it later on – more on her later.

Amen! - Wer're off the Daladala 
Day 2 was D-Day…we had to walk to Posta - the bus stop, and take the famous Daladala to the VSO office.  In total 18 of us were going to attempt to learn the art of pushing, weaving and fighting our way onto a mauve striped bus, designed for about 25 passengers, but which easily carries 50 to 60 persons.  Instructions were issued by Robert and Claire (our ICT leaders who were also volunteers and patient as Job with our lot) and I given the unenviable task of trying to cordon off the entrance to the bus with my body and then push all our people on board.  I guess I was chosen because I looked like I had done this before or because I was West Indian – where lines and orderly queues are not one of the English traits that we adopted under hundreds of years of colonial rule.  When we got to Posta it is not so bad.  There appeared to be a few people milling about by the roadside and everyone looked calm… and then bus came, and all of a sudden people appeared from nowhere.  The passengers exiting were being crushed against the hordes of people boarding.  

My Water Bottle Had No Chance
Me cordon off what entrance? This was like rushing a PTSC bus on San Fernando Wharf when I was in High School…chivalry was dead and each man (and woman) for himself was the policy then and so it was now.  Some people were even climbing through the window to get in, and while all this mayhem was taking place, the passengers already on the bus were looking at us killing themselves with laughter….if you read their minds I am sure they were saying “Look at those poor Mzungus (white people)…like they don’t they have taxi money or what?”.   Miraculously we all got on the same bus – all 18 of us.  Most of us had to stand – more contorted than a Cirque de Soleil performer, packed liked sardines and inhaling a scent of what I can only describe as Eau de Toilet, coincidentally, the same fragrance as the towels at the Econo Lodge.  The ride was fun though…and just when you thought the bus could not pick up any more passengers, they would stop and another 6 or 7 persons would board.  So this is what is must feel like in a WASA fete in Trinidad or Soca Monarch Finals (well if I ever went to those).  I was packed in so tightly that you could tell how much coins the person standing behind you had in their pocket – well I hope that was a roll of coins.  The water bottle in my knapsack pocket crumbled under the pressure and looked like it had just come back from space.  But for 300 Tanzanian Shillings (about 20 cents US$), and the free jam session, it was worth the experience.   The icing on the cake though with this whole jokey experience, was that some people had apparently confused the word Daladala with Dalai Lama, and thus their Facebook update later that day read something like “I rode the Dalai Lama in Dar all the way to VSO Office this morning….it was hot and sweaty but so worth the price….can’t wait to do it again tomorrow.”

Dar es Salaam Skyline from the Red Onion Rooftop Bar
The rest of the ICT training went well,  and here’s a summary of the highlights of the rest of the week.  We took the Daladala a few more times (although some of us cheated and paid for taxis sometimes).  We faked a birthday for Margaret at the Badminton Club and got free wine and lots of attention. Vanessa had a roach run over her foot in front of the Econo Lodge and then someone tickled her heel in the lobby and she screamed like Little Richard and jumped into Margaret’s arms – guess she did not see the “No Immoral Turpitude in This Hotel” sign at the lobby at the Econo Lodge (no alcohol is permitted either). Vanessa tore her trousers before the cocktail lime at the Canadian High Commission compound’s social club (guess she really didn’t see that immoral turpitude sign) and had to cover it with a scarf so we called her a gypsy (well to be honest I did).  I accidentally spilled beer on the High Commissioner’s feet (it was bad Peter’s fault) so he bypassed Peter and I during his “hi, how are you” rounds.  We had a couple more memorable nights at the Badminton Club and also at the rooftop of the Red Onion Bar, where we once sat calmly while literally a rat race going on behind the outdoor AC units – where are those damn crows when you need them.  Or, by the way the actual ICT classroom training was very good as well.

Zanzibar's Daladala - What Can I Say? Nice Roads Eh!
Last Sunday I did my second Daladala trip. This time it was from Stone Town to Jambiani where I live.  I had spent the night in Stone Town after attending our VSO Zanzibar Volunteers Meeting at Chwaka Bay Resort.  The free lunch buffet was excellent, the free beers were cold and the pool was nice and warm.  Or, and the actual meeting was very good as well.  Anyway, after a day of mostly lazing around imbibing,  and a rowdy bus ride back to Stone Town, I met up with a VSO Canadian group that were in Tanzania for a few weeks to interview myself and other Canadian volunteers for VSOs 50th anniversary celebrations in December.  After an excellent night out on the town with them, I struggled to the Darajani Market the next morning to catch the Daladala.  Unlike Dar, I did not have to fight my way into the bus, as it was virtually empty and was parked for an hour waiting to fill up.  I thought to myself – this ain’t so bad.  But it was.  Whereas in Dar where the vehicle was an actual bus, this Daladala was more like a large pick-up truck with a roof, and a line of vinyl covered seats around the periphery of the tray (think taxi BVI).  Standing was not an option and as it went along its way, it kept picking up more and more people and cargo, and I had to fight to keep the few inches of space that I occupied.  This Daladala I estimated had space for about 15 people.  At one point I counted 36.  Not to mention we had a wardrobe on the roof, ten boxes of groceries, 3 bicycles, 2 x 4 planks and steel rods for someone’s house, bundles of firewood, containers of petrol and of course there was that famous Eau de Toilet parfum scent.  A drive that normally takes us 1 hour with the school jeep, took about 3.5 hours, including the waiting period at the stand.  Again, it was an interesting experience and cost a mere 2000 Shillings (about US$1.30) compared to US$50 for a taxi.  Also, the contortion practice I received on the Dar es Salaam Daladalas amply prepared me for the trip. For when I came off the Daladala in Jambiani, the natural curvature of my spine returned immediately and I did not look like the Humpback of Notre Dame – a position which I assumed continuously for almost 2 hours.  So now I can tick off “Ride the Daladalas” off my “Need to Experience in Africa” list.  Up next – drinking homemade Konyagi (gin made from papaya), which I am pretty sure does not come with tonic water!


  1. Boring! What of Beach Bar cruisin' to Dr Dre and Snoop Dog, philosphising with Rastas at 4 am, wading the beaches and tides, Mouse?!!!! Blah blah blah blah....dispapointed you trini-bastard!

  2. haha.... your post was the highlight of my day! (It was a really slow day.)

  3. bahaha, this has been a long time coming. it reminds me of a few blog posts i have been intending to write myself... we must beware of the immoral turpitude.. i hear it can come from anywhere (present company excluded of course!)


  4. thanks Margaret and Venessa...George.....the blog about your visit needs some thought and have to pass through the

  5. Sorry for spelling your name incorrectly on the blog Venessa....damn your auto complete

  6. Ish, this was HILARIOUS! I was dying...just picturing the scene. My favourite line is "Me cardon off what entrance" :-). KEEP EM COMING, be safe!


  7. Ishwar - had my first daladala ride last week myself. It was like snowboarding. So I have a question for you but I have an old email addy that don't work no more. Could you send me a note to Thx Lisa