Dar es Salaam, The Adventure Begins…

Stepping off the plane into Tanzania was intimidating. I hadn’t been given many details about who would be picking me up or how to get through customs, so I just kind of went with it and did what other people seemed to be doing. I was nervous but kept my cool, found my bag (which was unfortunately soaking wet from the rain during my layover in Ethiopia), and made my way to arrivals where a cab driver was waiting with a sign for “Maria Louie.” Close enough I figured.
I was hoping there would be other students from my program on my flight but it turned out that I was the only who came that afternoon, so I spent my taxi ride from the airport to the hotel chatting with the driver and just taking it all in. It was a long ride, and as we drove there were so many sights, sounds, people, traffic, colors – Dar es Salaam definitely catches all your senses. It was interesting to see the neighborhoods change as we drove, from the rougher parts up to the fancy hotel we were staying in for orientation. From what I’ve seen and been told so far, Dar seems to be a city with a lot of contrast – the rich are really rich, the poor are really poor. They’ve eased us in by putting us up in a nice hotel, taking us to shopping malls and fancy restaurants, showing us the posh neighborhoods where the diplomats live and doing everything as a big group. Slowly we are getting to taste more of the real Dar, at least as much as you can see as mzungu. Mzungu is the Swahili word for white people/foreigners. We hear it everywhere we go. People stop and stare, shout greetings at us, even take pictures of us with their cell phones. We are quite a sight when all of us go out together – 8 students in the program plus our small entourage of program staff. My roommate, Jackie, is one of the two Tanzanian students CIEE hired to help show us around and act as sort of an RA in the dorm.

During the day we’ve been doing Kiswahili lessons and taking tours around the city to try to get our bearings. We took a boat from the hotel out to Mbudya, a tiny island with probably the most beautiful white sandy beach I’ve ever been to. Swimming in the Indian Ocean was amazing – it was warm and the water was the clearest blue, and we were able to see all sorts of fish, eels, crabs, etc. We sat in these amazing woven huts and had samaki na chipsi (fish and chips) for lunch. The fish was as fresh as it gets!

After orientation we moved into Hall 3 at the University of Dar es Salaam, which is for all the international students here. There aren’t very many of us, only a group of 30 or so were at the orientation but there seem to be a few more around campus. There are some girls from Korea in my hall and I met a girl from Finland, but it seems like most of the other students are from around the US. The campus itself is enormous and breathtaking. It’s kind of like living in the middle of the jungle. The buildings are pretty spread out and then there are massive trees as far as you can see. Monkeys are hanging out all over the place, which is pretty neat, but if you’re not careful sometimes they’ll come and steal your breakfast. At night it’s so incredibly dark, which is a little scary but you can see so many stars! The buildings are very old and rundown for the most part, and the walking paths around campus are a bit of work to traverse. I also have to say I wasn’t really expecting to be using squat toilets on campus, but it’s just another adjustment to make. The dorms are very basic, certainly liveable but not anywhere near what we are blessed with at UW. My room is a good size and we have a nice balcony, and since my room faces the window I get to wake up to a lovely tree view. The bathrooms function for the most part, the shower is only cold water though and sometimes there is no water at all. We’ve also seen that the electricity goes out from time to time – totally unpredictable and sometimes hours or days at a time. It’s not a big deal as long as you keep your laptop charged! Apparently the university is normally exempt from power rationing but since the most of the Tanzanian students don’t start school until late October, we’ll be dealing with it at least until then. There are also no washing machines, so I wash my clothes by hand with a bucket and some soap. It’s definitely hard work and time consuming, but again, it’s part of life here and I want to adapt the best I can.
Dar is so different from Seattle in so many ways, but I am absolutely loving these first few weeks of getting to know this city and the Tanzanian way of life. Can’t wait to share more with you, until next time, baadaye (later)!