I arrived in Dar es Salaam exactly a month ago, on July 4th. I stepped out into a steamy night and made my first steps on the African continent, ready for the adventure to begin… Fast forward, and four weeks flew by in a flash, packed with new people, places and experiences. Here is the summary of my first month in Africa.
The pace has been quite relaxed, with work-life balance finally a reality. It contrasts strongly with the frenzy-filled, charged atmosphere at my previous office in U.S. I travelled to a provincial city of Morogoro, some 180 km away, got a glimpse of rural communities, met a number of extremely hard-working Tanzanian entrepreneurs, and made some contacts at the Ministry of Agriculture. I also went to one meeting where I was the only European person in a room of fifty people… it was the first experience of this kind and it put me out of my comfort zone. Overall, people have been very friendly and helpful, even the contacts that I cold-called were willing to volunteer information and put time aside for a meeting. On the downside, promises and commitments are taken much more lightly here.
There is a community of expats, with almost everyone working for some kind of an NGO. I have met a number of Americans; there are also a lot of Brits, and I heard French and German spoken in Western-style bars. Have not met or seen any Russians yet, but there is a Russian cultural center downtown that I plan to visit.
The beaches just outside of the city are amazing – white sand, tall palm trees, clear water, not crowded at all – this is a major highlight and a fantastic way to spend a weekend. In terms of food, there are two sides of the spectrum: the upscale (and overprices) restaurants and grocery stores on one end vs. the local (basic and scruffy) markets and eateries. We mix and match, while continuing our quest for truly fresh lettuce and sour cream.
The thing I miss most here is walking – it’s not safe to walk outside after 7pm, when it gets completely dark and streets empty, and anyway the majority of walking opportunities would be on dusty, unpaved grounds next to the roads. Transportation options in Dar include dalla-dallas (scruffy minibuses that sometimes get so packed, people literally hang out of the doors), bajaj (a three-wheel small vehicle with a roof, sort of a motorized richshaw), and taxis (which are plenty – this is how we have been getting around). During the workweek, the company driver takes me to the office and back. I also took a three-hour intercity bus from Morogoro (some 180 km inland) to Dar – a very authentic experience… it was a rather dusty ride, and next time I do something like this I’ll probably pay extra to have a seat next to me unoccupied. To some beaches and also to Zanzibar, we took ferries and boats – most of those rides have been quite choppy.
Places visited: Zanzibar (went for a weekend – amazing, must go back at least three times more), Morogoro (went twice – Uluguru mountains could use some more trees, will probably go back for more meetings), beaches around Dar: Bongoyo island, Kigamboni and northern beaches (will go back to Kigamboni).