Tag: Dar es Salaam

Pay, pay and pay some more: Renting in Dar es Salaam

I was born and raised in Dar es Salaam. We locals call our city Bongo – a Swahili slang for brain,  and you need a sharp one to survive here.

My mother saved her civil servant salary for about three years to build the house I grew up in. For most of my life, I’ve lived with her in Changanyikeni, a peaceful suburb where everyone minds their own business. Apart from a lack of water in the suburb – we had to fetch some from the university block – Changanyikeni was a pleasant place to call home.

But after years of comfort, I felt like I needed a place of my own. I had spent three months in South Africa  living by myself. During that time, independence grew on me – there was no one to answer to about my whereabouts or why I was out late or didn’t want to eat dinner.

And so, at the age of 28, I decided to move out and find a place to rent in Dar es Salaam.

I gravitated towards the suburbs of Sinza, Mwenge, Kinondoni and Kijitonyama, which are coveted among young Tanzanians living on their own. They are close to the city centre and offer plenty of entertainment in the form of  bars, night clubs and shopping malls.

(Pic: Flickr / hownowdesign)
(Pic: Flickr / hownowdesign)

My first step was to find the right connections. The renting business in Dar is not exactly conventional. It’s dominated by middle men who connect potential tenants with landlords. You’ll find them every morning lurking around the suburbs, waiting for house-seekers to arrive so they can start pitching.

Most of them are good liars. They will wax lyrical about the perfect house, convince you to view it, and when you do, you’ll realise what an exaggeration “in good condition” and “lovely views” can be. And for every house you walk into, you’ll need to dish out at least $7 to the middle man as a “showing fee”.

I was first taken to Sinza, a middle class suburb full of bachelors and newlyweds who fork out a hefty USD 200 for a 2-bedroom house and at least USD 50 more for utilities. It is a nice suburb but I did not see myself living there. There is a bar, grocery store or night club after every two houses; it’s a party from Monday to Monday. Young people prefer Sinza since they do not have to drive out to have a drink; it can be found just next door.

My next option was Kinondoni but one of the middlemen told me to be very careful since all sorts of dark deals went down here. Drug dealers and prostitutes operate in this area, and the rent prices also put me off: USD 250 to USD 300.

A friend of mind suggested I try the suburb where he lived – Mbagala. Rental prices are very cheap here. For 70 USD a month, a fully fenced housed could be yours to live in.

He invited me to stay over at his place to get a feel of the suburb. The next morning I saw commotion at the bus stand near his house. People were fighting to board the bus to get to work in time. Some were even climbing in through the windows. One man complained he’d never occupied a seat on the bus for the past three months since it’s always overcrowded as people fight to get to work on time. With that, I immediately crossed Mbagala off my list.

After months of hunting for a place of my own, I realised that every suburb has its own drama. I ended up getting a one bedroom house in Kinondoni, away from the shady streets, for USD 150 per month.

I was relieved that my months of hustling were over – but I was also broke. Landlords in Dar es Salaam don’t accept one month’s rent. You need to pay six to twelve months’ rent  upfront. If the house you’re renting has damages, the landlord will ask you to organise and pay for the repairs. The money will be deducted from the next month’s rent – or so they say.

I won’t be moving again anytime soon. Independence certainly comes at a cost  but I didn’t expect it would involve this many people or so many dollars.

Erick Mchome is a former features writer for The Citizen newspaper in Tanzania. He is the 2011 David Astor Award Winner and worked at the Mail & Guardian between September and December 2011.

Car shopping with the help of Dar Es Salaam’s taximen

It may be that nothing brings out a man’s emotional side quite like helping a woman buy a car.

A few months ago I lost Maggie, my trusty chariot of several years. She was a big-hearted Suzuki Jimny that could never go above 60kph, but had enough 4-wheel drive muscle to pull cars three times her weight out of bogs. I named her Maggie, like Thatcher, a solid name for a tough can-do broad. Even the rainy-season potholes of Dar were no deterrent to her. While thousands driving lesser cars got stranded in the suburbs at the slightest tropical downpour, Maggie would confidently navigate the dangerous rapids at Shopper’s Plaza bridge, not to mention the deceptively deep Lake Millenium towers – both on important tarmac roads connecting to the city.

But she’s gone now. While I know that nothing will ever feel as perfect as her gearshift cupped in my hand or the way her engine growled on cool mornings like a smoker waking up, I can’t help trying to look for a car that has some of her spirit. Good news came recently – one of my taximen had found another fiesty little Suzuki that I might be interested in.

Let me explain a little bit about the real taximen of Dar es Salaam. They are amazing. In the course of a couple of years, you can build relationships of trust usually only enjoyed between a client and her lawyer or a patient and her doctor. They’re the guys who will pick your kids up from school, buy your utilities when you run out, deposit cash at the bank and never charge your Mama when she sends them on an emergency trip because they know to bring the bill to you.

Nothing is beyond them, not a 3am am pick-up at Julius Nyerere International nor a hunt for an affordable apartment in the mixed neighborhoods off the Old and New Bagamoyo roads. I put out the word about a month ago that I was in the market for a new ride. My taximen understood what kind of car might pass muster as a replacement so when Tony called me about a potential candidate, I knew I was in safe hands.

Little did I realise how much my knights in shining motor vehicles would invest in the quest! Or how dramatic they can be. As I took the potential purchase for a test drive it was impossible not to smile at the guys – two taximen and a mechanic – who came along. They preened over my familiarity with a manual transmission. You’d think I had performed cardiac surgery.

(Pic: Flickr/Daniel Oines)
(Pic: Flickr/Daniel Oines)

Yet within hours of kicking the tyres of this potential purchase I had to counsel Tony, who was having a meltdown about hidden costs. The next day I had to calm down Mwinyi who could barely speak through his tears because he couldn’t get hold of me for two hours in morning to warn me about the hazards of a V6 engine. I was in a meeting for goodness sake! If these men weren’t so damn cute with their concern, this would be a very vexing situation.

What does a feminist like me do with such chivalry, when I have always considered it the other side of the chauvinism coin? I don’t know what kind of women they hang out with – all the best drivers I know are hardcore stick-shift women who drive like girls and thus keep their beloved cars roadworthy and unscratched for decades. I usually take my cue from these capable dames, but in this situation it just seemed churlish not to let my taximen lead the way. Hysteria included.

Because no matter how hard I tried to detect any condescension or outright patronising I just couldn’t. Mwinyi taught me everything I know about preventing salt-air corrosion in the car body, the regular replacement of spark plugs, fan belts and oil seals. They are inordinately proud of my independent lifestyle – especially the part where I can drive a stick shift. Haji and Saidi debate politics with me and have helped me out of more than one tight spot in life. If getting a little unhinged in their zeal to help me secure a new car is part of the deal, what’s a bit of craziness between friends?

It is not just the taximen in Dar who are crunchy on the outside and squishy on the inside, which is secretly one of my favourite Swahili Coast quirks. I’m not crazy, I do like a man who is in touch with his inner mother hen. But when you actually have to deal with that from your male support group? Eish. It can be overwhelming. I don’t know if the sale will go through, the owner is a tough but fair businesswoman and we’re facing off over the last couple of hundred thousand shillings. Wish me luck. No seriously, wish me luck. The mental health of my friends is hanging in the balance, bless their sweet and sensitive souls.

Elsie Eyakuze is a freelance consultant in print and online media from Tanzania, working mainly in the development sector. She blogs at mikochenireport.blogspot.com. Connect with her on Twitter.

Beyond Nollywood: Africans through the lens

I have always wanted to claim some kind of artistic savvy, the more so now that I write for public consumption. Alas, that is not the case. I live on a steady diet of DVDs and genre fiction, driven entirely by an insatiable appetite for entertainment that feels good. There is perfectly enjoyable high-brow stuff out there, but somewhere between having Salman Rushdie and Catcher in the Rye thrust upon me I learned discernment. I mostly read historical romance novels now, with a very light sprinkling of titles that are more admissible in public.

Up until three or so years ago, I cheerfully consumed Hollywood products. Something has happened to Hollywood, though, hasn’t it? These days only Robert Downey Jr., Star Trek and 007 will get me anywhere near a Cineplex. There is always a silver lining and in my case it has been the expansion of horizons. Now that I don’t care what Tinseltown does to itself, I am present enough to notice some of what is happening closer to home. Turns out that there are diamonds in my backyard after all.

I grew up in Brazzaville, Bujumbura, Mbabane and Dar es Salaam in the eighties and nineties on state broadcasters and the very occasional video that was deemed age-appropriate by the adult mafia. My parents especially made substantial contributions to the Disney empire. There wasn’t any opportunity to even imagine that the culture I consumed might reflect me in any way. The African female audience member? Laughable notion. The closest I ever came to relating to any character was the youngest Huxtable kid, and that was a stretch.

The thing is, no matter how open a person is to the range of human creativity, deep inside she craves the familiar. Everyone wants to see themselves on the page, on the screen. We want our stories told.


About ten years ago, a particularly involved conversation with an African American about depictions of black people in popular culture prompted me to dedicate my senior thesis to exploring depictions of Africans by Hollywood between 1930 and 2001. The only good thing I can say about this exercise is that I met a man from New York with an excellent collection of African cinema. The rest was tears and horror.

Things have changed – there was nowhere else for Hollywood to go but upwards. Nonetheless, the experience left me with a rather unfortunate prejudice: the idea that only Africans can make competent movies about Africans.

Well, I was wrong. There is no explanation for Nollywood products and their unfortunate imitations throughout Anglophone Africa. I tried to find something palatable in those eye-rolling, garish, tasteless and superstitious cretins that pass for “characters” and failed miserably. The depths of loathing that I reserve for Nollywood can only be matched by how I feel about stepping barefoot into a pile of thorn-laden, fermenting excrement.

Development cinema saved the day for me, since it is always too long between good pieces of African cinema. Listen, I am horribly surprised about this, and embarrassed. We’re all Africans here, we know the deal. The NGOs and the Breton Woods and the savior-complex poverty tourists equipped with cameras and an internet connection have been framing us, selling us and commercially spreading the gospel of their cause for years. Sweet ancestors: are these people for real?

But then one day there I found myself alone with YouTube and a link to some locally produced, externally funded efforts. Twenty four hours later I was sold on the television series Siri ya Mtungi. It had so much that my soul needed to see: gorgeous Tanzanian women who look like the plumptious, dark-skinned, beautiful, complex and intelligent people I know. Men as venal and stupid and morally bankrupt, as delightful and gentle and wise and generous, as I have ever encountered. Conflicts that I can understand. All to the tune of an excellently curated local soundtrack.

There is also lots of sex. We’re all Africans here so let’s tell it like it is. Our sex is always depicted as exotic, deviant, or fraught with danger and disease. Like I said: tears and horror.

Siri ya Mtungi  is not exactly innocent. It aims to change the sexual behaviors of Tanzanians in order to curb the spread of HIV/Aids infections. Refreshingly though, there is no fire or brimstone here. Just good old fashioned storytelling spiked with provocation. They’re trying to throw condoms at the viewer, in the hopes that she might catch one like an unplanned pregnancy.

I literally watched my favorite uncle die of the slim disease in the nineties, slowly and painfully. Don’t need any additional behavior-change messaging, thank you kindly. Condoms come as naturally to me as eating my vegetables. Consequently I am not watching the series to learn anything new – I have a natural immunity to messaging – but I am very interested in the depictions of our sexuality.

Sex is a great lens through which to examine life. When someone gets your sex right, they get you right, donor-funded or otherwise. I hooked onto this series simply because it  showed me … well, us. The smiles were familiar. The cadences were familiar. The  settings are enchanting, the women feisty, the men handsome kinds of bad news. Finally. I can tell Hollywood and Nollywood to kiss my bountiful African posterior, for I have found some satisfying measure of truth on the screen.

Elsie Eyakuze is a freelance consultant in print and online media from Tanzania, working mainly in the development sector. She blogs at mikochenireport.blogspot.com. Connect with her on Twitter.