iSTEP Tanzania

First Impressions of Dar

Posted on: May 26, 2009

So we arrived in Dar es Salaam on the afternoon of May 24th (around 3PM local time). Dar es Salaam is seven hours ahead of Pittsburgh right now, so this was about 8AM back home. We cleared customs and collected our bags largely without issue (although we did accidentally take someone else’s suitcase along the way), and then met with our host from University of Dar es Salaam, Eric.

Eric took us to our residence, at the East African Statistical Training Centre, on the enormous University of Dar es Salaam campus. After giving us some time to unpack, we went to a local chain, Chicken Hut, for dinner. Everything was great, but for me at least, my excitement at being in Tanzania – meeting all the people and seeing all the sights – was counterbalanced by my exhaustion. Despite having slept through all three flights nicely, I really just wanted to go to sleep.

The next day, Monday the 25th, was absolutely packed. After a good night’s sleep, we started out bright and early to meet some of our partners. We went over to our partner primary school where we hope to develop our literacy tools, and briefly met with the headmistress. Afterwards we headed on over to the Institute for Social Work, and met with our partners there, who sounded very excited about the prospect of our involvement. We even started to talk about some of the details of our project. It was around this time, roughly at noon, that I (and probably some other iSTEP folk) was starting to feel the effects of the jet lag. As interesting as these meetings were, and as important as it was to pay attention, meet the partners and make a good first impression, I was having a hard time staying awake and focused. Fortunately, these feelings passed as we went on to meet people running some related projects, the WAMATA project – which focuses on HIV/AIDS related issues in Tanzania – as well as the Capacity Project, which works with the ISW on evaluating the effectiveness of the parasocial-worker program.  As far as the projects went, Monday was mostly about introductions and getting to meet the partners.  We had some preliminary talks about the social worker project, but we’re going to need to do a lot more work, even on needs assessment, to really pinpoint the problems and challenges at hand, before we can even start working on a prototype.

After the meetings, despite the fact that it was only 1:30PM, I was absolutely exhausted.  This probably had a lot to do with the jet lag, but I’m also going to pin some of the blame on the temperature (hot) and the humidity (high).  Since we were already downtown after our meeting with Capacity Project, Eric took us to a local restaurant there.  I had a delicious local dish, the name of which I can’t remember (I have a lot of trouble remembering Swahili names for things).  The dish consisted of chicken and cooked, unripe bananas, which I thought tasted a lot like potatoes, all in a sauce.  I wish I remembered the name so I could order it again sometime.

Lunch time was followed by shopping time, at the local mall.  We bought some necessary supplies, like a water kettle for sterilization, as well as some less necessary supplies, like some Twix and Snickers, and we got our hands on cell phones.  Cell phones are everywhere in Tanzania, and they’re cheap and easy to get.  Mine cost 45,000 Tsh, or about 35 USD, and although lacking any frills, is definitely functional.  The nice thing about buying a phone in Tanzania is that, unlike in the U.S., there are no contracts to sign – you simply buy prepaid minutes (which are sold nearly everywhere) as you go.  I was impressed with how easy it was, and how quickly I got the phone up and running.

Now, coming back from the mall we were treated to a real Tanzanian experience.  We rode two dala dala busses, the first along the Ubungo line, and the second on the Changanyikeni line.  Dala dala busses are an inexpensive and common form of public transportation.  The upside is that they cost usually 250 Tsh, or about 19 cents American.  The downside, is that they tend to be very, very crowded.  The first one we rode – the Ubungo line – we were able to get seats, and all was well.  The second one – along the Changanyikeni line – we were not so fortunate.  I have never been in a vehicle so crammed full of people before in my life (and I’ve made some pretty epic squeezes in my day).  I was struggling to not fall on anyone, and by the end of the trip my back hurt quite a bit from bending over to fit in the thing.  On the plus side, it got us home.

And now today, Tuesday the 26th, we got set up at our office in the University Computing Center.  We’ve got another full schedule today, including a visit to our partner school for the Braille tutor project.  Before I sign off, and head out for lunch, I’d like to note a few unrelated but interested things I’ve seen so far: a cow fleeing through the city as two men tried to catch it again, the people who sell goods to drivers and passengers when they’re stopped at intersections, the city’s many feral chickens, Boyz II Men Hair Cutz Salon, and even the monkey fleeing across campus this morning.  No single scene or blog post can communicate the experience of being here, but I believe I speak for the entire team when I say we all think it’s pretty cool.

PS – I’ve got a few good pictures, in addition to this one shot of Brad and me in our new office, but I don’t have my camera on hand at the moment.  I’ll put them up when I get the chance.

Dan and Brad in our new office.

Brad and I in our new office.

PPS – Sorry for the funny faces.  We can’t help it.

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3 Responses to "First Impressions of Dar"

Great to hear that you’re having fun so far! Thoroughly enjoyed your entry. Reminds me of my time in Bangalore. You’ve got an awesome 10 weeks ahead of you!

does the chicken there taste different than in the states, since it’s probably all organic and free-range? i bet it’s a lot gamier. sounds like you’re having a good time. post some monkey pictures!

Do you think you can start taking pictures of the food? I would love to see what you’re eating!

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