Perhaps what I found to be the most prominent symbol of urban life in Tanzania was the Dala Dala. They are minibuses which go around in circles in the cities. The majority of them have fixed routes (you can recognize the route by the colour of them) running continuously between early morning to late night and some of them are publicly run. They are not the most safe mode of transport as they drive in speeds not suitable for the infrastructure of the cities, obviously have no safety measures i.e. seat belts, and they are severely overcrowded. They have a driver at the front and a ‘conductor’ at the back being in charge of the door of the minibus which slides sideways. His job is to convince people to get in his Dala Dala and receive the money.
A typical ride with a Dala Dala would start off by having the conductor getting off the Dala Dala to come physically pull us into it or spend ages convincing us to get on it. Something that made me feel very uncomfortable was that a lot of locals would get off their seats to offer it to us. I would of course refuse to take the seat of another person and was often frustrated at the praise I was receiving merely because of my skin colour. Why does skin colour have to be such a determinant factor in the respect and opportunities one has? Anyway, we would then try either sit down all squashed up or stay stood up, which felt like surfing on a boiling surfboard (as the floor of the minibuses was made of metal and was directly over the mechanical systems of the car). Following that, I would feel people stroke my hair or touch my shoulders; white people symbolize privilege in Tanzania and so there is this common belief that if you touch a white person then you will have luck in your life. Once more, I was frustrated not because I was being touched, but rather because I did not see how or why being ‘white’ (which I am not I am just whiter than them), made me superior in any way to the locals.
The most frightening experience I had in Moshi was actually in a Dala Dala. We took it after our shift at the hospital was done to go to the house. I was with Anj. The others had gone to grab lunch. We got on the Dala Dala which at some point stopped, and the conductor asked all the locals to get out of the Dala Dala and join the next one on. Not understanding what was going on, we found ourselves alone with the conductor and driver who started driving off again. And there I was sitting alone with Anj, the conductor for the first time ever sat down on a chair and closed both the side door and its window and just stared at us, while the driver started taking a completely different path to the one he’d normally take (of course Anj and I who were the most ‘better safe than sorry’ minds of the group had already memorized the route and always kept checking on the driver). No need to elaborate further, I think you get how terrified we were assuming what the driver and the conductor were on. It may sound ridiculous to you but following that I reached in my first aid kit to grab the first aid scissors I had in case I needed to attack someone, and threatened the conductor that of he didn’t stop the Dala Dala for us to get off I would kill him – It is okay if you laughed, I laugh myself whenever I say the story and I am currently laughing as I am writing this. But in all honesty, when you are found in a scenario which is possibly a life or death situation, quite a lot of survival mechanisms and instincts, always accompanied by a BIG adrenaline rush, come to the surface. Reflecting back on it you are left stunned at yourself because you didn’t even know you could ever react in such a way.
I was later trying to explain the above story to a wise and beloved uncle back home, and he explained to me why I felt the way I did using the Johari window as an example. The Johari window is a model I deeply agree with. I guess that event brought to the surface some of my unknown character traits.
I was glad the driver stopped and let us out of the car eventually. The some serious orientation skills were used to find our way back to the house from the stranded roads he dropped us off in.
*Photo taken from TrekEarth