7 Things you need to know when visiting Dar es Salaam

By 06:23

This trip to Dar es Salaam marks my third visit to Tanzania. I definitely haven’t seen or experienced as much as I should but every time I come here, I feel more and more comfortable in this charming city. There are things that are just so unique to Dar and I decided to put together my list of things you need to know when you visit.

1.       The humidity
I love it when I get off a plane and feel that warm wave of humidity…but I realise I’m probably the only one. Dar is pretty much by the equator. It’s practically summer all year round and it’s hot and sticky even when it’s overcast. Be sure to pack your sunscreen and deodorant.

2.       Airport charges
I had no idea who Julius Nyerere was when I first arrived in Tanzania. He’s a pretty big deal. He’s Tanzania’s Nelson Mandela and I felt so uncultured for not knowing that. The airport in Dar is named after him and offers a very unique airport experience.

When you arrive, you are required to pay for a visa in US dollars whether you’re visiting Dar for business or pleasure. Now, there are standard fees that you can find out before you fly but it varies based on what you’re here to do and where you come from. For people that aren’t used to this, it feels like a bribe! I mean why do we have to pay to enter the country – in cash? The first time I set foot in Dar, I was trying to haggle for the price of the “bribe” but it’s a standard fee that goes to the Revenue Authority of Tanzania.

You’ll hand over $200 with your passport to an official who then takes it to an office for the paperwork to be done. Don’t worry. Someone will come out with your passport and receipt – it just might take an hour – but the plane full of people you arrived with will be waiting right alongside you.

3.       Swahili
Swahili is the national language of the locals although you could get around speaking English a lot easier in this city than in most of Africa. Even if the people you speak to understand English, it’s nice to be able to speak a little bit of Swahili as a sign of respect. Here are some of the basic words:

Karibu: Welcome. Everyone is so warm and welcoming and you are mostly likely to be greeted with “karibu”.
Mambo: Hello. The correct response to mambo is “poha”.
Asante (sana): Thank you (very much). These two words were made famous by Rafiki in the Lion King.

4.       Masai culture
Yep, the Masais you learnt about in school walk the streets of Dar! I love their traditional dress and it looks so refreshing to the usual western wear. Some luxury hotels like Seacliff have their doormen dressed as Masais to remind their patrons of the rich culture Dar has to offer.

5.       Po-le po-le
I think I spend way too much time in the rat race in Joburg. Even though I don’t like to be stressed in my personal life, I’m a frenzied mess at work meeting deadlines and fighting fires. I love the po-le po-le attitude that all Tanzanians seem to have. They say, “po-le po-le” – just chill – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being late for a meeting or responding to you later than they promised. There's no bad intent - whats the rush. Oh how I wish the Joburg business community could be this relaxed about life.

6.       A friendly people
They say South Africans are friendly. Yeah we’re a chatty bunch but I don’t think we’re as friendly as Tanzanians. They go out of their way to make you feel welcome – whether it’s a waitress or someone you work with. They will check up on you, make you feel at home and stop whatever they are doing to help you. And if they really can’t help you, they will be late for where they need to go but they will find someone who can help you instead.

7.       Traffic!
If you’re in Dar for business, you’re bound to experience the traffic. If you’re not there for business, try to avoid the roads during peak times. Most people get to work at 8 and leave at 5 so the roads are packed with everyone trying to get to and from work all at the same time. And just like the rest of us, everyone tries to weave in and out of traffic as best they can. It’s not surprising to see someone driving on the shoulder of the road in the wrong direction of traffic. Motorcyclists generally with a passenger and bajajs (tuk-tuks) weave in between cars.

Without proper road infrastructure, it seems like absolute chaos but they have nowhere near the rates of road accidents that Joburg has. Everyone seems to understand exactly how to let some people in and squeeze through others. Traffic circle rules aren’t the same as what I’m used to – it’s like: “let’s all try to get in first and then figure out who drives”.  Either way, I love that the city has its own unspoken road rules that work for them and everyone still gets home safely.

Karibu! Welcome to Dar es Salaam!

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