Dar es Salaam, much like many cities in the developing world, is sprawling faster than it can keep up. When you ask what the population of the town is you will receive a ballpark figure that ranges anywhere from 2 to 4 million. This means Dar has as many people (if not more) as the city of Chicago. The difference is that ten to fifteen years ago it had 1 million people, and twenty years before that 200,000 people. So the town has kept growing and growing, and still is growing. Out instead of up. That leads itself to traffic issues.
The city of Chicago is the transportation hub of the U.S. It has multiple Interstates and muliple lane avenues running in, out, and through the city. The railroad tracks multiply as you get into the city. And the mass transit includes buses, a light rail system, and free trolleys over the Holidays. All of this is well marked (unless you park around Wrigley). At any corner you can tell what two streets are intersecting. And the grid layout of Chicago has served as a model for many other large cities. Yet there are still backups. Granted suburbanites and tourists flooding the streets will help lead to lines and backups, but for the most part inside the city you can move rather easily.
I would now like to welcome you to Dar es Salaam. There are 3 major roads that form a spoke out of the city center. And then there are two more major roads that connect the spokes at different points. They are paved. A couple of them are even four lanes. However, I can’t guarantee they will be marked or have appropriate signage. Stop signs haven’t been introduced as of yet. There are a couple of stoplights at these major intersections, but usually only where there is a higher muzungu population. The rest remain uncontrolled. Then there are the dala dalas (buses) that seem to be as numerous as Abraham’s children and packed as tightly and chaotically as a mosaic. Please also don’t forget the amount of foot traffic along each road, as well as push carts and bicyclists carrying eggs and pop bottles. Despite all of this mentioned, the most interesting and challenging part to driving is that you are doing so on the other side of the road, and from the other side of the car.
My left turns were now right turns and my rights, lefts. I had to navigate a new distance that existed on the right side of the HOPAC Toyota we were using, all while avoid potholes and watching for the numerous speed bumps. Fortunately, the speed of driving is never that high. 50 KPM is about as high as you can get before reaching traffic or coming up to very unnoticeable speed bumps. It came time to turn. Whoops, I hit the wipers instead of the blinker. Okay, the blinker lever is on the other side too. Check. It is then I remembered this piece of advice from an American, “keep yourself in the middle of the road.” Good, the turn was successful. This isn’t so bad, I thought to myself and it wasn’t. Really nothing too exciting happened, breath a sigh of relief Mom. And we reached our destination. Not bad. So now if you come and visit, I will drive you around. It will be fun, except that we will be in traffic for a while. Remember, only a few paved roads, and “shortcuts” consist of dirt roads that only 4 by 4s can navigate, and they get washed out in a little bit of rain. So come to Tanzania and ride.