By: Stephen Edwards
My days begin with the unmistakable call to prayer chants bellowed through microphones from the mosque located only blocks away from my apartment. It’s safe to say that an alarm clock is not needed.
In Dar es Salaam, everyone faces frustrations on the commute to work. Rules of the road? Forget them, they will do you no good here. The streets are organized chaos. Traffic lights do exist but they are useless. I have come to see them as decorations.
Instead, there is generally one police officer at major intersections trying to direct all of the commotion. My hat goes off to these brave officers. It takes me 30 minutes to get to work, and much longer on the way back. I’m lucky because I travel against the traffic. People making their way to the city center might take hours.
I generally commute by Bajaji, which is a three-wheeled motorcycle cheaper and more maneuverable than a taxi. They are tremendously advantageous for slipping through traffic jams. The drivers never hesitate to move into oncoming lanes or hop onto sidewalks, steamrolling through pedestrians to get you to your destination quickly. I love it. My parents would not.
Unfortunately, even with the most creative Bajaji driver traffic jams are unavoidable. But never fear. There is plenty of entertainment, including a walking shopping mall just outside your window. The street vendors see traffic jams as a lucrative business opportunity. You can buy practically anything during traffic jams. I have seen people get out of their cars to try on shirts and pants. I am frequently asked if I want fuzzy steering wheel covers (apparently I look like a guy who could use a fuzzy steering wheel despite obviously not having a car). Plastic chairs are also up for grabs. The best part is that vendors can sit on them while they wait for a traffic jam. Then once traffic hits, they are for sale. Absolutely genius. I know where I am buying my plastic chairs.
Dar Es Salaam has rapidly transformed into bustling metropolitan. Rich in culture and history, it is home to over four million people. This does present some shortcomings, including a lack of formal settlements for the growing population. The organization I am working for called Tanzania Financial Services for Underserved Settlements (TAFSUS), attempts to address this problem. It facilitates access to domestic funding for slum upgrading projects through provisions of credit enhancement and credit guarantees to underserved communities. We essentially assume the financial risk for individuals who wish to upgrade or own their own plot of land but do not have the financial means to do so and hence would be denied by any major banking institution.
We work with individuals and provide a manageable loan to help them improve living conditions or purchase formal plots of land. The project I have been fortunate enough to work on is called the Kigamboni Green Field Project. Through a grant received from the Slum Upgrading Facility of UN Habitat, TAFSUS has been able to purchase 80 acres of land, amounting to 374 plots on the nearby island of Kigamboni. We have so far approved 79 loans for individuals residing in Manzese, one of the particularly neglected communities in Dar Es Salaam, enabling them to move out of the slums and eventually own formal property. This is where my project has led me so far. I am looking forward to assisting the new plots and new residents implement cleaner development mechanisms such as sewage systems, water storage tanks, and waste treatment facilities to ultimately advance decent human settlements while sustaining environmental quality.
Dar continues to surprise me on a daily basis. Whether it’s navigating muddy potholes in a Bajaji, attending football matches of over 60,000 people, or learning about ongoing urban development issues, there is no shortage of adventure here.