Rooftop overlooking Dar es Salaam city center
I remember the anticipation and excitement I had when I was flying into Chicago from Tanzania last August – I had been gone an entire year from America. I could hardly contain myself when I saw the city’s clean, gridded urban planning, the abundance of grassy parks, and the dark summer waters of Lake Michigan from the plane. But last week, I went from Uganda back to Tanzania for the first time since I left. I had similar sentiments as I drew near to Dar es Salaam’s Indian Ocean coast, its swathes of palm trees, white sands, and its nearby islands. Chicago is where the heart is, but I’ve come to realize that Tanzania is my second home. When I finally took my first breath of Dar air, I was enveloped in the unmistakable humidity and heat that characterizes the city, but somehow I didn’t even mind.
Coconuts sold on the streets
I stayed in city center, and all the things that are typical of Dar came rushing back to me on all sides. It took just a quick walk around the streets to see all the women walking around in colorful traditional kangas, the wazees with their decorative Muslim hats and thick beards, the roasted chicken and nyama choma stands that grilled until the wee hours of the night, the maandazi sellers on the side of the roads, and of course the dalla-dalla buses blasting Bongo-Flava with their conductors shouting all corners of the city – Posta, Masaki, Mwenge, Kariakoo, Buguruni, Mbezi. Dar es Salaam is a true mixture of cultures and people from around the rim of the Indian Ocean as well as the interior of Africa. As the sun set, the muezzins from mosques across the city simultaneously send their calls to prayer, as they have for centuries since Arab traders introduced the faith. And while English is commonplace in Uganda, I was once again immersed in pure Tanzanian Swahili. I’d forgotten about the pole-pole pace of the place, but I had no problem adopting it, buying coconuts and sipping their water while slowy strolling around.
Indian Ocean Coast of Dar es Salaam
First and foremost, I wanted to see my MPH classmates with whom I spent the majority of my year in Tanzania. There were 21 of us in total, 19 in Tanzania, and only a handful who remained in Dar es Salaam while the rest were scattered across the country. I was able to meet up with a good number of the ones who remained in Dar, and it was fantastic – lots of yelling, smiling, and Tanzanian 3-sided hugs. They even called up all of the other classmates who are in different regions of the country so I could speak with them on the phone. It basically felt like one of those movies where at the end it tells you what all the main characters are doing since the story ended. And holy cow, my classmates are doing some extraordinary things. Basically everyone received a promotion after obtaining their MPH. Some are country managers of international NGOs, health directors, Ministry of Health officials, District Medical Officers, and more. I sadly missed our graduation ceremony which was this past December, but apparently Tanzania’s president, Jakaya Kikwete was the guest of honor and earned an honorary degree in public health, so everyone was joking that he was basically our classmate.
MPH reunions with Aisa and Irene
I saw my professors, who were quite surprised but pleased to see me. They all wanted to make sure that my MPH skills were being put to use, and I assured them that they certainly were with my current internship in Kampala. The Muhimbili campus was as I remembered, but unusually busy with people flying around because the US Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, happened to be visiting the campus and hospital later that afternoon.
Catching up with old friends
Of course, the trip wouldn’t be complete without visiting my scholarship sponsors, Rotary. I went to a club meeting. Usually, one Rotarian introduces me as a guest, but the president said, “We all know you, so you’re everyone’s guest. Welcome back.” I even met my Rotary host family from last year. I didn’t get a chance to tell everyone I was coming beforehand for a visit, so first they’d be shocked and excited when I called, thinking I was calling from the US. This would then be followed by further excitement which would progress to shouts when I told them I was in Dar. I saw several families, neighbors, and friends, including some international friends who had returned for the summer. We drove along the oceanfront, spent the nights on familiar rooftops, and ate at our favorite places. I literally had breakfast, lunch, and dinner with someone every day I was there.
Colonial buildings of Dar
Dar es Salaam is Arabic for “Haven of Peace” but that certainly isn’t always the case in this city of 3 million. I forgot about the bureaucracy, which was more than evident as I tried to obtain my transcript from my university. It involved getting a dozen signatures from different departments, my undergrad diplomas, and my birth certificate. While the nights were cooler as this is ‘winter’ in Dar, the heat during the day was far from comfortable. The city is significantly more expensive than Kampala. Additionally, the government is rationing electricity to Dar es Salaam almost every single day, cutting it for 15 hour stretches. But at the end of the day, I can’t deny my fondness for the city – after all, I was drawn back without hesitation. I’ve already counted my blessings on being able to come here not once, but twice thanks to Rotary and GHFP. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to return again, but everyone told me “Karibu tena tee-zed” – welcome again to TZ. As they say in Swahili, mungu akipenda – if God wills it.