We are well into week three of our time in Tanzania, and getting acquainted with the culture of Dar es Salaam is of utmost importance as we begin our research. To really get a feel for the city, all six of us interns in Dar went to the Kariakoo Market downtown last weekend. For whatever reason, we chose the market’s busiest day of the week and experienced mayhem as tens of thousands of locals bargained for their weekly necessities. It is safe to say that I have never endured chaos comparable to that of September 16th.
The market extends across several blocks with vendors lining all sides of the streets, as well as vertically to the third stories of buildings. One can purchase virtually anything there, however, in our short time at the market we primarily saw second-hand household goods, clothing, jewellery, shoes, produce, grains, and other food items. We weren’t able to cover too much ground, as we all felt quite overwhelmed at the amount of people, vehicles, and the attention we were receiving being likely some of few Western women at the market that day. To say we stood out would be an understatement.
I don’t think I have ever seen streets so full. There were people everywhere! Despite the amount of people in the streets, vehicles passed through without hesitance and it was every man for himself as people hurriedly maneuvered out of the way. It was similar to that of a mosh pit at a popular concert; we pushed our way through the streets while trying to keep track of one another and our personal belongings. Perhaps the most interesting part of our morning at the market was how noticeable we were. No matter where we walked, we were followed by merchants hollering “Mzungus!” and “I love you, mzungu!” Vendors ran after us to greet us and to showcase their products; it was humbling. We are perceived to have money, since we are foreigners who apparently possess the financial ability to travel to their country; it was interesting to be viewed in this way.
After about an hour, four of us interns opted to walk around the city a bit and escape the madness. This was also enlightening, as we saw the poverty that exists in this city. The people of Dar es Salaam are extremely friendly, helpful, and kind, and at the same time a lot of the city is struggling to get by. Scenes of beggars with disabilities (both children and adults) sent shock through my body, and I had to look away in order to continue walking. These difficult sites forced me to separate my emotions from reality; emotions that I will have to process in the coming weeks.
All things considered, my Saturday at the Kariakoo Market in downtown Dar was the ultimate cultural experience, and opened my eyes to the realities that people face here along with the privileges I have as a white Westerner in Canada. The risks associated with attending this market at this time were evident; that said, it was fulfilling to face fears I had of getting robbed or harrassed, or seeing something sad. I can’t say it was the easiest or most fun day, but it will definitely help create a foundation for which to base my research on in the coming months.
(Photo by Sonja Klotz)