Help From an Unknown Angel

Many people may have heard that being connected to your family and community in Sub-Saharan Africa is a very important aspect of a person’s life. It also applies when helping a person in need. Authors, Richmond and Gestrin state in their book Into Africa that…

“In terms of African thought, life can be meaningful only in community, not in   isolation…”[1]

            So one day, my friend and I wanted to go for a walk and we decided to walk to a nearby grocery store. It was in the afternoon in the middle of October when the sun was scorching in the sky. We found the directions to the grocery store on Google maps and headed out into the vast unknown Tanzanian inner streets as directed by Google maps. Following the map on foot can be a challenging ordeal as it is slower and map doesn’t update the location as frequently.

As we approached one of the many crossroads we didn’t know whether to turn left or right to continue. Being adventurists, we made a decision to continue walking on the dirt road ahead – hoping the map will eventually lead us in the right direction. Well it didn’t turn out that way… the map was now showing us a few different paths to get to our destination and we were… well… a little lost. Feeling uncertain in an unknown territory and hesitant of talking to strangers, we finally decided to ask for help. The first few people that we asked didn’t speak English and were unable to help us. But instead of just moving on they would at least refer us to someone else nearby. As stated in the book Into Africa

“African [black] culture is a “we” culture based on the community and

communal experience… Western [white] culture on the other hand is an

“I” culture – it’s far more individualistic.”[2]

                We continued to walk along the unknown path until finally luck struck; a fellow local person walking along greeted us and asked how we were doing in English. We walked over to ask him for help with directions. But since he didn’t know where this grocery store was, he stopped another person along the way and asked if he knew. Within a matter of a minute, it became a “responsibility” for these two gentlemen to help us “muzungus” (“foreigners” in Swahili) find our way to the grocery store. The second person whom we stopped to ask knew where we wanted to go and he realized that this grocery store was too far and offered to find a bajaji to take us there. However, we insisted that we wanted to walk to the grocery store and we just wanted to know which way to go (we thought that it was going to be a short walk).

Instead of just giving us directions, he insisted to come along. Being typical muzungus from North America, we were very hesitant at first but decided to go along with this person (we thought he would walk us part of the way). As we continued to walk through the inner streets of this neighbourhood, we came to realize that he was walking us all the way to the store. At that moment we felt grateful, surprised and completely amazed with how helpful some of the locals are especially when it comes to helping foreigners. It was stated in the book, Into Africa that…

“While foreigners may be seen as outsiders, Africans can nevertheless be very

protective of those they have befriended, especially women. The welfare of

 foreigners whom they know is a concern of Africans who believe it would

reflect badly on them should some harm befall their visitors. This

concern includes accompanying a single woman, even where she may

feel perfectly safe and sitting with foreign friends who are ill.”[3]

               After walking for what felt like miles, our destination was in clear view. The store was definitely not as close as we had originally thought. As we approached our destination we offered to buy him a drink from the coffee shop located in the same plaza. He was “an angel in disguise” who took time from his schedule and walked us all the way to our destination. We parted ways after we bought him a drink at the coffee shop.

My reason for writing about this experience is because… having lived in India before; asking for directions is a norm. Getting around to different places in India is like going through a maze. Even though people are willing to help by giving you directions to your destination, no one in my personal experience has ever gone out of their way to walk me to my destination (in India and other countries that I have traveled to). Being aware of the colonial history, I never thought that I would meet someone so gracious to walk two foreigners, all the way to their destination. It was just a very positive experience that left me with lingering feelings of humility, gratitude, happiness, optimism, hopefulness and being blessed.

Furthermore, walking on the inner streets of our neighbourhood, there were many fascinating things I observed. First and foremost, all the roads were unpaved; there was not a lot of traffic. At most, there were one or two cars that drove by, a few motorcycles, bajajis’ (also called “tuktuk” or “auto-rickshaw” in other parts of the world), lots of bicycles and people on foot. The neighbourhood was very quiet and serene even though we were not that far from the main road – Bagamoyo, where heavy traffic is constantly observed throughout the day.

blog 1 - photo 1   blog 1 - photo 2

Photo 1 and 2: Dirt roads on the way to the grocery store. © Priyanka Kaul, 2017

                Dar es Salaam Infrastructure Development Programme report acknowledges that “The city has a large infrastructure backlog causing shortfalls in service delivery and does not have the capacity to effectively cope with its rapid growth. Most of the developed areas in Dar es Salaam are unplanned, with insecure tenure and poorly provided with basic infrastructure services.” The report states that “As the municipality expands, new settlements continue to develop in the peri-urban areas without adequate road infrastructure.” It recognizes that “Many existing roads are in need of immediate rehabilitation as they have not been maintained in many years, and furthermore, many of the roads are now beyond their designed life.” [4] Furthermore, the report assures that there will be construction of new roads connecting to existing roads nearby and also proposes to scale up rehabilitation and improve roads maintenance systems.

Secondly, there was a huge variety in the style of homes in the area. Some of the houses were huge villas in pristine condition while others were smaller, older and one level homes.

blog 1 - photo 3Photo 3: Homes in pristine condition. © Priyanka Kaul, 2017

However, there were also a lot of unfinished homes and there didn’t seem to be any construction going on, but people had built small shack type huts (constructed from material such as small logs, mud and straw – in very poor condition) to live in, on the same property. Curious to find out, I recently asked a Tanzanian local why there were so many unfinished homes everywhere in the city and the villages. It turns out that people build homes when funds are available. The people have to accumulate funds in order to buy construction material to continue building their homes. It is a very slow and tiresome process.[5]

blog 1 - photo 4     Photo 4: Unfinished home in the background and a make-shift small market stand in the foreground located on the same property. © Priyanka Kaul, 2017

            It was overall an amazing, eye-opening experience that changed my mind set and compelled me to continue to learning and observing, as well as critically thinking about the world and environment we live in, in order to bring about the necessary changes needed to create a positive and comfortable environment for everyone to live in.

[1] Richmond, Yale and Gestrin, Phyllis. Into Africa: A guide to sub-Saharan culture and diversity – Second Edition. (Intercultural Press: A Nicholas Brealey Publishing Company, 2009.), 2.*

[2] Richmond, Yale and Gestrin, Phyllis. Into Africa: A guide to sub-Saharan culture and diversity – Second Edition. (Intercultural Press: A Nicholas Brealey Publishing Company, 2009.), 8.*

[3] Richmond, Yale and Gestrin, Phyllis. Into Africa: A guide to sub-Saharan culture and diversity – Second Edition. (Intercultural Press: A Nicholas Brealey Publishing Company, 2009.), 10.*

[4] The Dar es Salaam City Council and the Municipal Councils of Ilala, Kinondoni and Temeke. Dar es Salaam Infrastructure Development Programme. 2010. 1, 11.*

[5] Otto Mlanda. Tour Guide – Gecko Adventures. Interview: Construction of unfinished homes. 2017

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