Shopping In Dar es Salaam

Laden with heavy bags and pouring with sweat, I turned out of the blazing sun and slipped through the shoppers to stand beside the chillers in the supermarket. As a missionary without the money to afford a hotel with air conditioning, this was one of the few places where I could get some relief from the heat. The staff must have been used to seeing expats lingering near the chillers; at any rate we were never bothered or asked to move on, and we always bought something before leaving,  though not cheese, back in the 80s it cost about £8 for half a pound of ordinary local cheese.

It was hot enough at any other time of year, but just now it was unbearable. Looking around I wondered how anyone managed to live in Dar es Salaam all year round, and wished I’d had any other choice than to come down to the coast in December. I’d never been so grateful to be working in Dodoma. It might have been a small, dusty town with unsurfaced roads and few facilities; we might have complained about the lack of reliable electricity and the need to keep our water drums filled when the water was only on for two or three hours a day; and we might have been annoyed by the frequent shortages of sugar, flour and other basics, for which someone had to stand in long queues; but at least up on the central plateau it was a little cooler than down here, and the heat was dryer.
Here at sea level the humidity was the problem. I’d had a shower when I’d got up, but half an hour later I might as well not have bothered, and I hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep for a week.

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Twice a year two of the teachers came down to Dar to search for school supplies. Despite the best efforts of a number of headteachers we still hadn’t been allowed to have an overseas bank account. This meant that all the expats’ school fees had to be taken in Tanzanian shillings, and we were unable to buy stationery or books from outside the country.
It took a full week of scouring all the shops and wholesale suppliers in Dar to gather together the exercise books, paper, crayons, pencils, felt-pens, chalk, rubbers, rulers, paints, glue, drawing pins and paper clips, which would keep the school running for the next six months. It was not only tiring, it was screamingly slow and frustrating. So often the response to our enquiries was ‘Labda kesho, mama,’ – ‘Perhaps tomorrow, mama,’ – and we ended up trailing back and forth to the same places three or four times before we finally got what we needed.
Still, we’d managed fairly well this time, we’d even managed to find what was on the other teachers’ personal shopping lists; we only needed to arrange for the gas cylinders and petrol cans to be ready in the morning, and then we could collect the bigger boxes from the wholesalers and be on our way. I couldn’t wait to get back to Dodoma.

Jane arrived, we’d usually arrange to meet here, and after she’d had a chance to cool down she said, ‘OK, let’s get over to the Seaman’s Mission.’
We had an arrangement – or rather they’d made an offer to all the up-country missionaries – whenever we were in Dar we could use their swimming pool and cafe. We loaded our shopping into the back seats of the double-cab pick-up and Jane drove us out past the harbour to the Mission and parked in the private car park where the watchman would keep an eye on it for us.

Soon we’d changed into our swimsuits and were relaxing in the cool water of the pool. Despite it being a very dry country I’d done more swimming while in Tanzania than I had for many years. There was a private pool just outside Dodoma run by a committee of expats, and all the classes at the school had a regular swimming lesson – unless the pump broke, or the water supply was off for so long that the pool couldn’t be kept full! I also took the Cub Scouts there regularly to work on their various swimming badges, and as a result I’d become fitter than I’d been for a long time; but the Seaman’s pool was bigger than Dodoma’s with more shaded seating around it and a proper cafe which served meals and snacks. It was a particular treat to be able to have fresh fish, one distinct advantage to Dar es Salaam. So after yet another plate of fish and chips and an hour of quiet reading beside the pool we thanked the Mission for their hospitality and climbed back into the truck.

One more night at the Salvation Army hostel and we could head for home.

This was originally an exercise for the Whitehaven Writers with the title ‘The Hottest Place I’ve Ever Been’. It’s a composite of several trips to Dar, and there was no teacher called Jane while I was in Dodoma.


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