POSTCARD: City Fears

Dar Es Salaam Requires Caution

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania—Car after car speeds along Bibi Titi Mohammed Road, throwing up clouds of dust that fly in my face. There is no traffic light within walking distance on this main road, and the only way to cross is to jaywalk. I stand in my loafers and work clothes, both hands clutching my backpack, waiting for a five-second gap when I can scramble across the road and continue my commute to work. Sometimes I start and then leap back, having lost confidence that I can make it all the way over in time. The Dar es Salaam residents laugh at my mad dash.  They saunter across the road in stages: stopping halfway, allowing a few cars to pass, and then moseying on the rest of the way. But the idea of standing in the middle of a highway scares me.

In fact, fear has largely defined my first week in Dar es Salaam. When I walk to work I’m afraid of getting hit by a car, I’m afraid of getting my laptop stolen, and I’m afraid of getting lost. I’m afraid of food poisoning, hard-bargaining taxi drivers, and getting malaria. The constant paranoia would be comical, except that unlike the fears that drive my day-to-day actions during the rest of the year, many of my present fears could never be perceived as trivial. If I turn in an essay late or don’t make it on time to a meeting, the worst thing that could happen is that I’ll be embarrassed. If I can’t find my way back to my hotel before dark, I could be in actual danger. It’s this constant, real anxiety about my safety that makes it difficult to work well and feel at ease.

So what is there to do? I’ll be in Dar es Salaam for two months, and I can’t very well spend the entire time shying from every man, woman, and moving object. I didn’t study Swahili and travel halfway around the world in order to sit in my hotel room and watch World Cup matches for four hours a day. The only thing to do is to take reasonable precautions and learn to live with some element of fear. Maybe this means traveling only by taxi, and with others, but I have to find a balance. Almost three million people stay in Dar es Salaam, and they manage to cross roads, go out to eat, visit friends, and take in their culture; they manage to live and not just survive. “Dar es Salaam,” does, after all, translate to “sphere of peace.”

Anita J Joseph ’12, a Crimson associate editorial editor, is a social studies concentrator in Leverett House.

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