Since students have been here I’ve drifted into the pattern, which is perfectly normal locally, of working on Saturday mornings. The problem here, though, is that this means that I can’t easily go to banks and other shops which only operate during normal working hours. So, with a pent up list of things to do, I went to Dar on Saturday to sort a few things out.
Dar isn’t very large so it would have been possible to have done the trip by foot. Trouble here is that walking in the tropical heat, getting noticeably more sticky than when I arrived in early September, is fine if the objective is to take a walk, not so good if you’re trying to do things at the same time. I would have been tempted to blow the cost and hire a taxi to take me round, except that as I’ve indicated previously, taxi drivers don’t necessarily have ‘the knowledge’ of the city. So I chose to drive into central Dar Es Salaam and walk from there.
My iphone has an app from a company called Skobbler which, up to a point, acts as a sat nav. Various problems here – reception is nowhere close to 100%, and the maps do not necessarily have correct information re: one way streets, etc. It is possible to send in corrections but I’ve not worked out how to do that yet. Anyway, I succeeded in parking close to my first port of call – the bank – and a security card kindly directed me the rest of the way.
In much the same way that conjurors ask you to pick any of 3 cards whilst making sure you pick the one they want you to take, when I arrived I was told I needed to open a bank account, and any bank would be fine so long as it was the Diamond Trust Bank (DTB) – but really, I could go to another if I wished! I took the hint and went with the recommendation. The DTB is part of the Aga Khan family and owned by His Highness, I have to say, I like the sense of having ‘preferred customer status’ – since you work for the Aga Khan University we can transfer money for you at this rate rather than the normal!
Far more transactions take place in cash than I’m used to, and the maximum unit of cash is 10 000 Tanzanian shillings (TZS), worth about UKP4. These two things together mean that bank tellers have to handle the most extraordinarily large piles of cash as a matter of routine. Certainly the cash counting machines earn their keep – which, incidentally, are seen in shops in which the transactions might reasonably be in the hundreds of UK pounds.
I actually have two accounts with DTB, a US dollar account and a TZS account. My salary is paid in dollars so goes into the dollar account, but the cash point card I have draws money from the TZS account. So one of the reasons for visiting the bank was to transfer some money into the TZS account, although I’ve only very recently received my cash point card, so having to rely either on a visit to the bank or getting cash through my UK cards which is, of course, expensive. I also filled out the forms asking for Internet banking facilities, it will be interesting to find out what the functionality is.
My next port of call was the Zantel shop, Zantel being the cell phone service provider I use. This should have been a short walk along Morogoro Road from the bank. However, as anybody who knows me well will know, my sense of direction is pretty appalling. As a child I used to go places with my parents and I remember thinking – but don’t think I ever said at the time – how horrible it must be to be an adult and have to remember where you’ve left the car. Now that I’m an adult, I can only agree with my childish self, yes, it is pretty horrible! It doesn’t help that I’ve not memorized the registration plate of my car and white Toyotas are pretty common round here. So as I was being led to the bank by the security guard there was a moment of blind panic – am I going to be able to remember the way back? Pleased to say that when the moment came it wasn’t too traumatic.
In my defence, Dar Es Salaam (DSM) does offer some challenges in navigation. The maps I can get, either on paper or from the Internet, do not indicate all road names, and when they do there can be discrepancies – is Jamat St the same place as Jamaat St or different? The same as it happens, but that’s not necessarily obvious. Also, in looking for Morogoro St, a major thorough-fare through DSM, I found a dirt track and assumed I’d found a minor side road. In fact it was Morogoro St, so I ended up going in the wrong direction, so instead of finding the Zantel shop I found a large pharmacy, which I was also looking for, so went there instead.
In the UK I had a repeat prescription for 40 mg Simvastatin tablets, for high cholesterol. I brought a supply with me which has recently run out. Meanwhile, I have found a local doctor, Dr Shaffiq of Masaki Doctors, also a member of the wider Aga Khan family. Hurrah for His Highness the Aga Khan and all the people who work for him, directly or indirectly! This gives rise to an invaluable network of connections, for which I’m very grateful. So I have a local prescription for these tablets, the problem is finding them. No one seems to stock 40 mg, and whilst in principle 2 lots of 20 mg is fine, this is expensive and also pharmacies seem not to keep very large stocks. So I got a month’s supply and will ask Dr Shaffiq, whose practice also has a pharmacy, if he can find me the 40 mg variety. Meanwhile, this difficulty in many respects is good news – having, to a reasonably large extent, adopted a local diet, I’m hoping that this will be good for my cholesterol, with blood tests coming in a few months’ time!
At this stage I was feeling hot and bothered, and decided to go for a taxi to take me to the Zantel shop. I knew I wasn’t all that far away and hoped that drivers with a base that close would know where I wanted to go. I therefore approached a taxi rank. I then found myself having to choose between three drivers all beaconing me to their car. No, I said, this should not be my problem! You should have a queue – 1, 2, 3! You decide, not me! Note to self: must learn sufficient Swahili to have these kinds of conversations in the local language. Anyway, I went for the first driver I saw as I approached, the other two took this a very good grace, one of whom held the door open for me as I got in. I have to say, in a country where a lot of people are trying to find work in very difficult circumstances, I find this good grace humbling and one of many similar examples I’ve seen over the last few weeks.
I followed the journey on my iphone to make sure I knew how to get back to my car afterwards. The reason for visiting the Zantel shop was to take out what is called an Ezy Peza account. This means that I have lodged a sum of money with Zantel which I can disperse by text message (more or less). The service is really there for people for whom this is their only banking facility, but does mean now that I can buy electricity through my mobile phone. Had been hoping that I can use it to pay other bills as well, initial impressions are that this may not be as easy as I’d previously thought, but lots of very helpful colleagues who can guide me through the process. Pleased to say that I have successfully used it for electricity, so if it doesn’t otherwise work for me I’ll spend the balance over the next few months and then close it.
Now that I knew where I was it was relatively easy (even for me!) to find the DTB again, and then retrace my steps back to my car. The difficulty now was getting it out of the parking space. When I am a pedestrian, I find myself thinking, grief these motorists have no consideration at all! And when I’m a motorist, I find myself thinking, grief these pedestrians have no sense of self-preservation! Or to put it another way, the infrastructure is not really adequate to cope with the sheer quantity of people who are here. And this is not including motorcyclists, some of whom seem barely in control of their vehicles, and bajajis (remember them from the first TZ post? Three wheeled little taxis) who dodge around the rest of the traffic in a quite hair raising manner, including undertaking even when I’m indicating left. A very helpful security guard helped me out, including directing pedestrians who otherwise would quite happily have walked across my path whilst reversing.
Final stop was the company with whom I have an Internet account to pay the monthly bill. This is not 100% but is, I’m told, one of the best such companies locally. Not entirely sure why, it is difficult to re-establish a connection after a power cut and power cuts are part of the daily reality of living here! So, I’m actually writing this post as a Word document in order to upload it later, can’t get a line right now. Hoping that, either through Ezy Peza or through Internet banking, it will be possible in future to pay the bill without visiting the shop, but that’s what I’m doing for the moment.
And then a short journey home for lunch, a reheated casserole which Hellen had cooked for me. Aware that I’ve not mentioned Hellen my housekeeper much, I suppose that’s because she’s very quickly become part of my life and so her absolutely sterling help seems normal. Although, went to shave a couple of days ago and couldn’t quite work out what was wrong until I realized – the razor is clean! As and when I return to the UK, as things stand at the moment, there are three things above all which I’ll miss: Dar Es Salaam Pentecostal Church, Hellen, and our wonderful students. However, this won’t be for a while yet!
Won’t surprise you to hear that that was it for the day, the morning – and indeed the preceding week - left me feeling exhausted. I hope this description of my morning gives a sense of life here, as always, I’m amazed by the usage figures I see from this blog and very grateful to you for reading, I trust you enjoy what I have to say and find it interesting.
And one final thing: would you buy a used car from this man?
Not setting this up as a competition as such, but any captions gratefully received!