It wouldn’t be right to go the whole semester without mentioning the dala dala bus system, so here is the tale of how I spent 1.5 hours shoved up against a sack of potatoes in a very crowded van. Anyone in urban Tanzania will tell you that “there’s always room for one more in the dala dala” and for the most part, they’re right. Dala dalas are small van/buses that have been converted into public transportation vehicles. Tons of them run all over Arusha, the city in Northern Tanzania where we have stayed multiple times over the course of the semester between safaris and other excursions. Dala dalas are privately owned and the drivers take advantage of this, decorating their individual vans with their favorite artists, religious sayings, or other designs. I am happy to report that despite the overwhelming majority of mainstream music dala dalas (you see a lot of Li’l Wayne and Rihanna here), I have seen two Led Zeppelin themed dala dalas to date.
One particular dala dala experience stands out among the rest. Although they are outfitted with seats, most people don’t seem to mind standing up or crouching on the side of the dala dala while the conductor (the guy you give your shillings to) hangs out the door. To prepare for my independent study, two students and I traveled to Mto Wa Mbu, a small town about an hour and a half dala dala ride from Arusha. On our way back, we really put the saying to good use. When we got on the dala dala, I was shoved between a very large sack of potatoes and one of my friends, not to mention the fact that I had my backpacking backpack on my lap. We drove just a few minutes past a Maasai boma and five older Maasai men got on. Next stop, two businessmen get on and one mother and baby get off. Then, two women get off and a large mama and her six kids make their way to the vehicle. “Oh. No.” I mouthed to my friend across the aisle. The mama and her kids squeezed there way into the vehicle and the quarters became so tight our conductor and one of the kids were hanging out the door as the dala dala rolled on. I asked my friend Casey, whose view wasn’t obstructed by a sack of potatoes, to do a headcount. 27. 27 people on the dala dala with approximately ten seats. The five Maasai men got off, one construction worker got on, and lost feeling in my right leg, which was pushed up against the unforgiving sack of potatoes. We pulled over to let two more women on as the conductor banged the side of the van yelling “Arusha! Arusha!” so we could really maximize the space left in the dala dala. Fortunately, we did not pick up many more people for the duration of the drive, and I quickly regained feeling in my legs as my friends and I were bombarded by taxi drivers the second we got to the bus depot. All in all, we made it alive, and we’re doing the same thing tomorrow morning when we depart for our 20 day study in Mto wa Mbu. Wish us luck!