The REAL Dar Es Salaam: Afri Roots Bike Tour

When it rains, the neighborhood pictured above and the houses within have the potential to flood.  Standing water can cause many issues, including attracting pesky and sometimes malaria-carrying mosquitoes.  Thus, the population living in this area has a high chance of becoming infected with malaria and cholera (which is caused by drinking water or eating food contaminated by feces).  This picture is just one of the many harsh realities that I was faced with during my bike tour on Saturday.  By the way, it only rained for a few hours Friday night.  Can you imagine how this road will look during the rainy season when it rains all day for months?

A colleague recommended the Afri Roots Bike Tour as a way to see the city in a different way. According to their website:

Beyond the city center, peninsula and highways there is another face of Dar es Salaam – back roads with vibrant community and street life keeping the city in motion. This tour takes you to the “real” Dar es Salaam accessible by bike or on foot.

Gain first hand experience of the social issues facing Dar es Salaam – living conditions of families, rapid urbanization, infrastructure issues and the urban environment. You will visit markets and meet the people who work and innovate in the informal economy, and hear about the struggles they face.

I must admit, I didn’t really think the tour would show me anything that I hadn’t already seen. But I was completely and ignorantly wrong.  Let me try to paint a picture for you.  Dar es Salaam is divided into three districts: Ilala, Kinondoni, and Temeke.  Ilala and Temeke are where the lower and middle class populations live, while Kinondoni is more of a wealthy area.  It is where most ex-pats and other foreign diplomats reside because it has a peninsula, which means there’s beachfront property.  While it may seem like the districts are far apart, they are actually only within 10 minutes of each other.  I had no idea what has literally been down the street from me for the past month.  I could go on, but I think it’s better you see for yourself.


Our guide explained to us that in the 1960’s, many people came to Dar es Salaam from more rural areas such as Arusha and Morogoro to find work.  Due to the city’s overcrowding, however, the Tanzanian government made people return home unless they could prove they were employed.  People got creative and started making coffee to sell on the street.  One of the first stops on the tour was visiting a man making coffee from scratch.  In the picture below, he is grinding the coffee beans in a traditional mortar and pestle (a typical gift given to a woman before she is married).  If grinding quickly and steadily, it takes about 30 minutes for the beans to be ground fine enough for water to be added…no cream or sugar necessary.  You are supposed to drink the coffee with a homemade peanut brittle, giving the coffee a sweeter taste.  I don’t like black coffee, but it was surprisingly delicious.  Starbucks could learn a lesson or two.


Me grinding coffee like a typical Tanzanian woman. Ha!

The next stop on our tour was visiting Mama Amina (mother of Amina, her first born daughter), who was making fresh chapati.  Chapati is similar to Mediterranean roti.  Water is added to wheat, which makes dough.  Then the dough is kneaded and fried in a pan with cooking oil.  We were also served Tanzanian tea to accompany our fresh chapati.


Mama Amina making chapati


Tea and chapati being served

Around the corner from Mama Amina lived Mama Yasmin.  She is from a tribe in Tanzania (I forget the name) where the women own the property.  She was born in this house and it was passed down to her by her father.


Swahili Home

This is a typical “Swahili culture house.”  It is sectioned off into 6 bedrooms with one main hallway.  The rooms are very small, but an entire family can live in one room.  Mama Yasmin rents out some of the rooms in her home.

The picture is a tad blurry, but an entire family of 8 lives in this one room.  Below is a poster on the wall in the room that says, “Love is Love.”  Our guide explained that one of the important aspects of Swahili culture is loving yourself, your family and your neighbors.  While they may not have a lot, love is very important to them.

Hallway in Mama Yasmin’s House

Mama Yasmin demonstrating how she shaves a coconut

Henna picked from the tree in the backyard. Lime juice and hot black tea is added to the ground leaves to get liquid henna, which is then used as decoration on the body

Mama Yasmin’s grandchildren, who yelled “Picture! Picture!” so we could take their picture :)

As we continued on the tour, we ended up in the lowest neighborhood in the city.  As I mentioned before, the area floods during heavy rain.  There is a river that flows through the neighborhood that originates in a wealthier part of the city.  The river flows down into this neighborhood and because it stops here, the stagnant water is polluted and attracts mosquitoes, as well as causing other health-related problems.  The bridge below was built so residents could cross the river.

We continued our tour and ended up in a neighborhood that was preparing for a celebration.

Baby Mohammed was turning 40 days old.  In Muslim culture, babies are not allowed to leave the house until the 40th day after birth.  Lucky for us, we were able to help celebrate Mohammed’s 40th day alive.

Baby Mohammed’s grandmother was the town’s herbalist.  She showed us her garden, where she grows basil, mint and other herbs that are supposed to cure illnesses such as malaria, epilepsy and yellow fever.

Found this man wearing a Steerlers hat. While he didn’t understand what I was saying, I let him know he was reppin’ the wrong team. Go RAVENS!

As we continued the tour, we ended up in a kanga shop.  Remember I talked about kitenge and kanga?  (If not, read here)  I learned that the sayings on kanga are written to be subliminal messages.  If a woman has a problem with another woman, she will go to the store looking for a kanga with a specific message.  She wears the kanga in front of her adversary to get her point across.  Talk about passive aggressive!

We also stumbled upon a “ghetto movie theater” (their words, not mine).  If there is a special event on TV, the neighborhood will gather here to watch if the electricity is working.

Next, we ended up in one of the city’s larger markets.  People go here to buy anything from food and clothing to toiletries and children’s toys.

Three days later, I am still trying to digest everything that I experienced during the bike tour.  I’m so glad I was able to see how some people in Dar es Salaam live.  While the conditions are not the greatest, everyone we encountered were friendly and welcoming.  Mama Yasmin told us that if we’re ever in Dar without a place to stay, come find her and she will make room for us. You won’t find that kind of hospitality everywhere.