My first few glimpses of the main form of public transportation in Dar es Salaam of Tanzania, called daladalas, left me a little doubtful of my convenience, comfort, and most importantly, my safety.
They are typically crowded, but around rush hour, bodies seem to be protruding from the windows and doors, often resembling chickens being transported in their undersized cages. I was worried that squeezing past so many people would be the perfect way to get my stuff stolen without me noticing, or to get inappropriately grabbed without having a means of escape. After a frightful incident in India, this fear of being violated has been the most crippling. But, I didn’t want to miss out on a unique cultural experience, so I finally faced my fear and decided to give it a try.
The daladalas are ramshackle short buses that usually look on the verge of breaking down. They are painted an assortment of bright colors that vary according to their route, and the two end points of their route are painted clearly on the front, making them fairly easy to recognize. If you are unsure of which route you need to take, it’s imperative that you at least know the name of the closest bus stop to where you want to go. This can be achieved using google maps, my most life saving invention. From there you can most likely also figure out the name of the route, but if not, ask the conductor of any bus and he will direct you to the right daladala.
The bus stops can be a little intimidating at first as well. A multitude of daladalas come careening helter-skelter into the usually undesignated area. The conductors yell out their final destination, almost as if they are imploring you to forgo your initial travel plans and hop on their bus just for fun.
A ride to just about anywhere within the main city of Dar es Salaam is 400 shillings, roughly $0.30. Thirty cents! I was amazed, especially because taking the same trip in a taxi could be upwards of 10,000 shillings, around $6. After boarding, you (hopefully) find an open seat and the conductor will leisurely walk around the daladala clinking his coins in his hands reminding everyone to pay up.
The ride is definitely bumpy, sweaty, lengthy because of the incessant traffic, and dirty with all the dust flying in the windows. But in all my daladala rides, I have never felt threatened. Some people have given me curious glances, and sometimes volunteered a hello, but for the most part I am left alone. Feeling confident and secure in my route took some time, but I’m happy to say I’m no longer afraid of riding the daladalas.
Have you riden a daladala? How did you like it?