• 白川

Small Wonders No.1 The city centre

Kei Fujimoto


Setting foot in the unknown for the first time, what makes you realize that you are far away home? For me it is the exotic smell of the particular place I am not familiar with. I was suddenly surrounded by all kinds of unfamiliar smell the moment I got off the plane in Dar es Salaam after having traveled over thirty hours from my home country Japan. Then came the heat under the temperature easily over 30 and unbearable humidity! I just stood there for some time, overwhelmed by the thought that I had come so far from home, before realizing that Kiswahili was coming into my ears from everywhere. Its sound was amusingly rhythmic to me, who knew back then only one word; “Jambo!” I was also amazed by how rich people’s facial expressions were when communicating in Kiswahili! New languages always give me certain impressions, such as “smoothly flowing” or “tough sounding!” and the conversation in Kiswahili impressed me as being very much like singing because of its richness in tone. I used all my imagination trying to guess what they were saying while enjoying the pleasant sound of their conversation. By that time many taxi drivers had already come around me speaking English, offering me such an expensive ride. I realized I had forgotten to negotiate prices, having spent some time in Japan, where almost all the prices are fixed. I was finally able to leave the airport for the city centre when the negotiation settled down, which was not that easy of course.

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In front of the airport ran a huge road, where I found many people hanging something over their hands and arms. As soon as the taxi stopped at a traffic light, they came running towards the car, surrounded us and started their business. They are vendors called “Machinga” in Kiswahili. First, a man with this winter down jacket came to me and said, “Preparation for winter?” I did not think there would be any “winter” here, so I said no thank you. Then another with car carpets saying, “For your room decoration?” Every time we stopped, they came one after another with variety of items; Salted peanuts, huge scissors to cut the branches of trees, mosquito nets, battery chargers, pillows…Literally all kinds of things for sale!! I guess most of the commodities for daily life can be purchased from them. While I enjoyed the new style of “window shopping”, the taxi had already come in to the city centre.

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The city centre was filled with people. Really, full of people everywhere. It was early evening, when people had just finished their work, waiting for the most popular public transportation in Tanzania; Mini buses called Daladala. They are originally vans converted into passenger buses, about the same size as “Hi Ace” if you are familiar with the well-known Japanese van, running back and forth between one destination and another. You see them all over the city of Dar es Salaam carrying as many people as the vehicle can possibly accommodate. Sometimes people are just hanging on to the doorframe! I did not notice the fact when coming from the airport that almost all of the Daladalas are used cars from Japan and they still have some Japanese writings on them. Some came from hotels at an Onsen, the Japanese hot springs, others from dry cleaners…I also saw some Daladalas with re-painted Japanese with newly created Japanese characters…Very funny.

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I noticed then that the sweet-sour scent of oranges pervaded the air. As I looked around, I saw a number of bicycles selling oranges in the crowded city centre. It seemed that I arrived at the perfect timing for oranges. All the bicycles had a big basket full of fresh ones. Indeed, Tanzania is a land of fruits, and you can actually see the changes of their season of each fruit because people start selling different kinds once the season begins. I asked one of the people on the bicycle how much one orange was. He said, “It is fifty Shillings (about five Japanese yen). How many would you like?” I asked for one, then he picked up one amongst many claiming that it was the best one!

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Then he washed it with water in a small plastic tank, took out a knife and began peeling it. He did this so beautifully! The orange stayed in his left hand going clockwise with the knife in his right hand going counterclockwise, both moving smoothly at the same time. I usually get a huge chunk of peel when I try to peel one with a knife, but how he did this was just amazing; each peel was so thin, about five millimeters wide, and long. They fell onto the ground, carried away by the wind, spreading the pleasant scent all over the city centre! He cheerfully kept talking to me in Kiswahili as he peeled the whole thing, and within two minutes or even less, it was done. He cut it into half and handed it to me. I took a bite and it was sooooooooo good!! It is just what you want when you are thirsty, and so much better than having a soda!

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I walked around while biting on the orange. I saw so many women dressed in Kanga, the traditional Tanzanian textile with different kinds of sayings in Kiswahili written on them, and also men and women in shirts and skirts made from Batik or the one called Kitenge, another popular textile without the sayings. It seemed that the city had extra colorfulness because of the people. And then I saw a petit woman who was carrying a large suitcase on top of her head! She was using a Kanga to piggyback a baby, with both of her hands holding the hands of two other children, and the suitcase on her head!! She sometimes checked on the baby on her back, bent down to talk to other children without loosing the balance at all. She was using another Kanga, folded in to a small piece, to even out the top of her head. I had seen this on TV only, and I was so amazed by the actual sight for the first time. How does she manage the balance and maintains the strength of her neck??

Small wonders exist everywhere. As my first day in Tanzania came to an end, I already started getting excited what I would find the next day…

 (February 2005)

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