Dar Es Salaam

Dar es Salaam is an elusive city, and never so much as when you are a foreigner. It is not a capital city but it feels like one. It is not a tourist centre but its modern hotels host many visitors, always on their way to somewhere else.
It is part bustling port, part white-sand beaches. It is an old colonial city but one which is reluctant to acknowledge a time before the presidency of Tanzania's much-loved father of the nation Julius Nyerere.
As a result low-slung colonial buildings are coming down and high-rise modern monoliths are going up. But the electrical supply is over-burdened, water is precious and concrete is scarce, so skeletons of new city skyscrapers wait for completion all over town.
Muslim, Christian and Hindu places of worship stand proudly side by side but without much desire to communicate. Large Christian cathedrals (Lutheran, Anglican and Roman Catholic) compete for attention in a part of the city no longer inhabited by their congregations.
The central city area is small and is the commercial rather than the residential heart of town. People prefer to live in the suburbs that sprawl north and south, even though the commute to work, along badly-surfaced, traffic-blocked roads, adds a couple of hours to the day. It is a restless city but one where time seems to stand still.
Foreigners talk as though they have never quite settled in; as though they are already on their way to somewhere else, perhaps off on safari, or to Zanzibar, maybe to Nairobi or just to Dodoma, the real capital, for the day. Conversation centres on daily difficulties in a city that is often hard to comprehend. Ex-pats tend to stick together and there is an efficient informal network centred on the Peninsula where most of them live. But Dar is also a city of exciting chance meetings, of easy friendships and of invaluable advice on how to get things done.
(Thanks go to Russell Gale and Edwin Mpokasye for showing us around a city that they know well and enjoy. Much of the information in the directory of useful contacts is taken from the 'Newcomer's Guide to Dar es Salaam' published by Corona Tanzania.)