Living a fast life in a slow city inside the blue bus
The inside of a Dar Rapid Transit (Dart) bus is a whole new world. Everyone gets in hurriedly before the doors close automatically. There is no one to direct people where to stand or to arrange us like a bunch of bananas in the local market.
While inside, the etiquettes are different from the daladala. It is almost like everyone has become a nobleman and woman, (mstaarabu). People talk, but nobody shouts. Everyone seems keen to observe how to behave well.
Looking outside the window, the cars in the ‘other’ lane appear small, slow and insignificant. They operate in what now seems like an outdated system. More like how I feel most of the time when I look at other people’s lives while I am moving slowly in my lane.
I see people in the fast lane getting married, getting kids, owning a home, owning a plot, owning a cat, or a mouse, just owning something. They are as fast as the blue bus. And here I am on the slow lane of life, getting at the finish line some two hours later. I have learnt to appreciate that slow pace and to be kind to myself, which isn’t always easy.
We must be kind to ourselves and to the journey we are going through as individuals. Although Facebook does make it hard, when everyone is showing off their life that’s moving at the speed of a ‘Dart bus’ and there you are as slow as a daladala.
As we moved along Morogoro Road, a 15 kilometres stretch from Kimara to Kivukoni, this side of Dar es Salaam was unveiled before my eyes. I could see most houses from an elevated position. Looking down, it was evident that the neighbourhoods were changing with every few minutes. The blue bus had become a magical capsule that took us through changing worlds within a 40 minutes drive. The wide sidewalks on the side from Kimara to Ubungo make the road so spacious. It felt like we were moving through an open field compared to the narrow road thereafter.
Then there were rusty roofings from Mabibo to Magomeni and women in worn out kangas, men in torn slippers and children walking barefoot. It was hard to believe how much difference there could be in one lifeline. Connected by one umbilical cord, yet living in contrast realities. Although it is an area with thriving markets, small scale businesses and a steady flow of income, it is also where you have to be extra careful with your belongings.
A different world
As we passed the Hyena Square (uwanja wa fisi), I knew that somewhere around the corner someone was having cheap booze and getting ready for the evening when sex workers would offer service at a low price. The junction between Magomeni and Fire, along the Jangwani swamp, felt like a bridge to a different universe. There was Upanga to my left, a fairly rich area and Kariakoo to my right, a marketplace characterised by poverty and booming businesses existing in the same locality. It was all fascinating to see in this perspective. From Fire to the Bibi Titi Mohamed Road junction , there were less people and more organised streets. And as we went past Kisutu into the city centre, I could see Indian men working behind wide windowed offices, tall buildings, modern buildings, antique buildings, people dressed in office attire looking smart, it was a completely different world.
It is amazing how much you can see if you pay attention. Although I have been through this road many times, it felt like I was observing my own city as an outsider for the first time. It is perhaps how we live life, we move around as slowly as the daladala in a traffic jam, yet we hardly see anything because of the elevation we are in. Most of the time, we move through space without much notice of what it is we are seeing. We are used to it already. We are used to seeing the world in the same way.
It’s been a month now since the blue buses started operating. This is the first of its kind in Tanzania, marking a clear distinction in public transportation in the country. We have come a long way as a nation.
From the yellow Uda buses in the 1970s, to chai maharage waggons in the 90s, then bodaboda and tuk tuk gained popularity in the 2000s. And now, we have a fast lane along Morogoro road, stretching from Kimara to Kivukoni, Kariakoo and Morocco, 55 years after Independence. It is something worth praise, I think. Although I wonder why did it have to take so long.
A week before its launch on May 9, Dar residents were allowed to ride in the buses free of charge. And you know how we love free things. The buses would be filled to the brim; pickpocketers made the most out of the situation. Some of these buses are 18 metres long, able to carry 150 commuters and others are 12 metres long with a capacity to carry 80 commuters.
Sitting at the back of the blue bus heading to Kivukoni on the first day when the service was monetised, I realised that Dar es Salaam was not ready for the speeding buses. It took us exactly 40 minutes to reach the end of the journey; a travel that would usually take 2–3 hours depending on traffic. This was amazing and strange. I wasn’t used to being on time, at least not while taking a bus.
As strange as it might seem, living in a culture where ‘polepole ndio mwendo’ is the order of the day, being in a hurry and being on time felt like a foreign thing. Not that I am never in a hurry or on time. Whenever I am driving my own car, I always speed along the two lanes or single lanes, some which might even have potholes. And when I am in a bus, I would complain on why the driver had parked at a bus stop for too long, waiting for passengers that were still at home having a shower.
Yet even while driving my own car, speeding and everything, I expect to spend at least two hours in a length that would usually take 20 minutes. The traffic is always terrible. And when I take the bus, I prepare myself psychologically to be late. I know without a shadow of doubt that the bus will stop at every stop unnecessarily, that is besides the traffic.
When Dar es Salaam was planned back in the 1970s, the city planners did not anticipate that the small town would one day be home to more than 4.5 million people with more than 20,000 light vehicles. The city cannot contain all of us. We’re too big for it, unfortunately.
In a Dart bus, there is a sense of urgency. One which I am not used to experiencing in Tanzania. There is no bus conductor, something that came as a shock at the beginning. How is that going to be? I heard people ask, implying that Tanzanians cannot do anything without being closely monitored. I think we are proving that theory wrong, aren’t we? The driver wears a clean shirt as uniform and he greets his passengers and gives instructions through a microphone. He always notifies the passengers whether or not it is an ‘express’ bus since he would make fewer stops if it is express. Is this cool or what?
On the surface, everything looks well organised. However, there are a lot of challenges that have been reported so far, ticketing issues and power cuts that affect ticketing. Also, other road users seem to struggle with being ‘disciplined’ on the road, as if that was not expected. It is said that while driving in Dar, never follow the rules. If you do, you will get knocked. So to survive, you must break the rules. That’s what everyone is doing. However, Dart buses are a ‘kind reminder’ that a new principle of order has replaced the principle of chaos.
It was reported that 34 of the 140 operating buses were wrecked in May alone. You can no longer do as you wish in the new system, you will definitely get hit.
This story first appeared on The Citizen Newspaper (MCL — Tanzania)