I came from India to Dar es Salam last year, to join in the efforts of my organisation to improve quality and market access of cocoa commodity in Tanzania. Saad flocked in from Pakistan around the same time, on an Acumen Global fellowship to help Husk Power (an Indian social enterprise) expand in East Africa.

An Indian and a Pakistani together in Tanzania – we thought our desi mannerisms would ill-fit here. That is, until our host city revealed itself to be more desi than us.

“Dar”, as it is called by the locals here, is the commercial capital and the largest city in Tanzania, and amongst the largest in East Africa. Formerly known as Mzizima (healthy town), it is a unique coastal city with sandy beaches and beautiful people. It's current name literally translates to "The residence of peace".

Currently, it is home to over four million people and a culture that is overlain with clear Indian, Arab, African and German influences. If you are a desi and planning to move to this wonderful city, Saad and I have put together a list of 10 reasons why this place is home away from home:

1. Bollywood

In his cute Afro accent, my colleague Benjamin stuns the living lights out of me when he suddenly chirps:

Don ko pakarrna mushkil hi nahi, na mumkin hai.

After a good laugh, the two of us got to discussing our mutual love for Bollywood. Indian films are big here. So much so, Bollywood movies release on screens across Dar (with English subtitles) on the same day as they do in India!

60 per cent of the channels on the cable TV network are desi, PTC and Star Plus topping the list. I also found a channel playing Bollywood dubbed in Kiswahili (or Swahili) their local language.

All desis swear by Bollywood and aloo kay parathay, both of which we get aplenty here.

Men watching TV in a hall at Kibindu village. On the wall are posters of Serena Williams, not tennis-related though.
Men watching TV in a hall at Kibindu village. On the wall are posters of Serena Williams, not tennis-related though.

2. The Chaos Theory

We, the desis, are proud of our offensive driving skills and think it would be a cakewalk with no bikes, cows, and people on the roads. But wait till you get to Dar, here, traffic rules are redefined for the desis of the subcontinent, by extension, you will also learn how to cuss in Kiswahili.

Much like it is back home, traffic is a real struggle here. No matter where you headed, there will always be more people with you on the road trying to get to their destination quicker than you. At such times, it feels you never left your Delhis/Karachis/Dhakas behind.

And oh, also, they have rickshaws, but here they're called 'bajajis'.

Hum apna watan dil mein le kay chalte hain

Bajaji – the cooler, hipper sibling of the rickshaw.
Bajaji – the cooler, hipper sibling of the rickshaw.

3. “I’m just five minutes away”

Our beloved phrase, “bas paanch mint”, comes in handy at Dar, where punctuality is as much a sin as it is in our homelands. Plan a meeting at 10am and do not expect the guest to show up at 10. Ever.

The Kigomboni Beach, on the other side of Dar es Salaam.
The Kigomboni Beach, on the other side of Dar es Salaam.

This place moves at a snail's speed. A coastal city which is just as happily laid back as the tourists on its beaches. Food delivery too takes ages here, conversations take eons, practically everyone is doing “kula bata” (Swahili expression for “chilling out”).

The most commonly used Swahili saying around the city, “haraka haraka haina baraka”, literally translates to “speed has no blessing” and applies to most activities around the city, formal and informal.

This man literally has his time upside down, a sign of just how much punctuality matters in Dar.
This man literally has his time upside down, a sign of just how much punctuality matters in Dar.

4. Waterlogging

For an entire week, I watched Indian media go bananas while reporting the waterlogging in Mumbai and how life had come to a standstill. Pakistan too, hasn't been very different this year.

Well, good news buddies, it’s no different here. Two hours of rainfall and you'll feel like you're wading through the puddles on a street not in Dar but the town that you grew up in.

Funny drains – these ditches on the roadside don't lead to anywhere.
Funny drains – these ditches on the roadside don't lead to anywhere.

4. Chai bora (best chai) and Chapaati

Every occasion here, casual or formal, is incomplete without a cup of chai. Chai wallahs, chapaati mamas (older women making chapaati) and stalls making your favourite dhaabay walay parathay sweep across the streets of Dar.

No gathering is complete without a cuppa. On my evening run, I often see a bunch of young men and women just hanging out, talking while sipping tea and munching on cookies and chapaati.

If you're the typical desi chai fanatic, safe to say you're in good company here. Keep calm and chai on!

Chai, paratha and strategy – just another night in Dar.
Chai, paratha and strategy – just another night in Dar.

5. Kiswahili — Not lost in translation

Gari/gadi, basi/bas, safi/saaf, salaam/salama are amongst those few Kiswahili words which mean exactly the same as their like-sounding in Hindi/Urdu.

Tanzanians are proud of their language and love it when an 'alien' tries to put in that extra effort in becoming a local. Desis find it simpler to learn this beautiful language and make new friends. In fact, it feels as if you’ve just moved from one city in Desiland to another, and are having the initial hiccup adjustment period. Far from foreign!

6. Traffic cops trained in Desiland

My third week in Dar ... 'Stop! Stop! Stop!' And I did.

I didn't have the faintest of idea as to why I was put at halt. Despite the green signal, I managed to spot a lady in uniform suddenly change her hand gesture, which was an order for the traffic on my side to stop.

I was on the edge of a zebra crossing, it turned out I had committed an offense and was asked for a 1000 USD fine. WHAT? I managed to get away with 2000 shillings (1 USD).

Thankfully, my experience with traffic cops back home came useful here. I drove off smiling, grateful for my desi upbringing. Back in India, I would never get a traffic ticket, no matter what. Saad tells me its the same in Pakistan.

Dar has lots of female cops. You wouldn't want to mess with them.
Dar has lots of female cops. You wouldn't want to mess with them.

7. Voilà! Zeera and dhaniya

I almost had tears in my eyes on discovering crushed mirchi and savory smelling garam masala stacked in a local store. While it’s easier to find spices in a supermarket in videsh or pardes, the easy and frequent access is a deal-maker. Whatever you're cooking, you'll never run out of spices here.

For sale: Elephant dung – it is said to cure a few diseases. Quacks have a good market here.
For sale: Elephant dung – it is said to cure a few diseases. Quacks have a good market here.

8. Desi food in demand

Moti Mahal, Delhi Darbar, Mamboz, Upanga Club are just a handful of names that serve excellent desi food. From Kerela appams to Punjabi cholay, you get all of it in Dar.

These restaurants aren’t only popular amongst desi expats, but more often than not you can spot Tanzanian families and other foreign faces on the next table, relishing these delicious dishes full of pili pili (spicy) with as much delight.

Biryani in Dar. —Creative Commons/Daisukeimaizumi
Biryani in Dar. —Creative Commons/Daisukeimaizumi

9. Mosques and temples all on one street? Can’t be pardes!

There’s a whole street commonly known as Kisutu Street in the city centre, proxy donated to India and Pakistan. An evening stroll in this chaotic street will once again transport you to Desiland.

With the enticing smells of pani puris in Mithaiwala, the masala dosa of Chappan Bhog and the kulfis at Nazir Pan House, you won't be missing any of the essential delights of sub-continental street vendors.

Tanzania's Shri Swaminarayan Mandir.
Tanzania's Shri Swaminarayan Mandir.
Street art graffiti in Dar es Salam.
Street art graffiti in Dar es Salam.

At Kisutu, the sight of people having food in their cars one would remind you of Bahadurabad Chowrangi in Karachi. The atmosphere turns more homely with the sounds of prayers being said at the mosques and Hindu temples on the adjacent street.

Similar to Kisutu, Upanga, another locality in Dar, is populated by Tanzanians of Indian and Pakistani origins.

10. Cricket

Let the weekend come around, then witness the Boom Booms and Master Blasters come out to play. People will tell you they won't be able to join you for the weekend because they have a cricket game to play. It's that serious here. Arrangements for of cricket grounds and even floodlights for day/night matches is common in Dar.

Now what can be more desi than that?

So come to Dar es Salam because you're more than Karibu (welcome)!

A cricket game in progress under floodlights.
A cricket game in progress under floodlights.

Text: Ritika Sood
Photos: Saad Latif


Ritika Sood is from Shimla and carries her roots with pride but is an explorer at heart. She consults development agencies on strategies for improving lives. Ritika moved to East Africa a year ago and has found new love in cocoa farms.


Saad Latif is a power industry professional from Karachi who is spending a year in Tanzania as an Acumen Global Fellow, learning how rice husks can be used to generate electricity.

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