Kariakoo, Bagamoyo, and Last Days in Dar

Friday, June 30, 2006 | Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Streets of Bagamoyo town: late afternoon along the Swahili coast
Time has flown by since our return from Mikumi and Morogoro nearly two weeks ago. Swahili class picked up in intensity a good deal, and our teachers finally judged us prepared to go out into the real world for some extracurricular activities after our morning classes. One such trip took us to Kariakoo, Dar es Salaam's chaotic western suburb and main market area, known best among travelers as a petty theft hotspot. When he heard we would be going, Scott Taylor, the Georgetown professor on site, chuckled and muttered something about a "den of thieves."

There, Tanzania's poverty made itself far more visible than ever before, as we stumbled through crowded streets, tripping our way over a pungent mix of discarded food scraps and trash.

The main Kariakoo market itself is a colossal concrete structure rising out of the slum, yet seeming only large enough to just clear the single-story buildings around it, shamed and unimpressive like a
poorly postured child on "time-out." The building was both filled and surrounded by fruit and vegetable sellers, carts piled high with not-so-fresh fish, and various household wares. In case some tourists like ourselves should venture by, one hopeful seller sat among a pile of souvenir baskets and Masai spears.

Part storage and loading area, part market-wide garbage disposal, partly more fish market and part makeshift homeless shelter, the market's sweltering, dingy basement might have convinced America's poorest souls that they lived a life of luxury by comparison to those who worked and—far worse—lived in the market's putrid depths.

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This past weekend our group traveled north of Dar es Salaam to the coastal town of Bagamoyo, known best as a former hub in the East African slave trade. Because of its proximity to the island of Zanzibar, home to one of the Indian Ocean's largest slave markets, Bagamoyo was the last point on the African mainland that many slaves ever saw.

This reputation caught the attention of many missionaries in the 1800s, some of whom came to Bagamoyo in hopes of working to stop the slave trade. We visited one mission at the site of a church established by a group of French priests and later taken over by the Germans during their short-lived colonization of what is today Tanzania. The museum featured a broad collection of explorers' maps of Africa, old coins, German colonial soldiers' uniforms, diaries in English, French, German, Arabic and Swahili, and a number of other interesting items.

Other than that, our stay in Bagamoyo was largely uneventful, certainly in comparison to early excursions and those planned for the coming weeks. We did have an opportunity to try the dry, bitter fruit of the baobab tree, though its styrofoam consistency and barely bearable taste left much to be desired.

The second day in Bagamoyo, before leaving we took a boat ride to a small island off the shore, where the island's rocky shore had eroded into a mixture of red, black, and white sands which the ocean swirled into bizarre patterns along the beach, punctuated by small rocky knobs sticking through every few feet like stalagmites. Complete with bright white, red and black starfish which washed up onto the beach and the nervously scuttling blue and white crabs, the beach was one of the most bizarre scenes I have ever encountered, and more closely resembled parts of the game MYST than anything I would have imagined finding on Earth.

* * *

Now, after a grueling final week of Swahili classes, our group heads to Mwanza tomorrow for the second half of our program. There, at the University of St. Augustine, half of us will study East African Ecosystems and the other half will study Tanzanian Politics & Civil Society.

Dar has been nice, but I'm looking forward to a change of scenery.

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