Dispatches from Dar, RCA In-House, Series

Dispatches from Dar: The Daladala

By Mpuga Rukidi, Uganda:

I promised to listen more so I can bring you more dispatches. Well, it appears I have not just been listening but also observing, for there is, here, just like in any other place, plenty to observe.

Take the daladala, for example. The daladala is Dar es Salaam's answer to the matatu if you come from Nairobi or the taxi if you come from Kampala. The omnibuses here, unlike those in Kampala or Nairobi, are given special combinations of colours depending on which routes they ply. Dar es Salaam residents can tell, even from a mile away, which route a particular omnibus takes.

It is not just the vehicles that are specially labeled. The drivers and their conductors have to wear special uniforms, and this rule they religiously follow, like they do most rules here. Of course whether or not the uniforms are always clean is an entirely different matter, which may well warrant an investigation of its own. But am no investigator, so I will leave matters of investigators to investigators.

There is a genuine need for order as regards public transport here. Daladalas have designated places for parking so that passengers can alight, unlike your Kampala taxis, which park everywhere except in a living room. A daladala does not carry commuters unless its turn has come, and the conductor doesn't charge more that the designated fee. Well, the conductor seldom charges more than the standard fee.

The daladalas are bigger than their Ugandan and Kenyan counterparts, with provisions for standing. Unlike matatus, those unfortunate pieces of machine. You could think that being big and providing spaces for standing would mean no commotion during boarding or alighting. But there is also some room for commotion.

There is one rule here: everything is in a rush. The city is big and, while the city administration deserves a standing ovation for their endeavours in that regard, the process of boarding and alighting the omnibuses is something completely different. It is not uncommon for people to queue for hours on end waiting for the vehicles to show up. When the vehicle eventually shows up in the park, there is a scene akin to a demonstration being violently dispersed in downtown Kampala. Young men routinely summersault through windows to the amazement of women and the elderly. People congratulate each other for getting a place to stand inside. And you don't hear complaints; in fact, the politeness is admirable. Men routinely ask to carry women's bags and the elderly are often given places to seat, as are expectant mothers. Children are also occasionally carried by strangers.

But just as you are still in awe of the politeness and how many human beings can be carried in one vehicle, the daladala gets to another stop and, as is custom, the conductor religiously calls out for more passengers. Then you realise that as long as it has not yet reached its destination, the daladala, in characteristic politeness, always has space for an extra soul.

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