The Ferries of Dar es Salaam
I’ve written briefly about the ferries before, but I have come to the conclusion that they need some more cyber space, as they provide an abundance of frustration, but also entertainment to us on a daily basis. I’ve also written about what I think of Dar es Salaam previously, and more specifically about the traffic being atrocious, and in my humble, lay person’s opinion, the problem with so many people calling Dar “the hell-hole”, stems from bad planning of streets, and general lay-out of the city. On the Kigamboni side of town, where we live, I see the problem of people randomly starting to build houses, and then stop – for some reason or another, the countryside is covered with half-built houses – some almost done, some just a shell, with a full tree and more African vegetation now growing inside. As Dar is a mess, the traffic being a headache, and the fact that it is very important to Africa for importing goods via the oceans of the world, the government has decided to convert Kigamboni into the “new Dar es Salaam” over the next 20 years. Should they succeed as per the plans they have freely posted via the internet, it will make for a huge improvement in the lifestyle of the local community, who will then have access to a “BRT” – Bus Rapid Transport System, a new bridge linking the “old” and the “new” Dar es Salaam, fewer of the half-built structures everywhere, parks and state-of-the-art commercial buildings.
BUT, in the meantime, we still have to use the ferry with all its frustrations and entertainment every day. As Kobus says, it reminds him of a casino – some days you win and some days you lose, but mostly you lose!
The city uses two ferry systems that I am aware of – the one to cross the inlet to the safe harbor for large vessels, from main city Dar es Salaam to Kigamboni, and the other to take locals as well as masses of tourists between the attractive islands of Zanzibar / Pemba Island, and the mainland of Tanzania.
We use the Kigamboni ferry almost daily, as we need to shop on the Dar side of town, and Kobus goes to work every week day on the mainland. Sometimes you are lucky and you drive up to the ticket booth, pay and go straight through to the waiting ferry – but those times are so few and far between! Most times you sit in a queue that can keep you for as long as 4 hours! Now 4 hours in a day (most days it is 4 hours anyway, being 2 there and 2 back), can drive you insane, or you can choose to observe and learn and be amazed or entertained (and sometimes disgusted as to a white person the habit of spitting is somewhat foreign!). From the Kigamboni side you are lucky if you can get to a queue that starts after the last petrol station, if it is before that point, you know you are in for a big wait. As most of the powdery white beaches are on this side, mainland visitors come over in their droves over weekends, so late afternoons Saturday and Sunday are the pits – then you just stay here until midnight if need be – the queue is then doubled up so badly that the vehicles coming off the ferry to Kigamboni struggle to drive on the road – you are blocked by the oncoming traffic to board the ferry on the right hand and you need to keep your wits about you to miss all the pedestrians, bicycles and tuk-tuks on your left. The streets are lined with small stalls, selling anything from cosmetics to milk, and everything in between.
I have witnessed a truck, so heavily loaded with wooden slats that it was completely lopsided, heaving so heavily to the right that I refused to pass it, just careering past all the vehicles in the queue so that the driver can get to the pub right at the crossing! It is a battle of who has the biggest balls of steel all the time – you edge forward inch by inch and you do your best to keep the “pushers-in” out. On Saturday morning a “white Masaai” exited the ferry from mainland – mow-hawk hairstyle, which is probably more Red Indian (him being confused??), but dressed in the traditional red cloths, spear and white ankle covers – a-la Masaai!! I wish I was able to photograph him, but he disappeared into the crowds so fast, and we were edging forward to the ferry, so I did not risk running after him. Every now and again you see a group of white people exiting – and they so clearly look hot, exhausted, confused and “lost”!!
Once aboard the ferry, you are harassed by the local old woman, almost toothless, banging on your window and gesturing that she is hungry – she certainly looks healthy and well fed to me! If you do not oblige with some money, she abuses you verbally and looks at you like she is willing a thousand pests upon you! And tomorrow, when you sit there again, she is back and the same story repeats itself. Some traders with their wares also walk around selling anything from sweets, to peanuts, cashews, water, cool drinks and of course my best is the ladies with the buckets of Cassava – a local staple root veggie – on their heads – they would cut a piece and peel it for a willing buyer on demand.
The local fashions also intrigue me tremendously, and I absolutely love the dress sense of the ladies. I will make a point of photographing some stunners soon and do a blog about the fashionistas here. They are proud women, strong and beautiful – the ticket lady on Saturday morning was especially pretty and could be a next Naomi Campbell any day – just better looking! What a waste to see her selling tickets, but she looked happy enough. You will find women in dresses that are shiny, bejeweled, traditional Tanzanian Colours, their sense of matching prints and colours being amazing!
The ferry entrance from the other side, being mainland side does not have the shops lining the queues, just vendors. The biggest frustration here is the motorists skipping the queue and then trying to push their way in – mostly successful, and I am perplexed at the leniency showed by the other motorists. I mean, if we can all sit and wait for hours, why should they be shown mercy? So we try and stay as close to the car in front of us as possible. Sitting waiting in the lane leading to the ferry last week after we had done some shopping, I opened my window to purchase some ice-creams – The Bakhresa / Azam Group is everywhere, they sell water, juice, bread, ice-cream and flour to name but a few – a huge black spider saw the opportunity to get into the car at the same time, slowly making its way across our front window screen, ON THE INSIDE! Well we almost landed on the outside before Kobus managed to scoop him out the next window – goose-bumps all over my body!
As if the “pusher- inners” are not enough, there seems to be some elite living in Kigamboni who clearly is above sitting in queues, and they then make use of the lane where the local buses drop people wanting to board the ferry. They proceed to a big gate, guarded with serious looking guards, and after some negotiations, which usually involves some money, they are allowed through. We got caught in the middle of a convoy which boarded the ferry via these big gates, but with blue lights and sirens on the other side, it proved a fast ride home for us as all oncoming traffic dutifully pulled off the road.
The other ferries are the fast ones taking tourists and locals to Zanzibar and Pemba – a few run during the day, and the trip lasts anything from a superfast 40 minutes to about 2 hours or even more. You can travel VIP class or various tiers down, you can sit inside, or out, and if you travel VIP class, you get to watch movies like Leon Schuster’s rom-coms – we watched “O Shucks, it’s Schuster” on the way to Zanzibar, much to the audience’s delight!! (Good to see a South African movie being so popular, especially since I’ve had the pleasure of hosting Leon in my house already!).
A few of the humorous rules on the ticket brochures (or humorous to us Mzungus??), are:
1. The use of abusive language is six months’ imprisonment! (good, wish it was a rule the world over),
2. Screaming or sound producing devices or whistle fine is USD50 (wish I could impose it on my neigbours who once again played music for the whole world’s ears to hear, from 7 pm on Saturday night till 4 pm on Sunday afternoon, non-stop, this past weekend!! – not sure a fine could be enough punishment for that though!)
3. The fighting of violence is 1 year imprisonment – now this is funny! Surely they mean “violent fighting”?!
4. Sexual intercourse within a boat fine is USD50……. Enough said!
5. The act of spiting (should be spitting??) in a boat fine is USD10
The ride is pleasant enough, although it can be quite rough this time of year across the channel. The beauty of seeing the dhows and small islands makes it seem shorter. And thus, the ferries are an integral part of life in Tanzania and the surrounding islands, providing us with a topic for discussion.