Today was the second day I was not woken up at 6am by bleating goats – the coincidence of silent mornings and the end of Eid celebrations is one I’d prefer not to consider too closely. Instead, I meandered downstairs at a leisurely 7.10am for a breakfast of baked bread laden with lime marmalade, followed by fresh fruit and litchi juice. The day started well.
This was a significant day for the Engineering team. Today, Rosie (project director) and I were to meet with the community members who lived by our proposed Simplified Sewerage System route in Vingunguti and present our project. Following a successful pilot project last summer, this year’s CDI Engineering team is planning to expand the simplified sewerage system introduced to Vingunguti’s informal settlements by the waste pond 12 months ago. In short, the simplified sewerage system provides a safe and affordable sanitation solution to those who cannot afford the formal waste treatment offered by the government. In Dar es Salaam only 10% of the population can afford the government option.
I was nervous. First meetings with the community can be notoriously difficult. We had to introduce our project to the community for the first time and hope they liked it. More than that – we had to hope they’d make (subsidised) payments towards it. Each of the community members attending were also giving up a valuable working hour to hear about our simplified sewerage project. More time listening to us meant less time earning Tanzanian shillings. For this reason we made one golden rule for ourselves: do not be late.
After breakfast we set off for Vingunguti. The journey began routinely; marching along the dusty road past boboa trees and children asking ‘hello-howa-you?’ in one word before haggling with a bijaji driver for a fair price in broken Swahili-English. Sitting uncomfortably in the back of the bijaji (though admittedly more comfortably than when we squeeze into the limited backseat space with the rest of the engineering team), Rosie checked the time. We really needed to get a move on.
Before long we hit the perpetual ‘trafficky-jam’, a constant feature of Dar’s congested roads. We held tight as the small Bijaji wound its way amongst the slow-moving river of buses and lorries, and snaked around pedestrians and motorbikes. Anxious to make it to the meeting on time, I kept one eye on the traffic and one eye on the clock.
And then we got lost. The bijaji ground to a halt and the driver began chatting to passers-by. On hearing the words ‘wapi’ (where) and ‘Vingunguti’ we knew we were in trouble. We frantically loaded google maps of the area, pointing to areas we thought were Vingunguti and set off again.
About a mile along the road we suddenly took a sharp left, cutting across lines of oncoming traffic and pulled into a street facing the opposite direction to where we were headed. Rosie and I glanced at each other, annoyed and confused. Next, the bijaji driver dived out the stationary vehicle and threw himself behind a nearby car to hide.
Seconds passed, then minutes before he re-emerged. We were facing the wrong direction, we were going to be late and we were nowhere near Vingunguti. Frantically, we tried to explain this to the bijaji driver and asked when we would set off again. He responded with a shrug and a shake of the head. ‘Polici problem’ he explained, pointing back to the road, before extending his palm and asking for 10,000 Tanzanian Shillings.
Begrudgingly, we paid. There was no time for arguments. We had quickly learned that many bijaji drivers avoid policemen when they can. Sometimes it is because the bijaji is too full, or on a road they shouldn’t be. Today, it was a rather convenient excuse to convince a pair of rushing ‘mzungus’ (white people) to pay up for what turned out to only be half the journey.
Rosie and I walked one way. Then we walked the other way. There were no bijajis anywhere. We looked across the road to see if there were any free ‘dala dalas’ (small buses) but the only ones we could see had become wretched victims of the traffic-jam and were going nowhere. I tried not to think about what would happen to our project if we simply did not turn up to the meeting.
Eventually, I spotted a man in a crisp white outfit and security guard hat. Could he help? I ventured up to him, trying to remember my various Tanzanian greetings (Tanzanians really like their greetings) before begging him to direct us to the waste pond in Vingunguti. He looked perplexed and exhaled with a hearty laugh. ‘Majitaka, Vingunguti?’ he said, shaking his head. My heart sank. Was he shaking his head in disbelief, or couldn’t he help? ‘Sawa, Ok.’ And with that, he conjured up a taxi for us, the strange muzungus who had come to Tanzania to visit a waste pond in an informal settlement.
We leapt in the air-conditioned taxi and proudly directed the driver with instructions we had learned off by heart. ‘Moja kwa moja, kulia (Straight on, right)! Majitaka, Vingunguti! And fast!’
I sat in the back tapping my fingers impatiently as we sped straight, then right, then to the ‘majitaka’. We hopped out, almost throwing money at the taxi driver (who was also bemused by our choice of final destination), and scurried down the dusty road, past children excited to see muzungus, past street sellers offering fresh avocados, past second-hand electronic dealers to our meeting place by the waste pond. We had one minute to go.
Sweating, dirty, and exhausted we made it to the meeting place for exactly 10am. Somehow, we had made it on time. Our meeting would go ahead as planned. People would not be deterred from the project before it had even begun. Rosie and I squinted at each other through the sun and the dust, relieved. We were here.
We found Alberth immediately, our Tanzanian co-director, and asked where everyone was so we could start the meeting. ‘Ah, they are not here’ he said, ‘today they are late.’