25 August 2016

Kwa Daladala

Did you just say "dollar dollar" with a horrendous Boston accent? Nope, I'm talking about the daladala, which is a rather fascinating method of public transportation in Arusha. Standing above one of the city's bus hangouts, you can see a swarm of them.

Below is Kilambero, a large daladala station in the center of town.

Every morning, my roommate and I take a daladala from our home to Kilambero. (We're fortunate that in the mornings, daladalas pass right outside our apartment.) From Kilambero, we board another daladala to Kisongo, where Sikubora is located. Crudely described, a daladala is a small, ex-hippie-looking van-bus with its original acceptable number of seats vetted so that an inappropriate number of seats can be crammed in.

Just as it sounds, inside a daladala it can get pretty crowded. The van has 15 seats in its main compartment, as well as two additional seats to the left of the driver. (We drive on the other side of the road here!) Sometimes there's an additional bench just behind the driver and front seats where passengers can sit facing backwards, interlacing their knees with their counterparts on the opposite bench. Contrary to its assumed capacity, most daladalas carry more than 17 passengers at any given time. Additional people cram into the van and assume a standing position in whatever floor space has remained available after an acceptable load has already boarded. This population doesn't include the konda, who announces the names of the van's stops, pulls in new customers, and handles the collection of money. The term "konda" is borrowed and adapted from the English word "conductor." Given that there's little additional space, the konda usually hangs halfway out the window. This position is also advantageous for shouting the daladala's destination to potential customers. The picture below shows the interior of daladala at a much lower than average capacity.

In this next picture, I had bumped into a coworker on the way to work. Because the previous daladala to Kisongo had just departed, the coveted front seats next to the driver were available. We hopped in and enjoyed a glorious ride to work with the least amount of cramming you can find in the daladala. These days are to be treasured.

One of my favorite features of the daladalas is their wild appearance. They could be plain white vans with stripes color coded to indicate destination (which, these days, are not that accurate), but instead most have an assortment of stickers slapped onto their exteriors. One time I saw one that read "Holly Bible" (not my spelling error, but rather taken verbatim from the sticker). In fact, many of these decals are religiously themed. Other common finds are a bible verse number, the face of Jesus in sticker form, and, a crowd favorite, "Work Hard Pray Hard."

My other favorite part about the entire daladala experience is the lack of information available. There's no Google Maps transit help or any maps printed locally and placed upon the routes. You have to know your destination and whatever connection routes are necessary to get there. It's like a fun puzzle, if you look at the situation optimistically. If you don't know where you're going, kondas can be aggressive at Kilambero and other bus hubs in pulling you toward their daladalas. This frequently happens to foreigners, as it is assumed that they don't know where the heck they're going. The kind way to indicate that you're all set is to say "asante," which simply means "thank you." If you are polite and assertive, you can have a fruitful daladala experience.

Another important vehicle worth mentioning is the pikipiki, or bodaboda. (I promise that not all vehicles have Swahili names in this double-word format.) Pikipikis are motorcycles, and the local term bodaboda (also motorcycle) comes from the idea that a motorbike can take you from one edge of a region to the other, or from "border to border." In this picture, taken outside Sikubora's office door, you can actually spot both a daladala and a pikipiki at once (and Mount Meru). I hope this helps to illustrate how ubiquitous both of these vehicles are in Arusha.

I've been told--and I believe it now that I have witnessed it myself--that taking a pikipiki in the center of town is incredibly dangerous. The drivers are quite careless, driving recklessly and swerving around the numerous obstacles presented. In contrast, outside of town the pikipiki can be a relatively safe and inexpensive method of transportation. Here you can see our crew traveling outside town near Usa (not U.S.A, but rather the name of a river), using pikipikis to get to a village far from the main road.

It's true that pikipikis and daladalas are driven crazily in town. However, it is my firm belief that you are safer inside a daladala than inside a car next to one. The drivers are usually quite experienced, so although it may feel like there are some close calls, it would probably be less likely to get into an accident if you were a daladala passenger than if you were a car driver who suddenly needed to react quickly to avoid a daladala. Fear not, the journey to work seems pretty safe and I'm enjoying paying about 20 cents per daladala ride as opposed to Boston's transit fares. I'll take advantage of it while it lasts.

Sasa naenda kulala. Usiku mwema na lala salama! // Now I am going to sleep. Goodnight and sleep well!


  1. Holly cow! Are these Volkswagens by any chance??

  2. In a weird way, those daladalas look like fun! I am not sure if I would feel the same way if I took one day-after-day for the entirety of my career, but I would certainly ride one if in Arusha. Are people friendly when riding? Reminds me of a giant uber pool!

    Love the swahili too... I feel like I am actually learning a little bit!

    1. People are very friendly! It's common to greet your fellow travelers on the daladala (or to greet people anywhere for that matter), and often longer conversations are started. Ndiyo, karibu Kiswahili!