The Ancient Streets of Dar: A ‘Meek’ Photo Story

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The Ancient Streets of Dar – photography © susan abraham, april 2012. Dar es Salaam.

The Ancient Streets of Dar: Jamhuri Street.

This is Mister Simon, pronounced Si-meo-ne as in Parisian French.  Mister Simon lives in Kinondoni Village and sells cake-baking ladles for a living.

Sadly, I almost got beaten up by one when I tried to take Mr. Simon’s picture one  morning.

The cantekerous tradesman is known to jump and down bearing down a thunderous voice and crooked fez, when a sale goes wrong.  He is known to shout unmentionables.

Mr. Simon instructed that I should first buy a couple of cake-baking ladles before he would consider. He  murmured that I should pay the rates of TZ1,000 shillings for just the ladles, TZ2,000 shillings for Mr. Simon’s exclusive portrait – smiles not included – or TZ3,000 shillings (US$1) for an all-inclusive luxurious package of portrait, smiles and ladles.

He carried on grumbling in a bullying tone and made threatening gestures with his fingers…. a forbidden vocabulary learnt from a forgotten family shack where he grew up in the Zanzibar. I pointed fearfully to my wallet and he pointed angrily at his pocket. It was a case of One-Money-Click-No-Money-No-Click!

I fished out some notes from my purse and Mr. Simon tried to grab TZ5,000 from my hand.

Still, I’m not a veteran adventurer for nothing and I bravely held on to my money. I pretended that I had changed my mind and walked away. Mr. Simon begged me to come back.  He used a baking spoon to wave about violently, as a white flag of surrender.

By now, a little crowd had gathered.  Someone yelled that perhaps, Mister Simon had consumed too much konyagi – cheap alcohol – the night before and was still feeling rough. And that I had better be careful less I be walloped black-and-blue.

A hunchback of a snoopy Indian lady, maybe about 70 years old hobbled along and asked what the matter was. I said nothing and showed her my camera. She tut-tutted with a pompous disapproval that it was against her religion, muttered Assante in Kiswahili to thank me, bowed and scurried away.

When my zoom effect took too long to manage, Mr. Simon threatened me angrily with a ladle. He waved it up and down, almost as if he was stirring egs and flour, in the air.

However, he was soon placated. Delighted with his portrait – my nervousness made it not a very good one, I’m afraid – Mr. Simon pronounced Si-meo-ne as in Parisian French, shook my hand, patted my back and went away with his cake-baking ladles, never to be seen again for the rest of the morning.   In fact, never to be seen again… at all, at all, at all!- words & photography © susan abraham, april 2012. Dar es Salaam.

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14 thoughts on “The Ancient Streets of Dar: A ‘Meek’ Photo Story

    • Hello Shaaban. That was the only picture that Mister Simon allowed me. But yes, I’m happy to say he can easily eat at the restaurant behind him. That restaurateur Mr. Ali is a friend of mine…I had just stepped out it. It’s reputed for the best chai (tea) in Dar so often overflowing with customers. Mister Simon would easily be able to afford his tea and some good snacks like samosas etc. The prices you see are in Tanzanian shillings and for bigger lunches. Still, that restaurant’s personality wouldn’t be Mister Simon’s cup of tea, I don’t think! 🙂

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      • Yes, you’re right. Mr. Simon can afford “maybe a cup of tea and samosas” in that restaurant based on the prices advertized. His income per day might be just below Tshs 6000, which is only enough for one plate of pilau during lunch. He might also have a family that he is taking care of. From paying rent, sending his kids to school, feeding them and other Dar Es Salaam expenses including drinking his konyagi once in a while.

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    • Thank you, Shaaban for your very kind comments. Please feel free to jot down your thoughts on this blog, anytime.
      From my years of having returned to Tanzania, I’d say that Mister Simon would be someone contented with his lot and judging from the pallor of his skin & colour of his eyes, his diction etc… he could well also be a happy consumer of the konyagi. 🙂
      Many of these sidewalk tradesmen are.
      I’m not sure if you are well-versed with Tanzanian rural life, Shaaban and how much I should explain. But from my intuition, I don’t think that Mister Simon has children going to school or if he has, would be content with this ambition. Let me know if you want me to share or explain more. regards

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      • I am from Tanzania originally. Born and raised in rural Morogoro. I was talking to you about Mr. Simon just as an example of the 40+ millions of Tanzanians who live like him. Many have no means and have also lost hope in their lives. However, Mr. Simon and the millions of Tanzanians he represent, have good intentions for their families and many send kids to school (the ones that fails their children due lack of teachers, teaching resources, lab materials and list goes on and on) with that meager income they make hustling everyday.
        I know you have lived in Tanzania for a while and you do understand some of these people’s lives. It is a tough like they find themselves in with no choice of their own.

        Nice conversation and enjoy your stay in Tanzania. The best destination in the world with happy go-and-peace loving people.

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      • I suspected you were from Tanzania and I do know Morogoro. I have a lot of friends as I have been going very often to Tanzania for over 12 years and sometimes, I have stayed for months at a time. I have also lived in the slums with my friends so I have gone through what they have. I have also lived their stories and history. A few have passed away too early from illnesses. I have been doing this for a book I’m writing. I also do a lot of charity work and any of my Tanzanian friends can vouch for that. And yet, there are so many better off than the countless street families. It was my friends who told me about Mr. Simon and I tend to agree that he could be an alcoholic from his demeanour. I wouldn’t say they have lost hope. The ordinary Tanzanian strikes me as a survivor and I relate easily to their humour.

        And of course, I have to add Shabaan that Mr. Ali’s restaurant where Mister Simon was passing by, is in the city…a stone’s throw from Dar’s business district. I know for a fact that Mister Simon can get good rice dishes very cheaply at many outside stalls even in the heart of Dar city and definitely, in the outlying areas…definitely where he lives…there will be shops… where everything is so much cheaper. I have seen for myself and know where these places are, selling wali samaki, ugali, kuku & chips & others.

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      • Mr. Ali’s tea shop doesn’t open for dinner, Shaaban. He closes by 6pm or so but you can have some good morning and afternoon teas and also the lunches you saw advertised. He is a very nice man and his shop is patronized by Tanzanians from all walks of life. It’s a bright blue shop on Jamhuri Street and you may also see, Sabri who is a handsome muscled guy, who manages the cash counter in the mornings. I don’t live in Dar. I am a Malaysian of Indian descent and I currently am based in Dublin, Ireland. Thank you for all the rest. Cheers!

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      • Travelling to Tanzania and living there for extended periods of time in the past 12 years is enough in my book to christen you as a Tanzanian. I am just saying it as a complement to your love of the people and the culture of Tanzania. It is true that you have gained a lot of valuable insights on what constitutes to be called the “average Tanzanian life”. I salute you for the time and charity contributions you have made to my fellow country men.

        I will definitely stop at the restaurant (the bright blue house) on Jamhuri Street next time I find myself in the Dar. Off course, I will say hello to the bouncer “Sabri” on my way out.

        Keep writing. I enjoy reading you posts. Maybe one day I will be a great writer as you are.
        Cheers!

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  1. Thank you, Shabaan. Sabri manages the cash register in the mornings. He is not a bouncer. 🙂 But watch out for a cobbler who has sat himself outside that shop with his business wares for years. He talks non-stop… Also, I think the big difference with me and other foreigners is that I have chosen the Tanzanians as my friends and to have mingled with the local culture and not just gone to the beaches or places where the expatriates were. So I got orientated very quickly. Thank you for your praise. That is so good to know. I write about books and writing on this blog but from time to time I will post more photos on Tanzanian life. At the moment, there are very few stories of Tanzanian literature as most of the Tanzanian bookshops tend to promote Kenyan literature. So I hope to write something good about Tanzania for the world. 🙂

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