The Dala Dala

I sit there, entitled to my crammed seat, or one would suspect, given my non-deference to the elderly, the mothers, the workers.  It doesn’t feel good, it doesn’t feel right.  But I am glued, unsure of what is actually right, what is customary.  I look around in the cramped Nissan Vanette and no one else moves except to cram tighter, no one gets up and offers their square of butt real estate.  Of course I can’t speak the local language, so I sit, biting my tongue.  My compatriot meanwhile, seems to pay no mind.

The Nissan Vanettes and Toyota Hiaces are dala dalas, the brightly painted, dual operator, official form of public transportation in Tanzania.  They line the streets, sometimes litter the streets, and frequently clog the streets.  They jostle the economy forward and make the world go round.  

The dala dala in more comfortable times.

The door is open and we are parked on the side of the road.  More people get in and when no one else can fit, a few more climb aboard.  Then we are off, stopping to pick up more as we careen towards Arusha.  The lanky lad, clad in a Peruvian style wool cap, leans out the windowless sliding door, looking for the next passenger, looking for the next flapping hand of a potential rider.  He cares not that there is no more room inside.  A thump on the roof tell the driver to pull over.  Luckily, a passenger hops out, handing the boy a few schillings before gathering their wits and belongings and ambling on with the business of living.  The Vanette hustles onward, gathering, dispensing, swerving, speeding, braking, and generally making Tanzania run.  

Women, brightly clad in colorful dresses, clean and well kept, cram themselves next to this mzunga and dusty, weathered, leathered men, aged beyond their years.  Regardless, they all hold phones: texting, scrolling, seeking.  The dala dala moves erratically: passing cutting off, deftly dodging.  There, here, thumps, horns, screeches, hold on.  The driver is but one; everywhere cars, bicycles, boda bodas (ubiquitous motorcycles for hire), carts, and people move on their own timeline, busting left, swerving right, cutting here, braking there.  No rhyme and no reason to the traffic patter, merely pieces going where they see fit, where works best for them.  

Looking out the front of a dala dala.

He thumps the roof twice before getting in and the minibus is off as he walks beside, grabs the frame, and stands on the sideboard.  The driver has gone another 100 meters before the the conductor crams himself inside, slams the door and wiggles out the glassless window.  Ahead he spies a hand, or hears a whisper of request from behind and another double thump on the roof has the driver swerving lanes, barely missing a dog and a bicycle, cutting off traffic and sidling up to a red, muddy, litter filled ditch and a gentleman in a business suit.  Two crawl out before the well dressed man climbs aboard.  Then it plays all over again.  This time, the boy reaches his hand around, clinking two schillings together, telling us it is time to pay.  I reach into my pocket and pull out a 1000 note and hand it over.  He looks back at me, with two fingers extended and I realize I need to give him one more 1000 note.  All told our ride to town will cost about 1600 schillings (that is about 71 cents) for the two of us.  


Somewhere ahead, through the crudely welded bars that span the van, separating the rear from the front, lay our destination.  I peer around the bars and the non-functioning flat screen monitor wedged into them and through the Bob Marley and football club stickers searching for buildings, streets, markets, and places I know.  I feel Sulley tap me on the shoulder and point.  It looks like we are getting out here.  The Vanette pulls over and we and a slew of others get out, stumbling into the humid air and bright sunshine, of the crowded bus station, trading one hectic scene for another.  

We walk away, aiming for a watering hole, some Castle Lites and chips mayai.  Once again, the dala dala has provided.


Featured Image: The tile floor at NOLS East Africa.

Note: while the dala dala may sound a bit sketchy, it really is/was safer than our late night boda boda ride we took later. 

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admin Written by:

A little bit less of a nomad now, Jared still likes to refer to himself in the third person.


  1. Heather Scott
    October 23, 2017

    Wow… AFRICA.

    • admin
      October 24, 2017

      Yeah… Kinda neat. Kinda amazing.

  2. […] don’t always take the form that I initially thought they would, or even come to the fruition.  The Dala Dala, for instance, is something I wrote mentally while I was experiencing my first ride.  It was […]

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