Daniel Sempeho on Dar es Salaam “Eighteen kilometres in three hours”

“Most people in Tanzania earn an average of about 72 euros a month” Photo: Imke Stahlmann / Flickr
“Most people in Tanzania earn an average of about 72 euros a month” Photo: Imke Stahlmann / Flickr | Photo: Imke Stahlmann / Flickr

The people of Dar es Salaam take in anyone in their family in need of help according to Daniel Sempeho. In our interview the Goethe associate talks about the traces left behind by German colonial rule and how it’s possible to sit in a three-hour traffic jam on the way to the beach.

Is it true that in the commercial metropolis of Dar es Salaam there are signs that say “Caution: Falling Coconuts”?

The coconut palms actually grow very densely on some beaches or near the ocean. When a strong breeze blows, the coconuts tend to fall down and that can be dangerous. That’s why they have the signs.

What is the most beautiful part of Dar es Salaam?

It’s most beautiful, in my opinion, on the beach. The best places for a relaxed day in the sun are in the south and north of the city. The nearby islands also have great beaches with white sand and blue water. Sometimes, though, you have to plan a long drive because Dar es Salaam is one of the fastest-growing cities in East Africa and the ways are long. In recent years the city’s appearance has changed very much; small buildings and old houses are being replaced more and more by high-rises and modern structures.

What dish would you recommend to anyone coming to Dar es Salaam?

There are so many good dishes that I can’t recommend one specifically. Located on the coast of East Africa between Somalia and Mozambique, Dar es Salaam has lots of outside influences – including and particularly in the cuisine. There are also many Indian, Asian and African dishes, so it’s a colourful blend and everyone can pick out their favourites.

What traces did the German colonial times leave behind in Dar es Salaam?

After Dar es Salaam was established by the Arabs as a port city, the German colonial rulers further developed the city. You can still recognize these German structures today in a small part of the city: an old railway station and buildings from colonial days have been preserved. However, nowadays many buildings have had to gradually make way for modern neighbourhoods.

In what way do the Tanzanians differ most from Germans?

In Tanzania, the word “family” is interpreted very broadly. Friends and colleagues are quickly recognized as family members. If a Tanzanian co-worker has problems in their family we help them out straight away. It’s not much like the German interpretation of family as grandparents, parents and siblings.

In 2012, the average net monthly income of a German household was 2,700 euros. How well could a family in Dar es Salaam get by on that?

That’s a lot of money for Tanzanians. Even the minimum wage in Germany of 850 euros would be a top salary here. Of course, some earn more than 2,700 euros a month, but that’s a very small stratum of the population, for example people who work for international organizations or bigger companies. Most people in Tanzania earn an average of 1,500 shillings, or about 72 euros a month.

Dar es Salaam is a sport-enthused city with a broad arts spectrum Photo: David Davies / Flickr Dar es Salaam is a sport-enthused city with a broad arts spectrum Photo: David Davies / Flickr | Photo: David Davies / Flickr What are the people in Dar es Salaam concerned most about right now?

One major topic is this year’s presidential election. The people discuss the candidates of the various political parties and their suitability. In addition, people are very concerned about the living conditions in the city of Dar es Salaam, especially the traffic. Within the city limits it is not unusual to sit in a traffic jam for up to three hours on a stretch of 18 kilometres. Whether in newspaper reports or at business meetings when people arrive late: traffic jams are always a topic for conversation. The utilities are also worrisome for the people because there is no water or power for days at a time almost every month and citizens are not informed about it.

How do culturally interested people of Dar es Salaam like to spend their leisure time?

As a big city, Dar es Salaam naturally offers a broad arts spectrum. The diverse music events are very popular, ranging from hip-hop for the young people to African and Asian sounds and Cuban songs for the older generation. Tanzanians are also very enthusiastic about sport. The top sport – as in Germany – is football.

What do you look forward to most when you travel to Germany?

I actually look forward most to the autumn and winter weather in Germany. I also find it very pleasant to talk with my friends and relations about very different topics than in Tanzania. In addition, naturally, the extensive cultural spectrum in Germany is great.

Daniel Sempeho, born in Leipzig in 1974, played out his childhood dream job – adventurer – as a journalist. After family ties took him to Tanzania in his youth, this career goal took him to a variety of cities and places in the region as early as his university days. After working a number of years as an editor for a youth magazine and communications consultant, four years ago he ended up at the Goethe-Institut Dar es Salaam where he has since looked after programming work. In his free time he enjoys spending time in the fresh air, exploring the underwater world or diving into an historical novel. He has not lost his ties to Germany, but travels north regularly to visit his relatives there.