A Tanzanian Symphony

The organized chaos of the dala dala station cannot be portrayed through a photograph. You can’t hear the conductors shouting, the engines revving, or the merchants trying to get your attention. And you certainly can’t smell all the engine exhaust!

People say that the sense of smell is the strongest memory trigger. Photographs are wonderful mementos that can be shared with family and friends, but when a place’s personality is built so much upon auditory and olfactory senses, even the greatest photographer cannot capture its true essence.

One of the best ways to grasp Tanzania without actually being here is to simply hear it. All sounds are enhanced– music, personal interactions, traffic… you name it. Bongo Flavour and Hip Hop music blasts from personal cell phones, household televisions, and store-front stereos. Church choirs sing, and Islamic Mosque’s send their prayer songs out into the streets. Children laugh and play on the street, and their bubbly voices carry in through the glassless windows. At night, dogs, crickets chirp, and unseen mice squeak. And how could I forget the rooster that crows relentlessly into my window as the sun rises?

Can you hear the music blasting from the duka’s store front, or the tin being re-arranged from the banana stand on the left? Can you smell the garbage smouldering in the ditch out front?

Because there is no glass insulation, people can carry on full conversations from street to house. There is a lady that comes by daily to sell fruit to our mama. She shouts, “Mama, Habari ya asabui?  Ndizi?” (What’s the news of the morning? Do you need bananas?). People even chat with their neighbours while staying firmly seated in the comfort of their own home. Chatting is hearty and almost always accompanied by lots of laughter.

After human interactions, it’s the sound of traffic that dominates the air waves. Engines rumble, horns beep, brakes squeal at deafening pitches, and drivers chat and tell jokes from vehicle to vehicle. My personal favourite form of transportation, the dala dala, honks the entirety of its route to remind pedestrians that there is always room for one more!

While these are the main sounds that pervade my ear drums, there are so many other small noises that add to the Tanzanian symphony: pots being scrubbed, floors being swept, small critters rustling in bushes, generators humming, birds chirping, chickens clucking, goats moaning … and have I mentioned the roosters?

Mamas cooking chapatis roadside… Fast food Tanzanian style!

As for that sense of smell, my nasal receptors are primarily occupied by 4 scents: smoke, body odour (a delightful combination of my own and others’), the occasional waft of sewage, and FOOD. Smoke is both inside and out. In the house, a one-burner charcoal stove is used to heat food and water. Out front, the remnants of yesterday’s trash smoulder in the ditch. This may cause the sustainably inclined to cringe, but at this point in time, it’s the only solution to the public health problem that garbage creates. Luckily my nostrils are frequently saved by the smell of delicious food cooking. My favourite is rice; a simple but pleasing aroma.

Of course my other senses are bombarded on a daily basis as well. I feel hot and sticky most days, and the feeling of community is heartwarming and admirable. But no matter where I am in the future, I know that the smell of rice and charcoal will bring me back to my casual meanderings through Morogoro neighbourhoods. I know that I will forever associate Chris Brown’s music with the dance parties I shared with neighbourhood kids. And as for the rooster… I will forever fantasize about ringing his ugly, feathered neck.

-Erin Scott, Youth Ambassador, Tanzania 2012

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2 thoughts on “A Tanzanian Symphony

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