Part of the narrative of modern-day Africa is that it is all changing so fast. Working at a university and living in a university town, we get to see some of that change. Expats who were in Dodoma 10 years ago tell me that they owned one of the few motorbikes in the town. Now it seems like everyone has one and lots of people drive cars as well. They say that it was a big event when there were Pringles in the western supermarket and that they brought deodorant and liquid soap from home – these are now in available in any small or ordinary store.
But you can identify changes in a shorter time period as well. The information we give people about the airport in Dar based on our experience there in 2013 is now outdated. There’s a conveyor belt for luggage now, and security scanners.
Here in Dodoma things are different from how they were when we arrived 18 months ago too. Here’s some of what we’ve seen change in our year-and-a-half in Dodoma.
Traffic lights. I thought Elliot might grow up not seeing traffic lights, but Dodoma now has not one set of traffic lights but TWO!
Diet soft drink. ‘Sodas’ are massive here – both the Coke and Pepsi variety and the local Azam brand. When we first arrived I saw an advertisement for ‘Pepsi Light’ but it was nowhere to be found. These days, I have my choice of Pepsi Light or Coke Zero and little corner stores have it. (Don’t judge me because I drink diet soft drink!)
Fashion. There’s a kind of dress that’s become more popular. They’re imported from India and they’re like big muumuu things that you buy and then get a seamstress to cut down to size for you and add some elastic. You can see me wearing one in this video. I’m not sure when this came in (maybe I just didn’t have the eyes to distinguish fashion when we first arrived?) but when I wore one the other day, a student commented to Arthur that I look like ‘a real Tanzanian woman’ now, because I was wearing not just Tanzanian clothes, but the latest fashion in Tanzanian clothes!
Chocolate. We’ve told people that if they want to send us something, send us chocolate because there was basically none around when we arrived. Now there is some chocolate, especially at the western supermarket. We’ve found it variable in quality. More often than not, it’s white and crusty with age or bad handling, and there’s no dark (Arthur’s preference), but it’s there.
Tablet phones. Everyone in Dodoma has a mobile phone, sometimes two (to take advantage of the different networks) and when we bought ours when we first arrived, most of them were pretty basic (e.g. Nokia 1). We recently visited Airtel (our network provider) to buy a new one after Arthur dropped his down the squat toilet (!) and the range was markedly different. Samsung Galaxies and the cheaper Tecno brand smart phones and tablets were the norm and there were fewer basic phones.
Bajajis. These motorised three wheelers have been in Dar for a while but there was not one in Dodoma when we arrived at the start of 2013. Now there are stacks and they’re my and Elliot’s preferred method of public transport.
Bitumen roads. OK, so Dodoma town had bitumen roads when we arrived, but the main road to the university was a dirt road and in pretty bad condition at that. Sometimes they would bring a grader through to even out the humps of dirt but about a year ago, the road was made into bitumen. It’s so lovely and smooth now! Of course most of the suburbs are still dirt roads, but many of the arterial roads are now bitumen.
Road markings. Along with the new roads, there are now curb sides, some footpaths, zebra crossings and lane makings. There are also some road signs in town indicating one way streets (helpful for newcomers who don’t just ‘know’!) and no parking zones. This means that Dodoma’s physical appearance is different from what it was when we first arrived.
A new highway. It used to take you 10 hours to get to Iringa (major centre in the south), going up to Morogoro and then down to Iringa. A bit before we got here, people started talking about a ‘shortcut’ which was only 6 hours. That shortcut is now a road and you can travel Dodoma-Iringa in less than 5 hours!
These are surface kind of things but they’re indicative of the speed at which things are changing and of deeper currents swirling in society.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.