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Helpful, not helpful: a shopping trip

We often take taxis instead of driving in Dar, because traffic is nuts, because it saves getting little ones in and out of car seats, and because it means we don’t have to find parking. It’s quicker, easier and less stressful. Some days. Today’s job was to get Elliot some school shoes from the big market in town, Kariakoo. Here’s how it unfolded.

Getting there

11:30am Greet Taxi Driver. Taxi Driver inquires whether we’ve found a school for Elliot yet. I explain that the preschools in Upanga seem to be English speaking but we were hoping for a Swahili one to continue his Swahili language acquisition. Wherever he ends up he’ll need school shoes though, so today we’re shopping for school shoes and I’d like to go to Kariakoo.

11:35am Taxi Driver asks me if I have a particular place in mind at Kariakoo. I tell him it’s my first time, so I’ll just have a look. He insists he knows somewhere good, better than Kariakoo. To me, it sounds like ‘Sitimoh’.

11:50pm Arrive City Mall. It’s a big, air conditioned mall with escalators. Taxi Driver says we’ll find some good shoes here. This is where white people shop. It turns out, the shoes are all brand new and start from TZS60,000 (AUD35). Taxi Driver astonished by this expense. ‘Let’s go,’ he says. ‘Where?’ I wonder. But I’m an expert at tolerating ambiguity now, so we hop back in the car and I wait to see where we end up.

12:15 Arrive ‘Baby Shop’. On the outskirts of Kariakoo, this has all new children’s goods from China. Shoes here start from TZS27,000 but they look like they’ll last about 5 seconds. I tell Taxi Driver I think we could get better quality for our money, please can we go to a second hand place. He looks doubtful. ‘I don’t mind second-hand,’ I say. He laughs.

12:30 Arrive Karume clothes market. Of course, I don’t know that’s what it’s called then. No one tells me, and there’s no sign. I know because I looked it up on Google Maps when I got home. There’s little chance to get my bearings because I am immediately greeted by 3 or 4 young guys all yelling at me in their broken English. I respond in Swahili. Everyone very relieved. I tell them we’re after school shoes for Elliot. ‘Let’s go sister,’ they say, and they lead me through a rabbit warren of stalls with second hand clothes and shoes. It’s pretty similar to the second-hand clothes market in Dodoma, but bigger.

Doing the shopping

We come to a stall with children’s leather school shoes and the guys instruct the man to take care of us. The shoes here are the best quality I’ve seen so far. We try some shoes and decide to take two pairs, one slightly bigger than the other.

The haggling begins. We have an audience of 10 other guys, all commentating. The guy starts at 60,000 per pair. I tell them about our trip to City Mall. Huge laughter from the crowd. ‘This white lady, she is savvy!’ they say to one another. Pretty quickly it comes down to 60,000 for both pairs. I tell them I’ll give them 10,000 a pair.

Elliot, who’s actually been pretty cooperative up to this point, runs off. From now on, every conversation I have is while on the run after him. These are young guys, and keen to make a sale, so they keep up. I, on the other hand, am feeling quite flustered baby wearing, chasing Elliot and trying to negotiate with these guys. Meanwhile, there are at least 3 or 4 people at each corner yelling, ‘mtundu!’

Catch Elliot, who is thirsty. Buy him a drink from a nearby stall. Wait for drink lady to find change, which involves a negotiation with several people around her, and then she disappears.

Agree on a price with the shoe guy, who has of course followed me – 20,000 each. Pretty sure this is still outrageous, but he’s not budging and there’s only so much bargaining you can do as a white person without appearing stingy.

Another round of chasing Elliot.

Drink lady returns with change. I have stern words with Elliot who promises very seriously to behave himself.

Move to section with kids’ t-shirts. Six different guys try to help me. This involves throwing t-shirts of the right size at me for inspection. Another 15 or so guys watch on, commentating again. Elliot climbs piles of clothes and jumps on and into them.

Callum wakes and starts crying. Sit down to feed him to a chorus of, ‘Oh she breastfeeds her baby.’ But he’s too distracted, so I give up. One man takes Callum and he gets handed around among the men while I continue looking at the shirts.

Choose 5, pay TZS2000 each. Again, fairly sure this is expensive, but I’ve talked the man down from TZS3000.

Elliot refuses to move from his mountains of clothes, then runs off again. Cue shouts of ‘mtundu’ once again.

Getting home

1:15pm Finally catch Elliot, and return to Taxi Driver, and tell him of our success. He’s been thinking and reckons he knows a Swahili pre-school. Would we like to see it? And so commences a tour of all of Upanga’s pre-schools, most of which I have already visited or called. None are in Swahili.

1:40pm I try to convince the taxi driver that we should just go home. ‘OK,’ he says, and we drive off to another couple of schools.

2:10pm Taxi Driver finally agrees to take me home. Hit traffic jam. We are 1km from home but it takes 20 minutes to get there.

2:30pm Arrive home.

Categories: Tanzania Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

6 replies

  1. I am exhausted reading that Tamie 😳 If I could, I would give you a massive high five or pat on the back or some other encouraging gesture 😉

    I find bartering to be frustrating as I mostly leave feeling like I have been ripped off, but also feeling shame for the time I spent bartering over literally a couple of dollars. How do you find bartering on a regular basis (or have you managed to remove all emotion from the practise)?

    1. Oh, I still find it stressful, for the reasons you say. And also because I feel like I still don’t have a really good feel for what’s fair. Some Tanzanians are horrified by the idea of white people paying more, others think it’s fair enough.

      I don’t actually have to do it all that often, because lots of things have fairly set prices (e.g. fruits and vegies, household staples like flour and sugar, small household items like plastic containers, etc.)

      I basically make up my mind that I probably won’t get the best price, but I give it a go anyway. I figure my people (‘the west’) has got rich by exploiting Africa, so there’s an extent to which if they want to rip me off and I don’t have the bartering skills to match them, then there’s a symmetry to that anyway. ;)

  2. A shopping trip can take it out of you in your “own culture” with two small people in tow, let alone the challenges you mention. Thinking of you as you (re) adjust again!

  3. Tamie well done! You got the shoes and back home in one piece! Fantastic effort with all the stress of that particular adventure.

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