I first travelled to East Africa and to Dar es Salaam sixteen years ago. I was working on a project in Tanzania and I spent three months living in a village in the Usambara Mountains in the north east of the country. Occasionally our group would head to the bright lights of Moshi, and a few times Dar es Salaam, the country’s commercial capital.
I was with a mixed group and although the girls were told to cover up (Tanzania’s main religions are Christianity and Islam) I don’t remember feeling uncomfortable as a female – it was more uncomfortable being shouted at because I was white. Kids would cry out ‘Mzungu’ (foreigner) and run after me as I walked through the village. I had to watch out for the odd hand shake – if a man liked you he would scratch your palm with his finger as you shook hands. A secret sign unnoticed by the outside world. I also got strange looks, and laughter, when playing football in the village. The men stared open mouthed at this hefty white girl running around and holding her own against the boys.
Tanzania taught me patience and to follow my instincts and I only had good experiences there, so when I got the opportunity to travel back to Dar es Salaam for work, I was thrilled. I’m glad I knew what to expect. There’s an acronym which the people I met on this business trip kept throwing at me. TIA – This is Africa. If a bus breaks down, if a meeting is cancelled, if dinner takes three hours: TIA. It’s not an excuse, it’s just pointing out a fact.
If you have a meeting set up in Dar es Salaam and expect to fly in, have the meeting and fly out, then you will probably have wasted an airfare. I was advised to allow up to a week for what is normally a two day trip. This is because things often don’t go to plan. For example I had an appointment at my hotel at 10am one day. At 11.30am, after downing three glasses of lemonade, I finally saw the man I was to meet enter the hotel lobby. He waved and took a seat opposite me. We began our meeting without reference to him being an hour and a half late. TIA.
On another occasion I needed to get across the city to another hotel on the peninsula for a meeting. I borrowed someone’s driver and we crawled along the seafront in the rush hour traffic for an hour. Rush hour starts around 2pm and goes on all night. When I reached the hotel I knew I would be late for my next appointment so I tried to hurry things along. Don’t do this. Whoever you are meeting will take offence, quite rightly so. Accept that things take as long as they take and the more you try to rush things, the harder your life will become. Accept the slower pace; accept that people will be late, and that you will be late.
As a lone female traveller it is best not to wander around Dar es Salaam after sunset. It’s best to take a cab if you want to explore the restaurant scene, and ask the driver to wait while you eat your meal. There aren’t many international hotel brands yet established in Dar es Salaam but the ones I visited on my trip included the Kempinski, a Movenpick, a Holiday Inn in the centre and a Double Tree by Hilton and Golden Tulip on the peninsula. All great for both business and leisure.
Dar es Salaam is the third fastest growing city in Africa after Nigeria’s Lagos and Mali’s Bamako, and the ninth fastest growing city in the world. So business gets done here, a lot of business – but there is no rush.
Top Tip: Contact the TIC Tanzania Investment Centre for any help in doing business in Tanzania and getting visas. Don’t forget your malaria tablets.
Felicity Cousins is an award-winning business travel journalist who was Editor of Buying Business Travel the leading business travel trade magazine in the UK. She was also Features Editor for Business Traveller magazine for six years, writing about female travellers, global business destinations, and staying fit on the road. She has travelled to more than 45 countries with work and loves hotels. She is now a freelance travel and fitness journalist based near London