Congested like an old smoker, and crumbling in parts where it’s not being demolished, Dar es Salaam still attracts. Outsiders sometimes seem bewitched by its not always obvious charms. And sometimes they put a book together.
JAK Leslie’s 1963 Survey of Dar es Salaam was supposed to be a report of a comprehensive survey of living, working and playing conditions in colonial Dar. What was finally published by Oxford was an idiosyncratic love letter to the city by an unusually empathetic official. It remains essential reading. More recently, 1997’s Dar es Salaam: a dozen drives around the the city similarly went way beyond its stated brief. Many of the ‘drives’ described no longer quite exist, but driving wasn’t the point of course. Laura Sykes and Uma Waide were intent on exploring the history, structure and characters of town.
Sarah Markes similarly takes a tight focus and thereby opens up the city to us. Street Level sets out to record the under threat mid twentieth century town houses that characterise the city centre – Uhindini, the original Zone II reserved for Asian residential cum commercial premises under German and British building (read: racist) codes.
Her drawings capture a grand, if difficult, past but always the foreground is dominated by vibrant, modern young Dar-mites* in their Bulls vests, vitenge, tops and balagashia, always looking to move forward.
Street Level gives a viewpoint that maybe only an outsider can give, seeing the angles we otherwise miss. Insiders who live here should try and get their hands on a copy; it’s a valuable record, and a serious contribution to recording how we see the city and how we’d like it to be.
images © Sarah Markes
* a term I’ve only ever seen used in Dar weekly, The Express