On Thursday afternoon, my friend C invited me to his house. Our second “bus” was a minivan outfitted to climb the steep and narrow dirt roads of Dar es Salaam’s hilly suburbs. C and I sat up front, beside the driver who was eager to chat. He had visited the United States once, and had much to say. I think that his observations about American life may give you a glimpse of what things are like here.
“America has such good roads,” said the driver as we eased up a hill. “In some places, there are seven roads together, all going the same direction. And on the other side, seven roads for the other direction!” He pulled over to let a car going downhill get around him.
“And in America, there are big sidewalks on the side of the road. On both sides of the road, there are big beautiful sidewalks. But nobody is walking on them! Here,” he leaned on the horn, “you see we have many people walking. But they are walking on the road, because there are no sidewalks.
“My favorite thing in America,” the driver continued, “was Wal-Mart. Anything you want, you just walk, and you take it. Everything is there! It is all there for you to take.” We passed a small boy selling oranges from a basin balanced on his head. “I was very surprised, because nobody was watching to catch me if I was stealing. But then my friend he told me, people they are watching. They are watching on their computers, and if I steal they will catch me.”
As she boarded the bus, a woman passed her small child up front to sit on C’s lap. The little girl bounced happily on his knee. The driver continued his observations. “People in America, they don’t trust anybody. I saw a baby, and I said to it, ‘Hi baby! How are you, baby!’ and the mother she was angry. She said to me, ‘Who are you? What are you doing to my child?’ Then she took the baby and went away. I was very surprised. Here in Tanzania, we all take care of everybody’s children. We do not fear people. In America, people they fear. Oh, they fear very much.”
We reached our stop, passed the baby back to her mother, and said farewell to the driver. We climbed a dirt track past gardens and houses towards C’s home as the city bus continued on its way, bumping along the narrow and dusty road.