For a Swiss magazine I am supposed to write a portrait about a Tanzanian grandmother or grandfather. Asking my work colleagues about their grandparents has proven to be unsuccessful as they all seem to live far off. So I contact Kizito, a friend of mine and my go-to-person whenever I need a translator, guide, or, as in this instance, a contact to the country’s elderly.
Kizito, true to his word, finds me the typical Tanzanian grandmother. She lives in Tandale, an area of Dar es Salaam typically referred to as „informal settlement“, which is a polite way of saying it’s a slum. Ironically, I pass the area on my way to work regularly without ever having realized what it was.
Bibi Zaitun thrones in front of her little shack looking like a mixture of Buddha and a Queen, surrounded by chicken, children, grandchildren and her one great-grandkid. With Kizito’s help as a translator I learn that she has eight grandkids, seven of them from the same daughter. The Bibi – meaning grandmother in Swahili – is also a midwife and practices traditional African medicine. „Unfortunately, my children and grandchildren are not interested in learning it“, she says sadly.
She worries about the future, Bibi Zaitun says. Tandale has been hit by floods several times, in 2015 there was even an outbreak of Cholera in the area. Because houses are built randomly and dangerously close together, there is no sufficient water drainage during the rainy season. Politically, there is talk of demolishing the settlement, however, a relocation plan for the estimated 50’000 inhabitants does not exist so far.
On our way to back to the bus station, Kizito and I walk across Tandale. We pass a bridge over something that was once a stream but consists mostly of trash and human waste nowadays. „It costs about 1000 Shilling if you want to dispose of the trash with the city’s official waste collection“, Kizito explains to me. The stench is overwhelming. Like approximately 70% of Tanzania’s population people in Tandale live off less than 4000 Shilling a day (about two US-Dollars) making trash disposal a luxury they cannot afford. A couple of kids are playing close by and wave excited at the sight of an obviously foreign visitor.
Towards the edge of the slum we come across something I would have expected the least: A neat brick building with a fence, where the sign of a security company is attached, indicating that the property is protected by guards. A sign you see pretty much everywhere in the better-off parts of town. Irritated, I ask Kizito about it. „Have you ever heard the term gentrification?“, he replies. Tandale is pretty much an enclave surrounded by wealthier neighborhoods – growing neighborhoods. I let out a helpless laugh. It’s either that, or to scream in frustration.