Swahili classes and culture
[Written by Emily Li]
Habari za maisha? Greetings from the bioenergy travel team. We have been in Dar Es Salaam for the past week, and just got to Arusha this afternoon. During the week, we studied Swahili in the morning with two teachers Mama Saada and Godfrey Allen, set up by the Dickey Center. Swahili is a really interesting language to learn because it contains vocabularies from many different origins, Bantu, Arabic, English, etc. We learned the greetings, basic verbs, four different tenses, and pretty much enough to get by (we thought). Then on Wednesday, Mama Saada assigned us to talk to Tanzanians in Swahili and ask lots of questions. I talked with our favorite cab driver, Mbaraka, and he was very eager to teach me how to say everything. I asked him a pre-prescribed list of questions, but I soon realized I didn’t understand any of Mbaraka answers. In class on Thursday, we had a lot of fun learning about the market, pretending to buy and sell vegetables, and bargaining. Then on Friday, Mama Saada and Godfrey Allen took us to Kariakoo market by the dala-dala (minibus which is the preferred local method of transportation) so we could put our Swahili to the test. The ceiling of the dala-dala was so low that Tucker, our tallest group member and the only one not to get a seat, could not even stand straight. Kariakoo is the major market where the locals shop for foods, utensils, clothes, and everything else. The market area includes the main building, which is a gigantic structure with three levels, and extends to a dozen more blocks in the neighborhood. We practiced our Swahili bargaining with the shop owners. My favorite phrase is ghali sana which means “too expensive.” Rachel and I got some fabrics with printed patterns whereas James bargained for a multipurpose knife that does both peeling and cutting! We were sad that the Swahili classes ended, but I think we have a good foundation to continue our learning.
Now you wonder what have we been working on for DHE? Well, we find learning opportunities and insights everywhere we go. The city of Dar Es Salaam always bustles with life day and night, especially in Kariakoo, the area where we stayed. We had fun observing the street food vendors using their charcoal stoves and definitely took notice of the huge bags of charcoal that are sold. In fact, right next to our hotel is a yard where bags of charcoal are stored.
On Thursday, we visited Dr Rajabu of the University of Dar Es Salaam. He is a professor of mechanical engineering who specifically work on rural bioenergy, and have been an amazing advisor for DHE bioenergy for years. The university feels very different from Dartmouth. The engineering school has its own fence and checkpoints surrounding it. We met Dr Rajabu in their machine shop during a power outage, so all the professors are just hanging around. As a demonstration, Dr Rajabu lit a small, gasifier cook-stove for us. The stove uses small, jatropha seeds pellets, of the same shape and size as broken bits of number 2 pencils, as fuel. What is cool about this stove is that flame comes out in a vortex and rises up through the holes along the wall.Within ten minutes, it produces a flame high enough to start cooking. If you take off the top part of the stove, you have a simmering charcoal stove. Next, Dr Rajabu showed us the place where engineering students develop prototypes for small business. One such prototype was an industrial sized gasifier stove unit that could be used for schools and hospitals. We also saw briquettes made by an organization called ARTI in Dar Es Salaam. The organization uses the same principle as DHE to produce its briquettes—first pyrolyzing biomass into charcoal and then using that product to produce charcoal briquettes. We then turned to dinner with Dr. Rajabu where we talked about both bioenergy and non-bioenergy related topics. We talked briefly about impact analysis and how to conduct surveys as well as heard his insights on the culture and how people tend to behave in front of interviewers. Sometimes, people say things they think the interviewers want to hear because they are used to getting free stuff from the research and really want to impress. When we asked Dr Rajabu what is the best way to approach this, he says observation is very important but also added that, “I am only an engineer.” With the experience he had in the field, he was probably just being humble.
Our week in Dar Es Salaam had not been all work though. With four other Dartmouth students, we had time to explore the city. On Tuesday, we went to Coco Beach where the local people like to hang out. We definitely stood out a lot on the beach. Vendors keep coming up to us trying to sell their products. None of us ventured out to the ocean to swim, instead we spent some peaceful time lying on the beach. Friday afternoon, we took a “ferry” (actually just a little boat) out to Bongoyo Island, about thirty minutes from the Slipway. During the ride, we saw locals in canoes pulling in what we thought was a fishing net. The beach on Bongoyo Island is very different from Coco Beach; it was quite quiet and definitely touristy. We swam in the warm Indian Ocean, and later passed the afternoon napping under a huge straw umbrella. We finished our week in Dar with a beautiful sunset dinner at the Slipway and said goodbye to our Dartmouth friends. And now we’re off to our next adventure in Arusha!