Urban Africa: Arrival To Iringa City Center

Our stuffed bus pulls up to the Iringa city bus station. Waiting men greet our arrival, so eager to take you for a ride in their taxi that some even hop aboard before anyone has a chance to get off.

“Dodoma!”, “Dar es Salaam!”, “Mbeya!” the different men state loudly hoping someone is headed to one of these cities.  

I’m a “mzungu” (foreigner), so they home in on me directing, their voice, eye contact, and even reaching to help me with my bag. But I tell them (each week) that I’m not in need of their service. I’m already in Iringa, right where I need to be.


As we left off a few weeks ago, our bus rattles its way along the bumpy dirt road from my village Magulilwa to the city Iringa—the route I take each weekend. Toward the end of our normally 90-minute ride, the fields and meadows and green hills begin to see more signs of the upcoming urban. Houses begin to decorate the hills.

Then along the road there appears more people on foot, bike, and motorcycle. Finally, a transition makes our urban arrival official: our road turns to tar.

Soon after, wood and sheet metal shacks start to line the route in this outskirt of Iringa known as Ipigolo, the community at the base of the hill below the city above.

Most of these bedroom-sized structures are businesses selling soda and water, basic groceries, or have a few cuts of fly-feeding meat hanging on display. Sidewalks here are boards stretched atop the drainage gullies on either side of the road.

Women wearing thin, colorful dresses perch along these walkways sell a few bunches of bananas, onions, green and red peppers, and peanuts. Many other residents are walking along the road. Women dress as those sitting and selling but some of these walkers feature the added decoration of an item (bucket, bag, car battery—I’ve seen it all) balanced atop their head. While some of the men dress quite smartly in clean dress or tennis shoes, slacks, and button up shirt, most wear flip flops (often made from old tires); dirty, thin, loose-fitting pants; and a ragged t-shirts that seemingly invariably come secondhand from the U.S. as evidenced by a hip saying or decoration on its front. Others walk about with replica jerseys of American athletes from yesteryear. I’m thinking this is where American-donated clothes end up.

In Ipigolo, I need to switch to a smaller “bus”–really a large van used for shorter distances known as a dalla dalla–into Iringa. So at the Ipigolo bus station (a big dirt square surrounded by shanty businesses), I disembark. And it is here where men called tejas seek our patronage, asking if we want a ride to any number of other Tanzanian urban destinations. But I’ve already arrived to mine. So I don’t need a bus or taxi. I simply need a dalla dalla.

Here’s some footage of my arrival into Ipigolo and getting off the bus:

From Ipigolo, we now climb into the city proper with a slow, gear-grinding ascent up the hill in our dalla dalla that’s filled to an even more ridiculous level of passengers. I once counted 35 people in a vehicle no larger than a conversion van.

Somewhere between circumstance and psychology lies the answer to how residents here permit such riding conditions.

When we reach the top, we’ve reached Iringa, and things look more like a city as I’m used to. Businesses are now larger buildings dealing motorcycles, grocery stores, restaurants, churches and mosques, and the occasional hotel. Traffic is steady with cars, buses, motorcycles, and trucks hauling their loads. About a mile or so into town, we reach its center signified by the largest buildings—a five story hotel and a few other comparably-sized apartment and office buildings speckled within the dusty urban below. Billboards for beverages or mobile phone service, storefronts for electronics and restaurants, an even-thicker crowd of pedestrians on the roads and wood/concrete sidewalks, and salespeople lining the ways with everything from newspapers to snack stands to produce make this area the center of the city’s attention.We enter town in what would be a head-turning, clown car fashion if not for it being the standard by which public transit is conducted in these parts. (Actually, I reliably do turn a head or two being a mzungu. I watch someone on the street look at our bus, and then zero in on me. Tanzania is like China where foreign races stick out. Here though, more attention is drawn. I estimate I’ve had 200 kids yell “mzungu!” as I walk/ride by.)

Our dalla dalla reaches the bus stop. And like a dog giving birth to many puppies, our van births us at the bus stand where more midwives as salespeople wait to put us in their incubator of a taxi or offer us newborns our first meal. Past this energetic greeting of the bus stand, the excitement continues on the city center blocks.

I walk through active streets with street-side vendors before small shop after small shop. It becomes a people watching, shopping feast.

Iringa is a healthy, good-sized Tanzania city. Couple hundred thousand or so. It’s the largest metropolitan area in this region also known as Iringa. It’s not the most popular traveling destination, but it is an important hub for this part of the country, and as we’ll see in a future post, is also a popular place to find volunteers, church mission workers, foreign aid workers, and students from the U.S. studying abroad.

Enjoy some footage of Iringa:

Of course, there’s more to Iringa than just this. Through these bustling blocks, things quiet down quite a bit. In each direction you’ll encounter a different flavor of a more peaceful urban in the form of residential areas, administrative areas, a large food market, and even a park.

Next time I’ll show you pictures and videos of these.

’til then,



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