Arusha, Tanzania: The Streets, The College Campus, The Food Market

Last week was a lengthy word story, this week is a story of pictures.

As covered last week, on my way to see the bus company that had damaged my luggage, I met Innocent, a college student dressed in hip urban clothes and whose round, always-half-smiling face gave the impression that he lived up to his name. But he apparently lived by the philosophy of walking softly in his Sketchers but carrying a big stick. And his “stick” was his brother, a locally-known tough guy, who Innocent “swung” when threatening the bus company  if they didn’t refund me some money.

I didn’t know this at the time. I just thought my new companion was simply relaying to the bus company guy was that I thought it justified for a customer to receive some compensation from the transport company when the cargo was damaged on the way.

Very funny, Brandon.

This is East Africa. A little arm twisting goes further than a plea of moral reason.

So with my customer complaint saga behind me, and gleaning the lessons of the way business gets done around these parts, I could now focus on a more standard draw for a visitor–checking out the city. This week’s is about life on the streets, the food market, and the college campus of Arusha, Tanzania. Next week will cover a unique tourist attraction outside of town.


After Innocent helped me get my refund, I took the good, arm-twisting Samaritan to lunch:

Innocent at the eatery

After munching on the Tanzanian favorite, chipsi mayai–eggs and potato wedges, the young man had his education to attend to. Specifically, he attended Arusha Technical College and was studying to be an engineer. He just happened to have these couple of hours this day to kill before his classes started–sometimes things just work out like this when improvising on the road.

Since he had been hanging with me up til now, I thought I’d escort him to his class. (Plus, I wanted to see the college.) On the way, we walked through the heart of Arusha.

It’s one of Tanzania’s larger cities and definitely one of its more technologically and stylistically modern and clean cities. It’s fancy third world living, but that’s no put-down. Arusha had a downtown of 3-4 story office/retail buildings; clean, bricked sidewalks with plenty of foot traffic and sidewalk peddlers; equally clean streets with vehicles driving by in a more orderly fashion than I was used to in other areas of the country; roundabouts centered with green grass–one I saw centered with a old tyme street clock and another with a statue of a rhino. Indeed, tourism is a factor in this city’s status–both in how the city caters to the preferences of the foreign visitors and in how these visitors bring their spending money. One section of town we passed on the way to Innocent’s university had a couple of towering, fancy hotels.

But this is still Tanzania. So things like traffic lights are noteworthy. (Iringa, the city I lived near and boasting a population approaching six figures, had none.)

Here are some shots of Arusha:

Efforts were made to keep the city clean. Too bad the bottom fell out of this attempt.

For the American tourists, Arusha has a recognizable shopping center:

Thought they didn’t have a Walmart, they did have another department store chain out of Kenya called Nakumatt that had all the usual offerings of a department store in the U.S. Clashing with the corner store-like places shown above–which is all Iringa had–this department store located in shopping/restaurant section of town was a brightly-lit open space with shiny merchandise neatly displayed with a variety of produce, breads, meats, dairy, snacks, and even some electronics and clothes–and all of it cheaper than at other places.

Streets of Arusha were bustling.

Police or military in the back of this truck
A single, fighting corn plant–a foreshadow for the market I’d visit the next day and that we’ll see at the end of this post.

For now, Innocent and I approached one of the post offices:

We saw signs of tourism:

Nearing the university, we passed by a quieter, park-like area of town. A rough-looking mural was made along a concrete wall to our left:

It depicted the stages of humanity.

Then on the right was a graveyard:

Christian gravestones with a cross; Muslim gravestones with a crescent moon

Then straight ahead from this graveyard, we bumped into the roundabout with the rhino statue as well as a large digital display:

Beyond this lovely scene is the high point of Arusha, Mt. Meru, the second tallest in Tanzania behind world famous Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Innocent’s college was near. But first how about some footage of life on the streets of Arusha–a street spar:

We entered the grounds of Arusha Technical College. Soon after entering through a gate along the sidewalk and making our way onto a walkway over campus lawns, Innocent bumped into another young man he knew. This guy had news for Innocent: class had been canceled. Innocent promptly removed his thinking cap and put on his tour guide one and showed me around his place of study:


Soccer field with Mr. Meru beyond

Lecture halls

After the campus tour, we went to that department store, Nakumatt. I bought some ice cream to thank Innocent for the company and for showing me around.


The next day Innocent wanted to continue being tour guide for his new American friend. Like many places I’ve been, I received abnormally warm (and occasionally abnormally cold) treatment for being an American. In East Africa especially, though, many did consider it a treat to befriend an American. I suppose white people are the ones they see on TV, who come here with all the money.

Before we took off for a striking tourist site Innocent had in mind, I came back into Arusha on their local van transports to see more of the city before we met up in the late morning. This gave me time to see the food market.

It wasn’t the biggest market I had seen in the country, but it featured a lot of the same elements: the produce, sacks of beans and rice, and the cramped conditions of narrow walkways through the tarp-covered stalls. One new element–for good and bad–was a couple of young guys approaching to compete for my business. But they weren’t selling food. They just sort of stuck themselves to my side pointing out certain aspects of the market and telling me I had full access to the market with them as my guides. They didn’t mention money, but I knew that if I didn’t shake off them, that I’d be expected to pay. One in jeans, blue button up, and baseball cap said he was a student at a local college. Who knows? He could just as well have been like the men who try to get you to their bus company at bus stands for the sake of a small commission and/or a score of the drug they’re addicted to.

I didn’t shake him. That was a good thing. He turned out to be a nice and knowledgeable fella. We even played billiards. 🙂  Here was the market:

Uh oh, potato sack was too full I guess.

Next were the rice, beans, and such:

Then my guide showed me a display of the Maasai tribe’s traditional medicines. Like the witch doctor I visited in the southwest corner of Tanzania, this display was an offering of plants, tree barks, roots, and even some antler to cure your common ailments:

Finally, in the center of the market was a two-story concrete structure with a restaurant of fried food, a couple of bathrooms, and a lounge with a couple of pool tables:

The guys playing stepped aside to let my guide and I play. I said we should wait. They insisted I play. Whether this was because my guide had clout or because this was the kind of local hangout where a white outsider turned heads, I don’t know. If so, this market demonstrated the classic Catch-22 of finding the local nooks of a foreign country: getting to see a more genuine slice of life, but people reacting to you being there.

My camera turned off a couple of vendors who wished I wasn’t there. But here we got in a good game of pool:

Here’s a little footage of the market and our billiard game:

Soon after shooting pool, Innocent arrived. I thanked my guide and gave him some money. Now I was eager to see the attraction that local insider Innocent said had snakes and camel rides.

He turned out to be wrong–or at least incomplete. The place had snakes, camels, and much more…


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