Village in a Test Tube: Tracking Art in Tanzania’s New Influence on Umoja Road

Madale is located on the northwestern fringes of Dar es Salaam. This semi-rural ward has none to little exposure to foreigners, so I’m interested in seeing what will happen when one particular community in Madale receives a new and constant flow of well… us. 

I’m going to conduct a social experiment.

For the next two months, I’ll be living with 40 volunteers in Art in Tanzania’s new living compound in the middle of Umoja Road and tracking our influence on the local community. Our region of influence, (outlined below in white) stops 500 meters east at the local pub, and a few meters west of our location.

Umoja Road on Google Maps 

The first residents in this region settled in about a decade ago, and now number around a hundred and fifty. The population here is split quite evenly between men, women and children. Electricity only came into Umoja Road this July. Before that, residents who wanted power had to use solar lamps and diesel generators. The roads here are unpaved, and plans for plumbing have been announced, although no one I’ve asked quite seems to know when.

Looking westwards at Umoja Road from Mary’s Shop

Most of Umoja’s population is poor, although a few medium-wealth households exist in the neighborhood. Cheap land prices which attracted many of Umoja’s poor have doubled in the past five years, while population managed the same feat in four. A lack of schooling and unemployment are highly visible issues. Most children on Umoja Road are too poor to continue with secondary school, and looking instead for work which isn’t always work available for them. English isn’t widely spoken, and usually those with secondary and university education speak the language. There are four local shops in our region, and three wooden kiosks. There’s also a welding workshop and a pharmacy next to the local pub, aptly named Umoja Pub.

There are 40 volunteers living with Art in Tanzania this December and January, and most are young Scandinavians who are staying here for three weeks to three months as part of their gap year or university internship. Orphanage and teaching work are what most of our volunteers have opted to do. We also hires 34 staff, half of which speak English and regularly interact with the volunteers. They’re also a part of our influence on the community. 

Mary owns the largest of the four concrete shops in this region of Umoja Road

There’s already been a few changes since my arrival. Mary, who owns the shop closest to Art in Tanzania has bought a table. Now, a few volunteers enjoy a warm Serengeti beer time to time after work. A few days ago, I also saw a few village kids construct an extension for the wooden kiosk opposite our compound. To what extent these changes are our doing I’m not so sure. The extension was more likely for attracting construction workers instead of volunteers.

There is also a natural growth we need to consider. Since the beginning of the century, Dar es Salaam has been spilling it’s population northwards. Madale is a part of this growth. The city had roughly 2,564,394 people in 2002, and in 2012 that figure reached 4,364,541. This factor will have a greater and different effects on the growth of Umoja Road than our presence will. 

Before and after extension to the wooden kiosk opposite Art in Tanzania. A few of the boys in the left helped to build this extension.

Now that we’ve set the scene for our experiment, here’s what I (and a few other volunteers and staff) predict will happen over the next two months:
  1. Local shops will stock more products, including more expensive Western products. They will also expand their shops.
  2. Prices will increase in the community, and locals might start buying things from other communities where prices are lower.
  3. Residents will speak more English, not only with foreigners but at home.
  4. There will be more motorcycles and tuk-tuks passing and hanging around the volunteer compound.
  5. Children will say the word ‘mzungu’ (white person) less, as they become more accustomed to the presence of Westerners
  6. Locals will change their ideas of what foreigners like and don’t like.
  7. The concrete shops will perform better than the wooden kiosks.

Whatever happens, it’s still a pretty exciting time to be part of Madale and Dar es Salaam’s rapid growth.

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