I’m standing there looking at a row of doors on either side of a raised platform. You can’t step down from them, they are too high, so you’re forced to use the entrance/exits at either end. None of the doors are labelled. Occasionally a bus turns up at one of the doors. But I have no idea where they’re going or where they’ve come from. I ask if there’s a map or timetable. The person looks perplexed and simply says, “No.”
When you dream, alternative realities become reality, things can be slightly offbeat, confusing and just generally weird. But you accept them – or you wake up…
Except this wasn’t a dream. This was the first phase of the new Chinese-built, Japanese-grant-aid-funded, high-speed bus system in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. It has its own empty lanes on the road. The only time it is influenced by the traffic that chokes the rest of the city, is when a bus comes to a crossroads.
The juxtaposition of empty efficiency against the hooting and shouting of the standstill buses, dala-dalas, tuk-tuks, taxis, motorbikes, cars, lorries – not to mention people – is completely surreal. And for a few minutes I find it hard to take it in.
But it doesn’t take long before I’ve figured it out (along with the other users) and it’s become an oasis of calm and efficiency.
Talking to someone who commutes into Dar es Salaam, he hadn’t used it yet, but he seemed as intrigued and confused about it as I was. His children had used it for the first time yesterday.
“You don’t have anything like this London, do you?” he asked.
“No, I’ve not seen anything like it before,” I say. And half an hour before I step back onto one.