What to do?

street sweeper clean city

These are the days when I see people all around me scratching a living out of nothing. Photo: Daniel Hayduk

These are the days when I see people all around me scratching a living out of nothing.

A lady with a baby tied on her back sitting in the sand trying to sell sweets and cigarettes one by one.

A young boy sent by his bibi walking with a small board selling three pieces of kashata in plastic foil.

A security guard working seven days a week without fail — always outside the house on a plastic chair while cars kick up the dust as they pass by on the dirt road.

Ladies with a scarf tied around their mouthes sweeping sand in a busy junction surrounded by the usual crazy traffic.

Or those doing ‘stone business’ the — often older — ladies sitting on a stone hitting large rocks to break them into smaller stones, day after day after day.

It can be despairing to see all of these scenes and to realize the extent of poverty around me.

In time I found I could support a few people on a regular basis, which I do.

By now we know each other from passing and there’s always a greeting, a few words, some smiles.

Three handicapped men each sit at their own spot under the arcade near Posta and they know when I pass on Sundays I keep my coins ready.

Then there is Babu in his uniform of the city cleaning company, green oversized t-shirt, faded green trousers and enormous (formerly) green gum boots.

His obviously untreated twisted spine makes him walk in an almost 90 degrees posture.

But this does not prevent him from always working: heavy work, using his hands and back with a wheelbarrow and broom on the side.

Every Sunday I see him, he’s sweeping, cleaning, clearing waste, branches and leaves.

As I greet him, the smiles from his almost toothless mouth and squinting eyes say enough.

I always ask about the work and how he’s keeping and amazingly he seems to do just fine.

I told him once, ‘for all the good work you’re doing on these roads, have a tea on me.’

Sometimes I forget to carry cash but his smiles are always there when he sees me.

It makes me remember to prepare better for next time.

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About the Author

Josie van den Hoek
Josie first visited Dar es Salaam in 2000 and is still here. She writes about encounters on her daily walks and Tanzanian life.