Tanzania: Dar Sketches: From Blog to Book

Dar Sketches is a blog of drawings and creative writing inspired by ‘street level” Dar es Salaam. The blog will ultimately be turned into a book.

The Project background:

The project started with an interest in the older buildings of Dar es Salaam city centre, and a desire to capture some of their essence before they are all too rapidly demolished. As an artist and illustrator, I believe drawings can capture a different and sometimes more vibrant image than photographs. While the architecture creates the context, the vibrancy of Dar street life is a wonderful, rich and quirky realm all to itself. So the drawings have developed to include whole street scenes as well as portraits of street vendors, daladala’s, overloaded bicycles, sign art and much more.

‘Street level’ would like to be a forum for creative writing about Dar es Salaam. Short stories, poems, musings, even two line thoughts and interesting facts would be very gratefully received for consideration. Pieces could be inspired by the artwork or vice versa.

About the blogger:

Sarah Markes trained at Central St. Martins in London as an illustrator and graphic designer. She has lived in Dar es Salaam for the last seven years, working on an array of educational and creative projects.

The writers

‘Street level’ will feature a selection of contemporary creative writing by Tanzanian and international authors who live and work in the city. 15 writers have already expressed an interest in the project with several others contemplating it!

The book will be divided into eight sections:

The content

1. KARIBU BONGO: Welcome to Dar

2. STREET SCENE: Urban space and the architecture of Dar

3. STREET LIFE: The people of Dar

4. STREET TRADE: Vendors galore and more

5. STREET CUISINE: Tanzanian tastes

6. STREET TRANSPORT: People and goods on the move

7. STREET GREEN: The natural environment of Dar

8. STREET STYLE: Dar heritage at risk

A sample of sketches appearing on the blog:

In praise of street vendors

In Praise of Street Vendors by Sarah Markes

Some grumble about the space taken up by assorted vendors on Dar’s crumbling pavements or the apparent disarray of the city’s myriad street stalls, but how can you not be grateful for all the goods and services that are at your fingertips in every part of the city? Whether it’s an icy cold bottle of water thrust through your window in traffic, that Arsenal sticker you have always wanted or your bicycle tyre repaired in minutes, Dar’s thriving street trade can provide.

I am Machinga [a street vendor in Swahili slang]:

The sweet, sticky heat makes my clothes stick to my skin. I am damp to the touch, dripping with the unavoidable refuse of my art. Yes, I am an artist my friend, although you may not think so. How else can you explain what I do? I walk the town like a vagabond of the vanguard, a viscous fluid in the arteries of Bongo streets, providing for your every need.

All it takes is a single look, you know the one, while you inch along in the snaking foleni [queue] hoping for some form of respite, and you pleadingly glance out your half-rolled down window, I see the yearning in your eyes. Before you even know what it is that you desire, I will be there, with karanga na maji [groundnuts and water] and perhaps a cigarette or two. I will provide. You take what I offer with subtle contempt, annoyed that I know you better than yourself, but alas, what is an artist to do?

Excerpt from ‘I am machinga’ by Hafiz Juma

Light Corner:

Light Corner by Sarah Markes

“Dar’s street scenes tell a story of the city’s history, its people and their livelihoods – of the original inhabitants of Mzizima, the Sultans from Oman, the Germans, the British, the Indians, waves of immigrants from rural Tanzania and its surrounds.

Reheman Building

Reheman Building in Dar Es Salaam by Sarah Markes

Do you have a favourite building or place in Dar es Salaam that you think i should draw? If so, do let me know…
Wouldn’t this building make a wonderful studio, coffee shop, book shop, lounge bar… oh dreamy on…

Green Oranges

Green Oranges by Sarah Markes

Juice dribbles slowly down his chin as he grins at me. Otherwise motionless, he carefully sucks every last piece of the fruit without breaking his smiling gaze. Sparkly eyes above a sun faded yellow football shirt. The dark ‘Fly Emirates’ slogan yells silently from his chest.

Casting the skin aside he finally turns and rearranges the baskets on his bicycle, crammed full with sweet green oranges to sell in town.

‘Fly Emirates’ is emblazoned across his back as well. This sinew limbed cyclist farmer, advertising one of the richest airlines in the world. His shirt has already travelled thousands of miles more than he ever will. I doubt he even has a passport, let alone anything more tangible than distant dreams of flight.


Normalhaueser by Sarah Markes

Built between 1891 and 1893 and originally called the ‘Normalhaueser’ this elegant building currently houses the commercial High Court.

(Info from ‘A Catalogue of the Protected Buildings in Dar es Salaam’ prepared by Sustainable Cities: PLUS Network Africa Program.)

Shopping in traffic:

Shopping in traffic by Sarah Markes

One of the only redeeming features of Dar traffic, as far as i can tell, is the chance to peruse and haggle over all sort of wares… sunglasses, bandannas, stickers, towels, phone chargers, perfume, electric fans, maps, newspapers, cashew nuts, car polish, car jacks, wheel spanners, bags of apples and my all time favourite – nodding dogs… though i havn’t seen those for a while alas.

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