Mandazi Road Photo Project
As part of my MA program, we were asked to write a piece about our current project. The following shares a little background to the area that I'm photographing and I reveal some of the struggles I'm having as well. Overall, I'm pretty happy with the project, but the damn rain just won't stop and it's become impossible to show a progression which was my initial plan. Therefor I've focused more on the people within the community which has been very rewarding because this kind of photography was always a challenge that I wanted to take on. By diving in, I've been able to make better connections and get more honest photographs. Here is the story so far...
Mandazi Road is a bustling 850 meter path through a low income community in northern Dar es Salaam. This mostly pedestrian road has been identified by Tanzanian National Roads Agency (TANROADS) on their list of roads to pave, with the intention of alleviating a growing traffic problem. Mandazi Road connects two middle class neighborhoods in the northern part of this coastal city and the 'short cut' can save commuters up to two hours of sitting in traffic.
The goal of this project is to share the potentially dramatic changes coming to this community. It is an important story because this road project, dividing the community symbolizes the economic boom taking place in many African countries where resources (oil, natural gas, minerals) are attracting wealthy donor countries.
While there is an obvious correlation between a country's resources and donor support for infrastruction there is often a problem with how the money is spent. Projects are often reactionary rather than well planned. In the case of Dar es Salaam, the BBC listed the city as one of the fastest growing in the world (Boyle, 2012) yet the government had little planning in place for the growing middle class who started buying cars. The result has been a rapidly growing traffic nightmare for commuters and the city is struggling to build through ways to alleviate the congestion on the main roads. This has also inspired the city to build a rapid transit system, however, this is not scheduled for completion until 2017 and until then small fixes like paving Mandazi road will have to suffice.
This road project will temporarily solve a problem for commuters yet what will it mean for the local inhabitants and shop owners?
After speaking with many people on Mandazi road, I was surprised to find that there is a fairly even balance of those for the change and those against it. Many look forward to the influx of buyers for their shops and the promise of improved side streets, a drainage system and electricity. Others fear traffic, increased cost of living, evictions for higher paying renters, demolition of illegally built houses. Either way a major change is coming.
My photography project started out smoothly with several walks through the area as I shyly kept my camera stashed in my bag. Initially, I would take the camera out, make a few pictures and move on. With each photo, people would jeer me and make comments like, “you need to pay me for taking a picture of this road” and, “who are you working for?”
With a good understanding of Swahili and a sense of humor, I am usually able to explain what a white guy is walking around with a DSLR in this part of town. It took a while to get comfortable with walking around with my hefty Nikon but with time I actually found it easier to keep the camera out, in my hand, as I walked. This resulted in many more questions and jeers which resulted in many more discussions and ultimately lead to more personal and unrushed photos.
The project was going smoothly and it looked like I would be able to time it perfectly with my assignment deadline for this course... And then the rains came. This year has been the worst rainy season in 10 years with severe flooding in most coastal regions of Tanzania including many deaths in Dar es Salaam (Mwakyusa, 2014). The flooding has forced TANROADS to halt all work until further notice. Many say they will need to wait at least one month after the rainy season ends in order to let the water fully absorb and run off.
What does this mean for my photography project? While it is a challenge to show any physical change to the area, I will continue to work on developing the human side of the story by capturing individuals who will be affected. After all the personal story is the core of this project, which is simply an analogy for the larger picture of development.
During the time of writing, the National Weather Service puts out an extreme weather warning (Chikoma, 2014) for the weekend so it is unlikely that any work will be done anytime soon.
Boyle, J. (2012). Dar es Salaam: Africa's next megacity?. Available: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-18655647. Last accessed 21st May 2014.
Mwakyusa, A. (2012). Tanzania: More Than 40 Feared Dead After Dar Floods. Available: http://allafrica.com/view/group/main/main/id/00030051.html. Last accessed 21st May 2014.
Chikoma, F. firstname.lastname@example.org. Warning of strong winds and large waves along the entire coast, from 19 to 21 May 2014. 20 May 2014.
Keywords: Africa, Dar_es_Salaam, LCC, Tanzania, black_and_white, essay, mandazi, photo_essay, photography, project, road, street, street_photography, travel
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