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Street Level: A collection of drawings and creative writing inspired by Dar es Salaam
Markes, Sarah; Markes, Sarah (illus.) Street Level: A collection of drawings and creative writing inspired by Dar es Salaam. Dar es Salaam: Mkuki Na Nyota Publishers / African Books Collective (dist.), 2011. $27.29 (pap), ISBN Paper 9987081177 .

Note: A collection of drawings and creative writing inspired by Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.


Street Level by Sarah Markes takes the reader on a tour of Dar es Salaam (aka Dar), Tanzania, the country's largest city located on the Indian Ocean coastline. The book is illustrated by Markes and includes prose and poetry by various Dar residents. According to "About the artist," Sarah Markes has traveled and lived in both Tanzania and Malawi. She uses her knowledge and love for Dar to pay homage to the city's cultural and architectural elements while effectively capturing Dar's movement and energy. She concludes with a discussion of recent demolitions that put Dar's historic center at risk.

The book is organized along eight themes that highlight the city's architecture, multi-cultural influences and daily activities: 1.Street sense, Finding your way, 2. Street Scene: Urban space and the architecture of Dar es Salaam, 3. Street Life: The people of Dar es Salaam, 4. Street Trade: Vendors galore and more, 5. Street moves: Dar modes of transport, 6. Street Cuisine: Tanzanian tastes, 7. Street Green: The natural environment of Dar, 8. Street Style: Dar heritage at risk. The book is easy to read with its large pages that number 152 and many pages are in full color.

Street Scene, the longest section of the book, highlights a number of historic buildings, including the coral pink and curvaceous Selander Bridge building on the corner of Jamhuri and Mwisho Streets (58-59). Built by a Punjab Indian family in 1949 and once the Sun and Sands Hotel, today it houses the Selander police department. The Capital Bureau building on Zanaki Street close to Bohora Mosque, located at the center of the old Indian Bazaar, (11), reflects Indian influences, courtesy of the Bohora religious Community. Arab influenced architecture is seen in the Hamid Mansion and Reheman buildings (65), while French influences are evident in the Hamid Mansion built in 1962 on Corner Mosque and Mshihiri Streets (64-65), its stylish "egg box" window units marking the late 1950s and early 1960s, inspired by French architect, Le Corbusier. The Magistrates Court Building, aka the Normalhauser on Kivukoni Front symbolizes German influence (14).

Dar's energetic street life is illustrated with machingas (street artists), mostly male, exhibiting various street moves while aggressively hawking various wares and foods barbecued on the city streets such as roasted corn, prepared on a mkokoteni, a hand-pushed wooden cart. One machinga is seen on foot holding a tray that bears assorted cigarettes (84), another machinga, dressed in stylish sunglasses, carries his wares aloft with only one hand (85). Yet another one peddles his bicycle piled high with boiled eggs with two others manning carts laden with assorted fruits, baskets and other wares (86-87). Another machinga engaged in coffee vending on foot, a male thing, sells glasses of Dar's famous coffee while skillfully balancing his coffeepot, on a tray of hot coals (124). Dar's streets also feature Asian-type tri-cycle bajaji tuk tuks (111) advertising their transport services, with the back window of one such vehicle bearing the message, I am Sorry Sir (112), probably a public apology, due to the general notoriety of Dar's public transport vehicles typified by dala dalas. One such vehicle prominently displays its logo, You're Next. A sign that announces, Drink Tea. The Only Drink Without Hazards, seems to help invoke nostalgia for a healthy Dar chai treat (100). A tired Dar hustler is caught napping in the hot mid-morning sun on his wooden mkokoteni amidst noisy welding and pounding at a new building site (108-109). This image captures Dar's ever-changing architectural and environmental fortunes, typified by disruptive construction that signals increase in generic modern buildings (109). Dar's cuisine is perhaps best illustrated in an advertisement for Wali Nyama, (126) or rice cooked with beef. The city's dressing styles are illustrated in a male Dar resident wearing a kofia (skull cap), loose-fitting shirt and trousers (127). Other Dar residents are illustrated in western style clothing (113), advertisements announcing western-style haircuts (99) while African attire is illustrated in the pretty Dar woman advertising Sharifa Hair Dressing Salon (98).

Street Level is a unique and excellent resource for middle and high school students. The creative prose and appropriate illustrations will be helpful in teaching about urban life in East Africa.

Published in Africa Access Review (April 24, 2012)

Copyright 2012 Africa Access

Rating: HR Grade: E / M / H / AD Type: Book

Reviewed by: Kuria Githiora, Michigan State University

Subject: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania / Sankofa