Hear The Unique Soundscape Of Tanzania's Largest City

Dec 25, 2017
Originally published on December 25, 2017 6:42 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In East Africa, cities are filled with the sounds of motorcycles, buses and shouts from street vendors. But as NPR's Eyder Peralta reports, in Tanzania's largest city, the soundscape is dominated by something unexpected.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: This is the inescapable sound of Dar es Salaam.

(SOUNDBITE OF COINS)

PERALTA: Even if you're on the fifth floor of a building or along the beach, you'll hear men advertising cigarettes or sweets or peanuts by jangling coins across their palms.

(SOUNDBITE OF COINS)

PERALTA: Hassan Augustine Oponde has been doing this since 1990. He carries cigarettes in a small crate, and in his free hand, he stacks more than 20 coins from his wrist to the tip of his middle finger.

HASSAN AUGUSTINE OPONDE: (Through interpreter) You need skills to do that. If you move, like, two coins, it won't give the same sound.

PERALTA: And as he says that, he jerks his middle finger, and the coins pop like they're on a tiny trampoline. Who taught you to do that?

OPONDE: (Through interpreter) He himself because he started long time doing this kind of business.

PERALTA: Across the city, I hear different explanations for where this comes from. Some say it comes from Egypt, others that it started with the Arabs who used to cling cups together to sell coffee. Leonce Ongoi - who has repaired shoes on the streets for decades - says it started in the '80s. The coffee sellers would walk together with guys selling sweet peanuts.

LEONCE ONGOI: (Through interpreter) The groundnut guys would make this funny, weird sound, while there on the side, there's a coffee guy who would be selling coffee.

PERALTA: Through the years, people selling cigarettes and water and small electronics also picked up coins. But recently, some young hawkers like Eric Kiyong started using oval stones instead of coins. I tell him that someone told me that was because coins are rare. The government has stopped minting the coins they use, so new guys can't find them. He laughs.

ERIC KIYONG: (Through interpreter) He's saying he doesn't believe that. They are there. The only problem is the coins hurts a lot in their hands, but also may cause cancer.

(LAUGHTER)

PERALTA: As he takes off again to sell more cigarettes, he tells me the stones are a stylistic choice the old guys should adopt.

(SOUNDBITE OF COINS)

PERALTA: Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.