Working in Tanzania as an Architect
This article will give you an idea of what its like working in Tanzania. I am an architect but this could be for anyone interesting working in Africa.
Starting from how I got a job in Tanzania.
- Arriving in Tanzania.
- First impressions working here.
- What’s it like?
- Pros and cons of working in Tanzania.
- Working in Tanzania
- Life and nightlife.
- All those kind of things.
How I got a job in Tanzania
I was working in Australia and I was quite happy there. One day, I randomly got a message on LinkedIn. “Would you be interested in working in Tanzania?”
I thought it was Tasmania because I was working in Australia, so I thought they made a mistake. I heard this like a lot of work in Tasmania, which is on the west east coast of Australia. So I replied, Do you mean Tanzania or Tasmania? And then they replied and said, Tanzania.
Then I looked on the map and, I didn’t know where it was. It was a place they said called, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. So I looked it up on the map and I thought it would be quite interesting because it was proper Africa, east Africa, and it’s near the coast as well.
So I wasn’t really that interested in working in South Africa because its really westernized. So I said, Yeah,I’d be interested in working. And then they called me, they said I was agood match or something and then I had an interview with the Managing Director because he was in Australia at the time. So, I went for it. The interview wasn’t in an office or anything, it’s was just an interview in a coffee shop, just like an informal chat.
And then I showed my portfolio and everything. I kind of matched quite well. I think thats what they were looking for. I think they were looking for a British person with connections in Australia. There was another architect working in Tanzania at the time and he asked me to have an interview with him afterwards online.
So they said they were interested, but they asked me if I would have an interview with the Australian architect in Tanzania. So I had a Skype call with him and we had a lot of things in common. So that’s why I said I fit the role and what they were looking for.
The Australian architect, was from Perth or worked in Perth, the Managing Director worked in Perth and I was living at Perth in Australia at the time. The Australian architect was working in Tanzania at the time and he worked in Vietnam for a while. So I also worked in South East asia as well (Bangkok). So there was quite a lot of things that I matched with him and the company.
Sometimes you kind of fit a role. If you want a job, your character fits with them. It’s not always your experience. If they like who you are, what you’ve been through, and if it’s similar things to them or you’ve been to a similar university or you’ve got a similar background and stuff like that, then you kind of got a more chance of getting the job. So I had a lot of things similar and I was telling him as well at the interview I was saying that I’m fed up – I have not designed any buildings in real life yet reall. I’ve been I’ve been working in the UK, I’ve been working in Australia, I was working in Bangkok Thailand and like doing a bit shitty work and I want want a career as an architect.
Also, I moved to Australia, been there for a year and there is a lot of casual work there, I wanted a proper career, I don’t want this contract stuff. They give me contract work in Australia three months, four months. So I don’t know, I want a proper career. I’m like, how old am I now? Having working in been registered architect for so long and like, uh, not really them, but working on great projects. The money was pretty good as well.
I was working as architectural assistant and stuff all the time. So he said, you will be designing buildings, all right. Come to Tanzania. So it was something like that, at the interview. Then so I had a second interview with The Australian Architect and that was cool. And we got on and then they like offered me the job.
Getting Ready to Leave to Tanzania
So I sold my car and everything and I got ready to leave because they offered me the job and they gave me a date as well, it was in like three weeks time or something. I quit my job and sold my car and then it started to get a little stressful and weird.
I think three or four days before they said I was going to leave, I think it was a Sunday, I was going to leave and it was Friday. I called the agency because the job came from an agency. I wasn’t speaking to the firm that was employing me directly. I said, I haven’t heard from you guys.
I’m supposed to be going on Sunday. They had not given me flights or anything. What’s going on? I think it was Thursday and Friday and I was supposed to leave on the Sunday. And she says, oh, I’ll call them, find out what’s going on.
So she called them then called me back and said they wanted me to, work in the Australian office for like three or four months before you go to Tanzania. I was like, Oh God, I just sold my car, just quit my job.
I’m was ready to go they were saying to me to stay in Australia for three months and work for a year before I come to Tanzania. And then they called them back and then they called me back and said, okay, we’ll take you to Tanzania on Sunday, so we’ll get your flight.
So thank God because I was ready to go. So s they got me the flight and then I asked them, I asked them what are the working hours? I think I already accepted the job. I didn’t know what the working hours was. That’s was couple of days before I got on the plane. I’m working six days a week. I didn’t know that before. i know the rough hours we discussed but I didnt know it was 6 days per week.
I think they gave me hours, but I didn’t expect six days a week. You didn’t really ask them? I think I might have just asked them the hours and that 9 to 5 standard or 9 to 6, but I wasn’t expecting six days a week. But anyway, I still took it because it was more I lost a lot more money. I just went for it, in the end.
First impressions of Dar Es Salaam and Tanzania
So now I arrived in Tanzania and first impressions. I had been practically living at my suitcase for the last 4 years so it wasn’t so bad a shock.
So the other architect picked me up at the airport and we were driving my new apartment / place I was staying. Let me tell you, there was not many roads. Like, it’s just dirt tracks. Roads is like, crazy.Like you’re not even seen any -no concrete roads. There’s just little dirt tracks.
I don’t know whether the driver took a shortcut or was crazy. And then there was people selling stuff like to the cars, knocking on the windows. And the architect I was with, he was buying, doing his shopping out the window, the front car, because there was a driver, then him at the front and then me at the back who waspicked up at the airport. They were buying stuff out the window of the car.
So that was a bit strange. And then we kept driving and then there’s still hardly any roads. Then we got into the city and roads got a bit better and then we got to my apartment. So we went straight to my apartment and he just left me there until the morning when we went to work on monday. It was Saturday if I recall.
So Saturday I just chilled in the apartment and it was a massive apartment they gave me. It’s like, how many bedrooms was it? One, two, three, three bedroom apartment to myself. A massive kitchen, living room, balcony. I could see the ocean from my balcony. Living room, big TV. Huge. I was a bit overwhelmed. Was I the only one living here? I couldn’t believe it.
And the next day I went downstairs and there’s a swimming pool and stuff. It was really nice. Then I went for a walk and, I was stll overwhelmed. It’s really nice. And then I think the next day I can’t remember if I went ventured into town the first weekend I went for a beer.
The next day was a bit strange because I expected there to be like street food and stuff. I went around the corner and had something to eat outside and it was. It was pretty bad. It was not like Thailand where I lived before, as the street food there was pretty good. The place I went to, I had chicken and chips. It wasn’t that bad, but everything’s chicken chips here. They gave me toothpicks to eat it with. You have to eat it with hands. It was okay, but it wasn’t very accommodating compared to Thailand.
And then the next day my bos said, Nah, don’t bother with the street food. But anyway, then we went to go to work. But it’s nice and warm as well. Like the weather was just perfect. It wasn’t too hot, it wasn’t cold. I was concerned about mosquitoes, but they weren’t that bad.
Like first impressions. There’s fear of mosquitoes around, but that’s nowhere near as bad as Thailand , the mosquitoes at all. So when you first arrived, you are really kind of in this honeymoon stage, you’re like, overwhelmed at the beginning, and everything’s fantastic and just, like, it’s just a really cultural, exotic experience.
And then I started working straight away, so, like, literally a day later, I went to the office. I didn’t see much yet of Dar Es Salaam really. So, my architect boss gave me a ride to the office every day.
I worked for I was a contractor. So it’s different to an architect’s office. I liked it. So the office was quite big and, there was a lot of private rooms, everyone had a lot of space. You have so much more space in Tanzania, the offices, the apartments, everything where you live, where you work, you got big desks and this was way even before COVID.
Like you’ve easily got loads of volume between desks. Most people have their own very private office. We had a little architecture room, but there’s like three of us, I think there’s only yeah, there’s only three of us. And then after a couple of months, another guy came and then another guy came. So we had a very small team with like really cool projects, like properly designing them from early design stage.
Like the site was empty. It’s going to take to me to the site is empty after design some things at least one project was an office project. Another one was a massive project. Um, shopping malls, offices and everything. Hotel, apartments, all on one project site was empty. We had to design something that it’s contractors. So, um, sometimes you get someone who’s already started it, but you just completely redesign it and change it.
Sometimes you just try independent, redesign your own own thing as well. And we had to there’s two project, there was another shopping mall we’re doing for ourselves as well. So there’s loads of projects and um, got it practically. There’s so much design freedom. We just do what we want really. Like, um, within budget, I guess. Um, another good thing, one thing working here is the first when I first started working there, saved so much money, the first, first three or four, four months I was, I was going in to work.
All I was paying for was my breakfast and evening meal. My rent was free, my electricity bills for free work at lunchtime they would have some is an Indian company even like family orientated Indian company. So I had Indian food in the lunchtime for free. It’s like vegetarian stuff, but I had a girlfriend. Australia was a vegetarian, so I was kind of used to vegetarian face.
I don’t mind it. So these kind of things, they’re interviewing me as well about guys, do you like vegetarian food? And I said, Yeah, I don’t mind it. Um, one of my friends is vegetarian, so I eat it a lot. So that’s the kind of thing I was like, um, kind of messed what they were looking for so they in food there and that wasn’t paying for transport.
So all those first four or five months, all I pay for was like breakfast evening meal and then go on weekends. I was there. I don’t think I paid for anything else. I didn’t even have a phone at first. I think internet that was the Internet was a pain. When I got here, it was pretty bad. So that was the other thing was trying to pay for.
I didn’t have a smartphone for a while when I first got f quite a few months at school, like maybe the first year I didn’t. But then after then after four or five months, they start charging the guys at work electricity bills because people were leaving their Air conditioning on.
Too much. So then so they started up. They started after six months. They started given us more bills. So we had to pay electricity. The rent was free, but um, electricity, we start that to pay for things like that. And then they later on they build canteen at lunchtime. We had to start paying for that. It wasn’t much, but um, yeah, I stopped paying for that because I was getting fed up with the food.
So, um, so that was good. And I’m even onto pros and cons of living here. So, um, so some of the pros living here is, like I said, more money I get, I get more money than I did in my previous jobs. And I’m not really paying much tax either. So that, that, that’s, that’s, that’s really good. I mean, I’ve looked up my salary compared to architects in the UK and I’m like get an equivalent to after my bills and everything and get an equivalent to um, a direct.
I looked up, on the RIBA salary, it’s like I’m paying equivalent to a direct for a large firm in London. It’s like I’m not, it’s like I’m only a senior architect. I’m designing buildings. I’m, I’m not going to go to I don’t want the I don’t want the stress of being a director in London. Who wants to do that. I’d rather be a freaking architect. Designing buildings. Directors don’t design much.
Build it, just direct people. I don’t really want to do that. So like I’m getting I might as well stay here and it’s much better than if you know what I mean. This I prefer it and then speed as well. It’s terrific here. The construction and everything’s fast. So some of the projects like two years they’ve been built from start to finish.
Some of them, um, some of the you do and you spend about four or five months doing maybe six months, five months doing a concept design and they want, and then they want to go on site now they want to start building the foundations. So you start learning quickly how the design process works. Because you do it, you make sure, you make sure the you’ve got to be quick because they’re starting to build foundations that you’ve got to make sure, okay, make sure the size is quick, better make sure the size of the building is correct size and the foundations are ready and everything.
And then you can start you start thinking like, Oh, the next they’re going to build quick. You’ve got to make sure that designs bits done, things like that. Oh, they’re going to start order in the the block work. They’re going to start making the block work next. Oh quick, I’ve got to finish the blood work joint. So you start understanding the construction process and you start understanding what drawings are required and the design process and everything.
So you learn pretty quick. You don’t really everything’s so slow in the UK. You don’t really learn that. Tanzania is can be quicker than the west.
And especially because it’s so slow in the UK that like by the time you work six months to one firm, you might leave and go into another firm, you change projects or they might work one year and one project doing something and then you’re about to learn it, and then you change or somebody moves you over to another thing.
But it’s going on so long that you don’t you don’t really learn it. You have to be there for so long in the UK to learn all the design process, but here it’s pretty quick. So that’s another pro for living here. And then yeah, I mean I, yeah, the Cost of Living in Dar Es Salaam for expenses and stuff I was saying to save money.
But even I was working long hours, worked six days a week, and that was when I started. You get in, um, you get a cleaner and everything in your apartment. So, um, I don’t do my washing, I don’t even do my washing up. I don’t even wash my clothes. I don’t I in my clothes, I don’t clean anything.
I don’t clean the toilet. I don’t even make my bed. Really, I have a cleaner comes the house maid comes every day. In fact, they were going to come Sunday. I said, Don’t bother coming Sunday. That’s my day off. So, um, you never get a cleaner in the UK or Western countries. I mean, that kind of makes up for the extra day I’m working, if you know what I mean.
If I’m working. So I work in Saturdays. Sometimes I leave early Saturday. That one says anything anyway. But if the way in the UK and stuff you work in um, five days a week, but Saturday or Sunday you spend half the frigging day cleaning and doing chores and shit. Anyway, the only thing that bothers me is going to the bloody supermarket because that’s a chore buying clothes.
Um, so. So I basically don’t clean, I don’t clean my house and stuff. So that’s really good. So that’s some of the praise and the weather is really good and you get to go to Zanzibar whenever you want and stuff there. The good points, but there’s some bad points as well. But because it’s a developing country, there’s corruption, things like that.
Safety is a bit of a concern. I’ve been mugged once. I think so.
Christmas Eve. I was with this girl, coming hometown my apartment and two guys were walking in front of us. I was just walking. But I don’t know why- it was bizarre the driving didn’t drop us off right outside my door. It was just down the lane. So I walked down the lane. Two guys came up. I didn’t know what they were doing because I was a bit drunk. There was a kick in my leg, so I kind of went, Well, I bent down or something, touched my legs or something, but I didn’t realise it was going then. And then they started going in my pockets and then I realised what they were doing and I started kicking them and then they kind of ran away and they jumped on this motorbike and I start shouting police and stuff because I realised when they left that my phone was missing.
The girl I was with flew her bagover this wall of another property. So after the guys ran away, she’s was trying to get her bag back from behind the wall. I think was fence or something. She managed to get it back. So that was quite clever of her.
I think that’s the only dodgy moment I’ve got mugged in Tanzania, but it’s just petty crime really. They’re just stealing little things. If you stupid enough, carry a phone around then that’s you fault really being mugged. It’s not a big thing. So just after a little things. But if you’re not carrying much, it’s okay.
But the other point is I always get hassled by the police, which is a pain. It’s not so bad anymore. But they still pull me over all the time and like, bribed me for money and stuff. That’s the worst thing. That’s one of the worst things about living in Dar Es Salaam. I used to be. It’s not so bad anymore. I haven’t been stopped for a while, but it’s like times when they know, they get in the car and they tell you to go to an ATM and stuff like that. They take your licence off you and then walk off and they won’t give it back. So there’s nothing you can do. It feels like a abusion of power sometimes.
But there’s advantages. In Western countries, you get speeding cameras that take a photo of you if you’re speeding, but there’s none of that here. So there’s other advantages for police in that they just go at night time. It’s the red light. You just go. People drink drive as well. A lot of people drink drive because there’s not much police. There’s some, they start to get breathalysed around. I can’t believe when I first got here, a lot of people would drink driving. It’s like crazy. Be put in prison for that in like the UK.
So that’s some of the disadvantages. Also healthcare as well is a bit of a bummer. I don’t get free health care like in the UK. Pay tax and your health care covered. Australia was a bit free. We still you have to pay for it. But here I don’t get any healthcare cover. But I went to hospital a lot last year and I spent a lot of money, but it was pretty cheap actually. I went to one of the best hospitals in town here and generally I thought it was pretty cheap and okay. Everyone said it was expensive. I didn’t think it was expensive at all. I don’t even have health insurance.
There was this story. This made me laugh. A guy went to the boss and complained there was no health insurance. And he says, Well, why do you want health insurance? I don’t even have insurance. Which is funny because. I think it’s overrated. Health insurance. It’s not that expensive, health care really generally, in this part of the world. I suppose I could go back to England if. If I was really bad, I guess. I don’t know how the tax would work with that. So yeah, there’s some of the pros and cons.
I go on to other life here, like nightlife and cost and stuff. I did a video cost of living on it, but nightlife is really cheap compared to Western countries, like going out, having a few beers. It’s bloody cheap. But after a while though when you start getting too used to Tanzania prices, some places are more expensive than others, so they seem expensive. But everyone says this and that place is expensive. But you go to there and then you convert the prices were in the UK or western countries is still cheap. And lot of people complain that place is expensive but its still cheap compared to western countries.
When I first got to Tanzania I didn’t go to any expat places at all. There was a British pub I never went to. I was going to the local places when I first got here, but then after a while, you kind of mixed up. You kind of miss the other places and you start going back to them. But the beaches here, the beaches and whether some of the best things but the beaches around Dar es Salaam and not that great. They are pretty dirty, pretty rough.
You have to go out of town to get out of them. Um, I wouldn’t really swim in there. A lot of people do swim in there, but it’s pretty dirty. Um, they don’t really clean the beaches till around town and then the nicest, the nicest beaches around Zanzibar and around where the hotels are and stuff because the hotels clean them and I think the government really clean the beaches here much.
The nightlife is more like a town. The weird thing is at night when I first got here, especially, it’s very quiet seems. I mean, there’s no lights around this, there’s not much light pollution around. So you don’t see building with a lot of lights everywhere. Also street lights are often none or they are off. So it can be dark.
You got to you got to know where to go.There is some good places around. After you’ve been around, you know where to go. It was difficult to find places when I first got here, especially just going for coffee and stuff. There wasn’t many places. So the nightlife is good and the clubs and there’s a mix of people in the clubs, the local places, you get expat places too.
So it depends where you want to go really. Not that bad. It’s pretty safe too. There is security everywhere too. You can walk around it. Like I said before, it’s just petty crime, really. Just don’t take something expensive out and it’s fine.
One thing was immigration is to bug me. There was one thing that happened. I was on site once and trying to be all professional at work. And then the immigration came. They looked like a bunch of students. I thought they were students on site, about five of them.. Here we go. Hi. Um, yeah, I’m an architect. And then. Oh, you know, an architect. Well, you’re steeling Tanzania jobs, and started grabbing hold of me. I don’t carry my work permit around all the time.
I had all the paperwork and I was just trying to find it on my phone, the work permit, and I said I can’t find it and then start grabbing hold of me theywanted to take me to immigration. I was like, “get off me”. And I was trying to message a guy from work to send me my papers for the work permit. They grabbed me and took me in this car, like all five of them. In their car and I’m in the middle of the car and they wouldn’t let me go because I couldn’t give them a work permit.
And then in the end, I was in there for 20 minutes. They’re going to say they’ll take me to immigration or something. And then the site guys, they gave them some money and they let me go. It’s embarrassing. It makes you feel like a frigging kid or something. So this stuff happens occasionally, but it’s like, you got to laugh at it sometimes
Sometimes, I’ve been chased by the police once, twice, actually, sometimes.
I was driving and there’s policemen, pulling people over. One time I just get pissed off and I just drive off and then one of them got on a motorbike and started chasing me down the streets of Dar es Salaam. I better get to work quick. So I went to my work site near and parked and they were there there. One of the policemen started like pulling me at the car.
They said they were going to take me to the police station. And then they took me in the police car. They were saying they were going to take me to the police station and you get worried. And then halfway through the journey on the way to the police station, they stop the car.
“Do you want to go to the police station.?”
And they you pull out some money…
I don’t pay much bills and stuff, there’s other things you have to pay for sometimes that kind of makes up for it. The postage is bad as well, so like you pay a fortune if something gets delivered to you. If you want to send something, you pay. It’s like minimum $80 to send something, you know, it’s pretty crazy.
Working for a Contractor
When I got to Tanzania, one of the reasons why I got here was to use been my company wanted to use Revit and then so implemented that in the office. That was good. I think we were one of the first first firms to use that here so that really helped with the coordination and stuff.
And like I said, the construction is so quick you can go on site and you can learn a lot. Sometimes I feel like I’m not learning all the latest technology here compared, if I was working in the west, but you would learn other things quickly because everything is happening quickly.
You learn about construction. It’s a bit basic maybe, and not as high calibre as the West, but,, it’s easier to understand so it’s simple. It’s a lot of fussy shit than UK and stuff like little details like draw in these fancy details. Then whenit comes to site, they don’t even look at it anyway. It certainly feels like that anyway.
This is the one thing I’ve learnt, working for contractors. I Really think architect,a lot of the stuff they do is just pretty pitches. It’s like they don’t really know what’s going on. Like they would draw this pretty picture – I’m sure it’s going to look like that! It’s just a bit fake really when you think about it.
A lot of the stuff architects do is not very practical and you learn more about practicality in Tanzania, because it’s a construction firm, it’s design and build. So you’re kind of offering to design and build it. You’re not like an architect firm. You’re just going to design it and that’s it. Architects let the builders build it. Whereas working for a contractor , you have to take it and design and build it. So when you design and you’re thinking about how it’s going to be built as well, but if you’re in an architecture firm, you’re not thinking so much how you’re going to build it. You worry about that later. People just want to make it look pretty design and and then there’s not really a contractor involved, so you’re not really going to get the practicality of it.
That’s why architects in the in the dream world a lot of the time, because they don’t have contractors on board from the beginning. So, that’s some advantages of working for contractors.
Why in Tanzania?
I’ve look for other jobs in like Dubai and I was looking for ones in America and I’ve seen jobs in the UK advertised. They never look as good. I mean, everyone keeps telling me, why don’t you work in Dubai? But I’ve seen the jobs advertised there. They don’t look very good. And like everything I like what I’m doing now is just better than what I see out there. People told me last time I was in Dubai that the jobs foreigners are get are not long term. They don’t last very long.
Long term was the one thing I actually mentioned at my job interview for the Tanzania job, because, I wanted a proper career. I didn’t want a contract job, I wanted a permanent position. So that’s why I came. I got a permanent position. So it’s not a contract role.
If you go to Dubai and stuff now, you probably get a contract for six months and then you just pray that you you’ll continue. But that’s not always the case. That’s why I’m here. Nothing looks interesting compared to what I’m doing, I can’t imagine any other job being as good as what I’ve got now.
I mean, that’s the reason why I’ve been here so long.. I don’t have to pay many bills, like get a car. Work gave me a car as well. I don’t pay for that. All I pay for the petrol. I don’t pay for the insurance, I don’t pay to get it fixed if it breaks down because I’ve got mechanics at work. So every company has all the different departments of mechanical department, electrical and everything, so they build everything, so they have all these different departments. So that’s kind of the reason why I’ve been here. I mean, I’m not going to get an apartment with ocean views in the UK.
I can’t imagine any place I’ll be working as an architect and getting ocean views anywhere really. So that’s pretty why I’ve been here so long.
LinkedIn is where it starts. There’s a lot of opportunities on LinkedIn, so if you continue using it regularly, someone might send you a message for job opportunities.
The job came from an agency. The last two jobs I got came from LinkedIn. So try and be active on that. If you’re looking for work, there are free agencies as well.
Also, I don’t know why architects work for architects because they don’t have any money. If you think about it, a construction project site costs, say $5 million to build. The Contractors are taking most of that money. The architects work and get maybe 10% of the construction cost towards that design phase. That’s pretty small really. It’s like 1 million project. You get $100,000. You probably work on that for over a year, then take out all the people working on it and everything like that. It’s not really that much. The contractors do most of the work. Architects just sit in on the arse and all the contractors are doing all the bloody work.
Builders have to build the bloody thing, they’re doing all the sweat and physical work and they’re helping the architects as well. They figure all this shuff out, the architects don’t understand how to build more than a contractor. They have to figure it out and tell the architect how to, how to build a lot of the time.
It’s so much more difficult to build a building than design one.
In the UK, I would roll my eyes at architects working for developers or contractors, oh, he’s not designing anything. He’s working for contractors. Well, I can tell you, I design a hell of a lot more than what I did in architecture firms when I worked there.
I’d do so much more designing, working for a contractor than I did for architect firms. Working full time for a contractor, you’re designing and you know it’s going to get built as well. So it’s not hard to understand why architect should work for contractors. A lot of people think that they don’t design, but they do.
And it’s much more money as well. So all these people complain in the UK that, oh, don’t get much money working for an architect’s. That’s because you working for an architecture firm, they don’t have any money.
Russell M. Henderson is a practicing RIBA Chartered Architect based in Tanzania, East Africa.
Russell (Architect Russell) also makes videos on YouTube , TikTok Instagram & Skillshare sharing thoughtful, honest and pragmatic knowledge while working and living abroad.
Architect Russell Uncensored is podcast talking about an architects life unfiltered. From the over long education of 7 years to controversial topics such as RIBA and ARB to unusual architect experience abroad like working in Bangkok and Tanzania. This is content never before released on any platform and you can only get it here first. The truth through the eyes of Architect Russell, unfiltered and uncensored.
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