Incidentally, our driver hadn’t either.
We hit the road in a small bus-cum-van with curtains and seven seats. I sat in the jump seat as Mr Eric, the sarcastic Parisian French teacher took shot. Every time I travel the roads of Tanzania I am hit with a very distinct morbidity, fearing the common and the worst. For this, I did not let the students occupy my makeshift wood-back spot; it was the most dangerous seat in case of an accident. In my head I played out how I would die in several likely vehicle accidents and tried my best to keep my body relaxed. Drunk people are usually the least injured party in an accident due to their relaxed muscles; others stiffen up which makes injuries worse. I tried to think as drunk as possible and said a prayer so I’d go on good terms.
So off we went.
Five hours in and no dead bodies. We stopped for Petrol and Eric and I switched seats. This one had a seatbelt, but still, in case of an accident the front seat can just as easily be the most dangerous...
Getting out of the city in Tanzania does wonders for the psyche. Sitting still is a sort of therapy. No deadline, no control over the situation. I put on my headphones to drain out the electric Grade 7 boys and stared at the landscape speeding by. The land was flat and red. Even the Baobabs had been painted red by wind-torn clay. Savanna extended on either side of the paved path. The land was dusty and dry. At times, the shoulder was hedged in by thorny trees and pineapple fields.
I felt my brain open up as we went along. No deadlines, no studies, no service. No responsibilities lurking around the corner. To feel your brain relax is silent euphoria. Dreaming about whatever passes thorough, reflecting on what I’m doing and why.
To dream after stewing for so long really puts things in perspective. And I have never so conscientiously recognized how occupied and one-tracked my brainspace can get.
Not long after the seat swap, we turned right onto the dirt road Louisa had warned me about.
As soon as we made the turn the landscape turned velvety. The sky was softer, and heavy; almost purple. The treetops seemed thick and the earth was a creamier orange.
The further we went North, the more mountain ranges appeared and hills with large boulders piled like broken inuktuks. Clay brick huts and the odd cement and tin shack spotted the roadside at random. This was real Africa. Wazungu didn’t wander along this road often. The first half of the path was dominated by typically Tanzanian communities; kids in rags chasing goats with homemade whips in hand, mamas with green and red Jambo buckets full of water on their heads, men in Montreal Canadians hockey jerseys sleeping in the ditches and flashing thumbs up as we passed. As we wound up one particular mountain we began to enter land more occupied by Masaii tribal communities. Two young men encountered us on the road, both swathed in drapey plaid and leather belts. One of them must have been about 13. He was small and thin and carried a tiny goat under his right arm. He could have been found in the glossy pages of a coffee table book in any high culture American household. I will try to remember that picture as a souvenir of my adventures in rural Tanzania.
My wayfarers shook against my nose without stop as we cantered sloppily along the turbulent path. Stones, deep tracks and rocky soil beneath the tires made for a noisy and jolting four hours. Along the way something went loose under the van and our driver stopped to investigate. A cable had gone loose and we all clamoured out to take advantage of the opportunity to stretch.
An mzee walking towards us snoopily and silently approached. I felt a bit nervous as he had a giant but raw and primitive panga in his hands. The steel blade was bigger than a butcher knife and particularly violent in its appearance. The old man’s ears framed his face eerily; each stretched low enough to form spacers the size of birds eggs in the center. He wore ragged jeans and foam slops.
He left as he came, in silence, without a word.
We got back in the van after the girls returned from a relief expedition in the parched shrubbery out of the public eye. Rhea came back with claw marks left by thorns the length and width of toothpicks. Our trip continued til dusk when we finally peaked a hill which looked down on a small but sprawling village below.
We found the hotel with ease; moja kwa moja mpaka kijiji mwisho; straight until the end of town then left. Lou’s directions served us well. The driver sighed with relief as we pulled in the gated building with aluminum windows and a small step up to the office doors. The place was modest but of a clean appearance. The kids strayed in one hall and Eric and I found rooms in the opposite corridor. My room looked onto an African household to the back. Clothes hung on a line across the yard and chicks and roosters browsed for food on the soil below. Two houses with rolling tin roofs lined the front of the property and a thatch roof toilet sat at the back. I rolled my curtains closed as I listened to the family chat and cook. There were TVs as advertized, silver square boxes hanging above the bed a-la-hospital couture. Of course, there was no cable and only a small light in the bathroom to the right of the room. The lights from the hallway shone in my room so that I could manage to see most of what I needed. I read my Bible by laptop light and checked on the kids.
Once they were off to bed I returned and crawled in the white sheets and gave in to the stained floral and lattice blanket provided. It was cold here, especially at night. I covered my pillow with a tanktop and called it a day.