The views expressed herein are mine and not those of the Peace Corps.



Useful Acronyms

PC Peace Corps
ICT Information & Communications Technology
PCT Peace Corps Trainee (pre-swearing-in)
PCV Peace Corps Volunteer (post-swearing-in)
PST Pre-Service Training
CBT Community-Based Training

Wengine wanasinzia

Bret said the rain started at 4 A.M. It was still raining hard–but not pouring–when I woke up at 4.30. The car was supposed to leave at 5 so we were out before 5, waiting along the road in the shelter of the post office. And wait we did. We waited like champs, and waited some more, and then (just to mix things up) we waited a bit.

It started to get light, still raining on and off. We were in telephonic contact with the driver of the car. After half an hour he said hew as coming “soon” (which, to a Tanzanian, can really mean anything). After an hour he admitted that the car was broken and they were doing repairs. “But I’m coming right now,” he assured us. ‘Right now’, of course, meaning anything from five minutes to two hours.

At 6.45 it was quite light. The minibus from Makete pulled into town. We hustled down the muddy hill, mostly managing not to slip, and got the last three seats. So we were underway, stopping frequently to clear fallen branches and trees felled by the previous night’s impressive wind storm. A half hour after we started we stopped for the conductors to move large rocks from the trunk to the middle of the vehicle; shortly thereafter they tossed them all into a huge muddy pit.

And this is the good road out of Makete.

Our first big bump sent us all a foot in the air–at 15 miles per hour. In the back the guys giggled hysterically; I turned around and we all traded manic smiles. After that the bumps didn’t faze us.

Maybe an hour into the ride we came upon a tree, 2′ in diameter, fallen across the roadway. It was a mere half hour between our arrival and the tree’s removal, courtesy of a guy with a chainsaw they went to fetch on a motorcycle. While we waited for the tree to be cleared, the car we didn’t wait for passed us, climbing a hill our minibus couldn’t manage.

The storm damage is really unbelievable. Aside from the various trees and branches we clear out of the way, we see houses toppled, corn fields flattened, roofs carried away, and an entire brick wall, demolished.

We climbed up onto Kitulo plateau, at almost 10,000 feet, playing leapfrog with the red car we didn’t get into as it breaks down and we pass it, then they repair it and speed by us. The plateau was freezing and rainy and shrouded in clouds. Moritz almost fell under the wheel of our vehicle helping to push it out of a mud pit (one of the few times it’s good to be a woman in this country, as only the men are expected to help with this dirty, tiring work). Eventually we made it to the road, passing the red car a final time, arriving two hours after we’d expected to.

The next day, my plan to hike to the crater lake having been thwarted by an insurrection within the ranks (my usually effective strategy of simply informing people of the plan and allowing them to opt in or out having backfired), we went to a hot spring and bat cave instead. The hot spring was uninspiring, to say the least, but the cave was pretty cool. Highlights of the trip included: waiting for two hours along the side of the road for the remainder of our group; serenading a village council with the Tanzanian national anthem, played on a dozen kazoos; being chased by three members of said council on bikes, having obtained a ride in a car; the bat cave itself (of course); spinning in one of those whirling teacup rides on a green lawn in a place that looked too clean to be the Tanzania we know; an all-girl foosball tournament; trying and failing to finish a 5-liter tub of strawberry ice cream; excellent pizza; watching the Winter Olympics while blindingly loud Bongo Flava played. It was rather a busy day.

We got to bed at perhaps 1.30 and were up at 5.15 to be out the door at 5.30 to be at the road by 6.00 to be on the dala by 6.15 to be at the junction by 6.45 to be on the car before 7, when it left. Success! The car we got onto was driven by an adorable old man (who everyone called ‘Babu’, literally meaning ‘grandfather’ but used in casual conversation to refer to any older man), accompanied by an apathetic young conductor. To our surprise and pleasure they didn’t pack the car to to the gills as Tanzanians usually do; much less to our pleasure, though no less to our surprise, the door I was leaning against popped open repeatedly not too long into our drive. (With four of us across in the middle seat, not leaning on the door is not at all an option.) I slammed the door; it popped open. Babu slammed it; it popped open. Eventually the conductor deigned to rouse himself, walked around the car, hurled the door shut, and it stayed. I braced my shoulder against the doorframe, my feet against a metal bar, and held onto the seat for dear life for the duration of the ride.

The other three nodded off quickly, chins on their chests, and I pulled out my iPod and headphones. The ride was mostly uneventful–the mud that was so troubling in a minibus proved little problem in a four-wheel drive vehicle–except that we almost collided with other vehicles twice. The first time, when we almost hit a lumber truck on a blind curve, we stopped a scant foot from the side of the lorry, saved only by Babu’s surprisingly good reflexes. Jess and I looked at each other. “I think that’s the closest I’ve come to death on the roads in this country,” I observed. She nodded, both of us distressingly calm. In America we’d have been freaking out, but here it’s all too normal.

The others got off first; I moved to the front seat, and Babu talked to me in English for the ride from Bulongwa to Makete. Occasionally in villages we’ll randomly encounter old men who speak excellent English, relics of the British colonial educational system. Babu wanted to talk about Switzerland and tropical diseases (and the lack of the latter in the former) but I could hardly hear him over the rattling of the Landcruiser on the rocky road, so I mostly just smiled and nodded.

Home, I was greeted by frantic cats, starving for both food and attention. Dead tired, I fed them then pulled on my pyjamas and climbed into bed. The cats, purring, accompanied me. I fell asleep at 2 P.M., expecting to nap for a few hours and then go to the market, and was woken at 7 A.M. the next day by my neighbor’s too-loud Swahili gospel music. So it goes.


Comment from Chris
Time February 22, 2010 at 12:33 am

So there are two cats? Wonderful!

Comment from Chris
Time February 22, 2010 at 12:38 am

Wow, 17 hours of sleep beats the 12 I got last night!

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