Our story begins where we left off last time, in the airport of Dar es Salaam. A taxi delivered us to the bus stand in Dar es Salaam around 3:30am, leaving approximately 90 minutes before our bus to Mwanza would begin boarding. Fred and his friends, Paul and Henry, sat catching up while I made a pillow of my jacket and took a nap on the abandoned bench seat of a taxi-van (dala dala). When the time came to board the bus, the guys negotiated with the bus conductor the cost of transporting our two trunks, two suitcases and large backpack under the bus, leaving us with a small backpack and two computer bags to put under our feet for the 14 hour journey. We boarded the bus which was scheduled to depart at 6am. Tanzania has a law that commercial vehicles (like buses) cannot be on the road at night, so every bus that departs first thing in the morning from the main bus stage ALL try to leave the single driveway and cross three lanes of traffic at the exact same time. What chaos!
Looking at a map of Tanzania, you might note that our origin (Dar es Salaam) and our destination (Mwanza) are about as far apart (latitudinal-ly) as one can get. Both Fred and I were exhausted. He had spent Monday and Tuesday traveling by air, then went straight to the bus stage to travel to Dar es Salaam from Nairobi (about a 12-14 hour journey in itself), then napped a bit, picked me up, and hopped on another bus. We tried a variety of positions to get comfortable enough to sleep, but usually only dozed off for 20-30 minutes at a time. The rest of the time we spent staring out the front of the bus. The only point of interest in the whole ride was that we stopped in Dodoma mid-day for a lunch break, but, having had our phone stolen the day before, we couldn’t contact any of my friends there. It was so strange to reach Dodoma and keep going, since, until this point, Dodoma was home. However, keep going we did.
We reached Mwanza super late and checked into a guest house Fred had stayed at previously. The night watchman put us in what turned out to be probably the smallest and worst room in the place. We had to ask for sheets, soap, and a towel, and neither the lights nor the shower in the bathroom worked. The only food available that late were some sketchy chips (fries) from a street vendor, but we were hungry, so we gave thanks. Sometime after midnight the watchman realized that he’d not taken a name to write in the register, so he came and knocked at the door to get Fred’s name. Fred asked him why it couldn’t wait until morning, and finally just gave his name to end the discussion. At 5am the buses in the nearby bus stage started revving their engines and hooting (honking horns). Finally we got up and went into town to get breakfast and a new phone. This was Fred’s first time out in public in Africa with me, and the leers and calls of the young men who are always standing around places like bus stages. It bugged him, although I explained that hassling was not uncommon at all.
Around 10am we boarded the bus from Mwanza to the Shirati junction, a trip of about 3 hours. We were in the very front row of the bus with most of our bags nestled below the bus. There were two cool things about this bus ride: it rained hard and we saw a herd of zebra on the right hand side of the bus. I guess I’m not a typical white person, though, because I spent more time looking at the rain than the zebra. I took photos of neither. (In case you haven’t noticed, I take photos of almost nothing.)
Finally we reached…not Shirati itself, but the junction for the road to Shirati. It’s pretty much a wide spot in the road where they off-loaded our luggage and we were immediately swarmed by drivers of the small sedans that ferry people to Shirati and the other small villages nearby. Imagine, if you will, a Subaru Outback hatchback, but slightly smaller. Imagine, if you will, watching your two trunks, two suitcases and large backpack shoved roughly into the back of this vehicle along with several giant bags of food and sundry other suitcases and bags belonging to the other passengers of the taxi. Imagine, if you will, that the other passengers of the taxi number four, in addition to the driver and another random employee and you and your husband, total eight. How would you put eight full-grown adults into a Subaru Outback in addition to probably 400 pounds of luggage? They put Fred and me in the back seat with two other men, and we put our computer bags and small backpack on our laps. Then they shoved a large bag and a plastic basin through the window onto the lap of the other men. Then they put two men in the passenger seat and a woman in the driver seat, then, I kid you not, the driver sat ON the woman. I have occasional mild claustrophobia, which set in as soon as we left the paved road and it started raining again, causing everyone to roll up their windows. I put my head down on the computer bags I was clutching and asked Fred to talk to me about something…anything…to get my mind off my environment. He was rather distraught to see his wife tearing up and fighting hyperventilation. Not much further down the road the young man sitting next to me got out and we rearranged the bags, alleviating my rising panic. Then we stopped again, and they went to push another passenger into the back seat, but Fred protested, so they rearranged the luggage in the back in order to put the employee in the back. In such glorious manner we arrived in Shirati, earning the taxi driver the award for “Maximum Vehicular Capacity.”
The moral of the story is this: having a husband to fight your battles with luggage conductors and taxi drivers is so, so wonderful.