Friday, December 27, 2013

"I spent Christmas down in Africa..."

Merry Christmas from Tanzania! 

After school was out last week, Maria and I set off to Arusha to spend some time with her father.  We were joined on our trip by Rebecca and Nils, the brother and friend of Anja, another CAMS teacher.  They were planning on doing a safari out of Arusha so we decided to travel together.  Our trip turned into somewhat of an adventure.

Before we even started, Maria's bag broke.  This is Tanzania, though, so it wasn't a problem at all!
The bus tickets we had purchased a couple of days prior were for a seat on a bus that was supposed to leave Dodoma at 6:30 Sunday morning.  We arrived at the bus office at 6:00 and were informed that the bus was getting some work done and would be leaving at 8:00 instead.  After waiting around for what seemed like forever, we were informed that we needed to move to where the bus was going to pick us up.  We followed the group of passengers and the employees to a dirt lot a few yards from the office, and watched as the group gathered around the bus company employees, then as a couple of policemen in white uniforms arrived, finally followed by one policeman in a tan uniform, who walked a short distance away with the people from the bus company. 

Rebecca and Nils waiting with some of our luggage in the Bus Office.
Maria, who has better Swahili than any of the rest of us, asked what was going on and was told that the bus was arriving at 8:15.  When people were still concerned, she asked another of the passengers, who turned into our best friend for the day.  He told us that the bus company sold all of us tickets before they had a bus to take us to Arusha, and they were trying to find one.  We decided, going along with this man’s suggestion, to ask for our money back and to take a different bus to Singida, a small town on the road from Dodoma to Arusha.  From Singida, we could take another one into Arusha.  The man from the bus company returned our money without any trouble and we used that money to buy the other ticket.  I felt bad for him.  He was most likely doing what he was instructed and probably had no idea that there was no bus when the tickets were sold. 

The man we met in Dodoma helped us find a bus and purchase seats.  This bus was scheduled to leave at 9:00.  Yup! Two and a half hours after we were supposed to leave the first time.  We boarded the bus about a half hour early and watched as others who had been standing around with us that morning began to join us, followed by the man from the bus company.  Apparently no bus ever appeared.

Our seats were in the front of the bus, which meant we got a fantastic view of the other packages piled in front of us, as well as the conductors of the bus who hang out around the door and jump out at every police blockade.
A typical view out the window.
A partially finished house.  In Tanzania, it is common for families to build houses a few bricks at a time until they are finished.  This is safer than having the money, but it takes a long time and partially completed houses can be spotted all over.
When you can't find foot room, you make it!
Other than being a little bit tight, this ride was the most comfortable.  When we arrived in Singida at around 1:00, we collected our bags from under the bus.  Immediately after stepping off the bus, we were greeted by a man saying “Arusha, Arusha?” over and over.  He led us to a small bus that was filling up with passengers.  It was the sort of bus that people in Tanzania know only leaves for its destination once it’s full.  Well, it was full before we got on, so it left without us.  The man who met us off the bus showed us the bus office and asked us to wait.  Another one would be arriving at some point and we could get on then. 

Loading baggage on one of the smaller busses.  It's just about full, but wasn't heading to Arusha, so still we waited.
Our friend from the bus set off to find out if there were any other busses heading to Arusha and we waited, trying to figure out what was going on.  This would be a good time to give some advice to any single American women who just want to find a husband.  Go visit Tanzania.  I’m not even kidding.  While waiting around for news on busses, a man who was at the same office introduced himself.  The conversation went something like this.

Him:       Hello
Me:        Hello
Him:       Where are you from?
Me:        I’m staying in Dodoma.
Him:       Oh.  What country are you from?
Me:        The USA.
Him:       Why aren’t you married?
Me:        I don’t want to be married yet.
Him:       Would you like to marry me?
Me:        No.
Him:       Why don’t you want to marry me?
Me:        I don’t want a husband yet.
Him:       Can I have your number?
Me:        No.
Him:       Can I give you my number?
Me:        (Ignores him and walks away.)

Yes, it’s that easy to find a husband in Tanzania.

Anyway, we found a bus that was supposed to leave at 4:00pm.  By the time we decided what we were going to do and got the tickets, it was about 2:45.  We decided to sit down at one of the little grills they had at the bus station and eat lunch.  We had ordered and our food had just arrived when one of the men from the bus company came running up to us and told us the bus was there.  We quickly shoved our food into small plastic bags, paid for it, and went to collect our luggage and load the bus.  It was now 3:00.

What followed was the most uncomfortable and most Tanzanian bus ride I have ever experienced.  We were crammed onto a bus that had too many passengers for seats, and included at least a couple of live chickens in cardboard boxes.  My “seat” was anything but comfortable, but my legs only fell asleep 4 times and at least I wasn’t the one sitting on the bag of what was most likely rice in the front of the bus or one of the four people “sitting” on the bus steps.  This bus ride also made me wish I had more Swahili, as I was offered husbands two more times on the ride.  Luckily, there was a woman sitting in the seat next to mine who spoke English and could translate the requests for the two men.  The requests may have been more flattering if they hadn’t been followed by “He also wants to know if you can help him get into the USA.”

After what seemed like the longest bus ride I have ever been on, we pulled into Arusha at around 10:00pm.  Maria’s dad met us at the bus stand.  Our original tickets, for the bus that never existed, said we should have arrived at 2:00pm.  Gotta love Tanzanian travel!

The view from Maria's Dad's house. 
On Monday, Maria and I slept in until late, then took a dala dala (a small bus with about 20 seats that’s slightly bigger than a VW Bus) into town to eat lunch and do a little shopping.  The entire trip was worth it because as we walked to a bookstore where Maria had ordered a book, we spotted a Mexican restaurant!  I have been missing tacos, burritos, tortilla chips, salsa, and all sorts of other delicious Mexican foods for the past 5 months!  While this version surely wasn’t authentic, I got to eat some delicious salsa, Pico, refried beans, and had a taco plate!  Yummy!!
When you think of an African Village in the "jungle," this is probably what you think of.

Tuesday was much the same as Monday, but Anja came into town to meet with her Nils and Rebecca, who were finishing their safari and we met her for a late lunch.  I also had a quick plan change on this day.  Maria had to travel to Kenya to take care of some family things, and I decided to travel with Anja, Nils, and Rebecca to Moshi to spend a couple of days while Maria was away.  I went home to spend Christmas Eve with Maria and her father and to pack a few things to bring with me.

One of the locals stopping for a little break.
Christmas morning was beautiful.  Maria’s dad’s house is situated on a hill, with a game preserve behind it, and the most amazing view from the front porch.  I woke up to a sunrise on Christmas morning with a fantastic view of Mt. Meru with Mt. Kilimanjaro’s peak in the distance.  There was a very low fog surrounding the trees and the nearer hills.  Pictures can’t accurately capture the beauty!

Yup, it's purdy.
Maria left at around 8:00 and I took a car to the place Anja, Nils, and Rebecca were staying.  We spent the day visiting the Maasai market and walking around Arusha again.  In the evening, I was able to Skype with my family back home as they opened presents on Christmas morning.  My grandparents and my uncle were visiting and both my brothers were home.  It was fun to see what they all received and to get to be a part of their Christmas celebration. 
Christmas morning sunrise.  Stunningly breathtaking!!
Well, this post is getting a bit long now, so I’ll stop for now.  I look forward to telling you more about my trip to the Northern part of Tanzania in the future.  For now, I wish you all a Very Merry Christmas (again) and a Happy New Year!!

Mt. Kilimanjaro

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