Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Bus rides

Bus rides in Tanzania, hurtling through traffic seemingly oblivious to any signage or common courtesy, passing at approaching hills, an ongoing game of chicken with the oncoming traffic. The horn is used liberally mostly as a warning to get off the road, but  also to announce ones arrival and departure. I must be so familiar with it it doesn't wake me at 5:30 am any more when the Arusha bus arrives in Mnenia.
The dala dalas are even crazier. The "conductor" leaning out the window or mostly  open door, soliciting his customers, then out before it stops, hustling any available passenger into the already cramped, what I would call overflowing mini van. The driver inching into the traffic flow and racing along, cutting people off to pull over and disgorge someone. Like some gigantic game of leapfrog there are countless dala dalas stopped and moving all the time (well maybe not all the time) both directions along the main drags.
Our experience with Kondoa 1 the 6:30 am passing through the village has been wonderful. It stops at our driveway with smiles on the ticket sellers faces. They seem genuinely happy to see us as we wedge ourselves into an already overflowing, in motion bus. I've learned the best place for me to stand is on the steps in, that way my head isn't crushed against the ceiling on every bump.
  The conductor "boys" are friendly and seem to look out for us sending Elke to an available seat when such a miracle occurs and letting me know it's not safe for my hand (grasping the window frame or clutching the door outside) when we deke down a side road to avoid the authorities at some road check. Me I would hesitate to drive my van down that road. These guys in a 40 seater bus make it work, driving up one side of a half metre deep gully, crossing over gigantic cactus remnants and along the edge of corn fields. Then across the river. There must be lots of traffic through, it is hard packed sand. Upriver I saw some boys stripped down having a bath in a pool they dug and have seen women washing clothes, colourful patterned material laid out on the rocks and sand to dry.
At the bus "terminal" the bus conductors get possessive as we purchase our ticket home (no refunds or exchanges), and later the ticket sellers are all over us when we return from our shopping, trying to sell us a ticket somewhere, anywhere.
Returning home from Kondoa, anticipating the next stop, one fellow climbs up the ladder outside to untie, dislodge or somehow release whatever the passengers have trusted to be up on the roof so when the bus stops, their goods are handed over and we are in motion again within it seems the blink of an eye and a bang on the side of the bus.
On one ride we watched a fellow climb out the window, swing over to the ladder and disappear up as we careened down the red road.
Our trip to Arusha was somewhat different, a larger bus, and a seat each near the back, although my knees were spread so wide someone else could have sat between. When the seat at the back in the middle was vacated I grabbed it, my freed knees level with the arm rests on the seat forward. Beside me a mother, her two daughters and a box of chickens. Mother and eldest daughter motion sick into their own ubiquitous black plastic bags.
Later they were buying cookies and bottled drinks through the window when we stopped in Babati where at least half the travelers got off. Women hawking snacks and drinks from the plastic wash basins carried arms free on their heads. The men generally don't carry stuff on their heads preferring great square frameworks loaded with wristwatches, combs, sunglasses and other small manufactured items resting on their shoulders. Occasionally a man will walk by with a tray loaded with boiled eggs or newspaper cones of peanuts. We bought samosas.
 After Babati, pavement. The road seemed to get worse what with the speed bumps and potholes, swerving around cyclists loaded with all manner of freight and lurching to a stop when they spied a possible passenger. My back was not happy.
Arriving on the outskirts of Arusha a number of men standing beside the ladder up, caught the six large baskets of chickens the roof jockey levered off.
I was glad to step off at the bus station and walk the half mile or so to the Masai cafe.

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