The Place Where Buses Come To Die
[vc_row type=”vc_default” margin_top=”0″ margin_bottom=”5″][vc_column][vc_column_text]I moved to Mtwara, Tanzania in 2003 to co-found the NGO (Non-Governmental Organization or non-profit) ADEA (the center for African Development through Economics and the Arts). ADEA is located in Mtwara in the southeastern corner of the country on the Indian Ocean coast with the Mozambique boarder just to the south. Back then, Mtwara was known as the Wild West of Tanzania, a place of mystery where bad government officials and teachers were banished. The only way to get there was by a long bumpy dirt road or by sea (ok, there was a flight twice a week – but that was for the more financially flush of which I was not). Since the majority of the population at that time could not afford to fly, and most were terrified by the sea – the only option for travel was the long dusty or muddy road between Dar es Salaam to Mtwara by bus, and I deduced that Mtwara was the place where buses came to die. You see, the road conditions were so bad (and the clientele so short on cash) that only buses on their last leg of life (lives that usually began in China, Korea, or Brazil) were used to service Mtwara. This meant that the engines were ailing, the seats were hard, the windows rattled, and the roofs leaked. Once the leaking was so bad during a heavy rain I actually opened my umbrella inside the bus to stay dry. Of course the locals just laughed in bewilderment, but as the odd white guy (known locally as “mzungu”) I was expected to do odd things, so I played the goofy card and stayed dry(er). Breakdowns were to be expected, as was getting stuck in the mud in the rainy season and getting covered in dust in the dry season. Did I mention that there were five seats across? Yes five! I ultimately discovered that the best place to sit was in actually the middle seat of the grouping of three seats. This may at first not be intuitive – but here’s the logic. If you sit against the window your arm gets bruised from hitting the metal window frame each time the bus bumps (and it bumps a lot!). If you sit on the aisle you run the probable risk that the people on your right are slightly (or considerably) wider than their narrow seat and that means when the bus heaves, so do you – into the aisle onto the bags of whatever produce is also being transported north or south. If you sit in the middle seat you have padding for your shoulders to your left and to your right, and you never end up falling out of your seat. After one trip when I was on the two-seat side on the aisle (this was before I discovered the merits of the middle seat) the woman who purchased the window seat had a two-seat sized body and should have been required to buy two tickets. Needless to say, I was halfway in the aisle the entire trip. In reaction to this oversized experienced, on my next bus trip I purchased two seats – one for me and one for my hat. It was delightful. Unfortunately the comfort didn’t last long. Because my Swahili wasn’t all that strong back then, it was difficult to convince the passengers on the packed bus that anyone was crazy enough to buy a ticket for a hat. Even providing evidence of the two tickets for myself and my hat companion, they were dubious. Ultimately, after expressions of disbelief and some snickers, I grudgingly surrendered the seat to a standing passenger, much to the chagrin of my left shoulder that was now getting bruise against the window frame.
It is now 2018 and the road from Dar es Salam to Mtwara is now fully paved (for the time begin), and Mtwara has lost its reputation as the backwaters of Tanzania. Now, there are even buses with VIP sections – that means only 3 seats across and empty promises of wifi and AC pasted on the side of the bus. So though the busses are still international hand-me-downs and there are still bags of produce in the aisle, the passage to Mtwara takes only 8 to 10 hours (versus 13-30 hours), and is no longer the harrowing or exhausting experience it was before.
[But there are more bus stories to come.]
Thank you – Asante Sana – Ashe oleng
Douglas – Kupikita – Oloikurrkurr
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