I always look forward to having a free day here in Arusha after my long flights from the US as it allows me some time to not only wind down, but also to reacquaint myself with the Temba family. Unfortunately, the boys are in school up in Nairobi and Leonard is on safari in the Serengeti, so it is me, Pendo, little Gabby and now, Gabriel, the latest to arrive last fall. Of course, there are many members of the extended family here as well, so staying overnight and others visiting for the day. After catching up on some busy work in the morning, along with some of the wonderful chai masala (an African tea made of many delicious spices that I’ve never been able to reproduce in the US), I enjoyed a hearty breakfast of some scrambled eggs, pancakes and freshly cut fruit.
I wasn’t entirely clear what I was going to be doing for the day, but I knew that Leonard’s brother, Jones, was coming by to get me before noon to go out and do a few errands that included picking up the Land Cruiser that I use while I here and which had been getting some work done on it. I’m never quite sure what the actual agenda is as that is part of the culture here. Information is really given on a need to know basis and what difference would it make if was told the entire itinerary anyways? I did know that we were going to check out a Land Rover that Leonard had spoken to me about so at least I had some idea of the plan. “Africa time” is a very real thing if you’ve heard me refer to it before or have heard others use the term. It is generally used when you’re trying to get something done and nothing seems to be on schedule. Once you spend time here, though, you find that it really refers to a general culture that is very much the antithesis of the west where we are driven by the clock. Here, things happen very slowly and most everything gets done, eventually. Their clock is in days and not in minutes and seconds, or even hours. There is actually something to be said for it, and definitely when you’re living in a place such as this where the weather trumps all, vehicles sometimes run and life generally moves at a completely different pace than we’re used to.
So, with that being said, after several stops to pick up friends and complete errands, we found ourselves on the northwest corner of Arusha, a place called Sakina, to visit the Land Rover. We turned off the main road and drove for a bit, at one point skirting around the edge of a large rock quarry where they were extracting large rocks that were then being worked on by women and children with small hammers. Yes, sitting on the opposite side of the little one lane road we were driving on, were piles of smaller stones along with larger ones, each pile with a person sitting, legs splayed, and using a very small, short handled sledge to pound the larger stones into gravel. No one wore safety glasses, of course, I would imagine that the children were as young as nine or ten while the older woman could have easily been in the upper years, perhaps in their 80’s. As we drove by them on our way to look at this vehicle, I could only help but think of how hard a job this must be, sitting in the brutal sun, day in and day out, smashing rocks. And more importantly, what could they possibly be paid to have made this a reasonable concern for them. What could possibly be the going rate for gravel to have made this possible? Or more importantly, how little could these individuals be paid to make this profitable for the owner of the quarry. It was really mindboggling to me and was such a stark contrast to the fact that we were going to look at a vehicle that might actually cost more than anyone here could possibly hope to make in their lifetime. I actually yearned for some explanation or perhaps a revelation that might make some sense of all this for me. Alas, none came.
Shortly after the quarry, we arrived to what could best be described as a Land Rover “boneyard,” a place where vehicles and parts of vehicles in every state of repair or disrepair existed over probably an acre or more of land. Coming as often as I do, we were looking at a vehicle that might serve me during my visits and perhaps be useful to rent when I’m back at home. It seems that prices on Land Rovers have dropped somewhat as they are no longer as desirable for safari companies to lease for their safaris. I have always had a place in my heart for Land Rovers over Land Cruisers for some odd reason that I can’t really explain. It is purely sentimental, I will admit, and should I ever have something here, it will be an internal struggle for me to overcome. The Land Rover I was looking at happened to be a 1999 model, relatively new for Tanzania as vehicles here are essentially driven forever. It is not at all uncommon to see a simple shell of a body being rebuilt into an entirely new vehicle as if being reborn into another life. I took the Land Rover that we were looking at out for test drive, traveling back by the quarry with the workers smashing their rocks into gravel with their little hammers and perhaps a kilometer further down the road. It drove like a tank, which is what they are known for, and it was everything I remember about them from having driven these in the past. There was a problem with the transmission, though, with a huge clunk when shifting and that was worrisome. After all was said and done, it was probably not the right vehicle, but at least it gave me some ideas for the future.
After several more errands with Jones and company, I was finally dropped off to get Leonard’s Land Cruiser and do some errands of my own. Traffic in Arusha has just become crazy over the last several years as the city has continued to grow with very little in the way of planning or infrastructure. From having a single traffic light when I first began to visit, there are now many more to be found, though I’m just not certain they are of much help. Motorcycles, or piki piki, pay absolutely no attention to the traffic lights, typically traveling through intersections with nary a thought of being hit or causing an accident. They are really distracting and if I had to compare to anywhere else I have driven before, it would be the Amalfi Coast in Italy where they zipped in and out of traffic on either side of you. The trick is to just drive and try to pay little attention to them.
I heard from the residents in Doha and, thankfully, they landed in time and were successful in getting the hotels they had booked that were far nearer the city market than where I had stayed. Everything apparently worked quite smoothly for them and they made it to their appointed lodging with plenty of time to spare and then gathered again for dinner. I was happy to hear that they had chosen to stay together as losing one of them in Doha certainly would have posed a significant issue for our work here not to mention having to break the news to their parents. I have previously promised Ray Price, our residency director, that I would not allow one of the residents to remain in Tanzania by choice as we would have to fill their remaining work responsibilities (he actually threatened that I would have to do them), so I would imagine that losing one in Doha would have had the very same effect.
So the residents enjoyed their night out in Doha and all met at a restaurant in the market area to enjoy the evening. Mindy texted me that she had a Jacuzzi in her room waiting for her when they returned, which I joked was really rubbing it in since I hadn’t been able to enjoy anything quite similar. In the end, though, the drain in her Jacuzzi didn’t work so I felt somewhat vindicated. All in all, they had a wonderful time in Doha for which I was quite happy and now I only had to worry about them getting back to the airport on time in the morning to make the final leg of their trek to Tanzania.