Tuesday, March 6, 2018 – The group arrives….


I love the mornings here. It’s always cool, in contrast to the nights that are always warm or even hot, the roosters are crowing and the house is awake with ongoing chores. The roosters here begin to crow well before sunrise for some odd reason, though that’s fine for me as I am an early riser here. Lonnie, their askari, or guard, begins his sweeping outside my window well before sunrise so waking is not difficult. Overnight, there is the constant chatter of the dogs outside, some ours, and many others, as they roam their respective properties to keep out unwanted guests. Here, there is little violent crime, but theft is unfortunately common, as it is elsewhere in every third world country. I have never felt unsafe here, nor have I had anything taken from me, but I am constantly reminded of this fact by my hosts as we’re driving through town with our windows down not to have anything in my lap as it may be taken from me when we’re stopped at a stoplight. Interestingly, one of my very first experiences driving in Arushatown here was with Danielle Becker and someone on a bicycle told me that I had a flat tire and should pull over. I did, got out to check my tire, which wasn’t flat at all, all the while with Danielle still in the car. We drove on and when I got home and told Leonard about the experience, he informed me that these were very likely thieves who were planning to steal from me as I got out of the car to look at the tire, but hadn’t since Danielle remained in the vehicle. I felt rather stupid for having fallen for such a stunt, but it’s not really something that I’m accustomed to, nor have I been in similar situations in the past. It’s just a constant reminder, it seems, of the diversity of the world we live it and how we must adjust to it, but I am hopeful that it will never change me in any significant fashion.

I had planned this morning to visit a good friend and find a place for coffee. I met him at the gate of Arusha Lutheran Medical Center, or ALMC, that is the largest and busiest of the medical centers here in Arusha and where I have several friends who work there currently. This was a location close to where my friend who I was meeting lives and a hearty greeting since it had been six months since we’d seen each other, we drove a few blocks away to nice coffee shop where we had steamy cups of African coffee (milk mixed with coffee) and shared a few rather doughy donuts. We had a lot to catch up on for we hadn’t really spoken over the months I was away and I was so glad to hear that he was doing well as was his family. He is someone who I have shared much with in the past and whose friendship I have valued greatly over the years. As we left to say our goodbyes for the moment, I watched him head off and blend into the busy neighborhood foot traffic to make his way home. I think most everyone here feels more comfortable walking than driving if they can, and given the traffic in Arusha, that’s not very surprising for I think traveling on foot may often be more efficient than driving.

My next stop was to visit other friends who live in the hills behind the Arusha airport, which used to be pretty remote, but has more recently been the center of construction activity including a new government housing community. Since they had heavy rains over the last several days, the road was fairly rough and I was driving Pendo’s Suzuki rather the Land Cruiser, as it had needed to have it’s speedometer fixed. Given the voracity of the traffic police over the recent months, it was not at all very wise to drive without knowing your speed for you’d surely exceed the limit and be fined. There was plenty of mud and water on the road and several places passing over washes were the road seemed to be reduced to less than half a lane with the drop on the downstream side being something I didn’t want to experience any closer than necessary. The little Suzuki performed quite well and delivered me in a fine showing of performance to my friend’s home. Unfortunately, the plan had been for me to drop something off to them that I had brought from the US, but I had completely forgotten to put it in my car when I left this morning and didn’t realize that until I was well on my way. I’ll just have to make another trip there later this month to drop off their package.

Having a drink at a local pub

I arrived home shortly after noon and was feed a hearty breakfast of pancakes and fruit and then left for the airport around 2:30pm to pick up the residents as their flight was arriving about an hour later. The traffic wasn’t bad, but I took my time considering the good luck I had had with the traffic police last visit, where I had received three fines in 24 hours for very offenses, at least in my mind. Thankfully, this trip was uneventful and I arrived to the airport just as the Qatar flight had landed as I heard from Susan, the only one of the residents with an international data plan, that they were getting into the line to get their visas and that it was quite long. Given the new, and much stricter, customs rules here, I have no longer asked the residents to bring supplies to FAME, though I did give Susanna a big box of rechargeable batteries that Frank had ordered and asked us to bring. It weighed a ton and was far to heavy to fit into my bags, which were already nearly overweight with other supplies. It used to be such a simple process to get through immigration as we had previously obtained our visas in advance from the embassy in Washington, DC, and were able to entirely skip the long line at the airport. They have change the designation for the visa that we need and, of course, the embassy in DC is entirely unaware of this fact so we are unable to get the new business visa from them and much now suffer through standing in line. I still had a valid visa from our last visit here in October and didn’t have to worry this trip. Not so for the residents which meant an incredibly long delay in getting through immigration and customs and it was nearly an hour before we had our bags loaded and were on our way back to Arusha. Of course, nothing is ever simple here, and the rear door of the Land Cruiser once again decided not to open for me such that we had to hoist every huge roller duffel inside and over the seats so everyone would have room to sit. This is the same back door that had nearly caused everyone to fly home without their bags last visit when it did the very same thing, finally deciding to open at the very last minute.

A very tired traveler taking a siesta

We drove home while it was daylight, thankfully, as nighttime driving here can be a real challenge in survival as every headlight seems to be directed right into your eyes and there are absolutely no streetlights anywhere. Pendo was still preparing dinner for everyone, so we took the opportunity to all take a walk and along the way decided to have a beer at one of the local pubs. Pendo had instructed Wesley, their nephew who I have known since he was 10, to accompany us and to make sure that nothing bad happened to us. It was a lovely evening and it was really great to all share drinks now that we were all together and their trip to FAME seemed to finally be real for each of them. We walked home in the dark on the side of the road with cars buzzing quickly by in the dim light and dust that makes up the African city night. Tomorrow, we will be leaving the urban sprawl of Arusha and traveling west across the vast expanse of Northern Tanzania to reach the Great Rift Valley and Karatu, a small jewel sitting in the Ngorongoro Highlands. We were all with huge expectations of the coming month, me knowing what these were while the others could only imagine, though I am confident that each of them will find this to be one of the most amazing experiences of their lives.

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