Our changeover weekend, that is, one group of residents flying home (or to another destination if they have vacation scheduled) and the next group of residents flying in the very next day, is a product of the more robust scheduling that began a year ago to accommodate a greater number of residents in the program each year. The weekend, though, is pretty grueling in terms of the amount of driving that is necessary to deliver everyone where they are expected to be. Thankfully, driving long, open stretches of the vast Northern Tanzania landscape and the incomparable Great Rift Valley is something that I feel I had been destined to do all along. My childhood heroes were not the sports stars of the day like most other boys, but rather explorers and archeologists like Heinrich Schliemann, Mary and Louis Leakey, Jane Goodall, Jacques Cousteau, and others like them. My dreams did not involve a ball or a bat, or even a puck, but rather the dusty roads of Africa and a Land Rover, or a dive ship and a set of tanks.
So, after many years of having the fullest and most rewarding life with absolutely no regrets, I have now returned to those childhood dreams that were always somehow lurking in the far reaches of my imagination. At this moment in my life, I could think of little more that I would love to be doing than to be driving a Land Rover here in East Africa, shuttling my residents to and from the airport with all that goes with it including the constant stops by the traffic police, the incredibly slow trucks, and the dust and the heat. I am happy for every last bit of it and then some as I feel like the luckiest man alive, not only for what I have here in Africa, but also what I have at home and those I love.
Not having to leave until mid-morning allowed the residents a chance to sleep in for the first time since having arrived. I would be driving everyone to Arusha, where Whitney would be meeting up with her fiancé at the Mt. Meru Hotel for the start of their two-week adventure in Tanzania (hasn’t she already had one?) and the three others would be flying to Zanzibar after I dropped them off at the airport. Fien would be spending the weekend alone (I’m jealous) here in Karatu to work on a research project and plugging away at some statistics she needed to get done.
Our trip was pretty basic and leaving FAME, the weather was absolutely gorgeous for the two-hour drive to Arusha. We had left a little later than planned, though, and by the time we got to the Mt. Meru to drop off Whitney, we were in just a bit of a time crunch to get to airport. The girls had wanted to order a snack, though as in Africa, everything takes nearly 10 times longer than it should, and they ended up only getting my sandwich and giving up on the vegetable samosas they had ordered. LJ was the one who had wanted something, though, and since I had ordered a chicken salad sandwich, she couldn’t eat any of that. Thankfully, there were French fries that were perfectly acceptable for her to eat.
We were now behind schedule to get them to the airport for their flight and it seemed we encountered every slow truck possible along the way. As we drove up to the departure entrance to the airport, which is tiny by the way, there was a huge crowd waiting to get in and even though it wasn’t for their flight, it certainly posed a problem. Since we had arrived just in the nick of time for their flight, they were somehow able to get in and to the ticketing counter. In the end, they made their flight, but I do think they would have preferred a little more buffer of time than they had. I turned around and drove back to Arusha after buying a Stoney Tangawizi (an ultra-gingery ginger ale) before departing the airport parking lot. Shortly after I arrived at Leonard and Pendo’s home, I received a message that they had arrived in Zanzibar safely and I could relax.
I spent the night at Leonard and Pendo’s home, which is so much quieter these days as all their children are now in the same boarding school in Nairobi, coming home only during school breaks. I miss them quite a bit and it’s been some time since I’ve seen them, but hopefully soon.
The next group of residents would be arriving first thing in the morning, and I would have to leave for them around 6 am to get to the airport in time. Dennis and Caroline would be coming in the morning, while Kelly would be arriving the following morning, coming from a wedding in England, and would be taking a private shuttle to FAME to arrive before lunch. It was a lovely drive to the airport early in the morning with little traffic and cool enough for me to put on a light fleece. I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare, found a nice parking spot in the shade and walked over to the little outside café to order a coffee and chapati. I was early enough to sit on the curb and do some reading prior to their arrival, though they came out with the earlier groups mostly because we always purchase our visas in advance.
We packed the car and I drove to the parking office to pay for parking and to get my token. After checking my mirrors, which were clear as I always use my mirrors whether in my car or Land Rover, to back out of my spot, I began to reverse, but very quickly heard a honk and a crash, only to discover that a van was behind me, and I had struck only his headlight but had broken the lens. I was certain that he wasn’t there as I began backing up which meant that he must have been moving and struck me, but I wasn’t very optimistic that anyone else was going to see it that way. After he put me on the phone with his boss, the owner of the car, and reassuring him that I would make good on my promise to pay for a new headlight, as I didn’t want his driver to have any issues, we exchanged numbers, and we were on our way back to Arusha. I was not interested in involving the police, nor were they, and it seemed we would get things taken care of eventually. Things happen differently here in Africa.
Our first destination was to Leonard and Pendo’s house to eat some food and regroup. Myrtle also needed a quick repair as the bonnet (hood) release on the inside of the vehicle had come loose and there was no way to check any of the fluids, etc., which is certainly necessary when planning a several hour excursion where there is a rare service station and nothing like AAA to come to the rescue. Pendo had thought that there were four residents rather than the two present (Kelly would be coming tomorrow and we had an adult spot open this trip) so the amount of food that was being placed on the table for us bordered on obscene. Pancakes, fruit, sausage, hash browns with onions, cardamom and lemon grass tea, fresh mango juice, toast, and eggs. Hospitality is definitely not a problem in the Temba household.
Waiting for the fundi (mechanic) to come to the house to fix Myrtle, we all took food coma naps on their couches as I think we all needed them. The fundi arrived eventually and needed to take the car to the shop to fix the problem as well as buy a new cable, but it was done in a little over an hour and we able to get on the road to Karatu around 2 pm, meaning that we’d get to FAME sometime around 4 pm. We made a quick stop at the Galleria and were soon back at home in Karatu and FAME. Sunday dinners are not prepared for us, so we all decided to head into to town to the Lilac Café and other than the standard 1+ wait for our food, we had a delicious meal that everyone was quite happy with. Tomorrow, we would be starting our second 3-week rotation and Kelly would be arriving around noontime. For me, though, it would be Groundhog Day all over again.