Today was our bus ride from Arusha to Endasak. We were taking the Mtei bus line. David warned me that Mtei was not anywhere near as nice as the Scandinavia Express line that we took a few days earlier. As we walked to the Mtei bus stop to buy our tickets, we were approached by about six locals who tried to guess where we were going. They started naming off cities. David kept saying no, and they kept trying. Finally he told them Katesh, the next big city on the line after Endasak. As the one person with the ticket book took our order, the other five people looked on...why, I don't know. (How many Tanzanians does it take to sell a bus ticket to a white man? Six. One to do it and five to stare at the white man.)
After making our purchase, we went to a restaurant/Internet Cafe, had breakfast and checked our email real quick. We then went back to our hotel, grabbed our bags and took a taxi to the bus stand.
We were pushing it. If we had been two minutes later we would have missed the bus. But no worries, we made it. Some people were in our seats. David convinced them to get up and let us have them. The bus wasn't too full. All the seats were in use, but the aisles were only half full of standing people. As we moved onward, we picked up more people. The bus filled up.
The Mteis operate at amazing capacities. I doubt many people have ever been in a bus as cramped in America. I think we have laws against it. There are five seats across, two on one side of the aisle, three on the other. The seats are narrow. So narrow that David and I could not both sit back at the same time; our shoulders wouldn't fit. The aisle filled up to standing capacity. Elbow-to-elbow, shoulder-to-shoulder. It got so full that people had to lean into the seating areas, armpits in faces. I don't understand. Why do so many people need to take busses so often? Where are they all going? Why do so few busses run? David reminded me that I shouldn't ask those kinds of unanswerable questions.
David and I were the only white people on the bus. Along the ride, I caught at least three people staring at me. Mouth open, eyes wide staring. I didn't know how to respond. I decided to stare back and smile.
At a stop halfway there, a couple of cute little girls (about ten years old) decided to try some English on me (I was at the window seat). One said, "Good morning." But I wasn't paying attention, so I didn't hear her. She said it again.
That time I hear her. I turned and said, "Good morning! How are you?"
She and her friend giggled. She then said, "I love you!"
"You love me? Why, thank you very much!" They giggled again.
Then one ruined it by walking up to my window with her hand out. I shook my head no so she giggled and ran away.
About five or six hours after we left Arusha, we pulled into Endasak. "This is it," David informed me.
It was a dusty, red patch of dirt. On either side were crudely constructed buildings with corrugated steel roofs. None of the corners were quite square. There were a few stray, dusty dogs wandering about. Off in the distance, Mount Hanang rose above the horizon. A few people were outside of the bus waiting for people. One of them was waiting for us.
"Daudi, Daudi!" A man with a great big smile was waving and coming towards us. I was introduced to Mwl. Massong. (Mwl., or Mwalimu, translates to teacher.) He was so happy to see Daudi (David's Swahili name) again. And here I was, David's "brother." He likes Daudi a lot; he was naturally excited to meet his brother.
(David says he doesn't know the Swahili word for cousin. And "son of my mother's sister" is too much work. Thus, I am his older brother. Older by three months. This was never questioned.)
Mwl. Massong invited us into a restaurant that faced the dirt road where the bus had stopped. The front of the restaurant was a half-wall. The doorway was covered with some lace fabric. There were no lights on in there. They had electricity; there was a refrigerator, but the restaurant was shallow enough that daylight was adequate. The walls were painted yellow. The furniture was rickety and poorly made. I sat down on a chair and was a little concerned as to whether or not it would hold my weight. Mwl. Massong ordered us some rice and meat.
This was my first introduction to village meat. David explained to me that they don't "carve" a chicken in the sense that those of us from the Western world might expect. No, they hack it into small pieces with a machete. The meat we were served was more like chicken stock. It was mostly bones in a broth. We poured the stock over some rice and went to town. David pulled out a nice piece of bone that had some spinal bones attached. As I ate, I had to pull little shards of bone out of my mouth—with my right hand. That was standard practice. Mwl. Massong already had a pile of bones next to his plate. I got lucky enough to actually get one nibble of meat with my bones.
I didn't do much talking, but David, Mwl. Massong and his wife Maxima caught up. We then went around the corner to Mwl. Massong's shop. He runs a dry goods store and, if I understood correctly, he rents bikes, too. We strapped our biggest, heaviest bags onto the back of a bike. Despite my protests ("I can get it, I'm fine"), two students helped carry our other bags. We walked down the red, dirt road, around the corner, up the hill and headed towards Daudi's house. We passed the Prime Minister's estate. It's a good sized plot of land with a nice painted concrete and rod iron fence.
Daudi said a few hello's along the way. I met Willy, a little boy who used to run away from Daudi when he first met him. In February, 2004, David wrote a great letter to his parents about Willy. (It's really worth the read.) Willy must have been feeling bold; he shook my hand before silently hiding behind an adult.
We finally got to his house in the teacher's quarters. It was a simple place. It's frame was constructed from concrete; much better than the shops "downtown." It had a corrugated steel roof. The floors were bare concrete, stained red from the tracked-in earth. The walls were painted sky blue with a black border near the floor. A drop ceiling hid the steel roof. It showed stains of water damage and sagged in spots. The furnishing were minimal. David inherited everything from previous Peace Corps volunteers. There were two stick and cowhide chairs, a sofa, a coffee table and a kitchen table. There's a small courtyard out back with a couple of storage rooms and an outhouse.
I was glad to be there. I hadn't been "somewhere" sine I left London; I had been moving daily. This was going to be a constant point for three days. David unpacked. He was home. His Aunt Anita had sent along some books for his birthday. His parents also sent a bunch of seeds, including sweet corn.
As we were unpacking, Chana stopped by. She lives higher up Mount Hanang. She was part of the group of Peace Corps volunteers that we had dinner with at Stiggy's on Tuesday, my first night in Arusha. We chatted for a while. She was trying to get bees out of her house. She was going to try diesel fuel. She had already tried kerosene and a few other things. She was fed up with being stung. They needed to go.
As the sunlight faded away, Daudi decided that he would make some rounds and say hello. He had been gone for a month. David tried to give the impression that we were in a hurry. He refused chai at the first house. At the second house, the tea was poured before he could even make excuses. We sat by lantern light (they don't have electricity) and played peek-a-boo with the kids under the table. Her tea had some ginger and black pepper flavorings. It was really tasty.
Our next stop was the Headmaster's house. We were invited in and sat down. We left fairly quickly. David explained that he didn't know a single person in there. He wanted to get out before they offered us tea.
We then walked through the schoolyard. We stopped to chat with the security guard. He was standing by his fire, cooking something, I think. He had a bow and arrow tucked under his arm. I like that he carried a bow and arrow, not a gun.
Our final stop was Mama Mguya's house. Daudi goes there for dinner on most Sundays. We stepped into the courtyard, which was mostly a garden. There were a few thousand ears of corn piled up on the ground, drying. There were many doors along one wall. We went into a bedroom. There was a bed and three chairs around a coffee table. It was snug; there was just enough room to for us to squeeze by. The corrugated steel of the roof was clearly visible, as well as a the rafters that held it place. The walls and floor were bare concrete. We played Uno with her kids. I had to get help translating colors when wild cards were thrown. Her daugher, Gloria, was very helpful. She poured us beer and served food for us. I guess she was filling a traditional gender role. I thought it was pretty funny having about a twelve year old girl opening and pouring my beer. We started with fried bananas. Not plantains. Mama Mguya said they were a special variety that was both sweet and held together when fried. While we were eating the appetizer, a rat scurried along the rafters over our head. David and I exchanged smiles. Our main dish was pilau, the jambalaya-like rice and meat dish. We also had mchicha, a spinach-like vegetable. Apparently it has spikes that become edible after you cook them. There was also a plate of cucumbers and tomatoes.
We were invited into the kitchen to watch Mama Mguya make ugali, a traditional bread. It's just corn flour added to boiling water and whisked with a special instrument. It's a long, inverted T-shaped stick. The short side is placed in the water and the long part is run between your palms to spin the short part. When the mixture started getting firm she switched to a wooden spoon. Following David's instructions, I took a bit of the ugali, rolled it into a ball and put some of the spinach into a thumbprint I made in the center.
After dinner, we went home and went to sleep. We didn't have to wake up for anything the next day. We were going to sleep in.
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All content and photos Copyright © 2004 Travis Pettijohn.