I have been struggling with the visa process here since I left Amani and joined Good Hope in May. Unfortunately my application has been dogged with errors; most due to poor advice and/or had been pinpointed by me as points for concern. It was further hindered by poor communication IE: nobody bothering to tell me what was needed and, of course, a dose of good old-fashioned fell through the cracks syndrome. The resulting delay means that technically, anyone studying my passport would think I am in the country illegally, which in turn means I cannot go through passport control to leave the country without raising the red flag and possible (dare I say probable) detainment. This has not been a pleasant feeling and has caused me some considerable stress and more than a few nightmare driven nights featuring small rooms and buckets.
Today I finally handed over the dosh and got a receipt, never in my life have I experienced such a desire to part with money, which at least proves to anyone demanding to see my papers that I am “being processed”. Leaving the country remains an issue but I am awaiting a Special Pass which, coupled with the said receipt, should do the trick.
Imagine my horror when I triumphantly board the famous dala dala (local bus that plays sardines with its passengers) at the end of this significant day and a fist fight that would make Rockie, Jackie Chan, or whoever is the current screen fighter proud, breaks out in the cramped aisle space that serves the standing passengers. Adding to my horror and concern is the fact that I am seated with two young Good Hope boys, crammed onto the seat facing me, one atop the other to half the fare.
A woman and little girl in a pretty pink party dress seem to be the centre of the issue and the two brawling men, not boys but grown men, fall out of the bus onto the dusty dirt road and quickly disappear down the handily located ditch, which is in my estimation a fitting location for such behaviour. The woman and pretty in pink child follow out of the bus and I lose sight of them. The passengers are in uproar and the bus physically rocks with the many voices all shouting indistinguishable Swahili at once. The two Good Hope boys look on fascinated, like all boys, and want to get a bird’s eye view. I can see fists and feet flying from my seat and gauge this to be a “real” brawl.
Perfectly content to leave the men to it, I pray the driver will get the bus going and move off. Then woman and pretty in pink child get back on the bus amid renewed shouts and opinions from the passengers, she is followed by the more aggressive of the two men who I quickly realise is the driver’s mate (as in the guy who collects the money, no way can I paint an image of a bus conductor here). The volume of the passenger opinion poll is turned up and mercifully the engines roar weakly and off we trot.
Oh oh, look out, the door is opening as we go along and in jumps man number two from the fight. Now I become concerned, there is a strong call for “acha” and “shusha” from many of the passengers, enunciated clearly enough for me to recognise and understand as two versions of the word STOP. The driver is of a different opinion it seems and continues. The two angry men are continuing their brawl verbally with the added chorus of the mostly female and thus vocally inimitable passengers. Pretty in pink is sat atop mother’s knee while several people point at her and jab their fingers in her sad little face as if she were a rag doll. The tears, I can see, are welling up.
Traumatic experience, yes. I can you see you nodding your heads but, why the over dramatic fear for my life you ask?
Well my friends the ensuing discussions and arguments were now involving the driver, who insisted in waving his own fists and turning to face his passengers whilst negotiating the bumpy, pot holed and ditch strewn dirt track that serves as a road. My fear for my life was in the possibility of the dala dala tumbling down one of the many ditches which litter the roadside and act as crude diversionary tactics when the big rains come. I have to confess to knowing that such accidents are not uncommon here.
My concern was mostly for the two Good Hope boys and Pretty in Pink, all three of whom were far too flimsy and undernourished to withstand the crush of fellow passengers’ bodies thrown atop them in any ensuing crash. I considered adding the authoritative voice of the token mzungu (me) to the melee and demanding the driver stop and release me and the boys from the death trap but I have to confess my fear of recrimination and lack of understanding as to why I would want the boys to get off stopped me. I am sure the two boys, who have a two and half hour trek in front of them to get home, are more used to such disagreements than I and they would not understand my concerns or wish for them to get off the perilously rocking bus. Incidentally these two young boys face this journey every day, twice a day, in order to come and receive some level of education from the volunteers who teach at Good Hope.
Gradually, the noise levels quieted as the passenger reached some consensus and the driver returned his attention to the road, satisfied with an occasional outburst of expletives over his shoulder.
In general the people here are very peaceful and friendly. There is evidence of alcohol abuse as some of the people, forced to live in extreme poverty with no source of income, choose to seek solace from the cheap local brew that quickly dulls the senses and quells the hunger pains. There are tales of dala dala drivers being under the influence whilst driving. This is the first tale of a fist fight I have heard.
Yes, local travel here carries risks. I expect the risk analysts amongst you will have statistics to prove that the chance of personal injury travelling on a dala dala in Tanzania is greater than travelling at 100km per hours along any of the main motorways in Europe. But it is the mode of transport open to me and I actually enjoy the camaraderie of squished up bodies crammed into the confined spaces with children, shopping bags and sacks of oranges passed from lap to lap to make room for another person.
This was last Wednesday, the day I became legal and thought I might die. This is where I am living now.
Until next time my friends.