Just been a few days since I wrote my last blog, but I find there are already stories to tell. I returned to my village on Saturday and had quite the coasta ride. It was packed – much more than usual – and while I got a normal seat in the front row, it was definitely an uncomfortable journey. (FYI, there are normal seats, two rows of two, like in most buses, and then there are the flip-down seats in between those two rows. In my coasta to and from the vil, the first two rows don’t have the middle flip-down seat, which you’d think of as a good thing because they’re super uncomfortable, but I’ll explain later why it’s not.)
Well, people were packed in, especially towards the back where they sat seven or eight to a row (normally only five seats in a row, mind you), not counting babies or small children. In addition to just people, those people of course had bags – bags of potatoes or rice or beans, suitcases, bags containing a chicken, bags stuffed with cloth or pots, etc. I noticed there was a sound system with a soundboard and a speaker in the back row. There were a few large metal chests, likely containing various tools. All this on laps, under feet, propped up on a seat-back, in addition to the many items stored in the overhead storage areas, in the space below the bus, and tied to the roof. It was truly an amazing game of tetras, a game of both inanimate objects and of people.
So as I mentioned, I was seated up in the first row, aisle seat. As the bus was loading up and I saw the people piling into the back with the belongings that wouldn’t fit above or below the coasta, I snickered to myself, thankful I didn’t have to squeeze in back there, shoulders scrunched in, sitting at an angle to allow room for other people’s body parts. But the coasta kept filling, and soon I realized the bad taste of karma. By the time we made it to the dirt road out to my village, there were about 10 additional people standing packed into the aisle between the first and second rows, and up to the very front of the bus near the driver. I had a child between my knees, a baby on someone’s back behind my head propped on the top of my seat, and a woman leaning over me, forcing my head nearly onto my neighbor’s shoulder as she reached up to the over-head storage space to hold onto something as the coasta rocked back and forth, bumping up and down.
I can only be thankful that the women leaning over/on me, with her arm up and armpit in my face, did not have bad BO. Tanzanians are all hardworking individuals, not afraid to sweat a bit (or a lot), and sometimes they don’t get to shower (aka bucket bathe) as frequently as people in America do. Let’s just say I have been subject to some pretty intense odors that the body is apparently capable of producing, and it is very unfortunate to encounter such things when pinned in a coasta unable to move with no hope of escape. So all in all, it was truly a stroke of luck.
In the middle of the return journey, when some people had gotten off and I could at least hold my head up straight without fear of nose/mouth-to-armpit contact, the konda (conductor, the guy who takes your money and gives out tickets as the driver, the dereva, drives along), took out a bag of lollipops and started handing them out to all the passengers, young and old alike – such a sweet surprise. Then the driver opened up a bag of small hard candies in his lap, and started throwing them out the window whenever we passed a child along the road. The children’s smiles made me happy, and the way their smiles made the driver and the conductor smile brought some joy into my day. I then realized that I was witness to, even a part of, an extremely unusual, single-vehicle parade out on the dirt roads of rural TZ. What a privilege!
After returning home that evening, I did some unpacking, cooked myself a yummy omelette to eat with a perfectly ripe avocado, and sat down to use up the freshly city-charged battery of my laptop watching Good Will Hunting (which reaffirmed its awesomeness once again). Yesterday (Sunday) I spent literally all afternoon at my neighbor’s house, a young teacher, the one who saved me my first night in the vil. She’s great, and her humorous husband from Kigoma (out West by Jane Goodall’s Chimpanzees), was there as well. We spent the afternoon cooking pilau (spiced rice), a meat dish with potatoes, and kachumbari (salad of onions, tomatoes, lemon, ginger, and salt) for a late lunch, chatting about water issues, farming, and gender roles in the village, and even breaching such topics as why people in America dress up their cats and dogs (absolutely unbelievable for them – and hilarious). It was a good day.
Today I spent the morning putting the two large sufuria-s (pots) that I bought in town on Friday to good use as an oven. I baked some banana bread! While I’m sure my measurements were the antonym of exact, and even though I forgot to oil and flour the pot before pouring in my batter, I was still remarkably successful. I used a mixture of corn flour, millet flour, and peanut flour. I’ll eventually see if someone in my village can grind some rice flour for me, but that’s really not a thing here (I suggested it to someone at the market in town once and they looked at me with a curled upper lip and raised eyebrows as if I was completely crazy). Anyway, while the bread may be kind-of dense with the flours I used, it’s got to be pretty healthy, with a decent amount of protein baked in there.
Tomorrow, after a funeral in the morning (lots of HIV/AIDS in the vil), I’ll be attending another village meeting (not sure of the topic at present), and then will have the chance to ask some questions of the Ward Executive Officer (a Ward is a governmental grouping of two or more neighboring villages). I’ll also set up a time this week or next to visit the other two villages in my Ward. Overall, I’d say things are looking up here in the vil. It seems like purpose is beginning to return to my every day, that I’m feeling a sense of accomplishment from the things I’m doing, and that this whole living alone in a Tanzanian village thing is just a bit less daunting. But those are the feelings of today, and who knows about tomorrow.
I realize that this journey is a roller coaster, or, to be a bit less cliché, this journey is a coasta ride on the back-country dirt roads of TZ – one moment things are somewhat smooth, and the next you’re tipped at a 30 degree angle while a women (we won’t get into the question of whether or not she has BO) is leaning over and on you, forcing your head to your neighbor’s shoulder, and all the while everyone’s bouncing up and down and all around and into one another. But then you’re handed a lollipop.