The Long and Bumpy Road

Well that month flew by.

I’m sitting on my bed at my new home in Dar es Salaam, the Kiota Lodge. Not only do I have amazing zebra print bedding (clashing with the Maasai blanket I added for warmth), but my bed frame extends about four feet up at both the foot and the head and has beautiful wood carvings that frame paintings of peacocks. I’ve been waking up in a tent recently, so this is quite a difference.

Obviously too much has happened in the last month for me to update on everything right now, but I’d like to be able to tell stories here and there from this time. For now, I think I’ll start with the 24-hour journey that got me here from Tarangire National Park.

After finishing my trip with National Geographic Student Expeditions, I joined a Putney Student Travel community service trip as a contract photographer/filmmaker to capture footage of their program. I had a total of eight days with them, half in their village and half on safari. Today is Thursday. Tuesday morning I woke up under the warmth of my sleeping bag and three extra blankets. The sunrise poured in through my window as I packed up, and I made sure to take a few minutes before breakfast to go soak up the view from the “kopje” (the Dutch translates to “little head”, but it means a small rock outcrop in the savannah) at our camping site. We are alone out here, save the Maasai guides who are ever present with their spears. I tell myself to remember this moment, burn it into my mind, so when I’m sitting in endless traffic in Dar I can call upon in.

Tuesday afternoon. We’re on our way to the public campsite in Tarangire National Park. We came in at the other end of the park so getting to our destination is a game drive in itself. I’m in a bit of a predicament, because a resupply vehicle is waiting for me at camp to take me back to Arusha with them, yet the closer it gets to dusk the more animals come out and the more we stop to look at them. We arrive at camp around 5:45pm, and I scramble in a state of hurriedness that I haven’t felt since arriving back in Africa. I need to get out my computer, transfer over the files for what I shot today to the external hard drives I’m leaving with the group leaders to send back. Need to give them all my sound gear. Need to give them my tripod. Need to grab all my things. Need to be out of the park before they lock us in at 6:30pm. I give the group goodbye hugs and hop into an old beat-up Land Rover (the best kind, I might add) and hit the dusty trail.

We zoom along at a speed I don’t think I’ve felt since arriving one month ago. We dodge warthogs, impala, wildebeest, and zebras, but we make it out on time. We hit the highway and encounter a police checkpoint. I know they’re asking about the mzungu in the car (me). Afterwards James, the driver, mentions something about needing to chat with them not to be bribed. I can’t tell if he means in general or if they were asking for a bribe just then. I look out the window at the setting sun. We drive past Lake Manyara and the mountains designating the Great Rift Valley. As we drive, our angle to the mountains keeps changing so the horizon keeps getting lower. Sunset lasts so much longer this way. At times, I even get the sensation of the sun rising again.

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We hit construction and a long bumpy ride begins. A giant moon peeks out over the horizon, caramel-colored and in a halo of clouds. Here and there the moon is framed by the silhouettes of acacia trees, and I realize the only thing more beautiful than an African sunset might be an African moonrise.

We arrive in Arusha at 9pm. I check in to my hotel and find two novelties: wireless and a hot shower. Not only is the water hot, but the pressure is strong enough to allow me to condition my hair for the first time in a month. The simple joys are really all that matter here.

My alarm goes off at 4:33am. I grimace. At 4:50am, my friend’s brother, a taxi driver here in Arusha, calls to tell me he’s outside. He’s 20 minutes early. I finish getting ready and head out into the darkness. At the bus station, three buses are loaded and drive off before mine, the 6:30am departure, arrives. While waiting I sit on a bench with my bags and watch three very newborn kittens, two black and one tabby, play with each other. It’s too much cuteness for so early in the morning.

The bus ride is long and cramped. A large woman with an extreme case of halitosis sits next to me. I turn towards the window. Soon after, the bus attendant comes by and informs me that I am in the wrong seat. She points to seat 22, where I was supposed to be. I see numbers written nowhere, but at this point it’s too much of a hassle for me and the man who ended up in 22 to switch. We wait until the bus stops in Moshi, then the large woman with halitosis tells me to move to 22, so I do.

The in-drive entertainment is spectacularly dreadful. The movie “Python” plays two times in a row. You can still hear the original English but someone has attempted to dub by speaking over it in Swahili. They’ve also provided entirely nonsensical English subtitles such as “hot water rice has been died!” (which, from everything I could gather at this point, was meant to say something along the lines of “Tommy was killed!”). The next movie is “Yankee Zulu.” I pull out my iPod.

I nod in and out of sleep. We have one toilet break at lunch and that is all, so I’m keeping myself pretty dehydrated. I text the colleagues picking me up in Dar at certain points to let them know my whereabouts, as we pass by shops with names like “Nice Pub” and “Friday Pub Everyday is Weekend”. I take a particular liking to the gasoline tankers with “DANGER – INFLAMMABLE” painted on them and a hand-painted sign on a truck that read “VERY LONG ABNORMAL VEHICLE.”

Ten hours after leaving Arusha, we arrive in Dar. My colleagues have been trailing the bus since we got to the city, waiting for it to stop so they can pick me up. I get put into a very nice, very new, Land Rover (issued by the Tanzanian government, I’m guessing) and start the trip to Kiota Lodge. As we get closer to the airport I notice signs with Barack Obama’s face welcoming him to Tanzania, where he just visited earlier this month. Karibu, Obama. Two hours later we’ve driven the short distance between where my bus stopped and the lodge. If traffic is this bad all the time I’m going to need a commuter hobby.

Upon arriving I meet Iku, the woman I’ve been in contact with here at Kiota, and Gabriel, a vet at the agency I’m interning at who specializes in zoonoses, particularly brucellosis and tuberculosis. I haven’t talked about things like this since leaving Boston and my brain perks up. I eat my dinner while we talk, trying to retain some manners while stuffing my face with my first meal since lunch the previous day. Soon after, Gabriel goes home to his family and I allow myself the longest night of sleep I’ve had in… well… that’s a good question. Too long.

And so here I am.

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