(A Good Journey)
My daughter recently came to visit me here in Tanzania, and since it may be a once in a lifetime trip for her and also because I wanted to see some of the best of Tanzania before I leave, I decided to put aside my kanga and head wrap, pull on my one pair of ill-fitting jeans and become a tourist. We took the Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar ferry and spent a delightful day and night in Stone Town. The thing that was delightful was that it was not crowded and there were not many street vendors to harass us. This was probably because we arrived on Friday (Muslim holy day) during the holy month of Ramadan. The hotel was luxurious (at least I thought so, but then anything with a hot water shower and electricity would seem luxurious to me). We found a quaint café nearby with a nice view of the Indian Ocean and we spent the late afternoon talking and eating ice cream.
Our Zanzibar trip was wonderful, but the trip back to Dar was not so fun. The sea was rough and even though I took motion sickness medicine, I had to join many of my fellow passengers outside at the railing, including the aides to the former president of Tanzania. The former president stayed inside to regurgitate his lunch in a bag. (I wondered why he would choose to travel by public ferry and not by private plane).
Early the next morning Elizabeth and I boarded the Dar Express, a luxury bus, to travel back to Mkuu. A luxury bus means that everyone must be seated. Most likely you will have your own seat, although sometimes a small child may sit on your lap. Often the seats are overbooked, and if you are unlucky, you may have to sit on a bucket or a soda crate in the aisle even though you are still required to pay full price for your ticket. If a good Samaritan gives you something to pad your seat, make sure to say “thanks” because the plastic ridges on the bucket get very uncomfortable during the ten hour ride.
I was really excited to have Elizabeth visit my site. I wanted her to meet all of the people that I have written about. I wanted her to see all of the things that I have seen. I wanted her to experience everything that I have experienced here in Mkuu. However, after four days of greeting strangers, struggling to make sense of an unfamiliar culture, listening to me speak an odd mix of English and Swahili, even to her, and not understanding a word anyone said, she was thoroughly overwhelmed. I realized then that I was exposing her to too much too soon. I have lived here for two years. What seems ordinary to me now may have at one time seemed extraordinary. I remembered all of the times that I longed to talk to someone, anyone, who could speak fluent English. Now, although I might speak very bad Swahili, I can carry on a fairly long conversation. I remembered wanting to get out of the limelight but having nowhere to hide. Now I do not seem to be such a novelty in my community, but on days when I do, I know where to go. There was a time in my life when I would have been disgusted by some of the foods that I eat here, and I would have been annoyed by some of the habits of my Tanzanian friends. Now many things do not seem so bizarre, although I still refuse to eat goat intestines and cow stomachs. It seems ironic that when I have finally adapted to this culture, I am preparing to leave it behind.
Elizabeth may not have felt so nostalgic, because she seemed quite happy to get out of town. After the cultural overload in Mkuu, we donned our tourist clothes again and went on safari to Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara National Parks. Last year I went in a school bus; this year I traveled in an air conditioned land cruiser. There was also a big difference in price, but still the trip was wonderful. It was awesome to see so many African animals up close. It was like being in the “Lion King.” In fact, I might actually have been humming the theme song along the way. I was nice to share that adventure together.
After a brief stay at a beach resort in Dar, Elizabeth went home to America and I went home to Mkuu. Her life will continue as she left it, my old life in America is gone. When I return in a few weeks, I will begin anew. Some days I spend too much time thinking about what it will be like, about what I will do, about how I will survive, and I begin to feel tense and uneasy. Then I take a deep breath and remind myself to just follow the road. Wherever it leads, the journey will be good. Safari njema and follow the road! A traveler always does.