I’m a girl who enjoys a good road trip. I was surprisingly good at sitting in the back seat with my brother when we were just passengers staring out of back seat windows on the way to the beach or the Smoky Mountains. I understand the importance of being a team player when it comes to coordinating bathroom breaks, and I know to always look through the front windshield to minimized car sickness. I remember how much I enjoyed spending time with my Dad as he drove me to and from high school soccer games all over the State. And I remember that trips to the store with my mom were always great times to have good conversation.
Later on when I learned how to drive, I realized that some of my most visceral experiences were in vehicles. Like the trip I took with my two best friends after our freshman year at LSU. I remember getting lost because I insisted on using a paper map, and that we almost hit a deer, and that we drove, sopping wet, to a Dairy Queen in the middle of the night because the rain had soaked through our tent completely. I remember the carefully crafted playlists I made for the four hour drive to Annual Conference in Shreveport, and that no one ever payed as much attention to the music as I did. And I remember that no matter where I had driven to, the trees always turned greener as soon as I crossed the state line back into Louisiana.
I don’t drive here. However, I spend quite a lot of time on the road. In fact, some of the most exciting times I have had in Tanzania have been while on the road.
Walking to and from my job is one “road trip” I do many days. To the village of Gamasara is about an hour and a half walk from my house. It is during these trips that I have learned many things. I have learned not to look over the side of a bridge as it is likely someone may be bathing in the water below. I have learned the seasons that wild flowers grow, and which of the young men will give me a stick of sugarcane for free if I wink at them. I have soaked in the mountains that rise around me the closer my feet bring me to Gamasara, and have shouted at many passenger busses that speed by the school children too quickly. Many times it was during one of these walks that I was joined by a friend or neighbor, and the gentle rhythmic pattern of steps coaxed out worries, and joys, and stories that I would not have heard had I not undergone that journey on foot with them.
And there are the memorable car journeys as well. Like the one and only time I drove a car here because my ride overdosed on Benadryl and someone needed to get her home. (Now my rule is I only drive for medical emergencies.) Then there was the car ride to Arusha, Four missionaries and six local pastors squeezed into one car on the eleven hour ride that became fourteen hours after quite a bit of car trouble, an impromptu prayer service at a roadside breakfast stand, and hitting a cow. That was the same trip I met the Bishop of North Katanga for the first time. There was the car ride from the Airport when I picked up my parents when they came to visit. After waiting for three hours at the airport, they were some of the last passengers to exit. I had made friends with several of the local taxi drivers and tour guides that were there to pick up others from this flight. They all laughed with me when I ran up to greet my parents, having lost all my composure at seeing them in person for the first time in a year and a half. And there are the safaris of course. Nothing is so joyful and terrifying as driving through an uncountable number of Wildebeests and Zebras as they graze on arid grasslands. Well, except passing a lioness only a few feet away as it lazes next to the raw carcass of its recent lunch. And there was the first time I visited Tarime while I was still taking language classes in Mwanza; each kilometer further into the uncouth green mountains seemed to weigh on my heart as the enormity of living in this place soaked in. A place where I knew no one and didn’t even speak the language yet.
Then there are bus rides. And the various characters one encounters in such places as busses. People too eager to practice their English with me. The old woman who took the seat next to me and held her chicken in her lap the entire five hours to Mwanza. I realized later that chickens are common passengers on busses. And there was one and only time I remember a man brought a pig on the bus. There are the heart stopping moments when immigration steps onto the bus asking for everyones papers. And the time the bus mechanic had to climb through a window into a bus still filled with passengers in order to fix the doors that wouldn’t open. And there was of course the time a child puked all over my back two hours into my five hour journey. There was also the time I rode a small bus to Musoma to visit for the weekend because my coworker invited me to her home there. I didn’t know how lovely the rocky beaches were until I was seated under a shady kibanda with a cold beer watching two men steer a boat with a sail constructed out of a blue tarp across Lake Victoria.
Lastly there is my favorite form of road tripping here: motorbike. My second day after arriving in Tanzania, my boss put me on the back of one and said, “he can probably get you home based on the directions I gave him but you may need to help him for the last bit.” I did get home that day. There was also the first time I had to ride a motorbike “side saddle” because of the tight skirt I was wearing. This was in Arusha, a place I had never been before. Furthermore, I discovered quickly that my troubles balancing were less about the side saddle posture and more related to my driver racing another motorbike driver. And there was the first time I rode on a motorbike while holding a dozen eggs protected only by a thin plastic bag, as my driver did his best to beat the nasty storm that was chasing us into town. None of the eggs broke. I didn’t always beat the rain into town, and many times I have ended up huddled haphazardly under porches and gas stations with dozens of bodies and motorbikes also seeking respite from the frenzy of wind and pelting rain. There are the multiple marriage proposals I have received from motorbike drivers, and invitations to visit families and homes. There are the rides when there are too many people and not enough bikes so we sat two passengers to a bike. And there was the time I carried a very small baby on a motorbike to the hospital since the mother, also sick, was too weak to carry him herself. And there was the lovely drive at sunset, along the coast of Lake Victoria, the sky was awash with pink and orange and purple, and the breeze coming off the water cooled my skin that had been too long in the sun that day. And that drive I took one night, in an unfamiliar countryside, when all of my anxieties vanished as I realized the darkness around me only amplified the bright stars that had emerged from the depths of the sky above me.
These are the things I will remember first about Tanzania. The snap shots of lives and places I have had the privilege of being a part of for a short time. The sparks that lead to other adventures and lessons learned.