By Mike Onwukwe.
It was Carew Papritz, the bestselling author of the 5-time award-winning inspirational book that stated that inter alia “I travel because it makes me realize how much I haven’t seen, how much I’m not going to see, and how much I still need to see.”. Each time I set out to travel beyond my immediate environment, this wise saying always comes to my mind as I ruminate on how the trip would be. So, it was when I set out to do a road trip using public transport from Arusha – Bagamoyo both in Tanzania, a journey of about 800kms. I assured myself that the trip promises to be polymath of knowledge. I was dropped off to the bus stand (as they call it in Tanzania) at about 06h30 in the morning but the bus did not leave until 07h45. There were three of them lined up to the same destination and they work with time. Whether the bus is full of passengers or not, it must leave at the appointed time. And so, we left.
The bus was new Howo Vehicle and imported from China and is equipped with Wi-Fi, ablution and TV. As we journeyed, we were served with soft drinks and water. Few kms to the destination, they shared sweets or something that looked like chocolate. They didn’t turn on the Wi-Fi until an hour to our destination. The TV/DVD bored us with monotonous cast of overly dull clips except for an occasional showing of We are the World produced by legendary Bob Geldof. The rest was a rehash of local comedy where one man shouted on top of his voice and another session of drab gospel music. Speed limit was 80 and, in most cases but the driver did 50Kms. According to him, if he arrives earlier than sunset, police will arrest and penalize him for over speeding. So, all buses headed to Bagamoyo from Arusha have agreed time of arrival.
The first thing I noticed along the road were men and women engaging in their daily routines not wanting to be distracted. While men tended the animals following them to the field to graze, women clutched their stubborn kids herding them to school or at best to the nearest shuttle picking point. One naughty boy particularly stood out in that early morning. He was seen kicking and whining while the young mother dragged him by the waist. This was about 07h50 and I would imagine that the boy was grinning against the time he was rudely woken up. Men, following their cows and goats come in tow with their transistor radios with the antenna stretched out all kitted and decked out to ward off the freezing cold weather. The same process was repeated late in the evening while we were entering Bagamoyo. Their domestic animals were all well fed and clean. I didn’t see any haggard or kwashiorkor cow or goat struggling to walk. The shepherds and the herds were all moving in one seam unlike the poor little boy who was dragged by the mother earlier on.
I quickly changed my seat to a window seat to be able to capture all that I needed since some of the seats were vacant. But I miscalculated. No sooner than I swapped my seat that one woman emerged having been picked up along the route. She spoke gently in Swahili asking if the seat was vacant. I responded in English to her dubious desire but what a bird sings while freedom is not what it sings when in captivity. The moment she sat down, she opened her bag of tricks. This is clearly an exhibition of her Luciferian tendency and or plain malarkey and I will delve into details.
Amid the inhalation of whizzing odor from the nearby ablution, this old woman brought out a flask of raw milk and started to drink. Normally, I am allergic to milk and milk products and they generally make me feel like throwing up, but I tried as much as possible to recoil and looked the other way as if I was counting the number of passing vehicles. The smell still found its way to my nostrils and my stomach roiled and churned. This lasted for about two hours because she was sipping it intermittently. Later she brought yellow comb. They say don’t criticize a blind man who bought a mirror, perhaps he bought it to sell. But this was not to be. She started to comb her hairs menacingly unmindful of other passengers in the bus. I became wary of this woman immediately she entered the bus because she fell into a burst of unbridled slumber almost immediately. How can someone start sleeping in less than 3 minutes of sitting down?
With resolute hands, she brought out some nuts and started chewing and this was to take another hour. Her fingers were frail, and she used those frail fingers to magisterially select the nuts from a small bag concealed in her hand bag. I think she didn’t want anyone to see what kind of seed she was eating. In a bid to shake off this choreographed and needless defiance, I started reading the book I had bought few days back in Dar – I can, I Must and I will: The Spirit of Success by the late Tanzanian business mogul Reginald Mengi but the smell of the nuts couldn’t let me be. I thought of changing the seat, but all have been taken.
The bus was stopping intermittently. Police check points, weigh bridges, passenger pickup, buying fruits etc and you wonder why a bus stopping at every breadth will give passengers only ten minutes time frame to eat. That was in Mombo and miraculously, the food queue that snaked out of sight, vanished and everyone hopped into the bus like a scarred rabbit. Of course, nobody ate as everyone grabbed some food and ate while the bus was moving. Some ate and sweated while some ate and visited the loo. People coughing, sneezing and yawning. This is death in enclosed space in this Covid era. One tiny man with a fat wife will always jump into the toilet, jam the door noisily and saunters out to rest his head on top of the woman’s chest seated next to him suspected to be his wife. The woman was portly, rotund and roundish, and she labored in vain to hide her equally big fingers. She had a jacket that she used to occasionally cover her face as she ate at intervals.
Talking about peeing, there were 3 passengers who were competing amongst each other on who can outpace the other. First the Asian middle age man with red or brown beards. He wore an oversized brown jacket on top of a shirt and another T-shirt and had rings in his three fingers. He would stand by the door waiting for one of his fellow competitors to finish and run his large eyeballs on us, draw his beards that stretched to almost his chest and gleefully walk in like a cock in congregation of hens and relieve himself. Then the tiny man with rotund woman I earlier mentioned will follow, although faster in descending the stairs than the Asian. Then the poor third was a yellow lady with a tiny waistline who looked either malnourished or plainly underfed. For this lady, she would waste ample time in the loo making the other Asian man to standby and wait for her. The lady would normally emerge from the toilet and arrogantly leave the door open and the tiny man with fat lady would draw her attention to the door and ask her to close it. It went on and on. The process kept repeating on and on.
Few minutes’ drive into Mombo, the bus picked one cashew nut hawker, and one passenger who relishes in eating free things served in the bus grabbed the cashew nuts thinking that it is free. A lot of argument ensued regarding payment and I am not clear how it was resolved. Some few Kms after Mombo, this same irritant man wanted to relieve his bowel and he gladly walked into the bus ablution thinking that it had toilet facility. When he was told that none existed inside the bus, he shouted and started threatening that he will relieve his stomach inside the bus. Passengers can urinate but not to empty their bowels. This made the driver to embark on emergency stop, and loo and behold before the door was opened, he jumped out like a cat and raced into the bush. Passengers could see him relieving himself nearby and he was completely indifferent as to what folks will say or think about him.
A woman with breastfeeding child also used the loo twice. I noticed that this woman joined us at a place called Moshi among other passengers. This woman would have used the loo more than twice if not for the way her son cried uncontrollably each time, she tossed him unto another passenger to use the toilet. The cries of the boy discomforted and discomfited everyone in the bus. One, it was too loud and secondly the woman was indifferent and even said that the boy should be left to cry because he will not do anything other than crying. Sadly, the tiny fair complexioned lady had taken occupancy in the toilet making the lactating mother to standby and wait. She would not go back to comfort her weeping child because the Red Indian would displace her. So, she stood there while her baby wept. As soon as the mother finished relieving herself and started walking towards her son, the crescendo of the cry reduced. No sooner than the mother sat down, the boy jumped unto her mother’s awaiting hand and the weeping stopped almost immediately.
I developed heightened awareness of children during my second-year in the university in Psychology class among other things. Children can always react to the environment, but the quickest and easiest way is to cry since they cannot speak. I know the psychology of children. I know that kids can’t talk but can only cry just to attract attention, but alas this was beyond measure and outrageous. You can’t really do anything in a moving bus let alone changing seats. You can’t call any of the idle conductors because practically there is no solution. Or so I think. As I reflected on the above, I seemed to slide into a reverie I then remembered how my second son cried days and weeks he arrived Africa after birth from US. His cry would so unsettle the people around and the mum, that she too will join in the cry. Why was my son crying like that? He was taken to three different hospitals and after extensive detailed examination by pediatricians, nothing wrong was found and yet he kept crying. There is an African proverb that says “God created every child with the ability to cry but when a spoilt child cries, he is bound to forget to stop crying and close his or her mouth. Another African proverb that says “When the eyes of a weeping child are filled with tears it would be difficult for such child to recognize the gift that would placate him or her. But in this case, this child’s eyes weren’t filled with tears that will make him forget that the mother is coming.
Let me return to the original trajectory. A third man had unsuspectingly joined the competition. He is quite aged, frail and greyed and he was walking with measured steps, walking as if reading a survival manual before taking every step towards the toilet. He wore a threadbare and worn-out brown jacket with a bicycle seat-like cap to match. Descending the stairs into the toilet in a moving bus seemed excruciating and agonizing to him. At the end of the day he sauntered into the loo and spent eternity relieving himself. I guess he didn’t know how to use the facility and since no one is there to assist him, that explains why he spent considerable time.
Talking about conductors, about 4 of them worked in one shuttle bus, checking tickets now and then. Because they were 4, movement on the aisle became a tussle between them and the urinating crew. There was one turnboy, an Asian supervisor with fried hairs who would later hop down at every stop and speak to the policemen, weigh bridge officials and attend to passengers’ request of password of the WIFI etc. The rest were just lazing and loafing around. I was wondering what 4 turnboys would do in a single bus.
The return trip to Arusha was as usual with drama and theater. I will limit myself to just two. There was a woman and her few months’ only son sitting a row behind me. They were both yellow, energetic and lively. The boy had only two teeth and he wanted to grab everything chewable to try the two offending teeth he had. But my worry was that each time there was nothing to grab, the boy will use my head for his piano lessons. While marveling about how easily people can fall asleep quickly, especially a lactating woman, the child nonetheless continued the assault with increased effrontery. In my innocence, I thought he would embrace the mother’s footstep and sleep. But he didn’t. Sleep is free and it recharges the brain but some of us find it hard to sleep in the afternoon let alone in a moving bus. He constantly played with my cranium with verve and vim that the mother became tired of stopping him and I had no option than to position my head properly for him since after all, I reasoned that it will not last forever. His hurtful hobby unnerved me. But a wise sheep cannot bleat in lion’s den. The thud, bang and clunk of his innocent fingers and the attendant impact still stick in my head long after the trip has ended.
The second one was a mother and her daughter sitting next to me on the aisle seat. The daughter was frail but with a round protruding protuberant swollen eyeballs like that of owl. Almost immediately and as if she had been practicing that, the mother fell into a deep slumber the moment she sat down. I was wondering why this happen always. Not up to two minutes she entered the bus with her daughter, she fell asleep. So, what would have happened if the bus didn’t show up. Would she sleep on the bare floor along the road? While she slept, the daughter in a vice like grip grabbed my watch and wanted to wrench it out from my wrist. The more I tried to avoid her, the more she gained confidence and traction charging at me like strange and invasive plant species tormenting a deserted home. If I remove my hand, she will go for my reading glass. It is now a question of tough choice – which one I should part with. It is either I allow her to tear my watch apart or have her destroy my reading glass. Amidst her rage ferocity, I settled for the former. I thought that I was a cat with nine lives but now I am treading with one life. I invoked the ancestors to intervene but to no avail.
Our shuttle met a stranded bus with mechanical problem at the center of nowhere. For about 30 minutes, our driver and the conductors were busy arranging people like sardines albeit with supreme act of defiance because in their estimation, no one should be left behind. The aisle was taken, and additional seats provided. To the driver and his team, anyone that has a different view is inhuman, opprobrious and recalcitrant to his authority and all humans must think his way. I looked at them. Women, men and children all tired sweating with a majority standing on the aisle. Young passengers sat down and glued to their phone. Some who cannot browse were buried by the DVD/TV comedy being aired. I took a quick physical scan of the bus and wondered where their manners and home upbringing had gone after seeing old men and women standing in a moving while they sat down comfortably browsing their phones. What type of business adventure can’t wait for a woman whose child is barely a week old, was she bereaved or what? What about the old frail man with a brown hat, whose hands and fingers were shaking violently? Even if it is epic heist of a bank vault. It should have waited. In the days of the yore, the young will quickly yield their seats to the elderly. But this is the period of bad behaviors and youth anarchy. Maybe because they had paid for their seats, giving it up seemed unheard off. Several of the security problems we have today stem from waning and diminishing values. The marginal gains made by culture and tradition are being eroded by social media.
In my country Nigeria, a regime that came into office with huge dose of peoples’ goodwill and hope quickly turned overnight into peoples’ worst nightmare. In Tanzania, they are developing the remote areas, constructing roads, hospitals, schools and improving life with the little resource available to them. I wager to announce that the people are slow and laidback, but they are making steady progress in a progressive pace to a right direction. Our so-called leaders brazenly undermine the extant laws of the land and torpedo the system all to their own good. In tandem with few public servants, they engage in grand larceny, cornering state resources with insatiable greed bothering on kleptomania. But in Tanzania, remote towns are earmarked for developmental projects in tow with internet access with vast and superb network of roads for people to ply their business. As they say, morning usually shows the day.