First Bus Trip
This begins a series of reflections on our time in Tanzania. Some of these posts will be stories of what happened (like this one); others will be missiological or cultural reflections; some will be us processing the future possibilities in Tanzania.
Our bus trip from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma should have taken 6-7 hours. Instead, it took 12! Here’s how it happened.
We were booked on the 6:15 Mohammed bus out of Dar es Salaam so we left our hostel at 5:30. When we got stuck in horrendous traffic, our driver called the bus station to tell them to wait for us but by the time we got there at 6:40, they’d gone (fair enough!). Our driver then handed us over to a couple of porters to find another bus.
The bus station is huge and incredibly chaotic. So we held on tight to our bags and went running after the porters as they went from bus to bus and then back again asking if anyone had a seat for us. We stopped at one bus and I thought our porter was having an argument because it got pretty heated but then suddenly, he told us to get on board!
We bought some bread from a lady from out of the window and left at 7:30. Every seat on the bus was full and there wasn’t much room to move. The people didn’t look poor but they weren’t rich either. We were the only white people.
A few exciting things happened, like when one of side windows fell off the bus, but we simply pulled over at the next village and it was taped up. Then we kept going. It was pretty bumpy and there were a few bonding moments when the bus lurched through a ditch so violently I thought we were going to go over, but we all just laughed together.
We made friends with a couple of students from Dar es Salaam travelling back to their home towns and another older woman. They were super interested in life in Australia. Here are the highlights of the conversation:
- Them asking Arthur how many wives he had!
- Their shock when they found out we didn’t have children after being married for 4 years. When they asked us how many we wanted, the options were 6, 7, 8 or 9!
- Them asking us about how the Australian government gets money. They were interested because one of them was studying economics. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much beyond mining and taxes!
- Us trying to explain the notion of retirement villages – putting all your old people together in a village sounds pretty bad to a culture where extended families live together!
- Us trying to explain the Baby Bonus – their country is overpopulated, meanwhile Australians are paid to have babies?!
- When they asked us what Australia does about child poverty / labour. They were incredulous that children don’t have to work but stay in school.
- Them saying that they shouldn’t go to Australia because ‘Original’ people in Australia get shot and they might get shot by accident because they’re black. We quickly clarified that it’s been a long time since Aboriginal people have been killed for being Aboriginal but there is much work still to be done.
Talking with them highlighted some of the deep sins in Australian culture – selfishness being the obvious one when it came to family and kids. Yet God is working in Australia – I’m so thankful for its welfare system, free education and free healthcare.
About 5 hours into our trip, we overtook two trucks. Allegedly, this caused an accident. We didn’t see it because we were chatting but lots of others on the bus witnessed it. At the next town that had a police station, we pulled in and half the bus got off to give evidence. It was 2 hours before it was decided to arrest the driver. So there we were, in the middle of nowhere, with a bus full of people and no driver! One was called from Dodoma and a few hours later, he arrived and we continued.
We’d been told we could stop along the way for food and drink but because of the accident, I think this was canned. As a result, we ran out of water pretty quickly. Arthur eventually made friends with another guy who showed him where he could buy water (you can’t drink the tap water). By that time, though, I was pretty de-hydrated and my body wasn’t really coping. Combined with the lurching of the bus for a person who gets motion-sick easily, it was pretty much fait accompli! Lucky we were in the very back of the bus and I was next to a window – I just stuck my head out the window and threw up as the bus continued! The lady next to us was very concerned but Arthur assured her that this is a semi-regular occurrence and that I would feel much better afterwards!
We got into Dodoma at about 7:30 where we were picked up by Elspeth Carr. Though tired, we were buzzing with the excitement of our day. I couldn’t believe how much Arthur talked when we got back to St John’s! He was so energised by all the new experiences and the invigorated by our cross-cultural conversation.
Here’s the crazy thing: you can go with the more reliable, luxury line, Shabiby for the same price. We came back with them and though we were still the only white people, the Tanzanians travelling with us were much wealthier and more ‘Western’. It was a good experience, travelling with Shabiby because I think it prevents us from stereotyping Africa on the basis of our first bus trip. The second went off without a hitch and included free drinks! That’s a part of Tanzania too. But I’m glad we had the first trip on the Mohammed line. We’d heard plenty about ‘African time’ so it was good to see it in action.