A few days ago we had an experience that I’m sure will seem funny in hindsight but which was actually quite scary at the time. We were driving back from Iringa on a half-finished road that spanned a flood plain. It had been raining for the last week and the unsealed parts were boggy and covered with what could be puddles or could be massive holes. We slid into one of the latter. At one point I thought we were going to tip over completely, but we were definitely stuck in the mud. We are fine, the car less so, but with the help of many others we managed to get it out and it limped the 100k home.
Here’s what I learned:
- The decision to wear a knee-length skirt for the journey instead of an ankle length one was a good one. Climbing out the driver’s seat window in a long skirt would have been much more difficult!
- The Swahili words for mud (there was lots) and tarmac (sadly missing.)
- When your car takes on water, in Swahili it literally ‘drinks‘ it.
- The police were obligated to stop and help us and could not leave until we were safely on the road. The police who helped us were transporting a coffin to a funeral and so were eager to have the issue resolved quickly.
- The correct Tanzanian response to someone in this kind of trouble is to stop and offer assistance. Behaviour told us this – every car that went past us stopped and if they didn’t have towing equipment at least gave advice or talked to others – but it was said explicitly as well. There were some village people we’d asked for a jembe (all-purpose Tanzanian farm equipment, like a hoe) to try to dig a trench to drain some of the water but they said they didn’t have one. Someone else who stopped told them off because he said that was not the Tanzanian way, and made them go fetch one. When the police came along later, they told them off for a second time, saying, ‘Watanzania tunasaidiana’, ‘We Tanzanians help others.’
- Arthur and I are good in a crisis. There was no panic, blame, anger or arguing. We both calmly did what needed to be done, working as a team.
- You need to manage the adrenalin. Digging the trench was good for Arthur because it was physical. We were exhausted when we arrived home, but then both woke up wired for a couple of hours in the early morning. I had a very vigorous aerobics session the next morning.
- This was not just a stupid wazungu thing. There were several people stuck further down the road as well and when we got back to Dodoma I swapped stories with our Post Office lady who had a similar experience with her car.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.