A Simple Shopping Trip

“Shikamoo!” You are supposed to answer “Marahaba”.

Little children say that to older people to show respect for their aged state. As life expectancy is 56 in Tanzania we get a lot of respect! Only a few babies cry at the sight of us now. I always think, as the little tots back away from us after staring in shock at these pale old ghosts that a comparison at home might be if a child saw a “green being” of about 108! Anne and I are “wazees”. We are supposed to be operating on pure wisdom from here on in!

Monday we drove to Iringa. We didn’t go on Friday because it was the festival of sacrifice that comes after Ramadan, Eid al Adha. There would be no shops open. It is a holiday dependent on moon sighting.

So… a simple three hour trip to Iringa town to purchase supplies? Not so! All the NGO cars had died except ours. Geoff and Jenny’s had to be hoisted onto a lorry that had come to deliver a load of kiln dried bricks. It was not allowed to leave. The bumpers from Geoff’s vehicle were removed and it was lifted into the truck by many human hands. Then Geoff, the driver, Jenny his wife, and Itileo who would driving Anne and me home, all packed into our car together. We filled the tank in Mafinga. There was only 10 litres of petrol left at the farm. We were nervous because our car had no insurance, the date had passed. Police here are fierce and they check for a myriad of stickers on the windshield. If you don’t have the chosen ones a big bribe is expected. A local café in Mafinga filled “our” tanks with fried eggs rolled in chapattis and our comprehensive insurance was purchased.

We were off. It is life and life’s business all along the road. Many people were toiling on road construction work by hand. Long metal bars were used like picks to penetrate the shoulder. People sat legs outstretched on the road shoulder pounding rocks. Rocks were being battered by hand for a base to the tarmac. We were rolling along using one lane. Orderly halts came as the passing bar was lowered to let one way traffic through. Then when the arm was raised for all clear the orderly spacing disintegrated. It was like a mad vehicle funnel of lorries, dala dalas(rickety human packed mini buses), piki-piki’s($1,000 Chinese motorcycles), buses, and posh safari vehicles, all pouring into one lane. Bicycles struggle along on the shoulder often with at least three passengers and dodging pedestrians.

Once in Iringa, everyone poured out of the car clutching our “to do lists”. The African Book Box personnel, set off to purchase $12,000. worth of books for four schools. The store was tiny, crammed with books and aisles quite nonexistent. Stepladders had to be crawled through, around and sat on while trying to search through the stacked piles for the correct syllabus books desperately desired by teachers in the various schools. Chikacheya toys for the kindergarten spotted near the ceiling for the class of 110 and were a source of delight. The shear nearness of bodies, dust and difficulty negotiating store travel led to an overpowering desire to burst through other incoming customers and inhale fresh air. We did plunge back in again to complete. The smiling proprietor promised to pack our huge order. Then off to purchase the metal book boxes, a few items for Upendo’s sparse kitchen, and finally to the huge outdoor market for fresh fruit and vegetables. Here industry thrives! There are rows and rows, mountains and mountains of rice, peanuts, maize, papaya, avocado, bananas, cabbages, potatoes, peppers, mangoes, cashews et al with smiling black faced vendors all touting their particular strengths. Bargaining is de rigour and “Madame Madame” as Anne comes into her own offering a few less shillings than the ridiculous “wazungu” price.

We had hoped to fill the repaired volunteer house fridge with purchased books and somehow cram it into our car as we are sorely missing a fridge. Such softies eh? “Not possible Mam”. We were only able to manage about half the book order and the fresh food. Then a surprise, Abdullah was returning with us. Abdullah keeps Fox farm running. He is a mechanic, carpenter and an Abdullah of all trades. Abdullah lead the farm employees in getting tested for HIV/Aids and is on ARV’s himself. However, Atileo was not pleased about waiting for Abdullah……where was he? Dark comes fast in Africa and the road hazards loomed.

Jovially, without explanation Abdullah joined me in the back seat after a prolonged good-bye to a lady friend and we set off. Atileo was silently at the wheel. On the way out down the escarpment we noticed huge unruly lineups/crowd-ups for petrol. A foreshadowing of unexplained shortage of diesel and petrol now throughout the country. Abdullah began a most unusual flow of conversation, waxing philosophical in both English and Swahili. Slowly Anne and I realized it was a slightly “pombe”(local brew) infused wisdom. He was also juggling and conversing on two cell phones-maximum decibel with the usual abrupt loss of contact causing continual muttered frustration. Meanwhile it was Africa black outside and we were back negotiating the road construction. Anne firmly notified Atileo at the wheel that it was illegal to text while driving in Canada! No one was manning the flow of traffic now and huge trucks approached with lights blazing occupying the one lane of tarmac. We would squeeze by, two wheels on the shoulder. Inches separated us from the oncoming traffic at times. I peered out the window, stomach muscles clenched from behind Atileo’s head searching the road to prepare for the next moment of terror. Vehicles ahead with no tail lights, some approaching crammed with passengers and only one headlight or the “African tower of Pisa lean” barreling towards us. I took heart knowing everyone one at home would be fine! Abdullah’s phones were both ringing. He was snoring gently, head back, brown cap on and his mouth wide open. As we passed through the final road funnel onto two way pavement at last, Abdullah slid gently against me. The cell phone in his lap called softly in Swahili and then in the most seductive British accent “Dahling, you have a message. DAHLING you have a message” !

“Home” again to find the generator has broken. It needs Abdullah! Thus no water and no electricity and of course no refrigerator. Yusto remarked “Just get going Mam. It is what the people in the village do.”

Hamna shida-no problem!

Love, Ruth