Days 1,422-3: This Is Africa
Thu 22 – Fri 23 Nov 12:
I didn’t want to use this as a title, said while pointing to at the red earth, imitating Leonardo DiCaprio ’s Rhodesian mercenary Danny Archer, but bear with me on this one. We were supposed to arrive over the border into Tanzania at dawn, but as we ran out of petrol last night and the engine overheated (hey Africa! Try turning it your engines off when you’re not going anywhere OR REFUELLING!!), I didn’t get stamped in until just after midday. Incidentally, Tanzania is a portmanteau word which combines ‘Tanganyika’ and ‘Zanzibar’ into one. This is novel but not unique in the world. The letters PAKSTAN of ‘Pakistan’ stand for Punjab, Afghan Province, Kashmir, Sind, and Baluchistan and the first six letters of The United Nations stands for Useless, Nefarious, Idiotic, Tyranny-Endorsing Dickwits. (One can only presume.)
At the frontier I swapped my Zambian Kwacha for Tanzanian Shillings, bought a SIM card and took a minibus over to the transport hub that is Mbeya. From there it was crammed into another minibus for what should have been a 12 hour journey to Dar es Salaam, the largest city (but not the capital, fact fans, that’s called Dodoma, same as the beardy general what tells Luke how to blow up the Death Star). The words ‘we were supposed to reach…’ have come up a lot over the past four years, haven’t they? Today would be no exception.
We were actually making good time for the first couple of hours, but then we had an incident at the rest stop. A girl had her handbag stolen from the bus. One of the passengers saw it happen, gave a description to the people who ran the rest stop eatery and they knew exactly who it was. A group of passenger stormed over to the luckless teenager’s home, caught him red-handed rifling through the bag, and proceeded to dole out what can only be described as African justice: they beat the crap out of him. Thankfully I wasn’t there to see this, I was waiting on the bus, not really knowing what on Earth was going on until it was explained to me later. We then took the offending party to the local police station and the passengers filed a statement. This whole episode cost us two hours.
But there was more.
Africans, and Tanzanians in particular, don’t like to do things by halves. If they have 50km of road to repair, they don’t do it in short sections, they dig up ALL 50KM OF ROAD at once. And then operate the biggest contra-flow system this side of Alpha-Centauri. And so we waited. Then drove for a bit along a dirt track at the end of the road. Then we waited some more. And drove a little bit more. This went on for a loooong time. And then, just as we were getting to the end of this madness, we were the first on the scene to an accident. A truck had plowed into the back of another truck. Our passengers, possibly feeling ultra-public spirited after the episode with the bag thief, took the injured driver from his cab and placed him, broken and bleeding, on the floor of our bus. His face had been lacerated by broken glass and his left leg had been snapped in two at the ankle. I hate it in situations like this where you feel completely useless. I wished I still had that kick-ass painkiller that the doctor who I was drinking with in Lesotho in October 2009 gave me. The minibus drove the poor kid to the hospital where he was stretchered off. By now it was 4am. I knew that the buses for Kampala (my last stop on this mad dash before I hit South Sudan) left between 6 and 7am. There wasn’t any time to lose!
But that’s when we got stopped by the police. Because of the terrifying high incidents of accidents on Tanzanian roads, buses aren’t allowed to drive overnight. They have the same rule in Mozambique and Ethiopia and to be honest, it’s fair enough. Travelling through Africa on public buses is a hair-raising experience at the best of times, and I was thankful that every bus I’d been on had safety belts. I was the only passenger to use them, but then I’m probably the only passenger who doesn’t believe in an all-powerful ever-loving God. But still, it threw a spanner in the works. There’s no way I’d hit Juba by Sunday as I had originally intended.
We arrived in Dar es Salaam at 10am, ten hours later than promised. As it turned out, it was possibly a blessing in disguise as Casey and I had work to do: the press release for my final frontier. As many of my long-term subscribers have often noted, I don’t get anywhere near the recognition for doing this that I’d have hoped for. I get, on average, 300 visitors a day to this site and the [mmmmm] STILL haven’t given me the go-ahead to put my post-Jan 2010 tapes on YouTube. This has been a source of constant irritation for me – it’s not because I want or need the money, it’s more to do with the fact I haven’t raised anywhere near the amount I would have liked to for WaterAid.
So I spent the day in Subway abusing their free wi-fi as Case and I threw the press release back and forth, getting it *just right* (you’ll be glad to hear she’s just as anal as me about fonts etc.) and put together a spreadsheet of all the media contacts I’ve made over the last four years, from Antigua to Fiji and everywhere in between. In the evening, I trudged over to the nearest thing to a backpackers in town, the Juba Inn. As I was going to finish my journey in Juba, it seemed frightfully appropriate.
Happily, they had free wi-fi as well. And so I tidied up the website ready for the big day and cut together a series of visual clips to put on YouTube for the meedja to use as necessary. By 5am I realised I should have possibly got some sleep. The taxi was outside ready to take me to the bus station.
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