Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why people fly

After an hour-long trek with 100 pounds of luggage through the seemingly endless maze of streets in Stone Town at 5:30 Saturday morning, I was looking forward to taking a 2 hour nap on the ferry and waking up in Dar Es-Salaam. I tucked my messenger bag under the seat in front of me, fluffed up my travel pillow, settled into my big blue vinyl-upholstered seat on the ferry’s lower cabin and waited to be lulled to sleep by the rocking boat as the ferry pulled out of Zanzibar Harbor.

A man in an Azam Marine Company uniform was walking up and down the aisles of the ferry, handing out little black plastic bags. I thought it humorous that the Azam Marine Company bothered to have their own bags printed up with its logo and “SICK BAG,” and informed him that I didn’t need one. I’d been just fine on the ferry TO Zanzibar, but he insisted I take one.

Ten minutes later, the puking started. As we picked up speed, the rough seas threw our little ferry violently from side to side and my fellow passengers unfolded their sick bags. I understood why the Azam Marine Company guy had insisted that I take one. This trip was NOTHING like the ferry TO Zanzibar; it was like the most nauseating of amusement park rides, complete with the stifling heat and eau de vomit. Of the 20 people sitting in my little section, 4 of them got sick in the first hour. (I had donated my sick bag to the woman in front of me, so getting seasick wasn’t an option for me.) The “puke collectors” (the guys who exchanged used sick bags for new ones) certainly had their work cut out for them.

After I’d become inured to the constant echo of vomiting and the foul odor of the cabin, it was almost humorous. And then we hit a really big wave. Grown men on the left side of the cabin were thrown out of their seats, seasick women lying on the floor rolled violently towards the front deck, and the hysterical screaming began. Though most of the screaming was done in Kiswahili or Arabic (they pray in Arabic), I understood enough to know that everyone was begging Allah to deliver us safely to the mainland. And the hysteria was contagious. One teenage girl’s frantic screaming for her mother inspired twenty 30-something women to throw themselves into the aisles in fits of wailing reminiscent of a pouty 3-year-old. It was dramatic.

I exchanged a very awkward, confused look with the Canadian girl sitting next to me, but the Azam Marine Company man assured us that this was normal. Normal? Really? These people live on an island. Shouldn’t they be used to boats and seasickness and whatnot? (Kudos to the people who work for Azam Marine Company, though. That has to be the worst job ever.)

We docked in Dar around 9:30 and, after all the previously hysterical women pinned their headscarves back in place and regained their composure, disembarked no worse for the wear. I grabbed my bags and set out to find a cheap taxi to the bus rank, eager to get on a bus to Iringa. But first: Subway. I’d been dreaming of Subway sandwiches since learning about it a week earlier, so my taxi waited while I ordered a foot long chicken breast sandwich with spicy Southwest sauce. Then we braved the mid-morning traffic through Dar to the Ubungo bus station.

As we pulled into the bus station we passed the 11:00am bus to Iringa. Leaving. No worries, though…I only had to wait 3 hours for the next one. (The Subway was TOTALLY worth it.) The taxi driver dropped me off outside the office of Abood Bus and dragged all my luggage inside to buy my ticket. Sensing my frustration (really I was just impatient to get on the bus so I could eat my sandwich), the guy behind the Iringa counter let me jump the line and gave me my choice of seats on the 1:00 bus. I paid him the 25,000/= ($16) he asked for, got my ticket and receipt in return, and made my way to the bus.

Sitting on the bus, though, I started to get a little worried that I’d been ripped off or tricked in some way. I’d tried to do everything right: I’d vociferously kept my bags with me at all times so I didn’t have to pay a porter and didn’t have anything stolen, I’d insisted on going to Abood’s office to buy my ticket and asked several employees for the price of the ticket before buying it, checked that the bus was in working order before agreeing to anything, made sure he gave me a receipt for the right amount, and made sure he wrote my name in on the seating chart for the bus. I’d even gotten the name, business card and phone number of the man (Imo) who sold me the ticket in case I needed anything later.

And then, looking at my receipt, I noticed that it was written for 26 September instead of 25 September. I asked the man behind me how much he’d paid for his ticket: 12,000/= less than me. Something wasn’t right.

I called Imo back and asked if he’d meet me at the bus to take me to lunch (I knew he wouldn’t come back if I told him I realized I’d been ripped off), and then confronted him about being a weasel. I threatened to tell his boss if he didn’t give me my money back, and (because he’d been so insistent on telling me he was a Born Again Christian) informed him that Jesus already knew he was a liar. He nervously changed my ticket to the proper day (which I checked and double-checked with the driver of the bus) and refunded me 6,000/= of the money he’d stolen from me. He said he’d spent the rest already on a Coke and a pack of cigarettes, which I believe, but an hour later he brought me a coke and a newspaper, so I think he felt guilty. I still paid 6,000/= more than everyone else on the bus, but, all things considered, $4 extra isn’t too bad for a Mzungu (white person) price.

The 1:00 bus pulled out of the station at 1:30 (of course the 11:00 bus couldn’t have been 30 minutes late leaving…) and began the 500 kilometer, 10 hour trip to Iringa. The first few hours of the trip was uneventful: mostly paved roads, lots of little towns full of goats and bicycles, a couple potty breaks along the way. We drove through Mikumi National Park, past families of giraffes, zebras, elephants and lots of DLCs (deer-like creatures), and survived the winding dirt roads through the Udzungwa Mountains, arriving in Iringa at 10:30 Saturday night.

So today is my first full day in Iringa, and mostly I’m just confused and disoriented and overwhelmed by the lack of English-speakers. So far I’ve found a cheap but safe hotel in a township outside Iringa (where I’ll stay until I can find a flat or a room to rent) and wandered around a bit looking for an internet cafĂ© and being harassed by men who are quit insistent that they love me. (In Kiswahili…I just pretend not to understand.) I’m REALLY glad I took 3 weeks of Kiswahili class in Zanzibar before I came here because NOBODY speaks English. Not even a little. I suppose that’s a good thing, though, since I’m here to learn Kiswahili anyway.

Tomorrow I start classes again, and hopefully I’ll figure out where things are and how to get there and whatnot in the couple of days. The tourist information place is open tomorrow, which should be helpful. And maybe my teacher can help me find a place to volunteer or something. Until then I’ll just hide in my room and watch BBC Planet Earth and do Kiswahili homework. What a life.


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