October 3, 2008


I am glad to be off the bus.

I am so glad to be off the bus.

Yesterday I took a 12-hour bus ride from Mbeya to Dar es Salaam. Two hours into it, we took a pit stop, a bathroom break. Now that I think about it, this was our only stop except for lunch, and it was two-hours into the trip. But on this stop, we pulled off the road and everyone hurried off the bus and into the bush to relieve themselves. I went last and trekked down a path which the men quickly claimed as their own. I walked past everyone else, chose a spot, and reunited with the animal kingdom. I walked back to the bus and sat down in my seat. Now, since I was traveling alone, I had no one to urge me to watch my step, and once I sat down I was met with the sudden, unmistakable odor of human waste and the sneaking suspicion that I was somehow responsible for it despite the fact that I had only “gone onesies,” as the Africans say (which they don’t say.) Since I had no room to check my feet, (a backpack betwixt them, a wall in front of and beside them, another gent’s legs on the other side, and a seat filled by myself behind them) I could not confirm or deny that it was I who had returned with a… souvenir of our stop. I help hope that one of the many other feet on the bus had an unfortunate hanger-on. A few hours later, after much gagging and guessing, I got off the bus for lunch and discerned that it was, indeed, I who had borne great displeasurous* odor upon the bus. I was thusly forced to bear it the majority of the trip, as I had carried a fair amount back with me and shared it with the floor beneath my feet and, quite possibly, my backpack which rested upon it. In short, I smelled people-poop the whole way here.

But all of that aside, it wasn’t so bad a trip. I only had an awful African soap opera on the tube to deal with, and a guy next to me with whom I jockeyed for the arm-rest, and knees that inexplicably burn in agony when I rest them at acute angles for seven hours at a time.

I am so very glad to be off the bus.

And here I am, in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. It is the hot and humid time of year, and that is genuinely saying something. I am in the tropics right on the ocean. The air is thick, and I’d bottle it for you if I could. It’s hot enough that I was sweating through my shirt over breakfast, at 8:00 am. (And to think, A week from now I’ll be in a place in the same country where it reaches below zero.) Dar is a fantastic city. There are lots of big buildings and you can sleep in air conditioning and buy ice cream and A&W Root Beer (2,450 shillings each – I bought two for about $4.50 today).

(Hold on, I just remembered the word “Gondwanaland” for no explicable reason. If you know what Gondwanaland is, please tell me.)

We went to Slipway, a bayside resort where lots of white people hang out. And having been away from all but ten of them for so long, I find them fascinating. I want to stare and shout “Wazungu!” Slipway is a resort-ish, touristy shopping and eating place. The shame in this, I thought today, is that many people I guess (and probably guess unfairly) that many people come here and stay in a nice hotel and visit a game park and see some wild animals and buy some carbon-copy souvenir ebony carvings, and then get on a plane and go back home. And they will say that they have seen Africa, without ever sharing a meal of ugali under a kerosene lamp, or frightening a baby who has never seen a white person before, or catching a cold from a village kid, or changing a tire in the bush. I am just arrogant enough to claim merit badges for each of those, and three for the last one. And I wouldn’t mention sleeping by hyenas, listening to a church choir, or staring at the Milky Way from below. But I guess you can say this about anyone who travels anywhere. “Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt,” right? You probably haven’t really seen a place until you’ve been culture-shocked by it, and even then you don’t really know it. I don’t know Africa. All I know is Michigan. And I miss Michigan.

But now, I am no different. I am a tourist. Dar is only a stopping point for me, on the way to Kilimanjaro. Tomorrow morning, we’re getting on a bus to go and do something so stupid as to climb a mountain, something impossibly high that people stay off of and build roads around, the top of which no animals can live on. We’re going to haul ourselves to a dangerous altitude to say we’re no smaller than a mountain, to set before our eyes a fleeting but spectacular sunrise. We’re going to see this place. The truth is, I am super excited (ugh, I just used “Super Excited.” Guess I better go watch The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants or something) to do this stupid, stupid thing. But more on that once I’ve actually seen the mountain.

One love,