Archives for posts with tag: roads in Meru

“Wow, did you see that?” Julie is looking at a blue farm truck piled high against the slat sides with corn stalks. The pile extends about ten feet above the slats.
“How do they get them up that high?” We ask our driver, Stephen.
“Oh, the dried stalks, they don’t weigh much,” he says.
Our group of fifteen people from Wisconsin has been in the Diocese of Meru, Tanzania on a mission trip for over a week. We are doing some useful things in health care, in education, with mothers and infants but those short term efforts are incidental to the people we meet and what we are learning in a place so different in sights, sounds and way of life. The Diocese of Meru consists of parishes which extend from the Masai tribes near the Kenyan border to the Meserani Tanzanite mines in the southern plateau of land near Mt Kilimanjaro.
We are being taken to visit a vocational school run by the Diocese. At the time we see the farm truck we are on the paved main road between Arusha, departure city for the famous wildlife parks of Tanzania and Moshi jumping off place for climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. After twenty minutes on this road passing through bustling villages filled with market stalls, people carrying produce, “piki-pikis”, the motor bikes that dart through the traffic, we turn onto a well-traveled dirt road. The ruts on this road are deep but Stephen promises us soft bumps. We are now in the more arid part of the Diocese so each time a vehicle passes us we roll up the windows to avoid eating their dust.
Off the paved tarmac road the buildings are a bit further apart but still clustered in small villages. Huts to live in and secure animals line the road but most of life in Tanzania is lived outside. We pass dry weather crops in the fields, beans, corn, and something we are told are pigeon peas. They fetch a good price in India. Children walking to school in their colorful uniforms, white shirts, green, blue or red sweaters and skirts and pants wave excitedly to see a land cruiser filled with ‘wazungu”, white people. Women walking to the nearest water spigot or stream with buckets balanced on their heads, pull their brightly patterned katanga’s across their faces to minimize the dust. We slow for a herd of goats crossing the road.
Driving is on the left in Tanzania but on the secondary roads driving is on any side of the road that has the smaller ruts. Colonized by the Germans in the late 19th century, Tanzania was a British protectorate from 1918 until 1961. Everything from the side of the road they drive on to their educational system shows evidence of the lasting effects of the British Empire.
Stephen maneuvers from left to right, the bumps are soft, as we bounce in what he calls the African dance. Mt. Kilimanjaro peeks through the clouds to our right. After another twenty minutes we pull up to the gates of the Leguruki KIngori Technical Education Center. The gates look freshly whitewashed.and stenciled in black with the name and logo of the school. The logo indicates that Diocese of Meru, ELCT sponsors this school.

.
The guard opens the gate and ten of us pile out of two vehicles.
“Karibuni, karibuni, you are most warmly welcome,” the slender, middle aged headmaster greets each of us with a handshake. There is a ritual to these visits from Americans. First the greetings, then introductions in the headmaster’s office; each person must sign the official visitors book and tell his or her name, where she is from and whether it is a first time visit to the Diocese and Tanzania. Three secondary school teachers crowd into the small office to be introduced. We learn that this school is different from the other schools that we have visited in that it includes a secondary school and a technical –vocational school. When the students finish Form 4, they can either go to another school for college prep in Form 5 and 6 or join the technical school. Others who fail to qualify for A levels on Form 4 exams can stay at the school and learn a trade. Our co-host is the instructor for building skills, masonry and carpentry. There is an electricity shop, a mechanical skills shop and related support courses.
Next we cross the hall for “chai”. In the manner of the British, this is a morning tea. The tables are covered with white tablecloths and battered ceramic plates and dishes. There are fresh bouquets of Bougainvillea on each table. We are served savory samosas, small sweet bananas and roasted peanuts along with bottled water and tea mixed with boiled milk. Despite the fact that we are now 2 hours behind schedule there is no rushing this social time of hospitality.
The tour follows, we go to bare classrooms where students are being taught in rote English, history, geography, and English literature. Lacking any teaching resources including textbooks, they write whatever the instructor puts on the blackboard, which is an actual blackboard. Next the technical shops. The technical vocational teachers in the group, laugh at the similarity of young men clustered around a car engine, while another sands the inside of a tire. Boys and their toys.
The tour is complete and we climb in the land cruisers for our next stop an hour or so away.
What did we see? I saw lack of resources, ancient equipment, poorly furnished classrooms, anxious looking teachers and administrators, tremendous needs. I also saw dedicated people using the few resources that they have, natural beauty, unfailing hospitality and hope in the faces of the students and the young teachers and students. Did you see that fellow travelers? How do they do that?

From the front Passenger Seat

In the villages of Northern Tanzania, there is a certain Victorian courtliness that is very gradually changing regarding women and their place in the order of things.  I have tried to be respectful of that even as I chafe a little over it.  This order to protocol means that I am served with the men even as other women who have labored over wood fires to prepare meals serve us but do not sit with us for meals.  Another way this gets lived out is that when we are being driven somewhere and I am the only woman in a group,  I get the front seat!!  Since the roads were established for vehicles by the British, driving is more or less on the left hand side of the road and the front passenger seat is on the left side.

Riding in the front passenger seat is an adventure, not for the faint-hearted or anyone who suffers from the slightest motion sickness.  The day a bus was passing a bus and heading straight towards our Land Rover, seeming to accelerate, was the day I broke my habit of shrieking and or gasping when I feel in imminent danger.   I am mesmerized as this game of chicken is played out among 3 big vehicles, two buses and a Land Rover.  In addition, the motor-bikes with the colorful name of piki-piki, weave in and out and around both sides.  Ultimately, Amon our driver brakes, swerves and grunts,  the east-bound bus slows and the passing bus accelerates.  Over our frequent trips on the only tarmac road, I learn this happens at least two or three times each trip to the nearest city and it is why we have a driver.

The Moshi-Arusha road links with the paved road which connects major cities in Tanzania.  These roads are part of the infra-structure deficits that Tanzania struggles with.  The road was paved in the 1950’s and the number of vehicles has escalated dramatically in recent years.  Cars, buses, 4-wheel drive vehicles of all sizes, tractor trailer trucks(lorries-as they are known here), piki-piki and mini-vans which serve as the local transport all crowd the narrow two lane paved road.  The railroads are non-functional and air transport is extremely limited so commerce is severely restricted by this inadequate network of getting goods to market.  I have admired the avocados we are served regularly.  It is a treat for this Mid-westerner to eat avocado straight from the tree.  It is a fruit that grows well in the region.  When  I ask if they are exported to Europe or Northern European markets,  I am told that it is too expensive, difficult, and time-consuming to get the crop to the nearest port.  Once there,  refrigerated container ships are also in short  supply.  So, the short answer is, no not yet,  are they able to sell their abundant produce to more lucrative markets.  The same is true for the mangos, papaya and passion fruit that flourish here.  It is a great irony when we are served expensive boxed fruit juice packaged in South Africa while we sit in the shade of the mango tree.

Another view from the front seat is when we are not on the tarmac road, none the less harrowing, but a whole new set of hazards.  Vehicles are less common except for the local van/taxis,  dala-dalas, and the motor-bike piki-pikis.  Also, on the unpaved side roads are hand pushed wooden carts,  goats, cattle,  women carrying forage and water,  donkeys bearing water cans, children in uniforms going to and from schools.  From the front seat you can also see all the ruts, rock and hazards as the driver winds his way around obstacles, constantly changing direction based on the depth of the ruts or holes or size of rocks.   A major hazard on the dirt roads that form the majority of roads in the country are the village markets  as people carrying produce, charcoal, firewood, chickens, used clothing on their backs, their heads or on overloaded bicycles must also be negotiated.  Add to this lively mixture the incline of the mountain or the dried up stream beds of the south,  mix in clouds of dust and temperatures in the mid-90’s and you’ve got the picture!!  In our vehicle there is a handle on the dashboard for staying in your seat as you bounce along.  Sometimes the dust is so thick that the driver must slow down to see at all.  The driver is very skillful as he calculates the best route around all the hazards.

Most roads started out as either footpaths between farms or animal paths as they were driven to market.  Over time, as the communities have grown there have been attempts to widen and grade the roads  but the shape of the mountains, the path of the mountain streams and the long standing shambas make for a narrow meandering journey.  When your destination is announced it is always  stated in the amount of time it takes to make the trip, never the distance.  A journey of only 20 kilometers can take well over an hour if it is up the mountain or in a remote place on the plains.

Today’s journey is to a parish in the far eastern district of the Diocese.  It is drought stricken, de-foliated,  and very poor.  An off-shoot of the Maasai tribe has become agricultural, tending it’s animals while trying to eke out a living from the land.  The drive begins on the tarmac road which early on a Sunday morning is relatively hazard free.  We are driving East and Mt. Kilimanjaro is clearly visible from the front seat.  After 15 km or so,  we turn left and head up the mountain on the unpaved road.  I have been here a while since I don’t think too much about it as we bounce along,  weaving from one side of
the road to the other to find the best ruts to follow.  Five or six km up the mountain we turn east again onto a cow path strewn with rocks.  This actually is not too bad since there is little traffic, except for the occasional piki-piki or wooden push-cart.  As we approach the church,  we find more people walking along the path.  If there had been any doubt about our presence it vanishes when Amon downshifts and we climb the hill to the church yard.  There is a great deal of maneuvering of people and vehicle to park in the shade.  Aside from the Land Rover the only other vehicles are a piki-piki and one pick-up truck.  98% of the parishoners walk to church.

After church, it’s back to the front seat for me.  The ride is down- hill now but there are a few added stops so it is not a reverse journey.    Amon,  leaves the track and suddenly, I am thrown forward as we dip into a deep shale sided ravine.  I hang on and shortly we are climbing the other side of the ravine.  Once we level out and I loosen my grip on the handle,  we are still bouncing through rocks and brush.  Our translator and escort observes from the back seat, “ I think Amon just took a short cut.”  Back on the wider, unpaved road,  we pass a bus going the other direction.  The dust blinds us for a minute but Amon is near home, he does not even slow down.  Further down the road a car is coming straight towards us with no attempt to move to the side.  Amon slows to a crawl,  he knows this car is driven by an alcoholic.  Eventually,  we arrive at our next stop.

Some time later we make one more stop on the unpaved road.  By this time my hair is thick with dust,  and I am on the sun side of the vehicle.  The alternative to dust is to roll up the window and there is no air conditioning.  So,  after some more swerves and bumps,  we return to the tarmac road.  Now,  there is much more traffic.

Amon pulls out to overtake a slow moving car and decides to take on the truck that is ahead of that.  Over the rise comes an oncoming dala-dala,  the local van/bus,  overloaded with people, the roof piled high with baskets,  bed-rolls,  bananas and bags of maize.  Who will give way?  Despite having some experience with this,  my stomach knots,  my grip tightens.  The dala-dala slows,  Amon speeds up and we pull into the left lane where we belong.

When we return to Usa River the unpaved road in this growing community is as bad as any we have been on.  A large truck is stopped on one side of the road.  A crowd of men are on the opposite side  pushing a car out of the ditch as we thread our way through to lurch up the road to the guest house.

Riding in the front seat is symbolic of life here in Tanzania.  It is thrilling, exhausting,  beautiful, dangerous,  physically hard,  sometimes fast, more often slow, bumpy, and sometimes difficult.  But with the help of others we reach our goal safely and together.  I pray that it might be so for these people who have become friends.