Beautiful Tanganyika

I wish to apologise for being ‘away without official leave’, meaning not being active on this blog for a quite a while. I hope and pray that everyone can forgive me.
For me, though, I have been through the most beautiful experience. That sounds selfish, but I better own up. I have been visiting with one of our churches in the village. I would come and go, but this was the main reason for my being awol because I simply did not have the time to stop and write. Moreover, internet in the hinterland is sketchy, so I had to leave my computer at home.
One of the real blessings that I count from God is bringing me to the Tanzanian hinterland. Apart from my early childhood, I have lived in cities and towns throughout my life. But for the last four years or so, I have been living in the ‘middle of nowhere’ in central Tanzania – and what an experience it has been! Sure, I live in a town, Singida, but it is a small rural town and, moreover, I have the opportunity of constantly going out into the vast, unlimited savannah bush regions of central Tanzania. This savannah land is what gave the name Tanganyika to the mainland. ‘Nyika’ means open plains. The name Tanzania came out of the union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar.
Being in the Tanzanian hinterland is one of the biggest blessings in my life because I love adventure – and there is certainly no adventure in towns or cities, unless you are a gangster or the Mafia. But in the big, unspoilt regions of central Tanzania you can have as much adventure as you want, spiced with a whiff of danger. Just the other day, as we were walking in one trail in the bush, we found the biggest, blackest snake lying in the road. But it was dead; someone had just killed it. I couldn’t help wondering how things could have turned out if it was I who had encountered it.
We also went to visit a man who some nights ago had had an unfortunate encounter with a wild pig. He and his companions had been out hunting and it was he who was holding the flashlight. When they heard movement, he flashed the light in the direction of the noise. The pig, a big boar, thinking the light were the eyes of a lion, charged, kamikaze-style. Before anyone could make a move, the man had three of his leg bones broken.
Those are the kind of adventures that you find in the bush. But there is more. There is the exquisitely different and refreshing cuisine, including delicacies that you only hear of in the town: things like pure honey; and milk, both fresh and curdled. And then there is the night sky… oh, I’d forgotten about that. Yes, the night sky. I once wrote a friend that if I had the gift of time, I would spend it all watching the starry night. And there is no better place to watch the stars than in the Tanzanian hinterland, far from the city lights. While in the village, I asked my host for a reclining chair and I would wake up every night at 1 or 2 a.m. and finish off the rest of the night watching the incredible brilliance of the clear, starry night. I ended up seeing more amazing things and phenomena with my naked eye than you could read of in a book. And all the while feeling the presence of God in me and about me, leading me to worship Him fervently under my breathe.
But, really, nothing I could write here could truly bring out the beauty and pleasant flavor of Tanganyika. If you, the reader wish to take this post as a promotional for my country and my province, it would be my pleasure to concur with you. And to say, “Karibu!”
As for my fellow Tanzanians who love the comfort of the madding towns and cities, all I can say is, you don’t know what you are missing. And this splendour is right under your noses.

The mighty baobab

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No vehicle has ever set foot on this road

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A panoramic view of the home I was staying in

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Eating honey

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Marching to church

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And, finally, church. Here, even the dogs are allowed to listen in on the sermon

The Power of Humility – Chronicles of a Bus Conductor (Pt.1)

Recently, I was riding the town bus in Dar es Salaam. Now, commuting by public transport in this hot coastal city is not your favorite cup of tea: demand for buses beats supply by far especially during rush-hour and the stakes are high since everyone wants to get a seat for the ride home or to work. No one welcomes the idea of spending one or even two hours standing in a bus, sweating! And because our forefathers queued long enough during the slave trade days, we have thrown that ‘Mzungu’ concept out the window. People prefer to rush the bus long before it comes to a stop. But this is strictly for the able-bodied. It is an unspoken rule that if you do not visit a gym regularly, you should not attempt that stunt. I tried it once and I am glad I lived never to try it again! When the first wave hits the bus, you can hear that banging sound – ka-boom! – as powerfully-built bodies hit the bus. One of the greatest miracles – literally – is that I have never heard of a person being run over by a bus in such situations.

Even after the seats have been occupied people are invariably stacked up, standing, like maize cobs. Sometimes you are so squeezed together you can’t even wave a finger.

In such circumstances it is only natural that patience is at a premium and tempers flair up at the slightest provocation. Bus conductors are not known to be very civil when provoked and the saying, “An eye or an eye” rules supreme. For them it is a defense mechanism; they do not allow themselves to back down under any circumstances.

On this particular day, a middle-aged lady had entered the bus and was standing shoulder to shoulder with me. I could feel her jostling for position, pushing this way and that and the word ‘Trouble’ was pasted all over her! I did not have long to wait. Soon the conductor began demanding fare from those around him and in the process he tapped this lady’s shoulder and asked her for her fare.

The minute he did that, the lady blew up like a landmine. She turned on the conductor and methodically tore at him with a barrage of insults. It turned out she did not like being touched on her shoulder, particularly by a bus conductor, and she made that clear in the rudest manner possible. Then she did what she should never do with any bus conductor: she threatened to not pay up. Well, as far as I knew conductors, this lady had just set the stage for one of the biggest showdowns in the history of this town. I could imagine the kind of reaction that would be coming from that conductor. You are allowed to insult the conductor, if he can take it; but threatening to not pay your fare is asking for a small world war. Normally, in such cases, the passenger will end up paying; but there is no clear winner because either verbally or physically, each party will have made sure they walk away with a piece of the victory.

I glanced at the conductor. He was looking down and I could not see his face. He was a young Muslim man (he had on his cap), and throughout the onslaught he had just stared at his sandaled feet. He must have a wife and kids, I thought; and, as a man, I knew he would fight his ground. When he looked up, I expected to hear him say: “Driver, stop this vehicle this instant! Someone here thinks I am their son-in-law and they are going to pay right now!”; or something like that.

Instead, the young man slowly raised his head, looked the lady in the eye and said quietly, “Madam, I am sorry, please forgive me.” I could see the expression on his face and there was no malice there.

Now, you wouldn’t understand the power of such a statement coming from a conductor unless you live here. It was not the words, really, but the way he said it. There was a deep sincerity and humility in his demeanor.

It suddenly became very quiet in our part of the bus. Everyone knew something momentous had happened. The conductor bypassed the lady and went on picking fare from other passengers as if nothing had happened. Everyone was paying as if they were before a priest. Then, humiliation written all over her face, the lady dipped into her purse and handed her fare to the conductor. The conductor thanked her and we continued with our journey without further incident

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Sometimes after my wife has gone to bed, I remain on the couch and turn off the lights. That night I thought about the kind of heart that young Muslim man had shown. His humility had won a major battle.

I sat there and let the tears flood down my face.