Friday, January 23, 2015

Return to Tanzania Vol. 4

Step 1: Check in 6 pieces of luggage with a combined weight of 288lbs 
Step 2: Chop off 10 inches of hair
Step 3: Depart with 47 lbs of carry-on
Step 4: Realize after passing through security that you grabbed the wrong external hard drive and mentally kick yourself repeatedly.
Step 5: Consciously ignore the announcement that says everyone must measure their carry-on luggage to ensure it fits in the overhead compartment.  Stay in a corner and avoid eye contact with everyone because you know full well that you are THAT person (the one with the ridiculously oversized carry-ons).
Step 6: Survive 31 hours of travel by eating, sleeping and watching movies.  Pass through customs like a champ and be greeted by Moshi Ally, in a truck, whose first response is “umenenepaaaa”
Step 7: Ride in the back of truck through the streets of Dar es Salaam in the pouring rain only to get to the guest house that has no electricity. Know in that moment you have finally returned!

Alright,those were the simple steps leading up to the much larger and far more exciting adventure that lay ahead.  For anyone new to this blog or my tales in Tanzania, let me warn you of the following:
- The posts tend to be incredibly long so feel free to ignore them, skim over them, or read them while enjoying a nice visit to the can (they make for a good bathroom reading).
- They always contain a solid balance of adventure, stupidity, forgetfulness, humour, unavoidable chaos, and in most cases a sprinkle of illness of some sort.

So, if you’re with me, here we go….  Return to Tanzania Vol. 4
So, the first steps were “easy” in the way that most things are “easy” in a developing world where electricity rarely cuts out, transportation is reliable and credit card machines are common place.  There were definitely some ups and downs in the weeks leading up to departure and of course, the 42-day escapade (and internet stalking) that was required to secure permission for 6 bags of humanitarian baggage (at 50lbs a piece) was definitely a challenge. But aside from a bit of stressing and lack of sleep, everything was simple. 

So, those first 7 steps got me to Tanzania.  The flights were joyfully uneventful with the highlight being the American girl I was sitting beside on the Zurich-Dar flight who got off in Nairobi and made the mistake of forgetting her bag of mini snickers.  I can assure that I didn’t make the same mistake! 

Once in Dar, I got my visa, my bags were all there waiting for me and customs didn’t even give me a glance while I pushed the first three bags through the scanners and they didn’t give me a second glance when I came back the second time and pushed the next three bags through the scanner.  My good friend Uncle Moshi was there to greet me with a little pick up truck and after the too-be-expected greeting of “umenenepaaaa” we were off and flying down the streets of Dar es Salaam.  It only took the rain a few minutes to find us and in no time we were flying through the pouring rain.  After some minor confusion, we were able to find a guest house, where of course, the electricity had cut out.  So, in the darkness and the pouring rain, we carried my 6 bags + carry-on through a bumpy back alley to the candle-lit guest house.   Uncle Moshi left me and Luggy (my name for the collective 288lb of checked luggage and 47 pounds of carry-on luggage. Yup, that’s right, my “carry-on” luggage weighed a whopping 47 lbs.  I was THAT person.. THAT person in the security line that has the massive bag and takes up 4 of the little plastic baskets on the conveyor belt.  That was me… and actually has been me on every trip. I’m used to it. I’ve mastered avoiding eye contact with everyone.  On a funny side note, getting off the plane in Tanzania, I was the second last person off as I was trying to collect all my carry-on bags and this nice girl from the US walks up the aisle behind me and said “oh crap, they let you carry that on, that’s amazing!” Yup, I’m that person! J)

Anyways, back to the story. Uncle Moshi left me in my candle-lit room.  By this time it was past midnight and we were meeting at 4am to head to the bus station so that I could continue on to Mwanza. I tried to set up my phone, had a bit of a “shower” in the dark with a cup and a bucket and then headed to bed.  The electricity came back around 2am and I woke up at 4am.  By 415am, I had moved all of Luggy to the lobby and waited for Uncle Moshi who showed up around 515am.  At least this time, it wasn’t raining.  We headed to the Ubungo Bus Station in downtown Dar and navigated the puddles, people and chaos that is common in every major bus station in Tanzania.  We loaded my bags, paid for the ticket and in a matter of minutes, at 6:08am, the bus was off and rolling.  And.. we didn’t break down at 12:30pm.  The first break down was relatively short.  Some pipe thing burst but the mechanic hitched a ride on a semi to a nearby town, got the part fixed and we were up and rolling within an hour.  The second break down happened at 10:45pm.  We were only 2 hours away from Mwanza.  About 10 minutes after we broke down, another bus stopped and all the remaining passengers flew off our bus to find seats on the new one.  However, having a 325lbs of luggage does not lend well to quick transfers.  Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to find room in the new bus for all my bags, I “decided” (not that it was a choice) to stay with the sinking ship.  Everyone left and I stayed back with the two drivers, the ticket girl and the mechanic.  Free rides and spare parts are a lot harder to come by at 11pm than at noon.  The mechanic eventually hitched a ride and sent off to find the necessary supplies.  I got comfy in the seat I had to come to know intimately in the last 17 hours of travel.  I chatted with drivers,  listened to some tunes, read, slept and took a few squatting pees in a darkness that is only experienced when you are truly in the middle of nowhere.  By  1am the part was fixed we just waited another half hour for the crazy glue it dry (they don’t have duct tape readily available here).

 By 1:45am, we were back on the road, our load a little lighter with only 5 people on board.  We made it to Mwanza by 4am and I lucked out and caught a local bus to the next bus station.  They dropped me and Luggy off outside the ticket office where we continued to sit in darkness as, of course, the electricity was also out in Mwanza.  I did my best to sprawl over 7 bags for the two hours until the bus arrived. By 630am, the next bus was there.  I loaded everything in, bought my ticket and then asked for permission to pay for my bags once we arrived as I only had 600 Shillings left in my pocket (600 only sounds like a big number, it actually works out to just over 34 cents).  With my 34 cents, I attempted to use the pay toilets however the guy wanted to 17 cents and anyone who knows me, knows that just was not going to happen. I tried to bargain him down to 6 cents but he refused so I took a short walk past the bus station, found a little field and popped a squat.  Clearly he mistook me for someone much classier and less frugal.  He was wrong.

 With my bladder satisfied, I headed back to the bus and waited for our 8am departure.  We had a smooth bus ride with a hot and sweaty 2 hour layover in town an hour away from the final destination.  Luggy and I arrived safely in Shirati at 4:10pm to welcoming hugs from Tabitha and Victor. THE END.
Just for fun, here are the numbers:
Total pounds of luggage: 335
Number of takes offs: 4
Total travel hours of air travel: 31
Number of busses: 2
Total hours of bus travel: 30
Hours spent in an actual bed between Saturday Jan 17th and Wednesday Jan 21: 2

However the numbers aren’t important, what matters is that I made! The luggage made it! We are in the same amount of pieces as when we left, so for that, I am incredibly thankful! Thanks for all the good vibes that were sent our way!!! I’ll keep everyone posted on the rest of the adventure!!  All your donations in the form of equipment and funds will be put to good use very soon! Thank you for your continued support! I would never be here without everyone’s help. We cannot thank you enough!