Monday, August 22, 2011

Sometimes traveling sucks.

(This is a complaining one, so you can skip it if you want to. Or read it if you want to commensurate.)

The problem with being white in Africa is that you are often just seen as a walking bag of money. Children and even healthy-looking adults often approach you to beg for money when they would never beg from another local. Though it’s annoying, I’m used to it. Might as well try, I guess, since some tourists just hand money out to anyone. 

What drives me insane are the people who openly lie to you to get money. Most recently it was a bus conductor who massively overcharged us for a ride. I knew he probably was when he wrote “paid” in the fare column of our ticket instead of what we actually paid. That way he could keep the extra. But when I saw ticket of a woman who had paid the real price, I was so angry. I was angry at myself for getting duped – I’ve spent enough time in Tanzania that this shouldn’t happen anymore – and I was angry at the conductor for seeing no moral issues with swindling us. Why is it that I feel guilty if I accidentally cheat on a game and other people can steal without batting an eye? And this, soon after we entered the county I had talked up so much to Jeanette…

It’s funny what ends up making the trip hard for each of us. Jeanette hated the extremely uncomfortable, five-hour-long ride in the back of a pick-up. I didn’t mind it so much because I ended up having fabulous conversations with the five Tanzanians packed in beside us. I was so angry at myself for getting cheated, whereas Jeanette was just annoyed at the situation. The guys at the ticket office had been so friendly…
I quickly got over it. Life is what it is, you know? And there are opportunists in every culture. But sometimes it’s just tiring. Sometimes I just wish that skin color didn’t matter so much. But, that said, most people here probably wish the exact same thing. The captain of the rudderless boat in Mozambique said that his grandmother always told him to find and marry a white person because we have more blessings. Maybe she was right? Seriously upping the price of a bus ticket isn’t a way to make that less true, but I’m not sure what is. Sometimes I’m just so tired.  

This is Jeanette now.  Since this is a venting blog entry, I want in on it because I have some things I need to vent about:
My personal space.  It’s mine, not yours.  Please stay out of it.  It’s hot and I don’t want to be pressed up you or anyone else (other than Anne) constantly.  On all but the really nice buses when the seats are full they start filling the aisles with people.  We’ve had to stand on buses a few times and it’s uncomfortable, but I try to be polite about where I lean or hold on to.   Other people, not so much.  They will step on your feet, knock their luggage into you, lean on or into your seat so you have to lean the other direction at a funny angle, actually sit on your armrest, etc.  And no one ever buys a bus ticket for a child, no matter how old, so they just sit on laps or next to their mamas or stand in aisles; it’s gotten to the point where I always dread getting stuck next to a mama with a few kids because they will inevitably spill over into my seat.  All of this drives me up a wall but I can’t hog the window seat all the time because that’s not fair to Anne.  Most minibuses or smaller buses have four seats in a row, but it’s common knowledge that five people will sit in that row, so everyone is packed in tightly.  I have to keep reminding myself that it’s just a completely different culture.  No one (okay, mostly no one) is intentionally being rude; it’s just the way it is here.

2)      African Time.  It means we show up at 7 AM as we were told for a 7:30 AM bus that doesn’t even get there until 8:40 AM.  It means we drop off something at a tailor to be sewed and he says it’s no problem to have it done when we plan to return 48 hours later; then when we do return later than expected it’s still not done and he’s working on something else.  It means asking how long the bus ride will be and we’re told five hours when really it’s closer to seven.  It means nothing ever leaves on time or gets there when we were told.  We always show up early (just in case) and have learned to factor in extra time for every journey.  When we bought tickets for our bus yesterday morning the guy emphasized that it would leave promptly at 8 AM and we both had a good chuckle about that, but were shocked when the bus actually pulled out of the station at 8:02 AM.  It was a pleasant surprise.

3)      Being told what you want to hear.  Sometimes we really just want to know how long the bus ride will take or what time it will leave.  It doesn’t mean we will take our business elsewhere.  Just tell us the truth.  Please.  It’ll only make it worse for us when it inevitably doesn’t happen.

4)      The constant barrage of “hey sistah”, “taxi, taxi”, “just give me…”  We are approached all the time by mostly men.  As Anne wrote above, people see us as a giant walking bag of money and they think we are easy targets.  Oftentimes it’s under the pretence of conversation, (what is your name, where are you from, where are you going, where are you staying, etc.), but 99.9% of the time it’s a pretext for wanting us to go to their souvenir shop, stay at the hostel where they work, take their taxi service, etc. etc.  The list is endless.  Being on guard constantly is tiring and makes me feel paranoid and soulless.

5)      Bus depots.  I don’t like them, and sometimes I downright hate them.  The instant we step into a bus depot to buy a ticket 15 men crowd us asking where we are going and tell us to buy from their company.  You have to literally push your way through them.  Being swindled on the price of bus tickets.  Being lied to that their bus is the only one available.  Being told incorrect departure and arrival times.  During any bus ride there are numerous stops and you can buy almost anything out of a bus window, but mostly what’s sold are local fruits and vegetables, cold drinks, snacks, sometimes live chickens. The people selling things will shout up what they have, bang on the side of the bus or window, you shake your head “no”, they shout again, bang again, when really it’s pretty obvious that I’m ignoring them. They don’t do this to the other passengers. As the bus we’re on is pulling into our destination, the moment we are spotted by taxi drivers, we are like sitting ducks.  They holler through the window, crowd the door to the bus making it difficult to get off, follow you to the boot to get your luggage, sometimes grab your luggage and try to carry it for a fee or put it in their dalla-dalla.  At times it feels like stepping into a war zone.

The bottom line is that travel can be completely and utterly exhausting.  It’s so taxing to always worry about being pick-pocketed, lied to, taken advantage of, etc.  The longer this trip progresses the lower my patience gets for these kinds of things.  It’s more the moving between destinations that I find get me, but once I’m there it’s worth it.  Like Anne said, we both tend to have our boiling points at different times and over different things.  The frustrating parts of travel really just suck.  There is no way around it.  However, even though we just spent two pages complaining, this trip is a phenomenal experience.  I know some of our entries may sound like we’re not having a good time, but ultimately we are.  A large part of what makes this trip a unique experience is that we are from a different culture, we do stand out here, and we do look at this culture from a different point of view.  In a way by not writing about the bad things we would be sugar-coating the real experience and neither of us want to do that.  However, neither of us wants to sound like we are endlessly miserable either.  Yes, the trip is not all good, but life never is.  This still beats rush hour traffic and changing diapers any day of the week.  I was talking to some friends last week who said ‘you’re not on vacation, you’re experiencing things.’  And that we are.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Early Mornings

Day 1: Wake up at 3:40 AM for 4:00 AM taxi to bus stand.  My (Jeanette’s) malaria symptoms are all gone!  Arrive bus stand at 4:12 AM and get two of the three remaining seats.  The aisle completely fills up with people standing pressed like sardines.  We are lucky to have seats.  Bus leaves at 5:10 AM, drives around town picking up more people until 5:20 AM and then leaves for Mocimba da Praia.  Various stops at small villages along the way.  One hour break at Chai to change flat tire. Anne goes to watch used clothes auction and decides not to spend 20 cents on a hot pink, lacy corset-like top. Said top is bought by young man, presumably for his girlfriend. Arrive at Mocimba da Praia with numb arses at 2:30 PM.  Locals recommend staying here for the night as the next town has no lodging and all transport leaves from here anyway.
Find cheap hotel, order take out instead of sit-down because of annoying drunk guy, talk to a driver about picking us up at 3:00 AM (that’s just when they leave) to head for the border.  Go to sleep at 7:30 PM (at least I do; Anne stays up reading). 
Day 2: Get woken up at 2:00 AM by another driver that the hotel secured for us.  Get in back of truck (a regular pickup truck) at 2:10 AM.  Drive around town picking up other people until 3:30 AM.  Head for the border via Palma where we pick up more people.  Back of truck contains 20 adults, 3 children, and all luggage.  For serious.  Arrive Mozambican immigration at 7:20 AM, wait for everyone to get processed, climb back in truck, and arrive at Rovuma River and the border at 8:35 AM.  Mayhem and chaos ensue while the boats vie for passengers. We previously committed to one boat with no motor so one guy poles us across while we watch a group of hippos and the other guy bales water out of the boat.  Set watch ahead by one hour.  Arrive Tanzanian side at 10:10 AM local time.  Get in dalla-dalla (minibus/taxi) and proceed 200 meters. Dalla-dalla followed by hordes of people shouting out prices to get to Mtwara.  Dalla-dalla stops, everyone gets out, mayhem and chaos ensue while other drivers aggressively compete for everyone’s business.  Someone takes Anne’s pack and puts it in their dalla-dalla.  We take it out and put it in a different one.  Climb in same dalla-dalla after ensuring that both our packs and both of us are on the same vehicle and confirm price with conductor.  Leave at 10:20 AM.  Drive 5 kilometers to Tanzanian Immigration, wait for everyone to get processed, pay $100 US for visa but they give us one-year multiple entry, climb back in vehicle.  Leave immigration at 11:15 AM.  Arrive Mtwara at 12:30 PM.  Board another minibus for Lindi.  Leave station at 12:40 PM.  Arrive Lindi at 3:30 PM.  Find hotel, ATM, Tanzanian SIM card for cell phone, buy bus ticket for next morning, book ruins tour for next day, eat, shower, sleep at 10:00 PM.
Day 3:  Sleep in to 6:15 AM.  Dress, walk to bus depot.  Arrive depot 7:00 AM for 7:30 AM departure.  Bus arrives 8:40 AM.  Board bus.  Real bus.  Comfortable, padded seats, one person per seat, aisles empty.  Lament about bruised back and arse from previous morning’s ride while fully appreciating the padded, comfortable seats.  Arrive junction at 10:45 AM.  Walk 200 m to taxi rank.  Find taxi for Kilwa Masaro at 11:00 AM.  Wait for remaining four seats to be filled.  Leave junction at 11:25 AM.  Arrive Kilwa Masaro at 12:05 PM.  Find hotel, call guide, eat lunch.  Guide arrives 1:30 PM sportily wearing blue and white plaid pants, a green and white striped shirt, and a Hitler-style mustache.  Walk to dhow terminal and board small sailing boat with working rudder. Arrive at Kilwa Island ruins 2:00 PM. 
The island is an historic trading center for gold and slaves previously inhabited by the Portuguese and the sultan of Oman, among others.  Re-board dhow 4:20 PM and reach mainland 4:40 PM.  Walk to hotel, arrive 5:10 PM. Find dinner, sleep by 9:30 PM.

Day 4: Wake at 4:45 AM.  Walk to bus depot.  Arrive at 5:15 AM. Board and leave at 5:40 AM. Decent bus, padded seats, driver willing to stop to let people pee in the bushes. Arrive in Dar es Salaam at 12:00 PM. Board local bus 12:15 PM (standing room only) to center of town. Arrive at junction near friend’s house at 1:00 PM, call Leah, she picks us up at 1:10 PM, arrive at her house at 1:20 PM and travel finally ends!! For a few days, at least…