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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs

The bogged tractor was a warning.

Submitted: May 10, 2018

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Submitted: May 10, 2018



I was quite happy with the little Maruti, a long wheel-base Indian version of the Suzuki 4x4, but I was upgraded to a double cab Toyota that was purchased second hand from the Mennonite Missions. They had pumped up the suspension so she had four extra inches of clearance, a handy thing when driving in African conditions. To be frank, vehicles don’t excite me, as long as they start easily and run smoothly, I’m happy. Squeaks and rattles are more company than annoyance. For those who are interested, back in my forestry days I drove a brand new little Suzuki LJ50, a three cylinder two-stroke thing that could do all that I ever wanted, except that it had no tow ball so I couldn’t pull a diesel tank. It was too light anyway. It was replaced by a brand new four litre petrol Nissan Patrol that had power to burn, a bonnet that covered about an acre but you needed a petrol bowser to keep it going! Anyway, enough about vehicle types.

Around Mt. Meru, whenever there is heavy rain, the texture of the soil can alter dramatically, so during the long rains, some roads have random patches of mud-wallows where before, it had been quite firm. The Makumira road wasn’t too bad as I headed out for the day, but as I rounded a corner, my way was blocked! The farm’s big, Russian-built tractor was bogged right in the middle of the road! A big, four wheel drive tractor or not, they are all useless when there’s no traction! The road seemed hard on either side of it, but a soft patch had simply turned to porridge. The driver was away, probably finding help, so I skirted around the bogged machine and headed to Leganga.

I needed to purchase some bags of cement for the school at Valeska, and while ten bags was an adequate load, fifteen would be enough to complete the brick making; I didn’t necessarily want to make another trip with half a load, so fifteen were loaded. If I drove quietly, she’d be right! The rear sat down a bit and the steering was a bit light but all was ok. I picked up Loti and we were Valeska-bound. The Dolly sisal estate was still in operation and I knew there was a creek crossing just beyond where they hung out the prepared sisal fibre to dry.

Water came up over the bonnet, which was a bit of a surprise, well the sudden drop was the surprise! The actual crossing was short and water came to about half way up the door, but she didn’t leak! The going from there was almost flat, and the river to my right drained off any surface water, making the going was easy, but I was having second thoughts about the ford just before the village of Kwa Ugoro. A curious name for a village and school, Kwa Ugoro. It means for chewing tobacco (or snuff). Anyway, the crossing was always uneven and often, it caused the left front wheel to rear up. It was safe enough to cross, but with my load, I didn’t want to break and axle.

In low ratio and four wheel drive, we crawled through the danger area to where there’s dense scrub that’s about twelve feet high. It looks like chickpea stalks, or dead Lantana, most of the time it appears to be desiccated. There are three tracks passing through this scrub, all of them ending up in at the same point after minor interior detours. Cocky after the successful water crossing, I asked Loti to choose which track to follow and he pointed. Nearly through and close to the vegetable stall, there was a large puddle in the middle of the road, as wide as the road and not much longer than the vehicle.

I hesitated but with encouragement from Loti I proceeded with caution. Down we went! Bogged to the gunnels! We were so deep that I couldn’t open my door without water coming in! If we were bellied, which was likely, taking the cement out was an option, but getting it wet was a risk, and I couldn’t imagine Loti up to his arse in mud! Some weight over the front wheels would give the wheels more traction, and I knew better than to stir the mud by trying to drive out. Some youths were perched on the frame of vegetable stall, they were unlikely to miss out when opportunity knocks. Looking disinterested, they strolled on over.

It doesn’t matter what language is spoken, the question is always the obvious.

‘Are you stuck?’ One of them asked Loti, because they didn’t expect me to understand them.

‘We are.’ Replied Loti.

The five took a step back, folded their arms and surveyed the scene, each wore the look of an oracle.

‘We’ll get you out for ten thousand shillings.’ One confided as he stuck his head in Loti’s window.

All Tanzanians make a show of being outraged when a first offer of money is proposed and Loti showed that he was super-outraged, adding that they were fools for even suggesting such a high price! Meanwhile, I had my thinking cap on. These guys were talking around ten US dollars, and Loti was expecting them to extract us for free because we were helping out their village. I thought their offer was fair, so I said nothing but took a ten thousand shilling note out of my pocket, rolled it like a cigarette and stuck it behind my ear. They had noticed the moment I put my hand in my pocket!

I suggested to Loti that paying the lads to extract us was better than any other alternative I could think of, and he reluctantly agreed. There was no likelihood of another vehicle passing by to give us a tow. So Loti agreed on the price. They brought shovels and dug away at the mud around the wheels and in front of us, which helped to drain the water. It’s the first time that I’ve been bogged, that I didn’t have to do anything to extract myself! They were covered in mud, worked hard and earned their ten thousand shillings.

They made the judgement when to try driving out and I suggested that three of them sit on the bullbar to give more traction to the front wheels. They had done a good job because out we popped, dirtier, but no worse for wear! They were happy with their money and we went on to deliver the cement. Six house later, I arrived home with not a spec of mud on my shoes!




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