Getting There

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

It was a roundabout way of getting to Tanzania, but the most efficient at the time.

Getting There

 

It was 1995 and we were off to Tanzania for the first time. There was glitch when we booked in at Auckland airport, their new computer programme had us heading back to where we’d come from rather than flying off to Los Angeles. The people manning the desk we confused so they brought out the manuals, each as thick as an Oxford dictionary, meanwhile the plane waited for us. It took a bit of figuring, but once it was sorted, we had to run through the thermal following a guide. We needed a guide because the terminal was under reconstruction and it was a rabbit warren with signage not in place! The flight time was a little over twelve hours and although we were only stopping over for six hours, LA customs wanted to check our bags, so although we were transiting, we had to fill in their arrival docket. It didn’t go smoothly… on the docket, the response side didn’t align with question, so the whole planeload of us got it wrong. The official… well, let’s say he lacked patience… no we won’t, he was like a bloody sergeant in an infantry camp!  He ordered us to redo the form, but none of us got it right again! So he blustered and sent us off to the Air New Zealand desk, where the woman handled the situation (and the guy) well, but by the time we’d reassigned our luggage, we should have been at the gate. We had four minutes to spare before they’d have reallocated our seats.

The fight to Amsterdam took ten and a bit hours and we took a taxi to the hotel that’d been booked on behalf of The Agency’s. We had bought one hundred Dutch guilders before we left with the taxi in mind. The distance to the hotel was either considerable or the driver was taking the scenic route, I couldn’t tell. At that time a guilder was about the same as a Kiwi dollar and two Kiwi dollars equalled a US dollar, and it wasn’t long before we related everything to US dollars, but we weren’t there yet, so I was comparing the trip in Kiwi dollar terms. I was watching the meter tick over, expecting the trip to cost less than fifty dollars, but it kept going up and up and we arrived at the hotel with ninety eight guilders on the clock. I asked the driver if he’d accept US dollars and he said he wouldn’t… but I’m sure we’d have made an arrangement.

The hotel was a budget one, volunteering in Africa doesn’t rate being supplied with expensive hotel accommodation! But oh dear, they had us double booked!  After a little animated negotiation, they taxied us to their expensive version hotel. They were a Japanese owned outfit, and the expensive one was six hundred and forty guilder per night, which was eye-watering for us, but to their credit they covered the difference. So far we’d driven or flown for thirty one hours without having a descent snooze so all we were interested in was something to eat and a bed, flashness didn’t rate with us. We were allowed breakfast on the house, but after 10:30 and without the staff replenishing the smorgasbord. So essentially we were eating the scraps, and continental or not, croissants and cheese was never on my breakfast list. But when in Rome… They had a laundry service, so I thought I’d get my shirt washed. It came back pressed and wrapped in cellophane like a new one… at a cost I could’ve bought two new shirts at home for the price. We had two full days to see the sights of Amsterdam and enjoyed the experience… from women in windows to tall sailing ships.

KLM was about the only airline to fly into Kilimanjaro airport at the time because of the standard of their radar systems, making the insurance prohibitive for most airlines, but KLM ferried flowers back with them, so the freight element was probably important to them. Y’know, Kiwi’s stand out in a crowd, so we soon found Mo and Jo, our field reps among the throng in the busy airport. We had expected to meet, they had seen pictures of us but we hadn’t seen any of them. We only managed to converse briefly because boarding was starting and The Agency didn’t have us sitting together because Mo was a smoker and the rear third of the plane was designated for smokers. However we did mingle during the over eight hour flight south. The monitor showed we were over Kilimanjaro, but we were circling rather than descending and finally, the pilot announced that there had been a power outage on the ground and they were cranking up a generator. A stewardess came along and said there was adequate fuel to get us to Dar es Salaam and not to worry. Nevertheless there was some anxiety among some of the passengers.

It was around midnight when we landed and there were only kerosene hurricane lamps inside, and not many of them at that! So in the gloom, our passports were stamped and customs ignored us, so quite quickly we were through and met another volunteer, who was going to drive us into Arusha. We had our first taste of tropical air, and hear our first tropical noises. It was pitch black because there was no street lighting, not because of the power cut, there wasn’t any. It was difficult to see beyond the vehicle, because the road was being rebuilt so there was billowing dust around us. Here and there, I made out lamps or candles where small stalls that I later knew as duka, still plied their trade. We had to go back to the airport a few days later to pick up another volunteer and counted fourteen speedbumps that the local people had built to stop the dust… the plane didn’t arrive, so we had to go out the next night and counted sixty four speedbumps. The dust was awful and a health hazard for the folk living beside the road… I found our arrival to be exciting, and wondrous.

We had to stay at Mo and Jo’s house because Big E had let them down by not having our accommodation ready. Over the time we stayed with them, people came and went and we cemented a friendship that lasts to this day. They had a housegirl, a woman in her thirties who had two kids, a boy and a girl, they were the first Africans we spoke to. Trouble was they barely knew English and we barely knew Kiswahili, but we got along well. Our high commission had funded our accommodation, but Big E had spent the money on his bar/restaurant, so some pressure was put on him to get sorted. Nearly a month later, he gave up half his house, which was a concrete block with an iron roof. He just sealed up a door to give us privacy, although the walls didn’t go to the ceiling, so that made life interesting. We painted the inside with the ubiquitous duck egg blue paint, a couch and a bed were supplied, wooden affairs with sponge rubber swabs. Mo and Jo supplied an electric fridge, oven, a water filter and a gas three-ring cooker because electricity would always be iffy. We had water in a tap twenty metres away, which relied on electricity. There was nowhere for our clothes so we lived out of our suitcases for two years. I made furniture out of new tomato cases that were made of timber offcuts, and although there was a room to shower in, the shower didn’t work so I bought a plastic baby’s bath so we could stand in it.

My old forestry training left me with the ability to make do and to cope, so although we had our challenges, our joys overshadowed them and it was an experience I treasure.


Submitted: July 07, 2021

© Copyright 2021 moa rider. All rights reserved.

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