Daladala-walk-daladala-walk = 1.5 hours or walk 6 kilometers for 1.35 hours. That is my daily commute one way to my volunteer project. Weather is hotter than I expected and more humid so I take the daladalas in the mornings and most afternoons as well. My project is working with a women's sewing group with handbags and jewelry. They have had some deadlines for big orders the past 2 weeks so I have been working many extra hours getting home just before dark; so daladalas it is.
Imagine if you will my second morning daladala ride which I pick up in Mbunyi Market. I walk through the market dodging wheelbarrows, refuse heaps, young women selling plastic bags, and the various shoppers who believe polepole (slow) is the only speed acceptable. I also dodge buying avacados, plastic bags, shoes or trips for safari; but I respond to “mzungu” and “Habari”. By now they know my morning routine and you never know when you need someone to look out for you. On to the corner for the daladala to Bonite. Don't take the one to Weruweru as they will charge you twice the price even if you don't go all the way.
Of making room - There are 7 people in the van. Not full enough. You see a place you can sit or they sign you to the back of the van. Then you wait. More come on and soon you find a bony hip strategically pushing a fleshy part so that you move over some for them to sit. Then everyone on the bench seat rearranges and more bony parts press and poke into fleshy parts. Where do you put your arm? Sometimes on the back of the seat, but often as not, those behind are holding on there. Usually I have my arms crossed over my chest and leaning against my day bag sometimes leaning forward for a little breathing space or avoid banging my head on the reinforced rollbars. Of course, you will breathe many aromatic things. The Bonite stop has a cooking stove at the corner, so when the wind is right, the van fills with wood smoke; or diesel fumes; or armpit odour and then there is always the produce and fresh fish purchased earlier at the Market. The fresh fish is the one that really gets me. All seats are now full. Produce is put into the back, under seats, between feet, on someone's lap. Your feet are under the jump seat so you can't move; or the momma in front uses your lap for her carrots, and your legs as her backrest. Then more people arrive and they get the standing room. Some almost bent double. Today there was some tension and then laughter as one man's butt ended up in some woman's face. You have to see the humour of the situation or you won't survive the experience.
The daladala money taker/produce passer/ body rearranger and all around dog's body. This is the young man who manages all the customers. He drums up business as you pass people on the street. He points to where you should sit and calls out the stops coming up. I have yet to recognize any other than “Doroko” for the Kindoroko Hotel – which appears to be the regular mzungu stop-so I always get “the look” - are you getting off or what? Now they recognize I'm the mzungu who goes to Mbyuni every day. This young man works hard each day and seems to get no respect. There is a 'tude that goes around the customers. You know that you need to pay your 300 shillingi (about 20 cents) for every trip, but no one has it in hand. The money taker clinks some coins together in his outstretched palm and slowly people start to fish for their money. Some look the other way and take their sweet time about it. It also seems that the more full the vehicle, the more people have to fish around in their pocket – yes, the one right against your left hip – for their wallet and change. Women tie it up in a corner of their kanga (sarong) and slowly untie it. If they wait long enough, they think he won't remember you haven't paid. School kids are pretty adept at avoiding payment. Once the money is out, some will put the coin in his hand; others just hold it up but don't bring his attention to it. He might as well be an untouchable for all the respect or attention he gets. But they are known for not returning change or giving the incorrect amount particularly for mzungu. I have had mommas ask me whether he gave me my change. So far, so good.
Quiet moments – I am used to a lot of quiet time for reflexion and reenergizing. Even with only 7 in the hostel, many are extroverts so unless you like to hang out on your bunk bed, there is little place for quietness or creative writing. Sitting in the common room means your are open for chatting or problem solving. So I have learned to use the daladala times for my quiet reflection. Strange as the daladala experience is and unlike any in the Western world; after a few of these trips, you get into the routine. You have time to watch your surroundings and the business of Tanzania. The man who has a tin can rattle to alert you that he has ground nuts (peanuts) to sell by the scoop or cigarettes, one at a time. The pikipiki drivers – usually young men who use their motorcycles to transport people. No idea if they have a license, but they run a brisk business with the locals. You can tell them as they either wear their coats backwords – and it doesn't matter if it is a mzungu woman or man's coat – if it keeps them warm, they wear it; or a chest pack for all their change and accoutrement. How the market refuse is disposed of, or at least rearranged. The different headgear of your fellow traveller. Women with ketanga strips, bare shaved heads, beautiful intricate braids. The row of cool dudes wearing snug toques – the one in the middle has on an orange Winnie the Pooh toque complete with knitted ears. Will the goats that lay down in the middle of the road in “mechanicsville” be there today? How many this time and how hard to drive around them today? After a time, this becomes second nature and then the reflection begins or just the internal quietness where you are a strange entity unknown to any and able to be alone for that short period of time. Take your moments when your can ; imprint the experiences and visions onto your mental memory to recapture at the oddest moments. This is not the place of Simba of the Serengeti, but Simba cement bags, used for lining bags, protecting your produce and keeping you dry as you sleep on the street.