Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Excerpted from the online blog I kept while working with the 2Seeds Network in Tanzania.
It smells like gasoline, sweat, and ginger. “Unaenda wapi? Unaenda wapi?” Where are you going? Where are you going? Twenty-some people flocking around me, spitting their questions in my direction, the words circumnavigating the bulging potato sack under which my head is hiding. I hear them in echo.
I’m standing in the middle of the Korogwe bus station with 13 watermelons on my head.
And I think, “Yup, yup. Never saw this one coming.”
I don’t have a clue where I’m going.
Today I was tasked with delivering Sabiana’s watermelons to Korogwe on my way to Tanga. (Sabiana is a member of our parent’s group; Tanga is the largest town in our region. The 2Seeds Network helps coordinate the transportation of crops from rural villages to more lucrative markets.) I had yet to receive the instructions from my colleagues about who exactly would be receiving the harvest in Korogwe, who our buyer was, anything. I just got off the bus and stood there. The crop sack – poorly situated and loosely tied by an amateur (yours truly) – sagged over my forehead, the fruits drooping down over my ears like juicy, oversized earrings.
I relieved myself of the load and sat on the curb to wait for further instructions. Impatient as I was to get the watermelons dropped off and head to Tanga, I appreciated the moment to just watch. A butcher cut a red, raw slab of beef and chopped it into little squares. A teenager peddled cold soda, the perspiration on his brow matching the condensation on the bottle. A man stooped to check the tires of his daladala, delivering a frustrated rap on the siding.
I received my instructions and contacted Hashimi, our local connection for coordinating sales in Korogwe. He asked if I could meet him at the
post office. I glanced down at the watermelon sack skeptically. “Sure,” I replied.
It took double the time, it took a couple Tanzanian helpers, and it probably took a few inches off my height, but I got those watermelons to the post office.
When Hashimi arrived, he secured the watermelons on the back of his pikipiki. (You can take anything on a motorcycle in Tanzania – additional passengers, chickens, a hundred kilos of onions, a goat – I’ve seen it all). Knowing I was running a little late to get to the meeting in Tanga, Hashimi – in typical Tanzanian fashion – casually hails the first bus he sees on the road. In blind faith, I hop on. And I mean “hop.” I’m pretty sure the bus never actually came to a complete stop.
A few, bumpy, elbow-rubbing hours later, I arrive in Tanga. I am instantly – instantly – shell-shocked by the harshness of the city. The chorus of aggressive vendors, the cars, the shops, all that honking and bonking and beeping. And the immediate, collective assumption that I, the mzungu tourist, spoke no Swahili, was hungry for cheeseburgers, and looking to buy giraffe-shaped earrings.
I acclimated fast. The Swahili helped. I engaged in some pleasant conversations with strangers, stopped to drink some tea, and then headed to the Inn By the Sea, where my meeting was to be held. Meetings should always be held by the sea, if you ask me.