Paul tells...




We put on our clammy clothes from yesterday. Upon arrival we have washed them, but because of the high humidity they dry slowly. Despite the fact that the rainy season, according to the statistics, will start in a month's time, we very regularly have rain, varying from drizzle to downpours and ranging from an hour to whole days. When we look through the window that morning, we again see an dark grey sky that doesn't look ‘dry’, so we'd better put on our still clammy clothes than our last set of dry ones.


This morning we have breakfast at a restaurant along the road. Restaurants distinguish themselves from their neighbours by a plastic table with two to four matching or not matching chairs. They are generally specialised in one dish. This morning it’s chickensoup with charpati, a kind of thick pancake and very nutritious. We have to pay 7.000 Tanzanian shillings for it, about € 2,80. With that we pay the 'white price', we both realize. This is the case from time to time; however, in general the local 'black price’ is charged to us, which means a halving of the price. When I look at our bikes that are parked a bit further on with all our beautiful bags full of possessions and then take a look at their bicycles, bicycles that have long since passed the stage of 'student bicycles', I understand very well that they charge us a bit more. According to the World Bank 49.1% of the Tanzanians live on less than $ 1.90 a day and is therefore one of the poorest countries in the world. So we don’t even think of complaining about the extra euro they charge us.


Last couple of days we took a 'white road' on the map, but it's unpaved and because of the heavy rainfall last days it's hardly or not passable by bike at all. It's a red coloured muddy path with large puddles, the depth of which can't be estimated. Regularly the water has also made deep gullies in such roads, making it even impossible for a 4x4 to drive there. We can therefore only choose the well paved 'red road' with on both sides a wide verge of about one and a half meter that is used as a bicycle path. Fortunately even on the busiest highway in the country there's not much traffic - on average one car per minute - so it's pleasant to cycle there.


At noon we're looking forward to a table with chairs again. I order a goat, but I should have taken a look at the goats in the village. It is more bone than meat. Kathleen was better off with her ordered chicken, which the restaurant owner went to get from his neighbour. Both dishes are accompanied by white rice, half a tomato and some shredded onions. The Coca-Cola that we order and that we drink daily on doctor's prescription against a rumbling stomach, is taken from the local liquor store on the other side of the road. By now we know that we should explicitly ask for a cold cola; the local preference is warm cola as well as warm beer.


We don't have to leave it for the costs. A bottle of 35 cl. cola has a standard price of € 0,20; a local beer costs € 0,60. When we ask for cutlery, the waiter comes with a bottle of water and a bowl. He pours the water over our hands into the bowl. With that our hands have become our cutlery; our right hand...


Along the way we look our eyes out. The smallest villages generally consist of mud huts with roofs of palm leaves, all in the red-brown colour of the surrounding earth. Goats and chickens scavenge on the yards. In the larger villages the palm leaves are often replaced by corrugated iron. Also, the houses are more often built of stone. Most of the activity takes place along the asphalt main road. There are shops, restaurants and young guests with their mopeds waiting to transport someone or something; they are the local taxis. For longer distances, covered tricycle mopeds are used, where you can sit next to each other in the back. To my amazement, next to the driver, five voluminous ladies fit in it  as well. Although my spatial insight is quite developed, I still don't understand how it ever fitted, but the ladies were all gone when the driver left in the direction of where he had come from. Also the local vans that are either dedicated to '1 God' or to a European soccer club, stop along this road. First there is a horn and then a man jumps out and screams where this bus is going to. For a ticket you have to be with him as well.


Between the villages we drive through a kind of savannah area with shepherds in robes that we call 'Massai', but don't turn out to be, with their herds of cattle and goats. They're always in a good mood and raise their hands as soon as they see us. In addition, we regularly see man-sized termite mounds and an occasional baobab tree. The latter continue to fascinate me with their huge trunk that holds water for the dry periods and has some branches sticking out at the top. There are several stories about the origin of this tree. One is that God found it so ugly that he pulled it out of his paradise garden and threw it at the earth, where it ended upside down. A second one that the tree continued to run when God created it and that God was fed up with that so that he finally planted the tree upside down, so that he could not run anymore. A third story that goes round is that a baobab tree stood on the shore of a lake among all other beautiful tropical trees: large, nicely flowering or strong. The tree saw itself in the reflection of the lake and constantly complained to God that it was so ugly. In the end, God was so tired of this complaining that he planted the tree upside down, so that he could no longer see himself anymore or complain about himself. 


What strikes us everywhere is how well-groomed everything is. The heirs have been raked and there is hardly any waste in the verges. The people are also well cared for and dignified, especially the women in the most colourful robes, on which dust, mud and rain seem to have no control. They regularly wear something on their heads: faggots, tools, jerricans or a tray of six one and a half litre bottles of water. This way of carrying things seems to be the exclusive right of women; only sporadically do we see men do it.

Halfway through the afternoon we arrive soaking wet at our final destination, a small village with one guesthouse. We soon learnd that there are two categories of guesthouses in Tanzania. The first category costs between € 4,- and € 20,- per night and is used by the locals. The second category is ten times more expensive and is mainly aimed at Western tourists. We choose hotels from the first category, but in the higher segment. In general the guesthouses where we sleep are surprisingly clean and tidy, but this evening we have nothing to choose and we find an annoying room of three by three meters with a dirty sheet in front of the window. As usual there's only one towel. It is part of the African efficiency. A towel has two sides, so two people can use it, they might think. We see this efficiency in several areas. Buses don't leave until they're full, so the fuel is used optimally. Mopeds are washed in the puddles and the same mopeds turn off their engines when they go downhill. Sometimes we have to wait a long time for our food, because the cook waits for other guests, so he can cook for several people at once. The other way around also happens. When we sit down, the cook warns the environment that he is going to cook 'now' and that one can order 'now', although we have already made the choice; also for all other orders. Also in the morning at breakfast, which is regularly included in the overnight stay, they work efficiently. There is one pot of Blue Band butter which, together with the thermosbottle of hot water and the salt, goes from table to table. In this way, hardly any food is wasted. I realise that it is undoubtedly born of scarcity, but it makes us realise how wasteful we ourselves are when it comes to dealing with resources.


When I ask for toilet paper in the simple guesthouse, the hotel owner shakes his head. Next to the toilet hangs a sprinkler as usual. That, in combination with our left hand, serves as toilet paper. Fortunately we still have two rolls of Greek toilet paper in our bags.

When we're about to walk to the village to do some shopping, the hotel owner invites us to sit with him and his friends. It's time for a drink and they ask us what we want to drink. Next to that we're offered cassava, a boiled root tuber from a shrub that is rather fibrous and has no pronounced taste. It is one of the basic foods of the Tanzanians. I'm not complaining that we don't have it in the Netherlands.


Around half past six, the day changes into the night within 15 minutes. Before that happens, we want to have eaten and be 'home' again. The first evening we were told by the hotel owner that after darkness she only allowed us to leave the hotel by taxi. Another hotel manager told us to close our windows at night. We had them open because there was no air conditioning and in the room, with all the drying clothes, it was very smelly and stuffy. I wanted to know the reason why the window had to be closed, but after some hesitation he said: 'just do it!'. It is said that night-time Africa is a different Africa from daytime Africa and these kinds of warnings make us a little hesitant about the 'African night'. The result is that we go out to 'dine' early every night. This time chips, fried over charcoal on a barbecue that served as a car rim in his previous life. This is also part of African efficiency. If something can no longer serve the purpose for which it was originally made, another function is sought. A worn car tire is transformed into flip flops and on the way we see a knife sharpener that has converted a broken bike into its sharpener. The frame is upside down with only the pedals, a chain and the rear rim. A string runs over the rim to a grinding wheel, on which he grinds the knives. It's simply pedalling to get everything up and running.


Back at our guesthouse we put on the one spot that puts the room in a kind of twilight. We aim the fan at our clothes, so they will hopefully dry a bit quicker. Because the space outside the bed is almost completely filled with our bags, we lie down on the bed and read or write something. As long as the electricity keeps working anyway. Almost every day we have to deal with a power failure, varying from fifteen minutes to several hours. And at times like that we understand the term 'dark Africa' even better; we really don't see a hand in front of our eyes anymore.