Pole za Safari
Adam and I keep in touch after I accept KARIBU‘s job offer. I suggest that we check in once a week, and we do. On one of these weekly check-ins, he proposes that we take some time upon my arrival to take a few days off. We could hike. There are some great swimming spots. Do I want to see Moshi?
Thinking of the site visit that we have my first week, I suggest that we tour the shops that are selling KARIBU Solar Power. I want to jump into things feet first.
‘Okay, but we should take some time off.’
I wonder whether it’s too early to explain to Adam that I’m going to need some convincing to ‘take some time off.’
But by the time I arrive, he’s convinced me. There are some hot springs nearby that make a wonderful swimming hole.
So on my first full day in Tanzania, we travel.
In Swahili, there’s the word pole. Pronounced POH-lay, it’s best translated ‘my condolences’ or ‘how unfortunate,’ and is similar to the sentiment expressed in the English ‘I’m sorry,’ but without any admission of guilt.
Pole can be combined with other words to express condolences for something: pole za kazi, sorry for the work/it sucks that you had to work; pole za safari, sorry for the journey/it sucks that you had to travel.
Pole za safari, indeed.
Distances in Tanzania are vast, and they’re made longer by the lack of expedient transportation in between.
So on my first day in country, we start with some vitumbua (deliciously oily dough cakes), and the best chai that I’ve ever tasted: slightly sweetened, perfectly spicy, the flavour profile a parabolic curve of comfort with each sip. Food is cooked over an open fire. Indoors. I’m doing untold damage to my respiratory system here.
We then walk to the buses, repeating the name of the line that we need. Adam speaks Swahili and doesn’t stand down when confronted. We’re going to get along well.
We squeeze onto the Arusha bus. I’m sitting in a seat that folds down from the armrest of the seat next to me. My seat spans the aisle. I didn’t know that seats could do this.
The ticket collector asks us for the full fare to the end of the line two hours away. Adams asks the woman next to him what we should pay. The price for the full ride to the other end is 3,000/=, but we pay only 2,000/=. We’re arguing over $0.60, but neither Adam nor I is afraid of confrontation, and both of us are determined not to settle for the racist practices of charging wazungu* more.
We get off at Boma Ng’ombe. We need to find our next driver, True Boy.
We walk to the bajaj stands. We’re swarmed by teenage boys offering us rides. Adam asks which one of them is the truest. Heads turn to face True Boy, who steps forward. We follow him to his bajaj, his name painted artfully across the back.
And thus we start the hour-long ride out into the countryside. We pass Maasai herding cattle, Maasai driving donkeys laden with bundles of firewood. We drive through the center of a small village, a cluster of huts. It’s rained recently, and the road is flooded at one point. True Boy moves some rocks along the shoulder and we off-road it across a footpath around the puddle.
This is hard work. The bajaj bounces and skids across rocks and dusty gravel. My skinny ass is sore after forty-eight hours of sitting from Monterey to Moshi.
Pole za safari.
But so worth the safari.
We arrive here, and rest before we have to turn back and do it all over again.
*Mzungu (pl. wazungu) means white person, literally ‘walks in circles.’ I think that colonial explorers are to blame for that, either because they disappeared on journeys and returned eventually, or because they had no idea where they were going and wandered around town in circles. Since mzungu is commonly understood by most white tourists, the newer street slang is mlami. I’m waiting for someone to mention mlami so that I can say, ‘Wapi? (Where?)’ whilst turning from side-to-side to look.