Wednesday, 20 January 2010

A Night at Mpanda Ndogo Mpanda

I remained sitting on the bike for about thirty minutes, the motor idling and the bike on parking lights.  My heart, as it often did, suggested to me that this was the place to stop for the night.  I waited for the owners of Mitumba to come to me.  Anywhere I stopped; there was never lack of people who came to scrutinize this unusual visitor, to satisfy their curiosity, to fondle the bike – that is what they did. About ten people were around me.   It had one advantage; it always gave me the occasion to start a conversation.  In this case, I requested to know if there was a headman or chief of the area.  It was a very small trading post.  In chorus, they pointed to a shop directly in front of me.  When they learnt that I speak fluent Kiswahili, they said Karibu, which means welcome. He is in there, they said.  I promptly dismounted from the bike and approached the shop. 

 An African  A Market Day -- Bananas

Shikamoo baba I cried.  This is a Kiswahili greeting to a person of respect (elder).  In his case I added baba, (daddy to spice it up), thus elevating the respect I was paying him to even a higher notch.  Shikamoo has Arabic origins and can be translated as I hold your feet.  After the salutations, he asked me to sit.  I patiently waited until he had finished his business for audience.  He eventually sat beside me and in this manner, I introduced myself, my purpose and why I wanted to see him.  He was a very kind man in his late forties.  Having understood my purpose he promptly showed me two places where I could pitch tent.  He said the one nearest to his house was the best since I would be in his compound.  I said I speak fluent Kiswahili and I also understand the cultures of the region. For this reason I did not find it difficult to blend with the folks of the town.  After parking scorpion and pitching tent, I went to find company and some food.   Rashid was a citizen of the area I invited him to join me.

  A Market Day -- Pinapples

These people are amiable folks and terribly welcoming; it was like I had come home.  We sat in small eating place and ordered grilled chicken and Ugali (pap or maize meal).  As we waited, we sipped Kilimanjaro, the local bottled beer.  Two extremely beautiful ladies joined us.  I subsequently learnt that the village headman was their uncle.  They operated the eating house.  I noticed it was predominantly Muslim.  On this note it is necessary to point out that one reason why Islam is very successful is because it tends to blend and fuse with the local culture; this makes it appealing.  Islam has blended so well with Swahili as a culture since the days when the Arab dhows came to the East African coast to trade in ivory, spices, slaves and the like.  In fact in my own social origins, to have a cousin who is a moslem is common place.  It was easy for me to notice all this marriage in the surroundings around me.  I need to mention that Kiswahili as a language is spoken widely in the Great Lake Region (Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Congo (DRC), Burundi, Somalia and parts of Southern Sudan) although in a multiplicity of dialects. 

As conversation flowed oiled by Kilimanjaro, we spoke about a variety of subjects: marriage, relationships, and politics.  My favourite theme was education.  I learnt that my host was married.  He said he had three boys.  I am a teacher and naturally was inclined to speak about the value of education to the generation of tomorrow.   I was able to extract a promise from my host that he would educate these boys and the ones yet to arrive, for he had indicated that he was going to have two more children.  Although I was tired and would have loved the company of my tent; presently, I loved the company of these ordinary folks.  I had become one of them at least in attitude.  They spoke from their hearts, the simplicity of their manner, the generosity of the rural environment was way different from what I was used to in the metropolitan of Johannesburg.  For me it was a way of reclaiming what was lost or rather what the metropolitan had dispossessed me.   I knew that with wide ears and open eyes there was something to learn from them folks.  

It was the coming of a storm that signaled my time to depart and take up residence in my tent.  And so it rained so hard that night in a manner I had not experienced during the entire trip so far.  It was like the heavens had simply opened all its taps.   I was secure and nothing disturbed my peace; I simply drifted off into the land of sleep.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Into the Heart of Western Tanzania

To Mpanda Ndogo Mpanda

When I set out on this odyssey, numerous friends prayed for the success of my trip.  I knew it was blessed by the Devine and that it was meant to be.  There are many reasons for saying this but an outstanding reason was that this trip was initially planned for December 2008, it simply failed.  Although everything had been taken care of, it seems certain mental preparations had not been met adequately.  I subsequently realised this in retrospect.  I supplied a bona fide but incomplete explanation to explain this state of affair on the Wilddog Forum.

Saint Ireneus once said that God works through nature.  I am not a theologian and will not give treaties on this subject, but my simple faith demonstrated this in a very ordinary manner.  I did everything as far as it was humanly possibly to prepare for the initial trip but it simply failed.  How many times does something fail to work in your favour but you are hard-headed and insistent that it must go on as planned?  How many times do you ever listen to yourself and the circumstances surrounding you?  In the subsequent preparations, which preparations were even better including trying to arrange for Travel Insurance from a reputable firm, one day after a long delay and on the eve of my departure, I was inconveniently informed that my trip was too risky and could not be insured.  In short, I departed without this facility.  I had done lots of travel preparations by trying to cover every conceivable contingency.  My Wilddog Forum colleagues were instrumental to this end either by way of advice, such as from the late Ibele Kruger, supplies from Kurt Beine among others, actual work on the bike, from my buddy Andy.  Among others, TravelGravel, for instance, sent her phone number saying that if ever I wanted to communicate she would provide this avenue.  It is not possible to enumerate every act of kindness that was offered but suffice to say that God works in mysterious ways.  Of all the preparations I did, neither my friends nor I remembered to think about the appropriate tyres for the trip – knobblies.  I had discussed every detail for most of the trip but hardly anything about tyres and even where I did it was more out of curiosity.  For some reason I assumed that Anakees would do.  As I pointed out previously they are good tyres but only to a certain point.  At this point of the trip these tyres were a none-issue. This oversight would result into many tumbles so that after  the fifteenth event, I stopped counting.

Just passed Mpanda Ndogo Mpanda

I did not spend much time in Sumbawanga.  I rode down its main street – the only tarmac portion of the road – filled up on petrol and headed for Mpanda Ndogo Mpanda about 250km to the north.  A full tank would cover this distance.  I wish to alert the reader that petrol in this part of the world was approximately two dollars a litre. As I left that town behind me, the sun was beginning to go over the horizon; I was anxious to reach Mpanda before it was dark.  On tarmac this was an easy trip, but on dirt road my first real test of my riding skills on this sort of terrain was an ordeal.  As I gathered speed, I realised that the road was not as firm as the one I had just ridden on into Sumbawanga.  A close look determined that a grader had recently levelled this road.  This had many implications such as lots of sand collected together but disguised.  I could tell from the way Scorpion was dancing on the road that there was a lot of loose earth beneath my tyres.  In addition, if it were to rain as it did that night, the entire road become one big pool of mud that would make it very treacherous  to ride on.  Towards the equator the sun sets quickly.  I decided to maintain a decent speed to cover good ground before it was dark.  I was also worried by the fact that Katavi National Park was between me and Mpanda.  I decided that the first town I came across, I would call it a day.  

A Land Cruiser was in front of me and the amount of dust it was raising was blinding me, and some of it was entering my air vents in the helmet and obviously my mouth. When I had a chance to pass it, they never saw me again.  It was not until 7:45 that I arrived at small town called Mitumba; by then it was pitch black; I could not see my hand in front of my face. I was tired, hungry but glad that I had enjoyed this portion of the trip although it had started in the morning with a tumbled. 

To be continued…

Livingstone Falls

Livingstone the Falls- Zambian Side

Livingstone the Falls-Zambian Side

Livingstone the Falls- Zambian Side
Livingstone the Falls-Zambian Side

Livingstone the Falls-Zambian Side

Monday, 18 January 2010

Welcome to Tanzania

 The Road Ahead toward Sumbawanga

I am now riding on a typical African ‘dirt’ road: rugged, portholes, sand, loose stones, and generally not maintained.  Let me mention that I did not have knobblies for tyres; I had Anakee 2 which had handled the paved road surface as well as on firm dirt road so far very well, but that is about it.  The story takes on a new twist when I begun to encounter different dirt road conditions as you will soon learn.  In hindsight, and ever since I returned from this trip, I changed to 50/50 tyres.  These are good both for paved and unpaved roads to some extent.

Part of this trip was to relish the riding on different road surfaces.   This being the aim, my first encounter on the dirt road in spite of my first tumble had wetted my appetite for more.  I picked up speed gradually climbing to 120km per hour.  I man the machine and Scorpion mans the road, it is a perfect scene for the duo to perform a perfect rode dance.   It is about 2:00 pm, my destination is Sumbawanga a small dusty town located about 200km from the border.  To say that the stretch from Mbala (Zambia) to Kasesya border post (Tanzania) was a bad road is an understatement.  It was the beginning of the road from Hell. If truth be told then it is that I tumbled so many times that after the 15th tumble, I stopped counting.   Well the next stretch from Kasesya for the next 200 kms was firm dirt road with loose stones and lots of dust.  It was thrilling to leave a cloud of dust trailing behind me.   You see, the little joys of life are in the little links that make life worthwhile and leave ones face creases with a smile.   My delight was to be on this odyssey with all its attendant factors.   

A Market Day -- Pawpaws

Although riding required 110% of my attention to which I committed myself to the extent that I decided not to listen to music from an Ipod a generous friend had lent me, I always allowed myself a little serious thought.  I did not want this to be a trip just for its sake: the fact that I was riding alone was a great source of pleasure.  It allowed me considerable measure of time to be alone and therefore room for some deep thought on many personal issues.  2009 was particularly a good year if such a thing can be said.  Part of the ride was to say thank you.  I was grateful to the Divine that I had received many blessings one of which was that I had landed a permanent job as a lecturer.  Yet in the midst of all these joy and laughter was raw pain, heart rending pain that left me sometimes numb and asking “why” to which I did not have answers.   I will return to this point shortly.

In the meantime, I wish to say that all my life I had spent time doing things for people, and one of them was to seeing my 4 siblings through school.  My mother had died when I was only 21.  That is the age when you want your mother around since it is the point when you are making some life-time decisions.  And even though you make the decisions, you need a trusted one to listen, to endorse, to question and even sometimes to remonstrate with you.  It is that time of transition from being a teen to being an adult.  It is an important time that makes or breaks you.  I was very close to my mom; she was my best friend and mentor.  I trusted her; I confided in her; I depended on her.  One day she summoned me to her bed side in hospital.   Without much ado she said to me, you are going to school – I was a just beginning my year as a sophomore – you will not find me when you return next vacation.  To cut the long story short, that is how it happened.  I remember the day vividly.  One day I met my neighbour Alfred on a street in Kampala – it was a clear hot and dusty Kampala day.  He called me by name and offered condolences for the passing of my mother.   I remember sitting by the roadside and crying like a baby.  

In our discussion at the bedside, mom’s desire was that I marry a beautiful lady and have a family.  I wanted to join the priesthood; it was therefore necessary to obtain her blessings.   She had gone silent for an hour when I disclosed my heart’s desires.  In the end she said no.  I had to take care of my siblings when she was gone. 

In 1993 I found and feel in love with a girl I adored so much.  Juliet, for that was her name, was everything a man desires in a woman: kind, hard-working, intelligent, beautiful, funny, and the list is endless.  I visited Juliet on the 24th of December 1993.  That was the last time I saw her alive.  She was tragically shot and killed on the 1st of Jan 1994. She was the second beloved person I was lost in a space of two years.   What was the meaning of these happenings?  First it was mom and now it was Juliet.  I cried so much until I had to beg God to stop the tears.  The tear stopped; I never cried again about Juliet to this day. 

In June 1995, I joined the Jesuits for priesthood training – for the next eleven years I was in the training for priesthood against my mother’s will. 

In 2006, I quit.  In October 2008 I got engaged to a Xhosa girl – a great person, very intelligent, a great soul.  We planned to marry on 28th Feb 2010, but alas it was not to be!   She told me one day, she was not interested any more in the relationship.  She left the engagement ring on the table.  I subsequently disposed of it at Livingstone Falls.  It was painful – but what could be more painful than the loss of mom and the loss of Julie?  I had to learn to live with such pain.  Lots of friends gave me strength.  In this manner, delving deep in my life experiences, I covered ground to reach Sumbawanga about mid-afternoon without realising that I had covered nearly 200kms.  But my pains were not yet finished; a new wave was waiting somewhere in the realm of the unknown.
Arriving at Sumbawanga

An End to a Beginning.

How the End Begun Although I have never finished my story, there is an end to every beginning.  One such end came many moons ago, when a...