Daladalas, Gelegeles, And How Learning Really Takes Place, Part I

I will warn you now that I have a fascination with public transportation. As such, blog entries about it will be way too long and drawn out, so bear with me… this comes from a girl who was fine with a two-hour commute each way when living in Montreal; oh the people-watching, the pages of writing and the books I read!

Mass in Eastern Senegal

Mass, driva of the most epic - and terrifying - gelegele ever

My first daladala trip in the regions happened today (check Peter & Debra’s and Ishwar’s blogs for accounts of the daladalas in Dar). I left the house later than I’d intended and walked to the roundabout to wait for a vehicle. I had wanted to get one starting in Kamachumu, in order to get a seat, but when a full vehicle arrived, I crowded up to the door… how could I resist! One man, tapping on the passenger seat window, said “mzungu!” (mazoong-goo = white person) and I thought he might be indicating that I could get the front seat. My first mistake, hesitation. Then the conducta tapped my bag as I attempted to climb in, so I took it off, and he grabbed it to take it in the back. A second loss of ground. Now, I almost waited to climb in, wanting to see my bag safely in the back.

In Senegal and the Gambia, there is an unwritten code that in a garas (anywhere you catch public transport), bags are not stolen. It’s worth the aparenti’s (the man who deals with money etc.) and driver’s reputation to keep the baggage in their charge safe. So while you wait for a vehicle to fill (and they do not leave until full!), you can leave your luggage on the roof and go off for hours to eat or shop, knowing it will be there when you get back. It is your responsibility not to be swayed by the aparenti’s constant jabbering that you will be leaving in five minutes, which he will do even when there are only three people waiting for a 15-passenger van. He does this in order to keep people from wandering away, because once you’ve claimed a seat and your luggage has gone on the roof, he really can’t leave without you. So he wants to scare his charges into staying close-by. If you are late, the aparenti gets really angry at you, as do all the other passengers. This rarely happens, however, because when there are just a few seats left to fill, he’ll amp it up to a fever pitch, running around yelling at people, the driver will start the engine, and idle near the gate for as long as it takes. At this point, you had better be in the vehicle, but the hurry-up-and-wait can be absolutely toxic when the exhaust is seeping in, the windows don’t open, and sweat is dripping down your legs.

Now, here I come to the main point of difference between Gambian and Senegalese gelegeles (gellygelly) and the Tanzanian daladalas. In terms of development, Tanzania seems to be mostly ahead of the game. Rules of the road do not fall in this category. In West Africa, when driving on a main road (i.e., with police checks), every passenger must have a seat, and it is strictly enforced. In Tanzania, this sort of safety regulation is ignored. My hesitation today caused me to have to stand, bent sideways, half sitting on an old man’s lap. The conducta carefully arranged my feet before squeezing himself in and slamming the door. As we set off, leaning wildly around steep curves, my proximity to the ceiling made me feel pretty sick. I was even forced to stop texting!

During the trip, people leaned on me, sat on me (a large woman, nonetheless, while I was propped sideways on a seat with metal digging into my hip), groped my boob (I don’t think it was intentional, his hand had nowhere else to go), and talked about me. “Mzungu, unaweza kusimama”. The literal translation is “white person, you are able to stop”, but I have no idea what he meant by that, since I was doing exactly what everyone else in the vehicle was doing. I was reminded of Leanne, in the Gambia, realizing that not every mention of “toubab” in her presence was about her. Rather, people could be talking about a “toubab car” or “toubab music video”; referring to anything Western. In this case, the man could well have been talking about the crowded vehicle and the stubborn refusal of Tanzanians to behave normally on the road. Once, sitting in a gelegele back to Njawara after a long day of travel, I got frustrated by a man going on and on about me. I turned around and made a snarky comment in Wolof, to which he threw his head back, laughing heartily, and said “toubab ku nuul, nga am”; “you are a black toubab”. It completely made my day.

In today’s daladala, having driven off the road onto something resembling a goat path, we all got out in to push through a mud-hole. When the men were pushing, I wanted to join but I knew it would be an exercise in futility, plus I’d be covered in mud. One man didn’t join in and sure enough, the conducta said, in Kiswahili, what are you, a woman?! Come push! Brilliant; an inkling of comprehension…!

When we finally rejoined the road, it was heaven. My nausea began to subside with the breeze coming in the window, and my hunch was confirmed: we had gone off the road to avoid a police checkpoint, because apparently, it is illegal to overstuff vehicles! We were stopped by a police piki, and they immediately forced about five people to get out of the car. They were left sitting on the side of the road, and I was finally sitting (with half my ass, anyway!) on a seat! When we picked up five more in the next village, my seat priority status just meant that someone had to sit on me rather than me sit on them. But that’s fine. I’ll take a bruised hip and being sat on by a fat lady in a white dress over nausea any day.

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Why Roommates Are My Best Friends

What do the Tuki English-Swahili Dictionary and a mosquito net have in common?

Tuki dictionaryBed net

They are both in my first line of defence against scary insects. FYI, I do not consider mosquitoes scary. Scary is the massive (nearly 3 inches), flying cricket-thing that invaded my study session at 11:30 pm tonight. Normally I have my roommates deal with any pest problems; Leanne captured the roaches in Njawara, I called Elliot in tears over an ant invasion, and Bryce and Kent used to take care of any birds and bats in the basement. I have also resorted to neighbours (earwigs in the lawnmower) and guests (earwig in the chives I was chopping). Bonus points if I was standing on a chair or jumping up and down with a disgusted expression on my face, flapping my hands like a chicken.

Our first week in Njawara, Leanne and I were convinced there was a scorpion in our room. It had enlarged front leg-pincer things, and moved very, very fast. The first night we saw it, I ended up standing on the head of my bed laughing hysterically and screaming, when I lost my footing and fell, onto my already-tucked in mosquito net, ripping it out of the ceiling. Luckily our room was so small that Leanne could step directly from her bed (where she was hiding under her net) to mine and help me re-attach the fallen soldier. We slept soundly knowing that the “scorpion” couldn’t get into our beds. The following night when we called the boys to help dispose of our unwanted guest, we were told that it was “not a scorpion, …but somehow similar”. Read: “silly white girls, it looks nothing like a scorpion!”

Tonight I went carefully over my options: 1. use my strainer to capture the insect against the wall, slide to the floor and then somehow kill it 2. spray it with insecticide 3. sneak past it into my room and deal with it in the morning. In the end, I sprayed it, while cringing excessively (I really hate killing things!), then threw not only the big Tuki, but the smaller Kiswahili-English one as well, at the dying bug. Count: two crickets and a fly for the Tuki.

Now, safely inside my bed net, I am still twitching at any potential insect-movement, and contemplating my ability to live alone in the tropics (or anywhere!). Thankfully I have internet and texting capability: the cricket arrived in the middle of a chat with Eileen, in which I was describing my sweet new digs;

Eileen: Are you in your village???

And you have internet?????

me: yes, internet in my HOUSE!

my house is super super cute

i’m going to post pics soon on my blog

i am really really OH GOD

FLYING INSECT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

BIG ONE

eeek!

So, watch out everyone. Even if we’re not roommates anymore, you still have to support me when it comes to scary insects. But I’m not concerned, I know you will. And that’s part of why I love you guys so much.

Jack enjoys cooking

Just because Jack is a pest doesn't mean I should try and squish him with a book

Immoral Turpitude

turpitude – (n) a corrupt or depraved or degenerate act or practice

synonyms: wickedness, evil, corruption, criminality, depravity, immorality, iniquity, badness, viciousness, villainy, degeneracy, sinfulness, foulness, baseness, vileness, nefariousness

Jamaa Rek: The Art of Acceptance

Yesterday, I was supposed to start pikipiki lessons. Instead, I practiced what I like to call “Africa mode”. In the Gambia, I learned to sink into it at essentially any time, but mostly when traveling. We would have to leave our village (Njawara) on the gele-gele at 6am or earlier in order to get out to the main road. At sunrise, shivering in the rain, sitting in Kerewan waiting for the next vehicle, I would doze under a scarf, chat aimlessly with the girls waiting for school, and only when the shopkeepers emerged, enjoy a sugary milky coffee, beans and tapalapa (local French loaf). I came to enjoy those mornings watching the citizens of the North Bank come to life. I would, however, still walk the two hours home in the evening, to avoid waiting for the vehicle going back to Njawara, and to catch some alone time.

Goats on the road

Goats sleeping peacefully on the road during my pre-dawn sit in Kerewan

Here in Tanzania we haven’t had too much hurry-up-and-wait time… yet. We’ve also had so many fellow volunteers around at any given time that there’s always someone interesting to chat with.

Yesterday two things happened: people started leaving for their placements, and our In Country Training schedule came to an end. I spent the morning saying goodbyes and exchanging pictures at the VSO office, then took the daladala back to the hotel to wait for someone to pick me up to go to pikipiki lessons, “wait” being the optimum word. I put my jeans and sneakers on, grabbed my shiny white helmet, and trucked downstairs.

After a two-hour nap on the lobby couch, reading a magazine for kids, and watching the news on TV, I decided to give up and go back upstairs. A nice afternoon of pumzika (rest)! My phone calls had yielded little information.

Midday rest

Alagie, Leanne and Mike waiting for the midday sun to fade on our Gambia-Senegal bike tour

It’s a state of torpor, of suspended animation. You see people on the streets in this state; people in shops, in their offices. What’s the source? Is it the red tape, the wading through quicksand to get things done? Maybe the heat, the empty calories, or, to put it in a positive light, a cultural ease of acceptance, free of fifteen-minute time slots and eating lunch at our desks. Perhaps our Western mindset could use a shot of Africa mode. Not too much though, because I would hate to have to wait for the late-night buses in Montreal to fill up before they leave the first stop.

NATC meeting

This is why I like Africa; sleeping in meetings is okay

The Day Venessa Got Shat On By A Monkey

Today we went on safari.  And a Colobus monkey shit on Venessa’s back.

Wild Animals Next 50 kms

It’s been a week of haggling for Venessa and me – roommates here at the convent, and this week’s Entertainment Committee.  We finally decided on a tour operator and came to a satisfactory price for our safari in Mikumi National Park.  This morning we gathered the troops at 4:45am (Okay, I admit, I had nothing to do with the gathering. I was the last one out the door).  Venessa informed me it was the earliest she’s ever gotten up, excluding all-nighters, and proceeded to start singing “In the Jungle”.

We rolled into the park a little after 6:30 and immediately saw giraffes, zebras and impala.  It was a sign of a sweet day to come.  In our “enhanced 4WD” vehicles, we had roofs that lifted, which completely made my day.  I was able to perch on the roof, binoculars and camera handy, squealing like a little girl especially when we saw: 1. baby animals 2. zebras 3. animals running.  Unfortunately I missed the ultimate “animal running” moment – a full-grown elephant charged the second vehicle in our group!!!  No harm done.

Griaffes at Mikumi

Zebras in Mikumi

Lunch was burgers at the restaurant near the park gate – also near a watering hole where, as we ate, we watched elephants, water buffalo, impala and zebras drink and bathe.  It was incredible.  The elephants splashed water up over their backs, then moved to a sandy area and threw sand on themselves as well!  The zebras interested me the most (anything that resembles a horse, of course).  The small herd (about 7) approached so carefully, the male coming first while the rest waited some way back.  He checked both sides of the pond and did a retreat-return before deciding it was safe.  One slow step at a time, he came up and drank.  I was close enough to see the birds roaming on his back, neck and shoulder, and to make out a deep scar on his right butt cheek.  One female stayed directly behind him, alert, while the herd grazed, and one more stayed further back surveying the scene.  Only the male, one female and a younger zebra drank, then they moved off and took turns rolling in the sand.  Although I’m sure I would have been nearly as happy watching a herd of riding ponies, stripy wild equids with elephants and buffalo in the background were super, super cool.

Elephants in Mikumi

Me in the hugest baobab

After lunch we drove to the hugest baobab tree I’ve ever seen and climbed it.  I love climbing trees, I love baobabs, and I was outrageously happy.  Then, to top it all off, someone on the ground yelled “there’s a monkey at the top of the tree!”  The six of us in the tree didn’t believe it, because we’d just been joking about a leopard being up there or a lion lurking at the bottom.  You guessed it… there actually was a black and white Colobus monkey up there, not appreciating our presence so much, and as Venessa was climbing down he released the nastiest smelling slimiest shit… which landed on her.  Then it leaped wildly from branch to branch, to the next tree over, and catapulted itself what looked like 2 stories to the ground.

What a day.  Too much sun, zebras, water buffalo, hippos, crocodile, wildebeest, elephants, warthogs, two types of giraffe, impalas, baboons, eland, giant hornbills, lots of colourful birds, a few geckos, baobab trees, good company and beautiful African savannah… perfect.  I won’t begrudge the lack of lions, hyenas or African wild dogs (my ultimate fav – but sadly rare).  It was worth the haggling, and the stench of monkey shit.

Mikumi National Park

Karibu Tanzania!

If you plan to visit me in Tanzania – and you should – you need to learn only one phrase before you come. It’s like teaching Korean children to ride horses. All they say is “It’s okay! It’s okay! It’s okay!” until you want to scream (“my head is going to explode, it is NOT okay!!”). In Tanzania, all they say to foreigners is “Karibu Tanzania! Karibu Tanzania! [pronounced care-ee-bou]”. It means “Welcome to Tanzania”, and it’s stuck in my head like you wouldn’t believe. In response, you say “Asante sana” [ah-sahn-tay sah-nah], meaning thank you very much. So that’s what I need you all to learn:

Asante sana

I’m telling you this because we are currently doing a one-week crash course in Swahili, the national language in Tanzania. Myself and fourteen other new VSO Volunteers are trying to learn an entire language in one freakin week. Context: the Peace Corps Volunteers get three months. Therefore I plan to hunt down a PCV to teach me when I get to Kagera [kah-gay-rah] region. I would prefer to hire a local for my Swahili lessons, but the sad fact is, even a Tanzanian teacher in a local school will generally not be able to teach a mzungu [white person – mm-zoun-gou] their language. The school system is just too poor. School system aside, without specific training, it can be hard to teach someone your native tongue. I’m not entirely sure I could teach someone English grammar; I never really learned it!

Swahili is a language derived from Bantu (a native East African language), Arabic and English. Since it’s a newer language, the spelling is phonetic, meaning that each letter stands for one sound – unlike English. It is considered the uniting force of Tanzania, having brought all the tribes together and promoted a national identity. Swahili was made the official language by the first president, Nyeyre, after the country gained independence in 1961. He’s extremely respected and referred to as “the grandfather of the nation”. Swahili is spoken widely in East Africa: they say it was born in Tanzania, corrupted in Kenya, died in Uganda and buried in Rwanda. So I’m learning the “true” Swahili (I bet they’d tell me that in Uganda too). They say the same thing about Wolof in Gambia and Senegal: the Senegalese were convinced that the Gambians had mutilated their precious language.

Swahili sounds sort of like Italian, because all the borrowed English words get “i” stuck on the end. So other than Italian, it kinda sounds like baby talk. Some gems:

crazy = chizi [cheesy]
roundabout = kipilefiti [keepee-leftee](yup you got it, they drive on the left!)
fence = fenzi
stamp = stampu
brother = kaka
candy = pipi [peepee]
toilet paper = toileti paper [toilety paper]
okay, let’s move on = hi (extremely confusing when your language trainer keeps saying “hi!” in the middle of the lesson)
what is this? = hii ni nini [hee nee neenee] (please picture us running around yelling hii ni nini! and shaking different items in people’s faces…)

Soon I’ll start a list of Swahili terms that I’ve used on my blog and pronunciations.