Nasal Hair And Ghantias Made Of Steel
It rained heavily here in Dar es Salaam last night, not a good sign for heading to the airport in the morning since the already terrible roads will now be full of mucky water masking horrid potholes that’ll snare traffic even more. Sure enough, the going is a crawl early the next morning and it has begun to drizzle again. The crew constructing the new Chinese-aided highway take shelter under massive wobbly umbrellas and wait together with two bored Chinese road engineers for the rain to let up. As we crawl along in the gridlocked traffic, one of the Chinese foreman decides to be creative and begins to pull out his nasal hair. He pushes two pinched fingers up his nose and jerks a hair out, grimaces in pain, studies it closely, as if it holds a solution to the current crises in Gaza, and then discards it, then attacks more hair. Intrigued, I stare at this disgusting public display of self-grooming and wonder what the African crew huddled with him under the umbrella feel about his choice of preening. The car jerks forward and I lose sight of the man before his third attempt.
I’m headed for Tanga with Murtaza Bhimani, CAI Africa Representative, and Nyota Foundation’s Mohsin Nathani to commission two water wells drilled for communities desperate for potable water and due diligence on a dilapidated school for possible renovation. The only way to fly to Tanga is via Zanzibar on Auric Air from Terminal One. This regional airline is mighty impressive, with timely departures on small Cessna aircrafts, clean and safe every time I’ve flown them – we land in Tanga an hour later. Tanga is same-old, same-old – a once-promising town now grimy and crumbling. After a mustahabb quick bite of nylon-bajeeas at the once-legendary Blue Room in town, we head towards the school project, some 200 miles away. The driving is good to Mombo, but then we must leave the comfort of the tar-top roads and drive on the typical African gravel ones. The drive is uncomfortable with relentless jarring until the driver hits a solid fold on the road and the tire caves in and loses all air. It is scorching hot under a merciless sky outside and there is sparse shade as far as my eye can see. We seek refuge under some deadly-thorny acacia bush while the driver and an aid struggle to replace the damaged tire. The only spare tire the nincompoop driver has is a temporary one, not meant to drive fast or more than thirty miles, and certainly not on African roads like this; I get an omen of trouble ahead. I’m assured that there is a repair shop in the village where the school is and the tire will be repaired.
The school, Lunguza Elementary School, in the village of Lunguza, District of Lushoto, Tanga, Tanzania, is in a dismal state. Built before independence, in 1954, It is a miracle some of the classrooms are still standing. It has 1,805 elementary students taught by 17 teachers and will balloon to over 2,000 by 2024. Each classroom has an average of 131 children and 71 share to use one squat toilet. All the classroom tin roofs leak, and the students sit on the floor, making meaningful teaching during monsoons useless. If the stringent compliance requirements and reporting are assured, CAI donors will restore one building dangerously damaged, replace roofs, provide desks, and build about 14 quality toilets to alleviate the situation. The children, from poor farming families, deserve better. Lunch of chicken, lamb, and bananas is offered but we are in a hurry to return as it’ll be dark in about an hour and the vehicle’s tire situation is still iffy. Even though we have not had lunch and I’m hungry, I’m more concerned about the hygiene of the food so I settle on a couple of tasty fried plantains. I do not want a deadly belly for my return to Dar tomorrow.
The tire is supposedly fixed and replaced so we begin driving on an alternate shorter route which is deadlier. The nonstop irritating jarring makes it difficult for me to process my thoughts about how to position the funding for the school and it is impossible to talk without yelling so we are all quiet. Not for too long. Just as the sun is setting in the west, the fixed tire gives way. I’m out of the vehicle fast, really concerned now since we are in the middle of nowhere and deadly darkness is imminent. The alternate tire is put back again, but I doubt it’ll last more than a few miles. By the time that is fixed, it is past magreeb and just as quickly, the African darkness has engulfed us. It is suffocating, the few seconds that I experience total darkness before the cell phones offer me some assurance that I am still alive and not six feet under. Murtaza Bhimani cautions the driver to take it slow repeatedly since the spare tire is the only lifeline to spending the night in the jungle, in the middle of a wildlife reserve. By the time we reach a village that has a tire repair facility, the spare tire is busted. The driver purchases a dubious-looking used tire and we continue with our journey on horrendous roads; why, I’m reminded of Afghanistan instantly. A patch of a mere six miles takes us almost thirty minutes!
We eventually reach Tanga after 10 PM, eleven hours since we started, exhausted but much relieved. Stuck in the middle of the African savannah in the dark of the night can be toxic. Tanga dies at about 8 PM and decent restaurants are winding down. I can hardly keep my eyes open, but I’m hungry as well. I buy a pack of cookies and two packs of ganthias to cheat our stomachs until breakfast the next morning. The only reasonable accommodation with AC is the Usambara Hotel. The cookies and ghantias with teabag-made karak chai I always carry with me feel like a feast in waiting. The cookies turn out to be staler than a week-old corpse’s breath and the ghantias are harder than the steel used to construct this hotel; we discard them. The hotel staff take pity on us and offer complimentary toasted bread greased in ghastly margarine and dubious colored jam; I down a couple; It’ll have to suffice until tomorrow.
After a hearty breakfast, we head to two villages where CAI donors, via NASIMCO’s Ali Asghar Water Appeal initiative, have sponsored water wells for hapless communities. We commission the water wells, hand them to their respective village committees, drive back to town, pray zohrain, have a lackluster lunch, and drive back to the decaying airport and hop to Zanzibar and onwards to the gridlocked roads of Dar es Salaam.
Am I getting too old for all this fun and adventure?