Elliots Birthday

Trip Start Sep 08, 2003
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Trip End Ongoing


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Saturday, September 20, 2003

The day of Elliot's Birthday, and despite still feeling rough, I had agreed to go out. I was told to get a Dala Dala to Moivaro and it would be a 10 minute walk to Elliot's house from there. The Dala Dalas are little camper vans that have seats fitted in the back. There are twelve seats, but I haven't seen one with less than 20 people on yet, and the current record is 27! Vicky and I have learnt that if you wait to try and get one with a spare seat, you will be waiting all day - it is better to jump on and cling to the doorway, the windscreen or the bumper, and as the journey goes on, a seat will eventually become free. The 21km journey from the school at Usa River into town takes about 40 minutes, but make that an hour on market days, when chickens, bags of rice and beans are dragged on as well. The good thing is there is no such thing as a 'bus stop' you just bang on the side of the van, and it stops! Right by your door, with the whole journey costing 18p. A lot cheaper than a rollercoaster at Alton Towers, and probably as thrilling, as you cling on for dear life!

We set off for Elliot's at about 6pm, as in Africa the sun goes down at 7pm on the dot. One moment it is light, the next you need a head-torch as there are no street lights, the unpaved muddy roads and dense vegetation making it seem even darker. I am still amazed at the speed with which it gets dark. As a white person living here, I had been warned to always be at your destination by dark A volunteer a few years ago ended up with a machete in their arm, when they were mugged at night. Even the police go home at night - they know how dangerous it is! So we allowed an hour to get to Elliot's, so that we would be there in plenty of light, and could meet the other people in Elliot's village. After walking for about half an hour, I started to get worried. We were no where near a village and I was still seeing fields of tomatoes and the little wooden sheds of the farmers. Thank goodness for the mobile I thought, quietly glad that I had resisted the temptation to live a completely African lifestyle and had brought my mobile. "Elliot I have been walking for half an hour and can't see the village and its getting dark". Elliot went berserk - it would appear that in order to "empress the ladies", he had slightly underestimated the traveling time so that it would appear he was fit! I was later to learn that he has never done the walk in under an hour! Panic set in - you can't just hail a taxi. I was in the middle of a field armed with only the pineapple that I had brought as a birthday present for Elliot. Hardly a match for a machete! Elliot told us to stay put and he would try and borrow a motorbike to find us. As the sun went down, we noticed how the villagers stayed inside, while we sat alone by the edge of the dirt track. Elliot kept ringing me back to say he was on his way; he had the local villagers all looking for a bike to bring him down, and then they were looking for petrol to run it! Until that point I wasn't that worried. I thought it was probably more hype than actual danger, but when I realized it had become a village project to rescue the Mzungus, I realized the danger we were in. The shadows, started to hold all sorts of possible hazards, and Vicky and I kept turning round to imaginary noises. Finally, the sound of a motorbike and a relieved looking Elliot, promising never to exaggerate again! We arrived at Elliot's village and cheer went up from the bar as we entered and sat down to a cold Kili beer! The locals couldn't believe we still had our wallets and mobiles. Lucky Mzungus!

The local bar is another of the village wooden 'sheds', with a mud floor, plastic garden chairs around picnic tables and a section cordoned off with metal bars. The grid keeps the alcohol under lock and key, and a man stands behind the bars and passes the beers out. Spirits like Vodka and Gin are sold in little plastic bags, and the corner is snipped and the contents poured into a glass. The bags each hold 100ml, so compared to a standard shot at home, you could get very sloshed, very quickly. And as it was his birthday, Elliot proceeded to do so. The lift into town was on the back of cattle truck, with about 15 of us stood up clinging onto the bars and bouncing down the track towards town.

We met the other volunteers and I found that word of my hospital trip had spread quickly, as a seat was found for me and Pizza ordered. Food! English Food! What a treat! I guess I am missing home. I daren't even think about Mum's Roast Dinner!
Elliot had decided to introduce us to his local Night club - well the only nightclub in Arusha - Colobus. I had heard Alan describing it during the day. According to him, it was very good - like Ministry of Sound he said! Boy did I laugh when I got inside. Well it is Africa I reasoned; what was I expecting? It was like a school disco, all the chairs around the edge of the room, dance floor in the middle and a few disco lights. There were several pretty girls on the dance floor, which I saw all the boys admire, until the girls asked for money to dance with them!! We all looked at each other in amusement - not somewhere I was planning to visit every week. Elliot was loving it though, but then I guess through Vodka tinted glasses the place may look better...... but not the reason I had come to Africa. I preferred sitting in Elliot's village bar, playing "Last Card" with the locals (and trying to persuade them not to cheat!!).

We got a taxi back to Usa. by African standards the taxi was fairly good: it had all 4 tyres and only part of the windscreen had been smashed. We arrived back at the school to find we couldn't wake the night security guard that protects the children. All the gates to the school were locked from the inside, and we were stood outside. I had fortunately asked the taxi driver to wait, and having seen the problem, he came to push us over the 7ft wall. What an end to the day. I sank relieved into bed, listening to the security guards snores!

The next day dawned, and I had been looking forward to a lie-in, but the children had other ideas, banging on my door at 5am. Having got in at 2am, I lay in bed wishing to be somewhere else. I then heard all the children having a wash outside, the sounds of water splashing, and the children squealing as they had a water fight. I smiled to myself - what a sweet noise to wake up - children playing. I suddenly realized I felt content.

The plan for the day was to go swimming at Moivaro Lodge. We knew how long it took to walk there now, and set off in the morning. The lodge is an old Coffee Plantation that has been turned into a hotel. What a contrast to the village as you walk through the gates of the lodge. Green grass! And a paved driveway leading up to the front door. The lodge caters for those that want to see Africa, but with a bit of luxury. You can be picked up at the airport and driven straight here, without having to walk through the village. I was secretly glad to be doing it my way, and be lucky enough to experience both worlds. I was certainly enjoying the luxury of sitting on the sun-terrace now, admiring the crystal clear swimming pool, watching the honeymoon couples, but I am not sure I would have traded it in for a night sat in the village bar getting to know real Africa. As we walked back down to the main road to catch a dala dala, we joined in the custom in African Villages and said hello to everyone we met. Sunday afternoon is when most of the villagers are walking home from church and it is therefore a particularly busy time, and the rounds of "Jambo", "Mambo" and "Habari" were coming thick and fast. I was starting to learn that there are different greetings for older villagers and people who you respect. I got a huge amount of pleasure from watching a elderly mans face light up when he got a "Shikamoo" from me - a Mzungu!
I got home, and the highlight of the week, a phonecall from Home! I was in tears as I heard mum and dad's voices. So far away. Yet they too had managed to hear I had been in hospital and were ringing to check I was okay. Yep - you still want your mum when you are ill, and Dad brought me up to speed on the footie scores! Come on Bristol City!
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