Piki piki, marriage proposal and rats – Easter in Kibaya – Part 3

On the road from Kibaya

It was a 4am start for me to leave Kibaya. After a quick wash and change, Peter & Debra walked me up the road in the moonlight.  On the dot of 4:30 my piki piki (motorbike taxi) arrived.  I jumped on the back, held on behind and off we went through the deserted streets to the bus station.  My mode of transport on the first leg of my journey was a taxi dala – a seven seater people carrier to the ‘Knuckle’ (where the dirt road meets the tarmac road between Dodoma and Morogoro).  When I got in there was already a young woman with a baby and a toddler sitting behind me.   Gradually the dala started to fill up mostly with smartly dressed businessmen and women.

Beside me outside by the light of a kerosene lamp were two women busy rolling out and cooking chapattis on a jiko (charcoal stove) – staple breakfast food in Tanzania.  As this was a daladala, the driver wanted to get as many people in as possible.  We finally departed with 13 adults plus 3 children on board, two of the former sitting in the boot on top of the luggage! There were also two in the driver’s seat, luckily only one was driving but he was half hanging out the window as well.

In the cool of the morning, we drove with the windows down blasting American soft rock into the darkness.  Quite a surreal experience!  As it started to get light, we passed lots of men and women with hoes over their shoulders going off into their fields to work.  I’ve been amazed by how little agricultural mechanisation there is over here.  Most farmers do everything manually.

The road to Morogoro

We passed through lots of villages and finally after two hours we arrived at the Knuckle.  We all went out onto the tarmac road where there was a lay-by for the buses.  There were already plenty of people there, together with their luggage, huge sacks of rice or flour and plastic buckets full of food to sell in the market.  A couple of guys were trying to flag down passing lorries to take a few people on board.  Sometimes they stopped and there was a mad dash to scramble on.

After half an hour a bus came. It was going to Morogoro so I took my bag and got on board.  The conductor directed me to a seat just inside the door and indicated that he’d saved it for me so I sat down.  As we got underway the conductor did his rounds collecting fares and tried to strike up a conversation.  I got a little of what he said but not much.  Then a young guy in the seat across from me piped up in perfect English that the conductor had asked me to marry him!  I suspect that it wasn’t my beauty and charm he was interested in…

At the next stop a few people got off so I was able to move across and sit next to my translator.  He name was Jef and I’d guess was in his early to mid 20s.  He told me that he ran a couple of men’s sportswear shops in Dodoma and that he was on his way to Dar es Salaam to buy more stock.  We chatted for a while and then got onto the subject of music.  That lead onto us sharing earphones to listen to some of the music I had on my iPod.  Jef got introduced to the likes of Adele and Amy Winehouse, both of which he said he really liked.

It took us around four hours to get into Morogoro, two hours less than on the way up and my friend Carl and his eight-year old stepdaughter, Nagma met me off the bus.  Carl was my neighbour when I first came to Dar so we spent quite a bit of time together and became good friends.  He moved to Morogoro when his contract ended to help progress a project that he’d contemplated about when he first came to Tanzania six years ago.

The contrasting colours of Morogoro

Set amongst the Uluguru Mountains, Morogoro has lots of great hiking on its doorstep but a pretty undeveloped tourist industry.  Most tourists go straight through to nearby Mikumi and Selous game parks for their safaris.  So the project that Carl is involved in will provide board and lodging in the remote village of Choma, together with guided walks into the mountains and entertainment.  To ensure the project’s sustainability the whole village is taking part, contributing labour and some materials.  They’ve registered themselves as an organisation (a bureaucratic minefield here) and opened a bank account (again this is a major ordeal).

However, to build a proper campsite with kitchen and toilet facilities takes more than the villagers (who are primarily subsistence farmers) have.  This project will enable them to generate additional income giving them opportunities that most of us take for granted. So Carl is fundraising on their behalf.  It will cost around £4,000 to build the accommodation, provide business and hospitality training, install solar panels (the village has no electricity) and produce marketing materials.  So far he’s raised some of that but with your help; this project can really take off.  You can invest in this great grassroots sustainable tourism project here.

Carl, Nagma and I spent the afternoon swimming in the pool at the Morogoro Hotel. After sitting down for all those hours, it was just what I needed.

Carl and I at rat training camp

The following morning we were up early and joined by fellow VSO volunteer Fran, who is based in Morogoro.  When Carl first came to Tanzania he worked for a Belgian NGO called ApopoThey are a fascinating organisation that trains rats to detect land mines and TB amongst others.  We were going to the training ground to watch some of the land mine detecting rats at work.  With the mountains as a backdrop and a huge training area, I thought this would be a pretty good place to work.

Carl with one of the giant hamster rats enjoying her banana reward

The rats are trained to sniff out the chemicals, such as TNT in explosive devices and scratch where they are located.  They’ve also been trained to respond to a little clicker device and will come and receive their reward (a tasty banana).  The training areas are set out on a grid system with the dummy landmines marked (there are also areas where the mines are not marked so that the trainer can’t influence his/her rats).  The rats are put on little harnesses and go up and down the fields sniffing out the chemicals.  A fascinating business.

We then went onto the buildings where they train rats to detect TB and got a guided tour.  The staff at Apopo collects sputum samples from hospitals in Dar es Salaam and further afield, where TB has been identified but also samples where the testing was negative.  The rats sniff a series of holes under which the sputum samples are placed and are rewarded for any they identify as being TB.  The rats’ work has increased detection rates by 40% and they take just seven minutes to go through 40 samples (which would take a technician a whole day to

analyse).

Fran with one of the TB detecting rats

Also the rats’ accuracy rate is better than humans so they are identifying additional 5-15 new TB-positive patients.  I have a new respect for rats now…

Later, Fran and I travelled back to Dar together on the bus.  There was a young boy sitting in front of me with a live chicken on his lap.  It was in a plastic carrier back with just its head and shoulders poking out.  He was stroking it very tenderly periodically and the chicken made no noise for the whole of our three-hour journey.  Poor thing didn’t realise it would end up in the cooking pot that week!

So my Easter adventure was over.  It was great to see a different part of Tanzania and catch up with friends, but always good to come home again.

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