So there we were – we’d just finished a nice buffet lunch in Arusha with our new driver and constant companion for the next 8 days, Paul, and given him the other 50% of the tour fee for the the safari. He’d just exchanged those cash dollars for literally several million Tanzanian shillings. We were back in our huge, heavy Toyota 4Runner and on our way to the grocery store to get water for the trip (him) and beer (us). Christine and I were talking with Paul about something when suddenly, we smash into the back of a black SUV.
Rewinding it in my mind, I still have to shake my head at the stupidity and simplicity of it all. But then, I’m sure everyone involved in a crash does.
A white pickup truck was in our lane, pulling out to turn right. Bear in mind they use the British driving on the left style here. He stopped, blocking our lane, to wait for an opening with opposing traffic. The black SUV t-bones the white SUV. And then our beast of a truck, almost in slow motion, crunches into the back of the SUV.
Instantly, most of the tinted back window of the SUV pops out like cork from a bottle, separating with neat jagged lines from the rest of the glass, falling outward with a tinkling noise against our hood, then completing the rest of its journey to the pavement. Our bumper, protected with a cattle guard thing that of course every safari truck would have, pushes into the SUV’s spare wheel, denting and warping it. We push forward briefly, a split second of inertia, sandwiching the SUV between the white and tan slices of metal.
And that’s it. In the seat next to me, Christine lets out an exhaled breath and says something pessimistic. I’ve never been in a car accident of any kind before – a real one, mind you; denting the Camaro while changing glacial lyrics slow lanes in Chicago traffic rush hour doesn’t count. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I don’t think about how this will affect the trip. I watch the SUV’s driver climb out of his vehicle, as does the pickup truck driver. Then the mob descends.
Everyone that had been walking on the sidewalk apparently stopped what they were doing to come up and surround the three vehicles. I hear lots of shouting and Paul, who seems like a nice if quiet and a little preoccupied guy, gets out of the car too. A few people come up and start pounding on the glass when he gets back in and suddenly… Rolls up both his windows in the front seats. Christine and I look at each other, and suddenly slam our sliding windows next to us shut too. He’s not telling us to do anything, so we are willing to follow his actions.
He calls a few people and speaks rapidly in Swahili. People keep coming up and tapping on the glass next to him. A couple do so to our windows, but now that I’m focused, I see they’re smiling and one says something that sounds like “don’t worry” – oh, good. Briefly my mind imagined the three of us being pulled from the truck and beaten to death in the street, or rather, of course I don’t think that at all – we’re just tourists sitting in the back seat, why would they do that? I have no idea. I have no idea what happens to people in car collisions in a east African country. But okay, I’m not worried anymore.
Christine and I climb into the farthest back of the rear six passenger seats with our important bags. She doesn’t look happy. I try to stay calm – at least no one was hurt, our car seems utterly undamaged – surely this won’t affect our trip, right? The police come and, amusingly enough, don’t even pay us any attention. They start measuring angles and taking cellphone photos. I tried to imagine how the public would react if American police at an accident site didn’t immediately verbally check with every person in every vehicle and just ignored a couple passengers simply on the basis that “they look fine and their vehicle is solidly built.”
In the end though, things drag on. We finally climb out the car after about 15 minutes as with the windows shut, it grows stifling hot. A man catches my sleeve and says seriously in good English “don’t go far.” I tell everyone around “jua kali! Jua kali!” several times, meaning “hot sun!” – one of the few phrases I know. I see Paul talking with the police, his small face set tightly as he gestures to the other drivers, none of whom look pleased with the other two.
We wait in a small Samsung reseller shop where a guy with great English, David, is rubber nicking the site. Now that all three drivers are conversing with the police, the vast majority of the shouting, car pounding folks have dispersed entirely. I wonder about Fedinand told us yesterday – this is a big culture of making sure people who mess up or cause problems are reproach ed for it. Now that all three people are talking to the authorities, everyone has calmed down and life continues.
David tells us he’s a tour guide with another company, and a friend of Paul’s. They’re all friend-aquaintances in this business. He tries to cheer us up as we sit in the cool shop surrounded by ads for TVs. I ask him, in his opinion, how long this will take. Do these travel companies have car insurance? Will Paul have to pay damages immediately to someone? David assures us that everything will be settled, our vacation will be fine.
But the cycling tour, scheduled for 4pm and requiring us to be out of Arusha by 3pm and on the road, is our sacrifice. Paul has to visit the police station to fill out paperwork so he pays for a taxi to take us to a restaurant for that all-important driving hour, and we wait, morosely drinking a Castle beer and reading our kindles. By the time he comes to get us, finally finished with his paperwork, it’s too late, he says – the cycling trip, through a banana plantation and talking with the plantation’s owners about their work, can’t be done anymore tonight, as we’d run out of daylight hours.
The drive proceeds uneventfully from that point on. We pass through some villages, seeing more and more Massai tribesmen, the famous tall, slender, red kilt wearing cowherders that hail from the northern regions of the country. They’re talking and trading with the Bantu people, who are the regular Tanzanian ethic group that has been almost everyone we’ve met so far. We see them out in their fields next to the highway, tending cows among massive 4 foot tall termite/anthills and scrubby bushes.
No trip can go completely smoothly, I guess. On the plane ride up to Arusha I realized that I had misplaced or otherwise lost my T-mobile SIM card somewhere in the past hours. Christine said she was sorry to hear that and I shrugged and said “it’s annoying, I’ll have to ask T-mobile for a new one, but really, on the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor problem and doesn’t even affect the trip itself, just the few days after I get back to the USA.” She chuckled and reminded me we still had 10 days left of the trip.
Now, as we get ready for bed at the “Park Bridge Resort” Inn in the Manyara National Park area, I guess things have gotten a little worse – we’ve missed out on one of the more special reasons we chose Endallah tours, which is the social aspect and meeting the locals. I guess we got to meet several locals, unexpectedly, this afternoon. But I hope tomorrow’s visit to the Ngorogoro crater goes more smoothly.