One day last week, we decided to venture into Musoma to explore, and we decided to take a dalla-dalla to get there. Now, dalla-dallas are minivans that serve as the public bus system here in Tanzania (and in Kenya, though there they are called matatu). They are licensed to run specific routes, but they are independently operated, so they all compete with each other. People paint pictures and funny phrases on them to make them memorable. I’ve seen Che Guevera on one with “Freedom Fighter” painted on it (illustrated in the picture); I’ve seen a Tupac bus, I’ve seen T-Pain, lots of phrases about Jesus or Allah, I once saw one with the Pope. I saw one with a little envelope icon painted on it with the words “Message Sent!”; there’s even a “Bin Laden” dalla-dalla. They cost about 400 tsh (Tanzanian shillings) to ride, which is about $0.30 USD.
Let me paint you a picture: imagine you are sitting in an old-school Volkswagen minivan. Now imagine there are 18 more people in there with you, and THAT is the experience of riding in a dalla-dalla. Literally, you’ll think the thing is packed to the gills and then they’ll add 5 more people. People load up until everything is filled, then people stand in the spaces in between. It’s in the owner’s best interests to get as many people as they can onboard. Believe me when I tell you that a mzungu on a dalla-dalla will get plenty of stares, but everyone is nice, so the only stress in riding a dalla-dalla is figuring out where to wait for one, where it’s going, where to get off, and how much to pay- you know, minor details. It’s actually not a big deal once you’ve done it few times. There are scores and scores of dalla-dallas in Mwanza going in all different directions in and around the city; the ones in Musoma seem to pretty much run the same few circuits, and all appear to end in the middle of town, so it’s safe and easy to just jump on one, as they’ll all end up in the same place.
So the other day, we decided to go into Musoma town to walk around. The thing is full but not as packed as it could have been. Now, a brief note about the roads here. While there are most certainly paved roads in the cities, if you’re off a main road, you’re on a dirt road. A rough dirt road. Imagine you are driving in your car, then imagine a really bad rough road that would give you serious pause about driving your vehicle on it. OK, the road in your mind, that’s a GOOD Tanzanian road. These can be way worse than that. So we’re bopping along (there’s 5 of us Maryknollers onboard) and we come to a really rough spot due to construction. Suddenly, BOOM the bus is at an awkward angle and we’re solidly stuck in a muddy ditch. Now, getting stuck in the mud- not a huge thing, it happens in the US, too. But the strangest thing was that the operator opened the side door and everybody just quietly unloads and begins waling down the road, continuing on to their destination. We all look at each other, shrug, and get out. We stand around for a few minutes, and then we follow suit and just start walking down the dusty road in the hot sun. All I could do was laugh. It must be a common enough occurrence that everyone knew the drill and just kept going. I think that’s a good lesson for life in Africa: sometimes shit’s gonna happen, and you just have to keep on going. Actually, that’s a good lesson for life in general.
Here’s the happy ending: We were pretty far out of town, and we had been walking about 10-15 minutes. Suddenly, the dalla-dalla pulls up beside us and gestures for us to get back inside. The owners managed to get the thing unstuck and made sure to stop and pick up everyone that had abandoned ship earlier. I was impressed at the honesty, as it would have been very easy to just cruise on by with our money and go load up with new passengers. I doubt anyone would have paid much attention and recognized the dalla-dalla as it zipped by. It was a good learning experience and another little Tanzania adventure under my belt.