Saturday, September 19, 2009

Car saga continued

Yes friends, it gets worse. The saga continues.

On our much-anticipated safari over our school breaks, Hunter, his brother Peter (a.k.a. Yesu to all Tanzanian children who caught a glimpse of this long-haired man of a man), and myself, departed for a journey to a farmhouse on Kilimanjaro my friend Simon owns in Mbahe village. Gals and Logan know what I'm talking about! Gorgeous it would be...

...but getting there was first on our list. So, we gleefully left Peace House and were subsequently stuck in a traffic jam for roughly an hour: not an auspicious start. We finally reached Moshi and dropped my friend Christian off after some chai at my favorite spot, boasting the best ginger tea around. Gear change was a struggle to say the least. Stressful was the drive, I tell you. When we hit Marangu town, our car was smoking and unable to move up any grade of a hill. We opened the hood and - as it goes if you stop anywhere in Tanzania with car troubles - men came running from seemingly out of nowhere to see what was a matter.

A silver-headed, collected man by the name of Godfrey immediately emerged as my "chosen one" who could confidently solve our problems, which were many: lack of water in the engine, a hole in a pipe connecting to the radiator and an apparent leak in the radiator itself. After some major water flushing, knifework, refitting and reattachment of pipes and application of some lubricant, healing came - both of the car and of my mambo mengi-sense of being overwhelmed.

Graciously he offered to drive us to Simon's (he was classmates with Simon back in the day at shule ya msingi). Brilliant I thought, utterly relieved to not have to drive anymore and have to fight the screeching of gear change. No brainer - let's go! Twendeni...

Slowly, patiently, God (an appropriate shortening of his name) drove us up the hills to Simon's farmhouse perched way up high where the birds soar. Climbing in first gear the whole way, we inched closer and closer; meanwhile, Tait was furiously texting Simon back in Moshi for a fundi to come and check out what was ailing my little car's power. I was already dreading the ride back.

Somehow, we made it. And Simon's fundi did too the next day. Injector pump speed governor problem, we inquired? That's what God had sensed the day prior. This new expert, Dismas, figured it was the lack of brake/clutch fluid which caused such gear change battles. We promptly tracked down some fluid in Mbahe and thus slept peacefully, not dreaming of gear screeching dancing in our heads.

After enjoying two days in this beautiful village, hiking to Kili's Marangu gate, much bird watching, waterfall hopping, guitar playing with porters and hot showering, it was time to go. Again. We prayed we would have better karma this time; the glass is always half full for optimists, for better or for worse...

Well, worse it was! I wouldn't have believed it if you had told me, but we left at 2 pm and did not return to Peace House until 10:30 pm after being forced to ditch the car, jump on a dala, then a public bus and later a lifti with our school driver/angel, Osca, to finally reach home exhausted and wiped. What a day.

In short (b/c it's too painful to fully elucidate), the car failed 3 times:
1. No clutch connection. Problem: oil hadn't flushed through entire system down to transition. Solution: flush with oil and remove air in connection.
2. No accelerator connection. Problem: Hunter seemed to have snapped the cable somehow. Solution: Find a bike fundi to bring a new cable OR better yet, call my original fundi who was - bahati nzuri - at a funeral in Moshi to come and bring a brand new cable and connect it himself! We went with the latter.
3. Fuel filter failed. Problem: Still a mystery. Solution: Have 5+ guys make a fuel filter out of a plastic petrol container using pure ubunifu, adding diesel and plastic tubes feeding in and out of the engine to literally create a faux filter to get you home until you can buy a replacement.

And this my friends - with faux filter atop our hood strapped in with bungee cords - is how we hobbled back to the outskirts of Moshi town, going about 5 km/hr. It must have been a hilariously RIDICULOUS sight from a distance.

Now to make matters more complicated, I had a guest to welcome back at Peace House the same evening flying in on KLM. I had to move. Quickly. And it was already getting dark. So, we jumped out and demanded that my fundi, Peter, fix everything - and I mean everything this time - and drive it back to Arusha whole. It was his turn to carry the burden.

We jumped out into a dala dala that brought us to a big bus, which in the dark, delivered us into the hands of Osca. At 10:30, having dropped our bags down at my house, I sprinted into our guest house to find our mgeni rasmi, teacher trainer/psychologist from the States, enjoying a glass of wine with our kind Director, pinch-hitting for me. Tomorrow: Teacher training to begin at 8 am! Phew! Barely made it.

What good can we possibly see in a mess like this: the beauty of Tanzanian people, always willing to help (but sure, for compensation for their help) when you're in a jam and for the inherent sense of community for survival here. For that, I went to bed thankful, and for the fact that I was with friends - and guys, better - when this all went down. For my car shidas, on the other hand, I've had it. I'll wait for Peter to return everything he promised to fix to be truly fixed this time (since I've already paid him to do so), and then I'll be looking for a new fundi.


Ndiyo maisha as the saying goes: "this is life." Or is it? If this is life, why do I live here, our Director asked me poignantly.

A valid question. I'll have to reflect more on that one, but my initial response is that life is more fun and satisfying when it's challenging...when it hurts... when it stings...when it overjoys...when you feel so high your heart feels like it's going to burst out of your chest...when it feels REAL. Sometimes when I'm back in the US, life seems too easy, too comfortable.

But here, life is always very low and very high. Real.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


TIA - "This is Africa." That's been the theme of my last couple days, and you PCVs and RPCVs out there know exactly what that means: low points. The roller coaster has plummeted again! Despite the high highs of living here, there are, of course, the lows.

That beauty of a car I posted pics of last time is proving to be a real pain in my side. Every rose has it's thorn I'm learning, even with cars...especially in Tanzania.

I have been through more loops that you can fathom trying my level best to first, procure a name change on my registration card (The owner never gave me the original registration card, so I had to track her down in Zimbabwe. Literally. Otherwise, my new best friend (MER!!), the Tanzania Revenue Authority a.k.a. TRA, was threatening to charge me a whopping $500 to have a new one made. That's not bribery at all. Nope).

Then, following the name change saga (BTW: The owner kindly traveled back to Arusha to drop it off for me), I learned I also have to purchase what's called a "Motor Vehicle License" - no big deal, a mere $100 to be on the road. Okay. Okay.

After surfacing post the TRA drama, I felt like all was hunky dory. I had made my way through the darkness, some minor stalls and fixes by my fundi after his major engine overhaul, and the light was on the horizon. I was awaiting my fixed-up car on Saturday (yesterday), bubbling with excitement for my Mid-term break travels the next day (today in theory) with Hunter and his brother Peter visiting from the US....until my fundi (car mechanic) called yesterday evening to report the following in Swahili:

"Furaha am very sorry 4 what had happen. Nilipomaliza kazi wakati nimekwenda kubadilisha nguo mwanafunzi wangu mmoja amejaribu kuwasha gari pasipo mimi kujua na akaingiza gia vibaya gear ya reverse ikafyatuka nimejaribu kuvalisha kwa nje imeshindikana kwa hiyo sina namna zaidi kuitoa tena na kuvisha. So pliz usinisubiri tena nami siwezi kukurudishia gari ambalo halina reverse."


Roughly translated, he says, "Tait, I'm very sorry to tell you when I had just finished fixing your car and went to change clothes, one of my students (i.e. mechanic friends) tried to drive it though I was unaware and blew out the reverse. I can't fix it now so don't wait for me as I am unable to return a car to you today that has no reverse."

The best part: he turned off his phone after sending this message, so I couldn't call him back to find out more details. Clearly, too embarrassed and ashamed to answer to me, he forced me to do something very mature: to tattle tale on him to his brother, my buddy Bernard, with whom I used to work last year (my original connection to this fundi). Bernard eventually got through to someone at his house that was then able to ask Peter what was going on. Current status: still unclear.

One of the most challenging aspects about this culture for me is that it's extremely difficult to discern when someone's telling the truth and when they're lying. The fundi himself could've blown out the reverse for all I know and is instead telling me it was his student who did it. Who and what am I to believe??

Bernard, his older brother, promises me the car will be ready on Tuesday morning at the latest. He texted from a funeral today assuring me he had assigned another additional fundi to the task to speed things up. However, the car was originally promised back in August. I'll believe it when I see it!

I wonder where the fine line is between expecting good out of people and expecting too much? I tend to fall in the latter bracket and end up being disappointed. Note to self: I need to keep my expectations lower!

Our students are back home with guardians, hopefully all salama until the 24th! Upon their return, we'll be participating in our first ever Track & Field Event at a local International school with a track. Just imagine what the javelin will be like for our Maasai students :)...

Also, had a GREAT time reconnecting with Bright Tate and her buddies from PC-Malawi. We cooked an epic breakfast the morning they left for Kili. Go CMW go!
And last but not least, with Ibby and her sweet Baba, Bill, on their way to the big hunt.
My "SMISH" award of this month goes to this lil munchkin, Eric.