Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Time I Almost Got Eaten By Lions

It was 2 am. Mtera Dam, Tanzania, on the dirt road 30 miles north of Iringa. Nate, Quinn, and I were going to join Quinn's family on a 2.30 am bus to Dodoma. The bus stop was in the next village three miles away, so Quinn's family took most of our belongings and hopped on a shuttle, while Nate, Quinn, and I biked there to meet them.

I rubbed my eyes half open, and dragged my zombie body onto my bike. The rough road shook up my sleep deprived brain, like one of those baby rattler toys, and left my state of mind as a box of scrambled jigsaw pieces. 'But only 3 miles!', I kept thinking, trying to conjure bubbly optimism and 100 happy faces to get myself to the bus stop.

It was pitch dark and Nate and Quinn rode in front, as was usual. Was I dreaming? I couldn't tell the difference. Pow! My bike staggered on a large loose rock, and I came tumbling down onto the gravel dirt. 'Aigh...', I grumbled.

'Come along now, MinWah, you're almost there!'

I picked myself up, but was not seeing 100 happy faces.

I arrived at the village gate under a bright orange streetlamp. 'This is it!' At least, I was pretty sure this was where Quinn's family said the bus stop was. Wasn't it? I looked around. Not a sign of life. I blinked. I squinted. 'Hello? Anyone home?' Nope. Just an empty village road with a few cool-colored streetlamps.

'Nate and Quinn would have stopped at the turnoff to wait for me', I thought, and continued biking along the road. A few more pedals. Hmm, something was wrong. I stopped. I looked around again, searching for any small clue. Once again, only a few fluorescent streetlamps and the gate glowing orange behind me. There's got to be lots of people somewhere, waiting for this bus. How come there's no bus around? And what about the people? Maybe there was another gate along the road, perhaps on the other side of the village.

Go ahead or turn around? The bus is leaving soon! I went ahead. Nate and Quinn had to be stopped somewhere waiting for me. So I started biking...I biked and biked, rushing to that obscure bus stop somewhere at the end of the village. My water bottle fell. My stick fell. I didn't stop to pick them up. My heart was racing. The road was pounding. Before I knew it, I was speeding down a steep hill, blinded by the rush of air, the absence of a moon, and the shocks of loose gravel and sudden potholes. The lights of the village were far behind me now.

It was 3.30. Where in the world was everyone? I stopped and looked again. No sign of anything. The bus must have left already. But why didn't I see it? There's only one road. Does this bus even exist? Who in the world takes a bus from a village on a dirt road at 2.30 in the morning?

Suddenly, a dark figure appeared 10 ft in front of me. I nearly tripped over my bike. It was a Maasai. He held his staff behind his neck across his shoulders, with arms draped over it. He walked deliberately across the road, and disappeared into the thorny trees. What was the Maasai doing out alone at 3 am, besides startling a young bike tourist? I wondered. Maybe he was looking for a lion; you know they say, Maasai are infamous lion hunters.

I put my bike down and sat beside the road. It was impossible to bike back up the big hill to town in the dark. There were only two things I could do now. I could sit and wait for the bus, hoping that the bus was still behind me. If that wasn't the case, I could spend the night out here, bike back to the village in the morning, figure out how to get to Dodoma and find my friends in the city. The thought of the task was overwhelming. I started to sob softly, the exhaustion of fighting rough road for the past 2 hours finally reaching me, and drifted into a partial doze.

A soft rumble stirred my senses. I opened my eyes and looked around. Nothing. But the rumble was growing louder and louder. Was it true? Was I really hearing something? Yes, there it was. The glimmer of hope. The faint glow of dilapidated headlights. I ran into the middle of the road flailing my arms. Oh no, not a good idea. They can't see me and I'll get killed. Should I keep to the side of the road? What if they don't see me? I flailed my arms on the side of the road. The faint glow came closer and closer, but had no signs of stopping. As it passed me, my heart sank. That was it.

But then it screeched to a stop. I heard voices screaming from within the bus, 'Oh my Gosh, MinWah!' Quinn's whole family stuck their heads out the window and waved. I wasn't alone afterall. One of the passengers helped lift my bike onto the roof and I climbed inside the musty overcrowded bus.

As the bus started again, a drunk Tanzanian police officer sat next to me after Quinn's mom introduced him to me. 'He was very kind and helped us find you,' Quinn's mom said. He must have lost the part that I was tired though, because he started talking incessantly, saying he was Maasai, and wanted to write to me in America and asked if he could hold my hand. I leaned my head against the window, folded my arms, and made blunt comments to drunk policeman. Even his heavy breath couldn't trump my overwhelming sense of relief knowing that I found my friends. In my sea of comfort, I wasn't far away from home.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Full Pictures on Picasa

Greetings, again. I am pleased to announce: pictures are posted on Picasa!

Especially for those of you without Facebook, where some of these pictures were posted, I hope you forgive me for the long delay in posting pictures. Enjoy!