We navigate the crowded markets with our bags, fending off the enthusiastic street vendors while on the lookout for the 118 dala dala to Matemwe.  J and I have different tactics for dealing with walk up hawkers.  We are regularly discussing and testing out our different methods to see whose is most effective while disrespecting the locals the least.  We take turns with our verbal judo keeping them at bay.  Hii-yah! 

We locate the 118 vehicle and heave our bags onto the roof of the truck with the help of the dala dala dude and hop up a few steps into the back of the truck.  What is a dala dala, you ask?  It’s typically a converted truck with bench seating in the shape of a U encircling the entire bed of the truck with a roof above and openings on the sides for viewing and fresh air.  We’ve been taking dala dalas all over the island as we’ve zigzagged across Zanzibar venturing to different beach towns.

We depart Stone Town with only 8 of us in the dala dala.  There’s plenty of room and it’s early in the day, so it’s not too hot – yet.  How spoiled am I, this is almost like a stretch limo!  Yes, I’ll have a glass of Prosecco Mr. driver, asante sana (thank you very much in Swahili).  We make frequent stops picking up new passengers and their various inanimate objects that are flung on the rooftop; bicycles, body size stalks of plantains, bags of concrete, mattresses, etc.

It’s getting more and more crowded as we collect people along the way and the temperature is rising as we approach midday in the African summer.  J and I are seated in the corner near the cab of the truck.  Every inch of bench space is now full. Several men are squatted on the floor at our feet and two guys are standing on the rear bumper hanging off the back.  There’s no way we can fit one more person in this truck.   We pull over again and one guy gets off.  Hurrah!  Two large women, one live chicken and 6 young girls around the age of 7 get on.  Noooooooo!  There are now 28 people on board.

All of the women and female children on the dala dala are wearing the modest Muslim attire with khimar headscarves showing only their face.  I wonder if they like wearing their hijab every day or if they’d wish to dress more like me.

I look around the dala dala noticing I’m the only one on board with light eyes.  I look at them.  They’re looking at me.  What do their lives look like when they exit the dala dala shuffling off slowly into their little villages, balancing goods on their heads with babies wrapped tightly in cloth slings hanging from their back?  How do they get fresh water every day?  Can they maintain a disease free life here? Are they happy?  Do they think we, as travelers, are an intrusion to their way of life or are they grateful we’re bringing money to their economy?  Do the small villages away from the beach towns even benefit from our traveler dollars, or are we only draining precious resources?  Can I even begin to imagine the daily life and struggles they face?

I wonder what they are thinking about me…

The women and children move towards where we’re sitting.  The squawking chicken is thrown under the bench seat.  People seated begin to shift and shove left or right to try and provide seats for the 2 women.  The first woman squeezes in. Nooo not the second lady too, noooo…  My legs are crammed together in between J’s and the woman next to me.  I have one arm hanging out the window to the right and the left arm shoved behind my back.  Surely sardines have a more comfortable existence in their tin can than this.

A few of the children squeeze in on the floor and the others sit on the laps of the seated female passengers.  I lock eyes with one of the young girls and give her the nod to jump on.  The white khimar is all I see of her as she faces forward on my lap.

We carry on for what seems like eternity, probably 45 minutes, bouncing up and down with each imperfection in the road.  My legs are cramping, my feet pressed firmly into my flip-flops start to fall asleep as I sit motionless in one space.  J gives me the look – you ok? I give him the reassuring nod.  I am wondering though how long I can sit in this squished condition with an extra 60lbs on my lap. Super squish from all sides…. Aagggghhhh!  I’m contemplating the sharp abdominal cramping that’s creeping up inside me.  Great, early monthly visitor. Perfect timing – Grrrr.  Suddenly, pow, followed by large plumes of smoke that swirl about into the truck bed where we’re sitting.

The girl jumps off my lap hallelujah and people hurriedly exit the dala dala.  I peel my sweaty pants from my thighs and jump out the back of the truck.  We stand around in the 90+ degree heat watching as water gushes onto the pavement from underneath the truck.  Several of the men shimmy under the engine to take a look. Loud Swahili words fly through the air as the men debate a solution.  Amazingly, they rig something up within 15 minutes, water is added to the radiator(?), we pile back in and we’re off again.

Another 30 minutes or so we arrive to Matemwe, load up the bags and hit the dirt road on foot to find our guesthouse.  If only we’d remembered to get off at the fish market instead of the main village, we would’ve saved ourselves the hour walk in the high noon sun to our Crazy Mungow guesthouse.

This is the dala dala experience.

J Bonus 🙂

J doesn’t like the use of the word ‘experience’ in my blog title. He says it’s a “crime against the English language” and that it sounds like a resort style excursion. Join us at the pool beach club for the traditional Swahili dance experience. Hahaha I get it J… I hear your argument, and you may be right… But ya know what? It seems to bother you SO much I feel the need to keep the title just to annoy you. Muahahahaha the power of independent blogging.

E Bonus 🙂

J informed me that today is Super Bowl Sunday – a big day in America. Most of my readers are getting ready for their super bowl parties, preparing artichoke dips and the like, stocking their frig with beer and sodas. I am in a Stone Town hotel room, happy to have some good wifi while I take care of J who isn’t feeling well. Through our open windows I’ve just heard the last of todays call to prayer coming from the loud speaker of the nearest mosque.  In this moment I am aware that we are worlds apart.

Lots of love to all my peeps back home. Don’t hate me, but I don’t even know who’s playing in the Super Bowl.