‘Is sleeping one of your interests?’, Amani enquired politely. My neighbour on the 5.45am DAR-MWANZA bus came out with the oddest questions. The boyish, earnest 19 year-old wasn’t making much headway on his half of a novel, the yellowed pages of a torn-up paperback less interesting than the mzungu beside him. ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ ‘When is your birthday?’ ‘Do you like business?’
And so the 17 hours passed, faster than you’d think, me dozing till Amani ‘s voice would enter the fog of my fragmented dreams (‘Anna, are you sleeping again?’), or listening to his plans to start a business, or doing the Kiswahili quizzes on his smartphone.
We didn’t have much choice but to make friends; the seats seemed to have been built for an 8 year old child – less legroom than a Ryanair flight and so narrow that you spend the whole journey literally rubbing shoulders, and arms, and legs.
From the muggy dark of morning in Dar we travelled past Morogoro, on to the rocky low-lying dustbowl of Dodoma, past baboons watching us from the roadside, endless land without boundaries, through a brief but heavy rainstorm towards Shinyanga, then black unlit roads for the final stretch, our driver hurtling round corners – the same driver, that is, who had boarded with us that morning with barely a break all day.
Amani was one of the most confident young Tanzanians I’d met; his confidence even more apparent when I went to visit him the next day in Mwanza in his friend’s shop where he was, he said ‘helping him out for a week with some marketing’, dressed every bit the part in shiny shoes and pressed shirt.
So my lonesome adventures started out very much not alone, but despite the questions I was grateful for the company, and grateful too to be met by Betty in Mwanza, finally, who’d been sending me SMSs all day (WHERE R U NOW?, FINE ILL BE WAITING) – and waiting she was, fighting off the boda boda (motorbike) drivers who surrounded us as we alighted the bus, and driving me at an oh so wonderfully slow pace compared to our sleep-deprived bus driver, home to where her 2 shy nieces were waiting, with dinner already on the table.