Sometimes I cannot decide if ideas I have are adventurous or foolish. Certain things seem like they need to be experienced in order to get the full taste of this country and culture, so I simply do them. Yesterday was one of those times when I stood in the midst of the bustling locals at a dala dala stop and wondered if this was going to be an adventure or if I was being a fool and putting my life on the line.
I have taken normal car taxis many times in the past here. I remember the first time I took a motorcycle taxi, though...it terrified me since we were going fast with out helmets in Arusha and I was in the hands of some random driver, but in the end it was fun and I lived. (I haven't done it again, though)
Since I didn't have much money or time to spare, I was planning on speed-walking from the bus stop to my destination this time. When I hopped off the dala dala, though, I realized I didn't quite know how exactly to get to my destination and there happened to be 20 options of bicycle taxi's right in front of me! There are very many bicycle riders and bicycle taxis in Usa as well as Arusha. I had never considered using one until this moment, though and now I was having a hard time making a decision whether to go for it or not. This might not seem like such a big deal to you if you have never driven in Arusha, so let me try to explain what Arusha is like. It's a big city with many round-a-bouts, many pedestrians, many chickens, goats, cows, buildings, beggars, mosques, markets, DIRT, dust, tons of cars--thick traffic, unclear lanes, and no rules. Intersections are jokes. Cars go every which way and often seem to end up "parking" in the intersection as they honk and try to make their way through. Motorcycles and bicyclists zig-zag through and around it all as dala dala's speed down the sides of road, honking, and try to pass everyone because they think they own the roads.
I don't know if that gives you enough of a feel for the city, but I'll tell you one thing...it's scary and frustrating enough driving in a car in Arusha let alone on a motorcycle...or a bike. So coming back to the situation at hand, I just had this bad picture in my head of getting hit by a car or a cow or a giant wooden cart of pineapples...you name it! The bicycle taxis are super cheap, though, and I was running low on time so I asked the man if he would keep me safe. He did not understand me. The other bicycle taxi drivers were all moving in to try to convince me that their driving would be better, so I had to shout over their voices to ask again if this was truly a safe idea. Again, he did not understand English...so, I had to drag out the Swahili. Here's what I managed: "Gari njoo mimi na wewe aanguka?!?" as I made a crashing/colliding motion with my hands. These words literally translated say: "Car come me and you fall?!?"...pitiful I know...but it's all I could come up with and he seemed to get the point. He quickly replied in exclamation, "Hapana! Hapana! Polepole!" (No! no, we'll go slow). He sounded reassuring, so I hopped on the little seat over the back wheel, gripped his shirt, balanced myself as he got going, and closed my eyes. The wheels wobbled feeling as if they might pop off at anytime, but they never did. Other bikes sped by, their riders laughing saying "Mzungu polepole!" I felt kind of bad for my driver since everyone seemed to be laughing at him for having to go so slow with a worried white girl on the back. When we went through the first round-a-bout, weaving between cars, I really started to feel vulnerable on this scrawny bike. During maybe 70% of the ride my eyes were squeezed shut and I was praying. I'll admit, riding in town was super scary, but as time went by, I felt a little more comfortable. These guys have been riding bikes and dodging cars their whole lives and they're pros. I got to and from my destination safely and my driver and I became friends. As a result, I've decided it's a great way to get around town for a very low cost and in conclusion, I'd like to confidently say that this was not a foolish decision and instead it was definitely an adventurous experience worth having. Some, like mom, may disagree with me and I can understand why, but at the same time I'm learning that there are certain things in foreign countries that need to be done - experiences that need to be had - in order to fully soak up the culture and make memories. So there you have it...my most recently made memory!