TAZARA, July 1984
A brief, firm handshake, a heart-felt goodbye and I left Hamed and friends behind. Yet again I experienced this weird turmoil of emotions–choking yet prickly anticipatory–I get when leaving a place and embarking on a new adventure. I had been in Tanzania for 50 days and had grown to love the country and its uncanny friendly people (well, most of them). I had already resolved to return one day.
Misha dropped me at the station. I managed to get a ticket almost immediately and went in search for provisions. The journey from Dar es Salaam to Kapiri Mposhi, the end of the TAZARA line, would take 2½ days.
As the train rolled into motion, I spotted a police officer running alongside, trying to grab a man through one of the windows. The man, who had no ticket, crouched out of reach behind two crowded seats but no sooner had we picked up speed that the conductor arrived with another policeman. The officer whipped out his baton and started to beat the man in the ribs and face. As he crumbled into the seat, the officer grabbed him and was about to start again when I jumped up and hollered abuse at him. This scene was reminiscent of the police beating up peace demonstrators back home. There were bigger criminals in this country than those who travel without ticket in a third class carriage, but I do not see the police beating up any corrupt politicians or racketeering officials.
The first leg of the journey to Tunduma at the Zambian border was considerably more comfortable that the trip from Dodoma to Dar. The train was new and the seats were comfortable, even in third class. The ceiling fans worked and there were mosquito screens in the windows. Early that afternoon, we passed the Selous Game Reserve and had a little safari from our compartment, straining to spot wildebeest, impalas, warthogs, a gaggle of vultures squabbling over a carcass and a big male lion sleeping stretched out in the shade of an acacia tree. The land was humid after the recent rains and scattered with brick-red termite hills and the occasional looming baobab tree.
Suddenly a shudder went through the train. We slowed right down and everybody was hanging out of the windows.
“ Nine?” I asked (What is it?)
A giraffe had crossed the tracks and almost collided with the train. We had a lucky escape.
I settled down to a meal of coconut-oil pastries, the last taste of Tanzania. I took a bite, closed my eyes and was back on the bustling Kariakoo market, the campsite in Kunduchi with John and Ellen, the little strawhut village under coconut palms in Zanzibar with Riek.
I was brought back into the present by the guys sitting next to me who placed a big bunch of fat ripe bananas on the table which they had bought through the window during a short stop.
We reached the border early the next afternoon. Somewhat nervously, I showed my papers to one of the officers coming through the train while trying to concoct a story in my head which would explain the absence of a money declaration form after a 50 days in Tanzania. However, the officer was not interested in the MDF and stamped me out of the country.
His Zambian colleagues were less easy-going. One of them asked to see my vaccination certificate. My cholera vaccination had run out back in May. He fixed me with a stern glance and waved me over to one of the compartment desks where he wrote on a piece of paper.
“I am going to send you back to Dar es Salaam,” he said solemnly: “show this paper to the Immigration Officer.”
The colour drained from my face.
“But….you can’t just send me back!”
I glared at him but he sat motionless at the desk, staring straight ahead. One of his colleagues joined him.
“Do you have any dollars?” he asked.
Immediately his expression brightened a little. “Maybe we can help each other. We are going to write your name into this book…”
I looked pensive. I had an “official” 50 dollar bill in my pocket which the Zambian Immigration Officer had already got his eyes on, claiming that I needed to change dollars to pay my visa fee of 2 Knacha 25. Now I looked across to him sitting at a desk a little further down. The glances of the two other officers followed mine, then they nodded to me to walk over to him.
“Oh,” the IO said: “I cannot change your 50 dollar bill after all. It is too much. It is not allowed to bring more than 30 Knachas into the country.” I compromised, not wanting to hurt the man’s feelings, and took out a few Deutschmarks in smaller denominations which I had also transferred to my pockets. The IO sneered. “That isn’t international currency!”
As I wasn’t about to hand over the entire 50 dollars and let the guys fight it out over it, I asked permission from the IO to look for other tourists in first or second class who could change my money into smaller bills so that I could “pay him the correct fee”. Although travellers are usually reluctant to change large denomination dollars, a few friendly guys helped me out. I returned with a small bundle of 5 and 10 dollar notes. On the way back to my carriage, the IO intercepted me and pushed me past one of the health officials who came walking from the other direction and into an empty compartment.
“How much do you want to change?” he whispered.
I placed a ten dollar bill on the table.
He looked at me with a disappointed expression on his face. “Is that all?”
It was a week’s budget.
“Put on another ten,” he said: “I don’t have any small change.”
The scoundrel! But he had dug himself into a hole. According to the rate he had given me earlier, twenty dollars amounted to 32 Kn 50–conveniently the maximum amount I could bring into the country plus my visa fee. However, he did not have 32 Kn 50 on him. I stared at him.
“OK, give me ten,” he said resignedly, pushing the second dollar bill back at me. He appeared to have found some small change after all. I paid my fee and he stamped my passport, then accompanied me to the customs building outside the train. He may have been a scoundrel, but he had a good heart because I saw no more of the two health officials who wanted to take my dollars in exchange for nothing.
The customs officials grumbled because the train was due to depart and it was a matter of pride for both countries that it would run on schedule. I was in and out in no time and the train rushed on into Zambia.Tags: Cairo to Capetown, Tag Index