A Little Story… This One’s for Africa

I stare owl-eyed into the waiting dala dala as 27 faces stared back. The minivan—for though it has extra rows of seats compared to the soccer-mom-mobiles of the US, it’s still just a minivan—is bursting full and a chorus of mzungu echoes though the car as a flurry of shifting takes place. An older Tanzanian woman, the grandmother type, pats the space beside her—all three inches of it—and gestures for me to sit. And though I’m thin, three inches just isn’t going to cut it.  With a confused gesture to my backside and those three inches, I try to tactfully indicate I will crouch-stand instead.

dala-dala

A hearty laugh erupts from her, echoed around the van as she exclaims in a thick East African accent: “You will fit. This is Africa”

The conductor nudges me toward the seat, his sharp rap on the side of the car signaling to the driver to continue driving. Indecision hits for a second and the old woman pulls my hips into the space, but really onto her lap, and we bump and jostle down the road.

A bubble of laughter forms as I adjust my wedged limbs to drape my arm around the old woman, settling into a comfortable position for the 45 minute ride.

Full dark settles and a parade of small, street-side cook fires pass below the lower third of the window, the only view I have from my high perch in the minivan.

Slowly the dala dala empties a bit, and as I gain a full window view I realize I have no idea if we passed my stop—the nondescript facades blend in the night.

I tap the handler and give him the only landmark I know near my hostel: “Arusha City Bar?”

I point, gesturing with a “which way” look on my face, trying to ascertain if the bar is behind or ahead of us. Baffled, the handler let’s out a steam of Swahili. Seeing my confusion, the women in the dala dala take to my cause and I hear mzungu, the name for travelers of European descent, bounce around the van once again as they discuss my predicament.

Finally, they incredulously decide I mean the dive bar another two minutes up the road and they all clamor for my attention asking me why on earth I am going to a bar miles outside of the touristy city center. At  least, that’s the gist of what I assume they asked me since it was all in Swahili and my only response was huge grin and affirmation that, yes, indeed I want to stop at Arusha City Bar.

At the bar, they enthusiastically eject from the van, the women giving spirited waves and huge guffaws as I turn away from the bar and walk down the narrow side road to my hostel. Just before I walk out of sight, I turn around once more to glance back at the minivan. They are still stopped, still waving, and all still riveted by the prospect of where in the world this crazy, friendly mzungu is going at this time of night. With a final thumbs up in their direction, I enter our compound. I can’t wipe the smile off my face.

It wasn’t a huge adventure. In fact, I just went into town to pay back the kind Canadian who lent me $50 at the border. But moments like these send bubbles of contentment to the surface to remind me why I travel. This wasn’t a moment on which many stake their travel dreams, but it was real.

As the kind woman told me at the beginning of the ride, this, this is Africa.

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17 Responses to A Little Story… This One’s for Africa

  1. kaitangsou May 27, 2015 at 2:19 pm #

    I see no-one is allowed to tell the aFRICAN SIDE OF THE STORY…YEA MAN!! kEEP IT A ZOO, THE WHITE MONKEYS ARE NOT ONLY MASTURBATING BUT OBSERVING THE LOCALS!!

  2. Anita May 15, 2015 at 1:54 am #

    I think that all those small things are what makes a trip beautiful and unforgettable. I loved that little anecdote. In fact, I love your blog!

    • Shannon O'Donnell May 16, 2015 at 2:18 pm #

      Thank you so much Anita! This is still, a year later one of my favorite little moments from Africa. :)

  3. Raj Sharma January 28, 2015 at 7:38 am #

    Thank you for distribution your
    adventures with United States. Be safe and blissful movements.

  4. Rich - RichyFeet.com November 4, 2014 at 9:19 pm #

    Love it! :) I agree, it’s the little moments like this, where you feel really far from home, that make travel what it is…an amazing experience!!

  5. Suzanne Fluhr August 2, 2014 at 5:59 pm #

    We will soon by making our first trip to Africa. Reading this reminds me of travel in Mexico years ago when people who Westerners would consider to have “nothing”, were the most generous, kind people once could hope to meet.

    • Shannon O'Donnell August 3, 2014 at 12:18 am #

      I hope your trip goes well and that you are able to find those same kindnesses on the road in Africa, it’s such a beautiful and diverse continent.

  6. Kirk Apolo July 20, 2014 at 8:15 am #

    Thank you for sharing your adventures with us. Be safe and HAPPY travels.

  7. Roney Eldred June 18, 2014 at 2:51 am #

    Significant story…Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around, that’s the quotation exactly suit on this story..Africa generally listed in top Animal or biggest animals category but now for their kindness.

  8. Lori Robinson June 12, 2014 at 8:51 pm #

    I have been traveling to Africa and designing safaris for people for 30 years and can tell you the grandmother in your story with the easy laugh was typical of Africans – some of the most loving people I have ever met in the world. Lori from AfricaInside .org

  9. MACH May 4, 2014 at 9:35 am #

    Great story! Thanks for sharing.

  10. Echo Santos April 25, 2014 at 1:50 am #

    A small act that will be remembered for a long time. This kind of moments make travel or life in general wonderful.

    Cheers!

  11. Corinne Vail April 23, 2014 at 4:45 am #

    Great little anecdote, and I agree times like that are memorable and it’s why I travel as well! Loved it.

  12. steve April 22, 2014 at 7:32 pm #

    I really like the stories about how helpful and friendly people are, even when you nor them have no idea what the other is saying, it still gets figured out. You forget how much good is truly in the world and how alike we all are. And it is the little stories like your mini van ride that proves how caring people are. Oh and $50 from a Canadian at a border? Got to be a story in that. Thank you for sharing your adventures with us. Be safe and HAPPY travels.

    • Shilpa November 14, 2014 at 7:42 am #

      I’m from Arusha myself, currently residing in the uk. Your story just made me want to go back home. No offense I do enjoy living in the uk and you do get kind people all around here. But the African atmosphere, people and culture so different in it’s own way maker you feel totally welcome and comfortable as if you’re one of them. And thank you for sharing your African experience, it makes people see the different side of Africa which isn’t generally mentioned of. Good luck and happy travelling. Shilpa, leicester.

      • Shannon O'Donnell November 14, 2014 at 11:37 am #

        You describe it so exactly, there is just a difference in the warmth and welcome in African culture that I miss already having left last June. I so appreciate that this piece resonated with you and I hope you can make it home soon for a visit.