- Published on Saturday, 25 August 2012 03:30
- Written by LAWI JOEL
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SOMEWHERE in the wilds of Mikumi Game Reserve in Morogoro Region lies a billboard by the roadside, saying: “Don’t dispose of your garbage irresponsibly. Keep the environment clean.”
It sounded to me like a voice crying in the wilderness where indeed it was. With its bold pro-environment writing, the billboard reminded me of my environmental experience just as I left Dar es Salaam for Kyela, a town far down south of the country.
I had never been to the place so I was so excited and looked forward to lavishing the splendour of the region with much gusto. I was going on an assignment in that district by Rift Valley Lake Nyasa to verify the hypes and hyperboles about the alleged war footing of my country Tanzania with Malawi, the two countries have a boundary on the lake.
Unknown to me though, was the fact that the journey would become eventful right from the start. The bus to Ubungo Bus Terminus where I was to catch my upcountry bus to Kyela dropped me off quite a walking distance from the terminus and I had to walk there. The bus to Kyela was scheduled to depart at 6 a.m.
Already it was 5.30, which meant I had only a few minutes to spare. I felt the pressure in my bladder was mounting. I would be cutting it thin if I went around looking for a toilet.I was walking by the fence of the areas power station. I put down my briefcase, the only piece of luggage I had and scanned the area about for the municipal militia, who reportedly kept a keen eye for people, who passed water in the open.
In the dim light of the dawn I thought I saw some militia in plain clothes on the other side of the road holding a young man for what I did not doubt was polluting the environment with their urine. I felt safe because they were too far away from me.
I turned towards the fence and stood akimbo for a moment. I looked right and then left and looked right again and stopped, still.“Why are you polluting the environment?” a voice said from my left. The voice almost startled me out of my skin. The man had all the time been watching me.
“No, young man, I have not done anything to the environment,” I said. “I was just taking a rest. This piece of luggage is very heavy.”He bothered me no more. What a close shave! I thought and hurried on to the bus. I caught it with many minutes to spare; so I ran to the toilet.
Shortly after my return, the bus rode out of town and, the whole thing, in retrospect, appeared to me like an interesting adventure, but I had learned one lesson. The Dar city authorities were not merely barking about punishing those who pollute the environment with their waste. They meant to bite and those whose bladder sphincters were weak had better consult the doctor fast.
The Sai Baba baba bus I was travelling on was a comfortable vehicle and I enjoyed the trip most of the way. I got lost in the dreamland and asked myself what the dickens ‘Sai Baba baba’ meant. I was later to learn that Sai in Indo-Aryan language means sir, and baba in Marathi means father or an elderly person. It is a saintly name.
If that was what the name meant, I thought the bus had let me down embarrassingly because its owner was supposed to equip it with seat belts. It had none. The straps it purported to portray as seat belts had no buckles.
In fact I had never been aware of the ‘seat belts’ until we came to some place just before we entered the game reserve of Mikumi when a police officer came aboard. She stood at the door and after a general greeting, peered hurriedly within the bus and, before she disembarked, wished us all a safe journey.
A murmur reverberated within the bus that if the government meant buses to have seat-belts then what the police officer had just done implied the alleged sum of money common a ‘kitu kidogo’ – just a little something -- that changed hands between police officers and the people they question for some assumed offence.
Shortly after we left the place the driver stopped the bus and loudly announced: “Chimba dawa!”
‘Chimba dawa’ is a euphemism for ‘relieve yourself’. Hurriedly, passengers alighted and disappeared into the surrounding shrubs and there, we polluted the environment surely, boldly and properly with all the authority.
I remembered the answer most of my people usually give when they are asked how they fare in an apparently distressful or risky state: “Mungu anasaidia – God is helping.”
God indeed was the sole provider of security regardless of the irresponsibility we treated the environment with.The rest of the trip to Kyela was uneventful until we reached our destination, a place with interesting features and one, which was over 1,000 miles away from Dar es Salaam.
The most outstanding land feature and indeed a most scary one too, was the Kitonga Hills.
On these hills the road meanders upward in a harsh gradient that only the fittest of vehicles dare attempt to climb. Environmentally, I discovered that the hills were blatantly violated.
Somewhere by these huge road loops lay huge hips of plastic water bottles and plastic wrappers of various food items that passengers on the buses had eaten and discarded within the vehicles. The bus conductor had collected it all and dumped it there!
Kitonga Hill is a unique land feature and so can rightfully claim its place in the country’s annals as a national tourism icon. Preserving its purity would not be a bad idea. Unfortunately, the authorities are blind to what travellers are doing to the hills’ purity.
From the talks of people aboard, I got a glimpse of what the situation was at the border district of Kyela. ‘How can we Tanzanians and Malawians fight each other?” a female passenger asked. “I have relatives there. My sister is married there and I personally do much business in Malawi.
Suddenly the bus banked steeply to the right side of the road to give room to an oncoming lorry to pass. It was loaded with timber.“All this timber is coming from Chikangawe in Malawi,” said the lady. “We have timber but still import a lot more from Malawi. Some Tanzanian ethnic communities live in the two countries.
We cannot fight.”What I observed at the Tanzania-Malawi Bridge across River Songwe that marks their border was more reassuring. There was no cause at all for alarm. The dispute over the Lake Malawi border had been overblown.
“Do you see this River Songwe?” asked the immigration officer, taking me around the place. “In the rainy season when it is flooded, it changes course in several places. In some areas it meanders into Tanzania, in others it meanders into Malawi. We don’t fight about such irregularities about the border change.”
On the Tanzanian side there stood another lorry, fully loaded with timber from Malawi. When I asked the driver where he bought the timber, he answered: “Chikangawe.”