Traffic police stopped us along the highway. Here in Tanzania, being a traffic policeman (or woman) is basically a platform for extorting small payments from passing motorists to supplement your low salary. The police officer was quite pleasant and checked K2's license and the required insurance stickers and fire extinguisher. The car (borrowed from a friend of K2's) was missing one sticker. So the police officer asked K2 to get out of the car, then walked with him to stand behind the car. A second officer joined them. The second officer was a fellow member of K2's Nyakyusa tribe, and knew K2 from seeing him on this road so often coming and going from Kilimanjaro. So, still all pleasant and in good spirits, they told K2, "We are very hungry." Which is code for, "Give us a few shillings so we can buy breakfast." K2 paid them about 3 or 4 dollars, then got back in the car. The first officer, still very pleasant, stuck his head through the driver's window to say goodbye to me, and made some joke that led K2 to say, "So you are proposing marriage to her?" And to me, "Be careful, he's a Maasai." So I said, "Maasai have one more than one wife. That's not good for an American woman." The officer said, "I promise you will be the only one." Then we all parted ways laughing and in a good mood.
A bit farther up the highway, the clouds suddenly cleared from Kilimanjaro, and we had the rare treat of a view of the mountain.
Before we reached Moshi, K2 pointed out a road heading up toward one of the park gates at the base of the mountain, and asked if I wanted to see it. We followed a dirt road up through a series of villages, eventually ending at the park gate. On the way up, K2 related a story of the people in this area being at war with the people across a valley. The chief of this area died, and the warriors extended a (malicious) invitation to the other side, saying all the warriors should gather because they were ready now to make a peace agreement. But they ambushed the visitors, killing all of them. This happened in the late 1800's, but is only starting to be forgiven now. Many of the older houses have doors facing away from the road, because they built them to face away from the enemy. This story is almost the same as one we heard on the island of Mafia three years ago. I was struck again by the power of story telling and how the dramatic pace and the scary elements are so much the same around the world. (I say struck again, because last year we heard ghost stories associated with prehistoric rock paintings that were just like American ghost stories).
We kept passing people standing by the road who extended a hand palm up, as if begging, and made dramatic, beseeching faces to us. K2 laughed and said, "They are asking for a ride." I asked him if he usually picked people up and he said he does when he's alone. So I said I didn't mind if he wanted to give people rides. We picked up a series of all different kinds of folks. First was a nicely dressed older lady in a good mood. She rode only a half mile or so to a large Catholic church, then headed into mass. Next, a very quiet, younger woman carrying a baby who rode for about a mile. Then a group of three older ladies decked out in beautiful African style dresses and head wraps, also on their way to church. They filled up the back seat and their exuberant spirit filled up the whole car and left me feeling happy even after they got out. All the way up this road, we drove through and around crowds of people, mostly on their way to and from various churches. K2 tells me these are people of the Chagga tribe, and that they love to spend weekends with their families in the villages. Everybody was really friendly, entertained to see a mzungu in a car coming up the road.
We reached the park gate, one of the Kilimanjaro trailheads, to find three park rangers who all know K2 from his work as a mountain guide. One was eager to practice his English with me, and we had quite a conversation. He asked me what I was doing in Tanzania, and I said I was hoping to find work as a porter on Kilimanjaro. Understand that these porters carry 50-pound loads on their heads up a mountain I could barely summit with just a day pack! The ranger took a minute to realize I was joking, and had quite a stunned expression on his face at the thought of a 50-year-old American woman working as a porter! Hey, as long as they don't give me the job of cleaning and carrying the camp toilet, I should be fine, right....?
Driving back down, we picked up three young men who rode all the way into Moshi. They pointed out a spot and informed us it was the place where all the ambushed warriors from the other side of the valley had been buried.
We had a delicious Indian lunch at a restaurant in Moshi, then drove through town. There's an extensive neighborhood of gracious large homes inside walled compounds, mostly occupied by foreigners. The town was really quiet, because all of the Chagga people were up in the hills hanging out with their families.
While we were in Moshi, K2's friend Happiness called just to say hello. It turned out she, also a Chagga, was spending the weekend with her family up in the hills along another dirt road, and she invited us to come visit when she heard we were in Moshi. So, another long drive up a horrible dirt road, with a few interim phone calls to check our course. Eventually, we found Happiness and her family. I had met her in 2006 when she was the camp manager at a safari camp where our tour group stayed the night before we went to Kilimanjaro. I remembered her, and she said she remembered me, but maybe she was just being polite. She drove us around the hills a bit in her 4-wheel drive pickup, and showed us the best view of Kilimanjaro -- but it was totally enshrouded in clouds now. We came out at an opening with two concrete water tanks. The caretaker was so happy to have visitors stop by that he hauled out a ladder and let us climb to the top and open a lid to see the water.
Then back to the house of Happiness' parents, where I asked if they'd like me to take a family photo. Her father ran inside to change into a better shirt, and then we assembled the group.
Driving back down, we picked up three boys, classmates in the fourth grade and gave them a ride all the way down to the main road. I couldn't follow most of the conversation, in Swahili, but K2 was telling them some story that had them laughing uproariously all the way. On the way out, we had a lovely view of the Pare Mountains off in the distance.