New Blog!

If you've enjoyed reading about my experiences in Tanzania here, check out the new blog I've started on Wordpress as of November, 2017. It's called "Back to Tanzania" and you can read it here. All new adventures in Tanzania from an older, wiser, more experienced expat.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Driving Miss Warda

Warda's my new fun Tanzanian girlfriend. I met her at Jordan Institute a few months ago while she was teaching English. She's since moved a few hundred yards up the road from Jordan to manage a small hotel. Recently she mentioned that she'd joined Facebook, but was having trouble learning all the ins and outs (sound familiar?). I offered to give her a lesson. She accepted and proposed that we meet at an internet cafe. I turned up my nose at the internet cafe and invited her to come to my house where I have my own computer and wireless modem and we could take our time and be comfortable and not pay by the minute.

A couple of days later, she called to take me up on the offer, so I hopped in my car and drove through town to pick her up. It turns out she has previously worked as a professional driver for assorted foreign visitors to Tanzania. She got a lesson in Facebook and I got a lesson in Tanzanian driving!

I picked her up at a bus stop along a busy road, which is a wide graveled pull out on the shoulder. I merged back into traffic and headed for a large intersection that would allow me a more structured right turn than flipping a U turn on the busy Moshi-Nairobi Road (we drive on the left here, so the right turn is the hard one) . Warda immediately said, "Where are you going? I thought you said we need to go downtown to the Vodacom store to recharge the modem." When I explained my strategy, she laughed out loud and informed me that I was driving too far for no good reason. She pointed at each large driveway we passed, telling me to pull in so I could make a right turn and take the direct route to town. I hesitated on the first two because I thought they weren't big enough. I pulled into the third one, because by now I was more scared of Warda than of oncoming traffic. She kept assuring me it wouldn't be hard to make the turn. I didn't believe her because I could see the solid line of oncoming traffic. But I drove into the bank parking lot, made a three-point turn, and poised the car to pull out. And in only about two minutes, there was a magic break in traffic and Warda called out, "Now! Go now! Now, now, now!" So I went, heart in throat, and it was fine.

We spent a fun three hours eating lunch and playing with the computer at my house. Then, just at rush hour (5:30, same as at home), I drove her home to the other side of Arusha. Traffic was horrendous. I was nervous just sitting at the wheel waiting for the car in front of me to move. We inched along for awhile. Then we all stopped, lined up for maybe 1/2 mile back from  one of the three traffic lights in town. We inched forward some more, and made it through the light. We tried to block a huge cargo truck from merging from the shoulder in front of us, but did not succeed. (Probably Warda could have done it!) Then, Warda spotted a supermarket across the road and said I had to stop to pick up something for her kids' dinner. Another right turn!

A few minutes inside the market, then we were poised again to make a right turn across a not-horribly-busy lane into a lane packed solid with cars still inching along. At the first opening in the near lane, Warda commanded, "Now, now! Go across now." I pointed out there was no opening in the far lane, but she said, "Pull out. Block them all!" (Meaning traffic in the near lane.) "Someone will let you in." So I did it. The car hung at a 45 degree angle, nose pointed hopefully into the far lane, for only about 20 seconds before the next car was just slow enough to let me push my way in. I said, "Well, that was easier than I thought." Warda said, "Barbara, you must be brave inside."

Moving along, slowly, toward the second traffic light, we all ground to a complete halt. A car passed us on the sloped dirt shoulder. Then a dala-dala. Then a second dala-dala. Of course, Warda told me to take the shoulder and bypass all the traffic in the lane we were in. I asked her if we were turning left soon, or would I have to shove back in front of all the cars I had just passed. She assured me we were turning left soon. She told me, "Barbara, you have to be brave in your heart! Like a Tanzanian driver!" So I pulled over onto the shoulder, the Suzuki leaned at about 10 degrees, and we bumped along, bypassing about 20 cars, trucks, and dala-dalas. And then we were blocked in the shoulder by a huge truck parked there. So I steered back into the slow-moving traffic. I cut off a big green safari Land Rover. He didn't want to let me in, but in the end he did. And then we went straight through the intersection. I said, "I thought we were turning left." Warda said, "We are. Soon."

So...on to the third traffic light. Where I eased to the right because the left lane was totally blocked up and the right was open. That's because it was the right-turn-only lane, and we didn't want to turn right. As we sat at the red light, I looked back to see who would be blocking me if I tried to get back into the through lane when the light turned green. It was a woman in a station wagon. I said, "Warda, roll down the window and ask her if she'll let me in. Maybe she'll feel sorry for a stupid foreigner." Warda asked, and the woman smiled and gestured that we could come in, then held back just long enough at the green for us to merge left. So, again, I'd bypassed about 20 vehicles waiting in line.

At the next intersection, we did turn left. We followed a main tarmac road, not too busy, for a bit, then turned off onto a rough dirt road leading back into Warda's neighborhood. By this time, it was pretty dark and I hate driving after dark because my night vision isn't great. Warda could see I was nervous, so she stopped me a little ways from her house. (When I went back another day in daylight, I saw the last two turns were into very narrow lanes lined by block walls, requiring backing out after dropping her at her gate. So she finally cut me some slack right at the end). She actually offered to ride back with me partway into town to help me find my way home, then take the dala-dala back. I told her that was silly because I knew exactly where I was (even if I couldn't see the details too clearly). She instructed me to take a shortcut to town that I was familiar with, and told me it was straight across the tarmac from the road I was on. I swung the Suzuki around a tree in the middle of the road and chugged on back to the tarmac. And, before I could even say to myself, "Barbara, you have to be brave in your heart," traffic opened up and I bounced on across to the shortcut. From there, it was a piece of cake getting home in the dark. And no Maasai were out with their cows.


  1. hmmm almost like driving in Utah


  2. OK, then I didn't write dramatically enough, because it is NOTHING like driving in Utah!

  3. I was going to say something like driving in Guadalajara, but I think this is even more intense - glad you found your brave heart!! Betsy