Of course, the obvious question came: “How big is she?”
My typical male response with curving hand gestures didn’t seem to help her. She summoned her teenage daughter from inside the shop and stood her in front of me.
“About this size?” she queried. “Uhh, yes... about that size... I think so.” “No problem,” she said, saving the situation. “I will make it one-size-fits-all.”
Arusha was not a typical tourist town; there were not a lot of other white faces. They mostly came for the safaris and Mount Kilimanjaro. The main market catered to the local population. Visitors that did venture into the city centre, however, were persistently hassled by hawkers selling maps, translation booklets and, interestingly enough, foreign newspapers.
The oddest feature of the city was the way storm water was handled on most of the streets. On one or both sides of the street was a deep open concrete channel, two feet wide at the bottom and sloping up to four feet wide at the top, that I’m certain carried storm water very effectively, but at great expense to parking and pedestrian traffic. In the centre of the city, the channels are lined with concrete, but farther out of town, they are dirt ditches. Narrow bridges are placed at regular intervals but many, usually the young and more athletic, can be seen leaping, often with casual ballet-like elegance, across the gap.
A big concern to locals is traffic congestion along the main east-west artery. Old Moshi Road and Sokoine Road are the only direct route through the city. The traffic is
painfully slow, pollution levels, off the charts. Government street planning, according to Jacob’s acute political criticisms, is either non-existent or unable to keep pace with the haphazard growth of commercial and office buildings that seem to arbitrarily crop up in both the city’s centre as well as the surrounding districts.
To avoid Sokoine congestion, Deo preferred to maneuver his taxi through the side streets, where even there, the experience was equally painful. Most roads are unmaintained, uneven, full of potholes, and with large protruding rocks that threaten to disembowel a car’s underbelly. Small restaurants and “corner stores” are crowded together with houses that vary from modest to substandard. Some even have a few goats and cows crammed into their small yard.
On one occasion, Deo and I bumped wildly from pothole to pothole through a side street, splashing mud on the occasional unwary pedestrian. Then we came to a standstill. Short-cutting cars from both directions had also been stopped. We waited five or fen minutes, before I impatiently asked, “What’s going on, Deo?”
“I don’t know. This is not normal. Maybe we should have a look.”
We walked ahead to an opening in the traffic where several men were blocking the road. Pulling strenuously on a tether rope, they were not having any success rescuing a cow that had slid down into the muddy storm channel. She sat there in the mud, on her buckled legs, seemingly content just to be out of the traffic. The men kept pulling until finally, the bedraggled beast gave in and clawed her way up and out. The cars slowly dispersed. We ended up following the cow for a while, the owner struggling hard to keep her moving, and finally managed to pass her as she loudly bellowed her displeasure.
I ran the gauntlet along Sokoine Road every time I visited Majengo. As described earlier, it was the slum area of the city, located at the western end of Sokoine Road, two or three miles from the city centre. The quality of the street life and building construction deteriorated gradually as you headed west. In Majengo, open-air buildings, shantily constructed from whatever materials were cheaply available, housed various trade businesses, furniture makers, welders, joinery and window fabricators, alongside bars and food stores. Hand-pulled wooden carts, loaded to deliver food, furniture, construction materials, competed with vehicles for road space. They were almost as numerous as vehicles and factored heavily in slowing traffic to a standstill at times.