Day 295: Begrudgingly Rolling Toward Tanzanian Orphanage
Yeah, but have you ever literally been cat called? Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
I WAS not impressed with the decision of the dice last night. I needed a work day or a rest day – as the last post is testament to that. Basically, I need anything but another long day on Rafiki.
I blame Rachel. Well, Rachel and the dice.
Rachel is university student spending a year in Tanzania studying ecology. More specifically, she's looking at how livestock herding works with the local landscape and how people are dealing with drought conditions.
I matched her on Tinder when I arrived in Arusha last night.
I gave the die options: if it was a one or two, I'd see if she wanted to meet up for drinks tomorrow night; three or four, a tea in the morning; five or six, I'd make no suggestions.
It was a four. Unfortunately, it turned out that she was based in Longido, which I passed through on the way to Arusha this afternoon.
“As for tea, if you're stuck up north... Why don't you choose a couple numbers. I'll roll about making the drive up to check out your work and fly the drone tomorrow. Was looking for some options of what to do,” I wrote, shortly after explaining the Dice Travels project.
“Alright, what do I do with the numbers?”
“Tell me. I'll roll. If you want to add me on Facebook, I'll do a quick live video for the roll... People always suspect I'll cheat when I roll.”
She chooses: one, four and five.
The down side is that I now have to come up with other options. If it's a two or three, I stay in Arusha and have a work day, because I like it here. If it's a six, I'll get back on the road and head toward the orphanage.
Oh, the orphanage / school. I am anything but excited about this.
A few days ago – despite what I said – I went ahead and rolled for where I was going to volunteer in Tanzania.
This came up at the bottom of the range. Video: Isaac Stone Simonelli
After paying a small fee to join WorkAway, I gained access to a number of volunteer positions in Tanzania. The basic setup for WorkAway is that they can't charge you money to volunteer there and you can't receive more than food and accommodation. That said, they can ask for up to five dollars or something a day to help cover the costs of your food and lodging if necessary.
“If I volunteer at a WorkAway, then I float for two weeks, I get some more local experiences and I can explore the area, maybe find some rock climbing or snorkeling, diving, I don't know. It depends on the place. And then, I can bounce over to another WorkAway or whatever happens. But it does give me this chance to float,” I explain to a my phone in a nearly manic voice. “So I've come up with ten options out of Tanzania. I've kind of steer away from schools, because if you're only going to be there for two weeks, I personally, feel like it doesn't have a lot of impact. While some of these organizations are more like businesses and I can at least help with marketing or whatever. I think there is more utility. And some of them are just way too cool to pass up on.”
Several examples of what made the list: Beach lodge Indian Ocean, Permaculture project on Zanzibar and eco-community with bees and fish ponds, as well as a number of schools.
“When I roll, whatever happens, that's the first one I contact. And if I can get through and make it work – great. If not, I'm just going to have to move on. I'm not going to try to force myself on anyone. So the roll is who I'm going to contact first,” I say. “So ten options, but there are only six sides of the die you say. But that's just because you're thinking of the edges of the box, because we got a lot of 'gons' out there. If we had eight options, we'd bust out the octagon. Ten options, the 'decagon'. And then, to be honest, my knowledge of 'gons' goes down pretty hard.”
My face contorts when I look at the die and match it to the option: Help the Orphans Foundation.
Even more disappointing is a stock email reply to my request to help out, as it completely fails to account for my offer to help with outreach, marketing and promotion.
How are you today?
Thank you so much for your interest in in volunteering with us! we are happy after reading your message.
Please visit our website is where there is a volunteer application form; htoforg.wix.com/htof or
www.help-the-orphans.org or you can fill the form direct through this link:...
I click the link. It takes me to another form to fill out – sigh. Halfway through the “required” fields there is the question: How much would you like to contribute for the Construction of the Orphanage?
The minimum amount option is 100 – 200 dollars.
It hits me like rock between the eyes. I feel swindled. To avoid this sort of volunteer trap is exactly why I paid a small amount to join WorkAway.
First I send an email to whoever Joseph is, as I do have to make an attempt to make this work: I hope all is well! I've just sent in my application. How's it look? There is a bit of an issue about the required donation. I hope that doesn't create an obstacle to me helping your program.
Because the field was required, I went ahead and said I'd make the 100 – 200 dollar donation. However, I can't afford it and have no intentions of paying it. Despite what I wrote, I'm hoping that things are not looking so sweet with my application and I'm denied and the dice can choose somewhere else, anywhere else.
While waiting to hear back from this Joseph, I drop WorkAway an email:
I wanted to bring it to your attention that xxxxxxx refers you to another link to officially ask to be a volunteer. In that form you are required to make a minimum donation of 100-200 dollars, which seems like it does not follow WorkAway policy, especially as the costs are not mentioned on the WorkAway page they have posted.
I hope that this issue can be taken care of. In the form, I informed them that despite being forced to say I'll make a donation, I am unable to make one. We'll see what they say.
Thanks for your kind attention.
Much to my disappointment Joseph does get back to me and says there is no issue if I'm unable to make a financial donation. So, the dice have locked me into Help the Orphans Foundation.
* * *
But we're already in Tanzania now, and we're talking about Rachel.
The die I tossed on the tile floors of my hotel room is hard to see. I can barely make out the number; it takes a moment for me to get the right angle so that Rachel can see – she needed verifiable proof about the results.
It's a six! A beaming smile flashes across my face at the prospect of going on this little adventure north of here – anything that delays my arrival at Help the Orphans Foundation.
Then I realize she didn't choose number the six.
“Ah man, that's the shittiest of the options,” I moan.
“That's the risk of gambling,” she says.
“So true. Though it gives everything more significance as well. Anyway, I'm sure our paths will cross at some point. I really do want to hear more about your work.”
That was last night. That was what the die thought was a clever move.
So, this morning, tired, but forced back onto the bike, I exchange Kenyan Shilling for Tanzanian Shilling, settle my bill and head out of town.
On the outskirts of town, there's a pack of motorbike taxi drivers lounging on their Chinese bikes, mostly Toyo King Powers cruisers. The entire road has been torn up so it can be expanded. However, down the dirt slop near the drivers there's a gas station.
A gas station that ends up being out of gas.
On my way back up the hill, the motorcyclist start smiling, holding their fingers up on top of their heads, meowing at me. They loudly meow and meow. I'm literately getting cat called. Of course, they are fox ears, but who knows what the hell the fox says?
An epiphany strikes me in the saddle: not what he fox says, but the two most important things to pack when taking a trip is patience and your good humor. In a foul mood, it'd be easy to get my panties in a twist about the guys having a laugh at the ears, which would be a shame, as it's all good fun. I am, after all, an adult driving around the world with orange and white ears stuck to the top of my helmet.
Outside Arusha, the world around me is a kaleidoscope of greens. There are young banana plantations and rice paddies with farmers shin-deep in standing water as they plant new crops. For a moment, it's like I'm back in Southeast Asia.
I'm again driving with no particular destination, only the general direction of the orphanage.
For lunch, there are two restaurant options, both with dead carcasses hanging in chicken-wire cages, piles of chips in glass cases and large advertisements for beer and cocktails.
I fumble to get the die out from under my jacket and check it. It's an even number, I take a table at the closes of the two establishments.
I eventually was served up some warm ugali and BBQ meats. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
There are a couple people working, but nobody eating. The waitress is in no rush to get to me, so I get comfortable in my seat.
“Food?” I ask when she arrives.
She looks unsure, asks someone something and then says, “No.”
I can see the French fries right there in the case and a man by the skinned hunk of animal hanging from meat hooks working a grill. Certainly there's food.
The problem is that I don't speak Swahili. Unlike Kenya, where English is an official language and pretty easy to get by with – once you adjust your ears for Kenyan English – in Tanzania, it's less common.
A 20-year-old man, Lovenda, arrives at the scene. He's wearing a string of rosary beads with five painted amulets of Mother Mary carefully placed among them. A small cross hangs from the bottom of the necklace.
“This is beautiful,” I say, reaching out to touch the necklace. The paint on the amulets are chipped on the edges, but the varnish has maintained the child-like beauty of Mary's face, a blue cloth wrapped over her head.
Lovenda speaks more English than the waitress. He takes me to the grill, where hunks of meat are wrapped in tin foil.
I order meat, ugali and a few veggies on the side.
Lovenda pulls a red plastic chair up next to me in the shade of a tree. A man in his 50s, who Lovenda at first address as “uncle” – though I suspect no relation – sits down at the table with us. He sends Lovenda off to slice up a mango that he's brought over.
“He's going around,” Lovenda explains to Uncle, to explain why I don't book a tour up Mount Kilimanjaro.
With my bare hands plucking up soft blobs of ugali and pressing them against hunks of tinder meat, I turn down the offer of mango – there's already too much food.
I share the Dice Travels website with them, mostly to show off Rocinante, the bike I started the trip with.
“Can I try?” Lovenda asks, nodding toward Rafiki.
“Sure.” I pick up the keys to give them to him.
His uncle intercedes.
“He says I can't,” Lovenda says, a little crestfallen, but as if he'd expected as much.
I'm not sure exactly what Uncle is saying, but probably something along the lines of: “What if you crash the bike?”
“Best to listen to Uncle,” I say, thinking the man is probably right.
Uncle as five children: three girls and two boys.
“You must rest more before going,” Lovenda says as I finish my meal and take back my phone from Uncle and the waitress who are watching some video about bee hives on YouTube. Thinking about them typing anything into the URL box of a search engine makes me uncomfortable as I'm certain there are a couple XXX sites that would be promptly suggested.
A chubby Tanzanian wearing a touristy, rectangular-cut, African-style shirt with cheap embroidery joins us at the table.
“I noticed the bike. I ride too,” he says.
“Nice, what do you ride?”
It turns out that started with Yamaha, but is now on a 250cc Honda dirt bike.
“So are you coming from Jungle Junction,” the man asks, name dropping the main place for overlanders to hole up in Nairobi before pressing onward.
I decided that Elia, the man in the rectangular shirt, is why the die pushed me forward today.
Okay, certainly the die didn't know he was going to come ambling past, but I'm glad he did. It turns out that Elia had been in the process of setting up an overlander camp in Tanzania. However, the project stalled a couple years ago as he struggled to get some machinery from Germany that is necessary for working on BMWs.
Elia is a big man with his fingers in a number of pies. Flipping through his Instgarma account there are pictures of his rental motorcycles that he provides tours on, a book that he recently helped a French man write, his farm and a poster promoting some club.
“At the farm, I do Woofer, WorkAway and Couch Surfing,” he says, though Woofer seems to be the only one that actually funnels people to the farm.
“That's amazing,” I say. “So, I've already promised an orphanage near the capital that I'll come down to volunteer there for a week, but when I come back up, I'd love to stay at the camp.”
“Of course, you can stay as long as you like. Recently, I had two girls from, from... Actually, I have to go look, I forget where they're from, but they were there volunteering for a couple of weeks.”
The Vasso Enduro race is on the 25 and 26 of next month, he points out, suggesting I come back and join it.
“That might be perfect. Maybe I can do a drone video of it. I did one for the last enduro race in Kenya,” I say.
Enduro motorcycle race in Kenya. Video: Isaac Stone Simonelli
It's settled. I know Elia would prefer that I stick around for a couple days, maybe watch the Kilimanjaro Marathon tomorrow, but I'm set to get back on the road – it feels too early to call it a day.
“If you go to Mombo, you can then go up and do a loop. Many riders do this loop,” he says.
How such gems as Elia appear on the roadside baffles me.
Now, I have a destination. I need to make it to Mombo before nightfall.
Easier said then done.
There's road kill. A dog. Though dogs are few and far between out here, they seem to be the most common road kill, as they fail to have the traffic sense of Thailand's soi dogs.
The red, oil-warning light comes on. Rafiki loves oil more than executives lobbying the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. It's been a little harder finding 2T oil for Rafiki since crossing into Tanzania, but I have a liter of it packed. Pulling off the road outside of one of the many small towns this beautiful, black asphalt highway cuts through, I park in the shade of a tree.
That was stupid.
I could have pulled over anywhere, but managed to jump off the road exactly where there's a police check point. With my helmet off, I throw up a hand as a wave to an officer in a crisp white uniform on the far said of the highway. I toss it up in the same way a quarterback launches a last second Hail Mary: with a prayer.
The Highway Police set up checkpoints outside of nearly every town in Tanzania, sometimes they are on both sides of town. The men wear crisp, white trousers with matching jackets and white hats. The women wear similar shirts and long, navy blue skirts.
A young, very dark skinned officer walks toward me.
Why did I have stop here of all places?
I stand up and greet him, shaking his hand before starting to chat about the bike.
“Where you going?”
“Mambo, Mombo, Mombo, I think,” I say, stumbling over the name.
“Mombo?” he asks.
“Yes, that's it. Is it far from here?”
The key is to keep the conversation light, friendly and going, ensuring it doesn't slip into anything too official. I ask him where he's from in Tanzania. He spends a little time explaining exactly where the region is – somewhere near the Uganda border.
The whole time, I'm topping up Rafiki's oil tank. It would have looked so dodge to have simply drove off as soon as I saw the police, so this is my best bet.
Why am I acting like I'm doing something illegal? I have no idea, but after my run in with the officer in Nairobi – where I was on the wrong side of the law – I've felt a bit skittish around them. Even if everything is in good order, I worry about being extorted for on thing or another. I read about one set of riders who were slammed with so many speeding tickets as they tried to get through Tanzania that they were forced to cut their Africa trip short. I should point out that nearly none these officers have speed guns.
The officer shakes my hand and gives me a friendly wave as I remount Rafiki and get back on the road.
What a nice chap.
In general, I've gotten into the habit for having my tinted internal visor of the helmet pulled over my eyes when I pass through police check points to prevent making eye contact. My eyes swing back and forth across the road, but my head remains still, so I can pretend that I don't see them waving me down – if they happen to do so.
Rafiki poses for a picture on the open road. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
The immaculate road is nearly empty with only the occasional land rover of tourists or lorry passing by. It cuts along the rain shadow of the Pare Mountains. Signs are erected to warn drivers of strong cross winds coming through vast open sections of the range. I slow Rafiki and prepare to be blown all over the road, but there's no gusts of which to speak.
Momobo is still a distance, yet the sun is on its descent.
I come to a stop next to a rickety wooden sign that reads: Zebra Camp. They might not have internet, but it would be nice to get off the road early for once.
Though interesting, Zebra Camp didn't seem to be a good fit. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
I roll the die. It suggests that I at least check it out. The dirt path from the highway cuts across a dry river bed of deep sand. Rafiki's rear wheel spins and slides back and forth behind me as we make it across.
The gate to the camp is closed, but unlocked. Inside, a man in a dark blue jump suit shakes my hand.
There are fresh lines across the ground from much of the area being recently swept. However, the camp does not seem to be functioning. An open dinning area and lounge is full of stacks of chairs and there are a few safari tents next to derelict bathrooms that are worse for wear. There's a broken toilet seat sitting outside one of them. A walkway of sticks and old railroad tracks stretches out across a small river and into the tall wetland reeds on the far side.
“Do you have food?” I ask.
“No food. No water,” the man says.
I could forgo food and internet to take a night in such a peaceful place. But no water is less than ideal. However, the dirt road here split, with another, smaller wooden sign pointing toward a different camp.
I figure that it's worth checking out. Wherever this camp is, it appears to be farther away from the highway. There are more deep patches of sand, and, for awhile, the path follows a set of narrow train tracks.
There's a small white, wooden sign staked into the ground. Red letters say something in Swahili. Though I don't know what the words say, the hand-drawn skull and crossbones seem to leave no need for further clarification.
Nervously, I snap a picture and turn back around, so much for that camp, wherever it might be.
The sunsets fast. This morning, I would have said that it was impossible that I would end up in the dark today. Now, it's look inevitable.
I've seen plenty of sunsets on this trip, but despite the pressure of needing to reach Momobo and the frustration of every little white sign marking a new town not being for Mombo, I pull over.
Clouds are eating the peaks of the mountain ranges. To the west, a cloud consuming a peak has caught the pinks thrown out by the setting sun. The crisp tangerine circle, a vibrant nuclear reaction, dips into the jagged, low mountains to the east.
The clouds skipped across the tips of the mountains. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
As with nearly every town I've arrived in, Momobo isn't what I was expecting. It's a small place anchored by a bus station. With the sun down, wooden benches and tables have been put out along the road. Women serve up ugali, curry and tea in steel, military-style plates.
It takes only a moment to drive through town. I turn around. At first, there doesn't seem to be any hotels.
On a third lap of town, I spot thin black letters on the side of a building marking it as a hotel.
Only because of the Motorcycle Dairies did I happen to pack metal wire to re-attach Rafiki's cover, giving the poor girl a face lift. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
There's a small cement courtyard behind a steel gate to park Rafiki. A half-naked man is getting a bucket of water for his shower from a cement basement in the courtyard.
I can't believe the price of the rooms. The cheapest, which are on the second floor, are 3,000 Shillings a night. That's a dollar and change. I'm shown the 7,000 Shilling room first. It's plain, but for the price, is fine. However, I want the cheapest.
Up a narrow metal staircase that appears to have been ripped off a ship, we work our way up to the second floor. It's a spartan room with crude curtains pulled across bare windows and no sheets on the bed.
The man showing me the room, bring a light bulb in to fill the empty socket.
“This is perfect,” I say, paying for the night.
A rough blue mosquito net is brought in and hung over the bed. I don't notice it at first, but several large holes render the net useless, as there are too many to tie them off.
After dinner alongside the roadway – a fish curry I eat with my hands – I find myself back in the room.
This is what it must be to destitute artist, a writer whose passion goes beyond realistic ambitions: renting the small room for 30 dollars a month, sweating in the heat of the night, subsiding on cheap alcohol and the simplest of foods.
It's a fantasy that I think few, including myself, would want to live through.
“Is this where great novels are written?” I wonder out load.
My ankles and hands itch. The heat is too much. I toss and turn and then go to Twitter and mindlessly scroll.
Down stairs, I go back to the pail I filled with brown water for my bucket bath earlier and wash my feet again. At some point in Thailand, I developed hot feet. It's a strange tick, perhaps a sign of me slowly going crazy. My feet get uncomfortably hot, preventing me from sleeping. In Phuket, I'd step outside and dip them into the rooftop swimming pool. Here, however, I wash them with sullied water.
Back in the room, I spread my sleeping bag out on the hard concrete floor. The floor is cool, though unforgivably hard.
Sleep eventually takes me.