The bus across Tanzania

The following is a letter to the Church School students of Christ the Savior Orthodox Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, sent on 18 September 2010.

Dear friends,

Furaha na amani! Joy and peace!

This is how Orthodox Christians greet one another here in Mwanza, Tanzania.  And I send you very warm greetings from Mwanza.

Last time I wrote you, I was studying the Swahili language in Dar es Salaam, which is Tanzania’s biggest city on the coast of the Indian Ocean.  I was there for five months: while you were on vacation, I was in school and working hard!

But yesterday, I got on the bus and traveled inland to Mwanza, which is Tanzania’s second-largest city, and is on the coast of Lake Victoria (the second-largest lake in the world).  This is where I hope to be based for the next two years.  Since I’ve just arrived, I don’t have a lot to tell you yet about Mwanza!  So instead, let me tell you what it’s like to take the bus across Tanzania.

Very few Tanzanians drive cars, and flying is VERY expensive, so most people travel long-distance by bus.  Tanzania is as big as Texas and Oklahoma combined, with poor roads, so the distances are very long indeed.  My bus left at six o’clock in the morning, along with about one hundred other buses going to destinations all over the country.  We arrived in Mwanza at eleven PM.

Between Dar es Salaam and Mwanza is a very big national park called the Serengeti.  Maybe you’ve heard of it, or maybe you’ve seen pictures on the Discovery Channel or in National Geographic of lions and elephants and wildebeest and the many other wildlife in the Serengeti.

I didn’t get to see the animals, because the bus didn’t go through the Serengeti.  There are no big roads going through the park, which means that we have to go way, way south to get around it- and then way, way north again.  That’s one reason why the trip is so long.  We passed through four large cities, but between the cities there are very few people.  It’s flat, dry land with baobab trees.  A baobab is a huge tree that looks like it’s been planted upside-down with its roots in the air.  They’re really fun to look at.

Most houses that I saw in the countryside were made out of mud or out of straw.  There are some farms where people grow sisal (a plant that you make ropes out of), and there is a lot of pasture land for cattle.  The cows here are smaller than American cows, and they have big humps on their shoulders.  They are able to find food and do well in the hot, dry scrubland where they graze.

Most of the trip was on pretty good paved roads with no potholes.  But nothing like the interstate: two-lane roads count as major highways here in Tanzania!  And for two hours of the trip, the road wasn’t even paved.  It was pretty bumpy, and REALLY dusty.  Some of us closed our windows to keep out the dust, but if you close the windows it gets really hot and stuffy (no air conditioning).  So many of us, including myself, kept our windows open and then held handkerchiefs over our mouths so that we wouldn’t breathe too much dust.

Then, many hours after dark, the bus arrived.  I slept well last night!  Mwanza is a city full of gigantic rocks.  Some houses are even built right on top of boulders.  It’s very pretty.  And Metropolitan Jeronymos welcomed me warmly today.  I’m very happy to be here.

One of my jobs here in Mwanza will be to work on developing the Archdiocese’s youth program.  This means I may spend a lot of time in the villages getting to know young people and learning about their lives.  I look forward to telling you more about what I learn!

Please keep me in your prayers.  And stay in touch!

In Christ,

James Hargrave

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