"This bus is going to fall," I stated and asked concurrently in my Swahili 101. The buddah-bodied, sarong wrapped woman to my right laughed at my big worried eyes.
"No, young sista," her electric white teeth glowed through me. "Hamna tabu."
Her corpulent arm, the size of my thigh, fell on my shoulders: a universal gesture of comfort. Hamna tabu, no problem. I was unaware there are six different ways to say "no problem" in Swahili, depending on the degree of the problem. In Tanzanian society it is not desirable to be the harbinger of discouraging news.
In a car, you could travel from Iringa to the mountain-nest village of Pommerini in four hours. In a bus, it may take up to ten hours to travel the same distance. The authorities tell you, "this bus departs at nine in the morning," while pointing to a crude, archaic map of your destination.
However, the bus always leaves well after midday, except the one time you cleverly arrive at noon, to evade the bus vigilance in the blistering fumes of the arthropod-infested marketplace. They nod their heads at your disbelief.
"I told you many times, this bus departs at nine in the morning."
When you purchase a bus ticket this does not guarantee you a seat on the bus. On one voyage, I stood for four consecutive hours, with the physical support of other passengers' bodies. And no, they would not let me ride on top of the bus, with all the cargo and the bus attendants, despite my begging.
"It would not look good to have muzungu on the roof," the bus driver concluded and then sipped his Tuska beer.