“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalms 23:4
As anticipated, there are many aspects of life here in Tanzania that are different than those I have grown accustomed to in the USA. One of these that has impacted my life the most is public transportation. The process of getting both an international drivers’ license and a car just feels tedious and unnecessary for me, so I’ve opted for the alternative measures of getting from place to place. Luckily, the school I work at is a short five minute walk from my house, and that is the main place that I travel to, so there hadn’t been much of an issue. Yet, as I approach the two month mark of living here, it was becoming painfully obvious that I needed to go somewhere other than school and home, and, in order to grow in my newfound independence, I needed to do it alone. Thus, the issue of the daladala.
There are two main methods of transportation for distances that are too far to walk, and for those who do not own a vehicle of their own : bodaboda and daladala. The bodaboda is usually just a man on a motorcycle that you either have his number to call him and have him pick you up, or sometimes they will offer a ride if they are driving past you on the road. These are terrifying to me, and also more expensive since they are just transporting one person at a time. Which leaves the daladala as the most viable option. It is most closely understood as a sort of bussing system, except the buses are really just vans, and there is no set schedule or 100% consistent route that they take. They are typically marked with different colored stripes to show where they are headed, but sometimes could be going somewhere else, so it is good to check. The process of riding in the daladala is such: you walk to the main road, wait for one to stop, see if they are going where you want (sometimes this is simply shouted by a man who hangs out of the side window as they drive past), get in, then tell them when you want them to stop, and pay them as you get off. The first few steps repeat with every passenger, until you are certain that they cannot fit anymore people in the van, and then they somehow manage to fit a few more.
My first experience with the daladala was the second week I was here. One of the teachers at the school, who is an original employee from when the school was founded, took me to town to show me around and help me get oriented in my new home. The benefit to traveling with a local is that your worries disappear because someone who knows more than you in taking care of everything. The downside is that it is difficult to replicate on your own. After that first adventure, I didn’t ride the daladala again for many weeks afterwards.
There were three key problems I was encountering. The first was that I didn’t really have anywhere to go. I was taking grocery trips with a fellow teacher who has a car, I don’t know anyone who I could go visit, and I hadn’t found a church to attend yet. Once I discovered a few international churches in the area that I wanted to check out, the first issue diminished, but made room for a new one. This second problem was that I don’t have a good sense of direction, and don’t know where anything is. Although I had found a church that I would like to attend, I lacked the skills to be able to locate it on my own. Which lead me into the third problem, which was one rooted in fear. I was scared to do it. I was scared to get lost. I was scared in a way that I couldn’t quite understand why I was scared. But that fear paralyzed me, and prevented me from going for many weeks.
At the beginning of this month, the church that two of my coworkers, a married couple that live in my compound, attended was reopening for the first time since March. Since they have a license and a car, I was able to join them for church and successfully avoid confronting my fear of the daladala. However, the following Sunday, Beth-Marie (one half of the couple) wasn’t going to attend and Vance (the other half of the couple) was serving as the worship leader and was going to go early on his motorbike with his guitar, which left me without a convenient car ride.
The entire morning I could feel myself fighting with God. I kept trying to come up with a good reason or excuse to stay home and not go, but nothing could hold any water. I had somewhere to go. I knew where it was because I had been before, and had been given instructions by Vance of where to get off. The only thing holding me back was this undefinable sense of fear.
God patiently pulled me one step at a time.
I put on my clothes, then thought “I don’t have to go”.
I ate my breakfast and thought “I could just stay home”.
I put on my shoes and thought “It isn’t that big of a deal, I should just do it”.
I paced around my kitchen, going back and forth between “I don’t have to” and “Yes I do”.
I made it out the front door and to the gate of my compound, pausing there and thinking “Once I leave I have to do it. If I want to stay home I have to stop now”.
I went through the red gate and began walking down the street towards the main road, and thought to myself “Okay I’m really doing it.”
I approached another church and saw some wazungu (white people/ travellers), and even a family from school. I thought, “They might have an English service, I could just stop here and then I don’t have to do it”.
My feet kept going though, and I passed the church and kept making my way to the main road. I finally reached it and there was a daladala waiting there, like a chariot from heaven. I got inside and thought “Well there is no stopping now”.
It went the exact route that Vance had described to me, and another passenger was getting off in the same area, so I didn’t even have to struggle with asking them to stop in my beginner Kiswahili. I didn’t know how much it cost, so I decided to try and pay more than I thought it was and just receive change. I handed him a bill worth 5,000 shillings, which I ended up feeling very silly for when he returned 4,600 shillings in change to me.
I didn’t see the church at first and began to get nervous, but then saw it come up on my left. I had done it! The thing that I had been anxious over periodically for weeks, and consistently for the whole morning, was really nothing to be afraid of.
I have to admit that taking the daladala was not like what I imagine “walking through the valley of the shadow of death” would feel like, but it was something that Satan was convincing me I couldn’t do. To some extent, he was right. I couldn’t do it, not on my own. But I let myself be distracted from the fact that I have the best tour guide with me all the time. One who knows not just more than me, but more than anyone, anywhere, anytime. If He is capable of guiding me through the valley of the shadow of death, without fear, while keeping me safe and comforted, then there isn’t anything on this Earth I can’t do with Him. Including, but not limited to, riding the daladala.