The driver in the stocking cap chose his route carefully. The sedan was not built for this kind of terrain. Time and time again we felt the thud of the frame bottoming out. The driver stopped, started, reversed course, chose a new tack and continued up the so-called street.
The headlights captured mounds gravel, garbage, and building materials. Their eerie shapes were revealed for just a moment before slipping back into the dusk. I began to think that we we not on a road at all but in a construction zone.
This is how Jimmy Hoffa felt on that day in 1975 when they took him for a ride.
No one but Mr Sam (and Mr Safe, if there ever was such a person on the other end of the phone), knew our whereabouts (see our previous post here). The dangers of assault, kidnapping, corruption and other violent crimes are very real in Arusha. Tourists are ripe targets. And of course I was carrying tip-money from two months of work in Israel-Palestine. Stink!
I reached for Vicki’s hand. We squeezed. Hearts fluttered.
The morning light revealed our true situation. Jungle had stolen the shanties on our right and buried them under a rotting mat of vegetation. The street was now a track of mud. It was near its end. The same was undoubtedly true for us.
A high concrete wall running to our left was punctuated by a black steel gate. We pulled up to it and stopped. Our driver, who had yet to speak, honked his horn. The gate began to open. I thanked the good Lord for my life and prepared to meet the men with guns who were undoubtedly waiting on the other side.
Instead it was a little man in a uniform. He had a flashlight in his hand.
We pulled into the compound known as Ilburu Safari Lodge.
The contrast between the space inside the concrete barrier and outside the concrete barrier was stark. Behind us was a sorry slum. Before us was a brightly painted lodge. The grounds were manicured. Flowers were in full bloom, everywhere.
We eased out of the car. A lean man with glasses and a scarf was waiting. He stepped up.
“Mark and Vicki? Welcome to Tanzania. I’m Mr Saif.”
He did exist!
“I’m so sorry about what happened this morning.” He rattled through a series of events that started with a car problem and ended with a phone problem. We were not quite sure what to believe but we were so relieved to be alive and unrobbed and unmolested that it didn’t matter.
Mr Saif paid the “taximan” and escorted us to the reception desk. On the way we told him about Vicki’s lost bag. He assured us that he would work on it.
“There is no plan for the day. Get your rest. I’ll see you tomorrow morning and you will meet your (Safari) driver.”
We thanked him, bought a bottle of water at the desk, and headed for the room. Our relief was palatable.
If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences in the lands of the Bible. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities. See our list of future trips here.
And by the way, I promise to meet you at the Tel Aviv airport.