Motorcycle Diaries

One of our favorite aspects of living in Tabora (only seventeen kilometers from Korogwe) is that we are able to take a “piki-piki” (motorcycle) into town for our meetings, rather than take a hot, crowded bus. We get to feel the breeze and see great views of sprawling green fields and the mountains.

The piki piki has become the most important form of transport in rural Tanzania for many reasons. The high cost of fuel and poor quality of roads make cars impractical. Piki pikis can move from dirt road to pavement without a problem and can maneuver around obstacles-holes, fallen rocks, goat herds. The uses extend beyond just the transport of people. They are used to transport bags of charcoal stacked three high, livestock, and huge bags of produce. Small shops in the village get all of their goods delivered via piki-piki. We have seen a motorcycle used to transport a bike that needed repair. It is not uncommon to see multiple passengers on one, called “mshikaki” (Swahili for shish kebab-visualize it).

Each piki-piki has its own personality, as do many of the drivers. Some are decorated with flags of their favorite football team. We recognize different drivers by their horn tones. One of our favorites wears a pad reminiscent of a cross between an umpire’s chest protector and the first bullet-proof vest prototype. Others wear winter jackets backwards to protect their chests from the cool breeze.

Guidebooks list transportation, not wild animal attack, as the most dangerous aspect of travel in Africa. Roads are unpaved and often littered with holes the size of a hot tubs. Helmets are rarely warn by passengers. Headlights are weak, sometimes missing altogether for night travel. All of these risks increase with the heavy seasonal rains when formerly hard-packed dirt paths turn to thick, slippery mud. The risk also increases as the number of passengers increases. Another danger is the exhaust pipe, “bomba”. One has to dismount carefully to avoid contact between the pipe and leg, which results in a nasty burn. Almost everyone has had one and afterwards learns to avoid the bomba. Rachael’s first graze left her with a pussing mess (look if you dare). Drivers are used to this and often warn us before getting on and off, and are quick to offer a dab of motor oil to temporarily soothe a fresh burn.

So for the moment we try to forget some of these risks, be cautious, and enjoy the ride. We don’t travel at night or ever with more than one passenger, wear a helmet when we can, and always, always respect the bomba.

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