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Haven of peace can be deceptively safe

Haven of peace can be deceptively safe

 

As I left the office in the Harbour of Peace where I work and have lived for most of my working life, I took a bus and headed. Behind us, I heard a siren. From my position on the bus I could not see what vehicle sounded the siren because the bus was packed full and I was standing in the middle of the crowd where we were packed like sardines.

The siren followed us up to an intersection where its car - a police vehicle - for that was where the sound came from, managed to wedge itself into a position by our bus. I still could not understand why it wanted the road cleared for it so urgently. There just wasn’t room for other cars to let it pass.

We left the police car still trapped where it was and its siren got fainter and fainter. I thought it had taken a different route.
But I was wrong. Soon it caught up and overtook us. Close behind it was a green bus, the colour prisons vehicles are painted in. The green bus was fully packed with accused on their way back to remand prison.

How many remand prisoners had been there when the bus first left the prisons gate to the court but were not there now, or how many had not been on it on its trip to the court but were now going to breathe for the first time the stuffy air of the cooler, was a fact known only to the prisons officers huddled at the little room behind the hind door while the accused were comfortably seated.

Just a couple of years previously the accused were taken to or from court in a lorry, crowded like cows to an auction. They would stand there, peering at the free world outside through the grill, calling to whoever would listen for a cigarette or a fiver. Today, the accused were seated like delegates to a conference. The sight of a prisons bus gliding by past ours sparked off a heated talk within the bus.

Remand prisoners were now treated like some VIPs, and travelled comfortably to the court to hear their fate, said a passenger on the bus. Another passenger congratulated the government for its observation of human rights for what we were witnessing was testimony to that. Soon the siren was gone as the car disappeared in the heavy traffic on Nyerere Road.

Many a time I had seen how a fire engine screamed for room in the middle of heavy traffic to pass in vain. The farther we moved away from the city centre the traffic became lighter and our driver tried to make the most of the change to shorten the trip. The portion of the road had  recently been repaired and the ride was smooth enough.

I relaxed and my thought wandered into the past. It did not occur to me that you are never so much in danger as when you think you are safest. But there was no reason to worry. Suddenly there a loud blast and the bus rocked. Panic swept through the bus and a couple of passengers wailed. Whatever it was, it made the driver reduce speed fast.

An incident in the same city nearly a decade ago flashed through my mind. A bus ride from home in the morning  was suddenly interrupted by a similar blast followed by a slight sway and a fast loss of speed before  it came to stop. The passengers had rushed out. As I neared the door I heard women who had just got off the bus scream. I stepped out and saw the reason. There on the road, spread in a wide area, were the blobs of the brain of the person the bus had just hit. She was a woman and her head was a pulp. She had been crossing the road. Two women fainted at the gory sight.

Had our bus just hit a human being? I asked myself we slowed down. The sound of a tyre rubbing effortfully down on the road answered my curiosity. We had a flat! We got down, a couple of us panic-stricken. Some of the passengers went and shook the hand of the driver for having done his best and saved our lives with his sangfroid.

“It is not the driver’s skill that saved us,” said one passenger. “We are safe by God’s grace.” “But if we had a bad driver, God could not have stopped the car from overturning,” another passenger retorted. “God only saves you through a good driver,” the first passenger said. “A bad one will throw you right into a gutter and God will still be there watching.”

Attribute the luck to anything you will but, if we had narrowly cheated death, a young man would soon escape the destiny of all men by the skin of his teeth through his stupidity. His narrow escape was but proof that in this metropolitan they call Dar es Salaam there are many jobs to do and it is only the fainted hearted who always with rumbles of hunger in their stomach.

While vehicles for the green light at a connection they call Tazara junction, a young man calmly walked to a trailer lorry  and started to unscrew one of its rear lights. I had seen boys looking for livelihood means open a tanker’s taps to drain off oil residue in the tank while the lorry waited for the green light.

However, this particular lorry was no tanker and when the man began to unscrew the lamp drivers of other vehicles honked their horns to the driver of the victim truck. The lorry driver jumped down his vehicle, a panga in hand. By then the thug had ripped off the whole lamp assembly from its trailer, snapping off the wires and made a run for it.

The driver gave chase. With the shouts of thief! Thief!  With the lorry driver breathing fire behind him and people shouting thief! Thief! The thief dropped his loot. “I would have made mshikaki (stringed roast meat) of you in the twinkling of an eye, you damn fool!” cursed the lorry driver, grating the bush-knife on the road before he picked up the lamp and its housing before walking back to his truck.

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Author: LAWI JOEL

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