However, the boat’s sister boat, MV Magogoni had just left the quay on the other side, coming to the shore where we were – Kivukoni Front. The two ferries shuttle across the creek, meeting mid-way with hundreds of impatient passengers aboard, waiting eagerly to land ashore and hurry off into town.
Having bought our tickets, we proceeded to the waiting shed. I hurried and secured a place ahead of the rushing mass of humanity and was among the first to enter the shed where I secured a vantage position for a photograph or two. I took a couple of shots as people boarded the boat.
Separated from the shed by gauze was the way for cars, and I could see them roll onto the quay where they formed a line that ran all the way out of the ferry compound and onto the road outside the quay. From my place, I panned the shed with my eyes. The place kept filling up with prospective passengers of MV Magogoni. All these people must be going home, I thought, but then I corrected myself.
Some, like my wife, daughter Penina and I were not and could have come to this side of the creek to visit a relative as we too were going to do. Otherwise they had been there for some private business or a mere ramble. However, a figure in the shed captured my attention.
That human form summarised, but powerfully illustrated the toil man must go through to live. It sharply contradicted the leisure some of us may have been having or our idle state on the ferry with the silent message that any day, any time, and place was ideal for earning a livelihood. The figure belonged to a young man of about 22 or thereabouts, lame in the foot. He walked with a loud shuffle that reverberated in the whole shed, his merchandise in a red plastic basin, in hand.
The young man I later came to know as Mohamed Ismail, a native of Mtwara, was selling bottled water he carried in one arm as he shuffled with a big limp. As poor Ismail went round the shed and then took the stretch toward where I was seated, I took a shot of him. I let him shuffle past as he went on in effort to win more hearts of those who may not have wanted to buy his merchandise in the first round.
If ever a soul ever earned his livelihood, it was Ismail. Lame as he was, he never as for once sat down even for a minute to rest his labored legs. But hard work pays. As he came my way another time, I bought a bottle of water from him and took the advantage to ask him a few questions. He first stepped foot in Dar es Salaam in 2006 and had done this trade long enough to know what parts of the city paid most. “How much do you earn a day,” I asked.
“Ten thousand shillings,” he said. “Sometimes more, sometimes less, but it is around that sum,” he told me. And then off he went, never wasting a minute to earn a shilling, behind him the sound of his shuffle that graphically illustrated the reward of industry. All the while two TV screens in the shed showed a medical advert.
One Dr John Daudi advised people to eat vegetables and fruits. “Plants and vegetables are a medicine and a cure,” the advert said. The medical message came from ‘Clinic ya Mtumishi wa Mungu’ – a Servant of God’s clinic. Given the TV screens’ positions, only a few people missed seeing them. But Ismail was too preoccupied with his trade to watch the advert and laboriously walked on. Earning 10,000/- a day meant little or no rest at all. He had told me they were three children to their parents.
The other two were back in Mtwara, one of the least developed regions south of the country. I could only imagine what a huge burden Ismail had of giving some support in the poor family, given the dependence that comes with African extended family. Since Ismail worked in Dar es Salaam – the New York, the Tokyo and the England of Tanzania where all the country’s money was as the rural community believes, he was expected to dispense a shilling as assistance. And so Ismail shuffled on, for himself and for them.
Presently Mv Magogoni arrived. And the rush began as the gate opened. I boarded it in a hurry. After I had a couple of photographs, curiosity took me to the pilot’s control cabin. “All is going well, the ferry takes 5 minutes to cross the creek,” the boat’s pilot, Mohamed Ngakonda said. What was the boat’s capacity? I wanted to know. “In that deck you see down there, can sit more than 2,000 people,” he added.
The ferry also had the capacity of carry 60 cars. Mr Ngakonda had been in his job for well over 10 years and knew the boat and the creek like the back of his hand. “In one day, beginning work from 5 pm – 12 pm, the vessel makes 60 trips,” the 52-year old man explained. It was a tedious job, but they did it in shifts, assisted by his co-pilot Geophrey Ngaluwila. They were five pilots, each doing 6 hours each.
The night shift begins at 8 pm until 8 am. We approached the other quay and the hazy faces of waiting travellers gradually became more defined. Some of them would buy Ismail’s water, I thought. Ismail loves all the trips except early morning and the evening and night ones. “In the day I make good money because they are thirsty,” he explained. When MV Kigamboni was built it did eleven knots. But today its top speed is 7 knots and takes 5 minutes to cross the creek.
That may be a long time but it is enough for some passengers to become thirsty and buy Ismail’s water. The young man rented a house in Mbagala suburb, about 12 km away from Kigamboni Front. “And I must leave early to catch a bus home,” he says.