We Were Ordered to Sleep On Dining Tables at Buhemba
By lute wa lutengano
It was one Sunday morning of that year in the mid-70s that I left my home village, Chalowe, and boarded an East African Railways and Harbours bus, for my trip to Njombe, the district headquarters to meet the District Commissioner. The buses, then popularly known simply as ‘Posta’ on account of them ferrying all mail along the route, were driven by elderly people, and that is why perhaps they never had accidents.
I arrived in Njombe town and stayed at the Catholic run hostel, by account of its fair accommodation and meal rates. The next day I reported at the DC’s office and was immediately directed to the Administration Officer. There I was handed a letter directing me to report at Buhemba National Service camp, more than a thousand kilometers north of Njombe, for my compulsory service. The Officer also gave me a travel warrant which would enable me to travel northwards to Dodoma, then westwards to Tabora before proceeding to Mwanza. There I would take a bus to Musoma before finding my way to Buhemba.
The next day I boarded another "posta’ bus to Iringa, where I connected with yet another bus to Dodoma. We arrived in Dodoma in the evening and were told that the train which would take me to Mwanza would leave after midnight. It was a dusty and chilly night at the Dodoma Railway Station. We thanked our stars when we boarded the train after midnight.
The train, as is usual, was fully packed by poor Tanzanians and from all walks of life together with all their livestock and birds. Therefore the trip to Tabora and then onwards to Mwanza was quite a bother and tiresome. It was very early the next morning when we arrived in Mwanza. It had been three nights and three days trip from Njombe to Mwanza.
I was in very unfamiliar grounds when I saw a bus written to Musoma maneuvering a corner. Being youthful I had no problem to literally jump into it as it zoomed off and the bus conductor watched with wide eyes. Luckily those were conductors of yesteryear. He was soon helpful and even agreed to honor my Government travel warrant.
On enquiry I was shocked to learn that the trip to Musoma would take another six hours. In my mind and perhaps because of my misreading our geographical map I had thought it was a matter of a few minutes.
After those tiresome hours and after eating several raw cassavas we could see Musoma town in a distance. However, before reaching it, the bus conductor alerted me that an oncoming bus was the only one which plied between Musoma and Buhemba. And it did so only twice a week. It does not take a genius to comprehend such a scenario. The bus was stopped and I was soon heading east of Musoma for my final trip to Buhemba.
It took another three hazardous hours to reach my destination, literally at the end of the road, which I was told was Ikoma Road village, next to the Buhemba National Service Camp. It was a pathetic shape which walked into the camp. The three days trip had taken its toll.
Notwithstanding this state, the ‘afandes’ manning the camp gate forced me to carry my bag on my head and frog marched me to Quartermaster where I was handed with a blanket, a towel and some oversize pants and T-shirt.
I then proceeded to the dining hall where I met several other newly arrived recruits who seemed to enjoy the half cooked stiff porridge and tasteless beans. Later on we were ordered to sleep on top of the dining tables. Naturally, much as I was very tired after the long journey, I did not get any sleep. However, I was shocked to notice that a good number of recruits were literally snoring their heads off on those tables. Two days later I came to learn that they always drank some illicit drink – gongo – and smoked some strange herbs before slumbering on top of those tables. Some strange feeling crept down my body…. (to be continued).
October 02, 2003.