Had we researched the route before leaving, we would most definitely have had a much less interesting day but also unbeknown to us we were on a mission. A mission to deliver a Qur’an.
We had arrived the previous night in the Tanzanian capital city of Dodoma and spent the night in a refurbished budget hotel called Nala Centurion Hotel. Our next destination was Arusha in the north. It was about 10 am and the GPS calculated a 5 hour drive so we thought we should do some sightseeing before we leave.
We checked out from the hotel and went to the Ismaili Mosque in Dodoma town and also paid a visit to the Dodoma Cathedral which, as we were informed by locals, is the only building that is a replica of the dome of the rock – Jerusalem. We then duly followed our T4A map out of Arusha and not even 5 kms out of town, the road turned to gravel.
Expecting it to turn to beautiful tar road soon, we carried on driving but no tar appeared. We decided to drop tyre pressure and carry on hoping to reach tar. After an hour of driving and not even covering 30 kms, we realised we were in for a rough ride.
Most of the dirt road was along and criss crossing the new road being built. Subsequent research confirmed that the road has been under construction since 2009!
It was very bumpy in most places and badly corrugated in many other places but wherever we got a chance to drive on the freshly flattened surface in preparation for tarring we happily floored it.
The road (or lack there of) then climbed suddenly up a mountain pass and we found ourselves driving through pristine little quiet villages at the top of the mountain where old men sat under trees in deep discussion, families gathered at the road side laughing and talking, young kids ran along the roads playing and young men and women worked the fields. The air was crisp and fresh and our lungs got a good break from the dust we had been inhaling the whole day.
We drove through one of these mountain villages called Bereka waving at the old and young inhabitants (as we did in most villages). As we passed the last few mud houses of Bereka a man on a motorcycle coming the opposite way waved us down and greeted us “Assalam u Alaikum” and we responded “Wa’alaykum Assalam” and he continued “Kayfa Halukum” (how are you?) and we responded “Alhamdulillah” (All praises are to God Almighty).
On hearing this he got very happy, told us to wait and parked his bike in the shallow ditch on the edge of the now damp gravel road. He came up to us and asked our names (in Arabic) and where we were from. He was very happy to hear that we were South African. In broken English he explained that Bereka is his village and welcomed us to both Bereka and Tanzania. He told us his name – Sa’eed bin something bin something bin something and carried on for a about 5 generations … from Yemen.
It was about 6 pm, we were getting worried about remaining daylight and were already discussing how we would approach setting up camp in one of these villages. We asked Sa’eed if he knew about the road conditions to Arusha. “The road is fresh after about 15 kms” he said to us in his broken English. He said it would take us 2 hours to get to Arusha. We were happy to hear this. We said to him that we had seen many Muslims in his village – he looked a little confused – we wondered why. He then said to us “Will you help me to give some books, some Kitabs”. We asked, “Who is it for and what books?” He said, “for me, I need a kitab… a mushaf”, we confirmed, “Qur’an?” he said “yes”. We looked at each other thinking the same thing.
Cut to the story of the Qur’an – On the day we were leaving Johannesburg (from the Turkish Mosque) we kept the Qur’an that Khairunnisa had used since she was in Madressa (Islamic School). We were meant to give it to her mum when we saw her at our farewell. In the emotion and commotion of the event we forgot to give it to her and the Qur’an travelled with us all the way until this day just outside a village called Bereka, high in the Tanzanian mountains where Sa’eed asked us to help him with a Mushaf (the Qur’an in book form).
Back to Bereka – We looked at each other thinking the same thing – Khairunnisa said “I have my Quran, should I give it?” We agreed and handed it over to Sa’eed bin something bin something bin something. He was ecstatic and in broken English and some Kiswahili he invited us to spend the night at his home in the village.
We were so close to Arusha yet our exhaustion tempted us to accept the kind offer. Thoughts of “what would this mans family eat if we arrived home with him”, “does he have space.”, “will he have a toilet?” went through our minds and we politely declined and bid farewell.
After 15 kms a beautiful tar road greeted us and if it wasn’t for our full bladders, hungry stomachs and exhausted bodies, we would have gotten out of the car and kissed the tar. We arrived in rainy Arusha at around 9 pm and promptly started looking for decently priced hotels as there was no way we would manage to camp that night.
The next days research into this road led us to forums where people have described this as one of the worst roads in Tanzania and where one man said he had lost a couple of engines! Our Cruiser did greatly Alhamdulillah! and we felt grateful for not having researched the alternative (and much longer) tar road to Arusha.