A bad road, a Yemeni and a Qur’an

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.

5-10 kms our of Dodoma
Just after lowering the tyre pressure at the beginning of a long arduous drive

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.

Part of the bad road running alongside with the flattened road gravel
Part of the bad road running alongside with the flattened road gravel

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.

View from the top
View from the top

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.

Farhaan with Sa’eed

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.

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Day 2 – Dog pee and police clearance

We woke early with the sound of the Adhaan, prayed Fajar (morning prayer)  and went back to sleep. We woke up again much later and had to rush as checkout time had approached. Being stressed about not getting late for checkout, K began taking the bags to the car and left them next to the car.

As we started packing everything into the car, to our horror we saw that one of the dogs from the lodge had peed all over our stuff!! Great start to an epic journey!! hmph! With a bit of anger and a hint of depression we rinsed our stuff before packing it back into the car.

During check out we asked the receptionist about the closest border crossing to Botswana. He advised us to use the Skilpadshek border crossing as it was less busy and not as frequented by trucks.  But before we headed to the border we had some admin to take care of.

We drove to the Zeerust police station where we needed to get some documents certified and get a police clearance for Earl II. At the station we got reprimanded for trying to park our vehicle in the parking area that said “visitors” so we promptly reversed outwards and parked across the road.

Officers at the station were firm but professsional, and the officer helping us warmed up after K struck up a conversation.  We understood his initial irritation due the large stack of papers we gave him to certify. We left there with certified documents but without the police clearance as the relevant officials were on sick leave. Officer Lekgoba advised us to proceed to Lehurutshe police station to get this. It was quite entertaining getting the pronunciation right (or wrong).

Nicely built and good service. They helped with a print out of our vehicle to serve as clearence.
Nicely built and good service. They helped with a print out of our vehicle to serve as clearence.

The Lehurutshe police station was a huge police compound with several buildings. People there were extremely helpful and one lady officer even walked to us to the correct building. At building two, the friendly ladies gave us a place to sit while they organised the relevant office to attend to us and discussed quad bike with us that was for sale from theft stock. An officer who was on leave that day was around and kindly agreed to assist us. With police clearance in hand, smiles on our faces and the dog pee in distant memory we made our way to Skilpadshek border post.


Road sign to the Skilpadshek Border
Road sign to the Skilpadshek Border


The very shnazy and efficient Skilpadshek border crossing. Thanks to the guy at the BnB we stayed at for sending us here.
The very shnazy and efficient Skilpadshek border crossing. Thanks to the guy at the BnB we stayed at for sending us here.

Border processes here were extremely efficient and we were on our way within minutes. It was hot day but not unbearable. From the border office we proceeded to the last couple of gates that marked the end of South Africa. As came to the first gate, we came across what would be our first and only encounter of officials demanding something from us (at least in Africa). The officer insisted we give him something to drink. In our panic, we parted with one of our two precious bottles of ice cold Coo-ee Lemon. A few meters down the next officer who noticed this, insisted on getting something too and we handed over a R20 note. That is SA we thought as we left our homeland for over a year.

At the Botswana border they were a little more thorough and asked K twice why we were visiting and the exact names of people we were visiting. Luckily we had been invited by the Peerbhay’s to stay with them in Gaborone so providing those details wasn’t a problem. As we got back to the car after the formalities, a kind man next to told us to go back and pay for our TIP – Temporary Import Permit – for the vehicle.

#Lesson: we learned that if we had kept the TIP from our last trip to Botswana in December we could have reused it. It is valid for 12 months.

With all the border admin finally completed we made our way to Gaborone which was just over an hour away. We relaxed for the next two days at the Peerbhay residence and completed some final outstanding items on our checklist.

Day 1 – Sunday 01 March 2015

Our Sunday farewell was a bit surreal. We had obviously been planning for almost eight years for this day and it had finally arrived. It also felt surreal because for the last two weeks we had been working tirelessly ticking off last minute action items off several lists. This meant that for two weeks prior to this day we were eating junk takeaway meals almost daily, barely sleeping and totally getting on each other’s nerves.

Nervously we gathered and packed the last few things into the vehicle, later realising we had almost forgotten thirty percent of our foodstuff, which would make a big difference later on. We were about an hour late at our own farewell but it was all okay and today our friends and family would forgive any failures.

We chose the Turkish Masjid (Mosque) for its size and centrality, no catering and organizing fuss and symbolically leaving from a Masjid made sense. We both hoped that we had planned it a little better so that there would be a few planned prayer items and maybe a few words from people we had asked far too late and who understandably could not make it. But even in this unplanned chaos of the day, it all turned out okay. It was an emotional day where many of our friends and family gathered for hesitant farewells.

Farewell from Nizamiye Mosque, Midrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Farewell from Nizamiye Mosque, Midrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

Later that day on a Facebook post, I described the day “It was a send off to be remembered today. Everyone gathered at theNizamiye Masjid in Midrand for an overwhelmingly emotional morning. The two of us are on the road now filled with feelings of intense gratitude for having reached this point. Thank you to all who were present in person and spirit to send us off with prayers and positive energy. The destination does not matter, how far we get and how many countries we cover is irrelevant. This moment matters and the journey has begun. #Alhamdulillah“.


Driving away after from our farewell
Driving away from our farewell
Visiting dads grave before leaving Joburg
Visiting dads grave before leaving Joburg

We then drove to the Westdene cemetery to pay respects to Farhaan’s late dad. K read the traditional script from the Qur’an – Surah Yasin and her dad prayed the closing prayer with both our families present. We then made another graveyard visit to Lenasia to pay respects to Farhaan’s late grandfather who had undertaken a similar journey with his family in the 60’s (more here).


At this point K was bursting for the toilet. We soon learned that this would be a consistent problem of our travels that would give us many teary eyed giggles on the way.  We stopped at K’s cousins place in Lenasia who was delighted to have us for a few minutes, gifted us some Coo-ee Lemon (local carbonated drink) for the road and we were on the way.

Zeerust (close to the border of Botswana) was our first stop and the weather was lovely and overcast all the way. We spent the night at Sha-Henney’s guest house where a strange looking Afrikaans speaking man in a mullet and a tiny pony tail at reception helped us with the booking and also cautioned us against having the breakfast due to “respect for your religion”. We were impressed and obliged.

We were both extremely exhausted and ate some of the pies that were packed for us by family, showered and literally collapsed into bed after Maghreb (evening prayer).