Thad Peterson

Name ID 2437

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile
Page Number: 110
Extract Date: 1996

Leaving Zungomero

On leaving Zungomero, our winding, although generally westerly, route took us south, to the Mikumi National Park. For this part of the trip we did not follow Burton's more northerly route. He skirted the south slopes of the Uluguru Mountains; we detoured much farther south, eventually rejoining his route at the town ofKilosa. By the time he entered the Second Region, Burton had been travelling much longer than we had and the daily routine of his march was well established, although he had a great deal of trouble with careless, rebellious, and larcenous porters. Our routine, on the other hand, was very quick and efficient. We worked hard, got on well together, and had fun.

I had made it clear at the start of the trip that I did not want too many modern conveniences to distance me from the expe-riences a nineteenth-century traveller would have had. I felt instinctively that, if I spent the nights surrounded by four solid walls, with proper beds and hot and cold running water, and ate meals prepared in restaurant kitchens, I would miss the essence of what I was seeking to understand: the sights, scents, sounds even the tastes of the explorers' life on the trail. So, except in urban places, such as Zanzibar, Bagamoyo, and Kigoma, we slept in tents, making our camp every night, eating our improvised meals around the campfire, and packing it all up again every morning.

I had a small tent to myself. Joshua had one that he usually shared with his son Ali, although Ali had a small tent of his own which he sometimes used. Thad Peterson shared his tent with Pollangyo. So almost always there were five of us in three tents, arranged around a campfire. The first time I saw the three set up, I remembered the descriptions I had read of Burton and Speke's three tents in Somaliland in 1855 and of the dangerous attack they underwent there. Wherever we had come to at the end of the day, usually just before sunset, we pitched our tents before it got dark and before the mosquitoes came out.

Especially while we were following Burton's map on the first part of our journey, we were so exhausted with our travelling and looking for places and arguing and trying to decide where we were that we needed a good strong drink of pombe, locally brewed beer, as soon as a campsite was decided. We would pitch the tents and have a shower outside. Our portable shower was a plastic bag full of water hung over the bough of a tree. It could be either cool or hot, depending on whether the bag was left in the sun for about half an hour. From the bottom of the bag protruded a long, thin, plastic tube ending in a nozzle that could be extracted or inserted. The extraction released the water through a shower head. Very simple. I wondered why I had not seen this anywhere else.

After we had worked together to pitch the tents, we all got wood for the fire. Ali usually did the cooking as we sat around and talked about what we had done that day and what we planned on doing the next day. I would quiz the others about their observations and write for at least an hour, recording the day's events. I also used this time to get myself ready for the next day's travels, reading about Burton's journey, what he had written, and what others had written about the towns that he travelled through. Beyond Mikumi, the first place name that seemed similar to any on Burton's itinerary was Miyombo, just south of Kilosa. After Kilosa, Burton's route took him south of Dodoma, a name not found on his itinerary. Between Kilosa and Dodoma are the Rubeho Mountains which I found both on Burton's maps and on my modern maps. In a sense, what we were trying to do was to hack our way through the wilderness mentally before we did it physically, trying to imagine what Burton would have done as an explorer in the same place, dealing with his own camp and his band of bearers.

Each day we went as far as we could, then looked for a place to camp, usually off the road, in some kind of clearing. Each of these places turned out to be extraordinary in its own way. Occasionally we camped in some filthy little dwelling we found along the way, but usually we were in our tents at the edge of the jungle or by a river. It was pleasant and relaxing. We were always exhausted, and so we tended to go to sleep by about nine, and got up early in the morning to get going as soon as possible.

We did not carry much food, but bought it along the way. Burton and Speke did something similar, only they shot animals for food when they could.

When we were at sea level, it was as hot as hell at night. During the day we were tormented by mosquitoes and pestered by bees. And then there were ticks. I got a tick bite on my stomach. I tried to pull the tick off while I was having a shower. You have to get the head out by twisting counter-clockwise or else you are supposed to burn it off. I did neither, and the thing festered. I had to put up with it for the remainder of the journey.

There were other minor irritations rashes and things but mercifully nothing like the ravages of smallpox, which Burton witnessed at first hand near Mzizi Mdogo, "Little Tamarind," shortly after leaving Zungomero:

Extract ID: 5736

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile
Page Number: 130
Extract Date: 1996

We chugged and bumped along

We chugged and bumped along the dirt road through dense, brown thorn thickets, first in a southerly direction, then west. The road followed a relatively straight path very near the railway line. After the central railway leaves Dodoma, it drops down past the Bahi Swamp, then climbs the escarp-ment of the rift valley. It continues along the caravan route and through what is known as the Itigi Thicket before the land opens out into Myika country. The track finally exits the tsetse-ridden woods and slides into Tabora station.

Itigi, forty-two kilometres from Manyoni, is where Thad Peterson's missionary parents had arrived by railway in 1952, en route to the Iambi area, where Thad was later born. There are still Christian missionaries all over Tanzania as well as in Uganda and Kenya.

Outside Itigi we continued running alongside the railway. Again there was dense thorn thicket on either side of the road and occasional herdsmen, but the population was much sparser along this straight road fifteen metres from the railway track, which cut through very flat land.

Between the first gradient of the Rubeho Pass and Tabora, Burton and Speke passed through thirty-three stations. Although hardly any of the place names that Burton mentioned appeared on our maps, many were recognized by the local inhabitants. When I first read Burton's The Lake Regions of Central Africa, I was struck by the whimsical literal translations he provided for place names. I was again reminded of this when we reached Kazi Kazi, a small railway station whose name means "work-work." I was never really sure whether this name implied colonial criticism of the natives or native criticism of the colonials.

Extract ID: 5756
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