Wednesday, June 14, 2017

June 13, 2017 - Leaving Dar

So…the leaving. 

Kristoffer worked until the end.  I think he even worked a half day on the actual day of our departure.  But before that, there was a lot to do.  It was important to me for the kids to have proper goodbyes and “closure” with as many people as possible.  So there were sleepovers for Grace, play dates for Noah, and even a couple for Aya too.  Our staff (Oliver and Christopher) was very helpful during these days.  Most of our stuff was gone and we were slowly selling off the rest of it, so the kids borrowed toys from friends, and colored on moving boxes around the house. I’m the first to admit, there was a significant bump in their iPad privileges. 

We had a big goodbye breakfast on the beach.  There was Noah’s preschool graduation and big last days for our biggest girl, Grace, at IST.  Aya stuck to Oliver like glue when she wasn’t at her preschool.   There was a goodbye party with the World Bank.  I was in charge of managing scheduling, logistics and everyone’s emotions, which was a pretty big job. Then I was in an unexpected (but luckily not very bad) car accident, which was actually soooooo Tanzanian.

It was 11 days before departure, and Grace was incredibly sick.  As you might recall, Grace was often (felt like always) sick.  She averaged 10 throat infections a year, each with debilitating headaches and super high fevers.  So I had taken Grace to the clinic for a malaria test and we were on our way to drop off Aya at her preschool before going back to see the doctor, when another driver smashed into the side of my car.  He was turning right onto the road I was driving on, never stopped and looked, and hit me perpendicularly.  The girls were not harmed – both were buckled in car seats, thankfully. 

I instantly called Kristoffer to send UN Security to the scene of the accident, and also for him to come.  That was our protocol.  I needed Grace to get to the doctor and didn’t know how long it would take to deal with the accident.  We were hit by a huge, crazy fancy Lexus SUV with a fashion license plate.  The guy – an Indian Tanzanian in his 50s - got out and came knocking on my car window.  I got out. 

Him: “Well, I hit you.” 
Me: “Yes”. 
Him: “I’ll take care of it.”
Me: “That’s great. We just need to wait a few minutes for UN Security to arrive.”
Him: “I’m not staying for that.” 
Me: “You have to stay.” 
Him: “I’m not staying.”
Me: “But then we’ll have to get the police involved.” 
Him (with a big smile): “Go right ahead.” 

I tried to get him to keep talking to me, but he walked back to his car, got in and started to drive forward. I started screaming at him to stay – admittedly shaky and teary - and I stood in front of his car blocking traffic in both lanes of a busy, main road to prevent him from leaving.

A few people I knew ended up driving by. My friend’s husband pulled over to help and started talking to the driver in Swahili; he somehow convinced him to pull back over to the side of the road. I took a picture of the car’s license plate and was trying to call Kristoffer at the same time, also remembering to check on the girls, although my driver’s door could no longer open from the outside.  Grace’s fever was like 103 at that point and she was also hysterical because I was standing in the road in front of many cars, screaming at a mean stranger.  Yikes (Sorry, Grace!).

I tried to calm down and went over to his window and said something like "They'll be here any minute.  You just have to wait a little bit longer."  He told me once again that he would absolutely not stay.  I said I would continue to stand in front of his car to keep him from leaving and he said, “Then I will hit you.”  In that moment, looking deeply into his eyes, I sincerely believed that he would do it. 

I backed away from his window and was standing a short distance from his car.  The traffic was all gone by now and he put his car into reverse and drove backwards down the road until he could turn away.  I didn’t get any information from him.  Of course UN Security, Kristoffer, and a US Embassy friend on a motorcycle all arrived 2 minutes later.

The rest of the morning was crazy – as if I didn’t have anything else to do! Kristoffer took Aya to school and Grace to the doctor; thankfully, she didn’t have malaria.  Just another throat infection requiring more antibiotics.  I ended up spending half the day with UN Security and Tanzanian police.  Somehow it turned out that I had to drive my own damaged car with a UN Security officer to go hunt down a traffic police officer to help us.  We drove to one of the busiest intersections in Dar, and waited for a traffic officer to be finished his shift directing traffic.  He then got into my car and I drove them back to the scene of the accident for them to draw pictures and discuss what happened.  Then I had to drive them to the police station, where I waited.  And waited.  And waited, to officially “open an investigation”.  During this time, my neck pain set in and Kristoffer insisted that I go to the clinic for a check up before I did anything else.  I also had to buy these guys some Cokes…you know, to speed things along.

The beauty of the little peninsula we lived on is that it really is a small world.  People are all interconnected.  So when I was being examined by one of my favorite doctors and told him all about the accident, as soon as I mentioned the license plate he knew exactly who the guy was.  I do not know if he violated some kind of privilege by telling me…I would have found out eventually anyway, but the intel did speed things up.  When I googled the guy’s name, I learned a lot about him.  He was a notoriously corrupt businessman, owner of some of the largest companies in Tanzania, and had recently been thrown out of the new President’s house when he tried to bribe him immediately after he took office. Accusations of running a large drug operation also surfaced.  This was all consistent with what I could see when I looked into his eyes.  This was one bad dude. And the crime he committed by leaving the scene of our little car accident meant absolutely nothing to him.  The doctor prescribed some pain medication for my neck strain and recommended that I see a physiotherapist.  With 11 days to go, I now needed to fit in physical therapy?!

When I got the driver’s information to UN Security, he was very well known to them.  He is usually not driving his own vehicles, but the head of UN Security had his phone number on speed dial.  He did not deny the accident, but was hell bent on being as big of an asshole as possible.

My little Toyota station wagon was probably worth about $6,500 and we were close to selling it in that final week.  Who would buy it now?  We asked him to just pay us off and do whatever he wanted with the car.  He hit me with his $60,000 vehicle, but wouldn’t pay me $6k so that we could leave the country in peace!

I had to spend the last week driving around in my slightly cracked up car that didn’t open from the driver’s side.  The UN struck a deal with him that we would deliver our car to HIS mechanic when we left and they would fix it (note that I was not a fan of this arrangement).  Our own mechanic could have done it more quickly, but the dude wouldn’t pay out.  We eventually got the car back from him all “fixed” up a couple months later, but our buyer didn’t trust it anymore (who could blame him!).  Our own mechanic checked it out again and we did manage it to sell it to some friends six months after we left (thank you R&C, if you’re reading this!).  But Good Lord, I did not need that stress.

In that last week I managed to get to PT three times.  Dar’s best physio was awesome, even seeing me at his home, and taping my neck before we traveled to reduce any further aggravation.  To this day, the thing that infuriates me the most is the corruption of it all.  Even after so many years there and knowing that’s how it is, it still made me so mad. I spent that whole week ANGRY and dealing with that car accident.  I had to go back to the police station 2 or 3 more times, and it was always incredibly frustrating to be waiting and waiting and waiting. Stacks and rooms and piles of files EVERYWHERE, people just sitting around, and so many ledger books to sign and sort through.  Hours of my life that I can definitely not get back.

The final time I went to get a copy of the report for our insurance, I was told, “Mama, the case is closed.  Your driver came and confessed.  It is done.”  He showed me the picture of a guy who came and confessed to hitting my car and fleeing the scene.  The only problem was, it wasn’t him!  This was a young, African Tanzanian who, we surmised, must work for the bad dude who actually did hit me.   The police didn’t care.  That’s why this guy smiled at me when I threatened to involve the police.  He knew that the police were in his pocket already anyway, so it never mattered to him even though it nearly destroyed me in that last week.

We almost made it out of Tanzania with no accidents, just like we almost made it out Kenya without personally experiencing any serious crime. Until Kristoffer was held up at gun point in the 11th hour, that is.  Just our luck, I guess.

But everything else happened as it should.  On our last day, the kids had play dates in the morning and I had lined up all the people buying our furniture to come and collect at different times.  So the house got emptier and emptier.  One friend came to say goodbye while I was waiting for someone else to collect stuff for donating.  I had an anxiety attack when she arrived.  My friend saw my face, saw me shaking and asked, “What can I do…?”  I have no idea what I said, but I know that she just started taking random piles of stuff out of the house to her car and she encouraged me to sit down and eat something. I’m still grateful to her for that!

Some of our good friends came over with pizza, because we all had to eat before we headed to the airport anyway. My original idea was that we would meet them at a restaurant for pizza and drinks!  HA!  I asked one friend, “What the hell was I thinking?”  He was like, “None of us actually thought that was going to happen.  This was the plan.  It’s okay.  We knew you guys weren’t making it to Zuane for dinner!” 

There was one moment when all of this was actually happening at the same time: 7 kids running around the empty house and jumping on the trampoline; 5 friends eating pizza and gathering around a million suitcases; Kristoffer doing a final walk through of the house with our landlord and her entire family; and Christopher, our cook, weeping as he drove away on the back of a little truck with our small refrigerator and piles of towels, sheets, and kitchen gadgets.  In the next moment, I finally had to take Aya out of Oliver’s arms.  It was incredibly sad for me to say goodbye to this woman who had loved our children so well, especially Baby Aya since she was 3 months old.  It was the same feeling I had when Rose went back to Kenya. These women were wonderful to us and for us, and my affection for their countries is strongly connected to my feelings for them personally. Even if the children forget them, I never will.

The World Bank sent two huge cars to take us to the airport.  I was with the girls in one car, and I ugly cried.  A lot.  I took a break to get through the airport and all that, but once we settled into the lounge, I cried again.  I said a Facebook “kwaheri” as we were taxiing, and then we took off into the night. 

When we moved to Kenya, the deal was:  2 years, no kids.  As we took off this final time from Tanzania, 8 ½ years later with 3 kids in tow, I couldn’t believe that it had really all happened.  We lived it.  We survived it. We loved it. We hated it.  At different moments, all of the above.  Sometimes even all at the same time.  

One year later, the awe of our Africa years hasn’t left me and I know for sure that I would do it all again.  In a heartbeat.


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