Fascinating Days On the Ferry

Lake Tanganyika, Between Zambia and Tanzania – Woke up at 2:00 a.m. because it was so damn hot so I grabbed my sleeping bag and moved up to the first class outdoor deck where a bunch of other people from the truck had been sleeping. I awoke in time to see the sunrise, and the best part about it was that I could admire the scenery and sunrise while laying on my bench, warm in my sleeping bag.

We didn’t do much today but drink Primus and play cards – the type of things you’re supposed to do on holiday. It might sound like the boat was boring, but that’s so far from the truth it’s unbelievable. You see, the boat doesn’t go straight through to Kigoma, it makes various stops along the way to let the locals on and off. The boat has three classes and all the locals who ride in third class are physically locked into the third class section by the crew members so they can’t mingle with anyone else on the boat. As a white person you can go down there and the crew will unlock the door and let you in, but why would you want to?

Every time the boat would pull up to a port it would sit a mile off shore and sound its horn informing the villages of its arrival. Now the excitement begins. As Westerners, every time we’d hear the horn sound, like Pavlov’s dogs we’d run to the side of the boat and look over to watch the imminent chaos. Then the ferry arrived no less that nine boat loads of locals would come rowing out to the ferry, each overloaded with people, fruits, vegetables, and he sacks of corn and fish to be loaded into the boat. As these were the locals’ boats they’d be loading in and out of the third class section of the boat so there was utter confusion at every stop. The boats would all race each other to get to the landing bay first to unload their stuff and pick up passengers to take back to shore.

We saw on more than one occasion the locals have major arguments about whose boat was to sit directly in front of the loading doors, and even watched them try to push each others’ boats out of the way to get a little bit closer. As soon as one boat was unloaded the next one would move in as quickly as possible. Plus, if there were too many boats near the landing bay he locals would climb over each boat (and each other) to fight their way onto the ferry. Children, sacks of grain, furniture and roosters were all treated as cargo and lifted and thrown about without any problems.

The children in the boats would always call out to us up on the first and second class decks and at one stage I threw a blue ballpoint pen to one boy who had the most amazing smile that went from ear to ear. As soon as he’s caught the pen his face lit up even more – it was exhilarating seeing his expression after receiving something that holds very little significance in our culture. There must have been at least eight stops during our two day cruise, and I don’t think I missed the show at but one of our ports of call during the entire trip. Later on in the evening we had your standard dinner of chicken curry and rice before starting in to the Primus again. Two bottles later we were all crashed out on the first class deck again , ready to go to sleep. I watched yet another lightening storm over the land before actually closing my eyes that evening.

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