Last Wednesday I was sitting on the dalladalla hurtling down the road to my home near Ngaramtoni, surrounded by the usual hubbub when suddenly the atmosphere changed and everyone focussed their attention through the windscreen. We had just passed through Kwa Idi when a large lorry loaded with logs veered into our path. Both vehicles swerved to avoid one another. Our dalladalla driver swerved us off the road and stopped on the verge. Everyone swung their heads around and watched as, in slow motion, the timber truck lost control. The truck drove off the other side of the road, up a bank and rolled onto its side, all in an eerie and unreal silence. Everyone sat quietly for a second before the dalladalla door roared open, and the passengers spilled out so as to run and investigate. Already at the scene of the impact a large crowd had grown from what had looked like a deserted stretch of road moments earlier. People came running from the region of the cab screaming and crying, a woman fainted. A small child had been hit by the rogue truck, we later learned. The assumption
was he had been killed. The driver had already disappeared, fearing for his life.
Sadly this seems to be an almost daily experience for the town of Arusha. Just two days before, driving up to the junction of Simeon Road and the Moshi-Nairobi Road we stumbled on to a similar scene. A large crowd blocks the road. A man staggers through the crowd, harangued by angry passers by, his trousers soaked with urine. A truck, again loaded with logs, nose down in the gutter, sawdust spread across the road. Miraculously it appeared no one else had been hurt when this lorry lost control and tore across the road.
In only five months in Arusha I have witnessed four road accidents, three of which certainly resulted in serious injury to pedestrians or cyclists. I consider myself lucky only to have witnessed this many, because the rate of road accidents in Arusha region is incredibly high. Between August 2001 and September 2002 the region saw 1,700 people killed in 530 separate accidents. The Road Safety Committee’s report last September cited reckless driving, driving whilst speaking on the phone, speeding and “randomly roaming livestock” as the causes for most of these accidents.
However something that Matthew Craven wrote in an article on HIV/AIDS in this paper a few weeks ago has suggested a frightening reality to me – many people around here do not place a high value on their own lives and those of others’, and take undue risks which lead to a high death rate from preventable reasons. A day walking around Arusha presents plenty of evidence pointing to this. Over loaded dalladallas, with passengers hanging out of the doors and conductors standing on the rear bumper, swerve off the road to cram yet more passengers on. The people waiting at the side of the road peer inside and find just enough space to squeeze their bodies in to a space more crowded than Arusha’s prison truck. Not only do those people squeeze in, displacing yet more people out of the door, but they pay for the pleasure of risking their lives in this way.
Drivers of Landcruisers and Rav4s thunder down Sokoine Road, honking their loud horns at pedestrians who dare to cross the road. God forbid that those drivers should slow down on Arusha’s main shopping street. No, soft bodied pedestrians and cyclists should know their place and stay out of their way!
At night cars and dalladallas with only one headlight between them weave in and out of men pulling carts, invisible in the dark. All compete for space on the road with herds of cows which loom suddenly out of the darkness.
I am told that the death rate on the roads in this region is falling, and I hope this is true. But everyday I watch ordinary Arushans from all walks of life taking crazy risks as drivers, passengers, cyclists and pedestrians. When people don’t care to avoid instant death what hope is there that people will care for themselves enough to prevent comparatively slower but equally avoidable deaths from HIV/AIDS?
I beg you please, consider what you do. Don’t board that over-laden dalladalla – another one with room will be along in a couple of minutes. Why rush to Shoprite – it is open till 7pm. Cycle on the correct side of the road, and buy some reflectors for the cart you pull. Secure the logs on your truck, and learn how to handle such a large vehicle. Don’t rush home to see your loved ones – that rush might prevent them from ever seeing you again.
When he isn’t tinkering with his computer, Duncan Drury is working on various projects and just getting by in Arusha. He always looks both ways when crossing the road.
Originally published in Arusha Times 281