Making a Getaway

November 9th, 2012

To leave Gombe requires planes, boats, and automobiles (the train is highly unreliable).  The boat was splendid, the automobile large and dependable, and the plane, well, the plane was interesting.  See, they are rebuilding the runway in Kigoma, complete with paving, but while they fix it, the bigger planes can’t land, so those of us who need to leave must fly these tiny 13-seaters (the 13thseat being the co-pilot’s seat) to Mwanza and then catch a different airline to our final destination.  The 13-seaters are sort of charming in a “I’m in Africa!” kind of way, and though ours was a bit late arriving, all seemed in order as we climbed aboard.  We bumped down the runway to the end and began to turn around in the dirt to begin the fast run the other direction for take off.  Only, despite being a “light” plane, our plane sunk into the ground.  Like, just sunk.  The pilot tried spinning the tires a bit, obviously to no avail, and then ordered us all out of the plane.  We all

The fire truck

disembarked and began to mill about the runway while the local fire engine galloped to the rescue, speeding down the runway at full speed, lights flashing, like an explosion was imminent.  Behind us an entire village gathered to watch, perhaps hoping we had actually crashed a la Air Tanzania last April.  Goats were also present.  When all two of the firemen arrived, they jumped down in full regalia and proceeded to stand around, helmets and all.  Eventually, several men began to work to dig the plane out (including the firemen, still inexplicably wearing said helmets) and, with a lot of rocking and pushing and grunting and shouting, they managed to dislodge the plane and roll it to firmer ground.  Meanwhile, children capered about the runway, the security as airtight as Tanzanian tupperware. Eventually, we all climbed aboard again.  But we didn’t leave.

Our chivalrous firemen.

Dislodging the plane

The villagers who came for the show.


See, often if something happens in Tanzania, paperwork must be completed.  The pilot gave them all his information and signed and wrote and explained as best he could what had happened.  But this wasn’t enough.  The pilot, being of a white South African machismo ilk, therefore lost his temper.  And yelling at a Tanzanian will get you nowhere but backwards.  Helplessly, we passengers sat on the plane and watched some man with a clipboard repeatedly point at a form while the pilot threw his hands in the air and shouted.  After a half hour of this and the increasing likelihood that we would not be leaving, a waif-like British woman who had miraculously mastered Swahili in exactly one year climbed out of the co-pilot seat (the rest of us were trapped in the back) and marched up to the clot of official-looking Tanzanians.  She pleaded.  She argued.  The pilot paced in tiny circles, muttering.  And then, somehow, the heavens smiled down on us and the manager of the airport acquiesced and we were allowed to leave.  Later, I discovered that the problem seemed to stem from the fact that the pilot said we had sunk into the ground and the manager of the airport claimed that this was impossible.  Probably the pilot had driven too far down the runway.  But no one wanted to take responsibility, so it just turned into a kerfuffle of chest beating and finger pointing.