A steam locomotive and passenger cars
Left over from British colonial days
Crosses central Africa daily;
Dar Es Salaam to Kigoma
From Indian Ocean to western shore of Lake Tanganyika
Carrying hundreds of Tanzanians
And four white Americans.
We depart on time, four hours late, whistle blowing,
A party atmosphere in third class.
Rows of benches with families
Spreading cloths, to sit together
Swapping meals and Swahili wisdom,
Singing and clapping
In celebration of easy mobility.
Seated on the outdoor platform
Between cars, I feel the humid air
Lighten and cool in the breeze
As the train makes its way through the plains;
Flat topped trees scattered in silhouette,
Dust clouds camouflage herds of wildebeest
Giraffe move slow motion, stirred to run.
Ujamaa villagers walk alongside the tracks
Women carrying heavy bundles balanced
With perfection upon their heads,
Babies wrapped in slings on their backs.
Men hoe in meager corn rows, stop to
Look up longingly at the passing train.
Children wave and laugh and run alongside.
Stops may be a few metal huts
A smelly latrine hole in the ground
Or a modern station with platform
Waiting room and parking lot.
Dodoma–growing and ambitious
Tabora–vestiges of British rule
Still linger, clinging to the land.
Moving onward to reach Kigoma
A sleepy village on a hillside
Overlooking the world’s deepest lake
Of shining cichlids and snapping crocodiles,
Miracle sunsets, then shimmering fisherman boat lights,
Open markets and cattle herded
Through red dirt main street.
I breathe deeply of Africa
Hearing chiming birdsong of liquid notes
The smells pungent and moist
Of chimpanzee musk, their tolerant gaze
As Americans stare, dazed, dazzled
At the spectacle of teeming life
In the multi-layered jungle.
It is a garden such as this
Where man began
It is plains such as this
Where man, nomadic, trudged, weary
It is land such as this
That blesses and curses,
Reclaiming always what has been taken away.
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