The detective handling the case was a solemn young man who spoke perfect English. His name was Mohammed. He called me into his office and settled behind his desk.
"What is your religion?" he asked immediately.
He wrote it down.
"What is your tribe?"
What could possibly be the right answer?
"The Californians," I answered.
"Spell it for me, please."
After three hours of nonstop interrogation Mohammed allowed us to walk into the town center and find a place to sleep for the night. Leaving town altogether was not an option. We chose a small guest lodge that charged us the equivalent of five dollars apiece. My room had a bad foam mattress and dirty mosquito netting. Outside my window, a loudspeaker was broadcasting Muslim apologetics. When we walked across the street to a local restaurant, the only thing to eat was the skinniest chicken I have ever seen, served on a partitioned metal cafeteria tray. There were bones and skin, but almost no meat. A green mushy vegetable resembling regurgitated spinach was served as a side dish. I ate the chicken but not the vegetable. Bill, still hungry after eating everything on his plate, finished it for me.
I think that was when my mood hit an all time low. Food and morale go hand in hand for me. Bad food, potential incarceration, a growing disdain for all things African, and a sniveling homesickness robbed me of my adventurous spark. I longed to be magically transported out of Africa.
At that moment, I could have gone for a run. The police would have let me. I would have trotted from one end of town to the other. That would have been the smart thing to do. But I didn't. I was too far off my axis to do the right thing. Instead, I slipped further and further into the blues.
Strangely, I slept well. The morning was sharp and clear. A rooster crowed as we reported back to the police station at 7 a.m., and a bugle blew from a nearby military barracks. We waited there all day for word of our fate, which was in the hands of someone known as the Regional Traffic Officer.
Dave and I were questioned again during the morning. During that time, word came from Tunduma that the little girl would be just fine.
She had suffered very bad bruising and been taken to a hospital, but she would live. My relief at that news was immense.
Mohammed, though, had little interest in the girl. He kept asking us about the car we'd hit. There had been a hit and run accident in Tunduma at approximately the same time we'd hit the girl. It turned out that the police weren't concerned about the little girl at all. Their quest was finding the driver who'd hit that car.
At 3 pm the Regional Traffic Officer arrived. We were paraded into an office, then stood before her desk, three abreast. She was an enormous woman in a blue uniform who leaned back in her chair and picked her nose as she gave us our freedom. Chowa would be bound over to the authorities in Tunduma (though, in what is either a testimony to Chowa's ability to convince the Tunduma police of his innocence, or a commentary about their corruption, Chowa was one of the first people we saw walking the streets of Dar when we returned there a week later). Our vehicle was now being considered evidence. It would remain in Sumbawanga.
The Regional Traffic Officer ordered her second-in-command to arrange a new car for us. The driver's name was Kassan, and he would drive us to the town of Mpanda in his own vehicle. From there we could take the train to Tabora then Kigoma.
The differences between Kassan and Chowa could not have been greater. The only similarity was that Kassan, an affable, intellectual Indian whose family had been in Sumbawanga since Livingstone trekked through in 1873, drove with the same heavy foot.
As we joyfully left the town behind, fearing all the while that we would be stopped on the way out of town and sent back to the police station, Kassan came very close to hitting a pedestrian walking across the road. "Kassan, please slow down," Bill begged.
He did, but only for a time.
We made it to Mpanda in just four hours. Normally the drive takes almost six. It was one of the most scenic sections of Africa so far, the terrain heavily wooded; hilly at first then descending to a massive plain spreading across the horizon as far as the eye could see. So many giraffe and elephants populated the forest along the road as we passed through the Katavi Game Park that the sight ceased to be extraordinary. A river near the park's exit was clogged with hippos — two dozen, at least — their backs like pink stepping stones across the water.
That night we stayed in a tiny fleabag motel. Dinner was once again chicken curry with rice. The air was warm, even after dark. There were no streetlights. The only artificial illumination came from one of the village's few televisions. It had been set on a stand in a nearby courtyard, and the people of Mpanda had gathered to watch a subtitled rerun of "Saved By the Bell."
"Africa's a trippy place," Dave said, staring at the locals watching television, then up at a sky lit by brilliant starlight.
"That's an understatement," added Bill.
I laughed for the first time in two days. I was thinking about my newfound appreciation for the courage of Stanley and Livingstone, who had traveled alone through these same rugged lands and then returned home to write about their journey, already anticipating the day I would write about our own misadventures.
And I vowed that in the morning I would run.