"South & East Africa 2011" story # 30

Iringa, Tanzania           September 16, 2011

-- C larification: When I wrote that MEAN DRIVERS should be included in my blockbuster list, The Top 5 Worst Things about Namibia!, I was not in fact referring to how drivers treated hitchhikers.
     -- My observant mom had noticed I'd had many disagreements with my drivers in Namibia. She told me: “Try not to upset them, or they will throw you out in the middle of nowhere.”
     -- In fact, I considered it a rare and wonderful thing when I was able to debate with people I'd just met. That was why I wrote about it. Also, it was funny that I was criticizing people who were giving me rides for free.
     -- No. What I'd meant by MEAN DRIVERS was that, on Walvis Bay's sea-breezy and palm-lined streets, the drivers seemed to accelerate and try to hit the many pedestrians. That was what I meant. Let that be clarified. I would hate to hear that all those travelers carrying print-outs of MODERN ODDYSEUS' TOP 5!!! as their travel guides should get run over in Namibia, due to a lack of clarity.
     -- The world depended on MODERN ODDYSEUS' TOP 5!!!! --

Moving along with our story …
     Upon leaving Zambia, I wasn't punished for having stayed in the country a day too long.
     Entering Tanzania, however, I was made to buy a $100 visa. Unhappily, I saw the funds in my bank account (my pocket) plummet to $290. This was the first time they'd been below $320 – or, half of what I'd originally brought to Africa.
     But, I was happy to be entering, for the first time, an African country whose official language wasn't English. Speaking English all the time was so boring! In Tanzania, they spoke Swahili.
     This led to several annoyances and misunderstandings. On my second day, the truckers who drove me to Iringa Town hadn't understood that I wasn't going to give them money. In Iringa, a young man who described himself as “a guest of the church” invited me to stay with him; I thought he was STAYING at the church that had just told me its rooms were full; then, he said he lived “near” the church.
     Iringa lied on a sprouting, cylindrical mountaintop like a fortress. This young man Mtega led me away from the dirty, white shops of the main road. He led me for two kilometers through a maze of dirt streets and rubbly buildings, where I was greeted by a thousand kids. He led me through alleys that smelled of urine. He took me into a small concrete courtyard. The people who stayed in the rooms surrounding the courtyard peed in the same place they bathed. There were kids everywhere. I had no idea who these kids were.
     “Sex has overpopulated and made a slum of the planet." - a Brahma Kumari of India
     And why couldn't these Tanzanians speak English!?
     Just kidding. On my third day with Mtega, I spent three hours in an internet cafe studying Swahili grammar. A Bantu language, its grammar was similar to that of Lesotho's Sotho. I could see Swahili was going to come quickly to me.
     That evening, I spoke to some of the family who Mtega stayed with, including humble Mr. Amani (whose name meant: "Peace"). He repaired shoes. At one point, I called one of the countless kids "Kitoto" (Little Child), and everyone laughed. His real name was: Zedi.
     But, the main reason I'd come to Iringa was to buy things - a map, a pocket dictionary, etc. Tanzania seemed to have the buy/sell business attitude. Did anyone besides Mr. Amani actually do something here?
     It was tough to find the things I needed. Many of the things being sold were used American clothes, undoubtedly donated by my countrymen. For $16, I bought myself a pair of gray American-made sneakers: a big size-14. Maybe they'd belonged to Michael Jordan?
     I found a photo studio that could develop my photos from the last three months. 200 pictures ... my best batch of photos ever ... I was excited!
     I knew that one roll of film had kind of become stuck in my camera and might not turn out. But, I didn't expect the worst ...
     Here follows an account of my 2011 camera woes. Why oh why did I love old-fashioned film cameras???

Dec. 25, 2010 - I unwrap a present from Mom: a brand-new $30 camera. Oh boy, what a joyous Christmas!

Feb. 12, 2011 - Ready to photograph a lion, I land in Africa.

Feb. 20 - I intentionally drop my bag ten feet, while descending a mountain. My camera pops out, hits a rock, and loses its batteries.
     I think to myself: Oh, I'm stupid!

early March - My camera is broken. I try to fix it. It becomes brokener.
     In Lesotho, I splurge and spend 45 maloti ($6.50) on a brand-new camera! It doesn't have a flash. It doesn't count properly.

May 13 - A "Justin's-Going-Away-from-Lesotho" party is planned for the evening. I decide I must move up to the World of Technology and get myself a camera with a flash. For 140 maloti (about a thousand trillion Zimbabwean dollars), I buy myself a brand-new camera!
     Stupidly, I give away my $6.50 camera. It has always taken poor-to-mediocre-quality pictures. Oh, how I will come to miss it!
     No one attends my party.

Aug. 24 - I enter a photo studio in Iringa, Tanzania.
     I give them one of my six rolls of film. I come back an hour later and am given one photo. The rest of the film is blank.
     I give them my other rolls of film. I come back later and am told, they're blank too. The film studio says that, in the places where the film isn't blank, it's fuzzy. I examine the film. It seems the camera wasn't able to advance the rolls of film past their seventh or eighth exposures. I'm hopeful that these first exposures can be made into pictures, fuzzy or not fuzzy wuzzy. In fact, I'm disappointed the incompetent film studio hasn't made them up like I've asked it to.
     I save the pieces of film that aren't blank. I estimate I will only be able to salvage 25 to 30 fuzzy pictures. The result is quite devastating. But, because I write a Modern Oddyseus story this day, I feel quite good.

To be continued ...

So, I had one picture. If I looked hard enough, I could tell there was a giraffe in it.
     To celebrate/mourn the passing of my southern African winter photos, I made a list of the ten pictures that would've been best:

1. me and my girlfriend Maple, showing off our gum-boots (rubber boots) in rainy Lesotho
2. the peaceful courtyard of my Zulu host Tsokozani and his mother
3. a gorgeous bull antelope with his two-foot antlers (an ash-gray nyala, or brown kudu with his white scratch stripes)
4. the rough truckers - two black, one coloured - who drove me to Port Elizabeth
5. a coloured girl with a squiggly mouth who bought a story from me
6. a great white shark, as seen from above the water, with his vertical gills thin like paper cuts
7. Pelly, the short dreadlocked girl who'd danced house music with me, in bright green and orange clothes, under Table Mountain
8. the wavy, orange Namib Desert
9. the palm-lined streets of Walvis Bay
10. pretty Teacher Ruth and her school in a Zambian village

Teacher Ruth had told me, "Come visit me!" when she learned I'd be living three months across the border in Tanzania.
     But, when I decided to leave Iringa to go settle in northern Tanzania, I knew I'd probably never see Ruth again. This saddened me deeply.
     I traveled north through the Rift Valley. The cracked clay earth hosted baobabs: the elephants of trees. Their wrinkled trunks grew upwards becoming thinner. They resembled large tentacles or thorns. Their leafless branches split apart and hung over the road like old man witches.
     The trucker Juma who drove me through here was kind. But generally, the Tanzanians I was meeting seemed restless, as if they needed something from the West or from me. They made me uncomfortable. Every other person asked me to help them emigrate to America. A real-life example:

short young man: "Excuse me, sir. Oh, are you from America? I want to go there!"
handsome me: "America is far away. How do you know you'd like it? You should go to a neighboring country first - like Kenya."
him: "Oh, but I don't have any relatives there!"
me: "That doesn't matter."
him: "Tell me. If I go to America, what job could I ever do?"
me: "You can do any job the Americans do. You're as good as them."
him: "No, I'm not. I've heard the Americans call us 'monkeys'."
me: "No, they don't."
him: "Yes, they do. I've heard it."
me: "So then, why do you want to go there!?"
him: "I'm a fisherman. We're fighting for our lives here."
me: "No, you're not. You're only fighting because you think you're fighting. It's in your head. Me? I think life is a game."

Leaving the stupid conversations behind, I reached the central capital city of Dodoma. It had lots of street vendors, beggars, and nicer shops.

Aug. 30 - For 30,000 shillings (it sounds like a lot but really isn't), I buy myself a brand-new camera!
     I ask the shop owner if he wants my old camera, the one that never worked. He says, "Yes."
     I assume he's just going to put it in the display case and sell it like that.

To be continued ...

That evening, I rode a bus twenty-five kilometers north of Dodoma. I was starting out on the long road to Arusha: Land of Traditional Masai People and Mt. Kilimanjaro.
     I hiked to a short mountain near the road. I hoped to pitch my tent for the night in nature. Oops!
     I found homes here - BIG homes. I considered knocking on a door to tell people I was here. In the darkness, I heard two burly men talking; they didn't sound good. Rich, burly Africans rarely were. I hid my tent in the forest, figuring if I wasn't seen until morning I'd be safe.
     But, I had no idea how evil this place really was ...

Modern Oddyseus.

Thanks to Christopher & Samuel; Jacob; Mr. Massa & Amidu; Anguka, Juma, Oscar Kadish, & Said; and Nasoro for rides! Much thanks to Evarist Chamillah; Mtega, Mr. Amani, Steven, Sergius, France, Ismaeli, Zedi, etc.; and Father Christian for places to stay!

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