"South & East Africa 2011" story # 34

Kasumulu, Tanzania           October 8, 2011

So, I didn't love Tanzania.
     The locals often seemed helpless and insincere and restless when they spoke to me, as if they needed something material from me.
     I didn't like that forty or fifty percent of the people who spoke to me wanted to go to America. That would be the easy, unsatisfying solution to their problems (if indeed the U.S.A. was a better place to live than Tanzania). Instead, they could remain near their roots and near their families, identify the problems there, believe in themselves, and work to make their lands better.
     And it seemed that, although these Africans eagerly sought money, they didn't use it to improve their lives. Successful people had dirty shops and uncomfortable, empty homes. Others overworked themselves, just so they could buy cold American sodas or candy for their kids or cell-phone "air time". There was little maintenance or upkeep, and brand-new things like toilets or showers quickly fell into unusable states. Indeed, this misguided money management was present elsewhere in Africa - even in the West. (A visitor to New York City was once appalled to see high-salaried Wall Street workers scarfing down sandwiches on short lunch breaks.)
     Maybe I'd only seen Tanzania's ugly side? Maybe things would've been different if I would've gotten to Arusha and spent three months volunteering in an orphanage? But, I wasn't going to do that.
     Following my conflict with the soldiers, I needed a place to rest. I needed the comfort of friends. I needed some leisurely time, so I could sit and write my stories about Tanzania. Where should I go? I had two options:
     Nairobi, Kenya: I could stay with the family of my good friends. I could sell my travel stories. And if I could finish writing my stories about Tanzania, this might give me enough energy to continue my travels north through Africa. But ... big city Nairobi probably wouldn't relax me.
     Teacher Ruth's school in Zambia: In this peaceful village, I could write and eat Ruth's cooking and even have the love of a girlfriend. But ... if I backtracked all the way to Zambia, I knew it meant I would probably continue south to South Africa to fly home and thus abandon my trip. I was getting low on money, anyways.
     My decision was an easy one: I badly wanted to spend more time with happy Ruth. Yay!
     I was only slightly concerned the Tanzanian law might still suspect I was a spy and be monitoring my movements. Seeing as how I'd told them I'd be going to Arusha for three months, maybe they'd want to detain me if I fled the country so quickly? I hoped not. I wanted to leave!
     Of course, I was kind of a spy. I worked for the United Communist Anarchist Republic of MODERN ODDYSEUS' TOP 5!!! No one could break our codes. And we never revealed our findings ... until it was time.
     Here's the Top 5 Worst Things about Tanzania! - info which that commanding officer didn't want to see leaked:

     On the day before I was beaten, I met a young, armed soldier (working as a bank security guard) in Dodoma City. He looked adorable and innocent as he smiled at me. He said he'd like to go to America and asked for my e-mail address. We were getting along greatly. But, I said, "Do you really think I ought to give you my e-mail? Because, I give it to a lot of people, and most of them don't write me." He said, "You'd better be careful what you say. Because, I'm a soldier, you know, and I can hurt you."
     He was still smiling.

     The U.S. could be blamed for this, too. My country's media industry exported its movies and music; our foreign policy encouraged third-world peasants to embrace consumerism; and yet, our immigration department let few people in.

     As in many parts of Africa, traffic police lived to extort money from passing vehicles.

     Any place where a traveler might take a bus or cross a border, he was hounded by people trying to sell him tickets or exchange his money.


     So, I didn't love Tanzania. But, there were some good things about the country. That was why I'd chosen to go there, silly! And there were certainly many nice things in this big land that I didn't even know about.
     But, for now, let us concentrate on the known.
     The Top 5 Best Things about Tanzania! ...

     A majority, or a large minority, or maybe exactly half, of the population was Muslim.
     The black women confined their curvacious bodies in tight dresses of a thick, firm fabric - like furniture upholstery. The dresses wore drab-colored (tan and black), criss-crossing designs. The women walked proudly. They wore hair-concealing bandanas, with thin ribbons dangling down behind them, and these made them look as attractive as if they'd had long hair.
     A young woman with a pure, round face wore such a dress, and the fabric folded squarely around her round buttocks. She wore an awful bruise around her left eye. She was serving me at a truck-stop / bus-stop, at night in the desolate baobab Rift Valley. I assumed she'd been abused. I felt awful for this beautiful exotic woman.
     I also got the awful feeling that an abuse victim would be easy to abuse. That was why, days later when I myself had two black eyes, I felt it necessary to tell my story in a way that made me not sound like a victim.

     I saw a few members of this traditional tribe, though I never went to Arusha.
     One such man was tall and thin and bald, like the spear he carried in his left hand. His body seemed hungry and peaceful. It was clothed or wrapped in a tight, flowing sheet colored red-and-blue. I got the impression that Masai people only ever carried spears, even in cities. There was a bounce in this man's step.

     Among African leaders, only he and Nelson Mandela were well-known for being truly good leaders. He'd led Tanzania to independence and became its president, in 1963. He aligned himself with Communists, not because he wanted despotic power, but because his brotherly heart believed people could share. He had good ideas, wanted to get away from Western dependence, and revolutionized "African Socialism".
     Unfortunately, his people weren't as interested in working for the community as he'd thought they'd be. He voluntarily stepped down in 1989.
     He had since died, as a hero. However, it was still possible to visit "The Widow Nyerere".


There. Tanzania wasn't so bad!
     Ugh. But, I still didn't love it.
     On September 2nd, my last night in Dodoma City before I'd make my way to Zambia, I was about ready to give up on the culture. I asked some Germans to help me order food.
     Luckily, they didn't help me. And I found that, by being patient and asking a restaurant what it had, I was able to order myself a cheap and tasty meal - while speaking only Swahili. I ate chicken (nyama wa kuku), rice, and delicious avocado juice.
     Later, I was about to leave my guesthouse to visit the Germans - but, Rafiki Matthew invited me to drink tea with him. This dark-as-coal, elderly man was the guesthouse's night watchman. I called him "Rafiki Matthew" because "rafiki" meant: friend.
     Like many people, he apologized for my incident with the soldiers. He thanked me for coming to Tanzania and said, "Karibu." (Welcome.) We spoke for a while, about our families. I was happy for Rafiki Matthew, who reminded me that no culture was all bad. Finally, he complemented me for speaking Swahili so well.
     I'd just said:
     "Hakuna matata."
     I took this to mean, due to my knowledge of Bantu languages: "No problem." But, due to my knowledge of The Lion King, I took it to mean: "No worries ..."
     "... for the rest of your days!"
     I would make it out of Tanzania without any more problems. In all, I'd spent thirteen days there.
     To get to Teacher Ruth's rural school, I passed through Malawi. In a bus station, I ate rice and beans, a moist yellow cabbagey vegetable, and a big delicious fish (probably from the bright blue Lake). I drank a purple drink that seemed to be milk blended with sweet nuts; a boy who carried them in a tub on his head was selling them.
     And then, I got to the border with Zambia.

hakuna matata,
Modern Oddyseus

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