Month: December 2006

Revolving through Nairobi

I feel like I’m coming full circle as I make my extended journey back on the return route. I have left the Salvation Army; I have left Dar es Salaam; I have left Tanzania. I am no longer in that life, no longer with the pastor and his family, Mariam and the other maids, Robert and the other waskari, the Kiswahili teachers, the Jeshi workers, the villagers and informants, friend Luke, brother Aaron, Manyanya the taxi driver, Boniface. 

Nairobi is so much colder. The air here is thinner and chillier as temperatures dip down dramatically in the mornings and nights with the sleeping and awakening of the sun. Flying in from the hot and humid season in Dar has left me with a slight cold, full of soar throat, coughs, congestion, and fatigue.

Returning to N’s house is a blessing in the sense of it being a home away from home. Seeing familiar faces, I am once again grateful for the unhesitating acceptance and honesty. The people create comfort in this paranoid city.

I’ve spent the past days checking email on decent connections, accompanying N on his European visa missions, and buying gifts from various shopping hotspots.  

Have I been so quickly removed? It’s 8 in the morning, so why hasn’t Mariam knocked on my door? Where are they tree cutters outside my hut? Is there water, or electricity? Where will we find our food today? Agency, power, movement, separation, distance.

Closing Time

Saying goodbyes is not my strength. Today it was Aaron, a friend I had made on the daladala in town the day before leaving for Asia. He waited over three hours for me, sitting outside the reception office because he had ran out of credit and was unsure of where I stayed. With a pineapple in hand as a farewell gift, he looked healthier after his bout of malaria. I seem to always have no words at goodbyes, a point at which uncertainties abound. Relationships are so utterly complicated and burdened with external baggage. And things are further complicated by the fact that I’m here as an aspiring anthropologist. If anything, however, I believe my lack of words at farewells here stems from the indisputable fact that, in many ways, we really are worlds apart. And there I stand just staring at him – a Tanzanian, a husband, a father of three, a deacon – and I’m made still by a sudden sadness and insecurity. Saying goodbye to the pastor and his family at the village was a million times harder.

What am I leaving, and what for? To what kind of life am I running?

At the end of the day life continues as it would any other day, with or without me. At times I think I was just an oddity in a phase of someone’s life. Some random foreigner who had crash landed in town, only to leave a few months later.

No wait. At the end of the day, I am still a child. A person still in his growing pains wanting to form meaningful relationships, finding his way through the world (and, honestly, perhaps not quite ready for a professional position.)


At night, walking away from the ice cream store in the Indian sector of town, we witnessed a car theft right in front of our eyes. The black car raced off into the night, leaving a young Indian man running after it, screaming and shouting. Police men appear. Clusters of by-standers stare and talk. We continue further down the street, where a drunk, old Indian man walks warily towards me away from a colorful and loud wedding. He gets into a taxi. Five minutes later, we do the same.

Rice Sacks as Seats

Today was an adventure, an unforgettable day of travel that just touches on the perimeter of what I believe Tanzania has to offer.

Do you remember, in the Lion King, when Simba is lying down on the grass with Timon and Pumba? Pumba asks Timon if he knows what those bright lights are, to which Timon replies, of course… they’re giant fireflies who got stuck up there.

Did I ever think I would have this experience back in 1994, when I first fell in love with this movie?

Malaria Monday

Today marks the last Malaria Monday in Tanzania. This time next week I’ll be in Kenya, and in England and Ireland the following week, and in Canada the week after. I’ve been reminding myself of my departure everyday as I feel the conclusion of this field experience drawing anxiously near. Vancouver, as a home, holds little appeal. But I am ready to leave.

I went into the city today in the middle of the heat. Desperate to get on a daladala, I ran and pushed my way into an already jam-packed minivan and ended up standing almost all the way into town, my head bent sideways, my hands gripping onto the metal bar.

I somewhat enjoyed myself, walking alone through crowded streets. A stop at the post office, a stop at the bank, a walk to the photo place, a visit to the dosa shop, lunch at the Indian place.

Lunch at the Indian place… There was an Indian family eating together before I entered. After I had started to take my food, an American couple from Wisconsin walked in, followed by a Chinese man. It just so happened that the Chinese man sat at the same table as me, separated by a plastic chair. So it just so happened that colors – yellow, brown, white – were neatly organized in that restaurant. I didn’t talk to him, but assumed that he was an engineer. He left as soon as he finished his rice.

Walking away from the restaurant, I came across a barber shop. Like many other stores (maduka) in the area, it looked rundown, dirty, stale, weathered, and rudimentary. The seats were faded from use, the sign was worn. It was called The New Modern. Further down the street were workers putting the nth coat of new paint over dirtied and chipping color. On the daladala back, a Muslim driver has a sticker banner reading Jesus is Lord.

Naipaul writes, Words, words, words… They can, when handled promiscuously, gradually begin to take the place of reality. They can, in the course of time, become a complete substitute for it.

In Tanzania, where performance consistently negates intention, where every commodity – butter, meat, milk, cheese, fish, chocolate, knives, forks, spoons, cups, saucers, baby diapers – is in short supply, the socialist revolution is being built with words.

And later, In Tanzania, words are not used to depict reality: they are used to confound it; to replace it.

Tanzanian contradiction is to be found in the newspaper which can publish the thoughts of Mao and the astrological predictions of “Moon Beams” side by side; in the policy which allows the roads of Dar es Salaam to disintegrate and then, in a frantic attempt to halt the alarming acceleration of a process which threatens to make travel impossible, brings in private contractors to repair the damage; in the expensive hotels to which no tourists come; in the fight against exploitation which brings hunger to a place like Kyela; in the newly built sawmill which had to be closed down because there were no tractors to haul the logs; in the ujamaa ideal of love and brotherhood which the nation promotes by firing the homes and crops of obstinate peasants who refuse to give up their ways and move to the new villages. Contradiction – intention and the negation of intention in practice – becomes a way of life. The time comes when intention alone suffices; when it is confused with the deed.

I came back to the hostel to move hut, into the room where Ngeka had been staying before leaving for Nairobi. After a talk with the tree cutters outside, I ran into two new guests from Wisconsin. They, like the many that have come before them, are part of Volunteer Africa and the mission in the Mwanza area. Meeting them made me realize that I’ve been here since August. People have come and gone, the weather has gotten hotter and more humid, the trees have been pruned, the mosquitoes have been breeding, school children have been coming in and out through the gates, workers and guards have been changing shifts, weddings have been carried out at the reception area every weekend, a Christmas party took place last week. Tonight the moon is full and seductively bright. I remember the first time I saw a full moon from the Jeshi here… I was walking toward the gate. It was at eye level… a large, warm, glowing ball beaming with deep orange as though burnt by the sun. Tonight the moon is quite a few degrees west of where it used to be a few months ago. But today is just another day, just like yesterday and tomorrow.

My time in Tanzania is wrapping up, and my writing at present is an attempt to suck meaning out of it. I am anxious and cautious. There’s too much to do and too many relationships to ponder about, to foster, to bring to a close, to reject, to recognize. And when it’s all done, what is there to say?

Return to a Home

leaving the dar es salaam harbour

stone town

Returning to Dar es Salaam from Zanzibar, I had this odd sensation of feeling at home. Perhaps it’s just what’s become familiar over the past few months, but I felt good to have a shower once again in my dilapidated bathroom with the broken concrete floor. The water pressure was great tonight, and there’s electricity. A few of those large four-winged insects disrupted my optimistic mood, but a few swipes of the broom and I was once again at peace.

Today was more hectic than it needed to be. We woke up early to have breakfast at the hotel restaurant, where Rashid and another cook served omelets and fresh fruit from the buffet table. We ate at a table by the ocean. At 10am we joined a minivan to leave Nungwi for Stone Town, stopping at various resorts and hotels to pick up other guests along the way. Before 12 in the afternoon, we had arrived and went right into the shopping, wasting little time to buy gifts. Language comprehension really comes in handy, and makes me feel more comfortable. Many stores are fascinating, featuring various antique (looking) items from around the world, but perhaps so much so that I am left to wonder, what really is authentic Zanzibar?

2pm rolls around and we wander to the ferry docks to buy our tickets early…or at least we thought we were early. Apparently the 4pm ferry was full, and we were told that our only option would be to go on the 9pm ferry, which would take 9 hours to reach Dar es Salaam overnight. We gathered enough attention around the ticket booth to attract one of the workers, who allowed us to bribe him at $5 USD a person extra in order to get on the full ferry. A bit chaotic, a bit rushed, a bit uncertain, but it all worked out in the end. We went for a quick lunch where they were playing classic Celine Dion, and returned to the ferry docks early once again to board. Two hours later we arrived in Dar es Salaam, past the Kivukoni fish market (ie: smell) and into the hoard of local touts and taxi drivers. Traffic was bad once again. We walked a ways to find a reasonably-priced taxi. We waited for a few minutes while the president and his entourage passed through. And then it’s back to the Jeshi, back to my room, back to my work.

I must say, I’m getting more and more excited about leaving. It’s time. I’ve been saying it’s time to leave for the past few weeks now, actually. I want to leave, and I’m just about ready to leave. To see my parents, my brother, to be somewhere else but here.