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?

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