I brought my camera on a walk to a neighborhood I haven’t visited. I went out the north gate and past several little shops and bars, one called “Shanty View,” which is a great name for a bar (or a band). I promptly forgot to take a picture of the lady barbecuing fish on the side of the road, then forgot to take a picture of Lawrence, who turned his bike around when he heard me speaking Swahili to him, then Vicent, my friend at the gate at International School Moshi, who taught me a few things in Swahili, and told me he prefers cognac to beer.
I finally remembered when I passed some school girls in their uniforms. “Can I … picha?” “Hapana!” they cried, “No!” I can’t say I blame them, but at least they could’ve given me a “shikamoo.”
I continued on to Woodland (not Woodlands), where the shutters on the bar were being painted. I talked to Julius, then sat by Pasco and watched some soccer. One of the students from the school, an Irishman named Harry, said, “Hi Mr. Larson!” and I said, “Happy St. Patrick’s Day!”
Julius and I talked in English and Swahili about the differences between Marekani (America) and Tanzania. I told him that Americans have a lot of money and things — cars, big houses, computers — but many aren’t happy. He threw out something in Swahili that included the phrase “hakuna matata.” I, of course, could not resist humming a few bars. I told him the saying in English, “Money can’t buy happiness.” He understood and agreed.
Pasco taught me how to ask for a picture, and I took one of him, of Julius, and of the cooks who barbecue such terrific goat. I think I won them over by saying, “Mke wangu (my wife) napenda kuona (likes to see) picha (picture).” One of the girls, in broken English, told me to tell her that the people of Tanzania greet her. I almost started to cry, but just put my hand on my heart and said, “Nafurahi,” I am happy.
After the soccer, Pasco switched it to a zombie movie starring Brad Pitt. (Who knew Brad Pitt was in a zombie movie?) When I kept seeing zombies, I said to Pasco, “zombies?” “Yeah, zombies,” he said. “Sipendi zombies,” I said. “I don’t like zombies.” Pasco laughed.
On the way home I struck up a conversation with a guy who was walking. I tried Swahili for a while, telling him the usual, then realized his English was good. (I like to help people practice English on me sometimes. It’s a good break.) His name was Martin, and I said, “Like Martin Luther,” and he told me he works at a Lutheran university and is in Moshi visiting a friend for the holiday.
I asked more students for pictures, this time saying “Tafadhali,” “please,” and the sentence Pasco taught me: “Ninaweza kupiga picha?” Some of them consented, but then ran off, and another stuck his bag in front of my camera. An older guy stopped on his bike and posed for a photo. Consolation prize. We had a brief chat and went on our way.
I honestly hate taking pictures of strangers because it makes me feel like a stupid American tourist exploiting the locals, but so many people ask to see pictures, that I break down and take a few now and then. I’ll probably stick to people I know from now on.
Back home, I learned something interesting and sad about Samuel: His wife and children live far away, in the Mbulu region, and he won’t see them for three months. “Pole na kazi,” I said. “Sorry and work.” He said, “Asante sana.” I said I would see my family in two months, and we sat there feeling lonely together, as I waited for my ride to the St. Patrick’s Day party. He said, “I am happy … three months … I see my childrens.” I asked him if he has friends in Moshi, and he said he does.
The party was fun. Five Americans, three Brits, one Irish woman, and one Canadian singing and listening to Irish songs while eating Thai food prepared by Tanzanians at a restaurant owned by Germans. I had some nice bonding time with my fellow Minnesotans. The highlights were singing “Danny Boy” (for my money one of the prettiest songs ever written) and watching a YouTube of The Pogues and The Dubliners teaming up on “The Irish Rover.”
When I came back from the party, I sat down to talk with Samuel again. “You sit in chair,” he said. He took a spot on the curb that follows the sidewalk.
I asked him his kids’ ages: 12, nine, and three. We talked about the wind again, and Samuel said, “I am happy to learn English step by step.”
That came out of the blue, or on the wind. Usually he says “moja moja,” and I’ve never used “step by step.” Not sure where he got it, but it was perfect.
As we were sitting there in the darkness, he muttered something in Swahili under his breath. I didn’t know the words, but then in English he said, “I am happy for you.” He put it in different words: “Nafurahi something something something …” I repeated it back as best I could.
“Asante sana,” he said.
“Karibu,” I said.
“Usiku mwema,” I said.
“Usiku mwema,” he replied.
Finally, I got it right.