Sometimes you wanna go

It’s nice to be “home” for a day between a safari (journey) to the west and another safari to the east tomorrow. I did the laundry by hand, walked to town with Madelena (my housemate and traveling companion), then went alone to Woodland, my local restaurant/bar. The folks there greet my by name: Neema the bartender, who told me her name means “Grace” in Swahili; Jackson, who runs the kitchen and made me “chipsi mayai,” chips with eggs; Lena and Victoria, the kitchen help; Julius, the manager.

I’ve kind of hit a wall with Swahili. I know enough to be an interesting attraction, the Mzungu who speaks a little Kiswahili, but not enough to really understand what people are saying.

People are still very welcoming and kind. As we bought our bus tickets to Lushoto, six guys crowded around as another filled out the information on the tickets. I tried to ask if we would come in the morning and have to pay more, or if they would be there, and they assured me it would all be “sawa,” “okay.” One fellow who smelled a little like booze said “Ninapenda (something something) Kiswahili.” When I asked him to repeat, he said in English, “I love you speak Swahili.” A nice compliment.

At Woodland a couple joined me when I said I was from America. They were business partners working for an American company called “Forever Living.” The company apparently sells energy drinks and beauty products. They were surprised that I had never heard of it. The founder, a guy from Florida, had flown them to South Africa to learn about the products, and they were hoping for a trip to America in the future. If you’re like me, the “pyramid scheme” alarm bells are going off.

The woman, Layla, wants me to teach her English, so I said I’d meet her at Woodland after I get back from my trip. I gave her my email. I ate my food while they texted and stared at their phones, and they ate theirs while I drank my beer. It was a little too much like home, with all the phone poking. I’ve been glad to be away from the damn things.

I told them in Swahili that I wanted to watch the soccer game, and they were very kind as I excused myself. As we watched a rerun of a game between Arsenal and Liverpool, I blurted out some Swahili and some “oohs” and “ahs.” “Watu Tanzania wanapenda mpira wamiguu,” I said to one man. “Tanzanians love soccer.” “Unapenda? Arsenal au Liverpool.” “Who do you like? Arsenal or Liverpool?” “Chelsea,” he replied. “Barcelona,” said another guy.

A young man came up and asked me to buy him a Coke, which I did. It was the third or fourth time today I was approached by “omba omba” — beggars. In town I gave 1000 shillings (about 55 cents) to an old guy who said he needed food but wasn’t dressed like it. Another salesman in a Red Sox shirt recognized me from a few days ago and tried very hard to sell me something, but I said “Leo, hapana.” “Today, no.”

I found a dictionary to give to Samwel, who has been studying the dictionary I loaned him at night while on duty and during the day while off. He reminded me last night that he wants to go to driving school. I’m thinking about paying his way as a little gift to Tanzania, hopefully with a few ripple effects for his family back in Mbulu. A drop in the bucket, but something. He said he was going on a march this morning to protest the government. I saw in the paper that a general business strike had been canceled because the leader of the movement had been released from jail.

In town we ran into a German wastewater engineer who’s pretty cynical about Tanzania and Tanzanians, and their English ability and their lack of understanding of sanitation. We also met a guy who said he was on the city council and called himself “Mr. Tree” because he’s planted trees all around the city.

It ain’t all roses here. I miss my family and friends, and the initial lustre of language learning and an exotic locale has worn off a bit. Still, I wouldn’t trade the experience.

Woodland is great, and they’re nice to me, but I probably won’t feel like a regular before I go home. Course, I’ve never felt like a regular American either.


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