Born to be wild

When Ndekirwa asked me to come to his house, I gave my usual response: “Sawa.”

I figured I’d get done with work Thursday afternoon, catch a bus to his village, and be home by dark.

The day before our date, however, our mutual friend Immanuel came to my house to give me the itinerary in a mixture of basic English and basic Swahili. Apparently I was to take a bus at 7 a.m. to a town about an hour away, where Ndekirwa would pick me up on his motorbike (piki piki) to drive me to his home on the side of Mt. Meru, where I would spend the night before coming all the way back to Moshi

“Sure,” I said. “Sawa.”

My cooperating teachers let me off the hook and even encouraged me to go, but one guy I know, who’s lived in Africa for many years, had a warning: “Don’t be surprised if he asks you for money.”

Unfortunately, it wouldn’t have surprised me at all. I’ve learned it’s the price you pay for making friends when you’re a relatively rich guy in a nation of poor people.

Some are more subtle than others. My night watchman Samwel, for example, waited a couple of weeks before telling me about his dream of going to driving school and asking “Can you help me?” The guy who replaced him wasted no time at all: “Will you sponsor me?” he asked, the night I met him. “We know all Americans are rich.” Fortunately I haven’t seen him since, and his replacement hasn’t asked.

The pastor who took me to his church (the aforementioned Immanuel) told me of his dream of starting a school for orphans. If I would help with money for supplies, I would be “their father.”

So I wondered if Ndekirwa had anything up his sleeve, but I wasn’t too worried about it.

I was worried about getting on the right dala dala and getting off at the right stop, however, since my instructions were hard to understand, so I invited my friend Kelly to escort me to King’ori to meet Ndekirwa. He’s an out-of-work guide and was happy to do it.

We got there at about 10 and ordered chai and chapatis while we waited for Ndekirwa, who joined us a few minutes later, arriving on his Toyo Power King 125. The mudflap had a painting of a Maasai man and the slogan “Maasai wa porini,” which I think means “wild Maasai.” He gave a long description of the route to his place. “Mbali?” I asked. “Far?” He nodded. “Mbali.” Whatever that meant.

We said goodbye to Kelly and headed off across single-track through villages of mud huts, and I wondered if we’d be going the whole way like this. At one of the huts, we met one of his sisters. At another, a toddler screamed and started to cry when she saw me.

When we came to a little river, we got off the bikes and I followed him across on stones. “Shamba changu,” he said. “My farm.” It was planted mostly in maize, with a few beans and sunflowers. Three women were tending the fields. I think he said it was seven acres, and that it cost him 25 million shillings, which is about $15,000.

He also showed me a building site where he wants to start an English medium primary school. “But no money.” I wondered if this was the start of a request, but I didn’t respond, and he didn’t continue — possibly for lack of words in English. (His English is not much better than my Swahili.)

From there we headed to a “main” gravel road and slid across the valley floor on red clay made slick by the rain. I even had to get off a couple times and walk. Ndekirwa’s bike, like most in Tanzania, has narrow tires with tread made for roads, so it doesn’t do well on the mud. I’ve read that a new Chinese piki piki costs less than $1,000, which is why there are so many of them. I’ve also read that it’s hard to get spare parts, and that the Peace Corps has a policy against volunteers riding on them — even on the motorbike taxis (bora bora), which I ride all the time.

Eventually the road dried out and changed to gray as we rose in elevation. The landscape was beautiful, pastoral, not so far removed from rural Wisconsin, with rolling hills, tall corn, scattered trees, and small streams with wooded banks. Instead of big American farmhouses, though, they were small brick homes with tin roofs.

On the left, the higher slopes were covered in forest — some kind of protected public land, by the looks of it. Low clouds kept me from seeing where it ended. We passed through another town called King’ori (Upper King’ori, maybe?) and continued on a few more kilometers to Ndekirwa’s village.

His house, one of the nicer Tanzanian-owned ones I’ve seen, was on the edge of a kind of common area with a public well or cistern made of concrete, a low area full of six-inches of water and a dozen green-treated telephone poles, and a couple donkeys grazing or lying on the ground. Across the way, but the road, the usual group of young men hanging out on their motorbikes: Toyos, Fekons, Kinglions, Skygos.

Ndekirwa’s wife (whose unusual Meru name I can’t remember) brought us hot milk and bowls of roasted bananas — five each. I ate three and met two of his kids and two of his brother’s kids, and then we went for a walk. His brother’s little girl, who had been too afraid to come near me at the house, took my hand and walked with me across the commons and up the road. Another little toddler also came along.

We ended up at his Pentacostal church, where we sat down with the pastor and his wife. One of Ndekirwa’s sisters brought us chai and hot peanuts. The pastor didn’t waste any time. “It is our dream to start a primary school in the village, and we are looking for a sponsor.” He looked right in my eyes and broke into a grin.

I kept my mouth shut but was secretly considering my luck: With two people competing for my sponsorship (not counting Immanuel), both their odds had just declined precipitously! How could either one of them expect me to sponsor both schools, or choose one over the other? I was off the hook!

Just in case I hadn’t gotten the point, the pastor and his wife led us down a dirt road to the school building, where he repeated his pitch. “We are praying for a sponsor,” he said. “If this is your dream, you are welcome.” I stood there with a dumb smile on my face and didn’t say anything. The kids of the town have a public school to attend in a neighboring village. I’m not sure how a new school run by Pentacostals is going to improve their lives dramatically.

We all went back to Ndekirwa’s and had more hot milk and a lunch of rice, spaghetti, and ngombe (beef) stew. After that they asked if I want to go to the market in the upper King’ori town. I really wanted to lie on my bed and read Tolstoy, but I said, “Sure!” and the pastor walked home to get his motorcycle.

I rode with the pastor, while Ndekirwa took his small wife and the pastor’s large wife on his Power King. The village was full of people, since it was one of two market days per week. There were lots of used clothes — the usual thrift-store cast-offs from the U.S. — as well fabric, plastic tubs, a barrel of laundry detergent, and lots of vegetables spread on cloth on the ground. One guy was selling Maasai footwear — sandals and flip flops made of tires. A dozen goats were tied to a tree, surrounded by men looking them over and feeling them up. Lots of people were carrying live chickens, either tucked under an arm or dangling by the feet, sometimes two roosters in each hand.

I felt like the main attraction, receiving many double-takes as the only Mzungu in town. I spoke a little Swahili as the opportunity arose. When Ndekirwa bought some chai spices, the seller looked at me suspiciously and asked something like “Where are you going?” (…enda…wapi?)

I said, “Tunakwenda nyumbani yako kula chakula.” (“We’re going to your house to eat food.”) That got a good laugh from him and the others standing around.

We didn’t stay long, and when we got home and said goodbye to the pastor and his wife, I got the rest I’d been hoping for, lying in bed and pretending to read my dictionary. As the light grew dim, I went out to the commons, where I saw Ndekirwa. There were cows grazing and children chasing them home. Ndekirwa said they were his cows, and I was impressed by how hard he works — a job as a watchman, a maize farm, a herd of cattle, his five kids (two in boarding school).

We wandered over to his brother’s house, and they brought us chairs and coffee, which we drank while watching the planets and stars come out. I listened to the blend of Swahili and Meru, lots of rolled r’s, and stumbled through a sentence or two in Swahili if someone new came to the circle.

After we went in we sat around Ndekirwa’s living room with his kids and his brother’s kids (including my little friend from earlier), watching music videos on Ndekirwa’s cellphone. He told me his brother had died in 2012 in a motorbike accident. “Pole sana,” I said. He took me into a back closet and showed me the wrecked bike. It made me sad for the kids, and a little nervous for my ride back down the mountain in the morning.

Ndekirwa’s wife brought us more food, this time the Tanzanian staple of ugali (a mush made of corn meal) with more ngombe and spinach and a fresh avocado from the market.

I spent some time texting home then went to bed and slept well. We got up at 5:30 for the drive back to King’ori. Ndekirwa was going to drop me off at the bus station because he thought I’d be too cold to ride with him all the way to Moshi. I wasn’t cold at all, so I told him I’d stay with him. It was a slightly crazy ride on the highway, with a top speed of about 40, and the busses and dala dalas whizzing by at 60, sometimes two of them passing in opposite directions at the same time, with the one in our lane so close I could touch it.

I got more double-takes again from kids on their way to school, and from adults waiting for the bus, or from a lone Maasai with his stick and shawl and herd of cattle, looking briefly up from his cellphone.

Politics, religion, and the local brew

Another reason to learn Swahili: It keeps the cops on their toes. Sunday I hired my friend Kelly to take me to Marangu, a little Chagga town on the way up Kilimanjaro. A lot of people who hike the mountain start at Marangu, and there’s a little park there with a pretty waterfall I’d heard about, and a run-down exhibit on Chagga culture. Kelly hired his friend Ima to drive us.

On the way there, we were waved to the side of the road by some white-uniformed traffic police who were standing in the road — a common occurrence here. A guy came up and talked to Ima and then circled around to my side to have a look at me. “Habari za asubuhi,” I said. “Nzuri,” he replied.

In a questioning voice, with a skeptical look on his face, he said, “Mambo vipi?”

“Poa,” I said.

“Habari za leo?” he asked.

“Nzuri,” I said.

It was just a few basic greetings, but my response time is improving, and I gave the usual answer in each case, so I suppose I did okay.

The guy let us go, and Kelly couldn’t contain his glee. “He hear you say, ‘Habari asubuhi,’ he think, ‘This guy know Swahili!’ Ah, he know what I say! I no ask for chai! Ha ha ha!”

From what I hear, officers often pull you over here in hopes of making a little money for “chai” or “chakula” (food). Often they’ll trump up a charge, but if you give them a few shillings, they’ll let you go. In this case, Kelly said the guy was afraid to ask for a “gift” because he thought I might understand him.

On the way there we talked about changes in the Muslim culture in Tanzania, and about the upcoming elections. Kelly is worried that fundamentalists are corrupting the minds of young Muslim boys, and as if to make his point we passed two women in head-to-toe black robes with only a slit for their eyes. Kelly and Ima shook their heads.

There’s an election later this year, and it seems that a guy named Lowassa is the people’s choice at this point. He’s a former prime minister who stepped down after scandal a few years ago. It sounds like he might not have been involved but fell on his sword for the sake of his party — the CCM, which has ruled the country since independence in 1960.

The other issue on people’s minds is Zanzibar, which is primarily Muslim and has some autonomy, with its own government as well as the national government, unlike the mainland or “Tanganyika,” which has only one centralized government. There’s an independence movement in Zanzibar, and some people on the mainland are afraid it will become more fundamentalist and potentially breed terrorists who will join Al Shabab and Isil and Al Qaeda.

I don’t know much more than that, but there does seem to be a significant fear that the country — which has been internally peaceful, although lagging in development — might eventually see the kind of religious conflict present in Nigeria, Kenya, and elsewhere.

We got to Marangu and saw the falls and the park, and I decided to buy them nyama choma (roasted animal) for lunch. On the way to town they were telling me about “mbege,” a local brew made of millet and banana. I had seen some people drying the millet when I was on a bike ride with the students, so I was curious, especially when a drunk or crazy guy came up and started scaring me by getting a little too close and asking unintelligible questions.

“Do they make it here?” I asked. Ima and Kelly said they did. “I want to try it,” I said. They looked at each other and smiled. I asked if it’s strong, and they assured me it wasn’t. I asked if it’s safe, and they assured me it was.

At the restaurant, Kelly told the waitress we wanted mbege, and she brought a guy to our table who was dressed in a Winnipeg Jets cap and a Maasai shawl. He looked a bit sketchy, like he might’ve been homeless or a beggar — or too fond of mbege. I gave him 2,000 shillings ($1.10) and he came back with about a half gallon of liquid in a plastic tub. We filled our three glasses and there was still half of it left, so I told the guy to pass it around to anyone else who might want some.

It looked like some weird grain beverage you might drink on a fad diet or “cleanse.” It was gray and thick with millet husks or something, and it tasted sour and grainy, like a witch’s brew of bad booze and compost. But I got used to it, once I figured out how to strain the solids with my teeth and stick them against the side of the glass with my thumb.

Ima, whose dad is from the local Chagga culture, said mbege was traditionally drunk socially. It was always tasted first by the person providing it to show that it wasn’t poisoned, so I had accidentally followed protocol by asking the guy to pass it around.

He also said it’s used as an offering to the ancestors by followers of traditional Chagga spirituality. People pour it at the end of the ancestor’s grave to ask for a job, or money, or a spouse — or more mbege, I suppose.

Today after class I was invited for chai by some gatekeepers and gardeners. After most of them left, it was just me and Alfred (my gardener, not my roommate) and Ndekirwa. To fill the silence I said, “Jana nilinywa mbege,” “Yesterday I drank mbege.” Ndekirwa laughed so hard he almost spit out his chai, and Alfred thought it was pretty funny too.

I asked Ndekirwa if he likes mbege, and he said no. Then he asked me to come to his house on Thursday, and I said I would.

Alfred said, “Mbege ni tamu.” “Mbege is sweet.”

I don’t know I’d go that far, but at least it didn’t kill me.

My crappy cellphone

Shortly after I got to Tanzania, I bought a cellphone for 20 bucks. You prepay for your minutes here, so I bought 10,000 shillings’ worth and hardly used any. I wanted it for emergencies during my two weeks of travel, but I was going with a friend and ended up letting her make all the calls

I finally figured out how to text home, which I did a few times before I used up my charge and realized I’d forgotten my charger back in Moshi.

When I got back here, I didn’t bother getting more minutes. It was too hard to remember how to text, and too hard to use the crappy little navigation buttons. In hindsight, I probably should’ve gotten a local sim card for my iPhone, but in hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t.

I finally bought more minutes when my friend Samwel texted me and I wanted to get back to him. Before I could, though, I ran into him on the street, proving once again that I didn’t need a cellphone.

Alas, I’ve started using it to text people, and I carry it around, and every now and then I take it out and look at it, like everyone else is doing with their cellphones. There’s nothing to see, but it still calls for my attention.

It was a great few weeks without an imaginary friend. When I get home I will miss the loneliness and try to find a way to keep my distance.

A blessing

I discovered this James Wright poem, and started reading more James Wright poems, and now I’ve decided to be a James Wright fan for life, and to read lots of James Wright poems, and go home and live in a James Wright poem (which it seems I’ve already been doing), and maybe write a James Wright poem someday. I have a vague memory of my creative writing teacher freshman year exploding with the outburst, “James Wright was a jerk!” but it might’ve been some other poet, or a dream, but I think even if it was a faulty memory it set up an unfortunate barrier between me and James Wright. Whether he was a jerk or not, I don’t know, but I sure like his poetry, and it makes me homesick.

A Blessing

BY JAMES WRIGHT

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

James Wright, “A Blessing” from Above the River: The Complete Poems and Selected Prose. Copyright � 1990 by James Wright. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Yeah, so I danced

I went out to listen to music again Friday night at Malindi, a night club in Moshi. I wanted to drag Alfred down there because he loves African music, and I also wanted another serving myself.

The evening started with a conversation at Woodland with my friend Kelly and George Juma, one of the teachers at International School Moshi. George is really smart and has an interesting history as a teacher, broadcaster, and would-be politician. He taught me a lot about his home country of Kenya — politics, languages, cultures, schools.

Kelly and I went home to get Alfred, and the three of us took a cab to Malindi.

I couldn’t believe it when the Rasta who sings lead in the house band broke into “The Gambler” — a song that’s been following me around all week. After that he sang “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend” by Don Williams, who looms large in these parts, for some weird reason. Fans of American country music here don’t know Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson, but they know Don Williams and Kenny Rogers.

When the African singer I’d seen last week took the stage, and there was just one woman on the dance floor, something came over me and I joined her. I was the only Mzungu in the place, with the exception of a few Europeans at a table far in the back.

If you’ve known me for a long time, you might’ve seen me dance once or twice, like when I took Rob to the Sadie Hawkins dance at White Bear High, or when the Bethel crowd celebrated Halloween in that empty house off Grand, and I danced around dressed as a Pall Mall cigarette. I even let Diane talk me into taking a swing dance class once, at which I failed miserably. I rarely dance anymore, and when I do I don’t enjoy it. Maybe I’m too empathetic and want to spare others the sight of me shaking my sagging 52-year-old booty.

But as I was sitting there, I just couldn’t control myself. My feet were tapping of their own accord, and my hands wouldn’t stop keeping time on the table, and then I was standing up and moving to the front of the stage and starting to do what some might have described as dancing. I continued for the better part of the evening, mostly with men, who outnumbered women on the floor by 5 to 1.

And let me dispel a longstanding myth that Africans have some sort of innate ability to dance that we white guys don’t have. The other dancers were as lame as I was, just shifting their weight from one foot to the other, raising and lowering their shoulders, moving their fists up and down and side to side. Weight on left hip, right fist up. Weight on right hip, right fist down. We could write a manual.

The women, on the other hand, have a remarkable ability to move their backsides in myriad ways, and the culture as a whole seems fascinated, maybe even obsessed, with the shaking, jiggling, rippling, rolling motions of ladies’ rear ends. During a 10-hour bus ride from Dar Es Salaam, for example, I saw video after video with shot after shot of bottom after bottom trembling, shuddering, shivering, vibrating, quaking, and convulsing.

During an instrumental break while the female lead singer was on stage, she turned around and exposed us to this Tanzanian art form. The woman I was dancing with (at a polite distance) seemed fascinated and impressed by it, and she encouraged me to check it out, opening her eyes wide and pointing at the ample, tightly-swathed hiney that was wriggling like her undies had been stuffed full of catfish.

I finally coaxed Alfred to the dance floor, trying to set him up with a cute shy girl who looked like she wanted to dance. I said to her “You should dance with that Rasta guy. He’s nice.” (Alfred wears dreadlocks.) She said in good English that she didn’t want anyone to laugh at her. She came over later and they had a conversation, but I felt kind of silly for trying to set him up.

But it was a silly kind of evening, when the old Mzungu not only played matchmaker but also found himself possessed and transformed by the rhythm of Africa.

Ding dong objective journalism is dead

I admit that I haven’t believed in “objective journalism” (in spite of attempting to practice something like it) at least since “The Manufacturing of Consent” hit the bookstores in 1988, and I also admit that I have never read the New York Times faithfully, and even less so since the paper led us into the Iraq War with bad reporting, but reading this story about Chris Christie’s presidential bid was a wake-up call for even me and a clear death knell for the era of so-called “objective journalism,” which the New York Times would like to claim it invented 100-odd years ago.

The article on Christie, whom I loathe and would like to see in a long traffic jam toward obscurity, is rife with adjectives, adverbs, apologies, innuendoes, and unvarnished op/ed-style opinions that any unlettered small-town editor would’ve red-penciled to the cutting room floor.

Here’s a sampling of bad journalism from today’s NYT story:

  • “the grim news he has awaited for 16 months” — Who says it’s grim, or that he’s awaited it?
  • “the bizarre case of traffic and revenge” — Who says it’s bizarre, or revenge?
  • “projected the air of a man thoroughly unbothered” — How do you “project” “unbothered”?
  • “trying to hold on to whatever chance Mr. Christie had” — What is this “whatever chance” they’re allegedly “trying to hold on to”?
  • “they squeezed whatever optimism they could from an ugly day” — Why “squeeze,” why “whatever,” why “ugly”?

In this flurry of editorializing, the Times “reporters” attempted to cover their arses, as “objective” journalists always do, by pretending that rock-solid reporting turned opinions into facts:

  • “But behind the scenes, his aides, his allies and even his wife were mobilizing…”
  • “In call after call…”
  • And the clincher, “In two dozen interviews over the past 24 hours, many of the most trusted allies and advisers to Mr. Christie acknowledged..” (We don’t know how long these interviews were, who talked, or how many is “many” or how trusted are the “trusted” or how allied the “allies” or how significant the “advisors”)
  • And the ultimate justification: “These people spoke on the condition of anonymity, to treat a delicate situation with a level of candor frowned upon in politics.” (So we’re just supposed to trust you on this, and applaud you for getting to the nitty-gritty?)

Apparently the Iraq War debacle, justified in large part by the “reporting” of the NYT, has taught them nothing about relying on anonymous sources or hearsay puffed up and exaggerated by purplish prose. It’s not that far removed from the latest National Enquirer rumor about Barack Obama’s gay Kenyan love child from Mars.

It continues:

  • “A political team long characterized by its self-assuredness now sounds strikingly subdued, sobered and, realistic about his odds.” — Oh, it “sounds” that way? According to whom? Compared to what? “Characterized” by whom, and why? And how is “strikingly” subdued different from “subdued”?
  • “an unlikely breakthrough” — Who says it’s unlikely, and why? (Why, the NYT, of course!)
  • “gentle descriptions” — What makes them “gentle” and what are they specifically?
  • “Instead of crowing about” — classic loaded term
  • “Christie’s team is in a sense starting over now” — wtf does “in a sense” mean?

In response to the claim that advisors are modeling their campaign after John McCain’s in 2008, the reporters editorialize by presenting this long “counterpoint”: “There are crucial differences, however, between Mr. McCain’s experience in New Hampshire and Mr. Christie’s situation today. Mr. McCain had already cultivated a base of support from his landslide win there in the 2000 presidential primary. Mr. McCain benefited from a timely issue that he had championed — the surge of American forces into Iraq — that was thrust into the debate as he was mounting his comeback. And, finally, in 2008, there were no flush ‘super PACs‘ to keep campaigns alive in New Hampshire, as there will be in 2016.”

And if interpreting the past isn’t enough, there’s this speculation about the future: “What’s more, the indictment against Mr. Christie’s onetime associates means months of split-screen television images, with one half showing Mr. Christie out campaigning, the other, the latest report on the legal proceedings of his allies.”

As the final “evidence” to make their “case” (which of course news stories don’t do) they present this: “Mr. Christie has tried to remain outwardly upbeat. But signs of frustration have been spilling out. Over a month ago, according to two people familiar with the exchange, Mr. Christie spotted Tim McDonough, an aide to Woody Johnson, the New York Jets owner, during a trip to MetLife Stadium. Mr. Christie told Mr. McDonough that Mr. Johnson, who had supported him as governor but was planning to back Jeb Bush in the presidential race, had shown his ‘true colors.’”

Nothing in that paragraph is necessarily a “sign of frustration,” nor is there any reason to believe that Mr. Christie “has tried to remain outwardly upbeat.” For all we know, he’s being sincerely upbeat and feels optimistic to his core. (Doubtful, but there’s no reason to believe otherwise, unless the herd of unnamed sources supposedly interviewed spoke directly to this topic, of which there is no evidence in the story.)

I could go on, but why bother? This is just one of many examples of a “hard news” story that isn’t by the standards of NYT or anyone else in journalism. No Capitalized Headline Words or “Mr. This” and “Ms. That” can make up for what was once decried as lazy reporting, clueless editing, and shameless editorializing.

I have great respect for fair and balanced journalism, and I believe I practiced it for many years (until it almost drove me crazy), but I also don’t believe in the “objective” journalism taught in American journalism programs and allegedly practiced by the so-called “great” newspapers of the U.S., none of which are any better than the minor local rags cheerleading for local interests for bad pay and no prestige, or the thousands of online sources not pretending to be objective but providing information and reporting that is no worse and often better (see War, Iraq) than the oh-so-serious journalism of the Timeses and Globeses and Newses and Tribuneses of the world.

One thing I like about small-town journalism is that many reporters and editors write opinion columns in addition to news stories, so people know their politics and can judge their reporting accordingly. News reporters for all major media in all major markets in the U.S. pretend to be apolitical, but there’s no such thing. As UK reporter/editorialist George Monbiot said recently,

When people say they have no politics, it means that their politics aligns with the status quo. None of us are unbiased, none removed from the question of power. We are social creatures who absorb the outlook and opinions of those with whom we associate, and unconciously echo them. Objectivity is impossible. The illusion of neutrality is one of the reasons for the rotten state of journalism, as those who might have been expected to hold power to account drift thoughtlessly into its arms.

As Chomsky and Herman argued, newspapers set the agenda by telling us what the “news” is, which trumps any attempt to be “objective.” They declare to the rest of us what’s important, choose sources from powerful groups, cherry pick facts, use the “inverted pyramid” to rank those facts in terms of what’s important (in their view), and if that’s not enough, they sneak in editorializing whenever and wherever they think they can get away with it and their readers and/or advertisers will appreciate it and keep supporting their businesses with circulation and advertising dollars.

I say good riddance to objective journalism, especially in the “newspeak” era when the media outlet most stridently claiming to be “fair and balanced” is the least so. If the Grey Lady has finally figured out that journalism is not, has not been, and never will be objective, then welcome to the party. Let’s all get on with telling the truth from our various perspectives and stop pretending that we’re something we’re not.

Addendum: Not only did they publish the story as was, but they couldn’t even get the basic facts right: “Correction: May 3, 2015 An earlier version of this article misstated the job title of Bridget Anne Kelly when she worked for Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. She was the deputy chief of staff, not chief of staff.”

What went around came around

I’ve been running into old friends again lately. Yesterday when I was on my walk I saw Samwel, my old security guard. I hadn’t seen him for a few weeks since he got a promotion when I was on my travels. He was sitting at the junction in a fancy security truck, and when he saw me he got out and ran to catch up to me. He gave me a big hug. He’s coming by the house tomorrow so we can catch up and I can give him the dictionary I bought him.

In town last week Alfred and I ran into a guy named Kelly I had met my first week. That turned into a meal at Woodland the next day, and than an invitation to his house for dinner, which we did on Tuesday. Kelly loves America and came to walk us to his house dressed in an American flag shirt and hat. He also watches a lot of Al Jazeera and knows that America is not the promised land some Tanzanians think it is.

Kelly led us down some dirt roads and across the highway to Soweto, the neighborhood where his house is. We met his wife Gladys, who is a primary school teacher, and his three-year-old son Wyclif Jean. Gladys served us a nice spread of rice, chicken, beef, and vegetables. Tonight we’ll probably see Kelly at Malindi where we’re going to listen to music

Last night I stopped by Woodland and saw another doctor friend from the local hospital, and we had a long talk about medicine and education and social issues. He’s signed up to take IELTS (International English Language Testing System) so he can apply for a grant to study critical care medicine. He said he’d invite me to his house for dinner sometime before I go.

The other day on a run with Alfred we passed a musician friend I met during my first couple weeks. Zakaria invited us to come to where he was staying later that night, but I wasn’t able to make it. I hope we’ll run into him again, because we were going to play some music together.

Usually people ask me for money, and often I give them some, but lately there’s been a kind of karmic reversal. It started at the golf course the other day, where I saw my friend Andrew, who introduced me to his friend Charles. We had a beer, and Andrew wouldn’t let me pay for mine.

On the way home, I stopped at a lodge where a guy I know works. I had met John at Woodland and said I’d stop by sometime, and when I passed he was in the driveway, so he gave me another beer and showed me around the joint. It’s a very nice hotel catering mostly to Aussies who come to climb the mountain. John’s father, who built it, was a game warden in Kilimanjaro National Park, and he planted lots of trees around the place, so it’s like a little jungle, cool and shady.

John had his bartender turn on some music. The song that played was a Jamaican version of “The Gambler” (which I also heard at another place the next night, and which they liked so much they played it three times).

He said he had to go to town to drop off a friend who was staying at the hotel, and he invited me along. My relaxing day of reading Tolstoy alone was threatening to turn into another fish-out-of-water experience. I wasn’t sure where it would lead, or how it would end, but I shrugged and decided to go with the flow.

We dropped off his friend and he took me to a bar near downtown, where he seemed to know everybody, then another on the edge of Moshi where he bought me pork and salad and fried banana. He introduced me to the owner, who was another friend of his. Chelsea was playing Arsenal, so a lot of people were out to watch the game.

John told me he likes Don Williams, so we sang “You’re My Best Friend” together. Then we sang parts of “Kingston Town” and “Three Little Birds” and “By the Rivers of Babylon.”

Finally we went back to Woodland, where a crowd of Sikhs in turbans invited me to join them for some goat and Famous Grouse. They were a family of five brothers, former students at International School Moshi who now run a trucking company. We talked about Sikhism and business and prejudice and were joined by a Tanzanian woman who works for Care International.

I finally got home at 10 p.m., no poorer for once, and richer in friends.