Saturday, April 28, 2012

Memories of a Mzungu

I am spending my Friday night watching the 1962 John Wayne movie Hatari!

Don't worry if you have no idea what I'm talking about. Five years ago, I had never heard of the movie and I went through a period in high school of watching a classic movie a week. I had watched more John Wayne films than I could name.

But then I went on safari in Tanzania and visited Tarangire NP. Everywhere around the entrance guard hut were signs about the movie being filmed there. Hatari means danger or caution. Baby Bro and I found it hilarious to yell "HATARI... THE MOVIE!" at each other for the rest of the trip.

We usually made this hand gesture as we yelled it...
although that was just coincidental.

Obviously, we had to watch the film when we returned home. Now it's my 'I miss Tanzania' film.

This round of nostalgia started when E and I ended up in Munro's Books in the language section. A Swahili book caught my attention and soon I was pontificating about how even a small knowledge of the language goes a long to increasing the willingness of the locals to help you and decreasing the opening quote on items in shops. I bored entertained E and the lady browsing down the aisle with stories which illustrated my point. (You're welcome for the travel tips, by the way, lady-who-kept-staring-at-me.)

The local mode of carrying goods.
The girl on the left is carrying an axe on her head.
Three days later, I found The White Masai on clearance for $5. Once I started reading, I couldn't stop. The writing isn't great and some of the decisions made by the author frustrated me to no end but the story just drew me. While the book is set in Kenya, the two countries are geographically similar and the bureaucracy is exactly the same. (A better term would be bribeaucracy.) As I read about Corinne's frustration with getting immigration papers sorted, I recalled how my low cut v-neck shirt got me a visa renewal when only a day earlier my scoop neck shirt was told it had to leave the country to renew my visa. (That's the power of the boobs, ladies!)

The beach at Kendwa, Northern Zanzibar

Memories I hadn't thought of in years came flooding back. The simple memories I don't pull out for dinner parties because there's no set story to entertain or inform those around me. Memories like the contentment of sitting on the shaded stoop of Susie's shop on a sunny day, drinking a coke baridi and chatting with the passersby I know. Or how looking at Mt. Meru as I left the baby home made the day complete.

The eastern wall of the Great Rift Valley. You can almost reach out and touch it.
I started dreaming in Swahili which is amazing because a) I haven't done that since five months after I came home and b) the only Swahili I remember when I'm awake is what I had to yell say to the children 18 times an hour - Stop it! Come here! No! Sit down! No hitting! Lunch/Dinner time! Go potty?, pretty standard toddler sentences - or basic greetings. In my dreams, however, I recalled a lot more. Although I'm more than willing to concede that most of the 'Swahili' I was dreaming in was probably my mind making up appropriate sounds. But there were a few actual words I was able to recall upon waking up.

The streets of Stone Town, empty during Ramadan.
Invigorated by these six relearned words, my Swahili hip hop* and Bongaflava downloads found their way back into my music rotation. Because obviously, if I'm dreaming in Swahili, I'm f*cking fluent! Baby Bro interviewed me for his paper on the education system in Tanzania while another friend invited me over for Ethiopian takeout and a movie set in Kenya (based on a true story... and you should totally watch it). The Amazing Race - the only reality show I would ever want to be on - headed to Tanzania and even went through a town I remember fondly, Mto wa Mbu (which is not what you'd expect someone to say about a town named 'river of mosquitos'. And for the record: mmm-toe wa mmm-boo). All these little reminders of Africa kept popping up.

Hard at work teaching me Swahili patty cake rhymes.

So here I sit with John Wayne humanely catching monkeys in the background while I stare at travel brochures for East Africa advertising trips I can't afford. Oh, to stand up in the jeep as it bumps its way down to the Ngorongoro Crater floor. To jump out of the dhow and wade ashore with my bag on my head as old fishermen fix their nets in the shade of the old Portuguese fort at Kilwa Kisiwani. To watch the sun set on cloudless Kilimanjaro as I eat dinner with Mama Musa, Hadija and the rest of the nannies. To barter with a stall keeper and then watch him charge the other tourists more because they don't greet him in Swahili.

To sit on the shaded stoop of Susie's shop on a sunny day, drinking a coke baridi and chatting with the passersby I know.

View from the ridge of Ngorongoro Crater after our game drive.

*The Hip Hop group I linked to, X Plastaz, is known because they rap in Swahili and Maa (the language of the Masai). The song I linked to doesn't have a video but it's the first X Plastaz song I ever heard and I love the use of the Masai throat singing in the background.


Erika said...

Excellent post - I love reading about your travels. Really hope you can return in the not too distant future. Sijambo!

AndreaClaire said...

Jambo mi rafiki! Habari?

If we're ever in Van at the same time, we should do dinner at Simba's. Then I can regale you with Tanzania stories over a serving of mbazi and a cold Tusker :)