I have spent the past week with friends KL and JL, who flew in from Dar to meet me in Maputo. We spent the week stuffing ourselves with seafood, cheese plates, egg tarts, and sushi. Maputo is a wonderful city with vibrant sidewalk cafes, great muic, and fantastic public art. It was made all the better with good friends.
Late one afternoon, we stumbled across a photography exhibition at the old fort in central Maputo. The exhibition, put on by Associação Defendendo os Nossos Direitos, aims to raise awareness about albinism in Africa. Albinos are widely discriminated against in East and Southern Africa, where there are many misunderstandings about the condition. In Tanzania, for example, more than 60 albinos have been killed since 2007.
Here are some pictures I took at the exhibition.
My parents are going to move out of the house that I grew up in. It’s a strange thing to watch from a distance as they spend their weekends packing and selling and giving away. My dance costumes, childhood toys, and old clothes all must go, I’ve been told.
They have agreed to keep my books until I get home. I think this was before they realized exactly how many I have. A preliminary inventory revealed hundreds of books in dozens of boxes, tucked away upstairs in the attic. Too many books for one person, I know, and yet I can’t bring myself to get rid of any of them. These books that have followed me from childhood to adulthood, around the world and back again.
Last weekend I came across this article, which tries to convince book lovers to liberate themselves from the dead weight of the printed word.
I remain unconvinced.
Books are not just glue and macerated tree. They cannot be given away and replaced with a Kindle. I disagree. They are memories and fingerprints and dog-eared pages. They are characters I used to know and people I love and moments both remembered and forgotten. They remind me of the person I used to be and the places I want to go and they are a window into what I will become. Pieced together, these thousands of pages and millions of words are a map of my heart.
When I was a child my grandfather used to bring me dolls he had collected from his travels around the world. For many years I had figurines from Switzerland, Japan, and China on big white shelves on the wall above my bed. So many dolls from so many places with so many stories. The shelves sagged under the weight of it all.
And then we both grew older, my grandfather and I. He stopped traveling and I stopped playing with dolls. So he started buying me books. Every year for Christmas the winner of the Governor General’s Award. Also, best sellers, non-fiction, and a two-volume edition of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights with a gold-embossed spine. And then, best of all, my own copy of a book that a biographer had written about my grandfather’s life. The inscription to me, in his messy cursive writing, reads “from your partner in adventures”. These are the books that are in the boxes in the attic of the house where I grew up.
I have an anthology of the collected works of Chaucer. A giant tome of a book written in Middle English. It weighs about ten pounds and can be slammed into the table with emphasis to win an argument. It reminds me of the fight I had with my professor, the one who tried unsuccessfully to discourage me from writing my term paper about the role of women in The Canterbury Tales. “Chaucer wasn’t a feminist and neither am I”, he told me disdainfully, “pick another topic”. I refused. I won the prize for the highest mark in The Study of Chaucer that year.
The Collected Works of Beatrix Potter is there too. These stories that I still love. I bought a second copy for my friend when she had her first baby.
I still have the travel book about North India that I carried with me the first time I went out traveling on my own, that strange summer before law school, right before I moved out of my parents’ house. It’s traveled by plane and train and bus, been to the home of the Dalai Lama, was almost stolen by monkeys in Shimla. The pages are stained and the spine is creased. I don’t care that the information is outdated.
My favourite bed time story was Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. My father used to read it to my brother and I every night. The best story is a simple one, he used to tell us. These pages were turned by my father’s hands, these corners folded by him to mark the spots where we fell asleep and he stopped reading aloud.
I have books by Michel Foucault and Judith Butler and Wendy Brown. By theorists with names that I can no longer remember. With titles like Sexing the Body. Books accumulated during a time in my life when every day was a discussion about politics, an argument about gender roles, a social justice campaign. They remind me of my three best friends, the ones I met in my introduction to women’s studies class, of the protest signs that we hand-painted in my garage one cold winter day, of the marches that we attended. These books and these women are part of who I am.
Last year, before I moved to Tanzania, I sold all of my belongings except for my mattress and my books. These are the only two things I will need when I come back home, I thought.
My collection of books isn’t shrinking, it’s growing. I’m not leaving Dar without a book called Street Level, which is set in my adopted city and has drawings of buildings I’ve visited and streets I’ve explored, side by side with my new friends. And this coming Thursday, at a celebration for International Women’s Day, I’m going to buy a collection of short stories written by Tanzanian women, the proceeds of which will be donated to the only women’s shelter in Tanzania. I will bring these two books home with me and they will remind me of the piece of my heart that still lives in Dar.
If, at the end of my life, I have boxes and boxes of books and nothing else, then I will consider that a sign of a life well lived.
So, no, I don’t want to give my books away. Not even one.
One of the unexpected joys of writing this blog has been the ability to connect with people from all over the world. On Monday night I had dinner with the wonderful KN, who wrote to me in December because she had moved to a small town about an hour outside of Dar and had no idea where to buy contact lenses in Tanzania. I don’t know where to buy contact lenses either, but I was able to hook her up with some great Ethiopian food. I am looking forward to visiting KN in Bagamoyo.
This evening I met up with Maia, who is in Dar for a few days as part of her year-long tour of Africa (seriously, Maia, how do I get your job?). I took her to Mamboz, which is one of my favourite restaurants in Dar. This joint sets up at sundown on a sidewalk at Libya and Morogoro and serves amazing grilled chicken and garlic naan. We bonded over the joys and frustrations of traveling alone as a woman, watched two little boys share a set of rollerblades (each had a rollerblade on one foot and used his free leg to propel himself down the street), met a family from Toronto, and drank kungu (nutmeg) juice for desert.
Yesterday was my 30th birthday. Time must have been set to fast-forward, because the last time I checked my watch I was only 22.
I had always imagined 30 to mean a steady job and a mortgage and maybe a marriage, an equation that adds up to the sum of a comfortable predictability. At least, my facebook feed tells me that is what most of my friends are doing.
I put a wrench in predictability last summer when I quit my job and moved to Tanzania. Sometimes I wake up in the dead of the night still terrified by what I’ve done, the future now a great unknown just outside of my grasp. Other times, when I’m sitting in the back of a bajaj, on my way home from work, the wind kissing my face and the sun low in the sky, I feel like I have stumbled upon a great secret that nobody else has thought to look for.
Last year, I celebrated my birthday with old friends. We went to the best brunch place in Vancouver and then looked out over the skyline from the windows of the beautiful new apartment I had just moved into. I had no idea that a few months later I would break my lease and that my next birthday would be spent with new friends. Dinner at a wine bar on a hot, muggy night while a band played happy birthday and everybody got up to do a Tanzanian line dance. The next day, lying on the white sand of a small tropical island, my reflection blue-green in the salt water.
Life has changed so quickly that I don’t know where I will be for my next birthday.
I don’t believe is astrology but my online birthday horoscope provides a small measure of irrational comfort: “This will be a year of huge changes, the kind you look back on one day and realize that’s when you branched out on a completely new path. Will it be a better path? Most likely it will be the best”.
If I had a print copy, I would cut it out and tape it to the small fridge in my apartment in Mikocheni, so that it could whisper its comforting message to me every morning.
On Tuesday evening, ER and I took our neighbour out for dinner to celebrate her 17th birthday. KK moved to Dar eight months ago with her parents and two brothers and was not looking forward to a birthday away from her friends at home.
We went to a Mexican restaurant located at Sea Cliff Village, a development with dozens of restaurants, three coffee shops, an ice cream parlour, and a flashy outdoor square.
A few lessons from the evening:
- Although most of the food is breathtakingly good in Dar, Mexican restaurants should be avoided. You can walk into almost any Indian restaurant and legitimately declare it to be the best Indian food you have tasted. Addis in Dar, the Ethiopian restaurant on Ursino Street, is my new favourite restaurant. There is an Italian restaurant on the Peninsula that makes pizza so good that it rivals Nicli Antica in Vancouver. And the Chinese restaurants are equal to those I have been to in Hong Kong. Dar, however, doesn’t do Mexican. I am still trying to figure out what exactly was in the “sour cream” that was served with my fajita.
- Do not trust a 12-year-old kid to drive you home in a bajaj, even if he quotes a lower fare. The bajaj will break down, the route will be bumpy and the turns will be sharp, and your arms will be sore from trying to grip the side of the open vehicle so that you do not fly out onto the road.
- The cinematic masterpiece that is Dirty Dancing was released in 1987, which was before KK was born. During a conversation about our favourite Hollywood movies, KK disclosed to me that she had never heard of or seen the movie. An anxiety provoking fact on the eve of my 30th birthday.
- Despite the above, I do not wish that I was turning 17 instead of 30.
Two years ago this November I set out to bicycle across Mali with LG, who is one of my best friends. We were standing in front of our hotel in Bamako when H pulled up in a small dilapidated car, West African music blasting out the windows, a drum in her lap, and full of stories about visiting the surrounding villages with a wayward guide named Bubba. The three of us spent our days cycling across the desert and our nights in small tents pitched in front yards and on roofs. When I crashed my bike on an escarpment outside of Bandiagara, LG and H were there to pick me up and put me back together.
One year ago this November, LG, H, and I met just outside of Freetown and bicycled across Sierra Leone. There were a few unexpected mishaps along the way, but we eventually ended up in a spot where the river crosses the mountain to meet the ocean in a swirl of deep blue. We ate oysters during the day and stepped on fire ants at night and didn’t ever want to leave.
LG and H – this November I miss you both and am looking forward to our next adventure. This wonderful continent is not the same without you.
Gate 56. I am sitting at the Edmonton airport waiting for my flight to London. I’ve sat on these stiff green seats so many times before. On my way to India that summer between undergrad and law school. Countless trips between Edmonton and Vancouver. That time my brother and I met my parents in Italy and Turkey.
On the way to the airport this evening, my mom remarked that my trip to Tanzania would be almost like time traveling. I leave Edmonton on Tuesday evening and wake up in London on Wednesday afternoon. I leave London on Wednesday evening and wake up in Nairobi on Thursday morning. Two days and a whole world from now I will be in Tanzania.
The past week has also been like traveling through time. Goodbyes are kind of like that. My last few days in Vancouver consisted of reminiscing with good friends over good food. Remember that time in law school when we stayed up way too late studying and ate too much sushi? And KC started reading out inspirational quotes to get us through the night? And remember that time during articles when we both had that horrible week and we went to Joe Fortes and ordered champagne and crab? Remember when we ran that half-marathon in Victoria? Remember our bike ride through Sierra Leone? I can’t believe we did that.
And then I was in Edmonton and it was time for more goodbyes. My first morning, I met an old friend for breakfast near the UofA campus. It had been a long time since I’d been on that campus and for a moment it was almost like it was ten years ago and I was just starting my undergrad. Crisp sun. Fall leaves. The excitement of new beginnings.
There were more shared memories with family and more friends over still more food. Remember when we all met in that women’s studies class? And that time we had that meeting with the dean of students and convinced him that we were right? Well maybe we didn’t really convince him but things still went our way. And remember making those banners in my garage that cold winter afternoon? And then we hung them in the SUB. Where are those pictures?
Good people and good times in both cities.
Goodbye Vancouver, goodbye Edmonton. Until we meet again.
My bonsai tree has found a home with CM, who is a friend of MW’s, and who read of the bonsai’s plight in my blog posting last week. The adoption was initiated by MW, who wrote me the following email on Wednesday morning:
Do you still have that damn bonsai? CM wants it.
CM was kind enough to bring me a bottle of wine in exchange for the bonsai, which has almost helped to numb the pain of the Craigslist nightmare.
Here is to hoping that the bonsai will have a long and happy life in CM’s office.
I knew that it was going to happen sooner or later. I could feel it coming. Just under my skin. Lurking in that unpacked box.
Blind panic. We’re not strangers. And I’m sure we will become even better acquainted over the next few weeks.
I spent the better part of today harassing those closest to me. Why I am doing this again? Say it again, louder.
LK offers the following advice to my google chat freakout: I can’t believe you’re doing this. It is insane. But it is also really really cool. You’ll be more than okay, in the end.
Right…Okay… Back to packing.
I really do have the very best friends.