It has been almost exactly a month since I left Africa, flying first from Johannesburg back to Dar for one last round of goodbyes, and then onwards from there.
It already feels like a dream. The first time I saw a giraffe. The way Lake Malawi glimmers as the sun sets. Touring Kigali on the back of a motorbike. Watching the world spin below me from the top of Kilimanjaro. Shivering next to a pool of boiling lava in the Congo. Drinking red wine and eating pizza and talking books at Saverios Restaurant in Dar. An afternoon with a family of mountain gorillas in Rwanda. The dusty red roads of Kampala. Kissing a giraffe in Nairobi. The Tanzanian line dance on my 30th birthday. Christmas in Ethiopia. Swimming in a waterfall in Madagascar. Laughing until I cried in Maputo.
These things that I know to be true. The sunset is most spectacular in Zimbabwe, the sky most beautiful in Madagascar, the water most blue off the coast of Tanzania. Maputo has the best egg tarts, Dar the best Indian food, Ethiopia the best coffee. On a good day, it takes 24 hours to drive 400 kilometres in Madagascar, 15 hours to cover the same distance in Malawi, 12 hours in Tanzania, anybody’s guess in Mozambique.
There are good people everywhere, more parts happiness than sadness. One day, a child in Goma smiled at me and gave me a piece of lava, from the volcanic eruption that destroyed his family home. I carry it in my purse. Another day, a woman sitting beside me on a long bus ride bought me some bananas, a piece of manioc, and a bag of peanuts. She didn’t speak English but she smiled at me when I thanked her. I carry this with me too.
When the picture accompanying this post was taken, I was sitting on the beach with four people I had met a day earlier, eating crabs we had marinated in garlic and tomatoes, drinking a 2M beer, and talking about tides and wind patterns and 3 am departure times. A picnic spread out on the canvas sails we had removed from the boat to use as a tablecloth. Happiness in the form of a poem.
I carry all of it with me.
I counted the stars in Madagascar. I know I am very lucky, both for the adventures and the people I have met along the way.
These are the things I have learned.
Yesterday, I spent the day at Gombe National Park, which is about a three hour boat ride from Kigoma. The park is famous because it is where Jane Goodall lived and studied chimpanzees in the 1960’s.
My friend KG and I spent an hour watching a chimpanzee family, until a downpour forced us all to take shelter. The chimps hid under a tree while KG and I hiked back to camp.
This is my favourite picture from Gombe.
Kigoma is a small city in a remote region in northwestern Tanzania. According to this article, Kigoma is where Tanzania ends. Geographically, the city is located on the edge of the country at the end of the national railway line. It’s somehow fitting, then, that Kigoma is also my last stop in Tanzania before I cross the border into Rwanda.
Kigoma is red earth and palm trees and emerald lake water. I’ve spent the past five days lounging on red beaches, hanging out with zebras, swimming in Lake Taganyika, getting caught in rainstorms, and exploring muddy roads with friends from Dar.
I knew that you and I would get along as soon as I stepped off the plane that Thursday morning in September. A bright sun, a crowd of people, and a dizzying taxi ride past rows and rows of pink government buildings.
There are some parts of you that are easy to love. Deserted beaches, uninhabited tropical islands, white sand, blue ocean. The best Indian food I have ever tasted. Weekend trips to Stone Town. Coconut, pineapple, and mango for sale on the street corner.
But, Dar-city, you also have a hearbeat. I hear it in the first light of the morning when the call to prayer from the neighbourhood mosque rings through the neighbourhood. And again and again when my downstairs neighbour blasts Enrique Iglesias all day, when my favourite bajaj driver greets me on the way home from work, when the sound of frogs drowns out human conversation.
And a soul with a capacity to dream that is bigger than mine. An IT guy who visits every morning to fix my computer even though we both know it will break down again tomorrow and a street vendor that calls out to me every day even though I resolutely continue to ignore him. A billboard that advertises the site of the soon-to-be largest mall in Dar, complete with a coffee shop, grocery store, restaurant, and apartments. “Grand opening soon!”, the sign proclaims. Underneath the billboard, there is a still empty field.
Thank you, too, for letting me keep my laptop and camera. My colleagues in Kenya and South Africa have long since been robbed of their valuable possessions and, when those were gone, the muggers came back for soap, coconut milk, and a flashlight.
I wouldn’t be caught dead in a hockey arena in Canada, but I let you take me to a soccer game. Your two teams, Yanga vs. Simba. Yellow and green against red. Yyou warned me not to wear the wrong colours or sit on the wrong side of the arena. You were right – I had fun until the end when I was punched by an overenthusiastic fan.
It hasn’t always been easy. I love your street food, but I spent nearly all of October doubled over in pain. And I love the wind-through-my-hair-freedom of riding around in a bajaj, but not the accident that resulted when one of your drivers decided to take a short cut down the wrong side of the road.
Most of all, I’ll miss your people. People I would be friends with if we had met in Dar or China or Texas, but who I fear wouldn’t recognize me if I wasn’t sunburned and sweating. I’ll miss Sunday brunches, Crazy Kitenge shopping, and book club meetings at Saverios. I’ll miss the friend who wrote this lovely poem and all the other wonderful people I met in Dar.
I turned in the key to my apartment last Saturday and I’m leaving Tanzania tomorrow morning. Goodbye Dar, for now.
The past few days have been intolerably hot. One last heat wave before I leave Dar. Is this the city’s way of saying goodbye?
On Sunday morning I lost myself in the maze of downtown for one last time. Sweating, dehydrated, and cursing the heat, I stopped to buy a coconut from a vendor on the street corner. For 500 Tsh, he lopped off the top with a machete, gave me a straw, waited for me to drink the coconut milk, and then scraped out the flesh for me to eat.
Coconuts on the street corner. One of the many things that I will miss about this sweet, sweaty city.
In Tanzania, under Local Customary Law (Declaration No. 4) of 1963, widows are prohibited from inheriting property from their deceased husbands, which is instead transferred to male children and other surviving male relatives. After the death of their husbands, women often have to contend with property grabbing, eviction from their homes, and sometimes even the loss of their children by abusive relatives. Deprived not only of a place to live, but also of collateral and a potential source of income, widows are often rendered economically destitute. There are an estimated 4.98 million widows in Tanzania.
In Tanzania, the Law of Marriage Act requires women who want to obtain a divorce to attempt to reconcile with their husbands before the Marriage Conciliatory Board. The petition for divorce will be denied unless the Board certifies that there is no possibility of reconciliation. This has obvious and acute consequences for victims of domestic violence, of which there are many in Tanzania. A study conducted by the World Health Organization in 2001 / 2002 found that 41% of women in Dar es Salaam and 87% of women in the Mbeya District had experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner at some point in their lives.
In Tanzania, the Law of Marriage Act sets the minimum age of marriage at 14 for girls and at 18 for boys. There is a strong link between child marriage and low levels of education or non-education. Girls who are forced into child marriage are more likely to withdraw from school or to decide not to pursue a higher education. Perpetuating the cycle of poverty, women who have little education tend to start childbearing at younger ages, have more children too close together, and have prolonged childbearing years. The children of young, uneducated mothers in Tanzania are less likely to stay in school.
In Tanzania, whether they are related or not, women affectionately call each other dada, or sister. Men are called kaka, or brother. I like this idea that we are all sisters and brothers, connected by something greater than blood. I don’t know, though, how we can sit back and watch as 87% (87%!) of our sisters in Mbeya are beaten, as our 14 year old sisters are forced into marriage and deprived of an education, as land is stolen from our widows.
This situation is not unique to Tanzania. Yesterday was International Women’s Day. Let’s do something to help our sisters in Tanzania and around the world the other 364 days of the year.
“There is a saying”, Jane Goodall says, “about how we don’t inherit the earth from our parents but rather borrow it from our children.” “But we haven’t borrowed it at all,” she continues in her thunderous voice, “we’ve stolen it from our children”.
Last night we all packed into the Little Theatre to meet this seemingly fearless woman who set out for Africa by herself on a ship in 1960, who doesn’t know how to turn a blind eye to the mess we have created of this planet, and who, at the age of 77, still speaks to audiences 300 days of the year, trying to inspire us all to do something, anything to make the world a better place.
After screening her documentary, Jane’s Journey, Dr. Goodall took a few questions. My favourites were from the wide-eyed children in the audience, who asked her whether she is ever scared, whether chimpanzees really like vegetables, and where she calls home.
Towards the end, a small boy of about eight gripped the microphone and said, with shocking eloquence, “I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say thank you for everything you have done”. We all laughed, surprised at the open sentiment of his words.
I hope that small boy does speak for all of us, but sometimes I have my doubts.