A Near Death Experience

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Africa » Tanzania » East » Dar es Salaam
October 17th 2005
Published: October 17th 2005
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Okay, well that might be a slight exaggeration, but I caught your attention anyway. On Friday after being in the city centre and writing this blog, I came home to find that...my fan had died. Oh man oh man oh man oh man. I tell you, I hit all the main stages of grief. Denial -- oh no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no. I kept turning it off and on, thinking that would do something, it HAD to do something. Then bargaining -- please oh please oh please, I'll do anything. I know I've been neglectful, but I'll spend more time at home with you. I'll clean you, I know you're terribly dirty, just switch on and I'll take all that grime away. Nothing. Then anger -- oh my God I swear if I'm without a fan I am checking in to a big touristy hotel with air conditioning, and I'm not coming out until the temperature has dropped by fifteen degrees! Then sadness -- I went downstairs and found Sister Rita, who runs the show for us, and draped myself across her shoulders. Sister, I (practically) sobbed, my fan is broken. Saidia, Sister, help me help me. I'm a woman on the edge, I told her. I can't make it here without a fan. You don't understand, I'm barely making it in the heat as it is. She listened to all this without a word then picked up her cell and dialed the maintenance guy. He appeared within an instant, took it away for about fifteen minutes, reappeared and reattached it to the wall, and turned it on. Praise God, it worked, which meant I never had to come to any kind of acceptance. I came away feeling like I had dodged a major bullet. I did promise it I would never take it for granted again.

Also on my way home Friday I found that I have inadvertently picked up an admirer. I talked to him a few nights ago, when he stopped me on the street, told me I was beautiful and that my body was "just his type", and asked me to spend some time with him. Gee...tempting, but I'm really in a hurry. Friday night he stopped me again, and asked if I remembered him. I did after a couple of minutes and then he started in with, I love you, I love you so much, I have to spend some time with you or I will die. I laughed and said, you don't love me, you don't even know me, but he insisted. I love you, I love your face, I love your body. We have to be alone, even for half an hour, or I will die! I said, sweetheart, in spite of what you all would like women to believe, no man ever died of that. Oh no, he said, don't say that, don't be like that. I love you, I love you, only...I can't remember your name. I burst out laughing and said, you love me and you can't remember my name? Oh I'm so sorry, he said, I have so much on my mind, but I do love you, only please tell me your name. Well that's it, I said. We could have had something really beautiful together I think, but you can't remember my name, so now it's over for us. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh, he wailed, don't say that, I love you, I love you, just tell me your name. By now I was getting little frustrated because I was heading to the daladala. I said, I think you're a bit confused about something. I know I'm Mzungu, but we don't all sleep with strangers! I don't go with men I don't know! But I couldn't help but laugh. He said, please please please just tell me your name. Okay, if I tell you my name, will you go? Yes. You promise, we're done for tonight and you'll leave me? Yes, yes. So I told him, and away he went, happy as a clam. Very bizarre. I will have to remember to take a different route through town for a while.

So the weekend with the exception of these bits of strangeness, was very good. Friday night I went to an exhibition of African traditional dance which was absolutely phenomenal. They danced and sang and played instruments (drums and marimba and a sort of recorder) and performed and even though I couldn't understand the words it so didn't matter. They were amazing. And the way those women move their hips, I said to the girls I was with, wow, if I could do that I wouldn't be single! It's incredibly sexy without being raunchy in any way. Just very very in touch with the power of being female -- I love that. I was with two Canadian girls, one of whom I met in my Swahili course, but I don't think they enjoyed themselves very much. I can't imagine why -- it was great entertainment and such a quintessential African experience. I didn't have much in common with them as it turned out, and they left pretty much the second it was over. It was actually a bit strange. I was thinking, man, I hope I don't come across that way, but it's hard to even describe what I mean by "that way". They seem to be really intent on staying on the outside of things, while I spend all my time trying to get inside it all. Anyhow once they left I stayed and talked to the guys beside me, who were from Belgium and were here with the navy. I said, Belgium has a navy? Who knew? Which sent them into gales of laughter but apparently it's true, they combine with a couple other small European countries. Whatever. They were fun and friendly and much more my type of people. Emily, who is in the MSW program, and who is currently in Capetown, has a friend who calls this the "you have legs, I have legs" syndrome. It means that if you're traveling and you meet someone from home, or someone even from a similar culture, initially you're all excited and they're your new best friends. You think you have so much in common. But often when it comes down to it, you have nothing in common other than having been coincidentally born in the same country (i.e. you both have legs) and really, that's not a lot to go on. I feel a lot more comfortable with the FOGOTA people and other Tanzanians that I met. I guess because we have a similar outlook on life, and that really does bond you across all kinds of crazy differences.

Anyhow, Saturday Carol and I went to the water park and it was so much fun. I haven't done something like that since I was a teenager. Yesterday I was so sore from swimming and climbing those stairs but it was worth every ache. We are definitely planning to go again. And oh man, can I just say how glorious it was to feel cool? Toward the end of the day when the sun was going down there was a breeze and I was shivering at the top of the slide...heaven. Carol says for sure next time we're going to the ocean. God help me, critters beware. But I can't wait.

I met a nice guy tonight at our little cafe down the road who told me he had been planning to go to university this year but lost his spot at the last minute. I couldn't exactly get why, except that he had excellent marks in secondary school, but no money. The government was going to pay for him but something happened to change that. His eyes were so sad while he was telling me, even though he kept a determinedly cheery grin on his face. He told me he is not going to let it get him down. I said good for you. I said, for what it's worth, I'm 35 and I never thought I would go to graduate school, but I did. It can still happen for you. But I felt so bad for him. This country, like probably all countries of the "third world", is full of smart, motivated young people, who can't get jobs and can't get more education. It breaks my heart. What are they going to do? All that wasted potential. So many people ask me about Canada, is there a way to go to school there, is there a way to get sponsorship for school here. I wish I had some answers. Thomas is really struggling to go to law school. Sister Rita told me about her nephew, who did brilliantly in secondary school and would die to go to university, but there is no money. She said she knows I can't help financially, but asked me to pray about it. What could I say to that? Even Ali has said that he would love to do a graduate degree, but the money makes it next to impossible. His desire got going all over again when we went to Dorcas' graduation. I really have a heart for people who want more education, and I wish there was something I could do to help with that. It makes me very sad.


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