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Published: November 14th 2005
I miss Diet Coke soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo much. I am starting to dream about it. I have been drinking Fanta Orange when my soda needs get overwhelming, and tons and tons of cold water (preferably Kilimanjaro brand) and I have discovered a delightful little beveridge called Mirinda black which is a sort of berry flavoured drink, but really nothing nothing nothing replaces the DC. I leave here four weeks from tomorrow, and it is likely the siren song of Diet Coke that will get me on the plane. Which is good, because up until now I wasn't sure what was going to do it. But happily I can feel that I am starting to get ready to come home. I am looking forward to seeing everybody and to Christmas and to snow and to sleeping under a heap of blankets in a chilly room.
Things are going along nicely here. Last week Dorcas took me to a kitchen party, which is like a bridal shower on a much bigger scale. On our way there we got into a traffic jam, Tanzania style. Now a traffic jam generally means that everybody is stuck and nobody can go forward. But not here. Here people insist on going forward, whether there is actually somewhere to go forward to or not. So what results is that there are cars everywhere, all over the road, facing every direction. I have literally never seen anything like it. You can't imagine it. It seems impossible to imagine you'll ever get out of it alive. And of course everybody is honking their horn (they LOVE their horns) and trying to give direction to everybody else. It is utter chaos. Surprisingly, we were back on our way within about 20 minutes. I still can't figure out how we got free.
So the kitchen party...They rent a hall and all the female friends and relatives and acquaintances of the bride-to-be decorate it and themselves in the colours of choice. There is music and speeches and gifts and food and lots of dancing. First the women all dance in a circle. Then they dance to the entrance of the hall and dance the bride and her best woman onto a place of honour on the stage. Then the various relatives of the bride are honoured and each one is danced up to the stage by the women closest to her, then danced back down after she has said her bit. It's really cool. There is an MC who introduces the different relatives and dancing and ties it all together. There was lots of prayer and a sort of sermon/speech given by a guest speaker on the ups and downs of marriage. All this was of course in Swahili but Dorcas did a creditable job of providing a running translation.
What was most interesting to me is that on the surface it was all different from how we do things, but underneath the feeling was the same. It felt like at a wedding reception where everybody just loves the couple getting married so much. I have to admit though, I am somewhat jaded. It was hard to listen to marriage discussed in such traditional terms, where the bride is expected to be a good cook and housekeeper above all else (even though she was also encouraged to work so she wouldn't have to keep asking her husband for money). I looked at the bride, a sweet young thing in her early twenties, and I thought about the infidelity rate here and I wondered how long it will be before her heart is broken. But then I thought, well is it really so different from our society, where the divorce rate is so high you sometimes wonder why people bother getting married? Ali said to me one day, dead serious, that marriage in North America is on a contract, isn't it? I said, um, how do you mean? He said well, it's only intended to last for a certain limited amount of time, I said, well actually it's not intended to be that way...I had to laugh. Touche.
The best part of the night though was when an Mzee (an older person), dressed completely in traditional garb and dancing her heart out, stopped suddenly and rooted through her pockets and came out with...her cell phone. That was just the best, and served as a perfect snapshot of what Tanzania is like.
Cars aren't the only vehicles that dance to their own tune here. A few days ago I was in a daladala and it screeched to a halt behind a taxi, which was stopped for no reason that I could see. We waited a second then all of a sudden a train blew past us, just in front of the taxi. There was no crossing per se, no railway arm coming down to stop the traffic, no lights, no alarm of any kind. The train did blow its whistle but not until it was actually barreling through the intersection. I have no idea how the taxi knew to stop. Apparently everyone is not that fortunate though. Thomas told me he saw a horrific accident at that same place one time, where the cars did not figure out to stop, and the train just kept going even though it was hitting them right and left. Yikes. He said it haunts him still. Man, do you think???
The Tanzanian people continue to respond very favourably to me. One morning I got on the daladala and sat beside a woman who had an about-18 month old baby in her arms. The baby took one look at me and dove joyfully onto my lap. Fortunately I was looking at him at the time and managed to catch him or he would have gone headfirst out the door. He spent the entire ride hugging and kissing me and literally squealing for joy. It was awesome. His mother and the rest of the passengers basically looked on in amazement. I wanted to say to them, yeah, I know, this happens sometimes, but didn't have the words in Swahili. When all was said and done I got off and the baby was in my seat, happiliy swigging away from my water bottle. The other funny people encouter of late is I was in an internet cafe where I often go and the staff recognizes me now. There was a fellow in there using a computer and he watched me for a while, then asked me where I was from. I told him Canada. He was quite happy to hear that (Canada always gets a positive response, I've noticed) and asked me about our national anthem. He said, sing it. I said, I'm not going to sing it. He said please. I said no. He said, okay, I will sing ours. I said okay, go for it. So he did. Then he looked at me expectantly. So I did. I sang the Canadian national anthem to them all. When I was done the fellow and the staff burst into enthusiastic applause. Then they asked me to write out the words for them. So I did. I had to laugh. I meet the funniest people doing the funniest things here.
As far as the traveling, my plans have changed and I will not be going to Zambia. I am thinking of heading south to the Selous Game Reserve. It's one of the largest national parks but not very touristy, because all the tourists head north to the Serengeti. The appeal for me is that I am dying to see hippos. and they offer boat safaris as well as the usual land safaris. So I will check into that this week. I was going to do it tomorrow, but good news! Supposedly my residency permit is ready, all I have to do is go and pay for it (for the low low price of $120 US) (!). Just in time to start the renewal process on my visa, which expires December 2...
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