Muddled Modernity (and Birds We Love to Hate)

As our daily life in Moshi slowly settles into its pole-pole pace, complete with previously unheard-of pre-work breakfast/jog/reading-sessions (we work from 11 to five or six on most days), life back home with its busy routines and disciplined efficiency is slowly becoming a distant idea, a memory left at the über-clean and über-luxurious Zürich Airport just ten weeks ago.

It’s amazing to me how this time has flown by in some ways – Mondays morph into Fridays – while dragging itself out in others, making these past two months and a bit seem like years of a previously unimagined life. No one is in a hurry here and no one pushes; time is a non-issue and life unfolds at a pace dictated by the sun and the deep darkness of a powerless night.

Things work most of the time: taxis come when you call them up, supermarkets sell South African wines and L’Oreal shampoo and even broadband mobile internet is reliable. But then the flip-side of pole-pole hits you: visa processing takes months with no resolution in sight (and mind you, we’ve both paid 600 dollars for the pleasure), all trash gets burned because there’s no collection service, and customer service is competent at best, outright shitty and disinterested at worst. Food can arrive quickly or it can take three hours to get your main. Apologies are rarely offered. We heard “This is Africa” (“TIA”) from the beginning but a part of me wanted to resist using this lazy shorthand as an excuse for everything that seems wrong about this slower-than-slow pace of life. But it turned out to be at least partly true. Don’t fight it, just adapt and be patient, they said, otherwise you’ll go mad. And I guess they were right.

It’s almost as if the lack of cold or even proper seasons – any kind of drastic change in the environment that forces you to adapt – has allowed life to settle into a flow of predictability and benign lethargy, repeated ad infinitum under a sun that rises every morning at 5.30 and sets exactly 13 hours later. As long as life works – more or less – why should it be challenged or hurried? It’s not that many people aren’t keen to improve things, a sense of urgency is just not there.

It’s been interesting to examine our own reactions to it. Has this slowness pissed us off at times? Definitely. Is it worrying with regard to the massive challenges they face in terms of development? Of course. But it has also given us an insight into a life that is less weighed down by expectations and not dictated by stress. People here have a knack for living for the now, as imperfect as it may be, and it’s hard not to be humbled by their patient perseverance and unhurried approach to life.

Walking home the other day we talked about how alien even really modern buildings seem to us now. The Barclay’s ATM cubicle that smells of China (or industrial detergents?) and the Kenyan-owned supermarket at the edge of town represent the pinnacles of muddled modernity here. They felt like ‘home’ in some strange way when we first arrived, they still kind of do. Part of me misses the unapologetic, crisp modernity of home – not so much the specifics of our organized and neat lives there (bar steady warm showers and 24-hour reliable power which I really do miss), even the mere idea of it. As lovely as our B&B guest house here is, we don’t even have windows, just reinforced mosquito nets with bars, resulting in an all-night chirp-fest by a gang of torturously loud birds in the surrounding jungle. It drives me crazy, but hey, it’s TIA, right?

I guess I feel less enslaved to time here. I guess we are both becoming more patient (although Boogie always was a step ahead of me on this front). And I guess this is one of the most important lessons anyone can learn from Africa: the virtue of being content with life as it unfolds, not as you expect it to.

Another weekend in sight. We’ll be spending tomorrow at the Amani Kid’s Christmas party and staff party in the evening, and Sunday hopefully by a pool somewhere if poor B, now suffering from the cold I had earlier this week, feels better…

Wishing everyone in the northern hemisphere a peaceful start to December.

-K&B

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