Life in Africa, Vol. 3

This little lady follows us to work every morning. We call her Twix.

This little lady follows us to work every morning. We call her Twix.

Life has found a new(-ish) groove here in Moshi with a move to our very own slice of suburban heaven, walking distance from Amani, in a slightly rough-around-the-edges-but-still-friendly area called Soweto (yes, that’s the same name as the notorious Johannesburg township). We’re sharing it with two of the other Amani volunteers, Jay and Annmaree (last featured in this wedding post) and finally have an en-suite bathroom (yay!), real windows (double yay!), proper water pressure (ah, how I missed you), and yes, the ultimate ‘piece the resistance’ in a tropical country: air conditioning.

We’re also now back to cooking and cleaning for ourselves (normal life, I know), and it’s actually so refreshing to be in control of our of environment again, and to be able to move around without calling a driver (a slice of the non-normal life that you can actually afford here) and to go to and leave work as we please, usually with our new doggy friend in tow. Walking to work we must end up saying ‘Mambo’, ‘Habari?’ or ‘Shikamoo’ (the three key greetings, used depending on the age of the person at the receiving end of it) at least 20-30 times. We get just as many stares – or even outright wonder – when kids scream out ‘mzungu’ (white person!) and run to us to say hello/bye/good evening. Though people here are shy and rather reserved, they’re also unfailingly warm and welcoming. They take the time to acknowledge each other (as Kristy said over dinner tonight), to make that connection – even if it’s with a stranger and even if it’s only for a fleeting second…

On our way home we usually pick up some bottled water (an environmental sin, I know, but the tap water here really is not drinkable) from a little make-shift shop along the way. The shops here are endearingly and sometimes maddeningly amateurish with few signs of systematic shopkeeping or even much¬†consistency: one shop might have biscuits, bags of milk and Red Bull, but no water, while another has Obama toothbrushes (unofficial merchandise, I’m guessing), beer and soap, but little else. The vegetable stalls dotted around the villages and manned by local mamas fare no better: today the only thing worth buying from one of these very sweet ladies was onions… everything else she had was in a more or less advanced state of rot.

The attitude here seems to be that as long as the stall or shop allows you (and your family) to cover life’s basics, there’s little need, or at least no real pressure (or indeed precedent), to seek out a competitive advantage that would allow you to move beyond mere survival. (The main market is an exception; there the selection is nothing short of spectacular with piles upon piles of fresh veggies and fruit – no doubt a result of the tough competition there.) Although it’s not rocket science, of course – sell fresher tomatoes than the lady down the road and offer some creamy avocados to boot – it’s precisely this lack of savvy that lends the whole place it’s innocent, haphazard charm. But does this ‘charm’ come at the expense of progress… or is progress just our forward-looking, present-moment-ignoring mantra of material well-being that masks a more fundamental, even elemental kind of happiness that people here have always been able to tap into?

I’m not sure I’m any closer to any answers on which approach is even marginally better than the other… the truth, as always, probably lies somewhere in between the sometimes alienating, but also path-breaking and horizon-widening urban life and the compact and compassionate ‘core’ that most people here live in… I guess the question is: Isn’t it possible to have a bit of both in whichever setting you’re born into or choose to live in?

Anyway, that’s all for this week’s lazy musings. We have a relaxed weekend coming up, with a trip to that said veggie market and some planning for next week’s pre-Boogie-turns-30-trip to the lush Usambara mountains in the north of the country (more on that later).

In the meantime, good night, good luck, and a relaxing weekend to all.

– K&B

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