it’s common knowledge among the hostel hoffers that at night the roads can be dangerous, even the road just outside the hostel. it becomes dark very quickly here. so when the sun starts to set around 6 or 6:30, everyone stays within the gates. if they want to go out, they call a taxi. one night i was hanging out on the porch with someone and we heard a girl screaming “get off me”, “what the fuck are you doing?”, “get away from me”. we even heard some thumping noises with a stick.
senedi, one of the guards (i’ll explain later) who i became friends with, was laughing and asked me to follow him outside. i went just outside the gate, but no farther. one of the other guards was laughing too. and he was wearing his machette, and said he had some blood on his shirt. but he also said that that exact machette had killed someone, which i don’t believe he would do something like that. i have no idea what was going on, and i don’t want to even try to piece together the few words i heard to make up some story.
a few days ago on the way back from work, jaimie from the hostel was mugged. she and luther, also from the hostel, were walking in broad daylight on a major road. 2 men on a motorcycle stopped in front of them. one hopped off, started towards them, pulled his machete, and demanded her bag. luther started yelling “thief” at the top of his lungs over and over again. the man noticed that jaimie had an ipod too, so he attempted to take that away too. he grabbed her arm, which jaimie did not appreciate, so she pulled back and yanked the earphones away. take that, bastard.
one night we were planning to go to the watering hole to see frost/nixon. i found out that they provide free pickup. so i called joe and arranged a pickup. we waited on the porch and a car arrived. we thought it was strange that it was a taxi. here, taxi’s don’t just drive around until they find someone needing a taxi. they just wait for people to call them personally, and they come pick you up. when the taxi arrived, we got in without saying a word. i texted joe and asked him if we had to pay, and he said no. so we just went along with it. he took us to a place that didn’t seem familiar. it was somewhere in a woodsy area. we stopped at a house where a man came to the taxi. he was expecting someone else to be in the taxi. of course the taxi driver didn’t speak english. i called joe. he told us that he didn’t send a taxi. luckily the guy that did send the taxi spoke english. he explained that they sent a taxi to our hostel to pick up someone else. it just happened to arrive at the time we were expecting a ride. he hopped into the taxi with us and he told the taxi to go to the watering hole. it turned out one of the girls with us recognized the guy from her time spent in nairobi. small world. i thought it was funny how we were so scared to leave the hostel at night, yet we got into a car with a complete stranger without saying a word.
on a lighter note…
once a month, amani gets cleaned. everybody, kids, staff, and all, is given cleaning assignments. they clean everything from the kitchen to the halls to the dorms to the bathrooms. the whole interior is drenched in soap and water. it’s a little hectic, but everyone seems to enjoy it. much to the disapproval of some teachers and to the amusement of other teachers, the kids make fun use of the slippery floors. they even find ways to enjoy cleaning the bathrooms by taking advantage of the one time of the month they get to toss buckets of water all over the place for something productive. the hallways become streams and the stairs become cascades of water. some kids even used the stairs as a slide. it looked and sounded painful, but it didn’t seem to stop them. my favorite part was the big squeegee brooms used to squeegee the wet floors. and yes, i helped.
saturday i was invited to a lunch at a quaint, tucked away restaurant. it’s owned and run by a south african woman who is apparently married to a mercenary. it’s quite the cute little restaurant. it looks like the ideal place to have a proper cup of tea, but she serves gourmet meals like thai chicken burgers, prawn spring rolls with soy mayonnaise, brie fritters on grilled vegetables, and i had the tramazzi (???) with beef filet, zucchini, and caramelized onions. beverages included homemade ginger beer, lemonade, pineapple juice, which i ordered but received carrot juice with mint instead and was quite satisfied. don’t you love it when you don’t get what you ordered but it ends up being really good? desserts included the only cheesecake in moshi, apple cake concoction, rich chocolate cake, and i had the vanilla strawberry sponge cake. mouthwatering isn’t it?
sunday was probably the best day of my trip so far. senedi invited me to a personal tour of his maasai village. the closest thing to a city bus here is a dala dala. they call it the dala dala because that’s how much it costs. i’ve heard they’re old safari buses. they’re usually very full. with the money collector hanging out the sliding door yelling to see if anybody wants on. sometimes they don’t even stop for you. they’ll slow down and you have to climb on. ours stopped for us, probably because it was so jam packed that it would be very difficult to squeeze everybody in while it was moving. we crammed into the doorway, and we were off. eventually we shoved our way into the dala dala far enough so the door could slide shut after a few momentous tries. so i’m standing akwardly to the side with all my weight on one leg with my nose in someone’s arm pit with my one free arm grasping for life on the bar i could barely reach. senedi said it would take about an hour to get there. eventually we hit the highway. shockingly, we stop to pick up another man who somehow crammed in. unimpressively, the money taker somehow found room to squirm his way through sweaty passengers to collect fares. i don’t quite remember because i was trying to think happy thoughts, but there’s a chance we picked up one other passenger too.
after a few minutes, a few passengers hopped off, so there was room to breathe. there was even a space for me to sit, which the people were kind enough to offer it to the little mzungu (that’s kiswahili for traveller i.e. foreigner). at this point, my car sickness was getting to me. most of the scenery was stuff i had seen before, so i tried concentrating on the leg of the passenger in front of me so i wouldn’t have to shift focus. finally, we arrive in the middle of nowhere. it only took us 30 minutes because we didn’t have to stop so many times to fill up the little breathing room we had. but it did feel like 3 hours. we got off the dala dala and i began to regain feeling in my right leg so i could walk the 40 minutes to the village. i bought some water and drank my first few sips of the day, forcing it down to fight the nausea and dehydration.
we walked while senedi told me about his family history. in the old days, the village would move constantly, and for many reasons including a lack of grass for the cows or someone dying. finally, they decided that moving was just too much of a hassle. they picked a place just outside of arusha (a smelly, jam packed, 30 minute, dala dala ride away from moshi) and have been there for more than 30 years. in that time, a railway was built nearby, crop farms were grown, and even the kilimanjaro airport where i landed was constructed there. it’s like that bugs bunny cartoon where he refuses to move and all the skyscrapers are built around his house with a noticeable niche for his rabbit hole. this might be why senedi’s father doesn’t like anything from “civilization”.
as we get close to the village, we are met by a few small children. they walk up to senedi with their heads hanging low. senedi touches each head with his hand and greets them. this is how small children greet older people. then they walk over to me and bow their heads once more. they were really cute.
there are about 80 cows scattered all over the land. they are the skinniest cows i have ever seen. the rain hasn’t reached their land as much, so there’s not as much grass for the cows to eat. there used to be as many as 200 cows. as we walk past the hungry cows, senedi points out which ones are his. there are also donkeys and sheep. somewhere else there are hundreds of goats too.
we walk through the village hopping from hut to hut visiting the families. i lost count of the kids, but there were roughly 15 or 20. senedi has 53 siblings. his father married 10 women. almost all of the males i met were brothers from another mother, more so than mel gibson and danny glover. some of the structures were made of wood, straw, and dried mud. others were made of concrete-like material. it’s very dark inside. there are picture-frame size windows cut out to let in some light. the mothers are the architects so each of the houses are custom and unique in design. the beds are hard wood frames with a layer of leather as a the sheet they lay on. none of the beds are bigger than a double, and they sleep 5 to each.
one of the beds was particularly sad. at one home, senedi and i walk the 5 foot hall where light still shines. we sit just outside a pitch black bedroom doorway. senedi begins to have a conversation with the darkness. a weak voice inches out of the black barely reaching his brother’s ears for the first time in weeks. there is no movement, no other sound in the world other than their soft voices. senedi’s brother has a mysterious pain in his head that no doctor, hospital, or x-rays could find. he has been sick in bed for a year just trying to sleep through the pain.
after a deep appreciative breath of air out in the sunlight, senedi shows me around more. many of the houses are exhaling smoke. it’s lunch time. guess what’s for dinner. beans and rice. the rice is bought, the beans are locally grown. very locally grown. as in, they didn’t pay for them. just getting close to the smoke makes it uncomfortable to breathe. after about 30 seconds of being indoors, my eyes and lungs start to burn. i have no idea how they stay in there for so long without even shedding a tear.
it’s time to leave. on the way back through the village i walk with a kid. the path forks. he goes on his way, says goodbye, and the distance begins to grow. 2 of senedi’s brothers and an uncle walk us to the main road so we can catch a dala dala back to moshi. the walk back seems much longer. before getting on the dala dala, i figure i should probably pee. naturally, they don’t have toilets, but senedi says i will have the opportunity to go before the ride back. when the village is far enough under the horizon, senedi and his uncle unzip and go (well senedi unzips, his uncle probably hasn’t ever worn clothing with a zipper). “that’s life”, senedi says. so i join in. i’ve peed on the side of the highway before, but nothing like this. it’s strange at first, but quite liberating midstream. ok, that’s gross i’m sorry.
moving on. we continue towards the main road when i see a black ball roll past us. at closer glance, it was a bug pushing a boulder of something twice his size. DUNG BEETLE! ok, no more gross stuff, i promise. no, but seriously, those guys are funny.
we’re still walking to the main road. senedi says i should come back in 2 years and that he really wants to go to the US. the whole day he kept repeating that it was going to be a good day. and he was right. almost everything went well. it didn’t rain on us. we profited from the light of the sun without the cost of heat. it was even breezy (there’s very little wind in moshi). over and over he would say “gewd day, vedy vedy gewd day.” he told me how i was such a good friend and that he would never forget me. it so happened that at the watering hole they were showing coming to america, the movie about an african prince going to the US. so i decided to treat senedi to a night out with the hostel hoffers. “vedy vedy gewd movie”. sounds mushy i know. first date was meeting the parents and then going out to a movie. but i felt really honored that he personally invited me to an exclusive tour of his village. it was indeed a vedy vedy gewd day.
miss you guys!
…about the dala dala being called dala dala because that’s what it costs, i made that up.