day thirty-four: stone town - nungwui

if there was a word for this morning, it was hot. i was out of the door by 8, feeding my wide handlebars through the carved Islamic arch of the front door, two hours later than i'd normally be, my mental alarm clock on snooze after ten days without riding. at eight in the morning, sun barely up, it was hot.

hot like i was sweating by the time i reached the main road hot. totally inappropriately hot. to the point of rudeness on Mother Nature's part. anyhow, i figured, it was only 50 or 60 kilometers to Nungwui, not even a full days' ride, so i should get there before it got too bad.

only problem was, it was already bad. and getting worse. i stopped for some breakfast on the outskirts of town, a few hunks of bread and some piping hot ginger tea, doubly burning from heat and ginger as it went down, part of the mystery i still haven't understood of hot and spicy food in hot places.

getting out of Stone Town, i was pleasantly surprised to see that Zanzibar is real: a real part of Tanzania, that is. If you've ever been to an island in Thailand, like Koh Samui, Pa Ngon or Tao, you've probably noticed there are no local people there not involved in tourism: the islands are like separate terrorities in the country reserved for tourism. if you're traveling to see something more than the inside of your resort or other foriegners, it's not very pleasant. so it was nice to pass rice paddies, old men sitting around dumpy piles of mangoes, kids gawking at me like i was back in Uganda. Zanzibar is real, is a home to regular people who make their living like people on the islands always have. and somehow, that made me feel better about biking towards what was sure to be a white-tourist-only stretch of gorgeous coastline.

that stretch started to seem more and more of a dream as time dragged on, the sun rising in the sky. within an hour or two i was riding on the wrong shoulder of the road to catch the last patches of shade, and resorted to using some of my precious Japanese drink mix to rehydrate, because the plain water just wasn't doing it. the whole road started to feel up hill. then the trees vanished, and it was me and the sun, and the road. i kept looking to the west and east, as i was riding up to the northern tip of the island, hoping to see the land contract so i could believe i was almost at its end: no dice.

it was frying. i had only come about fifty kilometers, just half of what i did from Kabale to Kigali, but the last 15 kilometers or so were pure determination, a contest of will between me, the sun, and my motor-control system, not to just flop down on the side of the road and let the heat finish baking me.

cell phones can't swim
i realized belatedly, coming out from the water on the one swim break i got during that ride. it'd been inside my biking shorts, and i was too eager to quench myself in the Indian Ocean to remember it. so my cell phone, the same one i've used since i got here, went for a swim. holding it up and watching water run out afterwards, i figured it was probably done for. a few minutes later, when i put the battery back in for a moment, it started vibrating haphazardly, and i became a bit more certain it was done for. i gave it a few days to dry out, but on around the third day when i put the battery back in, before even trying to turn it on, it made radio-like fizzing sounds, and i figured it needed more time. til then, i'm back to full-on communicationlessness, which is nice. i'll take a few more days of living right where i am, without distraction. the beach is good for that. so are the girls.

my very own high end hotel
i finally get to Nungwui and find the beach, which is all the tourism i expected it to be. prices are high: i wander from guest house to guest house, pushing my bike through deep sand, exhausted, being quoted prices in US dollars three or four times higher than anything i've paid so far. as usual, a local speaking americanized english attaches himself to me, promising cheaper prices. i follow him around like a lost puppy, too weary to bargain much. when we finally get down to talking about the price i really want, though, he blanches: it apparently is actually out of the nungwui ballpark.

i wait: these kind of people usually want your money badly enough to think of something. he does: an unfinished room with no furnishings. with running water, light fixtures and a few beds, it'd be a nice place. right now, it's just walls and a concrete floor. for a third of the price anywhere else. perfect. i take it, throw my stuff down and run for the beach.

well, almost:
as i am locking the door, i see that the lock doesn't work: they've installed the fixture poorly. i tell the manager, who calls for the fundi, the specialist, and we wait. after about ten minutes, i decide they're not going to steal my stuff, or if they are it will still have been worth jumping into that gorgeous teal ocean after the ride i just had. i go. it is.

why would you sleep on a concrete floor in paradise?
because i couldn't camp.
because i was too tired to look for anything better.
because--maybe this is a pride thing--i needed to distinguish myself from the high-paying tourists.
because everywhere else was nicer than i needed or wanted.
because if it was really bad, i could sleep on the beach.
because one of the downsides to traveling alone is not being able to split the bill.
because i can: i don't mind hard surfaces.
because, maybe, psychologically i couldn't handle everything being easy.
because i am living on borrowed money, and it's almost gone as well.
because i didn't come here to sleep, or spend time in my room. i came for the beach.

the sun didn't get any cooler,
i noticed as i got out of the water the second time. far from it. thus began four days of cooking myself, though i think in the end i came out more brown than red, so no harm done.

beautiful girls and old women
wearing bikinis on the beach:
young men try the girls
as i see the women they'll become--
breasts slumping, bellies swelling,
youth spent for wisdom, or not.

body beauty is replaced with spirit beauty,
or just dies.

i wish the young ones luck in catching each other,
and together beauty that won't fade.
wonder myself if i am beautiful,
if i am growing in or losing it,
if anyone can be both at once.

ania lays her smooth hips on the sand;
the german lady across the way sleeps there nights.
old women are young girls are baring it:
beauties no bikini can hide.

i was pretty sure that was him with the harpoon
but i didn't say anything at first, being too tired and caught in what i was writing. later on, he was on the beach again, the Nebraskan i met in Kigoma, Mitch. this time i said hi, and introduced myself to his friends, people he'd met on the way up: Giles and Brad from Perth, Australia; and Christine, Ania and Sandra from Norway. the guys were good fun, in their early twenties and trying to squeeze every moment for its goodness. the girls were all friendly, spoke good English, and had the admirable aspects of being gorgeous and fond of bikinis. we sat together, talking and watching the sun set, then went out for dinner and drinks, and like that it was set: this was our group for Zanzibar. we spent the next four days together swimming, laying on the beach, laying into the drinks at night, flirting, talking, snorkeling, doing everything you're meant to do on a beautiful stretch of white sand and ocean.

it was nice: my trip up to now has been very solo, with me maybe spending an evening with someone, or seeing them off and on over the course of a few days, but always basically being alone. and i didn't mind it: i do well alone, was freer that way to do what i want, to meet new people, to wander the inner expanse of consciousness and turn up what may. but something about being on a beach with nothing much to do was made a lot better by some pretty girls and guys to hang out with.

so that night, we all went down the beach for dinner, then to another place for drinks. the boys were pretty sure we all needed to drink, and drink we did: solid and consistent, through dinner (snorting local gin up our noses, no less), through endless rounds of cocktails and beers over drinking games, through dancing and eventually closing down the pub, through skinny swimming en masse out to an anchored boat, sexual energy electric in the air, then alcohol and physical limits finally catching up with us around 4:30, we slept.

my cement was soft as a pillow.


day thirty-three: dar to zanzibar

i knew it was gonna be chaos
and it was: the ticket booth for the cheapest ferry, packed with locals shoving their money towards the overwhelmed attendants, me with my fully loaded bicycle and three or four touts variously telling me to give them the money so they could buy it for me, telling me the ferry was already full, telling me to get my passport out, telling me to book their faster, cheaper boat. i kept one eye on my bags, one on the ticket window, trying to edge my and my bike's way up the curb to the window, through a crush of people.

it was hopeless: i ended up trusting a tout who ended up not being a tout, and got a ticket, then cycled like mad around downtown trying to find lunch and a new book, failing totally in the book, and ending up with some old yogurt, an apple and a big loaf of bread for lunch. in addition i got a cut on my forehead from the metal edge of an air conditioner cage outside one of the book stores.

blood and all--i didn't realize i was bleeding at the time--i got into the ferry terminal, got told three different things about where to go, found my way, lugged my bike up narrow iron stairs in the baking sun, tied it to a railing of a ship--the Flying Horse--got inside, had just cleverly sat down next to a Japanese couple hoping to pull out my other language when the conductor came and asked me if i'd like to get my cut taken care of.

so it was up to the helm again, this one a bit nicer than the Ruremesha from Bujumbura, the captain less drunk and more proficient in English to boot, though he was wearing dress slacks with no shirt and had that seedy East African captain air about him: lord of his domain, expecting respect.

i gave it to him, as they gave me cotton swabs and stinging iodine and finally a clean bill of health. forehead burning but no longer with blood running down it, finally ticketed and on the ferry with all my stuff intact and lunch to boot, i sat down with the Japanese couple for a nice ride out and some needed peace.

peace i got
in spades: a nice chat in Japanese with two people already a year into their year-and-a-half round the world trip, a decent lunch (the apple was the best part), some A/C. after a bit i went up on top deck (there were three levels) and stared at the ocean going by, bringing me more peace and peaceboat memories. the Japanese couple had known about PeaceBoat[1], and using that language again, and now sitting on the edge of a boat watching the waves go by... some ghosts from the past came back and danced. but they were peaceful ones, and merry, and after a bit i laid down on the deck and had a nice nap.

[1] if you don't, it's an NGO i worked for in Japan that arranges hundred-day round-the-world voyages by ship to encourage peace and international friendship. www.peaceboat.org

oh, zanzibar. why didn't i come earlier?

the place is amazing: lovely antique Arabic-influenced houses, beautiful beaches, laidback friendly nonintrusive people, delicious food. oh to trade some of the days i spent in Kigoma days for ones on Zanzibar. my first impressions were all good.

i got off the ferry, had my passport restamped (the Zanzibar archipelago is semi-autonomous), found a nice cheap guesthouse in Stone Town (the oldest part of the city, on a little nub of a peninsula edged with white sand beach), and immediately went out to get lost.

get lost i did: Zanzibar is easily as confusing as Venice, and less well-marked to boot. i wandered for hours down winding narrow streets, sunlight filtering in from three stories above, centuries-old houses on both sides ornate with aging woodwork and the endless designs of time. bricklaid streets ran through houses, turned 35 degree angle turns into triangular courtyards, dead-ended, opened on fruit markets, closed on battered stone walls, fluttered in afternoon sunlight or lay quiet in afternoon shade.

and through all those narrow, winding passageways, the beautiful people of Zanzibar: not black, not white, not Asian, not Arabic, but the confluence of all those. women in black scarves or face masks, black robes with sometimes a startling slash of colorful dress beneath, men in ankle-length white robes, children in childish versions of both, playing and eating mangoes and walking home from school together in streets that have seens generations on generations of them pass the same way. i stopped for a cold soda with some men sitting on a wood cart, spied a restaurant across the way that looked good for when i got hungry, kept walking, wandering totally at random, discovering lovely little streets, ornate with detail added piece by piece with passing generations. i stopped to watch a mweso game and got pulled in, playing for about 45 minutes with a boy half my age, drawing a spectators as we battled to get control of each others' pieces. he eventually got me, but i gave him a scrappy run for his money, then thanked him and kept on my way.

around about the time the sun was changing colors in the sky i found the high walls of the old fort, and followed them round to a nice little park along the shore, where a stone revealed itself as perfect for sunset watching. so i did, kept company for most of it by Mr. Dula who wanted to practice his English, me only half in the conversation, but not wanting to shoo him away, the sun melding through all manners of beautiful, the waters of the Indian Ocean following suit, til they finally swallowed it.

i walked then along the shore, past some high schoolers earnestly playing football on the sloping sands down to the water, having to run and fetch the ball from the waves. as it got really dark, my stomach started to talk about that restaurant i'd seen, but that was about two hundred turns and twisty alleyways ago, and i knew there was no way i'd find it.

still, i'm onry, so i decided to try. i managed to trace myself back the first three turns or so before i lost it, and once again just followed my whim down now-dark (the line connecting the island to power from the mainland broke, so the whole place has been without electricity for two months) streets, twisting this way and that, hoping at least to find a bigger road, so i might from there find the other big road i remember being kind of near my guest house.

it was right about then the street i was on looked familiar and... there was the restaurant i'd wanted to go to, like running into an old friend. smiling at how life is, i went in and ordered a plate of rice, some tasty-looking peas an orange coconut sauce and, swallowing, decided not to get anything that looked predictable or familiar. it was a lovely restaurant with about fifteen different sauces, and i pointed at the most outlandish, octopus curry.

it was delicious. i found a seat outside with a guy who proved nice enough, and literally sat back in my chair grinning like an idiot after the first bite. this was the food i'd been looking for all along. this was the way i'd been wishing Ugandans would cook their food: this was sensitivity to flavor and real use of available spices like i came to love in Thailand. delicious. the peas were nice, in a mild and thick orange-curry coconut sauce, the rice good of course, but best of all was the octopus: it was never a favorite in Japan, because of its chewiness, but this one had been prepared different, and was tender as any well-cooked meat, in a cocount and lime inspired sauce that took me straight to Thailand.

my mouth was in heaven, was in places it'd been longing for a year and some now. i barely kept up the conversation.

talk moved inevitably to the food, and while discussing the octopus it came out that i speak Japanese. my dinner partner didn't believe me. so when his friend, a Japanese guy working at the local hospital came, i struck up a conversation just to prove it, and we three ended up having a great talk over the lasts of our food and sodas, about Japan, Uganda, Tanzania, America, about corruption and ways to cook seafood and whatever else came up. Kaita, the Japanese guy, was actually better in Kiswahili than English, and me better in Japanese, but all of us knowing some of each, so we had a strange melange of languages to go with our melange of foods (Kaita got a plate of 'Zanzibar okonomi-yaki' from across the street--something between pizza, a pancake and an omelet). when food was done and drinks were drank and we all knew it was that time, he walked me home (no way I could have found it otherwise), and we had a nice chat on the way.

i don't regret my time in Uganda and wouldn't change it for anything, but really meant it when i told him he got lucky to be placed here for his volunteer service. walking up to my third-floor room through red-walled alcoves and Islamic arches, nightly call to prayer echoing along with me, i couldn't help thinking it again. really lucky.

me too.


day thirty-one: hell - dar/tegeta

it feels like years since it's been here
we never did stop, the driver going to beat hell (but admittedly doing it fairly safely) all night. eventually, i woke from the best half-doze i'd gotten despite bumps and fears to see something purple in the sky.

oh. dawn.

we were headed straight for it, and the sun had all the time in the world to gradually creep up the eastern horizon, purple fingering into pink and orange, gradually outlining some jagged mountains on the far horizon, illuminating the dark clouds above in reds and yellows, all of nature holding its breath for the moment the sun finally showed its beaming face. we'd driven all night. through hell. it was tomorrow. the driver was still 150% high on speed. seeing this dawn--both because i was alive, and well, and because it was beautiful--made it all worth it.

slow fast
by the time we were getting into Dar es Salaam, it had been more than a full day since any of us had really slept, and a good 20 hours or more since we'd eaten anything more than a bag of peanuts i'd bought waiting for some traffic police. neither had we showered in at least two full days. we were a ragged bunch.

the drive into Dar
made us raggeder: traffic jams, burning heat, empty stomachs, aching bodies, a need to get home. and me without one, and Wilson seeming pretty intent that I go and stay with him tonight. all i honestly wanted was a quiet guest house and some time alone, but i agreed, because he'd done a lot for me, and tired as i was it would probably be my best chance to see real Tanzanian life. tourist-paradise Zanzibar certainly wouldn't give me much chance.

so it was another 10 kilometers away from the city centre before we got to his neighorhood, and i said a quick goodbye to the guys in the back and the driver--still full of pep and Cheechlike hey-man grins--and wheeled my bicycle after Wilson.

the necessities
well, Wilson's lady didn't look too happy that he'd brought somebody home, but in short order we hit the basic necessities: first, a grime-sloughing, deliciously cold water shower. next, a big plate of rice and fried fish in coconut sauce at a laidback thatch-roof place down the street. this was a pleasant surprise: a little spicey, a little tomatoey, creamy in the special way only coconut can be, that fish did more than satisfy my 22-hour hunger: it nearly satisfied the craving for Thai food i've had for a year and a half. lovely.

the third necessity was just some R+R, and we sat back with full stomachs and bottles of 7UP to do just that, his lady Lightness (that's her name) slowly warming up to me as time went on.

another necessity?
after lunch Wilson wanted to go to the salon. i've noticed this is something a lot of African men like doing, especially ones in the cities. i'd never gone before, so i went too, and Lightness and i chilled on a couch, me trying to interpret Swahili comics while Wilson got a shave and a haircut.
i was next, and wanted nothing fancy, just a good shave, but the impeccably-upkept barber who came at me with the electric razor seemed pretty intent on giving me an African-dandy style close-cropped goatee, so i let him. Lightness and Wilson both seemed to think it looked good: i would've rather had it off, but didn't mind either way. i took it as a step further into the culture.

people are the same everywhere
then we took a stroll down a little lane of shops that reminded me of Japanese shotengai, market streets, and stopped off at Wilson's brothers' place to hang out and watch some dubbed Spanish soap operas (i'd embarassingly already seen the episode on), for all the world like we were in the States and not Tanzania.

on the way home, Wilson and Lightness bought some fruit, and we stopped to browse at some second-hand clothes stalls, for all the world like Japanese people wasting time downtown on a Saturday afternoon.

they say wherever you go, people are the same. i don't buy it, but to a certain extent it's true. if you had displaced us to any other place i've lived, excluding Uganda, we would have fit right in with what people do there on their days off. crazy. and nice, somehow: familiar. it was good after so much travel, and being foreign, and living without any kind of regularity, to do something familiar. Wilson and i had known each other ten days or more, and passed through the hell of the ride from Kigoma, so were friends in more than the superficial way you often are with people when traveling. we went home for plates of fruit, hung out for awhile, walked to the local high school to watch a soccer match, Tegeta High versus the neighboring school, and then went out for dinner with his brothers at a local shop. all in all, a nice relaxing day--probably the most regularly Tanzanian day i'd had, and at the same time somehow very American, very first world.

the final necessity
was sleep. Wilson and Lightness insisted i sleep in their big bed while they slept on the floor, and wouldn't be dissuaded, so i fell asleep on their big four-post bed, head full of good memories and belly full of good old ugali dagga. i slept like a rock.

day thirty: kibondo - hell

we woke at 5,
were all 7 of us out the door fifteen minutes later (a particularly male phenomenon), walking back to the site before the sun rose. an hour or two later, we were unloaded and on the road again, which blessedly changed to pavement shortly thereafter, and remained that way, with one notable exception.

it occurs to me
that my friend--who will remain nameless--might be that interested in making and playing strategy games because they are, like music, a pleasant ordering of the at-times unpleasant apparent disorder of regular experience. the order is false: in the case of music, just intervals and laws we imposed to make sound match the way our minds work, and in the case of games, just a simplified set of laws and goals for existence--both leading to an experience we can understand, one that allows us to pretend for awhile as those the universe really is set up as our minds expect it to be (with justice for all, only the visible spectrum of light, actual laws of cause and effect, etc.). but they're just illusion, aren't they? i imagine myself having this conversation with my friend.
in my mind, he replies, 'isn't everything?'

by midday
there's some talk of us arriving tonight, though we have only just reached the place we wanted to have got to by last night. i wonder how realistic it is.

then the driver starts drinking
well, drinking seriously. or maybe, i started to notice him drinking seriously. as we were loading concrete yesterday, i'd noticed him going off somewhere, and later when we were setting up the truck for rain, he'd come back from somewhere drinking a beer, but i hadn't thought about it much. i think in my culture we accept one beer as not being that dangerous for the road.

then we stopped for lunch in Kahama, and he immediately ordered a sachet (two or three shots' worth) of local gin and downed it, then had a beer with the food, and as we were leaving got another sachet of gin and downed that. it was around this time i started wondering--aloud--if it was a good idea for him to be driving.

'no problem, man,' said Wilson in his reassuring way. 'these drivers, it just makes them more steady, man.'

well, possibly like a fool, i got in, figuring he'd been a good driver this far, and he'd probably been drinking just as much yesterday.

and he was fine: as lively as ever, still very attentive and driving fast but safe. after taking down all that alcohol in less than an hour...

it also occurs to me,
some time in that Olympian spell of driving, that Islamic prayer has as well as its heart silence, as does some Buddhist meditation and many monastic traditions. true, there is a call to prayer, and the shekh leads congregational worship, but these are exceptions to a general silence that pervades the place. from the time you enter, to the time prayer is finished, there is little talking, and people sit around quietly, knowing themselves in the presence of Allah. i reflected, passing a squat green mosque by the road, that silence in the presence of God--something found in many spiritual practices--is probably as important to the Islamic spiritual experience as any of the actions or prayers themselves. and it makes their prayer feel a bit more comfortable to me, as silence and focusing on the presence of God is something i am familiar with. the more i think back on my recent experiences with Islam, the more it seems a new blending of spices found in other religions, and as such familiar to me: another take on the One Curry that pervades all human life.

lushwa is kiswahili for corruption
yesterday, along the dirt roads, we got stopped a few times by traffic police. usually, they weren't even subtle about what they were after: they'd just say they'd been out there all day, can't you spare 2000 shillings. and we'd give it to them, or Wilson'd talk them out of it, and we'd be on our way.

well, apparently corruption isn't as PC once you're on paved roads, because we started getting stopped by traffic police who would look for any excuse to lecture us about all the fines we were incurring through this and that infraction. then they'd ask for the bribe.

it got worse as time went on: the further east, the more traffic cops. and the problem was, we did have some infractions: the vehicle insurance (taken monthly) had expired yesterday. the driver's liscense was not the original. the registration of the vehicle was a few years old. et cetera. over and over, we would watch the traffic cops check the insurance, ask for the papers, see the brief gleam of hope in their eyes, and settle back for their spiel.

they at least used a range of tactics: some would argue at us, near yelling. others would walk away, disgusted, and work on other vehicles without letting us leave. some would call the driver out alone, or Wilson. others would insist on the fine, and we did end up paying one, which was a little more expensive than the bribe. Wilson is a good talker, so a lot of times it just meant us waiting around fifteen minutes to an hour while he talked sense to the traffic cop, and then we'd go.

and get stopped again. sometimes just a hundred feet away by the other traffic cop on duty in the same area. wanting a bribe.

they started encouraging me to use my mzungu status, to stare imperiously at the traffic cops and speak only Queen's English, to scare them into thinking i was a corruption monitor. after all, they'd probably never seen a white guy riding in a dump truck before. so i did my best, and it worked a couple of times.

after it got dark, they finally thinned out, after one particularly nasty incident where they tried to keep us from driving at night, and Wilson had to stand out in the rain half an hour or more talking to a few different gun-toting police.

once the sun came up, they were back out in force. we must have wasted two hours or more sitting around talking to traffic cops. most of the time, Wilson got us out without paying a fine, but it cost a lot of time and pain-in-the-assedness. the driver, especially, would get pissed every time we were stopped, and sit there cussing while the officer approached, sometimes letting them have it to their face when they would start in about the violations. it was from this that i learned how to say f%&k you in Swahili, but i guess you don't need to learn it.

i have never seen such corruption, never witnessed how much of a burden it is to regular people here trying to get work done. i knew in Uganda the city council was bad, and that lawyers and government officials in general liked to stick it to you, and i'd had my own experiences with the immigration officials making things hard, hoping for bribes, but this was out of control. no wonder Africa has had such a hard time developing: it is, in part, eating itself. these traffic police and their checkpoints made me grateful for law enforcement in the States, which won't hesitate to stick you with a fine, but it's an honest one, and they get it done and you get on your way. i thought of Wilson and his coworkers, making this trip every couple of weeks, listening to the same ham stories and taking the same amount of time or money to plead their way out of them. we don't know how good we've got it.

it was around sundown
that they started talking of making it to Dar es Salaam that night. me, i knew we hadn't yet reached Dodoma, which was about 2/3s of the way there, after two days of driving. i had pretty big doubts about making Dar that night, but kept them to myself.

when we stopped for fuel later on before the last and worst of traffic cops, a sign on the wall had distances from there to other destinations. i saw Dar was still 720 kilometers away (maybe 500 miles). it was around 9pm. we weren't going to make it. i said as much to Wilson, pointing to the sign.

'no way, man,' he said, giving me his clear-eyed grin, 'we getting Dar toNIGHT!' and he slapped the driver on the shoulder, and say something in Kiswahili, and the driver slapped my hands, and we got back in a drove.

for a long time.

the sun went down, the stars then the clouds and the rain came out, and we drove. through Dodoma, me trying to sleep in the cramped little dump truck cabin, hoping for a guesthouse or at least food. oh no. we were making Dar toNIGHT.

then i started wondering if the driver was on speed
and just drinking to calm his nerves. he'd driven all day yesterday, and all day today from morning, around 8am. no breaks, no switches, just the road and booze, and he was hot as a firecracker, full of energy, rootin us through muddy diversions and tootin us around potholes, cussing up a storm when we'd hit traffic police. it had to be speed. there was no other way one man could keep driving like that, booze and all.

and drive he did: we didn't stop that night, not for food, not for sleep. we kept on driving til the sun came up, and kept on then til we hit Dar around 9am the following day, he the only driver, still ripping full of life and slapping hands when he dropped us off.

it had to be speed. speed or an inhuman determination and high tolerance to large quantities of booze. i don't know whether to feel happy he wasn't drunk the whole time, or to feel worse because he was high on methamphetamines, but either way we got there in record time!

it was the middle of the night
when the nice, smooth paved road we'd been barreling down went under construction, and we turned off into hell.

hell was a rocky, muddy track only questionably intended for use as a detour. it had been raining for some time, so we soon came to a long stretch of water, maybe fifty feet long and as wide as the track, black in the headlights. there was no one else on the road, no cars to follow successfully through the pool. our driver, drunk or high on speed or just that way naturally, didn't hesitate long: he stopped short, then pulled us into the pool, deeper and deeper, moving slowly so the water wouldn't splash the engine, keeping steady as a wheel would drop or we'd hit something big underneath, until we came out on the far side, and could move at something closer to the usual manic pace across the muddy, stoney track.

it wasn't long before another pool blocked the road, and we had again to sail its uncharted depths in the black of night, guys in back surely scared out of their minds.

the pools kept coming: we'd come to long black stretches of unknown depth, sometimes with other trucks half-buried in them, sometimes with a few islands of dirt or rock sticking out as promises of shallow water, more often than not with nothing. it was approaching the witching hour, i'd been dozing, and the whole thing took on a nightmarish air, the feared demon being that we would get stuck in this hellish place, tires buried in something unseen below the water, a hundred miles from nowhere in the rain.

it almost happened a few times: our driver was eerily good at keeping us above water, but a couple of times a tire or whole side would drop into something a lot deeper, and he'd gun it and we'd pull out somehow, then keep inching forward never knowing when it was going to happen again.

this went on for an hour or two, as though the track and the night would never end. i still had some hopes then of stopping for sleep, at least to bivouac in the truck til morning. silly me. we eventually got through the worst of the pools, and spent another half hour on the unfinished road surface offroading around half-sunken metal diversion pipes and oncoming traffic, til the road appeared before us again. i have never seen lovelier pavement in my life.


day twenty-nine: kigoma - kibondo

tanzania by dump truck, part one
so, my friend Wilson did come through: a day later than planned, and only at around noon that day, but we ended up piling all my stuff, and all their stuff (scratch just me adn the driver; scratch me and him and Wilson and maybe one more--we left with six or seven), and a whole lot of bags of concrete and buckets of paint and various construction accessories into the back of a little white Japanese dump truck, and setting off for Dar es Salaam. this is the story of what happened:

death wish
either i had one, or the driver had one, or we all had our own, because there was no other reason to be driving--careening is the word--down dirt roads at that speed. let alone in a dump truck.

turns out Tanzania is a bigger country than its budget, meaning there aren't too many roads on the western side of it, and none outside of towns that are paved. at least, the road we took wasn't. what it was was rutted, potholed, bumpy and dusty. and a race track, apparently: fully loaded, people bouncing on top of the load, our little driver, grinning like Cheech, kept it in top gear, doing at least 50, laying on the horn rather than the brakes if people got in the way, giving small clearance to oncoming vehicles, slamming on the brakes and the engine brake when holes were too big to bounce.

we were going to die. at least, i was pretty sure we were going to die. i didn't discover the seat belt until the second day--when the driver put his on--so that first day was spent on the edge of my seat not only from bumps, but fear.

we stop on the way to check on some people who are supposed to be hauling sand to my friends' construction site. they were supposed to be there before us, but someone in the back yelled, then the driver whipped us around and we drove off the main road to where a semi truck and trailer was half in a sand pit, surrounded by loitering men: their sand truck. Wilson summed the situation up by leaning over to me and saying 'African logistics.'

so their sand was late and getting later, but what struck me was how they were getting the sand: they'd parked in a sandy spot, and three sweaty guys were throwing shovefuls of sand six feet up (ten for the unlucky guy not standing by the gate) into the truck. the idea of how many shovelfuls of sand thrown six feet in the air it would take to fill that whole truck and trailer was a little overwhelming to me. moreso was imagining trying to feed myself and possibly my family by throwing shovelfuls of sand into a trailer every day, or days when there was work. but that was life for them. and they didn't look that disgruntled, just tired, but i felt grateful then that i can earn my living doing something else.

of course i didn't have any idea what we were doing
or what people were talking about most of the time, everything being in Kiswahili and Wilson's English not that intelligible, but i've gotten used to picking up on small clues, and relaxing when i can't.

Killer Mzungu
on the way it started to look like rain, so we stopped to pull a tarp (actually a used billboard sign) over the back of the truck and make a little place for the guys back there to ride, mattress and all.

being a little of the loop of what they were doing and why, i noticed a couple of kids with pretty big eyes for a mzungu, and walking over to greet them... then play a game of holding out my hand to shake, then taking it back before they could touch it... then hiding from them... then popping out and chasing them... and pretty soon about 20 village kids were into it, and we were running all over hell as the rain started, leaping fences and chasing each other around trees and laying in ambush around corners... it was a blast. just pure, simple fun. playing with kids here, who generally don't get much attention from adults and have an absolute blast when you give them the time, is one of the things i'll miss most about Africa.

when the rain actually does start
the road turns into slop, and we pass countless Scania semis stuck or nearly so in the muck trying to get up a hill. fortunately our little Canter is lighter and the driver's good at what he does, so we get around them without ever really getting stuck ourselves. we also make sure to drive a deal faster than is probably safe on those same roads, but never get in anything close to an accident, so maybe the driver was a better judge of safe than me.

or we were just lucky.

makes funny noises sometimes: sound effects for the bumps we're taking at too-high speeds, or random outbursts to relieve the boredom.

like a scene from National Geographic
we come over a hill and the road on the far side of the valley is covered in a moving mass of blue and white, a few hundred dots moving up the far hill. these are not migrating birds or rare wildebeest, however--they are the whole population of a school just released, walking up the hill to town. that's something i've gotten used to in Africa, too: in even the most rural of areas, places where you'd expect to see wild animals, you see people instead, because the place is so heavily populated. as far as i can tell, wild animals are for game reserves, national parks, or eating. that's OK: the migrating students still made for a nice safari moment on an otherwise long ride.

around 9pm we finally reach one of their construction sites, Kibondo, and park the truck there, then walk 2 kilometers into town in pitch blackness, tired and hungry and being intermittently rained on. we get rice and beans at a nondescript little joint, rooms at another (i pay for a double so someone can sleep with me, then end up giving the room to others as Wilson and i share a place), and pass out for a few hours. little did i know that would be my last real sleep for the next two days.


day twenty-eight: kigoma

kigoma town, i am ready to leave you
let me be honest: i was ready to leave Kigoma a few days ago. i've been to the beaches, met the people, tried the restaurants. slept in the same bed more than a week running. it's time to go.

but since Wilson promised me a ride on their dump truck across the country to the coast, and it sounded so much more interesting than going by bus, i decided to wait. thus the extra days i filled learning about Islam, which was good. but i woke up today thinking Kigoma town, i am ready to leave you.

finally. i got up, got my stuff all packed up, was ready to hit the road and see something new, get a ways down the road. only, while i was still packing i saw the driver go down, get in Wilson's truck, and drive away. i figured he might be coming back, kept packing.

he didn't.

after i some bitumbua and bananas i gave Wilson a call. he said we were leaving tomorrow.

tomorrow. as in 24 hours from now. ratty poop.

speeches about deep travel aside, i've gotten as deep as i want to in Kigoma town. i'm starting to feel more like a resident than a visitor. needing constantly to be on the lookout for someone i know, so i can wave to them. that's OK. it's nice. but i've gotten deep enough. it's time to move on.

i knew she was from South Dakota
the minute she opened her mouth, this aging lady having a soda on the front porch of Zanzibar Lodge. so i was surprised when she said she was from Rochester, New York. have i really been away from the Midwest that long, to misplace that most-familiar-of-Dakota accents? surely not. i was vindicated a moment later when she said she'd been born and grew up in Sioux Falls. i knew it.

we sat and chatted for awhile, about nothing in particular, me just happy to hear that so-familiar voice in such a faraway place.

i didn't think he was from Nebraska
right away, but the road-weary white guy i found in the dining room of the Zanzibar Lodge that night struck me as speaking a pretty familiar English as well. it didn't take long for us to determine we were both misplaced Nebraskans who had spent time in California, and i imprinted his voice as being like that of my friend Ross, who was also from Omaha.

this guy--Mitch, i later learned--was also traveling solo and unplanned, and we had a good chat over rice and beans about the vagaries of the road, and the wonders of San Diego, where he currently lives and where I'll possibly be going to school. it was a good solo traveler catch-up, and we made vague plans to be at the same beach in Zanzibar in a few days.

i am ashamed to admit this, but
i've been watching TV. MTV, no less, or at least the East African version of it. when i got my room at Zanzibar Lodge, i was happy because it looked like one of the only rooms in the place that didn't have a TV. i thought maybe it was cheaper because of the absence of that most-unneeded appliance.

only to find, on later settling in, that it did indeed have one. so a few nights later, i turned it on for the hell of it, hoping maybe to watch the BBC or Al Jazeera. what i saw instead was not Nigerian drama or a Kiswahili news broadcast coming at me, but the latest Rihanna video, straight from the bowels of Hollywood.

i was entranced: here was an unfiltered piece of Americana, piped halfway across the world right into my hotel room. New Kids on the Block, Mary J Blige, Sean Paul, other apparently famous persons beyond recollection. you have to remember, i've been out of the loop of US pop music for a long time: before this year and a half in Uganda, i was four years in Japan without access to US media, and didn't live with a TV the four years preceding that. what is entrancing is not the videos themselves, or the music, as they are al the kind of see-ut-tghree-times=and-youre-vred-senseless glitter and cathciness that is forgotten in six mnths. its the simultaneous sense of hwo familiar and forieng these videos are: that' smy language, that's my culture, those are all people from m youcntry, but the music, the syle of the videos, eth artists themselves, they are all unfamiliar. i'm like Rip van Winkle waking up from under my tree, or the classic time travlere who stumbles onto a news paper nad sees X number of years has padssed, he is not in fact ina strange new country but still in his own.

well, i am in a strange new country, Tanzania, but these videos were straigh from my own, and insofar as you get sucked into music videos when you watch them, there i was back in my own country, previewing the kinde of reverse culture shcok im going to have when i do go back in a few weeks.

not pretty. and yet, somehow, enticing. and yet, somehow, nice. teh videos hoeld their usual allure o sex and glamour, catchy beats with catchy words. beyond that, in a place wso wholly unfamiliar, weeks into a trip thats been mostly unshared by anyone who shares my experience of tha tunfamiliarity, here was something that was at least half-familiar, a good old American music video adn a good old American session of mindless video watching.

so i started turning on the TV sometimes, at night, to see if it was foreign-music video time. most of the time it wasn't, and after a quick gander at how well the Africans are imitating American pop vidoes, i'd shut off the TV and read or write or wander downstairs for a random conversation with someone on the front porch. but when it was Top Ten time, and eight or more of those top tens would be from the States, i was all eyes. i was all eyes for TV like i haven't been in maybe a decade. i would put off whatever i was doing, nto even really put it off but just forget it until the commercial breaks, then give it a desultory do as i was waiting for the next video to come, and nothing more til the Number One had come and gone (usually Rihanna's 'Go Hard' video, if you're aware of such things, in which she wears a shirt cleverly colored like her skin, to look as though she's got nothing more than two pieces of electrical tape on her breasts, and sings about 'going hard.' quality entertainment).

surely i can call some of it a study, an anti-nausea pill for the bumpy ride back to my own culture, but mostly it was--glittered vapidity and all--just a nice little escape into something homey, in a an overwhelmingly unhomey environment. and that was the strange thing i wanted to tell you: that i have gone so far afield that MTV videos made me feel at home.

tabula rasa
i have no doubt i will once again shun music videos when i get back to the states. i may also stop eating meat, start not littering again (a bad African habit i've picked up), stop drinking, etc., in full return to the Levi i was when i left, all bright-eyed from college. or i might not: i'm him anymore, and i've accepted some of the less nice parts of life i didn't want to then[1], or at least made my peace with them. i might structure life a bit different. five years has been enough time to wipe the slate clean. i have escaped all notions of which part of my own culture i belong in: no longer have a fashion style, a favorite artist or kind of music, a specific group of friends or idea of my place. i have no address, no job, no school, no club, no favorite park or cafe or library or place out of town to go and sit. i am a clean slate.

at the same time, i have all of those things in other countries: know my friends and favorite cafes in Japan, know my place in Ugandan society and have an address, a job, a group of friends and an identity there. if i think of the 5 years that have passed, i have a few identities. which one am i? i'm all of them, none of them: i'm free from the idea that i have to be one thing. the only thing i need to be is who i am, or who i'd like to be. and the only thing i am is what i am doing, at all times. just because i go to church when i get back to the States doesn't mean i'm a Christian. just because i eat meat or refuse it doesn't mean i'm a freegan or not. just because i don't wear a suit doesn't mean i'm not a suit. my slate has been wiped clean, and i think it's happened enough times that i've recognized myself not in what was written there, at whatever time, but in the slate itself: something before definition, simple existence. and i've seen that thing there, that simple existence, to be good. so whatever i write there from now on, no matter if i erase it next day or let it yellow with age, i know who i am, and i know i will always be deeper and simpler than any names, always capable of changing when i'm not happy, always only really able to be defined by what it is i'm doing right then and there. am i talking like a Buddhist? i don't know: i'm talking like i think.

some people travel to find themselves. after these five weeks of travel, these five years, have i come to know myself? yes. i've come to know myself as deeper than any words might reach. simplest to say i am a tabula rasa now, again, and forever, no matter what i might say or do. that's been the lesson of my travels: that i am, and i think everyone is, whether they experience it or not, beyond definition. there is no me to find: you already found me with is. the rest is fill in the blanks.

does that make sense?

[1] specifically: regarding meat-eating, have accepted that life comes from the taking of life, and i don't mind it as long as it's done respecting that life. regarding littering, i began doing as the Romans do, partially for the experience of it, and have accepted that no matter how good an example i set, Africans will be set on dirtying up their environment for awhile to come. kudos to Rwanda though, for outlawing plastic bags. regarding drinking, silly as i think it is, and wish we'd all sit around and drink tasty fresh fruit juice instead, it's part of our culture, is the medium around which we gather to enjoy each other's company, and i partake of and choose it, even, as such.


more of Mrs. Kaifi's poetry

With tears in her eyes, she cried
when the peope of Jerusalem asked,
'who is the father of the child?'

Days passed by,
when one day a bright star shone high

She had never expereicned the immense pain before,
of which she thought she would die otherwise or

When the word of God was uttered,
with shepherds around and butterflies fluttered.

The baby was born to take over Jerusalem's throne.

The powers that possessed were to heal the rest.

So my dear, now let me be clear,
The woman in pain was the virgin Mary,
she was teh most humble and modest
of all the other women on the contrary.

The baby was Jesus, and he was the
answer in contrast to all the questions
that his mother was asked.

day twenty-seven: kigoma

morning prayers
5 AM. in the pre-dawn gloom the mosque is unearthly: lit bright with floodlights on a dark street, broadcasting Islamic song into the sleeping town, lightning flashes cloud to cloud above the bay below. i am the only one there, alone with this apparition and the darkness. wondering if i've mistaken the time or if no one comes to this early service, still half-asleep myself, i sit on some bricks under a palm tree silhoutted by the lights to wait.

after some time, people come. i hesistantly walk up the steps after the second or third, removing my shoes, and go through ablution as though i know what i'm doing; no one notices otherwise. inside the mosque people are asleep on the floor, wrapped in prayer mats, one child with no blanket or pillow asleep as though kneeling, face flat to the floor. i enter quietly and sit to wait.

people file in as those sleeping wake. the Shekh calls for worshipers almost angrily, saying its kumi na moja, kumi na moja (5 am), we sit awhile longer as people enter and wake, then he gives the call for prayer, and we line up shoulder to shoulder, everything feeling holier at this hour.

i prostrate myself before God. prayers are said and repeated. we move as one body, two lines of men and their prayer leader, praying and answering and holding out a single finger, to show that we know Allah and his prophet are one.

then we sing: deep, textured male voices, sounding from all sides and resounding from the mosque walls, the liquid vowels and allophones of Allah passing from lips to mind to heart and back.

it's over. was it real? i walk back to my guesthouse, waking the night watchman again to let me in, unsure whether to sleep or stay woken. my body answers:


early afternoon prayers
1 PM. the same mosque is new in early afternoon light, a tan and green structure of arches and minarets, not nearly as imposing but still as otherworldly. a few boys loiter on the tiled front courtyard, and call me over. i come, and introduce myself. they speak almost no English, and greet me of course in Arabic. i answer as best i can, and we muddle our way through question and answers of who i am and why i'm here. one radiates beauty and youth, a boy named Idi Omar, and he guides me through ablution, correcting my order and showing me the proper way to wash legs and arms.

we go inside, and he again instructs me how to first humble myself before waiting, standing in front and to my left so we can do the motions together. there still seems to be plenty of time after we're done, so he takes me to the shaded front of the mosque, under the arches, and we sit there with some other boys who seem to live here, one of them a peaceful-looking giant.

it is he who stands to give the call to prayer. we're in a blackout, so i'd been wondering how they would do it, as all the calls to prayer i know are blasted by microphone and loudspeaker from the top of the minarets. he does it the old-fashioned way: turning to face inward, the arches and the doorway forming a natural megaphone, he gives the call in a confident, strikingly Arabic voice, letting his voice go in the longer vowels so that it carries into the neighborhood.

when he's done, we go back inside, and the place starts to fill. as the Shekh steps in to the alcove in front, everyone lines up shoulder to shoulder, toes in line with the front of the stripe on the floor, pinky to pinky. we lift our hands to the sky, then fold them right over left on our chests, waiting. the Shekh calls, and we prostrate, we pray, we answer and sing, as always. i make an effort this time, during the repetition of prayer section, to really say the prayer he's given us for each digit of each finger on each hand, 30 times each, 3 prayers.

when it's done people clasp my hand then press theirs to their chest, or cup them to their mouths as though swallowing our greeting, clearly surprised and happy to see a white person in their mosque. Idi and friends escort me out to the steps, and i promise to be back later in the day.

late afternoon prayers
4:30 PM. i've just said goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. Kaifi, having stopped by as promised to get Mrs. Kaifi's third poem, and chat with them a bit about how it was to go to prayers yesterday. they are encouraged to hear i'm attending all five prayers today, and stumble through their English to assure me once i've become Islamic i will know it's been the right choice. i tell them i'm not ready for that yet.

since i'm in town, i go to their mosque, the same i visited last night. it is more laid back, more worldly somehow: the people a bit more real. i have once again come a bit early, and after ablution (i sit next to someone to follow along and be sure i've got it right), i relax in the outer prayer area, where a few older men are praying, and a few others sprawl asleep on the steps to the inner chamber. i notice that inner chamber has five doors (more doors than wall, really), and wonder if that's meant to reflect the five pillars of Islam: faith, daily prayer, morality, zacat (tithe) and haj (pilgrimage). people come and we all lemming up to the front, forming clean lines the Shekh checks before starting.

the service here is more relaxed somehow, or maybe i'm getting used to it. this is my fourth time praying, and the prostration feels a little natural, though i still have no idea what anyone is saying, and feel a bit like a monkey going through the motions. i said as much to the Kaifis, and they replied that "So long as you are there, and making the prostrations, and keeping in your mind the idea of Allah, you are doing fine."

so that's what i do: i try to hold in mind the idea of God, though i don't really have one more than the empty idea of Ultimate Mystery, and make the motions knowing i am humbling myself before and giving thanks to that Mystery, for which i have everything to thank.

the service ends without song, and people again greet me warmly, welcome me to Kigoma and their mosque. it is already 5; i realize that among other things keeping the five daily prayers is a time commitment: i've had to plan my day around it, and found it a bit clumsy, though the facts that i'm not used to that kind of planning, and have been arriving earlier than needed, might have something to do with it. the next prayer is in two hours, and i hurry out to try to get something done in that space.

Ibrahim on the street

greets me--he's the one who recommeded i talk with Shekh Dabas yesterday--and I tell him about what I'm doing. "So you've become Islamic?" he asks.
"No," I tell him. "I'm just learning."

evening prayers
7:30 PM. Mr. Kaifi told me the prayers would be at 7:30, though the day before he'd said 7, and i take his word for it, stopping what i'm writing at about 7:15 and walking around the block to the nearby mosque. i hit the timing right on: i have just enough time to greet Idi, wait for a place at the ablution blocks, and line up before the shekh starts service.

it passes in a dream, as things do when you get used to doing them, like those times when you wake up at the end of your daily commute not having remembered driving it, or realize you've finished brushing your teeth but don't remember doing so.

we prostrate, we sit, we pray, we sing.

it strikes me how similar the prostration, this famously Islamic form of worship, is to bows we used to do at the Arcata Zen Center: they too were done as a group, one person leading, and would start from a standing position, ending with our heads pressed to the floor (though the Buddhists took it a step further and raised hands on either side as though lifting the ground above us), to be repeated several times. i guess it is a natural expression of the sentiment of humility; even Christians kneel.

Idi criticizes me after the service, saying i missed the four o'clock prayers. i tell him i went in town, and he's satisfied. i sit with his friends a bit on the rail, then head home for the hour or so between these prayers and the last of the day. i almost wish they were now: not to get them over, but the service has a kind of momentum, that keeps getting lost as we finish and go back into the normal world. i guess that is part of the point: to keep returning people to consciousness of their God, and to the proper attitude towards their existence and the world, so easily forgotten in everyday dealings.

i've begun to really like the ablutions as well: a physical symbol of mentally preparing yourself to face God, of purifying your mind to come before God. the ablution is like the water of forgiveness, washing away sins as it does the dirt of the outside world, leaving you shriven, ready for prayer. as you finish and wait to begin, the splashing sound of others still washing is a peaceful sound, the sound of cleansing. i reflect, walking home, that little as i am interested in all the ideology of Islam, the practice itself is kind of nice.

final prayers.
8:30 PM. it is dark by now. i arrive without much time before the service, and Idi's friend the peaceful giant urges me to first go and wash myself before sitting with them. i do, fairly confident in the order of washing now, and even beginning to develop my own ways of doing it. Idi is waiting for me when i am done, my shoes in hand. he puts them carefully on the ledge by the mosque, then takes off his tight-fitting Islamic hat and puts it on my head. i smile, wondering what it looks like, and he says something to me. i make a face that says i don't understand, then he uses words that are close to Luganda kukuwa 'to give you.'

he's given me his hat. that makes me really happy, and i thank him, though he is already trying to avoid it. i feel i've passed through some kind of initiation rite, feel a bit more in place when i step into the mosque, a bit more... Islamic.

the shekh has not arrived yet, and Idi goes and himself gives the call for prayer. i'm impressed that he's allowed to do that. then as people are lining up, he motions for me to stand with him. i try to get a spot in the front row that's a bit away from the shekh's alcove, but i end up dead center, standing right behind him as he leads us in prostration and prayer. his voice rings from the natural amplifier of the little wooden alcove, washes around me in time to the responses from the faithful gathered there.

this time the prostration strikes me as being like the anjali we would do before meditation in Thailand, being almost the exact same physical form, except anjali was slower and we didn't lift our butts in the air, a part of the worship i can't help but find a little comical.

for a lot of the time, we are standing as the Shekh prays. he is a bit shorter than me, and i stand with right hand over left on my chest, watching the top of his hat bob as he prays, hearing these very Arabic sounds come from the back of a head that is very African. i wonder what he is praying for: for himself? for us? for the world? is he only praising that Mystery that is beyond all praise?

i don't know. i focus on my own prayer, my own consciousness of myself as a humble thing before the Mystery, as someone, being unaware of his own ultimate origins, who includes himself and all existence in that Mystery.

we finish with a sonorous hymn i give myself into, drawing out the rumbling syllables, becoming sound-conscious only, thinking later with a smile that i am a Westerner taking an Eastern experiential tack on a Mid-Eastern spiritual practice. goofy.

the service ends, and i am almost sad my day to observe the prayers is done. i know i will go again for others while i am in Tanzania, but doubt i will ever make a full 5 again.

Idi walks me home, talking about how he'd like someone to teach him English, asking if i can. i say no, and stop to explain to him that tomorrow I am going to Dar es Salaam.

i may have broken his heart.

i think he was pretty happy to have met me, to have made friends with this strange mzungu who was honoring his religion, and we'd really had a moment when he gave me that hat, or different times during the day sitting around waiting for service to start. i knew it was coming, was already emotionally divorced from leaving him and everyone/thing here--i've had practice--but his sadness made me sad. we walked on, but i could see it was troubling him. i was really hoping this wouldn't be the time that he ruined things by asking for money, like Daudi and J had. he didn't. at some point he just let it go, shrugged, and said goodbye with a simple word, inshallah, god willing. i knew i had lost a friend, or a chance for a friend.

i also noticed that the hat he'd given me meant something different outside the mosque: there, i was fitting in. here, i was declaring myself Islamic. he left me right at the front porch to my lodge, so the staff loitering out there, all friends by this time, saw it and gave me big compliments and the aging ladies--as always--wanted to be my wives, and started arguing about who would be first. it was nice to be with them, but the melancholy of leaving Idi and this lifestyle of prayer was still with me. i went upstairs and looked at my own reflection in the mirror, wearing that small hat. they were right, it did look good on me, or i looked good with it. i heard Ibrahim asking again, "Are you Islamic?"

i have seen and done a lot in the last two days, and understand Islam much better than I did before. i respect and appreciate a lot of it, and especially found their spiritual practice to be more rewarding than i expected. but am i Islamic? am i going to become Islamic? no. the religion never even tempted me: i know where i stand spiritually, and it will never be within the definitions of any one religion, especially any one that declares it and its people are the only true religion. the only true religions are those that are true to human nature, and to the nature of Mystery so far as we can experience it. and knowing there are many, i refuse to choose, and to separate myself from other people truly seeking God in their own ways. when in Thailand, I am a Buddhist. when in the States, a Christian. in Tanzania, a Muslim. and on my own, I am all and none of these things. i am simply a seeker of God. i believe today has gotten me closer, has taught me things at least that will be useful in my own search, done under my own power and my own terms, for the Mystery that is Greater than Everything, Allah Akbar.


Mrs. Kaifi's Poetry

Glorifying Our Beloved Prophet

What I don't understand in my think without the faith in which mankind would rather sink.
With recklessly running time, faith in him is compulsorily prime.
With 100 glorious names to his personality, fire may forgive us in reality.
Completely illiterate and in fright by Allah's command he wrote the most glorious words that ink could write.
His attributes have no example, yet the nonfollowers engage in a life long grumble.
This phenomenal being has the highest supreme esteem.
Fools like Rushdie, who could bring no harm, to the beloved's name that bears all the charm.
The world out there is in a state of stare, with blurring music and little do they care.
With funky trends in and out, and ignorant of this fact without a doubt.
Would the world and universe come into existence without his concept, this is the white truth that we all should accept.
With immense patience and heart purified, by his command the moon slashed in half to the nonworshipers' delight.
Invited on a jounrey to witness the most divine creations of the Almighty Lord, stood the angels at every doorstep of his path and in admiration they bowed.
Before it's too late, with a dread to our fate, with pride and privilege and without a speck of fear, I want to make this clear.
To whom was equal every race and cast his concept was before all, yet he came in last.

This poem is a piece of my personal creativity and bears no clone to any poet's work, and I dedeicate this poem to all my Muslim brothers and sisters for our beloved Prophet (p.b.u.h.). Written by Mrs. Kaifi Aziz Kashmiri.


Life shatters, life matters and at times it flatters.
Why does it bother the most, to those who consider it their host.
Would there be another way to lead, with emotions and compromises as its feed.
Where joyous times are its minority, and stressful moments are its priority.
Where highs and lows are its trend, and time stands out to be its friend.
With white and grey shades to it, with little choice, in its colour we rather fit.
It makes us laugh, it makes us cry, to prepare us for every low and high.
With entertainment and leisure as its spice, with glamour, beauty and other things nice.
With science and technology that takes us by, can't imagine life without aircrafts that fly us high.
Where tension and stress are a part of life, where tears and laughter are like husband and wife.
There are the strong and the weak, and there is victory and defeat.
Without its diverse impact, would we be on our feet?
With the love of our folks and those who are near, we courageously move on, eliminating the fear.
Remembering God, sticking to our values and being wise,
Apparently life will only seem nice.

day twenty-six: kigoma-ujiji-kigoma

today was my day for Islam.

i have studied Buddhism and its meditations, chanted with the Hare Krisnas, was born and raised Catholic and rediscovered prayer with Christian friends in Uganda. i respect and value all of these religions and what they do, and belong to none. i want to understand and experience all of them at least a bit, meaning on the checklist of world religions remain Judiasm and Islam. Judaism I've heard some about, and have read the first five books of Moses a few times; it doesn't seem that foreign of a faith. but Islam, Islam is a world far from most Americans, and i regretfully include myself in that statement.

so when i came to Tanzania, where over half the population bows to Allah, i decided this was my chance to learn more. and when i ended up staying in Kigoma a few days longer than i necessarily wanted to, waiting for the dump truck, i decided that was the time to learn. this is the story of what happened:

yesterday late afternoon i asked my friend Ibrahim, an Indian Tanzanian Muslim, to recommend someone knowledgable in Islam with decent English (a rare set of skills in Tanzania; most who go far in Islam study Arabic instead) to talk to me about their faith. he suggested a man in Ujiji, Shekh Dabas, and wrote his name on a piece of paper for me, advising i go early the next morning.

so today early i was on my bicycle, making the trip to Ujiji, stopping this time at the big Islamic center along Livingstone Road to find someone who could take me to Shekh Dabas. the center is a big place, large enough to hold a few hundred worshipers, with a separate section for females, and this morning empty as a tomb. i walked down the long collonade next to the main room, feeling strange looking for single soul in a place that clearly often held so many. i wondered about what people did here, how they tried and how well they succeeded in connecting with the universal mystery of God, what particular shape they gave that communion in thought and action.

parallel stripes laid on the mosque floor marched with me, rows of absent worshipers. through the windows on the far side of the hall i saw an old man filling pitchers of water, body wizened with age, who tottered over when he noticed my wave and gave me a sharp look up and down. Habari? he asked. Muzuri i told him and, not having the words to explain what i was doing, handed him the slip of paper from Ibrahim with the Shekh's name on it.

he got the idea and started walking with me, looking for someone would could take me to the Shekh. the first man ignored us, the second apologized that he had work to do, and the third, a woman in a blue wrap, led me down back streets between houses of cracking white plaster and palm tree shade to a watering hole where i was to leave my bike, then into a small courtyard. three women were there, in various states of cooking fried breads, a son or two helping. the woman in the blue wrap and i stepped carefully around hot pans of oil and buckets of water, slipping off shoes to enter a dim cement house, and she led me through a short hallway to a sitting room, and a chair, to wait.

this, i took it, was Shekh Dabas' house. on the wall hung a giant poster with arabic words, over a TV with DVD player and antenna decoder, a tall fridge in one corner and a china cabinet in another stacked with boxes. light came in through a window on the far side, doileyed like the chairs, couch and coffee table in the room. i wondered what the Shekh's personal life was like, if all those women outside had been his wives, if they all sat in here with their children and watched TV at night.

after a bit, the man himself appeared: Shekh Dabas, a big, round, smiling African dressed in the traditional floor-length kanzu, or white robe, and round brimless Islamic hat. he greeted me, the lady in blue explained what i was here for, and we started to talk. only, he apologized from the start for his English, and i quickly realized it wasn't up to the kinds of questions i wanted to ask.

so we went on a search for someone who could translate, walking first down to the Livingstone Memorial, where i wondered how the official i'd snubbed a few days back, not paying their 5000 shilling entry fee, was going to feel about translating for me to learn more about Islam.

after reaching the place, through more back alleys, he wasn't there, so we returned to the Shekh's house, and he did his best to call someone who could help.

it took awhile: i waited in his house for the better part of an hour, with a couple younger men who'd come, for any kind of result. finally he'd found someone back in Kigoma, and told me to meet him there at 2PM. so shaking his hand and thanking him, i again got on my bike, for a quick trip down to Ujiji beach for a swim, then back to Kigoma.

i arrived at 2 not really expecting to find the Shekh there, and he wasn't, but the shop owner who'd agreed to host and translate for us and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Kaifi, were there among the stacks of mattresses that were their trade. they spoke good English, and after explaining what i was there for, we naturally got into the conversation that i'd been wanting to have about the basics of Islam.

they told me some things that might surprise you: first, that Islamic people believe in Jesus, who is named Issa in the Qu'ran, and his teachings, and further accept both the Old and New Testament as holy books from God/Allah, just not His final teachings, which of course were brought by the final prophet, Mohammed (whose name is always followed by Arabic words meaning 'May peace be upon him'). they also believe Jesus will be born again, not to judge and end the world, but to marry and this time live a full life, producing two children. he is one of 99 prophets God sent before Mohammed, starting with Adam and Eve, and including all the famous characters from the Old Testament that Christians and Jewish people are familiar with: Joseph, Abraham, Moses, Isaac, etc. Muslims believe each of them was given a special power by Allah, though they were just men--Moses, for example, had the power to part the sea. Issa, Jesus, had the power to make lame and dead people walk again, which if you think about it is mostly what he does in the Gospels.

they told me more than other holy books, the Qu'ran is scientific, which makes sense with the very scientific and scholarly tradition of Islam 1,000 years ago, containing descriptions of how babies are concieved,etc.--knowledge no one then had, miraculously written by a completely illerate prophet, Mohammed, and later proved to be true. they also said that like the Christian God, Allah forgives those who have sinned and are repentant, and, like Jesus, Mohammed was needed to allow mankind to be forgiven for the original sin of Adam and Eve. he also brought new commandments: that animals be prayed for before slaughtering (Halal), that people not take alcohol, that men and women pray five times a day to Allah, pay Zaca (like a tithe) to their Shekhs, who use the money for helping the needy, and of course believe only in Allah and his prophet. interesting stuff: i started to get an inkling for why Christians and Muslims are often so opposed to each other: because they're actually so similar.

it was around this time that Shekh Dabas showed up, smiling his infectuous smile, unconcernedly African at being 45 minutes late. Mr. and Mrs. Kaifi, both with cultural and racial roots in the Indian subcontinent, had already expressed regret at him being late, and mentioned how they always tried to keep time. it was nice to have one my biggest cultural challenges here--time management, or lack thereof--affirmed by people of another culture, though i think we'd all been in African long enough not to really be surprised or mind the Shekh's timing: that's how things work here. the Shekh sat in the chair Mrs. Kaifi had been using, herself perching on a stack of cushions, and we kept talking, sunlight sinking through afternoon on the dusty main street outside.

with the Shekh's arrival i was able to get into the questions i was really interested in: Islamic spiritual practice. that is to say, not about what Muslims say, but what they do[1]. after all, words can be interpreted many different ways, attested to by both the amount of divisions within Islam (Sunnu, Shia, Kadiria, Wahabiya, Amadiya, Ismailia, and Bohora are the ones they mentioned) and those in Christianity. holy words come from the holy experiences of people, but it seems to me that unless we have such experiences ourselves, we will never properly understand what the others wrote: words are not enough[2]. and once we've had such experiences, that understanding will probably be post-relevant. so what i want to know most is how to get there, what Islam teaches about spiritual practice[3].

the Shekh didn't disappoint: he gave ready answers to all my questions, and Mr. and Mrs. Kaifi filled in gaps they heard in what he said (them being fluent in English and Swahili as well as their native tongue). the basic spiritual practice is congregational prayer five times a day, as led by the Shekh. it includes a time for personal supplication to Allah, and a repeated prayer similar to that done in Christianity and Hare Krisna, counted on the digits of the fingers rather than with a Rosary or bead necklace. the center of their practice is sajida, or bowing before God. the Shekh explained to me that a Muslim will bow before no one or nothing other than Allah, so it is an action with a lot of meaning to them. before joining the congregation, devotees must go through ablution, ritually cleaning themselves before entering the mosque, and they explained certain rules to me that had to be followed in daily life to remain clean enough for entering the place of God and worshiping. once a year is the holy fast of Ramadan, echoing Christian Lent, ending with a a feast of celebration (like Easter). they said there were no more mystical or intense spiritual traditions within Islam: aside from daily prayer, it was up to the individual how much they read the Qu'ran, or recited verses, etc.

talk went on to other topics, Mr. Kaifi being interested in politics and how Christianity's clash with Islam had become so politicized since September 11th, and the US's role in the ongoing Isreal-Palestine conflict. by this time two of the Kaifi's three children had shown up and taken seats on the stacks of new mattresses, and we sat and had a discussion about religion in politics globally, the Shekh excluded by language but apparently content to sit. in fact, he seemed pretty content and happy all the time, with a smile you couldn't help smiling back: a pretty different image of the Islamic holy man than the angry, fire-and-brimstone image i'm used to from American media.

i'm not so big on politics myself, having given it up as necessarily evil so long as people can't treat each other decently, but i never mind a chance to explain my and many US citizens' views on events not well portrayed by the media, like the re-election of GW Bush, the invasions surrounding September 11th, and the more recent election of Mr. Obama (whose full name, Mr. Kaifi was quick to point out to me, is Mubarack Hussein Obama, as African Islamic as it gets). so we sat and had a nice chat, and Mrs. Kaifi showed me some of her poetry, which she's asked me to show to you (it's printed in a separate blog).

then the time came that often naturally comes: we all knew we'd said what we should, and i saw it was coming close to time for prayer anyway. i thanked the three for being so welcoming and willing to give their time to help me understand Islam... but still felt like something was missing. like i hadn't really understood something... and i realized that was because it had all been just talk. how was i supposed to understand Islam and its spiritual practices if i never tried them?

so, already on my way to the door, i asked if i might join them for prayer. they agreed, and told me to come back around 6:30 for evening prayer. that felt better. i thanked them again and, shaking the Shekh's hand, headed back up the road to shower and get ready.

[1] it's Theravada and Zen Buddhism that made me think like this: that no matter what doctrine a believer may hold to, the truth of God is beyond it, beyond words, and the only real way to know that truth is to experience it, through spiritual practice. Buddhism is humble enough to call itself a finger pointing at the moon, the moon of God, and warn its followers not to confuse the two: the finger is only a guide, unnecessary once you've seen the moon. in other words, the teachings of the religions are not ends, not Commandments for life, they are guides to help you on your own path towards God. and once you've gotten there, you will no longer need them. and i buy that viewpoint: an analogue in the West was Christianity's shift from holding services and printing Bibles in a scholarly language only priests could understand, and those priests therefor intercessing on regular believers' behalf for a God they couldn't study for themselves, to the church accepting that Bibles be published and services be held in local languages, thus removing the priest as a step between devotees and God. it is empowerment of the individual to make their own relationship with God, and little as i think i know about God, i think that my relationship with It is one no one can make for me. so the texts of religions don't matter much to me: they are interesting, they are guides to go along with spiritual practice, but what i'm most interested in is what that religion's peoples DO to experience/understand/get close to/live like or with God.

[2] a lot of theological disagreement i've gotten into with Christian friends in Uganda over the meaning of the Bible has come back needing it 'to be revealed' by God as you are reading. in other words, the words themselves don't necessarily communicate the meaning God intended--if you believe there is a God and S/He/It/Them/We/all-of-those-again-in-lower-case intend/s anything--it is them as read in the grace of God that gets the real meaning across. though you might also think any words read in that grace would become holy...

[3] other examples being: intensive meditation in Buddhism; personal prayer and fasting in Christianity; music and chanting in Hinduism; substance use, spirit quests and physical trials in native religions; the strict morality of Judaism; dance in Sufi; etc. humans have thought of a lot of ways to come into a closer relationship with Mystery. couldn't they all be different paths up the same mountain to the same peak? like the 'greater vehicle' and 'lesser vehicle' of Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism? could any of them, practiced faithfully by thousands and millions, be without value? is it ultimately not the practice but the will of the practitioner that makes it successful?

so promptly at 6:30 i showed up at their place on the main road. Mr. Kaifi greeted me, introduced to me to his sons who would go with me to the mosque, then i sat talking with Mrs. Kaifi about her writing, about being a foriegner in Tanzania, about her childhood growing up in Pakistan and Dubai. after a tranquil half hour or so, it was time to go.

her kids are a riot: three boys, self-styled kings of Kigoma, who have to greet everyone they meet, big or small, with anything in two or three languages, most of it sounding pretty cheeky. between the constant banter as we walked to their mosque, the older one, Imran, explained to me a bit about what we'd do once there.

their mosque was a tranquil place with a thick hedge and a green minareted building in a shady compound. we walked up the steps, removing our shoes at the last one, and sat on adjacent blocks in front of water taps coming from the wall, Imran guiding me through ablution: three washes of the mouth, three washes of the nostrils, three of the face, hands, scalp, ears and feet, moving through it with the practiced efficiency of someone who'd been doing it all their life. faces and feet still dripping, we walked around to the main hall of the mosque, slipping our shoes into a cabinet.

one thing that struck me right away was how casual the place seemed to be: some men were praying, some were sitting, a few were sprawled asleep here or there. some looked like they were just hanging out in the house of Allah, bullshitting with friends.

we followed suit: sat on the carpeted floor with our backs to the wall, chatting about this and that. Imran showed me some pictures of holy relics on the wall, ran me through what the actual prayer process would be like. people were drifting in, some of them apparently doing personal prayer, others just killing time til the Shekh came.

he finally did, and in the little booth at the front of the room we watched him turn on the microphone and make that famous, longing call for prayer, one i've heard too often through slightly distorting loudspeakers to really believe is made by a human, and sat spellbound by the combination of that familiar voice booming from outside, and unfamiliar natural version of it sounding so close. it was Islam as i'd known it and was coming to know it, at once.

then everyone stood up, lined ourselves shoulder to shoulder along the stripes in the floor, and it was time to begin. the Skekh prayed for awhile in Arabic, we all said Nam, and then following the timing of his words bent down, hands on knees, straightened, then prostrated ourselves on the floor, everyone moving together. each step was taken slowly, with a lot of silence by the Shekh, in which you could just make out individual people whispering prayers; whether they were personal prayers or recitation of verses i don't know.

we did that routine, standing, bending down, straightening, then prostrating, a few times, in time with the Shekh's singsong prayer. there was something powerful about all those people moving together, praying together, humbling themselves before God. the Arabic words and the design of the place also gave it a peculiar Mid-Eastern feeling, though everyone there but me was African. i felt i had left Tanzania somewhere.

after some prostrations, we remained kneeling on floor, and people were muttering prayers and pointing one finger on their right hand out from their knee towards the front of the room (presumably in the direction of Medina). then they started muttering different prayers and touching each digit of their fingers, which i caught on after a bit was a method of counting repetitions, like the beads of a Rosary. then we all sang a song, sort of tonelessly Middle Eastern and mainly consisting--as far as I could tell--of the name of Allah, a long, droning song i could easily imagine becoming meditative in the tonal sense that Hare Krisna and other Hindu services are.

then, abruptly, we were done. people started standing up, greeting each other, and making their way outside. the actual prayer part hadn't taken twenty minutes, with ablutions and waiting around 45 minutes or an hour. i walked away not feeling fundamentally changed, or moved, but it had been interesting. on the way back i quizzed Imran how often people actually go--clearly the place hadn't been very full--and he said most people maybe make it once or twice a day, though on Fridays the place gets so full people have to pray in the courtyard.

he asked me what i thought of it, if i liked it. i said i didn't know, but would like to find out more. so i decided tomorrow i would attend all five prayer services, to try to get a feel for what it was like, both a deeper understanding of the individual prayer, and a feel for what hemming a day in congregational prayer that way--the main Islamic spiritual practice--was like. much as i had understood a lot of the doctrine today with the Shekh and the Kaifi's help, i didn't feel i would really understand the religion without experiencing it more. so i went to bed early, anticipating the five AM call to prayer, thoughts of the Almighty in my head.

called--the girl from Bujumbura--pretty late that night. she'd apparently been flashing me--calling briefly so her number'd show up, in other words--for awhile, but my phone doesn't register out-of-Tanzania numbers, so i didn't know who it was. i'd been asleep, so the conversation was a little unreal. somewhere in it she came out with, "I loved you."

What do you do with that at 1 in morning from a girl you met briefly and have no chance of seeing again? she wasn't referring to any physical encounters, by the way.

i replied as best i could, something like 'thank you' or 'me too,' and she said she wanted to come see me in Uganda...

and then it was time for sleep again.


day twenty-five: kigoma

you can be who you want

when you are traveling: it's like being the new kid at school, knowing you can tell any kind of lie about yourself and, as long as you can back up it up in action, it will be true to everyone there. i don't really want to lie, like i once did on moving to a new school my senior year, trying to appear as though i'd been the 'big man on campus' as someone put it (i failed pretty successfully within a week or two) but it is a chance to redefine yourself. no one knows you but you: and you always know yourself as more than the regular society you've been part of. so you can call yourself a name no one ever would have, bring to light a part of yourself you never have, and people just accept it, like they accept whatever style of hair you have no matter what it was the day before. you are new.

it's a chance, too, to redefine yourself for yourself: there is no daily schedule to follow, no social roles that need fulfilling: you are free. especially so, i guess, when you travel alone, but even with a good friend, you are still free, and finding your way through each day like a new puzzle, rather than an old maze you know well. if you've always wanted to try diving, now is your time to take a course and call yourself a diver for a week. if you've wanted to finally be quiet, or finally be talkative, the world is yours. if you've been secretly practicing dance moves for the moment you can get out of your constrictive social circle and dance, here you are. peers and friends can be as constrictive as physical or mental boundaries, and in travel you escape them.

so for me, the escape has been from a definition of myself as anything i've been: i am no longer a student, no longer a singer, no longer a teacher, no longer an NGO administrator. i'm a writer. and telling this to people somehow leapfrogs the irking question that often follows in the States, "Oh, so you want to be a writer?" ...there's no real difference between these two, but there is all the difference in the world in how you are seen, which can affect how you see yourself.

it's not only been a social thing, the frame i give myself by which people picture me. it's been a lifestyle change. writing was always a part of life in university, was something i did as much as i could while in Japan, keeping up my blog, was a goal i had for my time in Uganda, to write regularly, and i did. but nothing like what i'm doing here: you can see the length of the blogs i've written in just a few weeks. and on top of them, everything you're not seeing: the work on the other books, which was to be the focus of my writing attempts while here.

whatever i'm writing, it is part of my daily routine, and often the focus of it: something like wake up, get some breakfast, write for a few hours, go to an internet cafe to post what i wrote the day before, then do some business in town, or explore something i saw in my guidebook or as i was walking around town, or go back and write some more. the rest of the day will be a rhythm of doing, reading and writing, but a focus on the last.

i don't know if i'm writing anything worthwhile: like i said, more than expected the travel part of this trip has trumped the writing part, and i find myself more inclined to write on what's immediately happening than to focus on the books. it's okay: any kind of writing is good writing, i think, as any kind of exercise makes an athlete stronger, though eventually you'll need to focus if you want to be the best you can be. the point is, for the first time in my life, i am a writer, in name and act. this has been a dream of mine since i was an 8-year-old laying on the couch devouring The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.

and here i am, freed by travel to do it, and loving it.

needing travel to start something, or redefine myself, is surely an excuse, as needing to move to a new school to be the Most Popular Kid is surely an excuse. both are changes you could have made yourself, and ultimately will have to make yourself for them to stick. and without going anywhere, without changing your social life much at all, if you started acting like a writer, a singer, or whatever you wanted to be, everything else would follow suit. and no matter how much you redefine yourself in talk, if you don't also walk that talk, you will not have changed. what's more, people will be disappointed in you, as you will be in yourself. some kind of big change, starting a new job or moving to a new place, or traveling, is just a grace period in which for you make the change, is a time for you to go out of your society and face yourself, and hopefully come back changed, with something new to share[1].

so that is where i am, out somewhere away from everything i know and everyone who knows me, facing myself, trying to see a writer in the mirror, to find that place in myself that has always been a writer, and bring it to the light.

and you know, i think it just might be working.

[1] In other words, it is an archetypal hero quest as described best by Joseph Campbell in his book Hero With A Thousand Faces

My Moon the Tanzanian Ebleskeeber Lady
from the quiet old lady who cooks Tanzanian ebleskeebers in the morning, as i'm buying my morning six to eat with bananas and jam, the same one who has spoken only Kiswahili to me four days running, comes

"What is your name?"

I tell her, and she keeps on with a stiff but very capable English, asking me questions: how long i've been here, where i'm from, how old i am, the whole time working on her ebleskeebers as well.

i ask her about them, and learn they are called Bitumbua, made from rice and wheat flour and a bit of sugar. she is here frying them every morning, in a giant cast-iron pan black with use. it is, and the bitumbua are, remarkably similar to the Danish breakfast food my dad makes, ebleskeebers: cooked in the same kind of pan with small round indentations, first one side then flipped to cook the other, coming out as a little saucerlike patty with crispy outside and soft inside. her batter is a little heavier than my dad's, and the cakes are a little flatter because the same amount of batter goes into a bit bigger indentation, but they are eerily similar, down to the little pocket that forms between the top and bottom layers that's just right for jam.

i ask her what her name is. she tells me Maimune, and i say "My moon?"

she answers yes, and i smile, and take my still-warm Bitumbua back to my room for a little breakfast, having made a new friend. My Moon the Tanzanian ebleskeeber lady.

i want friends, but i don't want friends.
i've learned something funny about myself: i want friends, but i don't want friends. or, i want friends only when i want them. or, i want friends who give me my space. or, i want friends but only good ones.

traveling alone for long periods is strange. obviously, if you're not an introvert you shouldn't do it. and even if you are, it gets lonely sometimes, so you make friends. i think the slow trickle of social charm that would normally be spent as it comes forth in mediocre charisma builds up as you travel alone, so that when you want a friend you have a whole wealth of funny and charming things to say and topics to talk about, and it's really easy to make them. that's nice, i've done that few times here in Kigoma.

thing is, after we've spent some time together, i start to change poles: i've had my fill. i know this person will most likely never be a best friend, or even part of my life after tomorrow, so we have our talk and then i'm done.

then--because i'm funny--if they're still around the next day i start to fear them.

take Wilson, for instance. a nice enough Tanzanian i met, the guy who's hooked me up with the dump truck to Dar es Salaam (which he'll also be riding in, apparently). we had supper and some beers one night, have sat on the front porch of the Zanzibar Lodge talking a few times. but when it's me-time, when it's Levi-time, boy i sure don't want to see him. the problem is his room's right across the hallway from mine, so i'm always fearing i'll open it and see him and have to interrupt me-time. even if he's not there, i glance with fear to his doorway: is the light on? is--God forbid--the door cracked, inviting guests or indicating imminent emergence of person? i experience a real quake of fear at these things.

it's nonsense, i know: if i don't want to hang out, don't feel like chatting, i should just act that way and be done with it. but somehow i can't: when i'm around people i get drawn into them, and if they want to stay and chat, if they want to go have a beer somewhere, i sometimes find myself going along. maybe that's the real cause of my fear: i'm afraid of my own social inability to be as i please around others. that may be a bit shocking for people who know me as someone at ease with myself, but i'm not completely! i have my idiosyncracies. like this one. no offense to Wilson, or other travel friends, but i'm still learning how to deal with y'all when i want my own space.

an exceptionally nice sunset
was experienced, sitting on the deserted beach of a non-operational guesthouse tonight, watching our good red sun sink behind a peninsula and sketch the sky a glorious orange, gold, crimson and violet. the waves came in slow on the sand, water reflecting the colors of the sky like a molten mirror sea. i'd been on my bike desperately searching for a place to catch the sunset, having abandoned what i was doing when i realized how nice it was going to be, and in the search for a good place to watch it met an undefinedly-European couple who took me back to their place, an unoperational guesthouse with a lovely little sand beach. it was exactly what i'd been looking for, and not a moment too soon. the sunset was exceptionally nice. a thank-you-whatever-you-are-that-made-me-conscious moment. thank you!

the Bastard King
has shown its true literary colors as a thoroughly worthless read. and yet i am page 430, and fearing its close in another 40 pages, as i have no fiction with which to replace it. the writing is so bad it actually acts as inspiration, because i have a constant dialogue in my head with the author about what he might have done to make it more interesting, realistic, dramatic, less repetitive, etc. and at some point it actually moves me to stop reading and write better than what he did. so it's not been a total waste. but if i had it all to do again, i might've chosen a different book back at Edirisa.