We had a decently full day today. I took a lot in. This is my attempt at putting all of the thoughts, feelings, and experiences I had that out there. I’m not sure how it will be in terms of continuity. Bear with me.
Waiting around noon for Kato, who works at Mikono Yetu part-time and was gracious enough to walk us to the dala dala station that would bring us to the Mikono Yetu centre, a street boy approached us. I saw him curled up next to another boy as we walked up to the corner to wait, and recall feeling a deep sympathy. Street kids are everywhere in Mwanza, you can’t walk down most busy streets without seeing a few, and walking through a group of them can be a little intimidating. Some are really persistent, but most just walk up to you and don’t leave until you either walk away or give them something. Our first week here, Iris was pretty troubled with whether or not she should give to them. My advice was nothing. Kids on the streets, especially in this context, is a systemic issue that won’t be helped by giving a kid a few hundred shillings. That would probably keep a kid on the street. We’re here working for organizations that pursue lasting change and seek to bring economic and social stability into the Mwanza region. The best thing we can do for these kids is pour our time and resources into organizations and initiatives like these to promote stability on a community level. So when this boy walked up to me, barely said anything, and held out his hand, I barely even looked at him. As he stood there, I felt so cold. What am I saying to this child? Am I saying that he isn’t worth my time? That he isn’t worth anyone’s time? That he’s a nuisance? That’s not fair. I wanted to reach out, touch his head, tell him that he was special and worth more than what his circumstances had reduced him to. I felt terrible. I felt like I wasn’t representing love. This is the first time that this has happened, and I didn’t know what to do. I had some leftover pizza in my bag from lunch. I had been saving it for dinner later on. I gave him a slice, and told him to have a good day. He went back with the pizza slice, and I think he shared it with the other boy that was with him. The others asked me why I did that, since I’ve been the one most adamant that handouts won’t help with anything. I just couldn’t stand idle. I’m glad I had some food with me.
Kato helped us get to the dala dala station, which was really wonderful of him. He had just gotten back from a funeral; Mlola’s mother passed away last week. Mlola works at Mikono Yetu as well, we met him our second day here. We also met his mother; knowing that she’s no longer with us after sitting with her so recently makes me so sorrowful. I can’t imagine what Mlola and his family are feeling. Iris asked Kato how Mlola was doing, and his response surprised me. Apparently Mlola is sad, but doing better. Then Kato said that he has to be a man and not show emotion, so he’s holding together pretty well. These are men that work for an organization that seeks to empower women and break down gendered perceptions so that women can have access to crucial resources and equality. I guess I was naïve to think that the amount of women’s rights organizations in Tanzania (Mikono Yetu is one of many) would mean that gender norms for both genders were being challenged. I don’t mean to start anything about gender differences, norms, or the many opinions surrounding this topic. I am merely expressing that men should be able to show emotion. They should be allowed to be sad. And I thought that Kato, someone working for an organization that shows women their rights in light of crippling economic inequality, lack of representation, and domestic violence, would advocate for that as well. I found his comment very interesting, and have been mulling it over ever since.
I think my arms are getting darker, this might be the first summer I actually tan. I’m still layering on the sunscreen, but this is a big deal, guys.
We went to Mikono Yetu to talk with Maimuna about plans for my project. Miraji picked us up from the dala dala stop. He asked us questions in Swahili, and always seemed pleased when we answered back in Swahili or demonstrated that we’d learned something new. Miraji is probably the most patient friend we’ve made, which I really appreciate. And he’s changed his mantra from “speak Swahili” to “sema Swahili” (which means the same thing, but in Swahili), so I think that’s a good sign. My vocabulary is still so limited, though. Even if I understand some basic Swahili that people throw at me (which is rare) I often find myself not being able to answer them back because I don’t have the vocabulary, and still haven’t figured out verb structures so I’m limited to what I’ve memorized. Talking with patient people that love their language is encouraging, but talking with Mama Justine at the centre (who doesn’t speak any English) is really starting to frustrate me. I want to relate to people in their language, but I’m not learning fast enough.
I found myself thinking about the boy taking my money on the dala dala for much of our ride back to town. He took our money (it’s 500 shillings for a ride to Buswelu, and 400 shillings to get to SAUT), but didn’t give me my change right away. I find that I often get a little edgy whenever interacting with locals I don’t know, with reason I suppose, but I was worried he’d take advantage of me or didn’t understand that I was only paying for myself because of the language barrier. So I asked for my change: “Naomba change.” The look he gave me was a mixture of weariness, kindness, wariness, and something else. He gestured to wait a minute. The man sitting next to me gave his fare, which served as my change. I thanked him (“asante”). I found myself wondering how old he was. If he should be in school, and if he had ever been to school. That’s probably enforcing some kind of stereotype, which isn’t my intention, but he didn’t look very old. Maybe a teenager. As he scrambled around the dala dala to collect money from people and sort out change, I wondered how much money he made. If this is what he was going to do for the rest of his life. What his prospects were. If he had support in his life. The look he gave me still haunts me. I feel like I could have made his day a bit easier if I was just a little more patient, and had a little more trust in his integrity. I don’t know him, but I should have given him a little more credit.
Fact: squat toilets are the worst.
Walking through Mwanza I just kept thinking “cakewalk cakewalk” because that’s what Jennifer Lawrence was thinking when she tripped at the Oscars (I think it was the Oscars). Her stylist told her to think “kickwalk” so that she wouldn’t trip on her long dress but instead she thought about cake. (Explanation for the ramble: I wore a longer skirt today and was a little worried about tripping.) I never really know how to walk through the streets of Mwanza, people stare because I’m visibly different and sometimes try to talk to us, and usually I’m happy to try out my (limited) Swahili but there are definitely people you don’t want to respond to. I try to look confident and like I know what I’m doing, but then I end up walking too fast and getting in front of the other girls. This is problematic because I still rarely know where I am. I’m getting better, but am still pretty dependent on whoever is showing us where to go, or oftentimes Nuri or Samira will know where we’re going. I just try not to look like I’m lost and scared most of the time. I think I’m doing better with that, but not really with knowing how to walk.
I will never eat pineapple in Canada ever again. It is so sweet and delicious here.
I’m finally getting out of my bubble of “oh my gosh I’m in Tanzania what am I doing here I am so freaked out” and am starting to realize that people have lives outside of hearing about my experiences. That’s a weird thing to say, but I feel more stable now that I’m realizing life goes on. People experience amazing milestones, or they just go about their routines. People learn new things, have new victories, and are sometimes in bubbles of their own. People that are close to me. I might suck at getting in touch with them and being part of these milestones or routines, but I am thinking about them.
Being halfway around the world is interesting. Different. Freaky. Awesome. I’m disconnected but also more connected than ever. I’m scatterbrained but at the same time learning and seeing some things with much more clarity. I’m shell-shocked and freaked out, but I’m also eating up every experience and learning curve like it’s my last meal.
And I’m starting to sleep better, which is glorious.