It took us seven hours to get from point A to point B on Saturday. Seven hours. And we didn’t go that far.
Ben, Maimuna’s son, and Kato took Steph, Iris, Nuri, and me to a village in Sengerema (I think it was there), which is a region of Mwanza across the lake from where we are. So naturally, we drove to the lake (about a half hour drive) and geared up for a short ferry ride. The girls and I waited on benches with the rest of the passengers traveling on foot while Kato and Ben waited with the car. Kato came to check up on us every so often, apologizing for the wait each time. We had to wait until Ben was allowed to board a ferry with the car so that we could all make the 20-minute-long trip across the lake together.
We waited three hours. And then got on a ferry without Ben and the car. So we had to wait another 2 hours for him to cross over and drive us to the village for a MikonoYetu event that we were late for. MikonoYetu got about six different villages together for a big event to promote and celebrate a kind of stove that gives a more environmentally-friendly and safer alternative to open fires in rural parts of Mwanza. The seeds of the jatropha plant can be used for fuel; jatropha plants are hearty and don’t take up much space so they can be planted and used for their fruit and the seeds can be used for fuel. The day consisted of a cook-off featuring twenty women cooking and lots of food, a chicken chase (this is a legitimate thing I promise you), dancing and drama, and a soccer tournament. Everything was supposed to wrap up at 4:00 pm; we rolled in to drop off T-shirts and pick up some things to bring back to the MikonoYetu centre at 6:30 pm. The final soccer game was just finishing when we got there. The girls and I were flocked. Women took turns shaking our hands as we greeted them, children vied for our attention, and when we walked across the field there was a flock of people following in our wake and brave kids reaching up to hold my hands (I was the last and therefore closest mzungu walking in front of them and ended up with about four or five kids hanging onto each hand). We were quickly ushered into plastic chairs beside a trophy to watch the last few minutes of the soccer game. The sheer happiness of the villagers as they celebrated the end of the game and the victory almost moved me to tears. It was worth the wait. Miraji came over to me and informed me that I’d been selected to present the trophy to the winners. I now know enough not to be overly flattered when this kind of thing happens; while I was honoured, I’m usually picked out because I’m the whitest mzungu in our group and for some reason people get a kick out of that. Miraji and the rest of the MikonoYetu team may have also put in a good word for me, since I’m technically their intern. Nonetheless, Nuri and I both took hold of the trophy and presented it to a member of the winning team. He shook our hands a few times, and then we all took countless pictures with the whole team and anyone else that decided they wanted to be featured in the pictures. A goat was also presented to the winning team. I think I was originally told to present the goat as well, but Miraji took pity on me and my lack of goat-handling expertise so he did it himself.
With the soccer tournament finished, the event was technically over. Ben and Mlola unloaded the T-shirts and packed up the car with things that needed to be brought back. The villagers crowded around us, giggling when we looked their way. Many pulled out small phones and snapped pictures of us; I try not to think of how many low-quality pictures of my travel-worn, dirty face there are now. I felt like a celebrity who had done absolutely nothing to deserve any reverence. These kinds of situations bring mixed feelings. I love interacting with Tanzanian locals, I smile and ask surrounding kids questions in bad Swahili and try to hold as many hands as possible and say “Shikamoo” to as many elders as possible. I always feel so honoured to be amongst so many Tanzanians at once, even if they only like me because I look different. But, on the other hand, my interactions with them is just that. I’m a foreigner that represents wealth. Before we left, Kato translated what most of the children had begun to call out; they wanted us to give them sweets or money. I felt dumb and mentally kicked myself for not bringing some candy, although in hindsight I would’ve been swarmed more than I already was if I had brought out any form of gift. My interactions with these villagers, and many Tanzanians, is an experience marked by gawking, touching, and people scrambling to talk to the foreigners simply because we’re foreign. I’ve gotten used to this reality and while I was standing in the village amidst all of the villagers, searching wide-eyed to make sure that there was always a MikonoYetu staff member in my line of vision, I didn’t mind their attention. I know I’m foreign and a novelty, and I’m mostly okay with that. I’ll gladly shake hands and hold hands and smile at kids and stay later to watch a dance that some had put together. But looking in hindsight, these realities taint the memories a little bit, I’m finding. I’m not bitter or jaded, but I have my moments.
Nonetheless, despite the long day and the fact that it took another three hours to get on the ferry again, I had a fantastic day. I’m so glad we decided to go to the event at the village, and so blessed to have some really awesome friends at MikonoYetu to look out for us. Kato spent hours with us waiting for Ben to cross the lake, answering our endless questions and talking politics with me (his opinion on the new president of Tanzania was different from what I usually hear, so I was intrigued and had him exhaust the topic). Miraji tugged on my arm numerous times to get me out of the way when the villagers got a little too wild for me to be in the middle of things. Mlola bought us all coke while we waited for the ferry back home. All of these guys watched out for us and were good company while we waited after dark for our vehicles to inch their way to the front of the line to board the ferry.
We got home more than twelve hours after we left the hostel. Most of the day was spent waiting. But it was more than worth it. Surprisingly enough, I was never really that bothered by all of the waiting. Maybe Tanzania has taught me some patience.
[Note: it’s been a while since I’ve recorded some of these names. Miraji, Kato, and Mlola all work at MikonoYetu. They’re great human beings.]