Thoughts are pretty much drowning my brain right now, I’m not really sure why I’ve been so assaulted by dilemmas and realizations today. They’re all across the map, so again I have to ask you all to bear with me. And unlike I promised in my last post, this one isn’t going to be super cheery and colloquial either. It’s going to be disjointed, answerless, unsure, and today it will be a little paranoid. Here we go.
Nuri and I went to MikonoYetu today. Mlola picked us up (he’s back at work after having two close family members pass away and being sick, so it was good to see him) and we went to pick up a contract before walking to the dala dala stand. Hemal said he’d have our contract for the venue for our August event at his shop. He didn’t, but it was five minutes away. About forty minutes later, I had the contract on my USB drive thinking that I should’ve just asked Hemal to email it to me. I was late for a meeting. The one time I had to be at MikonoYetu at a specific time, I was going to be an hour late. The meeting where I was introduced to our partners that would be helping with the event was scheduled for 10:00 this morning. He got to the dala dala stand at 10:04 (yes I remember this). I was cheesed, inconvenienced, and kept going from brushing it off to African “pole pole” thinking to being upset with my time management skills and knowing our lateness was my fault. I was already anxious about this meeting. I’m pretty anxious whenever we go to MikonoYetu in the first place. I’m also usually anxious, for no real reason. But I was more anxious than usual, so I was on edge this morning.
I realized something this morning that I’ve never clued into before, here in Mwanza or even back at home in Canada. While I was stressing about time and the contract being late and being late for the meeting and having to go to the meeting in the first place, I realized that nobody else around me cared. No one. They didn’t care. Everyone was going about their days as usual while I worried myself into a little knot. Why was I the only one caring?
Apparently I was the only one caring because there was nothing to be worried about. Maimuna didn’t even respond to the text I sent her saying we’d be late, and when we got there nobody was at the centre except for Maimuna and a gentleman who was going to paint murals in Kahamulo village. I ended up listening in while they finished up their meeting for another hour. What happened to our meeting at 10:00?
Answer: meetings in Mwanza are different from meetings in Canada. We were visited by three women that trickled in throughout the afternoon. Each of them are friends of Maimuna or have been connected to her through MikonoYetu or Kivulini. We showed two of them what I’d come up with in terms of various letters for the event, then we brainstormed things to call the annual festival that we’re hoping will come out of the upcoming event in August. We looked at logo options. So much for my stressful meeting this morning.
Afterwards, Maimuna wanted me to show her the interview questionnaire that I had put together. I had loosely translated all of my questions (thanks, Google Translate), so there would be a question in English and then the same question in Swahili typed out right underneath. I had almost a page of questions, nicely typed out. I had already sent this document to Maimuna, but she hadn’t looked at it yet. We spent the next hour or so retranslating my questions. Maimuna assured me afterwards that the questions were good (at least in English). Maimuna dictated, and I asked for the spelling of basically every single word. She didn’t seem to mind, but my incompetence wore on everyone else and I think she was feeling pretty tired by the end of it. Halfway through, Nuri whispered to me that I should just give my laptop to Maimuna so she could type everything out instead of tediously spelling every single thing she said, sometimes twice. For some reason I felt like I had to do it that way though. Not that I really understood every word that was used (actually most of them I didn’t understand and still don’t), but seeing how things were spelt I think will help me with pronunciation, and I hope I retain at least a little bit of the vocabulary and knowledge of sentence structure. Regardless, it was tedious and I was struck with how silly it was for me to be doing this. I am lending organization and writing skills to this internship. I have already realized that, and I do believe that these are valuable assets for MikonoYetu this summer. I’m a hard worker and even if I haven’t managed to impress Maimuna, I’m pretty sure she still likes me. But these people could have been doing so much more with their afternoons than watching me write down every letter of a bunch of words that mean nothing to me. It would have been done more efficiently if someone else translated. I was being a stubborn time-waster this afternoon, and felt really silly.
I also had my first major word mix-up, which I’ve been waiting to have for ages. It was bound to happen, and I doubt this will be the last time I do it. I wrote down “kusubu” instead of “kusuhu.” “Kusuhu” is the Swahili verb meaning to tell. “Kusubu,” on the other hand, means to kiss. Everyone got a good laugh out of that one.
I didn’t drink enough water at MikonoYetu, and I’m always pretty tired after spending time there in the first place. After accomplishing a few more things, Nuri and I decided to head back to town. We said goodbye after chatting with Maimuna about how these last couple of days have been cooler than most (not that I’ve been able to tell) and walked to the main road. We caught the next dala dala that passed by. After a while, it broke down. Luckily one of the boys that was sitting near us spoke a bit of English, so when everyone else got off he kindly told us that we had to switch buses. The next dala dala was larger but also fuller, so Nuri and I had to stand for most of the ride. Standing in the aisle of this dala dala holding onto the pole overhead for dear life while being driven over unpaved roads made me vow to never complain about London transit ever again.
The guy taking our dala dala money understood that I was paying for both Nuri and I (she gave me 500 shillings, which would have served as my change for 1000 shillings anyways). I successfully proclaimed “wambili, asante” like I’d been told to say if I was paying for more than myself (shout-out to Miraji, who taught me that last week). He seemed happy that I kind of knew what I was doing, and then proceeded to say some more things to me. I had a headache and have resolved to not kid myself when I don’t understand other people, and after trying to decipher what he was saying for a second I smiled and said regretfully, “sifahamu, pole” (I don’t understand, sorry). He didn’t seem super pleased with that. I don’t know what he said, but he said something about this mzungu to someone at the front of the dala dala. I ignored it, and waited until we arrived at the market, where our stop is. To be perfectly honest, this happens all the time, but for some reason this encounter had me on edge. The dala dala arrived at the stand without further incident, and Nuri and I got off along with everyone else. When I got off, the man working on the dala dala was talking with the group of boys that was on the first dala dala with us (the one that broke down). I heard “mzungu” a couple of times, and as I was walking away from the dala dala this man yelled something at me. I don’t know what he said, but this was the first time I was genuinely worried for my safety during my stay in Mwanza. I was worried that Nuri and I would be followed and harassed further. I was quiet and walked pretty quickly the entire walk back to our area of town.
I am fine. Nobody followed me, Nuri and I were both as safe as can be, and after reflecting I’ve concluded that the chances of anything happening were pretty low. It was the middle of the afternoon in the busiest part of town. Nuri and I were together. We knew where we were going, and can deal with people yelling things at us.
But this all got me thinking, while walking back home. Now that I’m more comfortable in my surroundings, I’m noticing things more and more that actually make me uncomfortable. I’m no longer going cross-eyed taking everything in and am no longer solely focused on making sure I’m still with the other interns and am going in the right direction. This is a good thing, but now I actually have the brainpower to split my focus and notice things that I genuinely don’t like, and not just because it’s different.
Like the guy making kissing noises at Nuri and I while we were walking down the street, almost home. Like nobody ever sticking up for us on the dala dala when we get not-so-fine gentlemen yelling at us, making crude remarks, or touching our hands, hair, and arms. No one says anything, not even the people that we know. Things like the pssst noise some men make when they want my attention; I can handle a shout or even a whistle, but the pssst noise really unnerves me for some reason.
I am different, foreign, a novelty, and usually have no idea what is being said around me. I am fine with being called out, and am able to laugh off whatever is said about me or to me, whether I understand it or not. A part of me is bothered whenever friends back home tell me how brave I am for going through all of this and trying to sympathize. This is the new normal. And a part of me knows that to a certain extent, the citizens of Mwanza, Tanzania are allowed to be wary of foreigners and malcontent with my presence.
People don’t have to be rude, though. People don’t have to scare me. I wouldn’t do it to them if I was in their shoes.
I just realized how scared I was today. And how frustrated I felt, and how out-of-place I felt. None of these are pleasant feelings. I didn’t have pleasant feelings towards Mwanza today. Not all of it was bad, but friendly faces were few. I found myself longing for home, when at least I can consciously choose not to respond to people when they say things to me that I don’t like. Here I don’t have that luxury.
I am fine. I’m not about to hop on the next plane to Anywhere-But-Here. I know tomorrow will probably be better. But today was a rollercoaster, and it’s not even over yet. I still have course registration to get through in t minus three hours.