Moshi and Me for a Month
Trip Start Jul 25, 2006
165Trip End Ongoing
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October 30th. - Moshi feels like the most prosperous town I've been in Africa so far. I'm sure it is the location next to Mount Kilimanjaro and all the tourists, but in comparison to places in Ethiopia, things don't seem nearly as bad. Of course, much of this is a façade. Cross the tracks (literally here) and you are in much poorer areas with the seemingly universal cinderblocks and tin roofs. I need to be careful not to rank poverty and misery. Poverty is poverty. The fact that a place like Ethiopia seems more desperate shouldn't make me feel like the suffering in a place like Tanzania is more acceptable just because it is a tiny bit better.
Yesterday, Michelle, George, Frank, John, and I went for a walk in a nearby forest. This being Africa, I will "sexy" it up and call it a jungle. Two different types of monkeys live in the forest. Michelle was hilariously excited. Apparently she always wanted a pet monkey when she was a little girl. I, while liking monkeys very much, have past experiences with monkeys, some of them slightly chequered.
In keeping with my track record, one of them peed on me.
Thursday, November 2nd. - Yesterday I taught a small class of porters English. Well, I tried to. It was a pretty pathetic class (the class, not the students). I haven't taught English in a long time. I didn't feel like much of a teacher. I'm not really much like anything right now. I fill my days by walking into town, spending all day on the internet, eating, going back to Michelle's and hanging out for a few hours before going to bed. I kind of feel like I'm just marking time, but I'm also too lazy and apathetic to seek out something worthwhile; something demanding a commitment.
Tuesday, November 7th. - Life continues in Moshi. Busy for Michelle, somewhat pointless for me.
I got taken advantage of the other day. This is certainly a common enough occurrence (everyday practically), but this one left a worse taste in my mouth than usual. There is a guy on the street here named George. George is an artist, or passes himself of as one, and tries to sell paintings to mazungus (white people) like me to make some money. The other day I ran into him and he proceeded to tell me that business was bad, no one was buying, and that he had not eaten today. I didn't want to buy a painting, but did offer to buy him a meal. He led the way to a restaurant that (surprise!) did not have the cheap ugali he had asked for, but did have Nyama Choma (bbq). I offered to get some of this instead, and we ate a plate together of meat and roasted bananas. When it was time for the bill George stood next to me while I handed the waiter a 10,000 shilling bill (about $10). I was given $500 shillings in change, It should have been closer to 7000 shillings in change. I stood there with my hand still open while the waiter looked anywhere but at me. Normally when this type of thing happens (and I'm aware of it), I do or say something. This time I didn't. I don't know why. I simply walked out. I think what bothered me most was George. He saw me pay. He undoubtedly knew the real price, yet said nothing - not at the time, or even after, away from the restaurant when he did not have to face the waiter to tell me I was cheated. When I talked to Frank about it (Michelle's Kenyan friend), he affirmed that this was a common con. George most likely went back later on to collect a commission for the graft. It pisses me off and depresses me that I tried to help a guy out, and this is the result.
November 9th. - Hendry, for lack of a better term, is the house boy at Michelle's. Actually, I think "askari" or security guard is preferable, although he does everything. He is my favourite African person I have met. Even though my Swahili is practically non-existent, and so is his English, we are great friends. He is quite simply one of the nicest guys I have ever met. His animation and sound effects go a long way to overcoming the language barrier between us. Nearly every night I hear "Hello DJ!" outside the window, and Hendry comes in for a visit, drinking Amarula coffee, eating any and all cookies in his vicinity, and carrying on conversations that usually place Michelle in the role of interpreter (her Swahili is very good). He's a great guy.
Another of the favourites I met is Prince, the son of Michelle's landlord. Again, just a super nice guy and his English is excellent. Michelle was very lucky in finding a place to stay surrounded by such good people.
November 14th. - This past weekend was amazing. Friends of Michelle's (Cory, Sherry, Felix, Chad/Alex, and Kelly - all of whom I liked very much) were part of a ceremony to launch an ngo their (Cory, Sherry, and Chad) family had started. It was in Longido, a Maasai village near the Kenyan border, north of Arusha. Michelle and I were invited to attend the ceremonies, Michelle in the role of an event photographer.
It was a photographers dream and one Michelle took full advantage of. All the Maasai were in full traditional and colourful dress. Some of Michelle's photos were just incredible - I marvel at it. Even more, I marvel her ability to get herself and her camera into the fray. She is fearless. I still have big problems with bringing out my camera and taking photos of people. I need to get over it. It almost stopped me from taking photos at the ceremony at all. I finally started to, but not nearly as many as I could have or should have.
Part of the ceremony was the "cutting of the cake". The "cake" was a whole roasted goat with all the skin taken off except the head, into which a bunch of grass had been stuffed. A form of Maasai irony? To have the goat looking like it was eating, while being eaten?
Afterwards the band played while everyone got up and danced. It was riotous, joyous, and seemed thoroughly African. An old mama Maasai seemed to take a shine to me, coming up and taking my hand a couple of times, smiling, and rattling away in Maa, With her shaved head, bright robes, distended earlobes, and colourful jewellery I'm sure we made quite the pair. One person told me the older lady thought I was a strong, young Moroni - the term for young, unmarried Maasai warriors. At least I hope it was Moroni, that would preferable to Moron.
It amazes me how adaptable the human spirit is. Even the most profound and extra-ordinary experiences can become commonplace with enough time and exposure. I don't think twice anymore about seeing Maasai men walking along the road in their bright red blankets, walking stick in hand, and long, distended earlobes weighted down with colourful jewellery. Women walking along the road carrying huge loads balanced on their heads in normal to me now. I will miss it when I leave.
November 20th - The drive back from Longido is also worth mentioning. We all piled into Cory's Tracker and drove back to Arusha. Along the way we spotted zebra, monkeys, a couple of ostrich, and giraffes. Lots of giraffes. Michelle and I got out of the car and walked out into the savannah, stalking giraffes with our cameras. It was another very cool African moment - no cars, just walking across the savannah with Mt. Meru in the background and around 15-20 giraffes cautiously watching us as we approached.
After spending the night at Cory and Shana's, Kelly, Chad, Felix, Sherry, and I went into town to observe a bit of the Rwandan genocide trials still taking place there, twelve years after the 100 Days of Madness. While the proceeding themselves were quite dry and boring, it was still a fascinating experience. After a few security checks, you walk into a guardroom where you are given a headset. You then walk into the viewing gallery, a long glassed-in room. On one side of the room the prosecution has their section while the defence faces them on the other side. Facing the gallery are the judges and court clerks, while in the middle, backing onto the glass of the viewing room, is the witness box.
I find it ironic that Western media has glamorized the legal profession to such an extent.. Lawyer shows such as Law and Order, or CSI make the profession and the system seem exciting and fast paced. The reality is the proceeding themselves, despite the sensationalistic nature of the crimes (and can there be any more sensationalist crime than genocide?) are quite boring. It was not just the spectators (only our small group and one or two others) that seemed to find things quite dry. Many clerks, and even some of the judges, appeared quite bored. In one trial I could have sworn one of the judges was sleeping. In another, one of the clerks or interns sat with her back to us, her laptop screen visible as she checked her email.
It is now 12 years on since the genocide. Is this justice? Does timing matter in dealing with something like this? I think that is a tough question. At least something is being done. Granted nothing (worse than nothing) was done to try and prevent it in the first place. You could also argue whether or not the results the tribunal has actually been achieving justice, considering the nature of the crimes, but at least there is an attempt to make an accounting for what happened.