Those who confine their farts

Trip Start Oct 21, 2006
Trip End Mar 21, 2008

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Flag of Tanzania  ,
Sunday, April 29, 2007

Everywhere we go our presence is announced by loud cries of 'mzungu' (white person). Even though it is not at all derogatory (and can be happily replied to with 'mafrica'), it still takes some getting used to for our politically correct ears. Growing up in a multi-cultural society and being constantly taught the evils of colour-based prejudice, it feels weird to constantly be defined solely by your whiteness, which is already distinct enough. At least the term 'mzungu' is preferable to its predecessor. When the first Europeans arrived here, they were ridiculed by the locals for wearing trousers and the term they used literally translates as 'those who confine their farts'.

Our first major raining-on takes place at about 2.30 this morning. It is loud and angry, with those fat raindrops that explode like little water balloons when they hit the roof. The windows in our room are simply mesh wire to keep the mossies out, plus metal bars to keep thieves out. Neither of these do much to keep the rain out and it isn't long before the floor next to the window is a big puddle of water. In my semi-conscious 2.30am frame of mind, it takes me a while to piece together the consequences of this. By the time I do, the collection of books I had left on the floor is soaking in the puddle. More seriously, so is the laptop, which I had also stored on the floor under the chair. It seems to be okay, upon first inspection but it may be something that takes a while to see the impact of.

The walk from our house, southwest to the MondoChallenge office close to the river, takes about 15 minutes. It is blissfully car-free because no one here can afford to have a car. Our route crosses the main road to Tanga, main only in the sense of importance, not size. The houses are all detached and range from sturdy concrete one-storey places like ours to small, clay-floored, thatched-roofed huts. Filling in all areas not occupied by houses or roads are trees and grass of varying height and thickness but all a deep and healthy green, particularly after the rain. Half way through the walk, you reach the market. It is a big square, probably 50 metres by 50 metres, with a few small stores lining three of the sides and a patchy grass section in the middle. The fourth edge of the square is a larger building that contains the fruit, vegetable and fish market.

The area between the market and the river could loosely be described as downtown, though without any of the busy-ness and activity that this suggests. It is still largely residential but the roads are wider and the very occasional car or truck might slowly rumble past. There are a few more stores, selling general supplies, motorcycle parts and cell phone sim cards, and a few places where you can eat. I'll stop short of calling them restaurants, as most are simply leant-tos with a rickety wooden table and a lady who can throw together some chapatis or rice. There are some more organised establishments around, such as Central Bar, where the villagers gather in the evening to crowd around the television and maybe invest in a beer or two.

At the western edge of the 'CBD' stands the BOMA (British Officers' Military Administration), surrounded by a nice green garden. This building, now used as the District Commissioner's office, was built back in the days when the slave trade was still flourishing in these parts. Its foundations were supposedly strengthened by burying a live slave in each corner during its construction.

The ferry dock is generally the busiest part of town, although 'busy' is a very relative term. There are always people milling around, some waiting for the boat, some tending to their stores and others just sitting in the shade. The MondoChallenge office is near here, a small room in a dark concrete building. It contains two PCs, a desk and a couple of chairs, and is decorated with maps of Tanzania and fading photos of previous volunteers.

Today is a public holiday celebrating Worker's Day. A cynic may suggest that the workers around here spend more energy celebrating today than they do in a normal day of 'working' - i.e. sitting around in the shade. Next to the BOMA, in the garden area, a group of important people, union leaders I think, sit on a stage in front of a good-sized crowd of Pangani locals. Various people take turns coming up on stage and delivering pro-worker messages, either in the form of a poem, a lengthy letter or even a rap. There is music and a few ladies start to shake their booties while the men watch. The word is that activities later In the day will include a competition among the town elders to try and catch loose chickens. It sounds entertaining but, in the middle of one extensive letter-reading, the heavens open again, sending the crowd running for cover. The reader continues, refusing to relinquish his moment of fame, but now only to the trapped on-stage dignitaries.

The rain eases up and then returns in drizzle form several times during the day, effectively dampening the Worker's Day festivities. We head off and do other things. The timing of events is unknown and we don't feel like standing around in the rain all day listening to trade union men read long Swahili documents to each other, just to maybe see some old men chase chickens.

In the night, the rain intensifies and begins to barrel down loudly, again bouncing through our pane-less windows. As if making up for three or four hot and sunny days, it continues through the night and into the morning when we wake up. It eases off long enough for us to walk to work but the unpaved roads are now muddy and full of pond-sized puddles. There is a swamp right across the road from our house. When it gets especially watery, hundreds of frogs begin to croak as loud as they can. The result is a cacophonous froggy din, like a thousand un-oiled doors creaking back and forth, so loud that you can hardly hear yourself talk.

Our work situations are beginning to take shape. Jane is working from 8-10 every morning in the little kindergarten, then she crosses the river and teaches English at the primary school on the hill for two to three hours. I have somehow become a teacher of computer skills and already have a couple of regular adult students. My Monday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings have been pigeonholed to teach computers at the Pangani Marine Centre, a shed across the river. Our volunteer permit arrangements are still unclear - Andrew is visiting next Tuesday so we'll sort it out then, apparently. In the meantime I am assuming I will be working in Tanga two days a week as planned.
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