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Back to Bujora

On Sunday Max and I accompany Herta and her grandchildren, Jeremy and Nadine to the market. We drive down to Uhuru Street and find a place to park and are immediately surrounded by children offering to sell us bags or carry our own bags. We decline their help repeatedly but there is no letting up. The stall holders spread their wares on the ground, sometimes on a plastic sheet or an old rice bag, more often on the dusty road itself: piles of tomatoes, potatoes, daga, various varieties of green leaf, pineapples and coconuts. There are even some green peas and I spot bunches of coriander and parsley.

Herta moves through the market with assurance, taking her time, finding her preferred merchants, hustling for the best price. The price always goes up when a mzungu appears, the temptation to empty their wallet as quickly as possible, to grab what you can before they move on clearly more important than good manners or repeat business. For some reason the younger men think that we are more likely to buy from them if they shout at us loudly and point at their goods. As if we are too stupid to notice their produce without their help. I tell them, nasikia, ninaweza kuona, I hear you, I am able to see. Then I walk on deliberately removing them from my list of places I will buy from.

Over the weeks I have chosen to discriminate greetings on the basis of politeness and deference. It feels wrong to be greeted with a shikamoo and a bended bow by women who are probably my senior in years and life experience but it beats “Give me my money!” as an introduction. I fall back on what I understand to be the traditional way of greeting and insist on it. This tends to bring people up short as if they know they are offending good manners, they either go quiet or they play along. Maybe I just frighten them! With the children I am even firmer. I make them greet me properly and more often than not they are satisfied with the contact as if a veil lifts from their eyes for a moment and they realise that I have seen them and they have seen me and they are no longer just one of the street children. These same boys (usually boys) will find me later on the street, running up from behind to hold my hand, showing off their acquaintance to the mzungu.

When the boys and young men ask me to “Help them with their education” again I insist on form. Why are you asking me this I say? I do not know you, you do not know me. I have not been to your house. You have not been to my house. I do not know your father or your grandfather. I am a guest in your country. Surely you should first be helping me? This ploy has the disadvantage that they might then insist you go visit their parents so use it with care! We leave the market and the shouts of “wazungu”. We drop Max off at church and Mama Kilala treats us to juice, mendazi and samosas at Salma Cone.

I had told my friends in Kisesa that I would be coming up on Monday so I could visit Constantine‘s father’s shamba up near the lake. Sunday afternoon I am reading “In the Memories of the Forest” in the bitter cold of its low tech Polish farming ambiance. It is such a well crafted book and so evocative of the farming life style. Except for the difference in temperature there are such strong parallels between Poland under perestroika and the arrival of capitalism in Tanzania. There are the same shortages of goods and skilled craftsmen, the constant repair and recycling of anything that might be useful, the hard physical toil of relentless poverty. And of course the drinking. Hard liquor glass after glass at any excuse as if the alcohol is the real fuel here, firing the soul, cleansing it of the aches and pains of battered and weary bodies, lifting the spirit free from toil to a land of stories and jokes and a world where they can be kings.

I note the page number and put down the book. What am I doing? It’s sunny, I have the whole afternoon in front of me and I am in Africa!!

I load my day bag up with camping essentials and sling it on the pannier. A quick spot of lunch with the Kilalas and then I am on my way. The bike speeds along the flat and I’ve plenty of company along the road: pedestrians, daladala’s, big growling, black belching trucks, taxi’s and private land rovers, garishly painted buses that hog the road and speed along with their horns blearing; a continuous procession of push or pull trucks on reinforced bicycle wheels, laden with rice or water or charcoal, their bearers looking up with surprise at the mzungu juu ya bicycle That’s a phrase I’m going to hear often in the next few days.

After a while I learn to send the appropriate I’m just minding my own business signals or they get used to me. There are still frequent shouts of “wazungu” or “Hey you”. I wonder does this ever work? Do people respond to this? How many of the shouts are exclamations of surprise? How many are a kind of jeering racism? It’s hard to know but I just peddle on smiling at those who get the joke and are just happy to see me. Some people stick their thumbs up or shout welcome and encouragement and then I imagine they are pleased that I am having a go, doing things their way instead of sailing through in the armour plated comfort of an SUV.

After 20 minutes on the road I fall in with another cyclist heading to Kisesa who I recognise, someone I have shaken hands with in the endless round of greetings. He is not alone, other cyclists call out the occasional greeting in Sukuma and though I do not know their faces I realise they are acknowledging me as a mzungu who is trying to understand their greetings and their way of life.

There are a couple of killer slopes on the way and I push on as well as I can but I am taking it easy and in the intense heat there is no shame in stopping to rest or to take a turn walking beside the bike until the slope becomes more forgiving. I arrive in Kisesa within an hour and a half, in need of water and glucose. Laurian has anticipated my arrival and I fall into the slow procession of the afternoon, waiting around until he has finished his work and we can head up to Bujora. We feast on roasted duck and rice and discuss our plans for the next day. I hang my hammock and sleep a dreamless sleep.

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