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Tree climbing


Tree climbing, originally uploaded by Robin Manuell.

Tuesday is very frustrating for me. I want very much to join the boys down at the shore and try my hand at catching some fish. I understand that we are going to do that later when it’s cooler but in the mean time one of the bikes needs a new wheel and we head into “town” a crossroads with a collection of maybe 10 shops and a couple of bicycle workshops. Of course I am the only one who has any money but I am uncomfortable paying out for everyone so conspicuously so I slip Shegera a couple of thousand for whatever needs doing. We sit around waiting for the bikes to be fixed. Everyone seems to lend a hand, for every one person working there are a couple telling him how he is doing it wrong. Cos objects to one of the fundi’s rough handling of his flywheel and finds another fundi to do the job.

I am hot and bothered, bored by the wait and irritated by my inability to find a spot away from the crowds. I sit watching people watching me and wherever I am a crowd slowly gathers around me, hemming me in. No one is hassling me; it’s just that I am the most exciting thing going on around here. The children shout at each other that “Mungu anakuja”, “God has come” which I don’t understand at all until I glance up to see a woman wearing a T shirt with a picture of Jesus Christ gazing out beatifically. Is this the only other white face they have seen? I am amazed and impressed by the foresight and cunning of the Roman Catholic church.

I am greeted by an Mzee– a man in his 70’s who still works as a stone mason. His dignity and bearing impress me and he holds my hand firmly and leads me to his home just behind one of the shops where I can sit in the shade. He tells me about his life as a policeman, his travels in Tanzania. He tells me I should buy some land here. He jokes that I should marry a Sukuma woman and have many children to work the land. You could be a big man he says. I have settled here to live out my last years, but it is better to be a big man, an important man. He looks out across the valley but his eyes are focused elsewhere, on missed opportunities and things that could have been.

When the bikes are fixed we head back towards Madonnia’s house but detour on the way to visit a sister of Constantine’s. I presume that this will be the usual visit of sitting around for half an hour catching up on gossip and I am quietly horrified when the sister brings a bottle of spirits out for us to share. Ok, I tell myself, she’s just being polite, it’s a welcome, I will just take a sip and soon we will be able to leave but before the first bottle is finished there is another one and another one. This is the last thing I want to be doing in the heat of the afternoon and I am simmering with anger and frustration, but then that’s what you get for hanging out with an acknowledged drunkard. I haven’t seen him drinking in the afternoon before but it doesn’t surprise me.

Later I discuss the drinking with Mama Kilala. They are all doing it she tells me, the men and the women. It is a problem. She told her husband they should start the Tanzanian AA. Her mother in law drank and drank. It was not like this before. When the Sukuma’s lived their traditional lifestyle the drinking was confined to the harvest and special occasions. It was for times of celebration for feasts and for funerals. It is the transition to the modern world that does it she says. They cannot cope with the change, the expectations; it is too much for them. So now they are drinking every day. It is the same all over the world. The indigenous peoples of North America, the aboriginals of Australia, the peasants of Russia and Poland and Eastern Europe; the drink takes over, they cannot cope.

I manage to steer an exit before a fourth bottle is produced, helped by Paulo. Although Paulo speaks very little English he is often the one most in tune with my mood. He knows I don’t want to drink, he is just as eager as I am to try some fishing and just as bored when we head back to the house for a rest in the shade and yet more sweet potato and peanuts.

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