As I take an evening walk along the boardwalk in Slipway, I catch sight of Dar es Salaam flickering across Msasani Bay whose vast expanse, unruffled and modest in its ways, sends a mildly cool breeze towards me for my delight. In the minutes that pass by, I am lost in my own agonies as I absentmindedly gape at the sunset over the tranquil ocean. I meditate with the panorama; the turquoise blue ocean slowly swallows the sun. It is a pretty and romantic sight, but I sit cross-legged, alone, in an iron bench, and I am full of myself.
As he finds me musing against the reddening evening sky, Vlad, nimbly walks along the parapet like a cat and jumps on me jubilantly like a child who just won in hide and seek. I feel my heart losing its grip for a moment and laugh off at my startled reaction. We grab a cigarette and amuse ourselves in the serenity of dusk, sharing how our weeks were spent since the last time we met.
He had gone to the bushes in Ifakara to work in timber company. He sure is glad to be back in civilization again. He feels that he is now ready to explore rest of East Africa before he sets his sights in Brazil where he wants to settle down. I just arrived in Africa and it’s too soon for me to dream of a lofty retirement plan. As the night falls on us, we grab a quick supper and lick ourselves pistachio flavored ice-creams.
‘Do you want to share ice-cream with me?’ a young lady coquettishly extends her arms.
‘No’ Vlad replies curtly.
‘You can buy these over there’ I point at the parlor. We suddenly realized that we did a ‘Dumb and Dumber’ on her and we chuckle our way out of the Italian African complex and into the side of the road where bajajis were parked.
For expats in Masaki, the streets are full of mischief. One is always alert and careful. One always knows someone who was mugged, robbed or set-up in a bizarre affair involving fake cops. Vlad wants to take a walk to my apartment, but I insist we take a bajaji.
‘Thapa’ he admonishes me ‘You are always careful’. I shrug it off. I don’t want to engage in a conversation involving street safety at the moment. Having received hours of security briefing and completed three mandatory courses in security before I commenced work, I knew that my safety basically depended on me even though I had some special privileges granted through virtue of my employment. I just didn’t want to depend on it. I am my responsibility, I was resolute.
‘You see, I always walk angry’ Vlad explained, ‘I walk with a loose gait, arms flailing like I am about to pounce on someone. No one dares to mess with me’. It somehow made sense. I let out a cackle.
A new sense of comfort engulfed me that I was going to share a couple of days with this confident man. He wanted to save some dough and I was more than happy that I got a fun-loving companion to share the apartment with. We drove through the humid night as the wind stroked against our friendly countenance and welcomed us to its warmth. Its June- supposedly a winter season. As we take a right from Sandvik street to Chole Road, a cloud of dust raised by a convoy of garbage trucks covers us. This stretch of road never fails to remind me of Kathmandu. The city I have a complicated relationship with – a bad romance. The dust makes me miss home. Whenever I pass through this dusty road a feeling of nostalgia arises within me like these dust particles are my friends and family while it swarms me with its jollity and warmth. Typically, I find myself homesick, but I manage to keep my cool about it. However, such dusty roads which has been a part of my life for such a long-time downs me into a melancholic and terrified state.
I imagine the globe. I can see home hunkered below snow-capped, rough mountains; girdled loftily by lush green hills and then I see myself, standing small and humbled in mighty Africa.
I land in Mwanza, a colonial styled port city on the shores of Lake Victoria. The sight of the largest freshwater lake took me back to my childhood days where the grass was green, and the boys were pretty.
When I was in boarding school and I took geography as an optional subject- well, it was either geography or optional math. We had to give a test to qualify as a student of optional math. During Dashain holidays, my father sat me on my butt for a whole month and taught me about law of sines and cosines, and trigonometry functions. I have never seen a man who loves mathematics so much. I always lacked aptitude for mathematics. So, when I went back to school, I deliberated a plan to fail. I looked at the question sheet and never had I ever felt so powerful in my entire life before. I felt like Hercules, the mighty and brave and of course sometimes vain. I knew how to answer all these questions- math! I used to merely pass in this subject but now I had the power to fail. Not to succeed but to fail and to do it deliberately and with confidence.
My father was pissed and it sure was fun to see him pissed at the time. He sometimes brings up the topic and we always share a good laugh together- So, the ink finished huh? So, geography took me to places, to capitals, cities, lakes, jungles and calculating time by looking at my friend Sashi’s shadow. And here I was flying across the lake, reliving a speck of memory in a 12-seater Cesena, ruminating how far I had come from those delightful boarding school days. I can feel the air making love to the aircraft in its own sensual undulations.
A curl of red dust whisked at my face as soon as I landed in Kibondo. The land is flat like a flat screen television. A somewhat familiar smell of earth prances around my nose. I immediately feel at home for some reason. The people are kind and welcoming. I travel around Kigoma, and the red soil always finds my feet. I share laughs with the locals and fool around with children as they smile and tease, scurrying off to the nooks and crannies in gangways, jumping off alleys and taking photos with me. They have their own poses; hands flailing in the air, Natraj like stances and funny faces cramming through my phone cameras. I hadn’t shaved in week and my tousled dark hair sagged in the air. I was probably reeking like a hippy in Kathmandu and I even wore a white Thamel trouser.
‘They are following you around because they think you look like Jesus Christ’, a bantu man announced and then gave a hearty laugh. I assumed a friendly smile, bowed down to the children and slapped a Namaste. They ran nimbly and giggling bare feet to tell their friends that I was in town.
Five months pass easily. I am excited. I learn a lot. I am nervous, which is good because I am on my toes. I saw the countryside, met different people and observed their culture and way of thinking, circadian and otherwise. I feel I know Tanzania more now. It is a beautiful country and I think of exploring more. But I am worn-out.
I feel my mojo slowly burning down and my appetite for life whisking away in the drudgery of routine work. I absolutely love my work, but we all know that love is never enough. Love is simply not sustainable. One needs more than love to live a satisfying life- an unequivocal passion of something else. Sometimes such passions are simple, sometimes they are extravagant. Sometimes it is just there warming one’s heart, sometimes, one has to force it down the throat. I feel my passions are almost empty. ‘Do something, something more, you fucktard’, I tell myself. I feel myself turning into a mechanical sort of being. Wake up. Cigarette. Milk. Granola. Work. Coffee. Rice. Miskaki. Work. Coffee. Cigarette. Work. Home. Xbox. Sleep. Repeat.
I’m a highway star. I am high maintenance.
I marvel at the starry night. The stars conceal the darkness of the night. I want to pluck a star and keep it in my pocket for luck. I am running out of coffee. Maybe I should cut back on coffee. It keeps me impatient most of the time. I head into Shoppers to get some tea leaves for a change. People throng the billing counter with steel carts full of grocery products. Before I know, I am one of them. But I am zoned out today. I observe more. I am more aware. I am relaxed and lazed. I can see a woman has cart full of nothing but canned food. An old man with Rastafari vibe is gazing at dairy products. The freezer next to him is full of ice cream. I want ice cream.
In another isle, I check out cheap gin and alcohol. I take some time observing the hues in of alcohol in wonderful bottles. I like how alcohol bottles are shaped. The ones with rum mostly take my breath away. But I don’t prefer rum. It’s too macho for me. I grab a gin that says- a delicate blend of 12 natural ingredients giving smooth, refreshing taste with a hint of citrus.I desperately want some smooth and refreshing in my life now. Citrus is vitamin C. It fights cancer. Suddenly, a little girl taps my leg. I look at her inquiringly. She asks me if I could grab her a Kilimanjaro six-pack from the top shelf. I am not sure if I should. She looks barely ten years old. I wonder what will follow if I do. She thanks me and jogs playfully towards her father who is buying some apples. He takes the beer and simply puts it in the cart. I am disappointed. I was expecting at least some element of surprise or some sort of telling-off. I carry on with my shopping then come back home to realize I’ve got more grocery than I need. I feel guilty. Not of the money spent but of the food that I will consume unnecessarily- most of them frozen, oily and good for nothing ones. I light a cigarette to take notes of my decadence.
Seneca is in my head.
Difficulties strengthen the mind as labor does body. I hastily begin to skim through Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. The book has been my guide for right thinking for some time now. I like the idea of right amount of stoicism. And after an hour later, there was light. In a paroxysm of stoic ideas, I brought a reconditioned bicycle. Now such troubled thoughts are spent on the motions of bicycle pedals. It’s wonderful that most of our emotional and mental agonies and all sorts of wretchedness of the mind are solved by simple solutions. All I needed was a bicycle. To sweat it out and begin anew each day as I blast Pink Floyd through the streets of Dar es Salaam.
“Lost in thought and lost in time while the seeds of life and the seeds of change were planted. Outside the rain fell dark and slow, while I pondered on this dangerous and irresistible pastime. I took a heavenly ride through our silence. I know the moment had arrived, for killing the past and coming back to life”