May, 2018 back to Sep, 2010: (nothing)
Stand in the middle of one downtown Mombasa street and look north at the rickshaw distributing black fumes. Close your left eye, and your right will treat you to neat piles of sharp-red tomatoes on the sidewalk, hawked by friendly vendors.
But the smell of fresh vegetables won't make it to your nose. Open your left eye to see why: mounds of garbage 800,000 people high leak dark juices that seep down the street, fly through the air and buffet into both nostrils.
Cross the petrol-scented bridge from the city core to Kenya's mainland, head east past the mosaic of market scents and walk along the golf-course road, lined with grassicured lawns. Stop and lift your nose: even this far, a ten-minute walk from the beach, you'll smell the salt and breeze of the Indian ocean.
I didn't expect that smell. In Dar es Salaam, ocean breeze mutates to stagnant smog before even hitting land. But here in Mombasa, it's as though the wind has been showering since it left India and it'll be damned if it's going to let a few hundred metres' worth of kite surfers and holiday resorts mess up its hair.
Kahama, in Western Tanzania, has about 100,000 residents and enough dust to cover the entire country.
It's the last town of note on the road west to Rwanda and the second-last on the way to Burundi. A new gold rush has attracted more businessmen (and businesswomen, and women of a certain business) than usual. Kahama has scores of guest houses, though it still awaits a tarmac road. This being election season, the government has started paving the highway; but while contractors did dump a kilometre's worth of gravel here three weeks ago, work seems to have stalled faster than an overstuffed dala-dala with a student driver.
School attendance is dismal, though the students I've seen are enthusiastic. This class, across from my guest house, is learning English outdoors.
Like all of Tanzania, Kahama is missing garbage collection. In the meantime, residents let garbage accumulate in public spaces like this one, the site of an abandoned construction project.
Two years ago on this blog, I made a victim out of a friend.
One week later, the employers hired a replacement. They would never see their old house girl again.
She is beyond rescue. No well-meaning person can do anything about her situation. In the darkest parts of our hearts, for all our pride of our notions of feminism and gender equality and statistics, we know this. And in the darkest part of your heart, you already know all the stories and statistics and words I can muster.
Pendo, this is your eulogy: more respect than most women ever receive in Africa.
Actually, they saw her just last week. And so did I. A few weeks after I wrote my story about her being "abducted" by family, Pendo returned to Dar es Salaam and started sewing dresses for a living. Currently she's unemployed and job-hunting, but her smile is wider than ever.
Thursday night, twelve university students competed to become Tanzania's Miss Higher Learning.
Number 12 was absent: I suspect she lost her nerve. This was an important event, after all: these competitors, averaging 21 years of age, already placed in their respective universities' beauty pageants. The three winners of the Miss Higher Learning contest would move on to compete with winners from other pageants for the title of Miss Tanzania.
There were plenty of cameras.
The Internet is a gold mine of information. But if you write that cliché on your web page, you dilute my "gold mine" search results.
A "gold mine" is a place where miners extract gold from the ground.
Most of Google's top search results for "literally" point to suggestions that you avoid the word, even if you mean it.
Everybody has the habit of writing clichés, just as everybody naturally spends more time choosing adjectives and adverbs than the nouns and verbs they adorn.
I'm (occasionally) helping a Tanzanian organization called Femina. Femina creates and distributes magazines about gender, sexuality and HIV.
My job is to help make sure those magazines get to their intended readers.
Femina's flagship publication, Fema, is Tanzania's most popular magazine, probably because it's donor-funded and free. Femina distributes hundreds of thousands of copies of Fema to schools across the country, and an independent study recently confirmed Femina's calculation that on average, 15 people read each copy.
As I was interviewing a refugee in a camp about his inspiring story, an outsider came to make sure I was telling it properly.
"You're getting how wretched people are here, right?" he asked.
Refugees play volleyball instead of being wretched.
The outsider, who is not a refugee, would benefit politically if I wrote a story about wretchedness. He'd hold my story up high, proclaiming, "look! even a Westerner wrote that these people are wretched!" and if that helped him achieve his ends ... he'd get richer.
I thought I'd need to haggle to get 67,000 Tanzanian shillings with my $50 USD bill when I arrived in Dar es Salaam, but the clerk gave me 74,000.
The Tanzanian shilling is suffering. When I flew in to Dar es Salaam this April a dollar was worth about 1,350 shillings; now, it's 1,490. In other words, the shilling has dropped 10 per cent in three months.
Why? Politics, according to analysts.
Every July, Tanzania's government begins a new budget. This year's budget costs 11.6 trillion shillings, up from last year's 9.5.
Kahama is a lost trade town: dustier and smaller than its lake-endowed northern neighbour Mwanza, its only assets are buried gold, a few hundred thousand residents and a dirt road that guides trucks from the rest of Tanzania to Rwanda. Google Maps shows it as a low-resolution swerve in the road. On the ground, it seems like every second building is a guest house.
Maybe I should have seen where this conversation was going, as I filled in my midrange hotel's registry:
"Company?" asked the landlady.
"No, I'm a student, I don't have a company," I replied.
I was arrested for being white while strolling around Goma during Congo's 50th anniversary of independence on June 30th.
I was told I made a mistake in leaving my passport at my guest house. I did that because I figured taking my passport to the pickpocket-stuffed streets would be an even bigger mistake. (It was the right decision: I even caught one pickpocket in the act.)
Of course, the reason was euphemism. The whole crowd, laughing at me, knew I was arrested purely because of my skin colour. Or maybe I was arrested because the policeman on that block was angry at me after his superior chastized him for trying to extract a bribe from me the day before.
They had intended to arrest me for taking pictures. But I was cautious enough to distrust the encouragement of four policemen and army captains; when the authorities realized they couldn't arrest me for taking pictures, they went down their checklist of excuses.