Friday, July 1, 2016

Day 19: Finding My Place

A view of the road outside my house.
       Yesterday, I rode into town in a cramped dala dala. The small minivan-sized bus with “Tracy Chapman” written on the front windshield and “Praise Jesus” on the back picked me up at the Fiber stop, just a five minute walk from my house and across the street from the large fiberboard factory. I squeezed into a seat in the third row. There were 20 people already in the dala dala, with more joining at each stop. I was lucky I had a seat. Last week I was standing on the lip outside the open sliding door with the motorcycles passing within inches of me. Pushed up against the window, I looked around. I was at least a head higher than anyone else around me, my white skin providing a stark contrast to dark color of everyone else’s. A little girl with a pink headband sitting next to me in her mom’s lap looked up at me with big eyes, only glancing away when her mother spoke. The conductor of the dala dala rattled the coins in his hand and I reached for me wallet. With the little girl’s mother squished up against me and solidly blocking access to my right pocket I squirmed and wiggled to fish out my wallet. I caught glances from others in the dala dala as I was finally able to hand the conductor my 400 shillings. “Clock Tower, Asante,” I said, using my limited Swahili. “Okay,” he responded in English.
A typical dala dala.
When I got off at Clock Tower, a man in a grey shirt came up to me. “You are looking for Airtel? Bank? Let me show you.” I said nothing and looked right, then left, and crossed the street. “Sir, how many days for safari?”, another man proclaimed as I walked by. “How many days?”, he repeated, following close behind me. I turned left down the street, pulled out my phone, and searched “Arusha post office”. I did my best to look like like I knew where I was going, even though it was obvious I was lost. I looked up and across the street to see “Tanzania Post Office” in big letters on the side a blue building. I put my phone back in my pocket, and pulled out my large, obvious camera for a few quick shots of the architecture and the busy round-about. Camera in hand, I once again crossed the street. “Sir, looking for post office? Here I can show you.” “Hey, brother from another mother, how are you? We know each other.” I kept my focus ahead and walked up the steps.
"Clock Tower" in Arusha.
Tourists are loud, ignorant of local customs, and unaware of their surroundings. They butcher the language, they stand in the middle of the sidewalk lost and look at their phones, they take pictures everything with their cameras. I am a tourist. I hate being a tourist. This would be the part where normally I would say that even after being here only for a little while, I don’t feel like a tourist anymore. But I’ve been in Arusha, Tanzania for almost three weeks now, and I’ve learned there is no chance I am ever going to blend in with the local population. But that’s okay. I am a tourist, I am the “other”. I will still do my best to learn the language, the customs, and my way around. But when I pass by a group of kids, I will always hear “Hi! Hi! How are you! Hi!”. When I can truly embrace my status as a tourist, I can find my place. Here, I will always be a mzungu.

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