We walked for forty minutes last week along the main road. It was dusty at 6PM, with children in their dark purple and dark green uniforms walking home from school. There are no buses at most of the government schools, so the children walk, as we did. We walked past shacks selling tomatoes and warm cans of coke. Every so often, near the dala dala stops, there would be mama’s grilling maize over a single flame, shucking and staring as we walked by. These women will sit in the sun for hours, the bright yellow and red kangas keeping them cool when the sun is hottest. We passed hairdressers, car washes and pubs, all uniquely Tanzanian, unlike any first world establishment. The hairdressers don’t have polished floors and pristine mirrors when you enter. There’s no air conditioning, no comfortable couches ready to pamper. The car washes aren’t automated. If you’re lucky enough to own a car, you pay a few men some shillings to throw water over your dusty tires, perhaps some soap, drying done by that big burning ball of fire in the sky. The pubs don’t have luxurious, timeless mahogany bars, with chick themes or exotic home brews. There are a few plastic tables, a few plastic chairs, and a limited selection of beers.
We walked for forty minutes last week to the pub. There were three of us, two men and one boy. The two men, full of stories and character, strolling along at a leisurely pace, a Tanzanian pace – they never rushed. They blended in with the dusty roads, the weary passerby’s their kakas in the long stroll towards home. The boy, he moved quickly, anxious, fidgety, afraid he might be missing a moment if he didn’t get there fast enough – the boy has always been like this. The three males made a comfortable triplet, willing to fight for each other if necessary. This was an unspoken agreement between the two men and one boy, all ready to prove their loyalty and commitment to a bond forged through storytelling.
We walked for forty minutes last week to have dinner. Meals are meant to be shared with others, if possible. Nothing bridges cultures and strangers more than sharing food, no matter the price. Drinking, eating, being content with yourself – that’s the power of mealtime. It’s a simple time to share your joys and frustrations, to embrace the foreign and kiss the comfortable. It’s a paradox here in Tanzania – eating for a different purpose. Most eat here because they need to, because if they don’t, they’ll die. We have the luxury to eat in the moment, a notion that takes time to settle into your conscience.
We walked for forty minutes to eat mbuzi choma and kuku choma. Grilled goat and grilled chicken, what I’ve come to learn are the food of Gods. A little salt, a dip in the pili pili sauce and you are transported into a blissful, greasy, meaty place, with crackling, oily chicken skin as crisp as the serving of chips. There’s no red tape, no security guard, no bouncer, no lines; a meal of grilled meats is universal in language, transformative from Tanzania to America and beyond, devoid of restrictions, open to the public. Washed down with beverage of choice, the belly satisfied and mind content – these are the moments you remember five, ten, twenty years down the road. You remember the dala dala’s honking; the dark flames creating shadows, bouncing off the neighboring gas stations; the smoky, greasy smell of fat dripping into the coals, steam rising through the Arusha atmosphere. You remember the conversation between brothers, between kakas, how the journey through Tanzania is just one bullet point in the wider array of life. You remember to smile more often, to embrace the locals without a veil of trepidation, displacing the inner cynic. You remember that your youth is precious, and the experiences of other friends aren’t comparable to your own, that your journey is meant for yourself and the next destination will be decided on a whim.