Tuesday, 23 November 2010

An Westener's Guide to Life in Rural Afrika

My mother has been pestering me for a while now about an address and phone number for our new bachelor pad in rural Afrika. I still have nothing to offer her, as far as I can tell the house doesn’t have anything constituting an address and I have still failed to secure a phone number. and it suddenly dawned on me that in all my posts so far, I have completely failed to mention anything about the place which has now served as our home for a month, and will continue to do so (foundations holding, by no means a guarantee) for a further two months. Therefore this latest post is to be put aside to describing our new surroundings including the assortment of Afrikan insects we now share our house with, and our seamless integration into rural Tanzanian life.
I was not overly concerned about the house we were due to live in. If anyone saw my house in Sheffield you will understand why, (after two years at 76 Heavygate Road, I figured Afrika would be a walk in a sub-Saharan park). Its owned by one of the charity directors, and we live here rent-free as payment for our work for the charity (which I will explain at a later date), so considering that is a whole £58 a week cheaper than Heavygate Road its one up to Casa del Afrika! There are subtle differences, the view from our concerete shack out here is of Kilimanjaro, largest mountain in Afrika, the view from my room at Heavygate Road was 78 Heavygate Road, a group of middle aged blokes from Barnsley...2-0 Afrika. Admittedly, this place is smaller, consisting of two rooms; one with a small table and a gas stove, (The living room), and the other with two rickety wooden beds and a mattress crammed between the beds and the wall affectionately known as ‘The Bitch Bed’. Toiletry matters are dealt with outside in a corrugated iron shack, where you do your business down a very small hole, never thought I’d write this sentence but dear lord I miss the feeling of porcelain when sitting on the crapper. (I’d say thats Sheffield 2-2 Afrika). Showering is done in the same shack, which is convenient and ultimately a tremendous time saver, if not particulary hygienic. A simple set up; a hole, a bucket, a reasonably clean white fellow, Sheffield 3-2 Afrika. Who’d have thought?
Our party pad is located in a bizarre little place called Njiapanda (meaning the junction in Swahili), and even amongst the locals it has a pretty bad reputation, to acquire a bad reputation out here a town really has to put the effort in and bless ‘em, Njiapanda really has. Our hosts at the charity told us that we should not be out after dark because at that point the entire clientele of the town are either truckers or hookers, (a shame as in my experience, truckers and hookers are amongst the most sociable and fun-loving demographic group). And it seems to be true that there are a disproportionate amount of drunks wandering the streets, heckiling and muttering at us, harmless for the most part, but saying that nobody wants to be shouted at by a local drunk at seven o’clock in the morning. This isn’t Glasgow. Despite the drawbacks on this destitute, wild west-esque town we have established ourselves as the laughing stock of the community; we have a couple of  local haunts (the regulars at both seem both bemused and suspicious every time we enter their bar), one of which is possibly the only place in town which doesn’t turn into a brothel after midnight, and has the good grace to show premiership football and provide us with cheap, cheap Afrikan beer. (80p a bottle).
We have become very popular with the neighbouring children, of which there are many, more seem to rock up at our house every day demanding all sorts of things. Partly because we give them pens, and paper and whatnot, let them use our cameras (not GameBoys though, any kid messes up my game of Pokemon and I’ll give Afrika a new problem), but mostly because we do funny western things such as put on sun cream, attempt to farm the local land, and, of course, try and speak Swahili. All the local mothers have an opinion on our attitudes to household chores and are not, it seems, afraid to voice them, its true our house is a mess, it does have a peculiar smell and we are terrible at washing our clothes using the local detergent/skin remover Toss. (Yeh, its a funny name). On the nights when we are not mixing it up with the truckers ‘n’ hockers in the local bars, theres very little to do apart from get through an decent amount of reading or watch pirate DVD’s (probably from China, you know what they are like), which are so fake you can actually see the other people in the cinema stand up and move around during the screening.
This brings me onto the shameful finale of this latest Idiots Guide, that of our integration into Tanzanian rural life. The main part of this has been our vain attempt to learn the local language, that of Kiswahili, (though with the amount of variations of it, I fear learning it from a western book is the equivalent of a non-Englishman learning cockney rhyming slang and then going to Newcastle telling the Geordies about ‘Apples and Pears’ and ‘Adam and Eve’). I have never been great with languages, I have been half-dutch for going on twenty-two years now and have spectacularly failed to learn my mother’s native language. I took French at GCSE and was heading towards a grade at the lower end of the alphabet before my dad decided that no son of his was going to fail a GCSE and promptly got me a private tutor to drag my grade into the more respectable letterings. So learning Swahili was an optimistic venture at best. We’ve learnt the basics, I can exchange pleasantries and casual greetings until the cows come home, I can order three beers and ask where the port is, (useful in Zanzibar, not so much now, 300 miles from the coast), but unfortunately the English language is still viewed with a certain amount of suspicion out here, with one drunk shouting at us for being in his country and not learning the language. We could do little about this about from thank him and wish him a good day. 
We have not perhaps, picked the best place to reside whilst out here. Our weekend excursions to nearby city of Moshi, or up into the much greener slopes of Kilimanjaro are greatly anticipated and usually result in us getting over excited and drunk when we do get there. Njiapanda will never be a tourist hotspot, it will, however, always be a drink-fuelled truckers paradise. Still, as long as our roof continues to keep out the majority of the rain, our bar continues to provide us with premiership football, and our neighbours continue to provide us with their opinions on the failings of white people, then we should just about, make it to 2011.

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