More moralizing from your faithful correspondent

by zunguzungu

Does one do as the Wazungu do or does one try to be local? This is the dilemma. There are flights from Zanzibar to Dar, like the one we took, for about fifty dollars. There is a ferry that wil go the same route for about 50 dollars, or, if you are a resident, something like 17. Liz can correct me if I’m forgetting the prices (I’m sure I am), but the pertinent point is that there is a cheap way (for residents) and an expensive way (for Wazungu). It seems simple, right? Lets go deeper.

The Wazungu way is clear: pay the money, take the ride. But the other way (as I’ve already mentioned) involves a level of hassle that can at first be overwhelming but eventually becomes almost second nature. Remember how many times Liz had to go to the Immigration office to get her residence permit? This is typical, but its exemplary of something that runs a bit deeper. Nothing works here the way you think or expect it will. Everything takes longer, everything involves complications, everything is contingent on other things that pop up, and, as a result, you can’t really plan for anything. Or rather, you can (and as an mzungu, you will) but you will be thwarted. Something will come up. In this case, the fact that Liz didn’t have her residence permit on her (that it hadn’t been issued and she was in fact returning to Dar to get it), which hadn’t been a problem for the plane, was suddenly a problem. Possibly because the Zanzibari’s have their junk together, but also simply (I am convinced) because we assumed, because we made plans, and because the universe punishes you when you make that mistake here.

So, our plan had been, instead of taking the early morning flight and getting to Dar right away, we would spend the morning in Zanzibar, take the ferry on residence tickets, and thereby both save some money and hassle. What happened was that as soon as we tried to get the ticket for the ferry, it was made quite clear that unless Liz not only had her residence permit there in her hand, signed in triplicate by Allah, there was no way she was going to get a residence permit rate. I took one look at that scene and elected to throw money at the problem (Swahili? I don’t need no stinking swahili!), but Liz was in a frustrating position; she had taken a week off her work to come and relax, but the thing about being a grad student is that the work just lurks and waits for you, so she was starting to feel some pressure and wanted to get back and get stuff done, not to mention that if we took the early morning flight she would have been able to pick up her residence permit that very day (well, not really as it turned out; it wasn’t ready. But we had planned on it being available!). But, assuming (there’s that word) that we could get a cheaper ticket, we planned on getting back in the afternoon after spending a leisurely morning browsing around (I did get some killer cloves soap though) and chilling with Liz’s friends. In fact, what we did was spend the morning desperately calling around, going to travel agencies, being frustrated, confused, and indecisive, and not getting much of anything done. But here’s the thing: in the end, we got on the ferry (and Liz got the residence rate) because her friend either used to work at the port or knew someone who did. It didn’t happen at all the way we had planned, but it happened, basically because, finally, we didn’t try to control the process (or we tried and failed). We spent a long chunk of the morning waiting for Liz’s friend to meet us there, sitting on the curb when we had planned on doing touristy stuff (and even when he arrived, there was someone there that he knew that he had to talk to for like twenty minutes before we got down to business), and we certainly weren’t quite sure what was going on, but in the end, you put yourself in the hands of people who are trying to help you, and you get somewhere. That seems like the only way anything happens here.

But it can be very difficult, especially when the locals that you know don’t fully understand what it is that you want to do, don’t fully trust you to manage your own lives (perhaps justifiably), and communication is inexact. You just don’t have control. That seems to just happen over and over and over, and usually the outcome is good, but rarely what you expect (for example, a couple days ago, I thought I was getting invited to tea at someone’s house, but it turned out I was going to a tent revival service where I was going to be a star attraction. It was fascinating, but definitely not what I had expected). And so that’s the dilemma. The more you try to cut yourself off from people here, the more you try to make plans and stick to them, the more you are actually able to get things done and plan successfully. And you can spend the money to make it possible to do it (like taking taxis instead of that daladala that we took up to Jambiani, or the Wazungu bus) because generally its when you try to do it the way normal people do it that you find yourself in a whole world of contingency you can barely understand, much less control. But if you do that, if you pay the money to make things convenient and reliable, you cut yourself off from the most interesting stuff. So, he grandly pronounces, to be a wazungu researcher, you have to either be a researcher or you can explore. Coming to that realization kind of changed what my plans are here, because, while my plans had been pretty fluid, I had sort of planned on doing both. And, you’ll notice that I used that word again. (so stay tuned and watch Aaron’s plans go awry, yet somehow, magically, come out well in the end!)