Pilgrims Progress

by zunguzungu

The homeward bound mzungu has, at Friends corner, several options. Option A is to take the daladala, the cramped minibus, which now goes (though it didn’t used to, not in the olden days) all the way to “Mwishowe mpaka,” or the end of the fence (which also, I might add, didn’t used to be there), at which point it is a five minute walk home. This, however, costs 250 shillings, or about 20 cents. Today I decide to save money and hoof it.

At Friend’s corner, a street kid comes at me with the classic hand to mouth pantomiming food and the pitiful expression combo, but I saw him, a moment earlier, play fighting with his friends and shouting, so I’m unmoved. But before the first roundabout, I drop a hundred shilling coin on a begger’s blanket. He has a twisted foot and a sour look on his face; I don’t always give him money, but today I see him removing coins from his blanket and putting them in a plastic bag to make his take seem more modest. I used to do this the half dozen times or so I played my mandolin on the national mall for tips, so I’m moved; that’s what it takes, apparently. He is looking in his bag when I drop the coin and doesn’t notice. I walk on.

Unga limited is bustling with people and trucks and dust and filth. A Maasai guy who got 50 shillings from me yesterday greets me, but I don’t stop, and reply my two word reportoire of kimaasai over my shoulder. The Maasai are always very friendly and I enjoy talking with him because, until this guy, not one Maasai I talked to ever seemed to want anything other than to be friendly. This guy broke the streak, so I am mildly rude, without thinking about it. A moment later I regret it.

As I walk, I see several luxury buses drive by, one of which is called “DVD Dar.” I’ve attempted to take the best bus to Dar every time I’ve gone there, and never succeeded; I always end up on an express bus that stops three times between every village and gets you there five hours late. The idea of a dvd player on board seems strange; usually the bus only has one cassette tape to play, so you learn the songs very well.

A woman is selling fried cassava and potatoes next to the wok she is deep frying them in. She greets me, asking for news of Sokon 1, my area of town, and I purchase two deep fried sweet potatoes, with salt and chili sauce liberally slathered all over and wrapped in newspaper. I give her 200 shillings, which she accepts after looking at the coin in her hand an instant longer than she should. Did I overpay her? I’ve forgotten; is one potato 50 shillings or 100? I don’t ask. The viazi vitamu is good but dry and starchy and my dustchoked throat has difficulty swallowing. As three buses pass, dust sweeps over me like a sandstorm in a movie. I cross the street, jump a sewage ditch, and get on the main walkway.

Further along, as Unga Limited used to become less congested and fade into Soko Mjinga, there is now a new textile factory, “A-Z Textiles,” and hundreds of women are still standing around, apparently still queing for work. They were there when I went to town this morning; hopefully not them, but their morning counterparts. I weave through crowds of people selling sugar cane and other things and as I emerge on the other side, a man accosts me. He is very dirty, in filthy clothes and a baseball cap puffed on his forehead the way the tough guys wear them, but he is smiling and won’t take no for an answer, so I stop. He wants 100 shillings for a cigarette, but he had to work hard to get it, crying out “Ngoja!” (wait) and taking my hand without seeming threatening (a neat trick) so I give it to him. As I do, I hear his friends sitting on the edge of the road give off a shout at his achievement, and I move on.

In Soko Mjinga, the tough crowd gives way to a more villagey atmosphere. Istead of “Give me my money!” the children begin to shout “Good Morning madam!” and old men blink surprisedly at the mzungu striding through the street. An old man drinking coffee catches my eye with a toothless smile, and I yell “Shikamoo!” He responds “Marahaba” and ushers for me to come to coffee with him, but I keep walking, patting my throat as if to indicate why I can’t and shouting “Asante!” I’m not sure what my gesture was supposed to indicate, but “Asante” means thank you. A group of woman welcomes me to buy fruit from their stand, and I jump the drainage ditch and we exchange greetings about our various households (everyone in their home is nzuri, safi, na salama, or good, clean, and peaceful). They welcome me to their stand again and I tell them that if they sold water I would buy some, which makes them laugh, I’m not sure why. I am starting to get quite hot and sweaty.

At Sinoni, the end of Soko Mjinga named for the large school, I see youths playing soccer (and it is possible that Anton is among them, but I can’t pick him out) and instead of taking the big open road, I turn right and take the old road that passes through people’s neighborhoods. As I walk, I get many more children crying mzungu and more surprised looks than usual; I never pass this way, except when someone’s giving me a lift, and the people are not used to wazungu. A man stops me to ask me to buy some soda at his shop (or maybe he wanted me to give him money to buy a soda?) but he asks for 1000 shillings, almost three times what it costs. “Elfu moja? Soda gani?!” I ask with a big grin, since he’s slipped up. He tries to switch to beer, but I continue walking; if he’d asked for a hundred, I would have given it to him and he knows it. Several women try to welcome me to buy the fish they are deepfrying, each about two inches long and whole, a crispy brown from the hot oil, but I do not allow myself to be welcomed. Riziki’s mother greets me by name and I step over the ditch to shake her hand. I was hoping to see her son, who didn’t make it to the McMoody’s expedition, but he’s nowhere to be seen. Too late, I remember that I should have congratulated her for her son’s performance (he got the highest grade in his class), but I’ve already walked on.

Just steps from my front door, a child shouts “good morning!” to me and I yield to temptation and explain to the child, in swahili, the difference between morning and evening. She grabs my finger with a very strong grip but is too embarrassed to look me in the eye; a crowd gathers, and encouragement is shouted from the sidelines, but I eventually get her to stumble through “Good Evening” and, after freeing my finger, I walk home. I’m hot and thirsty and there’s no water left in my water bottle, so I buy a new one for 600 shillings. The women who live across the street berate me for not Shikamooing their Mama Kubwa (Big Mama) so I beg forgiveness and pay my respects. But they like me because I know swahili reasonably well (and I’m introduced as mjanja, which I think means intelligent) and all is soon forgiven. I am quizzed on the name and qualities of every vegetable they are selling, and I only fail to explain what the clay they are selling is used for. It is for pregnant women to get minerals, I learn. And I’m home.