vignettes

by zunguzungu

Two of the boys who are staying in our house are arguing about when you can get married, conducting the debate in English for our benefit, though we are not acknowledged. Anton is 22, Baba Massawe’s son, and Joel is 18; we haven’t figured out his connection to the family, though we know he’s home from school. Joel insists that one must have permanent work. “What is your permanent job?” and he pounds the table. Anton is slippery, trying a variety of tactics to explain how he will support a wife. “This bedroom,” he says, pointing to the room he and up to two other boys are sleeping in, “How much could I rent it for?” Joel is unimpressed. Anton suggests that perhaps (hypothetically of course, because that would be illegal) he has a side business selling copies of dvds and cds. “So, if someone asks you, what is this boy’s job, you won’t know. But I have money.” Still, Joel is unimpressed. “This life you are telling me.” he says “It does not interest me.” A great deal about the inner workings and motivations of African economies was just crystalized before my very eyes, but I’m tired and go to bed before anything is settled.

A filthy–make that incredibly filthy–man who is probably drunk accosts me as I’m walking home. He speaks a lot of words I can’t understad, the only one of which even sounds like swahili to me is raisi, which might be rais (president) given the tanzanian habit of adding an i to the end of every word that doesn’t have one (or taking it off every one that does; I swear I’m not making that up). It doesn”t seem to make much sense in the context of the moment, but he’s very insistent and has taken my hand firmly, pointing up towards a row of second story balconies that line the street. Rais? “I don’t understand,” I repeat, to his frustration. Finally, I realize there is a picture of Jakaya Kikwete, the president of Tanzania, painted on one of the walls, partially obscured by banana tree fronds. “Kikwete?” I ask. He nods, and asks “Mmerikani?” (America). “George Bush?” I reply. Though I still haven’t grasped the thread of our conversation (or how he knew I was American) this proves to be all he seems to have wanted, and he releases me and walks on. Up the street a ways, a woman tells me he is crazy, but mentions, in passing, that Bush is a dictator for putting Saddam Hussein to death.