Since I’m no longer in Tanzania, I’ve migrated to a new weblog. Fair warning that it is by no means in its final state.
Listening to music on the plane, staring (sparingly) out the too-bright window. Two successive endless landscapes in different color palettes, first the red-tan of the Sahara, dunes in graceful curves that tell you that the birthplace of Arabic looked like this, too. No signs of humans. Then the reflective ripples of the Mediterranean, sun bright, the shadows of small clouds like holes in the sea.
I feel that I should write of those I leave behind, before memory plays its cruel tricks and wipes the slate clean, but here I’ll only list their names: Mama Ismael; Mama Mgongolwa (known to us as Posta Mama in deference to her tricky-to-pronounce name); Mama Jully; Mama Vero; Mama Ezekia; Mama Morisi; Mama Chuma; Mama Iluma. All the other women, and the few men, who I greeted on a daily basis and who, for me, were Makete.
It hits me, as I’m watching the distant Italian coast pass, looking like some sunlit story:
I’m not going back.
I hug myself, holding my elbows, and plane keeps on going, all unknowing, and I keep watching as, minute by minute, I grow farther away from, and closer to, home.
So since there was little feedback on the what-should-I-do issue here’s another, easier question: what media (books, music, tv, movies, internet phenomena) from the past two years should I seek out? What was your favorite book? Favorite album?
I sold my camera last week; selling my computer today. It’s all Kindle all the time from here on out. Which is to say, I’ll post more when I’m home. I have assorted music all lined up.
My homecoming looming e’er closer (November 2nd—mark your calendars!) I’ve been considering more and more the sort of work I might be interested in when I get back, and have come to the non-conclusion that I don’t really know.
So I thought I’d put it to you, O anonymous readership: do you have any ideas about the sort of work I’d enjoy and excel at? Or do you happen to know someone looking for an engineer with an artistic bent? Leave your brilliant—or even not-so-brilliant—ideas in the comments.
(Check it out: I’ve got a résumé and everything.)
It’s a strange twilight time for me–half the time I feel that I’ll be home unspeakably soon; the other half, I feel that it’s unbelievably far away. In the first mindset, I spend a contented afternoon figuring out exactly what camera and computer I’ll buy when I get home (a Canon SX200 and a System76 Lemur, if you’re curious) and the subsequent evening slowly realizing that, factoring in shipping time, it’ll be two months until I have either gadget in my possession. There is a gap of six weeks between thought and action, and it’s so easy to forget that.
It doesn’t help, I think, that I’ve been reading the latest William Gibson book, Zero History. His more recent works have always put me in a strange mood, full of a desire to do something, to create, without any direction. I think wistfully of the half-finished projects waiting for me when I get back to the US, and make never-to-be-realized sketches in my notebook to try to get the energy out. The cats dash around the house like fuzzy maniacs, my skittishness somehow contagious.
“Goats, goats, and more goats!” sings Bret, who likes to make up songs as we walk.
We’re on our way to climb a mountain we’ve aspired to for the past two years. Bret unexpectedly knocked on my door this morning as I was psyching myself up for my classes. After the necessary pleasantries (mostly involving his eating a few scones and drinking a cup of tea) he proposed that we launch an attack on said mountain. Always glad of a semi-legitimate reason to shirk my duties, I readily agreed. And so here we are, loping down a dusty road (when cars pass we run up the embankment and are nonetheless enveloped in the voluminous dust clouds caused by their passage). We’re periodically asking Tanzanians for directions, sometimes running into people I know from town. it’s surprising, really, how many folks out here recognize me.
We reach a pretty large village and stop next to a path ask a passing child (who’s herding a few cows and a couple sheep) which way we should take to get to the mountaintop. Without much thought he points to the path we’ve stopped next to; we go up it but, after a few dead ends, decide it isn’t the path for us. He seemed too blithe in his pointing. Silly us–we wind up taking that path down the mountain, and probably could have cut an hour off our time if we’d given it a try.
But regardless, we continue along the road. Everyone directs us farther down the road to ask someone else; eventually, fed up, we pick a likely path and just go for it. After a short and irritating detour in which we are escorted down the mountain we’ve just climbed in order to sign the village’s guestbook (we would have had to pay for the privilege of climbing had the village headman not known me and been impressed by Bret’s command of the local language) we’re on our way. The path is vague. And steep. And often consists of loose dirt at an impressive angle, downed branches, or exciting combinations thereof. After a fair amount of getting lost we find a real path and the peak is in sight. My heart is a hammer and my breath is heavy in my throat. “I will conquer this mountain!” sings Bret, “As soon as I catch my breath!”
And we do conquer it, arriving at the top in acceptable if not peak condition. I stop to wrap my left knee in a bandage; my right knee responds by beginning to beg for attention as well, rendering my descent slower than normal.
On the way down, we pass a grouping of huts that features a number of Tanzanians, largely elderly, doing what they do best. Which is to say they’re sunning themselves and chatting. One grandma in particular insists firmly that we have some tea, and chairs, tea, bread, and scary-looking meat are produced for our enjoyment. We chat with them for a bit; they are delighted to learn that we are teachers, and make it known that they would have been even happier to welcome us (if such a thing were even possible) had that fact been known in advance. After some seemingly-hilarious comments on my part and the grandma’s part (the biggest hit being my saying that I didn’t want to marry anyone at all as a reply to her suggestion that I marry an African) we continue on our way. Farther down the path, we encounter a mama we’d seen heading into town as we were leaving. She gives Bret a length of sugar cane and, when I say thanks but no thanks, takes her handbag off her head and hands me a few bananas. We thank her and all parties walk in their respective directions.
Walking back, Bret asks me if the back of his neck is burned. It is, I tell him, but not too badly. Am I burned? He looks at my face. “I can’t tell. You’re too dirty.” (Once we get back I look in the mirror and realize he’s right.)
We’re almost home, taking a shortcut up the mountain that my school is on. “I love how proud they are of their mountain,” Bret says fondly. “‘Our mountain is so tall! You must be so tired!’” And it is endearing–the grandma we talked with while she gave us chai said repeatedly that she’s afraid of the mountain–it’s too steep. Everyone we talked to was very impressed that we made it as far as the village, much less all the way up to the peak. “But when we say we’ve gone to Matema by foot,” Bret notes, “it’s not impressive.” Baffling, really.
This is the sort of day when I really appreciate Tanzanians. Aside from the jerks who made us detour to the village office to sign their book, everyone we talked to (and there were many of them!) was polite and gracious, often going out of their way to make us feel welcome. Even the women farming in the fields put down their hoes and engaged in lively conversations to try to reach a consensus on the best way for us to get where we wanted to be. As we get into a conversation with the women we’ve inadvertently followed up the final slope, I think about how unlikely this interaction would be in the US, and I feel very lucky to be where I am.
Sitting cross-legged on a table near the saddle hut on Mt. Meru, where we wll spend our second night, I can see The Mountain. The mountain that is the only one people think of if you say you went trekking in Tanzania, the one that everyone else up here with us seem to be training for, using Meru as a practice run. It and Meru are the only things above the endless stretches of soft clouds on every side.
I have, I’ve realized, absolutely no desire to climb The Mountain. I considered it, briefly, when my sitemates went a few months ago, but decided that being able to say I got to the top wasn’t worth the inevitable pain from cold and from hiking too much. I could have made it. I sim ply saw no reason to. Besides which, I’d heard Meru was prettier, and it’s certainly cheaper.
And Meru has been lovely. We climbed through beautiful forests on our way up–I kept stopping to look at flowers and radiantly-colored sunbirds. Unable to mantain my normal blithe speed on a longer hike I had to proceed at the recommened pace, but that gave me more time to look around. Starting off, at the lower altitudes, we saw giraffes, buffalo, zebras. We walk with a ranger who carries a gun to deter over-interested animals.
Tomorrow will be hard: we’ll wake up long before dawn so we can see the sunrise from the summit, then undo all of today’s weary work by returning to the camp where we slept last night. I’m much more apprehensive about the down than I ever was about the up. Descending, as I’ve learned from every Matema trip, is not my strong suit.
We woke up at midnight, started the ascent shortly before 1.30. As one of the women who climbed with us later said, in retrospect it seems likely that the early departure was motivated more by a desire for us not to see the terrain than for us to see the sunrise from the peak. If I’d been able to clearly see the jagged ridges and near-sheer rock faces we were crossing I don’t think I would have made it. By the time it was light out and we were on our way back I was too consumed by the need not to stress my injured knee and the desire to get back to camp and breakfast to spare much thought for the long drops below the rocks I was painstakingly pulling myself up.
For all that, though, I’m glad I did it. The volcanic landscape was overwhelming, jagged and alien. It looked like something that belonged at the bottom of the ocean, or on the moon. And sunrise over The Mountain was truly a sight to see, us and it the two islands in a sea of dappled grey clouds.
The best I can say about all that descending with an injured knee, though, is that it’s over.
This is the coldest part of the year, but it doesn’t seem as cold as it was last year. It doesn’t seem as anything as it was last year, really–it rained less (or so I thought); I’m less afraid of teaching, but less motivated too (as if that were possible); I keep more to myself, mostly making excuses to stay home instead of traveling. It doesn’t feel new anymore, doesn’t feel exciting. I suppose it’s just part of adjusting to the culture but sometimes I wish I hadn’t adjusted quite this well.
In the beginning there was always something to say, something noteworthy. Words flowed from my fingers like rivers, words of e-mails, blog posts. Now, like the water in the tap, the words come only sporadically. Sometimes they don’t come at all for days, weeks.
It’s all the same as it was when I got here, of course; it’s just become unexceptionable. Every day I walk out of the house, greeted by a chill wind or a warm breeze that seems as though it should smell of wisteria. There would have been a time when that would have been something to write about, something to tell. Now it’s just where I live. Experience something every day and you gradually develop an immunity to the sunset light on the mountains, the regal yet incredibly annoying black-and-white crows, the early-morning mist. And even though it’s all still there, I feel as though I’ve lost something.