This morning I awakened in Arusha, Tanzania.
Though I was thousands of miles and an ocean away
I experienced everything it had taken me years to know
in a single moment, just as the sun was rising.
Kosiano, Robert, Jackson, Priscilla, Solomon
and Mama Blue Fish. All of us together
at the Bamboo Cafe on Boma Road smiling,
happy, talking as we drink dark coffee with hot milk
and freshly squeezed fruit juice, and eat warm samosas.
It is early enough and the day is already filling up with
tourists from around the world and big safari vehicles.
The newspaper and map sellers outside will soon be joined
by women in colourful kangas with baskets of fresh
bananas and pineapples and mangoes, perfectly balanced on their heads.
And the pesky street hawkers will follow proposing you buy everything
you can possibly imagine and don’t need, courtesy of the Chinese.
The streets that will soon be bustling with people
and over-crowded dala dalas stretch out from the Clock Tower
like long spider legs: Sokoine Rd, Old Moshi Road, Boma Road.
Days not filled with the serendipitous adventure
of new tastes and sights and sounds don’t feed my soul.
Forget about fear of the unknown and the uncomfortable,
and the predictable confinement of what you have always known
says the small voice within me.
So today I will eat beans and ugali with my fingers
and make new friends far from home.
Priscilla soon rises to wait on tables around us.
Solomon and Jackson cross the street to begin their shift
at the New Safari Hotel, and Robert and Kosiano
unroll their colourful batiks outside for the wazungu to see and, hopefully, purchase.
I turn left at the Arusha Hotel and return to the Everest Chinese
and Room 1 where I make sense of the world I am part of here by writing.
I don’t want to forget one moment of the chaotic and frustrating
and beautiful life in this city: not the crush of bodies in the crowded central market
or the hustling for passengers and endless waiting at the bus station,
or the street bartering that will, hopefully, end in an agreeable exchange,
or the eager faces of children going to class in their spotless school uniforms.
The photo is of Robert and Kosiano, taken in 2006, outside the Bamboo Cafe. ‘Kangas’ are bright colourful pieces of cloth women wrap around themselves. ‘Wazungu’ are white people. (Swahili)