Wednesday, 16 May 2012

An Indian Beggar in Dar es Saalam - Didn’t See That Coming!

The Lovely View from the Econo Lodge - Was My Temporary Home for 2 Weeks

It was either comedian Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle who used to use a monologue that went something like, “I was robbed by a white man in the New York subway in 1984…..didn’t see that coming, didn’t see that coming.”  Well a few weeks ago I had a sort of similar experience, as I had an elderly Indian gentleman approach and beg me for some food twice in one week in my neighbourhood. “Napenda chakula kaka tafadhali (I would like some food please brother)?” was the phrase used.  My Swahili is terrible as everyone  knows,  but even I figured out what he meant, and I certainly did not see that coming at all.  Now I know what you might be thinking and the answer is no! I did not run away from Tanzania and relocate to Channa Market in New Delhi where the incidents took place.  This happened right in Dar es Salaam city centre close to my apartment, where by the way, I have also started noticing Indian vagrants.  You see I live the city in an area that I call Little India – but more on that later, let me relate to you how I got there.

Reception Area at the National College of Tourism
You see four months ago I moved from Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam to take up my new placement with the National College of Tourism located in the heart of the city. And what an adventure, culture shock and education it has been. I must say up front though that the dusty, crowded, dimly-lit, rat infested city I landed into last year July has grown on me immensely and have actually become fond of living here, as everyday is a different adventure.  My first adventure was finding a place to live in the city centre within walking distance to the College where I work.  Finding a decent reasonably priced place to live in Dar is as easy as finding a sober and celibate Catholic priest in the Boston diocese.   One real estate agent told me that she was taking me to see a flat, which she confidently exclaimed, “was THE place to live in Dar.” This turned out to be a neighbourhood that would make the back streets of Bratislava look like Park Lane in London.  Also, as we were opening up multiple grid iron gates to get up the stairs to the apartment, the neighbor came out to complain to the agent that the water pump had been stolen again. She pointed to a metal cage at the base of the stairs with the unbroken lock still on but no water pump inside. I guess the free magic show featuring the disappearing water pump must be the reason my agent thought it was a hip place to live.  By the way that place was going for US$1000 per month plus utilities, and 1 year’s rent paid upfront is the norm here.  These days the asking price for a broom cupboard with rats in City Centre is around US$400.  I exaggerate – it $400 might actually get you a coat closet.

Food from Cook Shops Such as These in the Fish Market is Very Cheap
You see the Tanzanian economy is growing at around 8%, with the precious metals, oil, gas, tourism and agriculture sectors all expanding rapidly.  Heavy foreign investment has resulted in a huge influx of mainly wazungu (whites) expats.  This coupled with an expanding middle-class and significant rural-urban migration has created a serious shortage of good housing.  Through friend of a new friend I met during the Kilimanjaro Marathon, and good fortune, I found the place I currently live at.  Good thing the College pays for the rent or else I would never be able to afford it on my VSO accommodation and living allowances.  Let’s just say it is twice as expensive but not nearly as nice as my 2-bedroom/2 bathroom fully-furnished house with a sea view that I left behind in Montserrat last year. I am very happy with it though – the apartment is on the top floor, has AC, some cable, regular water and electricity supply, and a pool and gym on the ground floor.  I can also get half a tandoori chicken with fries, salad and 3 sauces for US$3 close to the entrance of my building.  And when they say half a chicken they don’t mean a portion size – it is literally a chicken split down the middle from the neck to the foot.

The Spirit of Tanzania - It Comes in Bottles & Sealed Plastic Packs
I do have to share the flat with Dai, a Japanese volunteer who also works at the College. Prior to moving in, Dai was taking the dala dala (local bus) to work and back for about 3 hours everyday, so he is extremely happy to be within a 15 minute walk from work.  With his commute time drastically reduced, he now spends most of his newfound free time learning English, imbibing  nightly copious amounts of Konyagi (local papaya gin) mixed with beer on ice, while watching Ally McBeal with Japanese subtitles on his laptop.  I am teaching him English by the way and most of our subject lessons revolve around food and booze.  Well he is a trained sushi chef and both of us love to lime.  Poor guy though, he is learning English with a Trinidadian accent.  By the time he gets back to Tokyo he will be saying things like “Whaddie Ass,” “Where we liming tonight?” and “One fuh de Road”.  He is a great house share and hopefully soon I will be mastering the art of Japanese cooking and also will improve on the 8 words of Japanese that I know, which I am sure are dirty words.  I learnt them from a “crazy” Taiwanese girl (she had the Guinness world record for the shortest bathrobe in the world) who lived on my floor at University in the UK in the mid-1990s. But that is a whole other blog in itself.  

An Indian Was Even Miss Tanzania Once
Well getting back to this Little India story now.  Now I always knew that East Africa had a sizable East Indian population – and not the kind that just came in the last decade to develop computer software, set up Taj and Oberoi Hotels or start curry houses on every corner.  These are Indians who have been on the continent for over 200 years.  They came mainly as traders or as “coolie” labourers that were brought by white settlers to build the Kenya-Uganda railway line. This is from a piece called Indians of East Africa by Rudy Brueggemann which explains it well.  “….many stayed on to work as "dukawallas," the artisans, traders, clerks, and, finally, small administrators. Excluded from colonial government and farming, they straddled the middle economic ground above the native blacks. Some even became doctors and lawyers. Despite animosity from native Africans and restrictions by colonial whites, Africa still provided more opportunities than crowded, caste-rigid colonial India. East Africa became America for Indians in the first half of the 20th century, and their resourcefulness cannot be understated or discounted.” 

Islamic Influenced Architecture in My Neighbourhood
Of course all of this sounds all too familiar to me – being a 4th generation Trinidadian of East Indian descent.  In our case my forefathers were indentured labourers who were brought to the Caribbean to work the sugar plantations after the abolition of slavery in 1834.  The first ship called the Fatel Rozack arrived in Trinidad in 1838 and the trade continued until the start of World War I.  Ironic isn’t it.  I am a 4th generation West Indian that moved to the other side of the world for the African experience and end up living among 4th and 5th generation African Indians.  The area I live in Dar is probably about 95% Indian populated, and other than my Japanese housemate and one African tenant, the rest of the occupants my building are all head bobbing Indians.  The lobby area looks like the set of The Kumars at No. 42, there is the smell of grilled tandoori (from the BBQ place at the base of the building), curry and geera (cumin) smell in the elevator most days, and  seemingly daily pujas (prayer services with lots of singing and loud music) on the 12th floor that I live. 

The Slightly Chaotic, and Smelly, Fish Market on a Sunday
There are a lot of differences though between our diasporas though.  Not to generalize, but my African Indian friends do not say good morning in the elevator, are generally quite crass and rude in their shops, and seem to lack even the faintest sense of humour.  Oh well – we can’t all be gregarious, fun loving and jovial West Indians. Growing up in the warm, friendly and boozy Caribbean, this is all alien to me.  They look at me strangely, and then in the usual Indian-standoffish way, wait for the other person to start the conversation.  If any conversation gets started, they look even more perplexed when they realize I speak English with a funny accent, I cannot converse in Hindi and my Swahili is kidogo (little).  Like when I was travelling in India a couple years ago, if I say I am from Trinidad or the Caribbean they give me this constipated look – the kind that George Bush Jr. used to have when the word he had to pronounce had more than 5 letters or a country name ended in something-STAN.  But if I say I am from the West Indies or mention Brian Lara, their eyes light up, the head bobbing starts and they even crack a smile – albeit an unnerving one, the kind Wednesday Adams cracked in a scene from the Addams Family Family Values movie, when she came out of the harmony house.  Well at least the West Indies cricket team is still good for something these days. By the way with the English weather conditions and half of the real team in India in the IPL or not playing because of West Indies Cricket Board petty politics, look for England to put a good cut-ass on the West Indies cricket team in the series this summer.  Which reminds me – I need to teach my housemate Dai the word cut-ass.

A Bajaj (Tuk Tuk in India) - A Cheap Transport Means for People & Goods
Other than enjoying my daily adventures in little India, my other favourite thing is reading the Tanzanian Guardian and Daily News English language newspapers.  Aside from numerous grammar and spelling errors, I think they also have an Alzheimers-dyslexia afflicted staffer doing the layout.  Every single paper seems to have a news story that appears twice in the same paper.  Recently though I had a good chuckle while reading the April 27th edition of the Guardian about how Alessandro Benetton is trying to revive the “colours” of the famous Benetton brand. When I got to the last three paragraphs of the story, it started with the sentence Can’t Say No entered the British singles chart at No. 2…” What the hell – didn’t see that coming! This section was actually from another news story in the paper about singer Conor Maynard, who is considered to be the UKs version of Justin Beiber. Incidentally, I would not consider this news, and also, if I were Conor Maynard, I would not be proud to be compared to Beiber.  It is like telling Adele she is the next Celine Dion.

Church Close to the Harbour in Dar
But wait –it gets better.  In the same paper in the Business and Foreign section there is a story and photo of a Brazilian prostitute who is suing the US embassy for damages.  And then in the Entertainment and Sport section, a picture of the same picture of the Brazilian woman appears next to a story entitled “Filipino Singer’s Journey to the Tribeca Stage”.  Well maybe Brazilian lady-of-the-night carries two passports like me. Or, maybe the editor could not decide which section of the paper to put the Brazilian prostitute story - Business News, International News, or Sports & Entertainment, so he/she slotted it in as many sections as possible.  To be fair to him/her, Ms. Braizil was engaging in an entertaining international sport that is big business. I might have actually missed one of these errors if the layout editor had mistakenly mixed in the “Can’t Say No” Conor Maynard bit into the Brazilian prostitute story, like he did with the Benetton story.  Well perhaps not - because I guess she did say no unlike Conor, and was now suing the American Embassy.  Gosh, I really need to stop spending so much time critiquing the daily papers.  But no chance of that happening anytime soon as I found a gem in today’s paper.  The daily “Sayings of the Wise” on the Opinion page is from all people the tied-tongued mouth of Mike Tyson.  I rest my case about the questionable editorial practices of the Guardian.  

A Good Reason to Sponsor Me -  Struggling Women Street Vendors
In addition to scrutinizing the Guardian these days for editorial faux-pas, I am trying to get some training in for the Kigali Peace Marathon in Rwanda in less than two weeks on May 27th.  And, one of my blog entries would be complete with me mentioning the words Running, Marathon, Sponsoring and Good Cause.  I am leading a team of over 30 VSO and CUSO International volunteers from Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya, as we try to raise funds for the economic empowerment of women in East Africa.  You can support my efforts and modest fundraising target of US$1000 by going to this webpage and donating - CUSO and VSOs Run for The World Every contribution  small or large will make a big difference in the lives of many underprivileged women, as in the picture above, in the countries we are volunteering in. 


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