Is Marriage But Good Company?
The sandbox match would have to tide me over while I tried to
get with a local boxing promoter whom I connected with via email
while back in the US. Though eager to help, he has just returned
from a lost bout in Russia and was scrambling to get a transit
visa for Egypt so he can get his boxers to Romania for another
big match this week. Emmanuel puts me in touch with his “kaka”
(brother) instead – Mr. John – and we make a meeting.
I came home slightly late after dawdling over ice cream and grocery
shopping, to find a tiny old white-haired gent wandering the parking
“Excuse me, but do I have a date tonight with one of you
ladies by chance?” he asked, head cocked.
I apologized for my lateness (the one time I try to be on African
time and take my time getting home…), and we go up to my
apartment, where John has left his name and number on a palm leaf,
his impromptu calling card, setting the tone for our curious evening
I invite John to sit, and he launches into his life story without
prompting, letting me know in no subtle way I have fallen into
the hands of one of the most fascinating men in Tanzania. The
way John tells it, his family is of modest means but very well
known and respected. His parents were one of a rare few to be
educated in Tanzania way back in the 1920s, having taken advantage
of the schooling offered by Christian missionaries. John went
abroad to get a degree in architecture in 1972, also a pioneer,
given that Julius Nyerere, the first post-colonial president,
was the only Tanzanian at independence in 1962 to have a university
diploma, as there wasn’t even a university in the country
His cell phone rang, interrupting my history and Swahili lessons
– his wife wanting to know where he was.
“Sorry to keep you from your family,” I said.
“Families you mean,” he replied, proceeding to explain
his happy but unorthodox (considering he is Christian) family
structure. His first marriage was to a British woman, though he
already had one child out of wedlock from a Tanzanian woman and
another British girlfriend, who hoped to get the nod.
“Baby, you know we will always be friends, but you’re
older than me, and that won’t work in my country,”
he told the unlucky girlfriend. “And we would always be
quarreling about the upbringing of our children if we got married.
I don’t have to raise my children in the African way, but
in the strict way. People will need to see them and know they
were raised right.”
“She had different ideas about things – like homosexuality.
It’s no big deal, she would say – but anything other
than a man with a woman – it just isn’t right to me.
She took me to this club in London – Ah, anyhow, so I married
this other guhl.”
“I told her, in London, I will be nobody. But here in Tanzania,
I can be somebody. So she ended up staying in London by herself
and opening a Swahili school [his brilliant idea], and I came
back here. I knew I would be lonely, so I talked to her about
taking another wife. ‘Just as long as it isn’t a friend
of ours, John,’ she asked. That’s fair. I sent her
a picture of one girl, but she didn’t like her. And another.
‘Send her CV,’ she asked. Eventually we decided on
a woman, she is mixed, Arab and Tanzanian. She tried to marry
another mulatto, Indian man, but it didn’t work out. It
is actually easier for the Tanzanians to mix with the Arabs than
the Indians because of the caste system.”
“Anyhow, what is marriage but good company?” he mused.
“But to have a good marriage I must know your problems as
well as your plezhah. Shall we go, then?”
So we drove over countless obscured streets illuminated by a few
bare bulbs hanging in the late-nite shops and bars. At last we
found our boxing spot at the M&M United Fitness Centre, a
small cement-walled gym with 20-year-old equipment in the small
weight and aerobic rooms. The sign for “Erobic Massage Tyboo”
apparently didn’t mean erotic massages and other taboos,
but rather denoting a full service gym, offering aerobics, massage
(Indeed, another day I return to find a Tanzanian muscle-man doing
tae-bo by his lonesome to some Tanzanian zouk music – move
over Billy Blanks!) The manager, a charming, cocoa-skinned beauty
named Sabra explained that the boys trained at 6 am and 4pm in
the open-air courtyard out back and arranged for me to come back
When I thanked John profusely for all his help, he shined his
big grin on me once again and said it was only fair.
“When I was in Russia, I couldn’t eat the food –
cheese and sausage and cabbage and all these things. So just before
I was to take my plane home, I fell all the way to the ground.
Someone looked at me and knew the problem. ‘Shuker, shuker!’
the man said, and got me a coke. I woke up just fine then and
got on the plane. That man saved me. So it’s only fair I
help you, here in this place that is so foreign to you.”
I don’t know if giving a collapsed man a Coke and driving
a little boxing princess all over creation to find a trainer were
equivalent good deeds, but I accepted his kindness, making a mental
note to be more generous to out-of-towners back in DC, as I certainly
can’t say that I have been so magnanimous. But from John’s
constant toothy smile, I can say that perhaps he wasn’t
being humble when he said that the plezhah was all his.
more stories, past, present and future, keep visiting www.aprilwrites.com.