Travels

 

Yankee, Come Here!

“Tusker, Kilimanjaro, you take five of it, no problem. Safari – you take three, you going to be headache tomorrow,” my smiley, chubby-cheeked, beer connoisseur of a waiter explains. He welcomes me to Tanzania with so much enthusiasm you would have never guessed that I was his 1000th foreign customer, but rather that he had waited years for me to show up at the hotel bar and order a beer.

“Why is it that people from your country are so much more charming than any other? If you make an investigation, you will find that no other people from no other country are so charming and clever,” he declares.

Contrary to popular belief, Americans are quite well-liked in Africa, and most everywhere in the world I’ve gone. I think it may be our tip-oriented culture, or maybe our charming naïveté (stupidité?). Or in the case of Tanzania, perhaps here it is because we share the odd distinction of having rebelled against the Brits -- sharing a common enemy makes us friends by default. As we Americans so rarely leave the comforts of our continent, we are also a rarity, so we are popular by virtue of the law of supply and demand. Plus, we remain the apex of modern popular culture in the eyes of millions of youth around the globe, and regardless of your feelings about 50 Cent, Tupak or Britney Spears, you might as well share genetic material with them as far as the rest of the world is concerned.

“Your country-people, they sit down to learn Swahili, no problem. Like you, you tell me you are here one day, but I think you have at least one week here,” my waiter continues.

It’s pretty clear who the clever one really is, as he lays this on as I peruse the bill. Then again, I have heard this about us Americans from enough different sources to think that maybe we’re not so ugly after all. I like to think I’m not, at least.

Seems it takes one to know one. Tanzanians are extremely kind, helpful, and welcoming, and considering the place gets its fair share of tourists (again, this being relative), seems remarkably genuine towards them. Here a jambo (hi in tourist Swahili, as it has no real meaning in the language unless prefixed by other words), there a mambo (hi), here a karibu (welcome), there a coy “hi” (never “hello” – that’s old school, apparently): I am greeted warmly at every turn.

“Rofiki, friend! You like I give you my company?”

“Mzungu, foreigner, you welcome!”

“Wait, wait! Come, come!”

Most Tanzanians are content with a greeting returned, and if I fail to wait or come, they don’t bother pursuing the matter. Most.

Walking the quiet “garden road” to the Indian Ocean while out exploring on my first day here, I come upon a young man sitting on a log.

“Come, come. Mm, English, no. You? From? Me, you. Friendi? Wasika koto la mani sewadi (insert real Swahili here). Love. I you love. Going America? Missus?” he suggests, spouting a freestyle Swahilinglish love poem.

“Missus. MISTER. America.” Gesture big, tall; flex muscles. Mister,” I return using my own literary form – flash fiction.

He laughs, he gets it, but keeps walking with me.

“No, no, no,no, no ,no, no…” I count to ten no’s on my fingers.

He laughs, he gets it, but keeps walking with me.

“Me,” do the yellow pages walk, hold up one finger, thumb at myself.

He doesn’t get it, or else pretends not to.

I stop. I am not walking any further as long as he does.

He gets it.

“Friendi?”

“Friendi. Bye.”

Before capitulating he steals an awkward peck to my neck.
I think I will call my new husband Tyson.

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