how do you spell Misungwi?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I got billy dee! I got billy dee!!

The title of this post is a quote from the movie Big Momma, starring Martin Lawrence.

I saw it on Sunday at my friends house. That's right: I'm white, I'm in rural poverty-stricken East Africa, and I watched a popular African-American movie with my good friends who are... wait for it... ARAB. Omani, to be precise.

I really like them. First, moreso even than Tanzanians, they force feed me a lot of food. GOOD food, food with spices, and really soft nice pieces of meat. And the 'man of the house', Hamadi, is also a recent arrival. He is Omani, though he has visited Tanzania before he hasn't stayed much. He came to marry one of the women who was in the house. He knows Swahili [apparently a LOT of people in Oman and Yemen and UAE etc know Swahili - I'm not sure. A few of my friends in Misungwi told me that a lot of Arabs who were living in Tanzania and Zanzibar left after independence and when the Arab countries started better exploiting the oil riches back home...] but he does NOT know prices, so people try to screw him over almost worse than me!

Second, they are nice to talk to. They have lots of opinions about Tanzania and the Arab world and life in general that seem, at least from my perspective, to be refreshingly free of the bias or preference for one group/place over another. They shoot straight and tell it like it is, and in a really comedic way, too.

Third, they have a lot of movies. Of which I've only just started watching, though I caught bits of Lord of the Rings last week and plan on watching Big Momma 2 sometime in the next few days..

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On Friday I went, for the first time, to the Disco in Misungwi town. It was actually a pretty fun experience! I hadn't gone yet because I had heard stories of brawls and commotion and just general unpleasantries, but people say it has 'chilled out' since I first got here, and a few famous artists were coming so I figured I'd check it out.

It was a little bizarre going to a Disco where EVERYONE knows you and you know most of them. In a way it made it awkward - I saw some of my students who DEFINITELY should not have been there, and were behaving in a typical rebellious teenage way that portrays utter confidence in their actions but for us 'old folk' we cringe and shake our heads and think "in a few years, they'll regret THAT... and THAT...". I also saw some teachers and coworkers, most of whom asked me to buy them beers [um, no]. And I ran into a friend of mine who has a family - a wife and 3 month old baby - and who brought the whole crew along with him. Friday night, 11:30pm, I'm dancing to 'Candy Shop' or some other raunchy song [is Mystikal out of jail?!], and I turn around to see someone passing me a wide-eyed 3month old kid. HUH?!?! I danced/bounced him around for about 20 seconds before I got freaked out and just passed the kid along to the next person who was willing to take him [no worries since everyone knows each other, well worries about kidnapping. I think the act of taking a small child to the disco in the first place is a tad disconcerting....]

But knowing everyone also made it kind of fun. Since the disco is in the village, it is much more difficult for young women to come - they must stay at home with their parents and do housework, and it would be MOST inappropriate for them to be seen at the disco. So it was mostly men. But even the women who were there, since we all knew each other, it had a very relaxing and friendly atmosphere. People were drinking, talking to each other, enjoying life, dancing for the sake and enjoyment of dancing. Not like Mwanza or Dar, where the men seem to enjoy going from introduction [which is optional] to nasty hip grind dip hump etc etc in less than 5 seconds, despite the protest [or with occasional encouragement] of the women [prostitutes would be the exception].

So I had a good time, and people were really happy to see me there. In general, actually, people seem really happy to see me these days. On Sunday I greeted more people than I think I ever have in my life, i.e. a one-day record. Even last night I had gone out and was walking home late, and had everyone who passed call out greetings to me [not very helpful, though, since I have no clue who they are - I don't think it's racist to say that it's harder to tell black people apart at night than it is to distinguish that someone is white, no?]. Well, greetings or asking me to 'sell' them the young white Belgian women I was with who are doing their studies here for the next month [I told them they're not for sale, and if they were these guys couldn't afford it - pretty inappropriate huh?]

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I saw some men destroying an old, traditional mud-brick home. When I came upon them there was one wall left standing, and the preferred method of demolition was for 5 guys to stand next to the wall and start pushing. It was practical but also incredibly amusing to watch - I wanted to take a picture but they actually had the wall down by the time I got my camera out...

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Young men like hanging out at the small wooden huts that act as hair-dressers. Well, barbers, since all they do is usually shave their heads [most of them are too young to have facial hair, which Tanzanian men start growing later than American men, and if they DO have it they are too proud of it to want to shave it off]. It's fun to stop by sometimes and greet them, and yesterday I decided to do an experiment and took my good fundi friend, who has a barbershop next door, and taught the young guys who work there all about CONDOMS. Very informal classroom, just giving them the basics and answering their questions, but it was highly enjoyable and is one of the more rewarding aspects of my work [though often unreported in my work summaries].

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My time here is winding down, now less than 3 months, and I'm liking it here more every day.
It's gonna be hard to leave, but I think in the end I will be ready for it. I need to come home, work a little, go back to school, and start thinking about the next job I can get that will bring me back here...

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