how do you spell Misungwi?

Monday, December 25, 2006

kwa heri tanzania

I am sitting in the Peace Corps office for the last time [hooray free fast internet], as it is pretty rainy out today and I am, well, just incredibly anxious to get out of here already.

I'm glad I decided to hang out in Dar es Salaam for a few weeks after leaving site and before going home - it's given me a chance to do a bunch of stuff I've wanted to for awhile, but also has given me some time to gather my thoughts about leaving my village and made me more excited to go home. Dar is great but it is not Misungwi, and I've done what I've wanted to do here, so I'm ready to move on.

On Friday I walked around downtown Dar to breathe in the sights sounds smells one last time before going. I walked down Uhuru street and saw hundreds of women [well, tens] selling thousands [literally] of brightly colored fabrics and khangas. Then I walked down India street and saw women wearing these khangas, which is ordinary in the village [traditional funeral wear] but uncommon in Dar - I think they were poorer women from the village, who came on a given day at a given time to a given place to be given assistance.

I walked down Kisutu street with it's Indian places of worship [not sure WHAT they're called], Indian places of dining [they're called restaurants and they're terrific], and finally reached the Kisutu market which is a bit sadder now that the street fruit vendors are gone, but you can still get some fantastic bananas and mangoes, which I did, and can now proudly declare I've met my goal of eating one mango a day until I leave. Mangoes, I will miss them so much.

While downtown is nice [another example - the AZAM ice cream shop. SOOO good frozen cone globe thingees only if they had peanuts could it be better] I wanted to explore Kariakoo market one more time before I left as well. Kariakoo is the CRAZY market/street area where residents of Dar go to do their shopping, and the thieves of dar go to do their thieving. Seriously, I got tons of warnings before I went not to take anything, to hold my bag to my chest like a baby, etc etc. I personally think it's a lot safer now that the street vendors are gone and it's just shops and roadside huts. So yeah, I walked around there up and down streets [including Sukuma street] for an hour or so to get my final African-market fix. I think I'm ready for department stores and supermarkets again, though I might miss the feel and hustle and bustle and noise and rotting fruit on the ground of markets here, after a few months maybe.

Lots of great Christmas bargains too. I.e., sellers are desperate for money to buy Christmas presents and meals, and are willing to drop the price as low as it goes, instead of trying to rip me off royally. Nice change of pace. Gotta admit I somehow miss the pre-christmas environment too, though I got a good fix of fake trees and music yesterday - my favorite was what apparently is a Chinese rip-off of xmas classics, my favorite being Jinger bells.

And speaking of the holiday spirit, I spent 4 hours of my Christmas eve at the New Africa casino in Dar. I drank beer, I had a great free buffet of mashed potatoes and turkey and christmas cookies, I talked to a lot of nice lady dealers who were very impressed by my Kiswahili [I imagine the last time I will be able to easily impress women for QUITE awhile, though I don't know how the 'oh yeah, I just got back from two years in Africa with the Peace Corps' line will work], and though I stunk at roulette I managed to end up ahead thanks to blackjack. Oh, and I was surrounded by Chinese men and Phillipinos. Non-traditional, but not a bad day.

But Christmas even wasn't all gambling and cheesy music. I was very fortunate to be able to visit a friend of mine from Misungwi, Alex. He was in town on business - both of his parents have passed away, and as his dad was in the military, the 7 surviving children have a right to claim his pension. Well, he was in Dar going through the processes of getting the money, and unfortunately but not unexpectedly, the government is dragging its heels. Basically, the trip was a long and expensive journey to facilitate a 10-minute 'drop-in' at the appropriate offices to say 'hey, i've got 6 younger brothers and sisters who need food and tuition, so what do you say' and then they responded 'oh, ok, thanks for the reminder, we'll try to get that to you in the next few months.' Alas, government red tape can be extra thick, especially when there's money on the line.

So I got on a few daladalas that I had never even heard of before [mbagala mtokijichi?!] to get out to his aunts house, which is in the outskirts, dare I say 'suburbs,' of dar. I also had to take a 15 minute walk on footpaths through streams and backyards to get there. But it felt comforting to get out of the downtown area for an afternoon, and to see where I imagine many of the newcomers to Dar relocate themselves, where land is still somehow available, and where one might honestly feel they are in the village and not 1/2 hour out of the biggest city in the country [wealthy newcomers, I should say. I imagine quite a few others end up in the more crowded areas like mwananyamala, close to downtown, which I went through on a sketchy daladala ride at night on my way to the University to visit a good friend of mine. That was a whole different experience, the highlight of which was definitely a 10 minute standstill at an intersection due to 3 stubborn drivers, ours included, who were all bumper to bumper and refusing to reverse - real mature. When I finally got to the final stop, it was dark and the lights at the stand went out. I was a tad afraid of being robbed, but on the bright side the black market guys instantly came out so I was able to buy a handkerchief that I needed, but really I digress].

After visiting his aunt, Alex and I came back to civilization and went to the Dar handicraft market to buy what a friend of mine refers to as 'Afri-crap.' Paintings, sculptures, masks, carvings, trinkets, and the like. I picked up a few gifts, had fun bargaining [and was definitely aided by having a Tanzanian friend around], and saw more ebony wood carvings then I will ever see again. It was very interesting to see the carvers working in the background, though many of it still seemed generically produced. To date, my favorite ebony carving is the model penis that Michelle had made for me, which aided in many a condom demonstration [I left it behind in the name of further condom mobilization, but I did take a picture for memory - inappropriate to post here however].

That was Christmas eve - I said goodbye to Alex and then the cards began. Today I tried to go to a casino to change my money, misinterpreted the cashier that I had to play to exchange, and after some lucky 4's at the roulette table 5 minutes later I got denied, though I left 50 bucks richer.

TONIGHT I FLY HOME - next, and perhaps final, entry will be from the states. Peace and happy holidays to all.


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