The International Writers Magazine: African City Cautions

Trista Mrema explores Arusha

A walk into Arusha town (actually, it was just made a city!) So, my mother's car got busted on the way back from Serengeti and was towed to the shop. Before we left, daddy's truck's water pump cracked and the part had to be ordered from Dar es we were back in Arusha with no ride. This suited me fine, I decided I hate using cars as a regular mode of transportation...we were close enough to town, we could walk it. I've gotten too used to the freedom of my bike in Amsterdam and I didn’t see why we weren't walking more in Arusha.

I don't know why I didn’t 'see' that this isTanzania's summer time and thus, hot as all balls. If I was only conducting business before 10 am, I could walk like Moses all over the place, otherwise bake in the heat. And, what wasn't terribly obvious from the shelter of a car, were the perv-y eyes of perv-y men...actually, the eyes I don't mind, they don't make a peep, it's the hootin’ 'n hollerin’ I don’t take a shine to (sorry, I’m channeling Uncle Jesse from Dukes of Hazard).

My mother, my aunt Kawinzi, her son Max, her daughter Katy and myself walked into town to get a little exercise and do some shopping. I love walking around because it gives you enough time to check people out and find out about your surroundings. In this town, it's more like our surroundings were finding out about us; vendors trying to sell their wares, poor kids begging, perv-y men begging (yuck!). and it's one of these crazy busy towns like Shanghai or something where you find every mode of transport, every type of human, and every kind of animal on the road in chaotic symphony.

This is EXACTLY the type of scene I adore watching....but noooooo...I was averting eyes (gladly!), begging bambini (they always came up to me because they know I’m soft) and skanky strays (so sad). The walk was stressful, not leisurely as it should be; I was either worrying about getting hit by a car/matatu (bus) /bike/human-pulled cart thingy or getting jacked by the starving desperate kids or being raped by the lurking men. I was struck by the amount of men I saw...ok, maybe it's not the amount of men but more like the lack of women...and, to be specific, the lack of hot westernized charming women with big smiles and an even bigger laughs (i.e. me). I don’t like a lot of any one thing and certainly not too much testosterone. I trusted that my mother knew what she was doing when she suggested we walked through town, but I was very glad to find that we would be taking a taxi back home when the time came.

So, the next day, minus my mother (she was hung-over), Kawinzi and her kids (they went to Nairobi to see my grandmother), I walked to town toute seule. My mother laid down some rules: don't talk to anyone, don't stop for anyone, don’t wear what you were wearing last time, use a purse/bag that you can close, if you get scared, hop into a taxi. She also chose this time to tell me of the story of the French tourists getting robbed on the bridge we crossed going into town....thanks, mommy!

My instructions were clear...but...I love people...I love looking at them, smiling at them, talking to was I going to survive? You should've seen me psyche myself up: 'ok, pretend you're a hardened, that's a stretch...pretend you're a guy...ok, how about a butch lesbian...walk like a butch lesbian...but, wait, this is third-world Africa, maybe that will get me robbed quicker....ok, just pretend you're an evil bitch.' But, I ask you, when has five minutes gone by when I haven’t either laughed, smiled or worn some silly ass expression on my face? How the hell was I going to play evil ass bitch on the walk to and from town?

I left our gate and turned the corners of my mouth down and strode like I had a huge pair of balls...but, because I find humor in everything, I soon broke this posture to have a good giggle at myself. It's hard work trying to be mean, I prayed no kids or old people passed me by. My first test came in the form of a small group of heckling guys...they called 'hello,' spotting I was Western and tried to get my attention, but I didn’t look. Do you know how hard that was? I smile and say hello to people that are across the damn street not even paying attention to am I going to ignore a straightforward 'hello?' But, I did, because my mother put the fear in me: the fear that I would be swindled or kidnapped or something. I had planned to do more shopping, but when I finally got to town, I realized I wouldn’t be able to keep the charade up. I had already broken once and smiled and said 'jambo' to a passer-by...I wouldn’t last too long, they'd find me out. I totally relaxed and my face brightened when I reached our gate again...I gave Charlie, the gate dude, a big ole Trista had been ages.

Lesson learned: don’t take my silly happy ass out in a testosterone-infused third world city all alone...unless I’m Australian and consider this some kind of extreme sport.

© Trista Mrema April 2006

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