The International Writers Magazine: Destination Africa

Mother Africa
Trista Mrema
in Arusha

Mother Africa…I had totally forgotten about it…I forgot what it looked like…the sight of so many black people. Ok, I’m black, to go further, I'm Tanzanian/Kenyan, but I was ‘Born in the USA.’ I was raised with white folks in a predominantly white land. I grew up thinking white is the standard, everything else, secondary.

That thought registered subliminally throughout my childhood. Ok, so, I grew up and got righteous a little, found by blackness (it was buried under my ‘Bethesda-ness’) but that upbringing was always at work. Here, in Arusha, I see all the ‘dark’ people around and something strikes me…not like I’m clutching my purse or screaming ‘darkies go back to Africa (duh).’ It’s more like I don’t know where I fit in, in all this blackness. You’d think that my blackness would just get with the mass blackness and ‘ungawa, black power’ until the live long day, but the struggle is a bit different here and so am I. I can either ponder this more deeply or order another drink from the poolside bar.

I arrived in Arusha on the last day of presidential and parliamentary campaigns. My father was rerunning for member of parliament for Arusha-Urban. Even though my relationship with my father is pretty strained (I use the terms ‘relationship,’ ‘father’ and ‘strained loosely), I thought it was damn cool to be witnessing an election first hand; there was a campaign poster of him on the gate when we arrived. Later that night, his campaign posse came over to discuss strategy…Florida and that whole 'hanging chad' business ain’t got nuthin’ on a third world election. You have to drop serious loot to make sure polling places aren’t compromised, votes are properly counted and misinformation is duly controlled…that doesn’t necessarily ensure you a fair race, you could still get hoodwinked.

On the morning of election day, daddy—sorry, I know it sounds spoiled, but, to me, that’s his name—went off to dip his finger in ink and do his political rounds. My mother and I went to the market to buy provisions for the eminent victory. The market was cool, strange, buzzing, yucky. I absolutely LOVE looking at people doing their thing in their own hood. I don’t necessarily love checking out the butcher’s dangling slabs of meat baking in the sun with an entourage of flies. Actually, I do like checking that shit out, I just don’t like thinking about eating it later. No one else seemed to mind, so I fronted like I have the same exact set-up back home. Behind covered mouth, I hushed to my mother, ‘Is this safe?’ As soon as I said it, I knew I was going to eat whatever was handed to me, no matter her reply…maybe I just trusted the skill with which our one-eyed butcher deftly cut the meat.

The market had everything you could want, if you wanted it caked under a film of dusty dirt. Heat and dirt tend to take the shine away from things…strewn garbage, motley piled stalls and stray malnourished dogs help to take the shine away too. And the poor kids fighting each other to hold your bag of goods to make a couple thousand T-shillings ($1=1000 T-shillings) sort of puts you off the idea of a fun day at the market. Sight seeing here comes with moral obligation. It was eye-catching all the same and I guess I was too because I got a lot of attention (see, they knew I didn’t fit in either). We stopped at a fishmonger who was loading in a mess of tilapia from Lake Victoria…I thought that was cool, ‘Tilapia from Lake Victoria,’ I’m going to name my band that.

We got back to the car and a bunch of boys crowded to fight for the fee of protecting our vehicle while we were away (whether we asked for it or not). I wondered, ‘do you get used to the begging children and eventually ignore them?’ When we first arrived at the market, we were blitz-krieged by outstretched little palms…mommy (yes, that’s her name) got the brunt of it because she was the driver. In a totally punk move, mommy diverted the boys to our cook, Katherine, so they would bother her for money. When the boys saw Katherine had no dinero, they came to me. I thought I was setting justice straight by pointing them back to my mother, but really I was playing with their emotions and empty stomachs (im a punk too!). In the end, I was pleased to find my mother worried whether the boys would evenly divide the money she gave them…not such a punk after all.

After that, we dropped Katherine off at a voting center. You could tell she wasn’t to keen but rather ‘encouraged’ by mommy’s ‘delicate’ hand. We reposed for the rest of the afternoon in our backyard under the sun. Mommy and I caught up about life in Arusha, family drama and…and…my boyfriend. You should hear how proud I am about my boyfriend…I had no idea until I started to present him to my mother. I knew she would like him because he’s French and has a job and she considers it a miracle that any of her children are in ANY kind of relationship (which would put her that much closer to grandbabies).

4pm election day and the polls close. Daddy was optimistic but not so sure, mommy swore victory was at hand…they both made me nervous because you got the impression there was more at stake. I didn’t want to know what more was at stake…I’m working very hard to get my life as uncomplicated as possible, I can't stop now and pick-up stragglers. By midnight, they still didn’t have a clear winner. Another posse formed at our place to call individual polling centers for the up-to-the-minute tally and to calculate the big picture.
Benefiting from not being too close to the election, I took my ass to sleep at around 1am. At around 3am, my mother came into my room, frazzled, looking for a Nokia charger and muttering, ‘it doesn’t look good, it doesn’t look good.’ I prayed it would all be sorted by the morning so I could go to the pool without feeling guilty (selfish!).

I woke up at 10am, and, while the final results weren’t in, victory was close so pool plans could be made. One snafu, I forgot my bikini in Amsterdam. No matter, I’ll just borrow something from my mother or buy a suit in town. Well, my mother only offered one-piece bathing suits circa 1982. I took the least offensive one and prayed for a well-stocked hotel gift shop (I went to a local hotel to use the pool). My cousin Marc was driving me around because me mum hadn’t slept all night; he dropped me off at the la-dee-da Impala Hotel. I five-figure saluted the glorious, pristine pool…I had not seen one since I left the States. The concierge told me I wouldn’t have luck in the gift shop but I was excited and didn’t care so I headed to the ladies to change. Maybe I should have cared because I came out looking like Nadia, the Russian Olympic 100-meter swimming prodigy. You know the look; flat-chested, broad-shouldered, one-piece wearing, man-looking athlete…that was me minus the swimming cap and ‘athlete’ physique. I wanted to take a picture to show how ridiculous I look, but I was too embarrassed. It’s bad enough standing out as the only black chick (again?) amongst white tourists, but do I have to be the only one-piece wearing nerd? No, I didn’t have to…much later, a woman, who I'm sure competed in the shot-put competition for Germany, took a quick dip in a flowery one-piece…phew!
I have to sum up it now because I wrote the preceding bit while at the pool….at this moment, I'm drunk from the victory party. so, yeah, we won and I'm going to sleep.
ciao ciao
© Trista Mrema April 2006

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