There is no such concept as “personal space” in Africa. Sitting at the harbor in Dar es Salaam waiting for the boat to Zanzibar, we are closer than shoulder to shoulder. We are front to back, back to front, nose to arm pit…eye to eye. We are, Muslim, Christian, Massai, Tourist. The morning air is electric and vibrant with the anticipation of the day. The energy present is an entity in and of itself, created by the mingling of people who are shoulder to shoulder, front to back, back to front, nose to arm pit…eye to eye.
Having resident status, Liz was first on the boat and secured for us a couple of bean bags on the upper deck. Being winter here (which means its blazing hot, but not quite hotter than Hell) the clouds rolled in and brought some rain. Hakuna matata. We covered ourselves with our scarves and watched as the river of humanity slowly sludged its way onto the ferry. In the end, there were people in the seats, on the floor and some standing for the 2 hour passage. Every mode of public transportation here has people on top of people on top of people. It drives home the meaning of the phrase “the unwashed masses.”
And then we met Mama*.
Mama was one of the last people to board. She looked at us, we looked at her, I gave her two thumbs up and the 3 of us burst out laughing. Then, we got “the look” as she sized us both up. “Sogea.” “Move,” she said, flashing us this wide, broad-toothed grin. She was very polite, but it was not a request. Then this fat**, laughing woman shoved us both over and cozied right on up. Karibu! Welcome! I mean, seriously, what else can you say? Mama’s English was about as good as my Kiswahili, but most of our communication was woman to woman eye contact and laughter. We all enjoyed a fun, cozy, relaxing and comfortable voyage on the Indian Ocean. In the end, although we went our separate ways, we had bonded. Our two disparate cultures had interfaced. May that spark ignite a blaze of peace. Salama.
* “Mama” is a respectful designation used to refer to any woman with, shall we say, a few years experience in life.
** This is not an insult here, but rather a compliment. It means you are one of the fortunate who have enough to eat.
Education is better in Zanzibar than on the mainland.
Children love to get their picture taken – if you pay them.
Beautifully written… may your interactions be as wonderful as this one was.