Thursday, June 17, 2010

Soap My Ears and I'll Follow You Anywhere

Only a couple days before I left, I had one of the best experiences of my time in Moshi. I left for Tanzania having already not had a proper haircut for sometime. After dealing with the scraggly look for six weeks, I finally decided I needed to take care of it. I was very sceptical as to how the haircut would turn out, as I assumed that not many Tanzanian barbers have dealt with ‘white people’ hair before.

The barber shop my local friends took me too looked like one straight out of a Spike Lee movie from the 80’s. I showed them a picture of what I wanted done (courtesy my Health Card), and he went to work. He cut all of my hair with clippers, just varying the number from the side, to the mid-side, to the top. Hakuna scissors. At the end, they spray your hair with olive oil instead of using some sort of product like gel or wax, weird by our standards but it doesn’t really make much of a difference. I was pretty pleased with the outcome, but they weren’t done there. I then got a straight-razor shave from my barber. After he was finished he passed me off to one of the girls there, and this is when I started to regret not going this every single week I’d ever been in Moshi. First, she washed my hair. Sounds simple enough, but when they wash your hair they get all up in the ears and go to town on your scalp. It was awesome. Next, she wiped my face and neck off with a hot, moist towel, like the ones you get on the airplane. After the airplane towel treatment came the best part – a head, face, neck, shoulders and chest massage complete with oils. I have never had a chest massage before, but I’m now convinced it’s the best kind. All this for the equivalent of $3.50. I’m thinking about missing my flight to Toronto and hoping on the next plane back to Moshi so I can marry this girl. Haha.

..One more reason to come back at a later date. :-)

Miss Kilimanjaro

While currently writing this, I am sitting on a bench in an Amsterdam train station. I am no longer in Tanzania, but I was unable to share some of my experiences during the last two weeks of my stay, so the next couple posts will be making up for that lost time, as they are still my tales of Africa.

Last weekend, we – a pronoun that now includes a number of old CCS volunteers, some other volunteers I have met during my time in Moshi, and of course our local friends – decided to attend the Miss Kilimanjaro Beauty Pageant that was hosted at a local club called La Liga. For obvious cultural differences between Tanzania and the West, we didn’t really know what to expect from this event, which of course was the draw for us.

Let me set the scene for you a little bit…
La Liga has the slogan of being “the number 1 club in East Africa”, although advertising claims like this often go undisputed in Tanzania. Usually, it is open Thursday through Sunday and functions much like clubs at home, but with way more lasers, smoke and foam pouring over you while you shakey shakey with what is usually a 50-50 mzungu-local ratio. Unlike what we’re used to back home, people don’t show up at the club until around 1:30, and it doesn’t close until about 8 in the morning. It is complete with light up palm trees at the tables, a stage on which we frequently dance that looms over the rest of the light-up dance floor, and paintings of scandalous women on the walls. It’s a great place, and the location which hosted the pageant.

The show took place on a stage outside the club in the stoned “patio” area. It started out in pretty regular fashion. A mix of famous bongo-flava artists and dance performers kicked off the night with performances of their own in front of the ~500 people in attendance. The contestants then came out and performed a dance together. The girls were all gorgeous, many of them quite comparable to what would be seen in a beauty contest back home, only they wore far more clothing and had a little bit more “junk in the trunk”. They introduced each contestant, at which time the girls gave a speech telling the audience and judges their level of education, future ambitions, favourite hobbies, and the designer of their dress. The names they listed for their designer were not that of big name designers, but often they simply said, “I designed and made my dress myself.” The dresses were crazy, some of them complete with ancient Egyptian-esque head wear.

Just when we thought we became comfortable with the idea that the night might not be that different from what we would see at home, we were shown the talent section of the show. Back home, we would expect them to sing, dance etc. However, at the Miss Kilimanjaro Pageant, the first contestant performed a skit, which I can assure you was possibly the worst acted performance I have ever seen. On top of that, the plot was as follows: a woman becomes a prostitute, she has unprotected sex, she contract AIDS, and then she dies. Hello Miss Kilimanjaro. The next ten contestants performed something of similar quality, either lip-syncing a song, acting in an equally painful skit or dancing in a way that is far beneath the regularly incredible Tanzanian ability. One girl, however, did a comedy act that was actually hilarious. She dressed as a man, stuffed a beer belly underneath her shirt, and did a perfect slap-stick style interpretation of a man working in the fields – this was completely out of place and would never happen at any form of pageant elsewhere, but it was easily the best act.

We left the night, bewildered, unsure whether to laugh of be angry that we paid for the tickets. To top it off, the taxi that took us home had engine problems and could not go faster that 20km/h.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Breathing into a Paper Bag

The major grant application has been completed and sent away with restored optimism; the apartment is clean; my sister has arrived and is enjoying herself; my cooking has reached new heights; and the funding for Tuleeni's new land looks to be in place. All is going well here, yet I find myself in a panic, and in contrast to what would be normal, it is because things are going so well. I have had the disturbing realization that I leave in two weeks. I have built a way of life here - one which I am able to laugh, to sing loudly, to dance without restraint, and most importantly, to make a difference far beyond expectations.

Last year, when I returned home, I found it very hard to live happily with my at-home lifestyle. I struggled to go out with friends and to see value in the day-to-day routines of my Canadian home. Now, I tell myself that I will not face the same problems as I did last year, that I have dealt with this before. I tell myself this, but now it is without confidence. Truthfully, I would have to say that I have no idea how I will be when I return. What I can find comfort in now is that I know I can return. Last year, I left not knowing whether I would ever be back. But now, I know this is a place I will be throughout my life.

My work for White Orange Youth, Tuleeni, Moshi and Tanzania will not stop when I board the plane. This, for me, is a long term commitment, and that thought in itself also provides some comfort.