No Tribe, Tanzania

            Another business trip to Posta: a promising cultural experience. This time we go to get a criminal background check for you, as we start the visa process for our move to South Africa. We have a vague idea where we are going, and are advised to just ask around.

            We wander the street, crowded with people sending packages, newspaper stands, men with baskets of miraculously cold water on their heads, and the busiest bus stop in all of downtown. We stop at the post office to send two identical packages, to people who live in the same zip code. One of these costs 7,700tsh and the other 8,800tsh.

            We start asking around for the stesheni polici, and get a series of people that point us towards the ocean, and then south. It is about three thousand degrees outside, and we are no longer on the street listed in the address. We keep asking, people pointing us onward, and walking. At last, Polici, on the right and the left.

            Many people are hanging around and there are no helpful signs, but we finally make it to a desk where a man beckons us. You explain you need a background check.

            “Why, are you a criminal?”

            “No no! I just need to show my new employer that I am not.”

            “How do I know that you are not?”

            “Well… I’m not. I came here to get that proof on paper.”

            “Why should I believe you? You come in here and want me to say this, but how do I know? Is there a warrant out for your arrest?”

            “What? No! You know, you take my fingerprints and then you check them.” We are trying not to panic. This plan is backfiring entirely.

            Eventually, he breaks into a smile. “Okay. We do not do that here. You have to go back to Posta to the Ministry of Home Affairs. Here, I will write you down the directions.”

            His name is Schubert. He asks where we are from, and is please because he says he does not yet have friends in America, and now he does. He gets out a piece of paper to take all my contact information so we can be friends. He also gives me his.

            So, back to Posta we go, buying a drink along the way that tastes like a caramel apple sucker. We find the building, complete with a retirement ceremony taking place in the courtyard. You sign in at the front desk and get a visitor badge, but I apparently don’t need one. We head to the second floor (which is actually the third) and in the stairwell there are boxes and boxes of old records and files, spilling out in a tan, disorganized heap.

            There are windows and doors and rooms and a man who seems to be waiting in line. We stand near him. Suddenly, he turns to us, acting like he works here and leads us into one of the rooms. You repeat your request. He tells us we will need a copy of your passport, and a letter written to the Director of Forensic Services. He gives you the address.

            “I have to write him a letter?” you clarify.

            He nods.

            “Can I write it now?” you ask.

            He slides his notebook of lined paper over to you, and goes to make copies.

            Through another windowed-doored passageway is a place to pay, and then back to another small fishbowl room for the fingerprinting. There are black inky fingerprints covering all the walls, most densely around hand-height. There is also a poster with a cartoon of two donkeys talking about teamwork. A huge tube of black ink sits on the table, by a plank of wood and a roller. There is a sink next to the door.

            The kind man asks a couple of questions. Your surname? Date of birth? Your tribe?

            You pause. “No tribe.” The moment hangs in our hearts, as we each think of what this means. I suddenly feel sorry for us, somehow adrift in space and time. While I’m grateful for my endless opportunities, I’m also adrift in space and time. I wonder what it feels like to have a tribe.

            He takes your fingerprints onto a piece of paper, telling you that you should not leave Tanzania, you are a good teacher and are needed here.

            While I’m sure you will receive a clean record report from Tanzania, I don’t think there is even the smallest chance that your fingerprints will be cross-referenced with anything in the next 7-10 days. There are no computers, nor likely a system in place to support this demand of the developed world. You might as well be putting your inky fingers on the wall with all the rest.


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