I try to make a list of things I see on the shortcut. This is an absolutely impossible task. Rather than nothing, I suppose I’ll settle on a small, partial list for today, for just the block between my house and the store:
- a horse grazing
- a line of bajajs, with drivers sprawled behind them on the grass
- four guinea fowl along a cement wall
- kids playing soccer, barefoot on the rocky earth
- a young boy collecting discarded used phone cards and stacking them in his hand
- men sitting on wood benches, drinking out of white teacups, playing checkers with bottle caps
- a series of small empty holes in the ground, the shape of an abandoned game of bao
- boards hammered roughly in the shape of a shack, empty, advertising cold drinks
- a child in school uniform, staring at me (x 15)
- chickens chickens chickens
- men putting up a cement wall who want to practice their English
- a small shop with plastic plumbing tubes of many sizes and colors
- Maasai man, traditional clothes, knife, stick, shoes made of tires, big holes in his ears and circles burned onto his cheeks, talking on a cell phone
- truck that is too big for this road, heavy with crates of Coca-Cola products
- a man unloading his bicycle with a bag of charcoal, a bag of potatoes, and a branch of green bananas—each of these things as big and as heavy as me
- the tailor shop, two foot-pedal sewing machines mounted on tables
- seats from inside a car
- someone carrying large pieces of foam
- a mostly white cat, caught in a cloud of dust from someone sweeping in front of their shop
- many outdoor kitchens, including flames blazing under large pots
- a tree trunk speed bump, mostly worn away into the dirt road
- women carrying babies on their backs, dressed in every color and pattern
- many little concrete rooms, with people hanging in and around, are they shops?
- fresh pineapple stand
- an Ultimate Security employee, with the black and red striped necktie
- a woman making chapatti, a delicious sort of flatbread
As for sounds, I heard the Muslim call to prayer, roosters, motorcycles, numerous Kiswahili greetings, and someone playing the song, “Walking In Memphis” from their shop.
My parents are on a trip out west. They visit the canyons, and they ask locals, “Do you ever get used to seeing this?”
When I visited the American west, I also found the landscape to be unbelievably beautiful, although I admit I am not a mountain person. I say that I am a water person, and this is true. My soul is connected to Lake Michigan, and I long for the sea. Yet even more than this, I think I am a people person. A culture person. I could walk down that shortcut every single day (actually, I nearly do) and never grow tired of it, or any less amazed by the lives I get to witness a mere five minutes from my home. I make lists in my head of the people I wish could join me on just this tiny stretch of real life. I feel humbled, connected, in awe, baffled, speechless at the beauty, inspired, touched, lucky, respectful, quiet, simpler, grateful, and on a good day, a small part of it all.
In many ways, I am “used to” Tanzania. When I wake up in the morning, this is exactly where I expect to be. I am not surprised when we run out of water, or when a generator kicks on because we lost power again. I know that bananas grow on trees, and that today will be hot. Walking outside my gate, however, is always an assault on my sense of perspective. I’ve grown adept at acting normal and playing it cool, but on the inside I am just like my parents, ogling at the canyons.