“The darkest hour is just before the dawn.”
The wheelbarrow was filled with scattered papers of all sizes. I lit a match and threw it to the upper right corner. I lit a second and threw it to the lower left. The small orange flames caught the edges of various receipts and spread quickly, curling and browning the corners of the last three years of our lives. A faded receipt from the Dar es Salaam Yacht Club folded over to reveal a car rental receipt from South Africa. With the metal handle of a rusted rake I stirred the mess of papers to ensure more caught the flame. Receipts for bank withdrawals, luku (electricity) and groceries caught the spreading flame and browned, then blackened. I watched the last three years of our lives burn away and with it, all of the frustrations I had accumulated since arriving there. Overhead, the crows who had come to know me as their adversary cawed and told their brethren of my presence. The multitude of their cries no longer frustrated me and no longer reminded of the raw garbage strewn about beyond our gate. I was letting go of it all.
I looked up to smile at the flying pests and watched the smoke from the wheelbarrow waft into the branches of the palm and acacia trees that lined the property. Through their leaves the sun poured down, their separated rays defined by the smoke that rose through. With the smoke, my troubles were carried away.
When the burning was done, a breeze came and swirled the ash away over the dirt ground. I looked to my left behind the garbage bins. I once saw the tail of a green mamba disappear behind these bins, but nothing was there then except some chopped bits of bamboo that grew aggressively in a corner of the property and had to be cut back from time to time.
For the first time in a long time, I felt peace.
Three years of working in Dar es Salaam taught me a lot about neo-colonialism. Living in a house with an electrified fence and guards at the gate was standard. Watching certain elderly South Africans point and scream at Tanzanians like they were imbeciles wasn’t an everyday occurrence, but it was common enough to notice the consistency. Working in an environment where parents and children were accustomed to having others do things for them created an entitled mentality that spilled into the school culture. I experienced wildly abusive behaviour that was enabled by a toxic community, and once I noticed its prevalence and consistency, I knew it was time to go. If you have ever lived in a small town and suffered the wrath of rumours gone awry, you know exactly the type of community I write of. Really I could say so much more, but in the interest of professional discretion I’ll stop there. I don’t have to deal with it any more.
On a more positive note, the Tanzanian people were some of the kindest and warmest people I have met in my travels. It wasn’t always easy to get things done efficiently or well, but you adapt to that or you don’t. Many of the expats I met have been in Tanzania for many, many years, and seem perfectly happy with the laid-back attitude that prevails. Some were just lazy fools without standards. Roads sometimes get repaired. Groceries sometimes get stocked. Mail sometimes makes it through the system and to your hands. Unfortunately, I am too used to my comforts and found that these things were not consistent enough for me. The container bars and trash that built up outside of our gate became too much, and despite the ridiculously high amount of taxes we paid for the pleasure of living there, the manager of our property and local politicians refused to do anything about it. We were given an ultimatum – “if you don’t like it, leave.” Eventually, all of these things added up to too much and we decided it was time to try something new. Perhaps with our expectation of standards we were also neo-colonialists. Perhaps we just never belonged there.
So now as I sit in a cafe in Germany I look forward to our new life. No malaria, no dengue fever. Parks, sidewalks, modern transportation systems. I guess after three years I realize that I am not as laid-back as those who can stay for twenty years. And I’m fine with that.
And to be totally honest, the beer is way better here.