Trip Back Home (Tanzania & East Africa)
by James Penhaligon, Author
James Penhaligon, a Cornish doctor & novelist visits Tanzania, where he grew up, for the first time in over 44 years. On returning to Britain, he struggles with the emotions his visit has raised in him, and in this article tries to explain that struggle.
Arrival In Tanzania 15.10.2010
I have just returned from my first visit to Tanzania since I left in May 1966, over 44 years ago. I wrote about my first magical 16 years, growing up in Geita near Lake Victoria, in my book, “Speak Swahili, Dammit!”
(youtube video http://www.youtube.com/speakswahilidammit, or
book website http://www.SpeakSwahiliDammit.com), and now I returned to the land of my childhood. It was something I had longed to do for decades, yet life, my busy medical profession in South Africa, New Zealand and then Britain, children and their education, and a profusion of problems, or things which “had to be done”, always got in the way. Yet, after all this time, I had not lost my Swahili language, my constant urge to speak it, or the fact that most of my thoughts, and nearly all of my dreams, were still in Swahili. One day I came across a saying which seemed to have been written with me in mind. The author, Antonio Texeira D’Souza, a 20th Century Portuguese doctor & politician, wrote “All through my life, there has been a never-ending list of tasks to perform, or problems to solve, before I could consider the pursuit of what I really wanted in my life. Too late, I came to realise those endless tasks or problems, are my life!”
With our 3 children grown up and established in their careers, or well on the way in the case of the youngest, my lovely wife of 37 years (who has encouraged me for the most unselfish of reasons) and I decided to sweep away all remaining tasks or problems, and finally go to Tanzania. So we went. This brings me back to the beginning. We returned from the trip 2 days ago. I am overcome with mixed emotions.
On the flight over northwestern Tanzania we saw dry tundra, and occasional patches of forest. Then we flew over Mount Kilimanjaro. This was my first shock. There was hardly any snow on it at all. A tiny blimp of white on the top at one side only, that looked as small as a thumbnail from 35,000 feet. There it stood, emerging above the cumulonimbus cloud, the great mountain, granite-grey and stark, like a huge volcano on a planet without an atmosphere. If that’s climate change, it’s worse, far worse than I imagined! Very little snow.
It was more than wonderful to see the familiar land approaching as our plane descended towards Dar es Salaam in the early morning after a flight from Heathrow. When we stepped out into the sunshine and warmth, and I re-experienced the mixture of tropical smells I remembered so well, I thought I was in yet another homesick dream. The traffic (and driving styles) from the airport to our hotel at Jangwani Beach was heavy, unpredictable and entertaining, but nothing you wouldn’t expect in any city with the rapid population growth Dar has undergone in recent years. The industrious and creative spirit of the watu is everywhere to be seen, with finely crafted furniture, fabrics, ornaments, raw and processed timber, dried fish, electrical goods, toys, fruit, including wonderful pawpaws, mangoes, bananas, oranges & coconuts, vegetables of every type, and even livestock, being sold in makeshift stalls, or in the open, at almost any available roadside space. In between these are myriad car or bicycle repair shops in crumbling premises, corrugated iron and wood stores, many with plastic chairs and tables outside for customers, selling iced cold-drinks, and the ubiquitous Kilimanjaro or Tusker (Hakuna Beer Bora Kuliko!” – “There isn’t a beer better than!”) beers. It was delightful to see that the same old joie de vivre, or happiness with life, plus irrepressible sense of humour I remember so well, is undiminished among the watu, despite the obvious and grinding poverty of many.
I was thrilled and delighted that, from the outset after landing, I understood everything said to me in Swahili, and that the response I got for replying in kind was of equal delight. Here and there are impressive new glass-fronted, or otherwise modern-looking, buildings, built, our driver told us (in Swahili), by this or that organization or bank, by the government or international aid agency, or as a new five star hotel. But apart from that, and the obvious great growth in population, the mood, or essence, the smells and feelings, and the unrivalled sense of kind and warm humanity which Dar generates, was unchanged, to me, after all the 44 years I had been away.
Our hotel, the White Sands, stands right on a splendid, open Indian Ocean beach. Starved of sun and warm sea for so long in Europe, we plunged into the almost tepid, yet still refreshing, blue water like children, soaking up the visceral pleasure of our senses. We ate, drank ice-cold drinks brought by smiling, joking waiters, lay in the sun, and swam again and again. A good mSwahili friend who I’d met on the internet visited us, and acted as a perfect host and guide. He took us to see a living museum of lifestyles and housing of the many tribes who inhabit Tanzania, and many other sights, explaining everything in eloquent Swahili, while gently, and kindly, correcting me when I mispronounced or mis-used a word.
Ingrid, unphased, as ever unselfish, and delighted to see me enjoying myself so much, had to be satisfied with occasional and brief English explanations! But she soon picked up some important words. Like “Embe, machungwa, chaai, nyumba”, and “asante sana!” Our friend spent most of 3 days answering our many questions. Too soon, our 4 days in Dar were over, and it was time to catch our flight to Mwanza on Lake Victoria. After all, it was on Lake Victoria I grew up, not in Dar es Salaam. I was not prepared for what I would find in Mwanza, or on Lake Victoria.
Social Media... (continued)
Later that day, I received an email from this newsletter’s publisher. Bruce noticed the link to my post at his Author-me Facebook page, and offered me this spot. I was honored (Thanks, Bruce!) and already had a first proof-positive example that engaging in social media is an author necessity in today’s digitally-driven world.
The next day I attended a concert at a small venue. The first band was young and actively employed social media. The Scott DeCarlo Six handed out business cards with a free music download of their new album. All they asked was a review of their music. The rest of the evening they spent hanging out with the audience, forging relationships.
As per Kristen Lamb, forging relationships is key to writers branding their name in a virtually immense world where online connections are king. These connections are ‘word of mouth’ referrals, creating an unbelievably powerful means of promoting a person and hence, his/her work. Think about it: authors once reached out via mailings, launch parties and book tours. Not that any of these have gone out of style, but when you’re dealing in a numbers game, reaching the masses has taken on an entirely new dimension. Social media creates the potential for writers to reach potential readers (i.e., book buyers) on an exponential level.
Two simple examples:
Facebook: I update my status (i.e., type a sentence or two into small window at the top that asks, “What’s on your mind?”) and add a link. My “Facebook friends” see this link. If I mention a Facebook friend in the update, by preceding that name with the @ symbol, Facebook automatically sends my message to all the mentioned friend’s Facebook friends. Did I work extra? Nope. I worked smarter.
Then there’s Twitter: the virtual world’s current largest chat room where 140 characters or less are used to exchange ideas, spark deals and who knows what else. Reciprocity reigns: I ‘follow’ your ‘tweets’ and chances are, you’ll ‘follow’ mine. Now I’ve started creating a network. Add a hashtag (a.k.a. #) followed by a key word (i.e., #booklovers) and your tiny little tweet finds its way onto the Twitter screen of everyone employing that (or a similar) hashtag. Now, not only do my tweets land me in a position to be seen, but via Tweetdeck (or similar application), I can search through #booklovers looking for relationships to form by responding to tweets and retweeting (i.e., promoting) other people’s tweets.
See how big this can get? Start with your favorite social media venue and unleash the potential!
Joanna Aislinn loves reading but writing messed with the pleasure part of her passion—she can no longer get through a story without her internal editor interrupting the flow. Visit her at her website and blog—she loves company!
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August, 2011 (no. 1208)
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