Sunday, March 13, 2016

Vignette: Tanzania / Tanga -- Impromptu Community (March 2016)

What for them is the call to prayer wakes me up at an hour ungodly and dark; for me, it’s the call to check my email for work. I translate stuff from German into English (mostly for lawyers, bankers, and corporations via an agency in New York but sometimes for academics who care to seek me out), dressed only in my "Soda"-labeled underwear purchased in Malaysia, extra large but still too small, hence filling me with confidence.

Not long after first light, the day’s first swimmers appear – two, three, or four dark heads bobbing around the boat. They swim out from the bathing club that shares the little bay’s waterfront, flanked on one side by the yacht club and by the swimming club on the other. Of the three, the bathing club has the most raucous fun, with loud music and frequent games of soccer on the beach; the swimming club doesn’t seem to have much fun at all, but it has a substantial and well-lit building and serves pretty good Indian food (there's a new chef, I've heard). Most mornings Michelle and I try to steal a moment for ourselves and have coffee on the bow before the sun really kicks in. But we sit just in front of Lola’s hatch, and she invariably pipes in with “what was that?” the moment she hears our voices. Speaking in German only invites further interrogation.
We find ourselves in a remarkably secure anchorage in a remarkably pleasant impromptu community. What we have here is a handful of peculiar sailors following very different trajectories and motivated by very different purposes. Everybody has stories to tell and experiences to share, but, unlike what we've found in the so-called cruising community, there is no jockeying for position or assertive need to dispense advice or expertise. Perhaps this is because we are really not a community at all but just a serendipitous constellation unmanaged by spreadsheets or radio schedules and without the coherence that comes from shared agendas, for we will very soon disperse in entirely different directions. But for now I'm swapping ideas with Josh for making pressure-cooker bread and smoking Stephan's cigarettes in exchange for the occasional beer.

Here in Tanga, this handful of sailors intersects with a cluster of less transient but equally peculiar grounded folks – builders, farmers, aid workers, missionaries, restaurant owners, resort owners, peace corp volunteers – many of whom are also just passing through, but more slowly. We orbit around a yacht  club that was once an Anglo-Saxon colonial institution but has now become more of cordial multi-ethnic drinking club overrun by monkeys with sky-blue testicles (only the males, of course; Michelle was hoping that the females had sky-blue nipples, but they don't) and posting lots of unenforced rules and boasting a multi-term, ethnically Indian commodore who doesn’t own a boat. For years now, cruising boats have stayed away because of the Somali pirates, but perhaps they are coming back. In any event, there’s a move afoot to shift the club’s focus back to the water, which has led to the tentative resurrection of three or four Optimists and sailing lessons for the kids, taught by a heartsick French single-hander who has sailed around the Horn and by Jana, who hasn't.