Thursday, March 3, 2016

Vignette: Tanzania / Zanzibar -- Beaded things (February 2016)

Narrow Zanzibar street -- Stone Town
My mother flies to visit. We meet in Zanzibar. We stay in a nice hotel with air conditioning. We get colds. We walk the narrow streets for hours. We chat with people in markets and shops. We buy trinkets and beautifully hand-made clothes in co-ops set up by and for African women. We drink coffee, lick gelato: coconut and cinnamon, mango and masala. We eat fish and calamari. We eat more fish and calamari. We meet a woman named S. who invites us to her village at the edge of town. It’s not really her village, she tells us, it’s the village where she has a room. We walk to the edge of town with S. and by the time we arrive we are sticky and hot. We sit on the cool floor of S.’s room. She offers my mother the seat beside her on the neatly covered mattress. I edge in next to my mother; my daughters sit on the floor. S. talks about her hotel job, her family. She shows us photos from home. Her daughter, only six and back in the village. S. is working in Zanzibar to earn money to send her daughter to school. Her daughter lives with her sister-in-law. S. had her baby when she was sixteen: raped by an older village boy. What happened to him? I ask. He was put in prison, says S. Now he lives in the village, with his wife and children. And the rest of your family? I ask. Are they there? S. smiles. My father is, yes. My father has ten wives. I am very good with my father. S. is Maasai. S. says we should come visit her Maasai village. I have read about the Maasai. Nat Geo. I want to see last year’s film, Warriors. Here in Tanzania, I have seen the Maasai in town markets, in roadside stands. Selling shoes, belts, beaded things. Websites tell you how to talk to the Maasai, how to say how much? and too expensive! S. says, when you come to my village, you say takwenya as a greeting to women, means hello. And you say yko, means hello back. When we leave, S. gives my mother a Maasai necklace: intricate beads and elephant hair. She gives us photos of herself in her Maasai dress, jots her email on a scrap of paper, says Write to me.