The class contained about 8 pupils, all girls. David posted the wild animals poster on the chalk board and after introductions I began my lecture. Maro, the other teacher, translated as only one girl spoke English.
They asked questions and I managed to answer as many as I could.
“They want to ask if they can take you to the mountain,” said David.
Mwanza is also known as ‘Rock City’. At first, seeing these posters as Amour guided the timber truck through the streets I thought it was a reference to the music scene.
“It’s because of all the rocks that surround the city,” David explained.
Huge granite boulders, leaning against each other like stumbling drunks created an eye-catching rocky landscape (that also provided a home for baboons.
I hate baboons)
all around and through the city. The rocky outcrop I was also served as a communal place of gathering for prayers.
I was lead up to a viewpoint where we took photos and then a trip to town was proposed. We piled into a bus and walked around the city. I kept my eye out for the previous day’s pick-pocketers. The shores of Lake Victoria housed Bismarck rock, where legend has it that the steel rods in the slab were hammered in by the hand of a man.
“No hammer or rock,” David explained. “Just by hand.”
“That’s not possible,” I said, skeptic as ever.
We headed back to the Location for lunch. After ugali with beans I went to rest (ugali really takes it out of ya) for my first Ki-Swahili lesson at the Hillfront Hotel. Catherine was very patient and it turns out that Ki-Swahili is quite a simple language to learn. Nothing as complicated as English.
By the end of the two-hour lesson I was answering questions in the local dialect.
Dinner was served and another jam session ensued with the Jackson Crew. I learned from Mama Catherine that they’re orphaned kids from rough backgrounds. She gives them a safe haven and food while they help out with hotel duties and learn to sing and dance and play music.
“Do you know, The Way You Make Me Feel?” I asked Ibra, referring to the Michael Jackson song and not to any emotions stirred.
“Yes,” he grinned.
“Well, I’ve got a blues version.” I played it with the crew joining in on the chorus effortlessly. These kids did it all – dance, sing, play bass and guitar and even keyboard. I gave them my collection of Michael Jackson songs and whipped out the harmonica and jammed on some African tunes they played.
African songs can go on for ten minutes. By the end I was light-headed.
“Are you here on the 24th?” Ruth, Catherine’s daughter who was managing the crew, asked me.
“Maybe.” I didn’t even know what day it was let alone the date. “What’s on?”
“The guys are performing here,” she explained about Saturday night’s event.
“I’m there,” I grinned.
I headed back home. Peruzi had cooked dinner and again I was forced to eat so as not to offend.
“Do you want to spend some time in the Serengeti?” David asked me. “I have friends who live in a village inside the national park who might be able to host you.”
Where do I sign?
David made the calls. I spoke with Godwin and was welcomed to Serengeti.
“I’ll head out Tuesday morning,” I arranged with him.
“I also have contacts in Arusha and Zanzibar,” David went on. “My cousin in Zanzibar has a dive school. We’ll talk with him on the weekend.”
I rolled to bed perplexed. Not from the amount of food I was being force-fed but by the generosity and contacts I was being given.
Expect nothing, always get something.
The morning had me teaching about eco-systems and the importance of a balanced one. I explained that trees create oxygen and absorb CO2 and why it’s important not to kill animals to the verge of extinction.
“If you kill all the lions, leopards and hyenas,” I began the lesson, “there won’t be enough predators to hunt the buffalo, zebra and gazelle. They’ll multiply and then there won’t be enough grass to feed everyone and then they’ll all start dying.”
Or evolve to cannibalism.
At lunch I headed home with David. My belly full of ugali I took a nap and repeated the previous day’s itinerary – Ki-Swahili lesson, dinner and a second dinner at David’s house.
Friday morning had me teaching about Israel. Tanzania is an extremely Christian country and I was staying with a preacher. Having visited Israel on several occasions, I taught about the geography of the place, the Dead Sea (lowest place on earth), the deserts and who the neighbouring countries were.
The afternoon had me rested for another Ki-Swahili lesson. I was already lightly conversing with some of the hotel staff.
On Saturday we outlined a trip to town. I really wanted to swim in the lake. We reached the bus depot but there weren’t any buses heading in. Plenty of bikes though. Motored and push-peddled.
“It’s a bit unusual,” said David, deciding on a bus that would take us as close as possible and from the stop we’d walk. The passengers were discussing something and David translated. “There are riots in town. Police are blocking roads and using tear gas. That’s why there are no buses.”
We U-turned and hit an internet shop. I was to show David the couchsurfing website and how he could utilise it to get volunteer teachers to come and teach his students.
That evening was the dance show. It started late at about 22:30 (it was scheduled for 20:00). A local Rasta was rapping on stage and then the Jackson Crew kicked things off. Following them was another group of misfits that seemed to have come together about five minutes before hitting the stage. Then two large-bellied women wearing kitengas (known as shitengas in Namibia, Zambia and Malawi. An all-purpose material used as a dress, carrying babies, cleaning cloth, head pillow to carry stuff on the head and so on) with exposed midriffs took to the stage.
“Looks like belly dancing,” I told David.
Next thing I know, the two women turned around and moved, vibrated and shook their rumps. Nothing else. Just their arses. What had inspired the twerking movement in the western world had been happening right here in Africa, probably for centuries.
Thing is, it went on for an hour and a half. Complete with an entire showcase of what these women could potentially achieve in the bedroom. The men in the audience were going nuts, whooping and yelling and jumping. The escorting guard of the women, a large Muslim man, had to walk threateningly onto the stage several times to deter any ideas. Money was thrown at the women and then two buckets of water were placed on the stage.
Was a Flashdance scene about to happen here?
“David, what’s going on?” I asked.
“If you pay 2,000 shillings, you can pour water on them.”
Some guys got up, paid and using a jug, poured water – on their kitengas – from behind (I would later learn in Arusha that this act is called, ‘Khanga moja’)
I gotta hand it to the women; the stamina they had to shake like that for so long was nothing short of a long distance runner. But that’s all they did. I was bored after the first ten minutes. Erotic shows have never been my thing. I’ve only ever been to strip clubs because of friend’s bachelor parties and never really enjoyed the stripping scene.
I got played by enough girls in high school I needed to pay to see something I couldn’t touch? Waste of time.
Then an announcement was made and two young gents sat in chairs on the stage. The women ordered them to strip their shirts. Then they each pounced on the boys (and these are heavy-set women) and gave them a lap dance, even climbed up on the chair and practically sat on their faces, all the while twerking and vibrating.
“Jesus Christ,” said Pastor David. I nodded in agreement.
The chairs were removed, the lads lay down on the floor and the women began to dry-hump them. It was a show set more for the stages of Amsterdam or Bangkok rather than Tanzania. I wasn’t impressed. By the time the women had stripped the men of their pants down to their boxers I suggested to David that we could go home.
“Not my thing,” I said as we hiked back.
“Do you want to accompany me to church?” David asked me on Sunday morning.
“I’m not really comfortable in places of worship,” I said. “I’ll wait for you here.”
That afternoon I was too play a gig at Theresa’s, David’s sister’s house down the road. Music always breaks down barriers. Especially with kids. Ariel finally decided that I was harmless. I must be if I’m able to produce music, right? He offered me his knuckles and I lightly pounded them.
Dinner was homemade chapatti with peas followed by chai. David was calling his contacts in Zanzibar and Arusha and I was set for my next travel points. We headed home where I assumed it would be straight to bed.
But Peruzi had laid out a spread. If I ate any more I’d never be able to walk again.
“David, I can’t eat any more. Please, I’m begging you,” I begged.
“Can you have some chai?”
“Sure.” Nothing like more sugar to keep the body going. Hoping I hadn’t offended Peruzi, I settled on the chai and then retired to bed.
Monday was spent helping David open a couchsurfing profile.
The evening was my last dinner with this wonderful family. Looking around I still couldn’t fathom how it had come to this. A week ago I had barely hopped off a truck, fought off a pickpocketing team when David had said, “Hello,” on the streets of Mwanza.
Some things are just meant to be.