I saw him. Yes I saw him at the shores of Lake Victoria gazing at us as if we were tourists. Okay yes we were tourists. The picture that came to mind was that of the likes of Vasco da Gama when they first set foot on African soil. The natives could not help but look at them in amazement and amusement. They could not believe that a pale human being such us akina Vasco ever existed. Maybe they almost thought they were not human beings at all. Well in this case we were not white people. We were just a number of young Kenyans visiting northern Tanzania, a place called Shirati.
Tanzania is a good country. People there are friendly and welcoming, a virtue that most Kenyans lack. Too bad huh? To a Kenyan, Tanzanian Swahili is the funniest language ever. I realised we take so much pride in our defiled Swahili. Not that I am a linguist myself. Okay when it comes to English I am quite sensitive. I get disturbed when spoken English is misused. The same case for Tanzanians. Some would get pissed off when a Kenyan speaks to them in Swahili. I heard one say to my friend whom he lost patience with when trying to grasp what he was trying to explain, “Ah! Nyinyi Kiswahili chenu ni kibovu! Siwaelewi!”
Every time we went to buy something in a shop, we took time to discuss the conversion of the prices of items into Kenya shillings. To Kenyans visiting for the first time, the mention of thousands of Tanzanian shillings scares them – making them think it is too expensive. Anyway, Tanzanians seem to love being around Kenyans. We are almost like international tourists to them. I’m just saying.
So back to our Lake. We had gone for a hike at the lake sides on bikes. Riding though the green landscape of the place was such a huge honour for me – considering the fact that street lights, glittery buildings and uneven roars of engines has for so long become the nature I know as an urban mjango.  I call it one on one with nature. You obviously cannot go to a lake and fail to join the fish in their own game. So mjangos swam but I didn’t. It’s okay to laugh. The shore was a beautiful beach with sand – punctuated with protruding rocks.  A cluster of trees had grown just next to the edge of the sand. An old windmill stood next to the beach too.
So as my fellow young lads and lasses got carried away by their swimming adrenaline, I sat on a rock at the tip of the waters. The view of the lake up to the end that I could not see was breath-taking. The way the lake spread wide to the foot of massive hills, the way the breeze rolled waves and waves of water towards the shore and what local residents came to do at the lake. Some brought cattle, some came to wash dishes and clothes, some came to bathe (kids mostly, hehe), others came to fish while others came for recreation. With me was someone who gave me company, making all those moments worth-while and memorable. A camera.
Through the lenses, I spotted a small mjango standing with hands akimbo at the shore, with his attention sold to my comrades swimming. Of all the locals who came to the beach, he was the only one who took his time, doing nothing else but feeding his curiosity. He was in a blue T-shirt and a pair of shots only. I couldn’t decipher whether he was fascinated or disgusted, impressed or amused.
Well considering his age and where he was brought up, I bet he had never seen urban mjangos.  Perhaps it made him admire being in the city, or not. Maybe he was full of their customs and values, hence seeing ladies especially in ‘tight wear’ in the name of costumes might have been his best description of tabia mbaya. Whether custom oriented or not, since he carries the properties of a man, he must have spotted a good thing ata akijifanya aje. Okay he is a small lad, let me stop that.
I wondered what he might have been sent there to do. Spy on us? Sent by immigration authorities? Or he just didn’t have anything to do. He was running away from chores at home. He must have thought it was his right to take some time off since mama was not giving him any. Perhaps he must have heard there were tourists around, so he rushed to see them. It might just be his lucky day, he thought – only to find it’s a bunch of Kenyans defiling their waters just like we defiled their beloved language.
Perhaps I should stop being too negative about him. He might have just come over to see girls from the city; a scenario he cannot find in his locality. It was a chance of a lifetime. In fact mjango, I did my observation well enough and found out that no girl in that locality wore a pair of trousers or even a skirt that gambled with the knee height. In fact I remember a time came when I had terribly missed Nairobi, because my eyes were hungry – if you get what I mean. So you can imagine how much of a public spectacle these Kenyan mdadas were over there.
The boy kept drawing closer and closer. He reached where a wooden boat floated in between some rocks. That was when it hit me, he was just there for the boat. Being as small as he is, he couldn’t pull out the boat alone. Some mjango, a friend of mine offered to help him out. I don’t know how, but some way I tried to picture myself in his shoes.
He was a kid. Born in a family that lives knowing if tomorrow comes, it is a miracle. The only cool place he has ever known is the lake. Maybe it was no longer cool for him. He has never seen the city. Not that he doesn’t want to, but he just doesn’t have the means to get there. Every time he tells mama about his dreams about the city, mama shuts him off; not in a bad way. It’s just because maybe she has never been to the city herself. For the boy, a small town called Obwere is the only urbanish place he has been to. While families have cars, they have a boat and a bicycle. The boat is not even big enough to carry more than three medium sized people. It is not even a vessel that can take them for more than a kilometre off the shore. Only baba uses the bicycle to go to work. However, he overheard baba and mama talk. He said something like he is planning to buy a motorbike. The boy liked the idea. He thought that finally the bicycle could be his. His first step to getting his own real automobile.
When he wants a new shoe, he is afraid that when he tells baba, he will get a response like, “Ni kitabu unataka ama ni viatu? Chagua kimoja.”  His family is getting bigger and bigger yet mama and baba don’t have enough to even sustain four of them already born, him being the first. Now mama is pregnant again. His family has relatives around and not so far away. However, he doesn’t like some of them because he hears they are wagangas and wachawis or frequent consultants of the same. No wonder they are not advancing as a family.
He is old enough to know the value and need of money. Though when he gets money, he uses it for what anyone else could call petty. It’s not as if he can land his hands on any large amount of money. So say a Tsh.200 coin for something petty like one chapatti. To him that’s major since that delicacy is cooked once in a world war in his family. Other times he’d sacrifice the chapatti to save up for a plastic bottled soda, which is Tsh.1000 – after which he would archive the bottle somewhere in a carton of his personal precious property in their mud walled house. What else would a boy his age in such a place dream about other than food? Don’t talk of toys. They make their own toys.
He goes to a public primary school every weekday. He has one pair of uniform but he used to have two. He had to give his younger brother a pair when he started going to the same school. Even the pair that he has now is beat, patched and too small for him. In my stay there, I went to a school just to check it out. I was not surprised. The kids sat on stools with books resting on their laps. They faced a chalk-board that was mounted on a chair. I could sense that they felt embarrassed when they saw me passing outside. Though as the kids they are, they constantly giggled and waved.
Now he was not far away from me, rowing that small boat off shore, taking it to some part of the shore beyond my sight near his home. Perhaps he’d use it to row his siblings on a recreational trip back to this side of the shore again the following day or early in the morning when going out for fishing. I peacefully dimmed that imagination as he disappeared to the other side. I am never going to see him again. However, that short encounter glided through a very sensational part of me. I was quite happy for him though. He would grow up being a tough man because he didn’t have life all as easy as we in the city sometimes do. Anyway it’s life huh?
Photo Credits| Hillary Indeche


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6 years ago

Mjango Walai niko speechless msee…..Your that guy…..

6 years ago

Waah, this is a reality I try to run away from ;that such people exist. ?… In Tanzania!!!?? People like that in Tz!!?? Anyway, Sawa.