Sunday, September 16, 2007

An Uncommon Group

On Saturday night we convened for an unlikely meeting of lives. Issac invited a number of us over to his home for dinner in Dar es Salaam. Our taxi bounced slowly over the potholed road, leading down darkened dirt paths toward Issac’s home. Only our headlights illuminated the hollowed holes and shadows of the road, each beam darting through the dark night to illuminate coming switchbacks.

When we arrived at Issac’s place we made our way from the road. Down the street a radio crackled and the exuberant voices of children made the dark comfortable. A few lights buzzed outside crumbled concrete walls, and plastic lawn chairs made for luxury furniture, or at least evening comfort. White paint curled on the concrete walls, and a thin gray revealed a structure beneath a faded aesthetic.

We limboed a clothesline and made our way through the colorful linens and jeans, over a rocky concrete floor toward Issac’s door. Aside it was mounted a poster featuring his roommate’s sister, a famous Tanzanian actress now working in Mauritius. My sister also used to live in Mauritius, so solidarity is easy to find. David posed aside his sister, giggling with a huge smile above his broad national team rugby-shoulders.

We entered a room with a smooth, cool floor, and pillows tossed in four corners. “Lost” was on DVD, and Shanaia Twain echoed from the back bedroom from an antiquated tower CPU and clunky monitor. We met David’s girlfriend, admired their traditional pencil art, their 15 pairs of shoes, and Spice Girls poster, and smelled the wafting scent of dinner. Beef, Kilimanjaro beers, and chiapati bread was served. I felt like I was home in India. We turned off "Lost," lost in conversation.

Our unlikely group grew and changed. Paul, a consultant in his late 60s who had grown up in China, Tanzania, and Boston, Josh and I, Americans at 24, Manu, a German, and four 20s-30s Tanzanians sat reclined in a Dar es Salaam living room. Conversation remained in English, but was punctuated by Swahili and smiles, for the former always drives the latter. Beers marked the hours, and we exchanged stories until 2am. Issac showed me a photoalbum of his life, asked me for Berkeley MBA advice, and allowed me to pick from a series of Batik fabrics that would become my shirts.

At the end of the night we told our “Asantes” and performed a number of stylized handshakes specific to East Africa. I have a feeling I’ll see these guys again somewhere.

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