Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Arusha-Man of Highgate. Or, Where To Next?

Last week I bought some stamps in one of my local shops in Highgate. At the time I was wearing one of my Kilimanjaro t-shirts, and the shopkeeper asked me if I'd climbed the mountain. He told me then that he was from Arusha, so we chatted a little about Tanzania. Shortly after I left, I realised that I hadn't used any Swahili on him, and promised to myself that I'd rectify this next time I went in.

Yesterday one of my flatmates moved out. She'd been here for four years, and so several items of kitchen equipment went with her. As such, we needed a new roasting tin, cheese grater and colander, so I took the opportunity to return to the the man from Arusha's shop.

He was serving someone when I walked in, so I didn't butt in immediately with a simple "Habari za kazi?", but went straight to the back of the shop where the pots and pans take up temporary residence before being exchanged for money and finding a more permanent home.

I found the roasting tin easily enough, then the cheese grater with a little difficulty, before failing on the colander and heading to the till regardless. Arusha-Man was stocking one of the shelves on the way and wanted to check I had found everything I wanted.

"You are looking for something?" he asks.

Damn. He's started first. He's asked something in English. Something for which I don't have the required fluency to reply in Swahili.

"Um, just a colander. But you don't seem to have any."

"A calendar?" he asks. Or it might be, "A colander?" I'm not sure.

"A colander," I say, emphasising the 'O' whilst at the same time trying not to emphasize it so much that he thinks that I think that he's stupid.

"A colander?" he says again (maybe again). It could still be "A calendar?" I'm still not quite sure, but I think he's got it.

"Ndiyo," I say, as casually as possible. "A colander." I point towards kitchen corner just in case he thinks I'm looking for office stationery.

"Oh, I think we have some," he says, and walks past me, while I follow. I don't think he's noticed my slipping in a little bit of Swahili. I'll try something else again in a moment.

His wife is by the kitchen section, and informs him that they had two left a couple of days ago, but they've both now been sold. He sounds a little disappointed that he'd not noticed they'd all been sold, and hopefully suggests that one of the smaller colanders he sells might be suitable.

I mumble a couple more feeble ndiyo's where I can, but I'm not surprised when he doesn't seem to notice. He promises he'll get some more colanders in, probably next week.

We go to the till, and I pay, feeling a little embarrassed that I've failed in the simple task of striking up a conversation in a shopkeeper's home tongue. When he gives me his change, I say "Asante sana" rather more confidently, and he replied in English.

"Thank you. See you again," he says.

Since I returned home, I've been telling myself that he might not even know Swahili that well. He's Asian African, so he's probably more versed in Arabic. If I'm honest, though, he will know Swahili. I shall have to make another attempt.

***

Later this weekend, I shall start to catch-up on the story of my trip to Mpandangindo this time last year, and the report on Hoja Project progress that Oswin emailed to me on Thursday.

For the moment, however, as per my last post, I shall ponder on where I'm heading.

I'm on a 12 month contract on the room I'm renting, so I'm here til mid-August. I'm not planning on walking out on my job in the middle of the academic year. And I really do want to finish the year.

I don't know whether I want to make a short visit to Hoja in the summer, or whether I want to go on a long-term placement there sooner rather than later.

But I do know that I want to go on an adventure quite soon. I quite fancy going somewhere in Europe, probably France as I know the language, in the October half-term. Paris crossed my mind, but I live in a capital city as it is, and I think I'd prefer somewhere quieter.

I don't have a car and I have a pathological aversion to flying such a short distance, so I will probably be traveling by rail. If any of my friends fancy going away for a quiet three or four day break in the last week of October, you're more than welcome to join me.

Any suggestions at all about this are encouraged. It could even involve one of my European internety friends.

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