Thursday, March 25, 2010
Moshi and me. Part 1. The heavy part. Pole sana!
The ladies who sell their deep purple aubergines and crimson tomatoes screamed with excitement when I appeared in the market in Moshi last week. It has been over a year since I was last in town, but they somehow remembered this English woman who used to buy much more than she could ever hope to eat. They clapped their hands and grabbed my finger tips, recognising me and welcoming me like a long lost relative.
It was deeply comforting on many levels for it means that I have not aged quite as much as I fear I have; that my streaks of blonde do not change my look too radically; that I am remembered warmly and, poignantly, that a piece of myself remains in this upcountry town that lies humbly near the foothills of Kilimanjaro.
To see that mountain again is a pleasure and succor far beyond anything I feel adequately skilled to describe. A year and a half ago, green and fresh and bursting with anticipation, I flew into Kilimanjaro airport at sunset. My first glimpse of Tanzanian land was, indeed, the snowy peak of Kili lit by the sinking sun and her parting shafts of amber, ruby, solid gold.
Back then, it moved something in me so deep that I have never quite been able to locate it: a stirring and a calling, almost. A sense that all was well in the world and that, in some strange way, I had come home.
There have been so many changes since then. So many challenges. The past 18 months have been quite unlike any other I have known or am likely to know again. It’s been a period of absolutely coming face to face with myself – the beautiful and the ugly, the calm and the storm, the softness and the edge, the brave and the terrified.
(A reflective interval in which I will have a wee purge)
“After my split from Tim, I really had to get to grips with life in a whole new way and being open about how hard this has been is not easy. In fact, it is deeply private. But to be with someone for so many years and for it to collapse so monumentally leaves one breathless, let’s say. It causes the world to spin from its axis and hurtle into outer space, without control and without known destiny. Life freezes yet refuses to simply stop. The body aches and breaks yet refuses to simply die. The heart burns yet refuses to simply cease beating. The mind thrashes about, oozing guilt, regret, directionless anger, jealousy, rage, terror, hopeless desire yet refuses to simply stop wanting back the past.
Pile on top of this the sale of a house, the end of another teaching era in my adopted home town of Leeds, a family farewell, and an unknown destination (but let’s, just to make my already fairly mixed up life a little more interesting, call it Africa……)and I guess I had a fair few spiritual balls to juggle. Yes, I came to Tanzania with much more than my thirty kilos of luggage. Seems I managed to slip a sizeable cargo of emotional detritus into the country without so much as a side glance from customs, and I have truthfully been spending a fair amount of my time sifting through it.
The good news is that I have almost ticked this cumbersome task off my ‘to do’ list. I wish to god I had sorted through it all before I left for Tanzania (I was warned, but at the time thought I was through the worst). It really wasn’t necessary to drag it about with me like a hungry, irritated Rottweiler with its canines chewing into my ankles refusing to be shaken off. I should have shot that dog dead months back but, hey, no point crying over spilt blood and that mutt is not getting another ounce of my flesh.
The bad news, white flag flying high, hands held up in surrender, is that at times I somehow managed to make a mess out of my muddle; a jumble out of my disarray; chaos, indeed, out of my confusion. Like an earthquake within a snowstorm within a thunderstorm whirling about in the eye of a tornado, I sometimes, truthfully, lost it. In doing so, I would say that there have been periods in which I have lost myself and acted most un-PC (ha, get it?): shaken myself up a bit and pushed and pulled in the wrong directions.
A master of self-flagellation, I have never really needed the errors of my ways highlighted in fluorescent pink, made into a radio jingle, or advertised on a plasma screen in the city centre. But ex-pat life can feel a little like that at times (you know: judgmental) and living through one’s private phases of ebb and flow so publically is a toughie. Again, I accept responsibility for being naïve in the extreme. For simply not knowing what people can be like and for trusting too much and protecting too little. It was all so new to me.
So what? Yes, so what? Ultimately, I’m vaguely proud of how far I’ve come since the dark days of 2007-2008 and I am almost at the point where I do not feel it necessary to beat myself up for making a few mistakes along the way. I haven’t been nasty, I haven’t wantonly hurt anyone, and I absolutely cling to my vision of the world and of love and friendship and the great unfathomable cycles of planet that always somehow bring us back to base camp.
Today, lighter, brighter somehow (heck) less serious, I know that when I move about in the world I am not lugging contraband emotions around with me anymore. I’m so very nearly free and feel a kind of boundless love for people that never existed in me before. That has been the most brilliant lesson of all: to find in myself this immense sense of compassion when all I often felt in my previous incarnation as a wife was a shriveling away from my fellow man and woman.
I like people, for all their shades of light and dark, as never before and I can give in a way that surprises me. I guess I just need to be a bit careful of what I do with that.
As for what others think. I’m not sure it’s so important any more. I reckon I am big enough and ugly enough to be perpetually optimistic without having to rationalise it and, my goodness, it beats procrastinating on the horribleness of the human race.”
Wow. Sorry. I slipped down what I thought was a short cut but ended up as one of those diversions that leads you to the parts of town you wouldn’t normally go to even with armed guards in a tank!
I think my point can be condensed into something along the lines of: I came to Africa rather young in many ways; I had more to deal with than I knew; dealing with it far from home and with the day to day flap of being in Africa was not easy; sometimes I messed up; I also came good in so many ways; I am at a stage of letting myself off for any slips; I think I’m OK; I think most people are OK; I came out of it all with a bigger, softer heart than I ever knew possible and it feels bloody great.
Yeah, OK, it also sometimes hurts a heap but even that it alright. At least I’m alive!
Yes! I am very much alive and not really needing to kick anymore.
I felt this aliveness, and a lovely earthy connection with myself, like a solid pulse when I caught sight of Kili last week. I was blessed during my stay, because the mountain top was visible for most of the time – a rare treat. The way in which Kili dominates the landscape is so hard to describe to those who have never seen her (yes, Kili is a woman!) and I hesitate to try lest I do her an injustice. I can only say that she is magnificent, mighty and intensely moving and yet she does not brag about her beauty. No. She is just there.
No matter where you are in the Moshi area you are one way or another aware of her quiet, unyielding presence. Here we are, riddled with anxieties, doubts and troubles and yet…. there she is, there she been for so long, and there she will remain (planetary balances willing) a fixed, constant reminder of the wonderfully frightening smallness of our individual concerns.
Glancing at Kili, or lulled into her aura for a few minutes of hypnosis, I feel myself and my worries melting into the land and suddenly the universe makes sense.
I need a little break. This was meant to be a piece about my time in Moshi and my tumultuous love affair with Tanzania, but I think that will be my weekend task.
Right now, I suddenly need to look at some old photos of my first weeks in the country. Oh, and at shots of Kili, who has been extremely obliging and patient when posing.