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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Here in Africa

by Suzan Abrams
Did I say that I would be able to devote more time to my blog once I reached Africa?
Well, to be candid, I am living a dream...not one dominated by materialism but another kind of dream shrouded by the hedonistic pleasures that denote bliss.
The kind that triumphs over the searching heart and defeats the life of the ordinary.
I recognise that I am one of very few writers who are fearless and lucky enough to live life this way and I am still writing my stories. I've not yet published a book although I soon will.
I don't mean to boast and I apologise for any arrogance.
On the contrary, I am humbled by this gift from the Gods and am to put it mildly, like a child in a lolly shop or skidding across a tempting playground. Forgive me if I sometimes get carried away by the wonder, beauty and exhilaration of life that surrounds me. I have worked so painfully hard to catch my dreams.
Because of my lifestyle, I am allowed to take my writerly inspiration totally for granted. I have chased my heart's desires and am discovering them like buried treasure.
Here in Africa, I could have once been a little girl of 4 in Malaysia, watching my father carefully turn over the precious pages of a Life Magazine or a copy of his library collection of the Reader's Digest. I was the apple of his eye and would hang about him as often as I could, posing questions about people in different lands. I was also influenced by old Hollywood classics on safaris that my parents chose to watch on the television. Daktari was another weekly series I loved and would beg my mother to include that in my entertainment schedule right after homework, although I couldn't understand much of what was going on. My mother was always kind like that and obliged my pleas.
How I longed to be part of the scene. The Jeeps, the adventures, the animals and the romantic allure that spun mercilessly over this vast landscape with its immense skyline, even in the midst of thousands of simply led lives.
Now I am here for the countless time. I really have lost count and will have to think carefully about how often already it is, that I have come to Africa. Each time I arrive, I understand East Africa a little more. In the past, I've also been to Johannesburg and to Zimbabwe.
At this moment in time, I feel that I am shrouded in surrealism, that destiny will define while I am here...the hour and the day. So far, I have been gently prodded by the grandeur of unpredictability and the weighlessness of being rocked along.
All through this week, I have spent it simply blending into the city of Dar. I turn into a subtle figure of the scene. This is real and not any kind of pretentious attempt to renact any African mood seen at expensive clubs and discos in different parts of the world. This is the real thing.
I remember a scene in a Jeremy Irons film where the actor walked along the streets of Morocco, surrounded by a similar clutter. And how he had looked curiously all about him, but unafraid and confident enough that no one would dare cheat him. He was pleasant towards all and and so people reacted likewise. He walked, the eager lone adventurer surrounded by a strange foreign crowd. That is exactly how it is with me. I walk so much...I look at everything again and again as if I am seeing the seaside town of Dar for the first time. I have been here so often and yet I try to soak in as much as I can of the naturally exotic flavours, moods and atmosphere that I may wish to smuggle back to my beloved Des in Dublin, for a poignant memory.
Greetings shade the face of this electrifying power. Assanti sista or jambo sista, otherwise, ...taxi sista?
So far, I have visited my old friendly acquaintances, 2 popular North Indian restauranteurs, my favourite North Indian money changer who gives me good rates, a group of pretty Tanzanian girls - yes, the one called Tusha who cried when I last left and who hugged me ever so tightly yesterday and there's also Maya who I like very much - and these girls are a whizz at running their internet cafe downtown. Tusha is terribly petite. She is small, shapely and very cute...like a fragile porcelain doll. How between them they manage the scanning, binding, photocopying, printing and also cope with fussy customers and always with terrific smiles on their faces; I'll never know.
Then there's Katana, my former Tanzanian safari/tour guide who taught me as much as I needed to know of Dar once upon a time and who now works full time at the airport. Two days ago, Katana came to meet me at my hotel and together, we went to see his young wife Agnes. They've just had their second child, a baby boy called Emmanuel, born on Christmas Eve.
The baby looks so tiny and divine. There's also Katana's sister, Sophie who's always ready with her flasks of tea and generous with her embraces. Tanzanians may look a dour lot but are affectionate once they know you. Their smiles mostly rare, are always ravishing when you finally catch one.
Tomorrow, Katana and I will visit the bustling wholesaler market called Kariyoko where expatriates and tourists dare not venture but where locals would happily purchase their provisions. I'm been before and feel quite at home there what with all the bargaining and haggling of the abundant colourful ware, that could well deafen the ears. That's if you don't get knocked down by a ramshackle car first of all. I am going to buy Katana and Agnes who are my dear friends, some good things for baby Emmanuel. Let the little tot be properly blessed and grow up in style!
I still have other friends to see and will write you of my experiences along the way.
Yesterday, I was at my favourite place,The Slipway in Oysterbay, to indulge in its bookshops and cafes that directly face a picturesque Indian Ocean. You need just a minute to walk up to the coast and dip your toes in the waves. I bought some books and cards. You can get any amount of British contemporary fiction, poetry and the classics plus all that excellent literature on Africana at A Novel Idea. This meaning, fiction as well as non-fiction. Naipaul is of course, a mainstay.
This is where you'll find the adventurous expatriates living the kind of lives you see only in Hollywood films. Whites (as is the everyday phrase) who are South African or Kenyan mostly passing by or else working here in Dar. Perhaps too, travellers from other regions but a more stately cultured group and not the backpacker variety. Sunburnt and quiet in their disposition, you'll observe lone European women writing letters, viewing the artefacts, reading, or men engaged in business deals over their lagers. Being at the Slipway offers the adventurer a euphoric experience of Africa. I had myself a glass of red wine and a sandwich - I wasn't feeling too well yesterday. As usual in places like this, I am the only Asian.
The Slipway also reminds me of when I go to breakfast at the hotel's restaurant every morning. Here the piercing tinkle of old piano tunes from the Hollywood classics, faithfully regale us in the background. Both venues conjure up the same nostalgic pictures of Gregory Peck, John Wayne and Clark Gable promoting the African safaris through their films.
Next week, I'm thinking of moving to the Zanzibar for awhile or else going up to stay in Arusha, home of the Kilimanjaro for a few days. My God! just the thought of it feels like paradise.

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