Experiences in Africa.
Africa marks the 4th continent in which i have stepped foot and Tanzania is the 20th country i have visited. I must say that it feels like i have learned more and been more inspired traveling in this continent than any other. There is something mysterious yet exciting about Africa, and in some ways it is even daunting.
Andreas is the well-traveled German friend with whom i shared a few days of safari adventures. When i asked him how many countries he has been to, he began naming those countries he has yet to visit.. Mongolia.. Turkmenistan.. Congo, etc. I certainly admire his travel record. One night he admitted being initially daunted at the prospect of traveling here alone, but that feeling quickly evaporated after his trip began. Despite all the bad news we hear in Western media, i found that Africa isn't such a scary place after all. In fact, the people i met (especially in Tanzania) were genuinely warm and incredibly friendly. When i think back to my initial reaction after arriving in Dar es Salaam, i can now afford to laugh at myself a bit. In very few places have i felt so welcome.
Sikhism is a religion that was born in India and blends beliefs found in Islam and Hinduism. While in Moshi i met some really nice Sikhs at the Sikh community center. They invited me to watch their weekly stickball match, which is not unlike field hockey. After the match, Vindi humbly explained that his team was preparing for the east African championships against Uganda and Kenya. If successful, they would go on to South Africa for the continental championships. It was clear to me that making it to South Africa would be a very high honor. Vindi mistook me for a local and asked if i would like to join the following week's match. I thanked him very much and told him that would be great.
In just a few days Tanzania will hold a major election. I am always fascinated by the local political situation and spoke to everyone i met to get their opinion. Although Tanzania has a stable government and democratic system, it is far from perfect. The current ruling party CCM has an iron grip on the majority, while the 18 other political parties can barely muster a few percentage points in the polls. The lack of a true opposition results in corrupt government leaders who frequently look out for themselves. Candidates must pay large sums to run for the CCM while the party openly solicits "contributions" from businesses for their own "protection". Hmm.. sounds kind of like the mafia to me! But of course CCM prefers it this way.. even passing laws to make it nearly impossible for opposition parties to gain any kind of widespread support.
The thing that baffles me is that most Tanzanians support the CCM despite its self interested tendencies. Their support is partially due to the lack of access to information and real political discourse, but also because the CCM uses its many "contributions" on great big posters, green flags, and gives out free t-shirts and hats to everyone - who wouldn't like that?!
As i spoke to people including a parliamentary candidate named Isaac of the United Democratic Party, i devised a solution to Tanzania's difficult one party problem. "It won't be easy, but it's a start", i told Isaac. While reading about the election i came across voter's top concerns - 1) access to clean water, 2) access to health care, and 3) passable roads.. a little different than the top issues in the States. Still, Tanzanians feel lucky considering Kenya's current constitutional crisis just across the border. The headline in the newspaper one morning read "Tanzania Less Corrupt Than Kenya and Uganda".. nice! I got the distinct impression from several Tanzanians i spoke with that they were thinking.. at least we're in better shape than Kenya!
For Muslims across the world it is the holy month of Ramadan, which is marked by fasting from dawn to dusk and the regular five daily prayers. I became friends with a Muslim businessman named Mohammed and we spoke about the Qur'an and religion in TZ. I asked him if i could join him in prayer at the mosque and he welcomed the idea. We met at a designated time before the 4:30 mid-afternoon prayer and made our way to the mosque.
In order to present ourselves before Allah we had to cleanse ourselves. Before entering, we joined the other men at an outdoor bath where we carefully washed our faces, hands, arms, and bare feet. Once inside, we stood on placement lines in the carpet while men filled in on either side and on the lines behind us. When the beautiful singing prayer began, we dropped to our knees before placing our foreheads to the carpet floor, submitting before Allah and asking to be washed of our sins. I was of course the only mzungu, but here we are brothers. They called me Jamu, since John sounds a little, ahem.. Christian. Although the religious makeup in TZ is evenly split between Christianity, Islam, and indigenous beliefs.. incredibly the people co-exist quite peacefully.