Thursday, 20 September 2012


All images by Freddy Macha

Times are hard.
Sometimes you are (ruthlessly) reminded about this through daily reports of muggings, mass murder and pick pockets. Or how your budget does not fit the weekly shopping list, anymore. Salaries stay where they were ten years ago (and continually zoom down), while prices shoot up.
 Is this something new? You tell me.
I have always travelled.

 Either on foot to school when I was a little kid growing on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro; and a robust teenager on a (two days!) train journey from Arusha to Morogoro where I finished High School at Mzumbe in the 1970’s recession. Back then we thought things were tough.
Well, fact is they were. We had Black September hijacking planes.
“The cause of Palestinians must be heard!” shouted the determined militants. Those green days, the cause (and case) of Palestinians felt new. I had grown up believing Jews are the chosen children of God and anyone else is a dustbin. Truth is everyone is a child of God. We are all here to reap the rewards (and disasters) of mother earth. 

So what was I saying?
 I have always travelled.
When I began working I would hop onto an UDA bus from Mwananyamala to Pugu Road (nowadays Nyerere Rd) which would be extremely crowded. It was literally, a war of terror- boarding the bending Ikarus buses- fresh from Hungary- and meander, fearfully around Dar streets. But when I got my first Suzuki motorbike in 1977 things warmed up.

As a young reporter working for Uhuru, the main Swahili paper (those inflation days), we were part of a team and we believed in TANU. I roved and travelled all over Tanzania’s rural landscape; sometimes living in a single village for a week and writing a chain of articles. It was fun. We believed we were part of the Ujamaa villages dream. We believed in Tanu Youth League.  One of the guys I used to work with was Minister Harrison Mwakyembe.  He had a burning zeal and a contagious laughter. He believed in Tanzania. He still does.  Uhuru Na Mzalendo shaped us.
Is there any such thing as committed party youth league these days? A young man wrote me an email last week, saddened at how his college mates and fellow Africans are losing heart.

“No –one is patriotic anymore. Everyone is thinking on how they can reap something from politics and the system.”
So said the Email.

Emails and mobile phone text messages are the new travelling families. In the 1980’s when I started travelling across the globe, a letter took a week to relay messages.
 “I am in Paris now, Mama. It is not what I thought it would be. It is interesting and cold and fast and expensive. And I tasted racism for the first time while handing in my luggage at Charles De Gaulle airport.”
Thus I wrote my mother complaining how this huge black “gendarme” (as French police are called) had thrown my guitar on the floor.

It was the first time I faced the harsh realities of foreign travel.  Don’t be naive, an Algerian immigrant (used to the ways of Paris) later consoled me.
“You are lucky he did not kick your guts.”

 Of course, I was not discouraged. Once I was crossing the border of Brazil and Paraguay and witnessed an American couple having language problems with an immigration official.
“Anyone here speak Spanish, please?”

Everyone in the queue did speak Spanish but who spoke English too? Luckily, I managed to translate and helped alleviate tension. This was mid 1990’s. Americans are always in the news. You meet them everywhere; the most open human beings, easy to notice with that familiar accent, not scared, never embarrassed to show ignorance or intelligence.

Most times they are friendly, but that is not what is happening in September 2012. This Prophet Mohammed film crisis keeps getting bigger; there is a chill growing up the spine of Yankees. Is it tough being a simple civilian from the richest nation?

So, I have been travelling. And here we are in London.
It is around nine o’clock, Monday. I have been waiting for the bus and notice one sinister thing about commuters these days.  I recall my shock when I first landed at Stockholm in 1984.

Jamaa wa huku hawaongei, rafkia’ngu. Kila mtu kafutua mdomo!” I wrote a letter to a friend, then.
That has changed. When I look around everyone is either texting something on their phones, enjoying music on their I Pods or loudly chatting into their smart phones. Carrying a gadget of communication (these days) is as normal as lighting a torch in a dark night.

Levels of communication have transformed the world.  Point is what are we all talking about? And what exactly does it mean to communicate today?

Also published in Citizen Tanzania

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