Wednesday, 15 April 2015


If you have ever been to Dar es Salaam; harbour of peace and commercial city of Tanzania; it might be worth to be reminded of food, history and drink. During the 1970’s the area surrounding the Askari Monument on Independence Avenue (Samora Avenue today) had three appealing cafes. Luckily, Askari Monument itself (historic and symbolic), is still present and relevant. After celebrating a hundred years since the Great War of 1914 last year, this monument should be mentioned, even if in passing.

Author by the Askari Monument in 2011, pic by Z Macha

In his 2004 book, Russian journalist Vadim Erlikman notes that at least a quarter of a million East and Central Africans died, amongst them 100,000 civilians and 50,000 Tanganyika soldiers.  The Askari Monument is, therefore, a reminder of what our ancestors went through bleeding for those former colonial ants.

 It is around this historic hallmark, you found the cafes. On Mkwepu Street further left were Mansons and Cosy Cafe. To the right, Wimpy sat like a lazy cat. Wimpy, forerunner  of MacDonald’s food chain, offered ice cream, chocolate cream and milkshake, whereas Cosy Cafe a few steps opposite, had hot drinks and Asian bites on its menu.  Mansons was slightly exciting, while Wimpy was considered Westernised in this ragged, yet strict era of 1970s Ujamaa terrain. Did we know the meaning of Wimpy? 
I used to wonder if Wimpy came from “wimp” a word you cannot find in TUKI’s English – Swahili dictionary. In Queens English, a wimp is a person who “is not strong, confident or brave.” As an adjective, wimpy, begs to ask why we youths equated this particular Independence Avenue neighbourhood with money, class, food, sexual attraction and fun.  Those were the days of compulsory one year military training after high school. Back in 1975 when I reported at a National Service camp, the Afandes (training sergeants), would call us Nyoronyoro, which is Swahili translation of a Wimp. Nyoronyoro comes from Nyorora, Nyororea and Nyororeka, literally, being loose and thin.
I think what the stern, sadistic, ruthless Afandes wanted when they yelled “Hapana kuwa Nyoronyoro!” was definitely, anti- chocolate, anti-ice cream and anti- milk shake. In Ruvu, Mafinga, Oljoro and Makutopora National Service (JKT) camps, such beverages (or luxuries) were definitely, out of question.
Instead you had army boots, mess tins, warm porridge, Ugali and beans, sleeping early, waking up 5 am; running everywhere. Mchakamchaka. The funniest one was jumping up (as a form of salute) whenever you encountered a barracks officer, for the first three months.
 Earlier this year, someone sent me a video clip of today’s JKT camps. As a young female recruit (Kuruta) is being slapped and humiliated other Afandes film her on their mobile phones. Substantial contrast between 1975 and 2015, eh?  Anyone who went through JKT will tell you they are glad they passed through that 12 months ordeal. We learnt to sleep light, quick match, wake up instantly, handle rifles, dirt, mud and dust; eat while walking (or running), cooking and sharing, herd livestock, sing and being useful in the community. We embraced discipline and value of hard work. All the elitist and “wimpiness” were erased and replaced by a down to earth, focussed, patriotic, mind set.
And you know what?
This might be fading in today’s Tanzania.
At a time when terrorists are strolling into schools across Africa and shooting students, we really need survival skills. Just like when Apartheid was a threat to our security in the 70s and 80s.
In the developed world, lessons of survival are on the rise. So significant that one of the main stars of this movement, ex Special Forces soldier and martial artist, 40 year old Briton, Bear Grylls has already published fifteen books on the subject. The ongoing narrative in his writings and television broadcasting is that each of us can -and ought to- recognize our potential by being positive when dangers, obstacles and challenges knock doors. 

Last week, Mr Grylls (pictured above) concluded a reality TV show whereby a group of celebrities competed to survive the Costa Rica wilderness. The task was as physical as it was mental and psychological. What happens when things go wrong? Do you cry and give up? How is your sense of humour? Mission Survive included crossing a swamp of crocodiles, eating rats and worms, sleeping under trees, jumping on steep waterfalls and making fire without matches or kerosene. These survival TV presentations and tips are becoming increasingly popular in the UK and USA. They reflect a growing trend to learn simple DIY (do it yourself) know-how, wiped out by the industrial revolution, technology and the internet.
“It is almost always better, especially in the early stages”, writes Bear Grylls in A Survival Guide for Life (Corgi Books, 2012), “to say yes and try something, rather than saying no because you fear where a yes will take you.”

  -Published in Citizen Tanzania, Friday 10th April, 2015

No comments:

Post a Comment