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On red soil


Umechelewa? (Are you late?)
Umeelewa? (Do you understand?)
Umelewa? (Are you drunk?)

It’s all so similar. So today when the guy who has been putting rice and beans on my plate every day at Holidae Out for the past six months asks me “umeolewa?”, I have to think for a while what he means. Following up on the theme of the e-mails from the UN guy, I quickly realise what this is about – after all it’s not the first time I’m being asked the question.

Umeolewa? (Are you married?)

During my moment of confusion the rice-and-beans guy’s face starts to slowly shine and a smile turns up as he continues “bado, eh?” (not yet, eh?). Bado. But with the amount of marital references and marriage proposals I’ve gotten here in Tanzania, I could probably be married to every other bajaj driver I’ve met by now.

Case no. 1: I get in the bajaj, and the driver asks my name. Second question? Umeolewa. This happens weekly.

Case no. 2: On the way home with a bajaj one night, I chat this and that about life and times in Tanzania, as I usually do to pass the time. At the last leg of the trip, and almost symbolically, the bajaj driver slows down in front of a big church, stops, and tells me in all seriousness that he doesn’t have a lot of money but that he likes me and wants to marry me. I say thanks but no thanks for the offer, pay for the ride there and decide it’s best to walk the rest of the way home so he doesn’t know where I live. Just in case.

Case no. 3: Peter, a bajaj driver I know, takes me from the daladala stop home after a long day of work. I complain I’m tired and hungry but have to leave home in half an hour to go to a work event at the peninsula, and ask him to come and pick me up when I’m leaving. Half an hour later he comes back to our house and while driving to the event, he asks if I’ve eaten. I didn’t have time but say I’ll probably get some food at the place I’m going to. After about a 20 minute bajaj ride I say bye to Peter and tell him that if I need a ride back I’ll call him. Around 9pm, I call to check where he is, but he’s that same 20 minutes away, around my neighbourhood where his bajaj stand is. It turns out I can get a ride from another person at the work event home, so I call Peter and tell him he doesn’t have to come. After a few seconds he calls very worried saying I should not take a taxi and pay a lot of money for that, that he’s coming to pick me. And as I enter the car I try to explain to Peter I’m getting a ride, not a taxi. Turns out the ride I get is only until the bajaj stand where Peter usually sits, so I figure I might as well call him since I know he’s still awake. I end up waiting some 15 minutes as he had already driven half way to the peninsula thinking he could still pick me up. By now it’s 10pm and I’m really tired and ask Peter to drop me home, and again comes the question, “did you eat?” “Just some fingerfood”. So without asking, he curves into a street kitchen on the way and insists to buy me dinner. Luckily the place was already closing down so we continue, but again he starts driving slowly by a nearby bar where they serve grilled meat. By this point I’m getting annoyed and tell him to take me home so I can get to sleep. When we get to my gate, and I’m supposed to pay 1000Tsh (the cost from his bajaj stand where he ended picking me up to home) plus some extra for all the driving after me that he’s been doing for the past hour, he just says “no, no. I can’t take your money”. “Why not?” “Because I like you”. Here we go again… = D

Written 8.3.2011

Today, again, a bajaj driver asked me if I’m married. Bado. I asked him the same, and his reply was mimi nataka mzungu (‘I want a white person/woman’). I interpreted it as him not being married yet. I’ve heard this from bajaj drivers before too, that they want a white woman, and the assumption for me has always been that this want is because of what whiteness often seems to symbolise: money, status and a ticket to a better life. This time though I decided to ask the driver kwa nini (‘why’) this is, and the answer was not what I expected. He explained that Swahili women have men here and there, taking his hands off the steering stick while driving and pointing in all different directions for added emphasis. Mzungu anapenda mimi TU (‘a white woman would like me ONLY’), the bajaj driver tells me. I had never thought of white people having a connotation like that, but hey, each to his own.



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