Dar Es Salaam, November 4, 1992
I have been in this African city for two days now. When I got off the plane and took a taxi to the mission where I looked for hospitality, I wondered whether that was really Africa ad where all the beauty that continent was famed for was to be found. Everywhere I loooked I could only see the signs of decay and squalor I could have seen in the lower suburbs of any large city. If not even worse. After this first impact, which was far from being pleasant, I met the first people, most of whom were Italian. The introduction was essential and very informal:
– “Hi, what’s your name, where are you from?” ,and that was all. –
I found all that quite discreet, concise and polite and prevented me from having to repeat the same old, monotonous refrain each time I met a new face. Then I met the person in charge of the mission, Father Aldo Pellizzari who, once he had learnt from me the reasons of my presence there, gave me the keys of a room with bathroom en suite. After lunch (you always sit at table and stand up after a short prayer) I went to the seaside with two doctors from the south of Italy, a pregnant lady from Verona and her husband. I spent a lovely day with them. I had my first swim in the Indian Ocean in pleasantly warm and not too salty water. We spent the day chatting heartily. After a quick visit to the local crafts market, I was driven back to the mission in time for dinner and a restoring rest. It is the first time I’ve set out to writing a diary, so I do not know what to jot down, whether an account of the events of the day or of my impressions. Eventually I think the best thing would be to fill in the pages with whatever crosses my mind, even though without a logical or clearly narrative thread.
Dar Es Salaam
Early this morning I went downtown with John, a nice local guy. We met one of his acquaintances, a Norwegian teacher accompanied by his Kenyan wife and by their watchman: We spent the whole day together in the following way: ralaxed chatting on the terrace and then at the Kilimanjaro Hotel bar, located on the harbor panoramic drive.; visit to the fish market, a place so bleak and nauseating to my eyes and nostrils. People bargaining, dancing, singing, cooking, swimming in the harbor canal and playing soccer on a sand pitch surrounded by a crowd of amused onlookers. Actually, what reminds soccer is only an old, tattered leather ball; dinner at a Chinese restaurant: Not being able to have bread at the restaurant is, for Italin people like me, like going to the pub and not being able to drink beer. It is perhaps still too hasty to mention Africa sickness, yet this initial experience with the people I have met has already led me to consider how things are different. Ther is no room for ceremonial courtesies and useless deference; people are here because they have felt the need to come and if they are fine with you, there’s no need to exchange addresses, because everybody seems to know that wherever they may go, they will find other equally simple, friendly people. What I have been most struck by with the couples I have so far met is that husband and wife are used to joking, laughing and delightully mocking each other, in the way I have seen and experienced only when you are wooing a girl or have just won her care. I wish I could treasure the experience of how a relationship can be so serene.
Dar Es Salaam
Days are passing quietly and I feel in complete harmony with what surrounds me. I feel I have no whims in my head, apart from trying to observe all that surrounds me. The mission is like a railway station! People come and go, there are always new faces around. A lovely thing is gathering together under the verandah close to the refectory after dinner, and there we chat, discuss, are funny in a sensible, pleasant way. All sorts of people (doctors and unskilled workers, students or unemployed people) have at some time sat together in this verandah, sharing an atmosphere of joyous harmony, where everybody is welcome. My friend John came to wake me up this morning, then we went downtown to buy something, let me look around and learn how you are expected to behave in these places. The guided visit soon proved quite useful and instructive. When I entered a sort of loculus, which boasted the title of boutique, to try on a shirt and unclasped my fanny pack for a few seconds, I sadly realised that when the time for paying my purchase came, bag and whatever was in had vanished. To my great wonder, I had however to admit that the thief had been extremely skilful. Thanks to a bit of good luck I had removed all the papers and objects not required for a shopping spree from that pouch bag the night before, except, alas, my passport, my Italian driving licence and some local currency amounting to about $ 50. Poor Lupem! I had already spent the money in shops before. In the afternoon I reported the theft to the police station with the precious help of John and of a new Sicilian companion named Alessandro (a theology student) and then went to exchange some more money. Something unusual occurred at the police station. After we had explained the reason of my presence there, an officer urged us to have our case dealth with immediately, even though there were many more people waiting, with these words,
– “They are unreliable people, they might cause trouible!” –
I did not understand the meaning of that exclamation, but I enjoyed its advantages. Anyway, if that was the situation in a police station, I tried to imagine what might happen in prisons. In the evening John left for Turin, for a 5-week stage. I will soon be able to meet him again in Matembwe. I am very sleepy. Good night and see you tomorrow or the day after. My last thought is for Father Aldo Pellizzari, really indefatigable and always ready to lend a helping hand.
Dar Es Salaam
Early in the morning I was waken up by Claudio, the guy I was waiting for and with whom I will have to spend my future time in the area inland. He is a nice and lively guy, the same age as myself, from Vicenza, Schio, to be precise. With Claudio and Brother Liduino – rather reluctant to accept familiarity at first impact, but actually very funny and always ready for a joke once you have known him a bit better- we toured the offices to complete the paperwork relating to the theft of my documents. In the afternoon, I decided to spend the time lazily resting by and swimming in the pleasant waters of the Ocean accompanied by Father Guido, a black priest and by other Italian people visiting the mission. I had the chance of meeting Bruno, an apparently rather rough bricklayer from Verona, but actually a very good-hearted, tenacious and spontaneously nice guy. How funny to watch him climb up a tall palm tree to get a coconut, which he had stubbornly decided to be his trophy. How scratched were his arms, legs and feet – not to mention an upturned nail – after his sliding climb down. Even the nearby restaurant waiters who had been watching him from the terrace, could not help clapping their hands. Each day seems to be passing on at the same quit rhythm, yet each day has its own calendar. I do feel relaxed and are at ease with myself and my life here. I sometimes think to my home town and to one person in particular, but I have no regrets. I think that this relaxed situation is helping me gaining the gift of patience. I will be able to go around with that person on my return, if circumstamces do not change. Tomorrow we are leaving to go inland, at last. Since our plans do not coincide with those of the people who were expected to drive us half way, we will probably have to rely on local bus transport, God help us! Anyway I look forward to experiencing what the journey will be like.
Off we are, at last!
Claudio and I take a taxi to the bus station. It looks more like a flea market rather than a station for travellers. Anyway we find the bus and once we have seated on the seats we have been allotted, we set off on a journey which promises to be far from comfortable.The humid heat makes you sweat just as you think, the seat is more suitable for a contorsionist, the throng inside the bus is the same as in tube wagons in the rush hour, with lots of things and food hung or crammed everywhere; the bus ceiling has been turned into a street marked filled with bags, but, what I have not foreseen , is that such comfort we will have to enjoy for eleven hours on end. All this time I chat with Claudio and look out at the landscape. We drive through a natural park and can see many of those wild animals (see photos) I had only seen in zoos before. There is a deadly atmosphere inside the bus. Some passengers have dozed off, the others – including kids- are still and silent in their seats, you only hear a loud monotonuos song…I am the only one who stands up and walks along the crammed aisle, and get amazed stares. I exchange a couple of words with the collector and am utterly surprised when he asks me how many days of flight it takes to get to Italy. When I say it takes only seven hours, I sense he is not able to imagine how fast a plane can be. There is only one short stop, for a baggage check and quick refreshment. There I see a Masai family for the first time, but I am not particularly impressed. Only curiosity leads me to stare at those tall, proud warrior shepherds standing a few yards in front of me. Back on the road we suddenly hear a loud, repeated noise from one wheel. The driver checks what is wrong and is told that the tyre outer cover has come off. No problem. As long as the tyre does not blow up, the journey can go on. We eventually get to Iringa and I look at three kids apparently fascinated by the tattoos on my skin. Perhaps it is the first time they have seen such strange drawings on somebody`s skin. Their curiosity is something that fascinates me too. However I am learning to keep even children at a safe distance. In no time, if you turn round or are distracted, their hands could be rummaging your pockets. The jouney however ends well and we finally reach the mission. We say hello to Father Sandro ,whom we had already met in Dar, are refreshed and offered hospitality; then Claudio and I say bye and dash towards a well deserved rest. Many more kilometres along secondary roads are in stock for us tomorrow. “Those roads will only be a bit more neglected and bumpier,” is what Claudio, who knows the area well, smiling remarks…
I thought that yesterday`s journey had been very hard, but only because I had not experienced today’s. Never had I imagined that I could see such a shabby, crammed old bus, filled with so many people and things that you could hardly breathe and, what is more, more people and luggage got on at each new stop. Perhaps tinned sardines are more comfortably packed. And for the last sixty or seventy kilometres on dirt road it took two and a half hours in those bleak conditions. It was lucky that a boy whom I had met in Dar and later seen on the bus at Njombe found a seat for us, otherwise I don`t think I would have managed to keep travelling.
– “Home, sweet home” –
We are in Matembwe at long last. I am shown to my room, very basic but comfortable enough. I happily unpack my things. Then take a ride on a motorcycle down to the town, The motorbike is an old cross-country Laverda, which seems to be in working order, except for the clutch, brakes, shock absorbers and rear bald tyre…it works, however, and it is good fun. I do feel a great biker especially since everybody stops to look at the noisy bike…and children hail me shouting and run to the road side. It is great fun, even though I must confess I feel a bit embarrassed. A group of kids have stopped playing soccer as they hear the bike and invite me to join in the game. I willingly accept their invitation, score four goals and then, when the time of saying good-bye has come, I find it hard to start the engine. The children laugh heartily at my efforts, I try to look indifferent and eventually manage to leave and head fast homewards. Dinner time comes at last – I haven`t had a proper meal for 48 hours- followed by music, relax and the analysis of our working programme. I have never felt so relieved and relaxed before.
This morning I went to visit the area affected by our project, which includes the chicken-farming plant, the foodstuff factory, what is due to become the new social centre and the workshop. In the afternoon we loaded the pick-up with tools and labourers and drove to Ikondo, where a new project is being implemented. It is incredible how these African people seem to be having a good time. They stood uncomfortably in the pick-up box all through the journey, yet they never stopped laughing, chatting and being funny. .Also the ones who had found a seat in the interior close to Claudio, filled their chattings with witty remarks, so the whole journey was really a cheerful one. It is not just mere coincidence or an exception: I think that people who can laugh in that situation – since from our viewpoint they seem to have very little to laugh about – are people who need really very little to be satisfied with. Today I have probably learnt how someone can keep on living alone in such a place for a long time. Apparently there are no amusements or recreational facilities according to what we, in Italy, are used to considering as chances for diversion . When I look at Claudio speaking, especially when he describes what he has done and what he intends to do for a new project, I can see that his face seems to light up. It is difficult for me to realise where that bright expression stems from, yet when we stop before a huge, flat verdant valley and hear him say that he is going to remain there to be entrusted the safeguard of that territory and turn it into fertile farming land, I feel as though part of his energy is affecting me too. When I consider the life experience of these volunteers, I feel that they don’t have time enough to fulfil there daily plans. Therefore they can never be affected by boredom in these places. I consider how many times, at home in Italy, we and our friends racked our brains just to think of something to do which is not monotonous or dull. Ther is no such problem here. In the evening, once the routine work has been done, you just look forward to running under the sheets, since the new day will start very soon and early.
Dear diary, I have left you unattended for a few days now. Meanwhile I have managed to meet new people and get to know new places. Little by little I am starting to learn how the peoplee here use their own reason. I am continuously surprised at the way they seem to be amazed in front of the simplest technological items I brought from home. I feel embarrassed at times because I realise I am being observed. As a matter of fact, there are only four white people in the whole surrounding area. Therefore we are the only lucky ones who possess a car, smart clothes, wrist watches and all those trinkets which they cannot even imagine. Their standards of living here are so poor that I sometimes fail to believe it. Kids start working at the age of three or four to help the family survive. They are dressed in rags or in clothes made from canvas bags; they are so dirty and in such a sorry state that they seem to be one thing with the mud or the terrain around. Means of transport are so rare that when you drive by it is necessary to take on as many people as possible in the interior or in the open air box. Children and old people alike stand patiently there waiting as helpless as animals, even under pouring rain or in cold weather. And most of them are barefooted and wearing such light rags which I think would not protect me from cold even indoors. However, apart from what appears as bleak squalor to my eyes, their life seems to be cheerful. They needn’t think or worry about their future, but just about immediate survival. Each day should be enjoyed as much as possible just because you are alive. It is of course hard for me to understand their apparently mindless attitude, yet I start understanding the reasons behind it. Meanwhile my friendship with Claudio is going on well. He is a dynamic, clever boy who, luckily, speaks straightforwardly without expecting me to approve or fully understand. However his practical advice proves absolutely useful in these places. . You must take great care of the things you have, since there are no shops within an area of about sixty kilometres where to find even a sheet of paper..let alone spare parts for the car. There is not enough time for me to understand and agree; it could be too late in some situations. We are working at two minor projects: the completion of the social centre here in Matembwe and the building of a house to accommodate future volunteers in Ikondo, a village some 59 km far from here. It is no use listing all the numerous problems that are caused by uneven roads, lack of materials or just a trivial mishap.
It has been raining every day for at least one week, but time goes by without me getting fully aware. We set out towards Ikondo yesterday because we wanted to continue some suspended work but the heavy rainfalls prevented us from reaching our destination, We got stuck by the roadside. With the help of a spade, of chains and skilful driving we eventually managed to drive back home, soaked wet and covered in mud, yet in a cheerful mood. The heavy rains are going to cause serious trouble for the continuation of work and for transfers. You seriously risk getting stuck along the road and then being obliged to sleep in the car at least until the roads are passable again. And this becomes possible only by using an equipped off-road vehicle. Claudio is told via radio (radio communication, the sole means of communication, is possible only between 8 and 8.30 pm) that we will have a visit on Sunday and Monday. The visitors are people I have already met: a man from Sicily who has been living in Tanzania for five years and his local wife, plus their son and two young Sicilian nurses. We are very pleased at the prospect of their visit because, apart from being very sociable people, they will make the day a special feast. For the occasion I give Moses (a local boy who takes care of the house chores together with Enrica) some money to buy a cockerel for a special treat for our guests. It is funny to see how our dog keep an alert eye on the bag which contains the cockerel still alive, but even greater is my interest at the idea of being able to taste some proper meat after so many African dishes! Another visit is due to occur soon, this time a visit from CEFA to analyse the new projects. People from CEFA are going to stay here for a couple of weeks, therefore Claudio will be very busy with keeping public relations going on smoothly.
I have been at home alone for two days now. Claudio has had to go to Dar Es Salaaam to meet the people that are arriving from Italy. The past week has been going on quite uneventfully, except for the fact that we spent a night in Ikondo. That was a queer experience. For the first time I had to sleep surrounded by mice in a sort of tool shed with no water or light and fed by picking up the few things I found. A quick wash when I woke up was in the muddy river nearby. For the first time I got the precise impression of how hard life must be for the people who live here. They even sleep on naked dirt, with scanty clothing on, even when it rains and it is cold (I can assure you that it gets quite cool at night). I don’t know whether to envy their unbelievable adaptability or my beloved civilization! I feel certain however that mostt people from our civilised world would go into hysterics after a few minutes spent in such a situation.
Back home I had the chance (after so many days) of watching a film from the videorecorder of Matembwe‘e parish priest, Italian Father Remo. I watched “Jesus of Nazareth” and I greatly enjoyed it. Not that I miss television so much, but I still enjoy watching it whenever possible.
I have visited my Norwegian friend and teacher in Lupembe today, for the end-of-school-year celebrations. I got there on the bike and was welcomed with curiosity by the school pupils. I was invited into a room and shared a meal (a typical African one) with the teachers and local authorities. I was amazed at the silence hovering about our lunch, probably because everyone was entirely taken up with their unusually rich meal.
At present I am alone relaxing and meditating at home. It is strange to realise that solitude leads me to laziness. From time to time the dogs of the mission run past; they are quite bad, even though they seem to be docile with me, especially Pluto, my favourite. I notice that some mice share my room. It has started to rain again. Good bye and good night to everybody, which is Usikumwena in local Swahili language!
Due to my laziness and the frequent transfers to many picturesque places in the area I have left the updating of this simple “chronicle” unattended for quite a long time. However I have a very clear memory of the journey we made a few days ago to the mission in the village of ‘Ngula on the highland (at a height of about 2200 metres). The mission is run by very nice and hospitable priests. The climate, the landscape, the people I met there are really unforgettable; there I got in touch with the magic colours and allure of Africa. I was also invited to share a “royal”meal a the Njombe Bishop’s home. The kitchen there is run by a few local nuns and a few Italian sisters. For me, a fervent atheist, all these appointments with religious people are quite strange, but I must admit I only met exquisite people, who made me feel perfectly at ease in any situation, accepted my ideas and never tried to convert me. I think that for those priests even my own way of life is something which has a hue of religious attitude.
It is Wednesday evening back in Matembwe with Claudio. We are planning a visit to Arusha (a small town near the Kenyan border) next weekend, to meet a fried from Bologna who is coming to work as a volunteer nurse in Kenya. We make plans for a sightseeing visit of the capital, for accommodation (we’ll have to ask for availability at the mission or at CUAMM, another charity organization from Padova) in Dar Es Salaam, then we plan the working week and go to bed.
I went to bed that night and I don’t remember any awakening in Africa after that. When I open my eyes I can see people in white coats, neat walls…nothing to do with Africa.
What has happened?
To make a long story short, I had a very serious road accident down there in the heart of Africa. I went into a coma, which became a deep coma during the transfer. I was the only person injured since I was thrown out of the cabin. I broke my backbone, which caused paraplegia and spent about seventeen months on end through the ordeal of hospital care. Medical reports date the incident on Tuesday.
December 15 1992,
that is one week after my last goodnight memory in Matembwe. That week and the two following months will remain as a complete black out time in my mind. After spending my youth in lively and sound enjoyment, pleasant solitary journeys (welcoming the necessity of having to adapt to circumstances, without having to rely on the rules of organisers) and quite a lucky experience in sport with excellent results, what can be said or added? Perhaps only that:
– “for each minute of your existence there runs a parallel unknown thread which may suddenly and unexpectedly break and disrupt your life forever.
This unknown thread I call “MASTER FATE”, the master of everyone of us, even though we are not aware of his presence.
When he decides to act, his action is imperative and brooks no argument.” –
However even though the consequences of that accident have utterly changed my life and my being, I do warmly recommend the experience of an adventure like mine in Africa. I tthank the spirit of curiosity which led me to undertake such an important experience in my life. I do not know whether my impressions can be of any help. I hope so.
Bye from Norberto