Tuesday, February 7, 2012

“Sitaki Mume!” (or “I do not want a husband!”)

   We were given advice, and a translated statement to carry with us like shields: hold onto your money tightly, and “sitaki mume,” which means “I do not want a husband.”  The money against pick-pockets, and the saying against those who would declare themselves happy to be our husband. 
   Today was a day that will be best known for its abundances of the negative, “no.”  Hapana was a theme for the day, and it wasn’t because I was shy – oh no, never shy – but because pawners and salesman in Karatu are persistent.  It’s a lot like trying to tell a fly that it isn’t allowed to have a taste of the honey jar: flies do not understand English, and even if they did, it only makes them try for that gold delight a little harder.
   In this case the flies were the salesman, and the honey our Tanzanian shillings.  Here in Tanzania one U.S. dollar is worth approximately 1600 shilling.  Granted, everything here is pretty cheap, and Karatu is famous for its bartering inhabitants.  One tip I learned quickly: there’s an African price, and an mzungu price, or “white” price.  So whatever price I was given, I cut in half and worked my way slowly up.  And let me tell you, I walked away with some pretty interesting items for what I know, as an American having shopped for trinkets and fabrics before, these items were bought for a steal. 
I'm in the center, hopping and circling with the rest!
   But let me jump backwards a bit, to the morning.  We began our day visiting an Iraqw tribe boma, which is an outdated styled living/working hut.  We were directed on the process for making local beer, as well as the making for a wedding skirt and shirt.   Fun fact, it is the mother-in-law that makes the bride’s skirt and shirt, and this process can take up to three months.  The bead work is quite intricate, with symbols that represent the world, home, and future for the bride.  We were dressed in wedding garments (mine a simple kanga fabric-skirt), and proceeded to dance away the early morning hours with the Iraqw people in a mock wedding-dance and celebration.  The drums were heavy in our ears, the words flowing through our veins, practically moving our limbs all on their own. 

   It was after this visit that we proceeded to Karatu, a town near to our camp.  We were told to watch our money, and just say “no” repeatedly to street vendors. 
   When I say they were persistent, I do not only mean they would ask several times for your money, lowering prices as they went.  I mean that they would learn your names, teach you words, become your friends, and walk with you for the 5 hours you were in Karatu, hoping that by the end you would, finally, purchase that small blue beaded bracelet.  We were accompanied by a young group of men today, all hoping to learn new words in English, and show us the best places for fabrics/jewelry/shirts/food or anything you pleased.  They helped to barter, keeping to the African prices.  Most were genuinely friendly, and wanted nothing more than to spend the day with some new mzungu friends, learning our habits, and lending some much-needed know-how.  My personal companion, Jonathon, stuck with me the entire day, constantly reminding me to clutch my bag to my front with both hands, especially when visiting the Karatu market.  Jackson and Patrick, two other men with us, directed us to fabric sellers. 
   Men elicited cat calls often (though I cannot imagine how attractive my long, matronly black skirt is to any person).  Two marriage proposals were offered to me today, and my “sitaki mume”s (I do not want a husband) were quickly evolving to “nina kuwa mume”s (I have a husband) by the end of the day. 
   But one simply cannot visit a crowded market place without a bit of excitement.  I was helping my friend Adam pick out a kanga for his sister when, without any warning, an older woman (mama) leaps forward in front of Adam, is yelling loudly, and grabbing at a man standing behind Adam.  Thinking an argument was about to break out, I was shocked (to say the least) when the woman then wrenches her hand away from the man’s body and hoists into the air a wallet, all while screaming and pointing at the man.  Adam, baffled, notes that the wallet she has obtained is his own.  The man, the woman is yelling, is a thief, and she had seen him nip Adam’s wallet from his front pocket.  His front pocket, mind you, not the back.  Like a mama lion, this wonderful woman had rescued Adam’s wallet, and the folks in surrounding stalls were quick to chase the thief from the area.  The woman (and several others), in the midst of our thanks and gratitude, wished only to instill in us the necessity of simply keeping your hands always on your money.  Unaona pesa yako!
   What a wonderful world it is, it always seems, when something bad can produce such actions in complete strangers.  A woman, with no regard for her safety or anything, takes note to grab hold of a pick-pocket to forcefully rescue a wallet for a foreigner.  These people in Karatu – really in all surrounding areas – know who we are, and treasure us as much as we treasure them.  Goodness and kindness abound, and I only hope that I can return the favor to them.  Pay it forward, as it were.  Right is right anywhere, whether it be Tanzania or the U.S., and it’s nice to know that even though we’re foreigners stumbling around the area, trying to make a living, there are always polite gentleman, mamas, and generally good folks to look out for us.
   We ended our day sitting at a pub named Happy Days, enjoying French fries, and some tasty, locally brewed beer (the drinking age here is 18, Mom and Dad).  Stories were swapped, laughs were shared, and memories were sealed in Tanzania.


  1. Thought you didn't like beer?

  2. It sounds like you are having a WONDERFUL time, my dear. Najua utapenda saa yako katika Tanzania! (My grammar is slacking, but you get the gist)

    -Sarah Byrd

  3. I sure do hope that was a mock wedding! Sounds like you and your new friends are learning lots and having a wonderful time.

  4. JLP: Here in Tanzania they are very very proud of their local brews. Definitely wanted to try some, and they were really refreshing! (Still, I had to take a few sips to get used to the taste).
    Auntie J: It was! And I wasn't wearing any bride's garments, only a guest kanga.