Africa In Review: Part 3 ….and the Ugly!

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THE UGLY: The compromises

Namely……. A SOCIAL LIFE

It is truth universally acknowledged (in Africa at least) that a single white women whether in possession of fortune or not, must be in want of a husband, fair game? Oh how Jane Austen would disagree.

Forgive me for being cynical but if a man asks me on a date or proposes (I have had only 2 proposals since living here, a bit disappointing really) within the first 2 minutes of meeting me then I think it is fair to assume they are not really interested in me.

In order, the Top 4 (read: WORST) pick up lines I have heard these past 2 years:

  1. “Girls excuse the interruption but I have to ask you. Although I can’t believe beauties like you could possibly be single or here on your own, is there someone about to knock me out for speaking to you? If so tell me now, although if the answer is yes I may take my tie and hang myself” (no PLEASE allow me to do it for you);
  2. The short and not so sweet “But you are just so convincing to love”
  3. And the strategy of getting straight down to it “Choose me to marry” (from the IT assistant at work who came to change my printer cartridge, upon telling him that I wanted to move back to Australia to be closer to my family)
  4. From a taxi driver that goes by the name of Rasta Tony. “Hey Natalia Happy Bob Marley Day, do you want to come out with me tonight to a bar that plays Bob Marley music?”….. before offering to accept marijuana as payment for the ride.

Yes, it is enough to have any girl running to the nearest convent!

Then there are the expat men, the pirate hunters, the professional hunters, the charming South Africans who know how to drink and dance in equal measures, the Aussie dole bludging couch surfers, the high-flying miners looking for a booty call, corrupt officials looking for a date and a kickback. Take me back to the 1930’s please; it was never so complicated for my grandmother’s generation! Call me fussy, but I have been happily single while living on this continent.

The social life in Dar does leave a lot to be desired for the average expat. The social bubble that so many mzungus choose to inhabit while living here is in my mind quite often decidedly claustrophobic and limited in its appeal. A handful of restaurants a couple of bars and that’s about the extent of it. Of course the local social scene is far more extensive, yet inexplicably in my experience, harder to tap in to. Then every so often an event takes place that almost makes up for it, and I pause a moment before writing in my otherwise seemingly blank social calendar something like “Cabaret Drag Show”, “Jane Goodall Lecture”. Only in Dar, where “Goat Races” and “Pjotie Cooking Competitions”, constitute a social life have I come to expect just about anything from the sporadic offerings of a night out in this town.

Of course some things have made up for it. Whenever I did go out in Dar I could usually be promised one of two things (and if I was lucky both). Men who love to dance and/ or who could at the very least hold an entertaining conversation.

Last year’s Christmas Pantomime was a good example (yes I am talking 7 months ago, is it any wonder I decided to leave a country and a job that I loved so much????). You might expect to see some cross-dressing when going to watch a Panto, but rarely does this extend to the audience members themselves. On this particular evening taking up the two front rows of the theatre, were no less than twenty burly firemen from Birmingham, England, all dressed as, wait for it…. fairies. Complete with pink gloves, tiaras, wings and tutus, they were an enthusiastic bunch. Taking the audience participation element to a whole new level, they would call out, sing along and when they really got warmed up and a musical number came on, they would take to lining the aisles and transforming themselves into the most committed impromptu chorus line you have ever seen. It was Sinbad the Sailor, as you could never imagine it.

At the end of the show, we all filed out to the courtyard for a night of dancing. Well, I tried to dance, but to be honest none of us could compete with the 20 firemen dressed as fairies who danced their hearts out. And big hearts they had at that. It transpired that they come out (not literally, these blokes were as straight as they come) to Dar every 4 months. Half the team spends their time offering training to some of the security companies, teaching the security guards  how to use fire equipment, while the rest of the guys spend their days at the Salvation Army orphanage providing entertainment for the severely handicapped children who live there.

It was a surreal moment when I looked around me on the dance floor under the stars in the foreground of the amateur theatre Dar es Salaam, to see that the women were out-numbered and out-danced by straight men dressed as fairies.

These guys were not afraid to poke fun at themselves, they knew how to have a good time, but most impressively of all, boy did they know how to dance.

So unlikely was the spectacle surrounding me, and thinking I might like to work in Birmingham, if these guys were any indication of the blokes who reside there. My curiosity got the better of me and I finally asked one of them “so tell me, can all men from Birmingham dance like this or is it just the firemen?” Wearing a wife beater singlet, calf high boots and pink fairy wings, he stood as close as his pink tutu would allow and in the thickest accent I have ever heard, gave me a completely unintelligible response. He may very well have been speaking English, but I had absolutely no idea what he was saying, so I nodded, smiled politely and thought it best not to ask any more questions. Meanwhile, he raised an enormous tattooed arm above his head, took the flashing fairy wand he was holding in his pink satin-gloved hand and getting lost in the music once more, waved it around as if he was at an underground rave (only nothing like it!!!) for the rest of the night.

Only in Dar!

Thank You Tanzania for two terrific years, I hope to see you again one day, but for now, know that you have a special place in my heart. Over and out!

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