A successful morning for Alex! He and his 1-man crew take his boat out at 4am every morning. They caught these tilapia by 9am.
Sunset on 12/11, captured a short walk from the SHED hostel on the road to Lake Victoria.
Home sweet hostel for the month of December
I’ve been assured those horns are nothing to be afraid of…
Beth would be horrified I washed my own clothes by hand earlier today…
Atop the hill at the outskirts of Shirati, about a 25 minute walk from the town center. The perfect spot to watch the sunset over Lake Victoria. Cute outfit, too!
“That afternoon there was a party of tourists at the Terrace and looking down in the water among the empty beer cans and dead barracudas a woman saw a great long white spine…’I didn’t know sharks had such handsome, beautifully formed tails.’
‘I didn’t either,’ her male companion said.
Up the road, in his shack the old man was sleeping again. He was still sleeping on his face and the boy was sitting by him watching him. The old man was dreaming about lions.”
And so Ernest Hemingway concludes The Old Man and the Sea. The two unwitting tourists probably go back inside to dance the night away, to live happily ever after. And what happened to the man? Maybe once his cut hands—but certainly not his tattered virility— had healed, he and the boy returned to sea, testing their luck and fortitude against the blue expanse.
Ever after, ever after.
Damn, Hemingway, you’re good. After witnessing the Old Man’s battle—against the fish, against the sharks, against the world, against himself—the reader is yanked back to reality, back to the Terrace where we belong, where the shack and the Old Man are nowhere in sight.
Like the lady at the Terrace impressed by the huge fish skeleton, I kind of think the Nile Perch is really friggin’ cool. Sure, it’s ugly, but that just somehow adds to its allure…which is probably why for several hundred dollars, you can take a chartered fishing trip on Lake Victoria. Who wouldn’t want the chance to catch a 100kg monster with fins?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved to go fishing with my dad. He paddles and deals with the worms and unhooks the catches, and I bring the luck. I think we have the trout of the Fort River and the sunfish of Cape Cod’s kettle pond to thank for our hardy dad-daughter relationship. Fishing, for me, reminds me of some of my favorite memories: catching 27 fish on my 11th birthday, the catfish at West Point, the beast of Father’s Day 2012. Our shared fisherman tales are boastful, competitive, nostalgic, happy.
The tales I’ve heard the last few days are pretty much the polar opposite. The lady at Hemmingway’s Terrace would adore Shirati for its incredible sunsets and rolling plains, but the people who live here aren’t quite so satisfied with the environment.
For about a week now, I’ve been visiting beaches where fisherman bring their morning catches of dagaa (itty bitty fish like minnows), tilapia (desirable and expensive), and, of course, Nile Perch. With the help of Killion, my translator, I’ve heard from fishermen and their wives, market women and boat builders, Beach Management Unit officials and foreign development workers.
And what does nearly everyone have to say?
Followed shortly by: What are you going to do to help us?
Wherever I go, everyone has a laundry list of obstacles that keep them from improving their lives. We live hand to mouth, is the persisting storyline. Despite living next to one of the world’s largest lake, the people on these particular shores of Lake Victoria do not reap its potential benefits. I will, no doubt, delve into those obstacles, but first I want to call to attention another matter: Me.
I am an outsider. I have white skin. I do not speak Swahili or Luo. I am a woman. I believe that these facts, just as much as the facts of life here in Shirati, are shaping the stories that I am told.
Although this town is far off the well-beaten path, outsiders come here often. To get here I took a 1.5 hour flight from Dar es Salaam, a 4 hour bus ride from Mwanza (on tarmac roads), and a 45 minute ride in a truck from Tarime (on dirt roads). But that doesn’t stop the tons (dozens if not hundreds) of researchers and volunteers that come to this same place every year. They study schistosomiasis and HIV, work in the Shirati Hospital, start microfinance programs. And then, more often than not, those Mzungos (white people/outsiders) leave, and they never come back. The foreign traffic has become just another environmental force that the people of Shirati have learned to reckon with.
So how are they reckoning with me? Most people are extremely friendly. Those that speak English ask me my name and where I’m from and what brings me here; those that speak only Luo communicate with warm smiles and enthusiastic greetings. One man, Peter, who is a nurse studying to get his Masters in Public Health, lives in Dar es Salaam and gave me his number in case I ever had any questions about the city.
When conversations delve deeper than the basics (when I’m working with Killion), most people seem to turn off their cheeriness. Any question I ask—have you lived in Shirati your whole life?—draws a glum response—Yes, without money where can I go?
Are you usually able to sell all the fish you bring to the market? Yes, because I cannot afford to buy more.
How many years have you been fishing? Three years, but then I did not own my own but. Oh! When did you purchase this boat? Last year, but now that means I must repair my own nets, hire my own crew…
Do you have kids? Three. Their school fees are too high.
And then, eventually, the conversation dovetails into what other Mzungos have brought or taught in the past, and how the people of Shirati have been disappointed by the results.
If I’m here, I must have money, so how am I going to spend that money to fix their community? Right?
Dfjkhasdfkjahsd! Sdklfjhdlkfgjbh!! Sdfghdfkgjhsdfkgh!!!!!!!%^
This formula will always upset me. I know that it’s a practical means of interacting with people (who probably do have money, and probably are looking to help). But it also perpetuates a sense of dearth and inhibits people’s own sense of innovation and resilience. Plus, the assumptions are not always accurate: I don’t have money with which I can construct a new market place. I do have, however, the capability to listen and understand and relay so that their perspectives and experiences are not isolated to this corner of Tanzania just because their road isn’t paved.
But rather than capturing the perspectives of people in Shirati, I am capturing the perspectives of people in Shirati who are talking to a Mzungo. The boatmaker gives me a vague, dismissive response when I ask him how he learned to make a canoe, but will talk for several minutes about how the timber must be shipped all the way from Tarime and that he has no power tools like we do in America.
I’m not done with this post yet, but my battery is dying and the electricity is out, and I am about to go meet Anouk and Timo to walk to some rocky (apparently beautiful) hill somewhere. Expect Part II sometime soon…I’m not quite done with the views from Hemingway’s Terrace and the Old Man’s shack….