I must admit that when I was a young twenty something old, I used to hold a piece of cigarette in my hand, just to look cool. I never liked the damn thing, but I just found it appealing and what is the word? Chic. Chic is “smart” in French. It is also “elegant”, “stylish”... “dapper”, “debonair”.
Oui. The French might say, “Alors, c’est tres chic!”
The Kiswahili equivalent is utanashati. Sharobaro. In my younger days it was bitozi. Alluding to the best band of all time, The Beatles. Made in Britain. Chic. Mmmh.
Chic was the name of a 1970s African American band, which we loved to pieces. I still do, I should confess. Recently, the Chic co-founder, Nile Rodgers, released an autobiography. Really funny, sad and very tough reading.
Le Freak’s worldwide hit song, blasted our radios in 1978. I remember us shouting “Ah, freak out!” and thinking this main repeating line was “Ah, Africa!”
We thought: “How cool! These black American brothers are singing about the Motherland Continent.”
It was not Africa, but Ah freak out! Which rhymes or sounds similar to a recent incident with one my London Kiswahili students. I was teaching some of the famous Kiswahili idioms like “mambo bado”, “mambo kwa soksi”, etc. When I came to the recent political trending word (remember “trending” from last week’s column?) the very eager Kiswahili learner kept saying “safari curse”, which I had to correct. The President’s motto: “Sasa kazi!” (We’re here to work!), reminded me of my 1978 thing with Le Freak tune.
So I held this cigarette in my hand every now and then.
Nineteen seventy something.
A musician friend of mine from those days, a political refugee from Malawi, simply called Joji, and I, used to amble down Oyster Bay Beach (Coco Beach 2017) strum our guitars and sing. Here were mostly Asian and expatriates. Plus a few rich Tanzanian kids. We did not mind. We had trekked all the way from Mwananyamala to play. In the thick of it, a cigarette dangled on my lips. Know what? I would not smoke it. This really annoyed cigarette smokers. Ha! Ha! They would want to light it and I would say, “No! No! No!”
One of them was an English lady. A teacher at International School of Tanganyika. I don’t know how it is called these days. She was a smoker. She wanted the fag. I liked her and offered her the cigarette. You should have seen her eyes. They shone brightly. She wasn’t that bad with the guitar, either. We sang Sunny the Boney M, version. Eventually we trekked not to Mwananyamala but to her compound, Joji and I, and her excited, equally smoking female friend. We sat and watched them lighting more cigarettes and you know what? I took one and pretended I was smoking happily, coughing. Joji just shook his head. That is what you do when you are young. Play games.
Months later, when Miss Teacher returned from England she brought me a packet of Embassy cigarettes which those days was like a motorbike present or something in that category. We are speaking about the late 1970s recession. Ujamaa policies restricted importation of Western goods. Embassy Cigarettes were special. Dar es Salaam had Embassy Hotel too. You did not just drop in there. You needed good, good, good reasons.
But what this whole story entails is more than deluxe hotels.
Young people like to join things and matches and groups and campaigns and fashion trends. Being young without children or responsibilities is time for filling up empty, but evolving skulls. Last week this column warned about copying negative, useless stuff from rich, Wazungu world. Things that have no rewards other than image. Cigarette smoking, king amongst those.
I was talking to a certain “smart” young twenty something Londoner.
“Why are so many of you, youths, smoke cigarette and so called weed?”
He smiled and puffed. I smelt the marijuana. Rastas call it herb.
“Most of us just do it for fun.” Reader did you hear the word fun?
It reminded me of Chic, 1978. “Fun that blows your lungs, gives you cancer?”
Young Londoner chuckled. “Cars also pollute and give cancer.”
I smirked. “Cars have a meaning. Means of transport. They are also being improved so that their carbon emissions become lower.”
Young Londoner, inhaled, puffed, grey curls. I waved away smoke clouds hovering around our eyes.
“I think the cigarette is the most useless thing ever invented. And this marijuana smoking causes schizophrenia and other serious mental health problems.”
He threw his “fun” on the floor, and then stamped on it.
“Why don’t you non-smokers let us enjoy the simple things of life? This is my only vice. I don’t drink alcohol. I will never be a terrorist. I don’t do gambling. Never steal.”
Simple things of life.
How about that dear reader?
Simple things of life.
Mr Macha is a writer and musician based in London. Blog: www.freddymacha.blogspot.com