Ever since I started trekking and living in other places I have not stopped being fascinated by one thing. Cultural differences.
It began when I left Kilimanjaro to live with my Aunt Sarah in Arusha aged 12. Aunt Sara Materu, bless her, was then headmistress of Arusha Secondary School. She was loved by most students, and I have never stopped remembering. Take this example. When I was growing up in Mori, Old Moshi, every month I would find myself defending against a rural bully. Fisticuffs were, well...
What else do boys do?
We find bullies in towns too, but here they are more organised (also brutal) and in Arusha, it was daily, weekly.
Returning from school, kicking your own ball, find the green path of this (considered the most elegant city in East Africa) blocked by a group of bigger boys. No sooner had the fracas began than one of the lads would recognise who they were trying to nick the mpira from.
“Ah, mtoto wa Mama Materu...” as my aunt was then known. Headmistress of Arusha Secondary School was a very special lady and that always saved my dear teeth from vanishing. Many lessons. Rural and cities are like huts and apartments.
Years later, I was in the National Service (JKT) where we had left the camp with a dear friend, Harold Mhando. Got lost, and landed our itchy feet at a stranger’s compound. The inhabitants were not only kind, they offered food and beds. Years later, I would try to locate those beautiful peasants in Iringa to no avail.
Someone from the area informed me the couple were experts at finding and cooking dog meat. Imagine that. Recalling their tasty ugali, made from the most beautiful maize and a delicious stew, plus what meat?
So a decade or so later, I’m in Europe, and have just been reprimanded by the local police. I had been throwing bricks at a neighbour’s dog.
“This is not Africa, where you torture dogs!”
“Sorry, this particular beast always defecates at our door and my child stepped on it on her way to school.”
“Yes, you are right Herr Macha. But you should report it to us, not hit it with bricks! And he is not a beast. His name is Willy.”
Animals are sacred in Europe.
The mindset of rural and towns in Africa is one thing; yet differences between continents resemble a draughts-Dama, game. Animals, insects and wildlife litter every corner of our tropics. Compare that to London, where just seeing a fly in the kitchen is such a novelty, you take a selfie with it. Seriously, mindsets are driven and steered by the environment and climate, thus forming cultural values.
One really hot afternoon, during early 1980s I was visiting friends in the suburbs of Dar es Salaam. Engulfing the window were a bunch of pink, reddish bougainvillea flowers. They made it difficult to open the window. As I struggled to wedge off the twigs and attractive stamens, lo and behold, I felt the sting, like a sharp razor. As blood oozed from my wrist, I saw the green culprit, tongue still wiggling, deadly.
“Don’ t kill it, hapana ua! Don’t kill it...!” shouted one of my hosts, a European expatriate, camera ready to snap.
“So gorgeous...” she said, as I bled and wailed that I needed the hospital urgently.
Thus you can see the differences.
There is no way you will be bitten by a green mamba unlatching a window in London, Paris or Copenhagen. Unless the “gorgeous” reptile is a pet. Because you do have snake pets. Natives here keep snakes, certain types of rats (e.g. brown rats, which are considered intelligent, yes), rabbits, and (of course) dogs and cats. Speaking of cats, early this week I was waiting for a bus, and a huge advert caught my attention.
It was about feeding cats.
Cats are fascinating.
In Africa we domesticate them to keep rats and other nasty pests away. But there are loads of stray cats roaming streets. That would be unthinkable in London. Most cats belong to someone and have an identity tag so they can be traced.
The advert said:
“Food for Feline Good. Pet Food with a Purpose”
The healthy mix had chicken and fish (salmon), gluten-free and natural ingredients. Gluten-free food is big stuff in developed countries. If you don’t know what gluten is, think of maandazi. Have you noticed after you have eaten lots of it you get slightly constipated? That is partly because of the refined sugar and gluten (elasticity) in the white flour. So to give animals gluten free meals, is matching alongside 21st century, human health concerns.
Travelling is a teacher, just like my now retired Aunt Sara Materu, who encouraged me to love reading, and eventually write in newspapers.
Freddy Macha is a writer and musician based in London. Blog, www.freddymachablogspot.com