During flight home from Mwanza the young African man sitting beside me struck up a conversation. He wanted to know what I was scribbling in my diary; was I researching for a thesis he asked? No, I said, “I’m a journalist, I’m trying to piece together a story that I have to submit tomorrow”. He was an engineer he told me, en route home to Kenya having spent time on the goldmines near Lake Victoria.
I am intrigued to know what he thought of Tanzania, this being his first visit. He found it very different to his home across the border, he confided.
‘Nobody here speaks English’, he said, ‘Kiswahili is their first language; in Kenya it is English. And in Tanzania’ – he adds – ‘everybody refers to their president as Ndugu (brother); in Kenya it is Your Excellency’. I cannot tell which he thinks is more people-friendly. But by his tone I guessed he didn’t approve of anybody being assumed Excellent merely because of status.
He wants to know where I am from. When I tell him my grandfather came to Kenya from Scotland over a hundred years ago he suggests I ought to watch Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, ‘in order to understand something of your history’.
As we talk I divulge that my husband once worked for Lord Delamere on the beleaguered Soysambu Estate in Kenya where Delamere’s son, Tom, is accused of shooting a trespasser a year ago. ‘It has been very controversial’, says my neighbour, ‘I am not sure what to think, but the press has reported both sides of the story’. That’s encouraging I say, sign of a healthy media, ‘Yes’, he agrees, ‘I believe the accused must be tried on the merits of his case, not on the colour of his skin; there is too much racism against the whites in Kenya now’.
When I disembark at Kilimanjaro I wish him a safe onward journey – he was a visibly nervous passenger (more nervous than I who had diluted my anxiety with a beer not the abstemious Fanta he drank). He shakes my hand warmly and tells me to say hello to my husband and children.