Conversations with a Stranger

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.

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7 Responses to “Conversations with a Stranger”

  1. Gorilla Bananas Says:

    He sounds like a decent chap. Have you met any Ugandans? I once met a Ugandan man who made me laugh a lot. I wondered if Ugandans tend to be funnier than other Africans.

  2. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Hiya GB; he was a decent chap – he made me laugh, especially with Braveheart reference, he must think my ancestors are a bunch of men to who like moon? I think the Ugandans have – as far as I understand – benefitted from excellent education? Do you think you need to be clever – or better informed, well-read – to be funny?

  3. R.Sherman Says:

    I’ve enjoyed your past several entries.

    Just saying “Hi.”

    Cheers.

  4. Minx Says:

    Hi Mem, glad to hear you have been able to make plans (just catching up on all your news as I have been without a spine for the last few days!).
    Sounds as if you are going to have your work cut out but at least things are moving forwards. Hope the cow is okay.

  5. Gorilla Bananas Says:

    Do you think you need to be clever – or better informed, well-read – to be funny?

    Possibly, although it certainly doesn’t guarantee it. The Ugandan man I met was well-educated and smart, but that’s not why he was funny. He just came out with funny remarks.

  6. Primal Sneeze Says:

    The Brave Heart bit reminded me of an ex-colleague of mine.

    I met him on one of my dreaded business trips to Kansas. He was gushing with excitement about his upcoming sabbatical. The fact that he was 14.765% Scottish wasn’t why he would be spending his month long holiday in Scotland. No. He wanted to tour around and see all the locations where his favourite movie was shot.

    When I explained Brave Heart was actually filmed in Ireland he nearly cried. He had already paid for the flights, car-hire, accommodation etc.

  7. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Primal Sneeze – I think that’s hilarious. Your comment made me laugh out load; I imagined this really earnest little man absolutely crumbling. Sorry; I know that’s not very kind but it’s also really funny!

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