An African Story Part 1

Part 1

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania


A mosquito, wobbling feebly in the air, made its way down the alley. I traced its progress towards me, and when it was close enough, clapped my hands together and dispatched the bug. Repulsed, I looked down at my hands. Here, in Dar es Salaam, proper Africa, the vile creature had been replaced by two splatters of blood - the source of the blood unknown.  

I wiped my hands and began rolling a cigarette from a bag of Drum that I had purchased in Zanzibar the week before. I had bought the tobacco as a sort of novelty while in Africa, but I was finding it hard to follow through on using it.  

“Sorry about that ma brother, sometimes they make things too hard,” Njakluddy said to me and repeated “too hard”. He was talking about the people at the Tanzania Revenue Authority, who, after much arguing, had refused to issue me a driving permit on the authority of my American drivers license. Njakluddy had spent the day going guiding me from place to place trying to figure out how this foreigner could purchase a motorcycle, obtain a driving permit, and leave this city.  

“It’s ok. Thanks for your help anyway,” I said genuinely. “I think that I can still get an International Driving Permit from the United States and have it shipped. It just might take a while.”  

“So what are you going to do?”  

I thought about it, took a drag of his cigarette, felt dizzy, and said, “I guess just order it from the States and travel around by bus until it gets here. Will I have any problem getting around by bus?”  

Njakluddy rolled another cigarette, maybe his fifth, I wasn’t counting, and asked, “where are you going?”  

I shrugged to solicit advice but also because I liked the way it sounded to be alone in Africa without a destination. “I was thinking I would go south to Iringa for a few days – maybe go to a game park – then to this mountain park down there, I can never remember the name – Uduzanda? Ugawenza?...” I trailed off trying to remember. Then, giving up on naming the park, “and after that head west to Lake Tanganyika, Mahale Mountain Park, then north to Rwanda.”  

“Will you go to Kigoma? That’s where my sister is, in the refugee camp.”  

“Maybe,” I said, “is that the same refugee camp that you were in?”  

“Yeah I grew up there since 1995, until I came to Dar es Salaam for school.”  

"How big is the camp?” I was trying to picture the place.  

“Oh it is very big. Maybe a hundred thousand people or more. It is one of the biggest or maybe the biggest.”  

“Is it all tents or are there buildings?”  

“Oh no buildings. In the summer you can’t sleep, you just spend the night like this,” he waved his hand in a fanning motion. “My sister sent me an email last week, she was sick with malaria but I think she is better now.”  

“Are a lot of people sick there?” Immediately I knew it was a stupid question.  

“Oh, don’t say that! Many people are sick, are dying there,” he said genuinely hurt.  

Njankluddy was quiet, probably picturing the camp or his sister. “Why are people still there so long after leaving Rwanda? The fighting was in like ’94 and ’95, right?” I asked.  

“Yeah. ’94, ’95, and ’96. They are waiting for houses to be built for them back home. They have nothing back home, better for them to stay in the camp than to live in the streets in Kigali. The UN and charities say that they will build houses so they –we– are waiting. Their houses were all destroyed back then. With bombs.”  

They fell into a silence. I tried to look occupied and contemplative. I looked down at the lighter in his hands. It said “child proof 85%” and underneath showed a frowning face with X’s for eyes. I wondered what the hell the 85% meant. 

Njakluddy broke the silence. “My house was destroyed and they killed my mother, my father, and my young brother. A lot of government people lived on my street so they went there with this car, but it wasn’t a car, it had no wheels just chains –  

“ – a tank,” I suggested.  

“No,” shaking his head Njanluddy fished a pen and paper from his pocket and proceeded to draw a crude tank on it. “They drove down the street and stopped in front of each house and shot one bomb at each house.”  

“So how did you and your sister escape?”  

“We were at school, private school. So when they heard what was happening, they closed the gates and we stayed there for two days and then we moved to a church and then to ‘Hotel Rwanda.’ You know ‘Hotel Rwanda?’”  

“Yeah,” I wondered if he meant literally the place from the movie with Don Cheadle, or if it was just a phrase for places like that.  

“When we went home, the house was destroyed and no one was there, so we went to the refugee camp. I haven’t seen my grandparents, my uncles, or my aunt since then. I think they are alive, but there are many camps in Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda, Congo-Brazzaville…”  

We went on talking for a while  mostly Njankluddy telling stories of his childhood and me saying little. I was becoming increasingly aware that Njankluddy was sweating profusely even though they were sitting in a shaded alley. The man’s speech was punctuated by a repetitive cough. It was not a cough that I was used to – the throat clearing cough of a cold or the hacking cough of a smoker, but an uncontrolled, wet, deep down cough.  

Njankluddy hunched over and swayed a little every time this happened. To me, it seemed to be the cough of disease. I began taking shallow breaths as a defense and felt bad for wanting to go back to the hotel, escape my fellow man – my friend – to the haven of isolation.  

“Jean-Claude,” I didn’t even attempt the Africanized version of the name“are you ok? You seem sick.”  

“Yeah you know, I got sick a few days ago and I went to the doctor and he told me I have Malaria you know. Here in Dar es Salaam there are too many mosquitoes. You have to have a mosquito net, but I don’t have one and where I sleep there is this big window and I’m up all night like this,” he slapped his forehead as if swatting bugs off his face. “The doctor said that I have a lot of Malaria and that I need treatment, but the treatment was 25,000 and I only had 10,000. Remember how I said I am on summer break from school? So I don’t get money during the summer. So I asked him to help me, that I am a refugee, and you know, here in Tanzania it isn’t like Europe or America. He said that he couldn’t help without the money and I asked him for half of the pills and he said no because the pills won’t do anything if you only take half.”  

I listened guiltily and thought about how I had found it odd that Njakluddy was sweating so much earlier at the TRA. We had been standing in the sun but it wasn’t that hot. I had also noticed that Njakluddy had become more and more somber and quiet through the day, but I had just figured that the man was becoming bored with this vein attempt to help and American get a motorcycle. I had 60, 70, or 80,000 schillings in his pocket – I couldn’t remember which. 

“So I went and bought Dloroz, which you know, isn’t for Malaria,” I nodded unknowingly,  “and I take it when I feel bad and it helps a little.” 

I waited for the pitch but it didn’t come. We fell into silence and Njankluddy rolled another cigarette. 

“Well,” I started off slowly, “I can help you get the medicine. And a mosquito net,” I added. 

“Oh thank you brother, asante sana,” Njankluddy exclaimed.  

“How much would it cost to get the medicine and net all together?” 

“35,000 for everything.” I sighed shrugged and looked at him as if to say “why didn’t you say so earlier.” 

“I have that on me actually, so let's get you some medicine. Do we go to the Duka la Dawa?” I said pharmacy in Swahili. 

“Asana sana, bless you brother. No, the pharmacy is much too expensive. Maybe 45,000 or more. We have to buy it at the hospital.” 

I wouldn’t have minded giving the money over right there, but Njankluddy didn’t look so good, so I proposed that they go to the hospital together. We rode a crowded dalla dalla, or public bus, out of the city center and into a much more impoverished neighborhood. Looking out from my standing position on the dalla dalla, the colors of the tin roofs blended together like a patchwork quilt. 

When we got off the dalla dalla, we walked for a few minutes until they stood before a large rectangular building. No ornamentation, just a sign that read:  



And there, sprawled out in front of this great cement structure, was the class of Tanzanian that couldn’t afford the private hospital in the City Center. Spewing forth from the open doors of the hospital were hundreds of human bodies. Some were standing, some were laying down as if sleeping. Babies were wailing and adults moaning. Young men walked through the crowd selling peanuts or fruit. I saw blood, ripped and soiled clothing – chickens and goats ambling through the line. Near to me sat a man with only one arm and no legs almost up to his waist calmly waiting his turn in line.  

And suddenly I was squeamish. The whole way down here I had thought of myself benevolently helping my friend and unafraid of getting a little dirty in the meantime. I had wanted to show that I wasn’t above it, especially with Njankluddy who had spent perhaps a decade of his life in a refugee camp.  

But now I was thinking better of it. I thought about how people in the States got MRSA in hospitals. This was just a symbolic gesture anyway, the real important part was the money which would allow Njakluddy to get treatment.  

I turned to Njakluddy and yelled above the din, “ok, well here you are,” as if I had finished my duty by bringing him here. I retrieved the money and gave it to Njankluddy secretly as they shook hands, the way you might with a Maitre d’. God knows what kind of person might be lurking around in this crowd, and Njankluddy didn’t look so good.  

“Well, you have my number. I hope you feel better man. Call me when you get out.”  

“Asante sana. Thank you brother,” Njankluddy said and coughed.  

With that I wheeled around and jogged over to a dalla dalla that had just pulled up to the curb. I rode it back to the City Center.