06 November 2006

Missed Opportunity

Tanzanian kids, especially in urban areas, like to yell at foreigners, usually "mzungu, mzungu". This is the name for all people of European descent, ie white.

It used to drive me crazy and spoil my mood. I felt it was so rude. Sometimes I would retort back, but that rarely helped. Later I learned from Steve Cunningham to make a joke of it with the kids. If I do that then it doesnt bother me. It often turns it into a positive interaction.

But somedays I still let it bother me.

When I am commuting by bicycle often young kids/men want to pass me and show off that they are going faster than me. I am commuting and not wanting to sweat. Then they swerve in in front of me and after a bit slow down and I have to negotiate around them. It seems it is all about putting me down.

What is the big deal about getting around them. Well, Arusha roads are pretty busy, noisy, and chaotic, AND I am 51. So I have a harder time looking back than I used to. I have to check traffic, pull out, avoid them as the wander into my lane. Not fun.

For that reason I am snobbish around other bike commuters.

The reader needs that background for this story.

On Wednesday of last week I was riding home from work earlier than usual, an hour before dark. I got the normal verbal assaults from bored kids. "Hey white man" "Good morning teacher" and the like. Traffic was a mess like usual and I was not in the greatest of mood. I pass a mtn bike.

Immediately I hear him stomping up behind me. It makes my mood worse, and , well, you know, I am competitive. I pick up the pace to punish him as we come to one 500 meter long hill on the last stretch of pavement. I am suprised he stays with me on the hill. In the middle of the hill I hear him yell " hello man" and he begins to come along side of me but I cant see him yet. For some reason that ticks me off. So I snarl "what do you want?" in English. Then the bike comes alongside me and it isn't who I expected it to be. It is a 16 year old boy who by his looks appears to be coming from school.

He whines, "I was just saying hello".


He drops off the pace and I finish the hill. At the top of the hill I fully realize I was a jerk to this kid. Maybe he is into biking and wanted to talk shop. Who knows? I am winded and need to cross the road at this point. I stop to wait for a break in traffic to cross. The kid comes along. He is looking straight ahead. He passes fast enough that by the time I am ready to apologize he is gone.

I cross the road and start up the dirt road to my house. Three hundred meters on that road and I am feeling guilty, ashamed, embaressed, sorry for the kid. I race back down and after the kid but either he is long gone or turned off on onother road.

I messed that one up. I will never recognize him...........

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