Let’s Go Flaneuring in Dodoma, Tanzania

Today’s Flaneuring post comes from Dodoma, Tanzania. Let’s take a walk with Tamie Davis.

I step out of my back door for my evening walk. It’s a circuit of the university where we live and work. There’s no fence around the university but recently huge thickets of thorns have been placed at every possible exit except for the main gate. We don’t expect rain for another month so there’s plenty of material for this makeshift boundary, though the splashes of orange, pink and purple hibiscus mean it’s not as brown as you might expect. I greet the four guards casually sitting at the gate chatting with a woman selling mangoes. There’s something of an exodus of students at this time of day as well, on their way to their hostels for the night, or leaving their campus accommodation to get some food.

I follow a girl in bright green skinny jeans, walking arm in arm with her friend in a flowing floral dress with matching veils. As we leave the university premises, I pick up my pace. Past the shipping containers converted into stationery shops where you can print and photocopy. Past the mini-stores selling soap, chewing gum, water, matches, toothpaste and phone credit. Past the bajajis waiting in the shade. Past the raucous secondary school girls in their bottle green skirts and jumpers, one group calling out the line of a song and the others answering.

I head up the incline towards the top of the university and it’s like a different world. I overtake two shriveled old women trudging along carrying huge loads on their heads, their kangas faded and limp and their ears pierced with the holes of the Gogo tribe. I return their calls with a respectful greeting. I’m overtaken by a lad on a bike, empty containers strapped on either side as he cycles to get water from a well. On the other side of the road a group of four children are herding goats into a building for the night. They point me out to one another and then one of them calls out in English, ‘Good morning!’

bajaji

Their house is nondescript home-made brick but as I come back down the other side of the university, I start to see some new houses, watermelon pink or lime green, water tanks visible above the line of their imposing fences. There is often a mama out the front of one house, packing up her fruit stall and looking rather flustered by her crying baby. A little further is a row of cafes serving chips and fried bananas. There’s a baby there too, wearing a frilly dress and in her father’s arms, and I know I’m heading back towards the world of the university.

There are students arriving at the café. They dust off the plastic chairs before sitting, because everything in Dodoma is permanently covered in dust and without kangas to wrap around them or sit on, they’re worried their clothes will get dirty. It’s not just the fact that they’re eating out that gives them away as students. It’s the crispness of their clothes, and their self-consciousness. Even in groups, they know people are watching them. Their eyes flicker to each other, as if they’re not quite confident in this setting. They’ve made the decision to come to university, but I wonder if the top part of the university’s surroundings feels more familiar to them.

The irony of all this of course, is that my eyes are also darting around, though for a slightly different reason. I’m drinking everything in. We’ve been here two years and I’m hyper-aware that there is much I don’t understand. For all I have seen and learnt and been influenced by my environment, it’s still foreign. A walk is never just a walk; I am constantly taking in information, trying to sort and categorise it, as we westerners are so wont to do.

As I’ve made a circuit of the boundary of the university, I’ve thought of myself as passing from one world into another and back again. But that’s an artificial distinction because the tension between the two worlds is embodied in the students themselves. It’s in their hearts as well as on the streets. This isn’t about contrasting two worlds so much as it is about connecting them. The students aren’t an island of modernity in Tanzania: they are Tanzania, with all its contradictions and uncertainty and energy.

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Dodoma, Tanzania with her husband and 2.5 year old son. She thinks out loud at meetjesusatuni.com.

 

Let’s Go Flaneuring in Dublin, Ireland

Today’s flaneuring essay comes from Dublin, Ireland. Take a walk with Karen Huber through her neighborhood. I’m only a little jealous of her trees and leaves. And I used to have a dog named Cocoa, too! (Some have asked, yes, I’m still accepting essays so take a walk and tell us what you see.)

I’m used to looking down at my feet. This is part introversion and partly to guard against trips or stumbles. It also ensures I don’t have that split second panic attack when someone crosses my path. Do I look them in the eye? Do I smile, nod, say hello? I’d rather just keep my head down, be about my business, complete my journey home.

Today, though, I look up. It is sunny, cool. October at its finest.

The leafy suburbs of the American Midwest are not so unlike the one I walk through now. Our town is nestled into the valley along the River Liffey. We are all hills and trees, leaves pressed down by feet and rain. The narrow sidewalks are separated from the narrow road by a narrow patch of grass. You can set your clock by these sidewalks: during the school rush, cars are lined along them, parked on top of them. By 9:10 they are peacefully empty. The half dozen schools in this 2km area are now in session.

On blue-sky days, humans are more prone to occupy these footpaths. Women in puffy vests and oversized sunglasses walk with swinging arms. Couples with babies in buggies keep the older children by their sides. An elderly man with a newsboy cap walks towards me, not looking up, maintaining a slow pace. He is the epitome of an Irish postcard. Fathers ride bikes with a son or daughter sitting along the cross bar (I’m not particularly convinced this is a safe means of transport).

Our island economy is well into a housing boom now, but vestiges of the Celtic Tiger’s bust remain: an overgrown field decorated with a disintegrated for sale sign, only the top edge of which still hangs, hidden by brush. Graffiti is no oddity here.

Waist-high walls guard thin patches of lawn making up the front gardens. Painted concrete, most are an off-white stucco, though a handful stand out in varying shades of peach and tan, distinguishing them from their neighbours. Half the houses have gates to their tiny driveways. Wrought iron, new shiny wood, old wire. These semi-detached homes are nearly identical, apart from the gate, signaling a variance in personality.

The cemetery is hundreds of years old, divided into two sections: the modern and the ancient. More recent headstones touch the foot of the next grave down. I imagine their bodies sleeping eternally, like a bed filled with children. Head to toe, head to toe. There is hardly any room; Irish land is limited.

dublin

Cocoa the dog pulls the lead, sniffing everything, everywhere. We are past the cemetery now, past the neighborhoods, past the gorgeous, large Georgian house which sits atop the hill, overlooking the valley below. We find a trail there, leading to a clearing where we can see the steeple of the protestant church, the clock on the façade of a village building, the estates on the other side of the river, the trees in their colour.

Walking these roads, I sometimes feel like a sell-out. We are safely removed from urban life, quiet and protected on this Friday morning. I had hoped we’d be braver, move our brood into the hood, where children still play football in the middle of busy roads, but here we are. And I can’t deny it: our work is both here and there, in the suburbs as much as in the city.

Two women are headed my way as Cocoa and I are on the return trip home. They are Muslim, I assume, wearing the colourful headscarves I’ve grown accustomed to. Muslim immigrants, from North Africa and the Middle East, have come here. Eastern Europeans, Nigerian Christians, Indians and Asians, too. We have all come here, painting a different landscape. Ireland is so different than it once was.

I look up and smile at them. The younger one walks a few feet ahead of the older woman. She looks at me and I mouth “hello.” I think that maybe she has smiled back, noticing just a slight upturn of her lips.

The older woman, she never looks my way. Her head is turned back, but I see her turquoise scarf frame the curve of her lined face.

Karen Huber lives with her husband and three children in Dublin, Ireland, where they work in community development, the arts and discipleship. When she’s not at home with her kiddos, she’s out drinking coffee with friends, writing in libraries, and laughing louder than is culturally appropriate. You can find Karen’s thoughts on motherhood, marriage, culture and faith at KarenOHuber.com or meet her on Twitter at @karenohuber.

Let’s Go Flâneuring, a call for submissions

flaneurI recently learned this word flâneur. Do you know it?

Translated it could mean: stroller, lounger, saunterer, loafer. Flânerie refers to strolling and people in France used to be flâneurs, meaning they strolled. And while they strolled, they observed and while they observed, some of them took notes. Or afterwards, they jotted down impressions, simply capturing the things they saw on an average, everyday walk down their block or business district or park.

Here is the first in a seven-part series by David Jennings in Nowhere magazine called The Flaneur, for some strolling and reading pleasure.

The book On Looking by Alexandra Horowitz is structured around eleven walks she takes, each chapter written based on a different perspective. A walk with a child, a walk with a dog, a geologist, a physician, etc. What do the different people pay attention to? What do they notice? Not notice? How can we learn to truly see our surroundings?

This is what flâneurs did, they strolled, looked, and saw. The flâneur-cum-writer strolled, looked, saw, and wrote.

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino is an older and fascinating example, though imaginary, which adds an intriguing dimension to what is described. And then there is, of course, Teju Cole’s novel Open City.

Sometimes writers try so hard, strain to come up with the interesting and creative. But what if we simply stepped outside and took a walk around the block and recorded what we saw?

Here is an excerpt from Calvino, let’s just forget for the moment that he is making this city up. He could be describing a real, physical place.

“Despina can be reached in two ways: by ship or by camel. The city displays one face to the traveler arriving overland and a different one to him who arrives by sea.

When the camel driver sees, at the horizon of the tableland, the pinnacles of the skyscrapers come into view, the radar antennae, the white and red wind-socks flapping, the chimneys belching smoke, he thinks of a ship; he knows it is a city, but he thinks of it as a vessel that will take him away from the desert, a windjammer about to cast off, with the breeze already swelling the sails, not yet unfurled, or a steamboat with its boiler vibrating in the iron keel; and he thinks of all the ports, the foreign merchandise the cranes unload on the docks, the taverns where crews of different flags break bottles over one another’s heads, the lighted, ground-floor windows, each with a woman combing her hair.

In the coastline’s haze, the sailor discerns the form of a camel’s withers, an embroidered saddle with glittering fringe between two spotted humps, advancing and swaying; he knows it is a city, but he thinks of it as a camel from whose pack hang wine-skins and bags of candied fruit, date wine, tobacco leaves, and already he sees himself at the head of a long caravan taking him away from the desert of the sea, toward oases of fresh water in the palm trees’ jagged shade, toward palaces of thick, whitewashed walls, tiled courts where girls are dancing barefoot, moving their arms, half-hidden by their veils, and half-revealed.

Each city receives its form from the desert it opposes; and so the camel driver and the sailor see Despina, a border city between two deserts.”

I can’t let go of that last line. Ever since reading it, I’m thinking about my city, Djibouti, trying to see how it receives its form from the desert it opposes.

What would you see if you looked at your city?

I would love to see your cities, your blocks, through your eyes.

And so, I’m launching another guest post series. Nothing fancy, I’m open to anything. I’m even thinking about asking my kids to join, I would love to hear what each of the five Joneses see when we walk around our block.

Please join in. To contribute, simply leave a comment or send me an email that you are interested and we’ll work out the details together.

Let’s go flâneuring.

*image via Wikimedia

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