Tales & images from life as me…

TIA Tales – The Good Stuff


It’s been almost four months since this blog began and you guys have helped me reach over 7,000 hits across 32 different countries – incredible! Thank you. But if you’ve been reading the TIA Tales all this time you may well have reached a point where you’re wondering why the heck I bother living here! So today I decided I’d make a change and tell you all about the good stuff, the way I see it there’s plenty to tell.

I wanted to communicate just a little of the joy that I get from all of the elements that make up life in Africa and which are easy to forget when you’re struggling against the many set backs you tend to face here. And as I began to scrawl a list I realized how difficult this week’s blog would be to write because I want so much for you to see it all too – plus where should I start?!

Well, I’m going to start where I started, before I ever even came to Africa. My mum grew up in Rhodesia and used to talk about the smell of the rains as they were about to hit and I knew even then that there was something magical about this continent. Now I am here I have witnessed just what she means. That intense pressure in the air and the zinging, singing scent that is both earthy and metallic, and absolutely new, is intoxicating. It’s especially great when it’s been powerfully hot that day and it feels as though the weather needs to break. When the skies open and you feel that torrential power it’s awe inspiring, it’s like the earth is exhaling. You see, it never really drissles here. Africa is a place of extremes and the weather is no different. It’s either dry and sunny or WET!

The other absolutely magical weather related phenomenon are the electrical storms we get here in Tanzania. I’ve never seen anything like them. They are violent, explosive and so loud that the thunder shakes the house, but the real beauty is in the lightening. Slices of light fork from the sky and momentarily illuminate everything in a mad blue strobe effect, now imagine that reflected in the water of the lake and you have a scene that is beyond any photographers abilities.

Listen to me! I’m English, of course I would start with the weather, but I am not suppose to like the rain. I think I only like it because it is not the norm here. Plus even when it does rain it’s warm.

OK, so rain and storms. I doubt I’ve succeeded in persuading you to move here yet (if you’re one of my readers who doesn’t already live here). What else…

Life here is a mixture, but if you take the highlights for a moment I think I could sell it to just about anyone. I live with a view of Lake Victoria, we take the boat out and zoom between islands, pulling in on little bays and picnicking under palm trees. Out on the water a little while ago we spot otters and as we watched a fish eagle swooped to steal a fish that one was eating. The power and accuracy of those birds is spectacular. We have crocs, the occasional hippo and plenty of huge monitor lizards. The wildlife is endless and I haven’t even started on the Serengeti yet. But we also have rocks.

Rocks? Oh yes! Mwanza is famous for its bizarre rock formations and they really do inspire a second look. I’m no geologist, but these are special. In fact, I often pause when I’m driving or snap a photo from the boat to appreciate these ancient natural sculptures which are an insane combination of solid strength and precarious balance.

Our little community shares cultures, countries, religions and colour and muddles into a social scene. We share sundowners at the yacht club, we party at Tilapia hotel, we bring elements of our old lives into this new one with braais and St Patrick’s Day and west end theatre, sports, music and art. It’s another thing we balance, but when we wobble there is always someone to hold on to, because we’re all in the same boat and that creates a unity that is just as solid as those rocks. And let’s face it, friends count for a lot, wherever you are.

I can’t write about the good stuff without mentioning Swahili, that beautiful language which I am struggling to master but am so chuffed when I manage to make myself understood (and so grateful to the experts who don’t correct, but catch my intended meaning and smile encouragement!). With words like ‘tikitikimaji’ (watermelon) and pilipilihoho (chili pepper) what’s not to love?

I can find a ‘fundi’ for everything here, that’s definitely part of the good stuff for me. I come up with some random idea and there is always someone to help me make it happen. Just in the last week I’ve worked with a fundi who carves wood, one who makes my photo frames, another who stitches the clothes I draw, a metal fundi who is making the top section of the children’s mobiles I want to create and a shoe fundi who is making beaded sandals for me! How much fun?! It’s all part of my craft fair preparations but it means I get to work with local, skilled people and give them new ideas and a new outlet and I absolutely love it.

And there’s the fact that here I can set up a craft fair, sing with a band, take kids camping in the bush, write a book, be a journalist, sell my photographs and be all the random parts of myself and no one even blinks (except when they try to explain my job to someone else!). You can be whatever you want in Africa, as long as it’s authentically you.

I’ve mentioned living by the lake, but I also have to mention living by the Serengeti. Just an hour and half down the road and we are at the gate to the world’s greatest game park, second only perhaps to its neighbor, the Ngorogoro Crater. These vast wild spaces are a privilege to explore and those spine tingling moments when you come across a big cat or a herd of elephant, a hunt or even a kill, are … I have paused in my typing here as I cannot find a word, I’m not sure there is one for the thrill and the way time stands still and nothing else is present but what you are seeing, for the power you are witnessing, the fact we shouldn’t really be there to witness it all, the knowledge that in all that space you just happened to find that particular moment. I will never tire of safari.

I could write all day describing my favourite things. Here a just a few of the things I love that I’ve found here:

The first warm-butter light of the morning, melting over everything

The feeling you get when a lion locks its yellow eyes on yours and you feel ‘seen’

Fat little babies bottoms hammocked in a kanga on mama’s back

The swaying hips of a hawker carrying her wares on her head

Brightly coloured kangas on a washing line

Dry grasses swaying in a ripple of breeze

Lemons from my garden

Children climbing mango trees

Finding a chameleon in the road

A tortoise wandering into the hairdressers

Seeing people who have nothing laugh

Kindness is the most unexpected places

Glowing smiles

A trusting hand placed in yours so that you know you can do nothing else but try and help

Watching the baby kite in the nest opposite my office window grow strong and learn to fly

Learning to laugh when it all goes wrong

Those of you who know these things, please feel free to add more to the list. I’d love to hear a few of your ‘whiskers on kittens’ favourite things. There might be plenty wrong, but there is also a great deal that is absolutely right and I will never stop being grateful that I live here.

Over to you…

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10 responses

  1. Malaika

    The endless expanse of space – whether in the desert or the plains, the African new moon lying on its back (Karen Blixen quote), or the full moon shining down brightly casting shadows on the ground. The endless expanse of space that can be seen from areas which are not polluted by light. Sitting by a fire in the bush with a beer (or G&T) listening to the night sounds. The interconnected “African spirit” where even in a Francophone country there is a connection that we are all African (despite language difficulties). Dancing dancing and dancing. The mixture of old traditions and new cultures. Respect of elders.

    What is there not to love. There is no place like here. I could add a thousand more things to the list but can’t procrastinate forever.

    (Hi from Chad Melissa! Hope all well in Mwanza-town)

    May 5, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    • My apologies for taking so long to respond to your brilliant additions – I could have written a book really, couldn’t I! (maybe one day!) I’m glad the the African spirit has not deserted you out there in Chad 🙂 Thanks for commenting, I absolutely agree. Best wishes.

      May 12, 2012 at 4:45 pm

  2. 3lln

    The community is always, always, always there to help a friend in need.
    The colourful buildings.
    Mlango mmoja!!!!
    Easy access to amazing trips to literally anywhere within the country at any point of time (once you get to know the right people!)
    Cycling at Kamanga towards Sengerema
    The children having the time of their lives everywhere you go
    Fresh fruits in general

    It really could go on…

    May 5, 2012 at 4:41 pm

  3. michael

    Most people believe their ‘motherland’ to be God’s own country and perhaps the most beautiful place on earth. I also do.

    As a native African (we call ourselves ‘sons and daughters of the soil’) I feel Melissa’s words above. She speaks about Africa like a daughter of the soil. Yes, our continent is rather confusing. So many extremes in every place. It is a strange phenomenon, especially to a writer. It’s like being pregnant with otherworldly twins, some seraphic, the others demonic. By the way, I am forbidden by my culture from speaking ill of my motherland and my kinsmen. Therefore as a good son of the soil…

    About the rocks , yes indeed they are truly amazing. And they are not just in East Africa. We have the same in my neighborhood back in Botswana! The first time I passed through Mwanza on my way to Shinyanga, I was entranced by these awe-inspiring masterpieces, crafted by the hand of God. Having travelled all the way from Botswana to take up a teaching job in TZ, I felt like my ancestors were saying to me that afternoon: ‘ son you are still in your village- go forth and fight ignorance- take light where there is darkness- we are with you!’ I was so reassured.

    Thanks Mellisa for your great work. I hope one day you will write about the ubiquitous bicycles and motorbikes. You know what I mean…

    Michael- Shinyanga.

    May 5, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    • Hi Michael, do check out the blog post ‘TIA Tales – driving… me crazy’ for some references to pikipikis! There’s plenty more material there though, as you say! Thanks for another fabulous comment. Loving the other-worldly twins concept. x

      May 12, 2012 at 4:43 pm

  4. Gerldine valente

    Absolutely! We are so privileged to be living in this amazing continent and reading your blog brought tears to my eyes. It’s not easy to put into words why we put up with some of the hardships but you have. I am lying in bed on a Sunday morning, after a night of heavy rain and all i can hear are birds singing. I know that when I open the door and step outside there will be inches of mud and water to wade through – the guard at the gate (his whole house is probably flooded inside) will greet me with a smile and a “habari’ and all is alright with the world. X

    May 6, 2012 at 9:34 am

    • Thanks Gerry, I always love hearing where readers are and their reactions to what’s been said. Your comment really stuck with me – perhaps greetings are a subject for a whole other TIA Tales sometime soon!

      May 12, 2012 at 4:40 pm

  5. Thanks for your post, all too often I forget to look around and notice all the exciting and wonderful things that are right here in front of me in Mwanza! And also, where is that fantastic hair dresser located?

    May 24, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    • Hi, thanks for the comment:) Fantastic hairdresser? Do you mean Fiona? If so please message me on my private mail so I’m not sharing details with everyone online! melissa@igeek.co.uk

      May 24, 2012 at 2:17 pm

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