Been Ridin' Quite a While, Child


Been Ridin' Quite a While, Child


It’s Diani road at night, Mombasa suburbs. I’m wearing my kanga like a Superman cape, too tired for modesty, cloth still damp from the sea. Warm air washes in like water through the matatu door, and we're packed so tight that we keep each other upright through the swerving and stopping—a metaphor for something, maybe. Now the matatu is black and lightless. A fisherman settles delicately onto my lap, smelling ripe and smoky. Everyone’s drenched in darkness and humidity. 

Earlier in the day, we rode a Disco Matatu down the beach: purple and silver interior trimmed with blacklights, Mariah Carey naked on the ceiling. The kondakta is intoxicated, but not to worry—driver ain’t in the same state. Kondakta asks for 100 shillings apiece. We give him 20 shillings and he smiles slowly, a dawning, repays us with the peace sign. His hand hangs in the air forever, two fingers spread lazily, amani to my brothers and sisters. Peace within me and without me.

This Thursday I ride a Tanzanian dala-dala from Arusha to my village in the jacaranda jungles of Mount Meru. The music is no longer belligerent emcees and high-high reggae (“All mah mamas in da klabu, stand up! You beautiful ladies of the coast, shake doze bodees to dat reggae lahv!”) Now in the green banana groves of northern Tanzania, we’re listening to a frenzied shouting no less intrusive. A radio evangelist is leading caller after caller through the holy and foolproof Prayer of Conversion. (“Mungu baba," “Mungu baba,” “Naomba uingie rohoni yangu," “Naomba—eh? Nini sasa?” “Naomba uingie…”) So many new Christians in the radio waves. Between episodic conversions, the emcee plays electronic piano church music and I sway softly like we're in a wheeling disco. Some other kids are dancing too, bent at the neck. Asante Yesu, asante Yesu, asante Yesu, asante Yesu, asante Yesu says the converted woman on the radio.

This morning, an Arusha dala-dala. We’re shoulder-to-shoulder in the white sunlight, a Kenny Rogers taxi-bus classic seeping through the speakers, and we stay quiet out of reverence or lack of urgency. If what I’m feeling is nostalgia, then why are we evaporating newness? Like we’ve just been born, like this is our first morning, our first waking hour. And everyone smells delicious—cloying floral lotion on damp arms, residual bangi on short warm breaths, smells like easy happiness.