Saturday, September 11, 2010
There is homelessness and there is homelessness. The kind that I'm experiencing is not the bad kind, or at least not the real bad kind. I don't like being without a home and being without our belongings around us but, given my occupation, I am quite aware that there are people that are far worse off in this category than I.
Nonetheless, being without any place that you can refer to as home is destabilizing. And it's probably a healthy experience. It's no comparison to people who have been driven from their homes due to violence but it does get old. First we sent our belongings on a truck a few weeks ago. Then we gave up our place for the arrival of the person (and his family) who was taking my place in Dar es Salaam and stayed with a friend for about a week. Then we went to Zanzibar for a break. Now were in Bujumbura staying in a guesthouse until we find a place to live. After a failed attempt to find a place last week, we will try again this week though I'm told it could take a few weeks. The whole time we are living out of a suitcase.
I'm not complaining. It's more of a description of our situation. I know we will find a place to live and we're not suffering in our tiny guesthouse. If this lasts a few more weeks, I may start complaining.
When changing jobs, people often take a bit of a break. In my case, I took a break a bit longer than the length of a weekend. Maybe taking such a short break wasn't the smartest thing to do but we'd had a vacation in the US not long ago and I have been anxious to get started in the new job. They've been without a Country Director for almost two months and I'd probably stress out more not working (with the anticipation of the change) than working.
So we headed to Zanzibar a week ago Friday. Seems like longer than that after all that has happened since. Anyway, we took the arduous 20 minute flight, grabbed a taxi and headed to the east coast of the island. The taxi driver was an old guy who launched into a lively dialogue (monologue is probably more accurate) bouncing back and forth between English and Swahili. His English was surprisingly good and Priya accurately guessed that he was a former teacher before becoming a taxi driver as his retirement job.
The drive lasted just under an hour as we weaved our way through the bicycles, carts pulled by cows, the unique wood-sided Zanzibari daladalas (buses), pedestrians, etc. Driving in most African cities is an art – one that consists of a varying blend of aggression, courtesy, ruthlessness and sometimes teamwork. Anticipating the movements of others is essential and experience is the only way to learn. Our well-seasoned driver was half philosopher, half Formula One.
We were married on the east coast a few years ago but much further north than where we headed this time. As we pulled into the compound, I began to smell the salty sea air. We paid our driver and made arrangements for him to pick us up two days later. The warm, white sand felt good and I was happy with our decision to take our brief break here.
Our lodging was simple, comfortable and tasteless. I generally have high expectations for the décor of Zanzibar establishments given the wonderful and sophisticated style for which it's famous. Be that as it may, I was happy to be on the beach with air conditioning and running water. Let the relaxation begin.
It seems we split our time between the beach and the dining table. A sign of a good weekend. We'd pondered more activity but then thought otherwise. I desperately needed some downtime and in retrospect, we did the right thing.
After a wonderful couple of days, we met our driver in the parking area and navigated our way back to one of the world's tiniest international airports. After our short flight to Dar, we flew directly to Bujumbura via Nairobi. We were met by a couple of my new staff and a driving rain. We meandered out of the airport parking lot and down the road towards town. Within less than a minute we were at our first military checkpoint. And so life begins in our new city.