Tightly wound fibres bind the two halves together forever. Hanging down from the hook above, their throw provides shelter from the cold and windy harshness outside, and without them things are left bare and open, exposed even. I’m talking about curtains, sadly, and nothing more romantic than that. It has reached the time where I decide what to do next, kinda like the minute by minute decisions that most normal people take, but mine involves a long contract in a foreign country and needles and thread if I am to sew and make my own curtains. I am of course, using them as a metaphor for many other things but the very fact that whilst at the market last week I spent a good deal of time looking at fabric and sheets, tells me that I am making a nest, and inadvertently am settling in to something that just two weeks ago I was ready to give up and walk away from.
A number of things have happened to help me see the light and change my mind. Firstly there is work. Katy is back, and as always, her outlook on life in Tanzania is difficult to bear without a wry smile or even a full belly laugh. Her unique position in the way things run here never fails to cheer me up and drive me forward, and after spending nearly a whole day with her this week sorting out her new laptop, I’m pleased that I have her as a friend and work colleague (well, Boss really). I have also upped the game in terms of both the number of hours I’m putting in at Solsoft, and my commitment to it, re-writing the update rules for all our clients, and finally giving in to laziness and getting my teeth stuck into the backup procedures. It’s all incredibly boring to be honest, but I have been enjoying getting a few wins under my belt with some successful resolutions and plans, and strengthening my relationship with them, which for the time being, is crucial to my survival, and those around me.
That neatly brings me on to my biggest issue right now, which is the people I live with. I initially moved in here four months ago with some broad but quite involved plans to create a place to live where I can settle down a bit with my dogs, feel comfortable, relax even, and on the whole I have seen quite the opposite. The initial arrival of Luke that lead me to move out of the “free” accommodation I had before was a mood that didn’t last long, as not long after Christmas and all the issues that followed I needed to move again. This time, with his help, I was looking to make something bigger, perhaps even open up the house for volunteers to live with us and work in the village. The problems that followed will not be detailed on these pages, but let it be known that I am now doing this entirely on my own.
I hired Tipo to come and work at my house, giving him a fair, if not generous salary for doing so, and rather naively figured that at the age of 29, he would be able to take this opportunity by the horns and try to improve his situation. Pretty much everyone around me, including lots of locals, all said that I was paying him too much, that I was giving him freedom beyond his understanding and it would all end in tears. Sad to say that they were probably right, and I have been left with a bit of egg in my beard and a pool of stinky water on the floor – literally. It’s not that I don’t like him, quite the contrary, in fact I would say that the fact I like him has given him a sense of complacency that is interfering with the way our lives run. I’ve given him a room of his own, with his own toilet and shower, locking door and access to the whole house as his own. His responsibilities are to get up and see to the puppies, feed and watch the dogs throughout the day, and just generally keep the house in a good order and be the man that’s there when I am not. Sounds simple huh? I don’t expect him to wash everything, I don’t expect him to be able to get everything done each day without some small issues, but I did expect him to be able to take his salary and look after himself personally as a real human being, without me having to baby step him through it all. His English is appalling, so we speak Swahili only in the house and that means that with my rather limited vocabulary and Tipo’s horrible grammar we often struggle to make each other understood, especially when it comes to anything emotional or to do with each others’ work and personal lives. There is a huge cultural divide between us, and although I wanted to just leave it at that, I came to realise this last week that it is not just a case of having different lives or education, but actually Tipo has never had to look after himself before, and so has no idea how that might work in practice.
Michael has moved in with us, for two reasons: one, because his sisters have left and he is now on his own in a house with no locking door and no electricity, and two, because he serves as the perfect link to help Tipo and I understand each other better, and prevent me from kicking him out on the street with a few cigarettes and a bag of clothes. Yes, it has actually come to that point, where I am so sick of his asking for things that he should be getting and buying for himself, that we have gone back to the drawing board in how we run the house, and with Michael’s help, have made a plan that should see him learn more about how life works, as well as take more responsibility for his own life and affairs, whilst not costing me any more stress or money than I already pay him. Simple concepts like ownership are fairly foreign to people like Tipo, who have never been given anything of their own before, and who certainly don’t chase material possessions as their raison d’etre. We have had to divide the fridge up into three sections, we each chip in an equal amount of money each week for the food we consume in the kitchen, shared things, and I have made it clear that anything that is not on the kitchen table, is not for public consumption, but actually belongs to someone who paid for it, and who expects it to still be there when they decide to eat it. His salary has been increased to reflect the fact that now he will contribute towards the electricity bill, and not a fixed amount each month, but a percentage, ie. If the bill is smaller he pays less, and the same with the gas for cooking, we will all pay equal thirds to provide these things for ourselves, and in return, I pay all the rent and cover any eventualities that might spring up if anything goes wrong. We will have a kitty in the house for buying extra things like more rice or vegetables, tea, sugar, and have established rules of conduct for getting drunk and breaking things in the house. From now on, if something is broken, the person who broke it will replace it from their own pocket and not just mine. Three bodum cafetieres and a thermos flask have led to me making this decision, as I felt that our man here was getting to the point where he felt whatever happens, Craig will fix it, and the reality is that I can neither afford the time or money to continue providing a life for him where he is not taking responsibility for his actions like an adult. After all, he is 29, 6 years older than Michael, who had no problem surviving with his sisters each month on less money than Tipo spends on alcohol. There is also the fairness factor, because Michael does not smoke, he costs me less each day, and if I give Tipo 500 shillings worth of cigarettes each day, I should also give Michael that equivalent too, but Michael is capable of living within his means, and that made me realise that it has to stop.
Perhaps a little selfishly, I used my own experience living here when I first arrived as a way to show Tipo that nothing is free, and you have to work and deal with consequences of your actions. It’s true that I have always had more money than him, but there have been times where I could not afford to buy cigarettes; after the second or third one, most people, regardless how loaded they are get pretty tired of providing an addict with their fix and when this behaviour continues day in day out, month in month out even, you reach the point where a line has to be drawn, and some sort of responsibility taken for your own actions. I took a piece of paper and outlined how three cigarettes a day was well within his budget should he take that budget seriously, and that if he noticed, I do not spend my free time drinking beer in bars, but will ration my money so as to enjoy the times when I am out drinking with friends.
The alternative to all this would be to move out, go back to where I didn’t have to pay rent, sell or give the dogs away and lead a simple life where I am responsible only for myself, but that would not make me happy, neither would upping and going into town and living with wazungu, which is very tempting if only for the fact I know I could leave a packet of cigarettes on the table and know that nobody would steal any of them. The final way out is to buy a ticket back to Europe and put all of this behind me. These are the easy options, and I have given them a good amount of time to mull over and consider the consequences of each individually and to the best of my ability impartially, but the truth is, I wake each day and see my boys, see the mountain over the ridge above the house, breathe in the fresh air and drink the clear water from the spring and it reminds me that life is worth working for, and all these problems are just minor hiccups along the way.
I am but one man and his dog, and for Zawadi’s friendship and companionship I am forever thankful. She has been through all of this with me, and now, like me, has dependants who need her each day to provide teaching and support, and if I give up on her, I am sending a message to everyone around that when the going gets tough, its best to run away. Nope, I am not going to do that, I am to persevere only, and I am sure that the roads we take on this journey will all lead us where we want to go, if in fact we do really want to go there. For Tipo, this is a choice of life with me or life on the street, and I really hope that he can see what I am trying to do for him, and begins to take his own life more seriously, as Michael and I are showing him every day. At least for his child, who is now three months old, he needs to grow up and be a man. If it wasn’t for me, he would have been thrown out of the village as soon as she got pregnant, and now it’s time for him to realise his potential, and be the father that his little boy will need. It starts with buying your own cigarettes, and I hope it ends with him moving out some time in the future, to get a house with his family and look after them, as we all do for our own.