21 June 2010

dispatches from the house of peace

*New nicknames: my fellow intern, Elana, and I were inadvertently given a Brangelina-style combined nickname by our overtired DC boss: “Elawn.” The last time I was part of a combined nickname I was on the Danvers High track team, when Chris Abram and I, the only two freshman distance runners, were combined into the fearsome “Abramspowers.”

*Strangest thing I’ve seen a street vendor selling in Dar es Salaam traffic: an aquarium full of water and fish, balanced precariously on his head. It was unclear if he was trying to sell the entire aquarium or individual fish. Runner-up: laminated, wall-sized maps of East Africa.

*Tanzanian fashion: if you’re sporting a necktie, apparently the style around here is to tie a big, fat knot so that only a little more than half of the tie’s normal length hangs down the front of your shirt. I’m intrigued, but I can’t say I plan to adopt this fashion myself. It seems especially ill-advised if you have the slightest bit of a gut, since the tie acts like a big arrow pointing right at your extra poundage.

*I get evicted: the American family with whom I was staying has temporarily kicked me out of their guest room to make way for grandma, who is visiting until the end of the month. I’ve moved into another house—also a fortified mansion in expat land—with the other half of “Elawn” and a bunch of Embassy interns. The living/dining room is big enough to hold a wedding reception, but there’s barely any furniture and no decorations in the whole place. Nice.

*Big daddy: within a matter of days I will become an uncle, and then in November I will become an uncle again. Interestingly, Swahili makes a distinction in my relationships to my two future nephews. To young Michael, my sister’s son, I will be mjomba, or uncle. To young Bradley, my brother’s son, I will be baba mkubwa, or “big father.” In Tanzanian families, the father’s brothers are also considered “fathers,” and the mother’s sisters are also considered “mothers.” Since I am older than the father-to-be, I am baba mkubwa, while our youngest brother will be baba mdogo, or “little father.” Those who know our family will find this very amusing since "little father" could eat father and big father for lunch.

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