From the first bouncing bus ride I took from the Kilimanjaro airport to the city of Arusha, I was taken aback by the way people blended into the scenery; it was hard to tell where the land ended and its people began. Open fields and abandoned shops appeared still until I noticed feet swinging where a child was perched atop a wooden barrel or a woman's head bobbing as she ambled through tall rows of sugarcane. Knowing I had just one month in Tanzania, I became transfixed with trying to put the people on every corner, peeking out from dilapidated shops with tall recycled glass bottles of Coca-Cola, into context. What was a day like for the woman sauntering down the street with a basket of grain on her head, her hands dancing in front of her in sweeping motions as she laughed with a friend? Where was the old man on the rusty bicycle pedaling to—and why was that ox following him? Who left that sheep tied to the light post? I wondered what they thought when they saw us mzungus riding through their town in a Land Rover. I spent a month in Africa trying to put the daily lives of its people into a context I could understand, sometimes consciously, by asking awkwardly-phrased questions revolving around the few Swahili words I knew, other times by reflecting at night, under the halo of my mosquito net, on what I had seen and who I had met that day. In the end, no matter how many times I wished I could sing along to the traditional chants with the same magic as the Maasai beside me, or acquire a taste for salted goat meat, the truth is I am a blonde-haired mzungu who couldn't balance an apple on my head, let alone a clay pot filled with water. A year after my return, I'm still re-reading my weathered journal, examining the people in the background of my photos who went about their daily lives, unaware that their actions were captured and bound in a leather album that sits on a dusty bookshelf halfway around the world. I try to make sense of what makes people and places so infinitely different and curiously familiar at the same time. I don't have all the answers, but what I do have are fragments of vivid memory so alive I can smell the sweet corn blackened over sooty fires on the street corner and warm sweat on bodies dancing in the humid night—postcards from the real Africa. I may not have been born into the ancestral pulse of the ngoma drum, but I was lucky enough to be welcomed into it by an elderly Maasai woman who grabbed my hand firmly and led me in the dance our ancestors began long ago.
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