Swahili Summer

A Scripted Freelance Writer Writing Sample

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.

Power your marketing with great writing.

Get Started