Great Balls Of Fire

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Monday, 22 July, 2013

Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

The bus journey from Arusha to Iringa took no fewer than fifteen hours, and it was a loud affair.

First, there was the man delivering a pitch for his ‘miracle medicine’ – I can’t tell you more much about his product though, as the entire speech was delivered in Swahili. Regardless, his roaring tone was so loud that it overpowered my headphones on their highest volume, so I had no choice but to pay attention.

Imagine you’re in a library reading a future bestseller – let’s call it, ‘Dragon’s Travel by Danny Parker’, you know, just to give it a title – and a man bursts through the door yelling in a language you can’t understand. So, you can now no longer focus on all those hilarious and gripping stories. Envision how frustrating that would leave you.

Plus, the speech lasted for two hours. Still, it was a success as the majority of the bus bought into the product. I guess nobody will be dying in Tanzania this year then.

Once the enthralling words of the miracle man were done, the bus driver whacked on some music videos, which were both incredibly colourful and extremely loud – as it goes, Tanzanian people aren’t huge on silent reading.

African music makes it difficult for anybody to be grumpy though, it’s just so bloody cheerful. Every track is laced with bongos, gives off a summer vibe and features endless arse shaking in the video – this music would even bring happiness to Rudolf, the red-nosed reindeer, during his earlier days as an outcast.

Surprisingly though, the sounds and visions of these songs were rather misleading.

With boredom getting the better of me, I started to investigate the CD cover, which I followed by asking the driver to explain the messages behind the tracks. I’m pretty sure this made me his least favourite passenger of all time, but I needed to fill the time somehow and his music was eliminating my usual bus journey routine of books or headphone tunes. If anything he brought my bothersome behaviour on himself.

“You hear this song now, this is the fourth song on the album. It’s about a man who has got aids.” He told me.

Right, OK. Well, that was a far cry from the butterflies and fairy tale love story that I expected him to respond with. The singer was smiling the entire way through the video, there were a lot people arse shaking, the dominant colours on screen were bright yellows, pinks and greens. Nothing about this video said, ‘terminal illness’.

He continued, “The song before this was about a man who cheated on his wife and now wants to die.”

While I believed him, I natural questioned his words – none of what he was saying seemed to make sense. I mean; aids, divorce, depression? The lyrics just don’t seem to fit the atmosphere displayed. It just sounds so damn happy!

“Not happy, sad. They’re sad, the songs are sad.” My queries left him confused, and we finished our chat there. These songs seem to be about all of the shit things in the world, so I didn’t want my new found love of African music to be dented further by tales of liver failure, domestic violence and David Cameron.

I made a vow that I would attend a church service at FISCH, a centre for street children, before I left the country. I have spent a lot my time at FISCH and have formed a pretty cool bond with both the staff and the kids there – while I’m not religious, I knew that the kids would be pleased to see new faces at their service, so I placed myself at the back and enjoyed the show.

I purposely used the word ‘show’ because in Tanzania anything that is worth celebrating becomes a small, but highly entertaining spectacle. There is an amazing community feel. They celebrate life’s positives as frequently as possible, and appear, in the most part, to be very happy with what they have. People back home could probably learn a thing or two from them, if we’re honest.

The event lasted about two hours, and featured the kids perform various readings, songs and dances. I’d be lying if I claimed that I was not bored in parts, but overall it was a fun experience.

The show also made me realise the importance of religion – many of these kids are homeless, or at least, living a very poverty-stricken life. A higher power becomes a guide, support, a platform for optimism, and most importantly, provides a group you can become at one with.

As stated, I’m not religious, but I now appreciate its importance. However, this does not mean you can chase me down the street with a bible; forcing faith on somebody will never be something I understand.

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Continuing on the theme of song and dance, I also spent my final evening in the country watching a traditional musical performance in a cafe nearby. The performance was full of bongos and arse shaking, so it was probably about a kid born without a head or something, but whatever, the show made for very mesmerising viewing.

The performance heavily featured fire too. For instance, the women bouncing their bums all over the place were balancing a pot of fire on their head as they did so. Then there was the main event. He may well be the bravest man that I have ever seen.

Towards the end of the performance, a man pulled out two long sticks, then set them on fire. After this, he immediately raised one stick up to the crowd before shoving it straight down his pants. As any man will tell you, that is the definition of bravery.

As the performance continued he began rubbing the sticks down his arms and legs. However, once you’ve already set fire to your willy, everything else starts to look moderately tame. You should never burn your cock until the encore, that should be every performer’s policy in my opinion. Keep your audience guessing, and then cook your sausage when there is nothing left to do. Or, another option, ask yourself if your wage is even worthy of the risky fire down the pants trick at all.

People talk about doctors and teachers deserving better salaries, but in all honesty, burning your cock every night should probably be placed in that same bracket.

It’s pretty hilarious when you consider that on this trip I have seen giraffes, hippos, and lions, volunteered at schools, orphanages and community centres, had a beach break and learned the true meaning behind African music. Yet, my final and lasting memory will be of a man burning his penis on my final night.

Tanzania, you’ve been great.

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