Monday, May 26, 2008

Comeuppance in Africa

Comeuppance… I looked it up and it is defined as “just deserts, just punishment, due, retribution, requital, what's coming to one.” It might as well be redefined as “smart suburban American, thinking he can outsmart deeply rooted African culture, learns that he is but a piece of flotsam or jetsam floating in a sea of “I’ll call you back”” or even, “wife earns Academy Award in category of feigned empathy as husband battles the bureaucracy of Tanzania…”

I did think I was savvy and street smart -- whelped on the rocky, rugged north shore of Boston, schooled in the hard suburban streets of Bethesda, jostled on the pre-Giuliani rough and tumble roads of New York City, I thought I was a match for the smiling, tell you what would-make-you-happy-and-get-you-out-of-the-office-quickly rutted roads of Dar es Salaam.

Our cute Nissan X-trail imported from Japan, which trusted agent Paul promised as ours in a mere three to four days, is still at the port. Idiot that I am, I never asked “three or four days from when?”. From a certain rare Tanzanian holiday celebration? From when Paul’s daughter in South Africa finely marries her boyfriend? From Bodie’s valedictory speech at Harvard?

Three weeks later, it is still only three to four days away. I think I saw someone with a blue “Dar Port Authority” baseball cap, windows down, music blaring, peeling out in our X-Trail yesterday. The gods, clearly sitting on Mt. Kilimanjaro, unhindered by any sort of longbearded, jarring wrath from, say, an Old Testament deity looking out for one of his own, are having a good ol’ time.

As recognition of my comeuppance, I am starting on my 12-Step plan:
• I admit that I am powerless…
• I recognize that a greater power, the Dar es Salaam Port Authority, has strength…
• I should have listened to experienced, wiser locals, who laughed at my aspirations of three days…

Being carless, I have gained great learning and humility in walking, walking, walking to buy diapers and wipes. I’ve met people on the road. “Hello, diaper and wipe man,” they call out. My arms, wrapped around plasticized Pampers, wave a feeble hello.

Deep deep inside, I know I’ll find this to be a beautiful lesson some day.

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