Home for the month is a wooden bungalow with a wide verandah and two guard dogs, Rafiki and Sasha. Around the house is a big garden with Mango, Lemon, Tangerine, Avocado trees (to name but a few) and pungent and colourful flowers of many varieties, attracting the most colourful birds. Black Kites are abundant and swoop to the ground all around you, they're so common that after a while they cease to draw your gaze upwards. Which is a good thing too because you need your wits about you on the roads where pedestrians are second class citizens and make way for the cars, trucks and motorbikes.
Entrance is via a drive, accessed by heavy padlocked gates. I’m staying in the Ilemela district, Air B&B with Anne, a Dutch national who is working in Mwanza as an occupational therapist.
She’s a hoot.. a strong, well-heeled and travelled woman who likes to play cards. We have bonded over a game called Klaverjassen, a sort of game of Trumps popular in The Netherlands. It is necessary to drink wine while playing Klaverjassen.
The dogs stay outside permanently and are well cared for. They’re lucky, a lot of guard dogs here are kept caged up in the day and hungry, so when they’re let out at night they’ll attack anything that moves. But Rafiki and Sasha are not spoilt, they know their role and are content. They will often supplement their diet with lizard, or in fact anything that comes into the garden at night with a pulse. Mongooses need to stay in the trees.
Lizards are in abundance and amazing colours, purple and pink as a teenager's glittery fingernails they scatter when you approach, up trees, under rocks.. but not for long, their beady eyes follow you and when you’re a little way away, they pop out again. They're out to get me, I swear it.
Inside the house are two young cats, there to help with rodent control. Cats and dogs do not mix here – no exceptions – so the cats only go outside when the dogs are tied up. They tease each other mercilessly in the meantime, there is no doubt that the cats would not be spared if they came face to face. These dogs do not owe loyalty to the cats. Over the weekend Anne gave me a tour of the garden. She stomped ahead of me and then casually mentioned to be careful of snakes in the long grass. Perhaps flip flops was not a good choice today.
It’s usual for expats to have security men guarding their home at night and in Anne’s case, that takes the form of a Maasai man. Maasai are one of the world’s last great warrior cultures, a semi-nomadic tribe who can be found mixed with the local community, particularly in watchmen roles or tourist roles. Joseph arrives at 7pm and leaves at around 8am. Like Chuck Norris, he doesn’t sleep.. he waits. Unlike Chuck Norris he does not carry a semi-automatic, but is a sharp shot with a bow and arrow.
His post is a small hut constructed in the driveway with some bedding. The Maasai are mostly now Christian and Moslem but in their traditional beliefs, the single Maasai god Enkai or Engai manifests in the form of a black god, who is kind and benevolent, or a red god who is vengeful. The recent history of the Maasai is not a particularly happy one, of disaster in the form of disease and drought and of confiscation of their land by the British and Kenyan government to create ranches and wildlife reserves and parks.
Existential moment: Good and bad exists in all religion, and of course outside of religion, but they cannot be absolutes as they are contextual and subjective concepts. Nature does not know good and bad, it just knows what is conducive to survival. Yet our species often attaches a sort of higher morality to these things.
I don't think that human beings have any kind of special place in nature, we are still subject to the same evolutionary drivers but through language we have come to understand causality and the concepts of past, present and future. Through language, we are able to plan and predict and therefore deciding if an action is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ becomes important to our present. We can be found debating actions and people endlessly, cross referencing our own judgement, the outcome of years of learning and experience and unique to each of us and our cultures.
Already my time in Mwanza has shown me how very different our cultures are so that the idea of unifying everyone on this earth seems pretty impossible. But then why should we want to? While there exists difference, there will exist conflict because our ideas of right and wrong are different, but also there exists experience, beauty and discovery. It occurs to me that everything is as it should be, except for perhaps tolerance. And litter.
Anne will sometimes take an evening meal out to Joseph. Last night we had chicken with salad and plenty of leftovers so Anne plated up the chicken. I asked if he’d not also want any veg. “Oh no, I’m sure he would not,” was her immediate reply. She did, however, offer him bread and told me he gave her such as look as to say, “Woman, are you completely mad?” We should try not to invoke the red god through inappropriate menu choices.
..for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. - Hamlet