Borne by an African Tide

Beached in a sea of black, I am aware of my long hair, my upturned nose like a scythe shaped to cut a field of maize, my mannish, purposeful stride, unlike the rolling liquid gate of Tanzanian women, who move in calm and rhythmic waves like the sea. They float by bright as butterflies on monarch wings, a flutter of orange and black kitenge (skirt wraps) tied at the waist. They flow like the sea moves, talk with the same liquidity, all rounded vowels, fluid, lilting, alive with the ocean's music.

Round brown eyes take me in, the large-boned mzungu pallid as the belly of a fish, the mzungu, with her skin the color of the colonial.

Yet human all the same, with a clear claim to a place on the tree of life circular, interconnected, never-ending like the sea. "Hujambo, Mama." ("Hello, lady.") "Habari gani?" ("What is the news?")

A vendor of hairy coconuts and globe-shaped papayas greets me. He, too, values greetings. Why, even a dog knows how to greet properly to affirm one's being here, present, "Hujambo, Mama!" He extends a hand in salute.

Like another tiny wave, or a naive sea horse leaping into the collective sea, I am sucked in, alien, but never excluded. The mother with the babe on her hip, the carver of ebony, the fish monger - each understood the ancient idea of community: I am, because you are, because we are.

"Hujambo, Bwana. Mimi mzuri sana."

"Hello, Bwana," I answered. "As for me, I am well!"

I looked around at the kaleidoscopic Sunday market, a celebration of movement and color, baskets and calabashes. Not one other white-bellied fish appeared anywhere in this surging black sea, but it no longer seemed to matter.

"Mimi mzuri sana! Asante sana."

"I am well. Thank you very much."

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