Thursday, February 21, 2008

“You Japanese hate Black Man.”

It was innocent enough. I was walking along Nyerere Street in Moshi, on my way to pick up a tailored shirt that was being altered by a seamstress who set up her sewing machine on one of the side streets. I was almost there when I start to hear a familiar sound. An irritating, persistent voice.

“Hello, how are you? Come to my shop!”

“Hello, how are you? Come to my shop!”

“Hello, how are you? Come to my shop!”

“Hello, how are you? Come to my shop! Nice paintings.”

“Hello, how are you? Come to my shop!”

“Hello, how are you? Come to my shop!”

Hapana, asante,” I replied, each time. No, thank you. It is almost a reflex now, since I get typically get bothered several times in a single walk down the street with similar phrases.

“Why not? Come to my shop!”

Hapana, asante.

“What are you looking for?”

I walk into a fabric store to try to get away from him.

“Want fabric? Come to my shop! I have nice fabric.”

I stop answering him and keep on walking to my destination.

“Where are you from?”

No answer. I keep walking.

“You must be Japanese. You Japanese hate Black Man.

I looked right at him. He was a young black Tanzanian man with a shaved head, wearing an oversized Timberland shirt and jeans. I said, very sternly, “No, I am not Japanese. I do not hate Black men. Please leave me alone.”

“Yes! You are Japanese! You are Japanese!” he giggled, like he just discovered a new race. He tried to grab me.

I moved away quickly, into the shop associated with the seamstress I was looking for. He continued to harass me about going to his shop until one of the men from the shop managed to kick him out. Much to my sadness, the seamstress was out at lunch, so I had to come back in 15 minutes.

I made it to the corner of Nyerere Street when I heard that young man’s voice again from behind me.

“You, Japanese! You Japanese hate Black man!” He grabbed my arm, and I pulled away in a quick jerk.

“You Japanese MF!” he laughed and pointed at me.

That was the last straw. My seed of anger cracked open with a sprout. I turned around and noted that he was now surrounded by four of his hooligan friends, all staring at me, trying to look tough.

“Do NOT EVER say such a thing to anyone again! I will never go to your shop and buy anything, and I will make sure my friends will not go to your shop and buy anything.”

I turned again and walked into the street to cross it and get away from them. A speeding dala dala almost ran over me, but I sprinted across the street and made it in one piece.

A few minutes later, I told Steve what had happened. Thankfully, he walked back with me to pick up the shirt from the seamstress, just around the corner from that young man’s shop (or really, the shop he “represented”). It turned out that Steve knew the young men at the shop. I wanted to leave as soon as we had figured out that the shirt fit me OK.

“No, come with me,” Steve said. I hesitated. “Come!”

I walked over to the shop with him. The young man came up to us.

“Come to my shop!” he said, looking at both of us.

“I know her,” Steve said, pointing to me.

“You know her! She is the one I followed. You know her?!” the young man said, pointing at me, laughing.

“I know her. She’s a doctor. She told me what you said to her. You can’t say those things to her,” Steve said.

“You shouldn’t say those things to anyone,” I added.

“Oh sorry,” he said half-heartedly. “OK? Come buy at my shop!”

“No! I’m not buying anything at your shop!” Steve said, disgusted.

“Oh sorry,” the young man said again. “OK now? Come in and look at my shop! Just look!” he
attempted again.

I shook my head and walked away with Steve.

1 comment:

young whan said...

that's a disturbing event, dude. glad that steve was there to back you up. so sorry you had to deal with that. hope that your seeds of joy and happiness are sprouting too as you are doing amazing work in tanzania.