All the books I read about Africa talked about it being a collectivist society. If a person did something alone, either they were sick or something else was wrong.
I’m glad I read those books, because they prepared me well. For the most part, people I’ve met here do hate to be alonr. This can be a really good thing. For example, yesterday I was alone downtown and so was Antoine. Normally it doesn’t bother me to be alone– when I lived in St Petersburg I walked home at one in the morning in the dead of winter on a regular basis — but here the night falls like someone putting a hand over your eyes, and I think even a judo blackbelt would be scared. I just phoned Antoine because we hadn’t spoken since his car broke down…and it turned out he was only a 15-minute walk from me. “Let’s take the bus together,” he said. Taking the bus together turned into getting beers once we’d arrived back in Mutanga. Beers turned into dinner– chewy, juicy goatmeat brochettes on a bed of fried plantains–long philosophical discussions (Antoine doesn’t believe in homosexuality either, but also agrees that there is no logical way the state could regulate what goes on between two adults in a bedroom) and planning all sorts of adventures, including a birthday cocktail party for me. Last week I was just plain old lonely and bored, so I called Pierre, went to the kiosk and grabbed two bottles of beer and we had a delightful evening on the couch.
Sometmes, though, it can border on infuriating. A few weeks ago on a boring Sunday I met Emilie and we went swimming in the lake. Well, I went swimming anyway…splashing in the bathwater-warm lake, going in up to my shoulders even though I was fully clothed in a t-shirt and jeans, an unintentional spectacle which provided endless entertainment for the other swimmers– girls my own age, who bobbed on chunks of styrofoam they’d strapped to their stomachs and smiled shyly at me, and naked school-age boys, who splashed around like giant fish, yelled “Mzungu! mzungu!” and stroked my tattoo.Emilie, in her church clothes, sat on the beach and watched our stuff. When my awakening of my inner child was over, Emilie and I hitchhiked into town and grabbed some brochettes on the terrasse at the Musée Vivante. I was supposed to meet Rick and Baptiste later that day, so we were just killing time. Then Emilie got an urgent text message and had to go to Kanyosha, another part of town, to meet her brother.
“I can’t leave you here alone,” she said. “I can call another of my friends and wait until she gets here. Or no, I have a friend here who runs a vegetable stand. You can sit with her until your friends get here.”
It was the middle of the afternoon. And I was nearing my People Saturation Point anyway.
“How old am I, eight?” i said. “I’m twenty-three. I’m an adult.”
“I’m twenty-four, and I can’t leave you here alone.”
“Look, I just need some time. I’ll go to Aroma Café.” I felt like an eleven-year-old negotiating with her mother.
“Okay, that’s a safe place,” Emilie finally said. “Promise me you’ll go straight there.”
After the two robberies Emilie and Pierre are proposing that I be placed under twenty-four hour protection…which would make it impossible to work as a journalist and put me in a constant bad mood. I hope they realize that, as sweet as their gesture is.