Mouddy, my trusty Tanzanian mountain guide, had just proclaimed his love for me. I, of course, debated this with him.
Love at first sight, it seems the stuff of fairy tales. Prince Charming catches your eye from across a crowded room, and suddenly both lives become inextricably combined, tied together with passion, joy and “where have you been all my life.” It seems all too gag-inducing gushy for me. I would have none of it.
Still, I had been pondering this concept as I hiked up yet another dusty mountainside track, passed by the brightly dressed mammas wearing enough colours to compete with a rainbow. As I gasped for more air and guzzled my water, they plodded on by with firewood, buckets of water or huge bags of potatoes on their head, pretending the load was light as feathers. Show offs.
“You can’t possibly love me Mouddy, you don’t even know my middle name.”
“So,” he says, “ it’s not your middle name I love, it’s the rest of you.”
“Well, that’s all very nice, but you don’t even know if I have any brothers and sisters.”
“If they’re anything like you, I will love them too” he replied.
“But Mouddy, how can you possibly know this? We’ve only been hanging out for a few days.”
“Yes, but I met you last year, and even then I knew you were someone special.”
“Mouddy, you tell stories. You were hanging around Sarah and Jane the whole time!”
“I wasn’t hanging around with them,” he says, “They were stalking me. You saw that, they wouldn’t even let me take a piss.”
He was right, these girls followed him around like lost puppies with their tongues hanging out. For good reason, Mouddy is a charming guy with endless stories, philosophies, and card tricks, and who should probably take his shirt off more often.
Being with Mouddy simply wasn’t my fault. I was only obeying my dear friend Rhonda.
“Michelle, when you go back, if you see Mouddy and have even the slightest chance with him, you absolutely must. He would be a delicious bit of fun, and god knows you need some of that. You’ve been through hell, and it’s time. You’re ready. And I’ll kick your ass if you don’t.”
“But…” Well, I really couldn’t argue. Forget all that ethics and morals and general trying to behave myself stuff, I really had been through boy-related hell, and was trying to find my footing again. Maybe that footing should involve a torrid international fling, who am I to say? So, on my first day back in Lushoto, when I coaxed Mouddy into my bathroom to check for monster spiders and he winked at me, I knew I was in trouble.
We were inseparable for the following week. We hiked to a remote school where I could drop off some donations, he sang with the children, their song of thanks. He introduced me to his family, his friends; he cautioned me from scams and sent me into the hectic market to buy avocados all by myself. We danced, we laughed, we cried. But he couldn’t possibly love me, by my terms, we were still strangers.
When it was time to begin the next bit of my journey he joined me on the treacherous kamikaze bus ride down the mountain to see me off at the airport.
“We should stop and see Mamma Mariam, she is a good friend, and you will like her” Mouddy suggested. So, we hopped off the bus in a suburb of the bustling Dar Es Salaam, crammed my luggage into a tiny tuktuk – a motorcycle turned into a cab, named for the sound it makes as it climbs its way through the streets. Tuktuktuktuktuk.
As soon as I meet Mamma Mariam, I am swept up in her arms. Her bright eyes sparkle, her laughter rolls out like a bubbling stream of joy. Immediately we separate from the boys and wander off on our own, chatting like long lost sisters, her in Swahili, me in English, and neither of us have a clue what the other is saying, we can only laugh. She is my new best friend. My heart is full.
“I love Mamma Mariam!” I exclaimed when I made my way back to Mouddy “She’s amazing! She’s so beautiful, her spirit is full of warmth and joy. I just want to bring her home with me!”
“So, you love mamma Mariam, huh?” Mouddy asks slowly.
“Yes, absolutely, we had so much fun together, I wish I had more time!”
“And, you just know you love her, right?”
“Absolutely.” I say. I know I’m on thin ice here.
“And still, you don’t even know her middle name.” he says. He knows he has won this debate.