Shenanigans in a Tanzanian Convent

The nun waited patiently while I considered her offer. I already knew the answer was going to be yes but I had to allow the question to roam around in my brain for a little while first, savouring the moment, absorbing this little nugget of absurdity.

The room was lit with candles dropping shadows across the wooden plank table.  The old, weathered nun was dressed in a simple grey habit; her hands were worn and gnarled from years of hauling buckets of water. Paintings of the pope and a variety of saints confined to simple wooden frames gazed upon me trying not to judge. Christ hung upon the cross above me, condemned.  I felt a twinge of guilt but a cold beer would really hit the spot.

“Ndiyo tafhadali, biridi?” I practiced my new Swahili words.  Yes, please. Cold?”

We had finally arrived at Rangwi Sisters Convent, covered in fine dust, exhausted and famished after a long day of trekking through the Usambara mountains in Tanzania.   The scenery stole my breath at every turn, or was that simply the altitude? My feet ached, the sort of ache that reminds you that you’ve been up to something completely worthy of the pain.

Usambara_Mountains
60 km hike through Usambaras, oodles of dust, aches and mischief.

My tastebuds cheered in anticipation as I peered across the table.  Fresh breads, mystery cheese, tomatoes, mangoes and a glassy soup with a layer of fat skimming across the surface. I whispered to my newest best friend. “Is this safe to eat, Amos?” As famished as I was, I awaited approval from our guide’s nod.

Only a few days before he was shuffling a dozen wide eyed, gleaming tourists through the chaotic, bustling Nairobi streets onto a small bus.  He smirked as we watched our luggage being tossed up and strapped to the roof.  “Will we ever see it again, Amos?”  On our way through the heavily armed Tanzanian border, Amos managed to keep an eye on us all, as we moved from building to building getting photos and money taken in one, being further scrutinized in another. In a sudden movement, we were hurried back onto the bus. “Did you just pay them off, Amos?”

Guide_Amos
Amos kept us herded together. Most of the time… I got special “NO WANDERING OFF” lectures regularly.

Earlier, when I had compared Amos to a goat herder, he laughed.  “You are not my goats,” he smiled. “You are my children. I will take care of you.”  An international collection of children, some older than him.  We were on a Gap Adventures tour (now known as simply ‘G Adventures’) being led by a team of guides from the Friends of Usamabara Society.  Our family consisted of 5 Canadians, we were horrified when one of them, a school teacher was spotted littering. A handful of Americans, including 18 year old Megan, who had never left her county, let alone her country. Angela, 25 year old Scottish beauty, full of tales of drunken misadventure.  Was she really a doctor?  And two pretentious women who I hated so much I have erased any further detail of them from my mind.

After we greedily devoured all the food and beer in sight, the parental types made their excuses and sauntered off to bed, leaving the rowdy girls behind to flirt and laugh a little louder with the swarm of delicious, muscular young guides.   Mouddy, dialed up the charm as he dazzled us with card tricks. Amos and I sat at the corner of the table, beneath the pope’s gaze, perfecting my Swahili curse words. I believe that midnight black man blushed deeply as I boldly declared “Nyonya!” which roughly translates into “suck it!”

Candlelit Cards
A fierce game of Bullshit by convent candle light.     Photo: Roger Roy

I stole a glance at my traveling sidekick, and the mouthwateringly gorgeous Rasta sitting next to her and wondered if it was a coincidence that both their hands were beneath the table. Given the shit-eating grin on her face, and the twinkle in his eye, I believe there was far more than a coincidence going on under there.  Earlier that afternoon, she told me how she missed her boyfriend back home, that today was their 15 year anniversary.  This was an interesting development.

“Bullshit!” yelled the crazy Scot, accusing another of cheating with his hand of cards. She was right, and the culprit laid his cards down with a shady smile. “You caught me, damn it,” he confessed.

This is one hell of a convent, I thought.  This is Africa.

Convent Trouble
Nothing but trouble.    Photo: Roger Roy

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