Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Photograph

Yes, I have neglected this blog recently, however I intend this to change and add a new sense of momentum and direction to the blog. In this spirit, the following post is a short piece intended to highlight the ideals of creative thought and using creative devices- literature in this case, to create a heightened force for change and dialogue.

The Photograph

In a nation haphazardly crafted by the greedy hands of European land-grabbers, an iron train rattles along iron tracks which are so thoroughly corroded that one cannot distinguish the deep red of the soil from the rusted remains of track. The span of the railroad once exemplified the reach and success of Imperialism and stood to connect German East Africa. Built by Indian migrants through a treacherous regime of indentured labor, this intricate network of transportation mirrored the stretch of European exploitation.

I sit in this train which now serves as part of the Tanzania/Zambia Railway (TAZARA). I am with two friends, my sister and my brother; it is the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, one of my friends has decided to treat us to a day trip to one of the National Parks neighboring Dar-es-salaam as a prelude to the profuse inebriation that will follow during the night’s festivities. Not knowing what to expect before boarding, we imagined a comfortable ride aboard a luxurious ‘special’ first class cabin. As we took our seats we quickly realized that the special cabin did not exist and we were to sit in the crowded standard carriage.

Most of the passengers were of Indian origin, not the usual 4th generation remnants of the colonial regime which were now the major controllers of the Tanzanian economy, but rather recent immigrants, recruited by the former as trustworthy, specialist labor. Although the social and economic classes of these two groups differed, the passengers aboard the train shared the superior racial attitude that many of the now Tanzanian Indians had. The passengers stared at us in our strangely eclectic group that consisted of a Black Tanzanian, a brown Norse-Tanzanian mix and three tanned Tanzanians of Indian descent. We laughed at the way the rest of the passengers had all come with Tupperware filled with lentils and curry as they did not trust the food prepared by the locals and cursed the overpowering stench this amalgamation of masala had created in the congested carriage. As one of my friends had clout with the TAZARA manager, he was able to persuade him to give us a private box which was just as deteriorated, but at least away from the crowds.

Half-way back to Dar-es-salaam the train made a pit-stop at one of the peripheral villages around the capital. It was a moment for the passengers to stretch their feet and have some refreshments. Outside the train were throngs of children rummaging through the refuse of vessels prior, trying to find something salvageable: a half-eaten sandwich, un-torn blue polythene bags which fly through streets all over the country like flags of development, bottles to recycle and anything else they could find a use for. My sister, who had been taking pictures of the landscape around the station was browsing through her photographs and suddenly halted, turned towards me and handed me the camera.

It was a picture of a white arm holding out a bottle of Coke, teasing a crowd of children hovering under the window, each trying to push the other away to get to the bottle. A photograph of history’s repercussions and the future’s fragility. A once grand German train rode along tracks that segmented and divided a nation that wasn’t theirs, a nation that once wasn’t there. Now aboard this rickety train a hand that isn’t theirs holds out an ideal that threatens to divide the nation that wasn’t there further still. Hundreds of little hands reach back.

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