It’s funny how you can start a very normal conversation with a Tanzanian friend, only to somehow end up at, “Well, you know, you have to be careful of the wizards.” At first you ask them to repeat, convinced you must have heard wrong, from your relatively educated, informed friend. But no, you didn’t. Actually, he meant to say spirit…..even better.
The first time this happened Fredi and I were eating dinner at the Country Club, a very nice hotel where we stayed for the first 3 weeks I was here. We of course know all of the staff really well, and they all work hard, but nobody works harder than “Freddy,” a waiter at the restaurant who always looks busy, and actually usually is. We were talking to him about the beach when somehow he mentioned “Ah, but I don’t go in the water.” At first we thought he meant, “I don’t go in the water at night,” or “I haven’t been in a few weeks.” But actually, for once, his grammar was spot on. He doesn’t go in the water. Ever. “Why?” I had to ask. “It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes, a water…..spirit (we found the word later, after plenty of explaining) can drag you into the water and drown you. I don’t want to risk it!!!” As he walked away to work, he must have missed our jaws which were down slightly lower than they should have been. After all of those years of working right at the beach, he has never once ventured even a toe into the water. Amazing.
There are more stories that I could retell, but I think you get the idea. What is mystical about it all is that you meet people who are so connected to the “modern world” and have met people from around the world, and yet are so completely convinced of the demons and spirits in their backyards. This has never bothered me in the past, I mean, I know a few Icelanders who are firmly rooted in their belief in fairies and elves, which makes me want to believe. Who doesn’t wish for a little magic in their life?? The only problem is when it becomes harmful to your health. Despite new knowledge in medicine, health, illness, and more, people here in Tanzania have a real huge problem letting go of their demons and spirits. I can’t tell you how many of my medical friends see case after case of people arriving at the hospital, too late….only because their belief in their witch doctor was so compelling, they would rather go to him or her first, before seeing medical help. It is a cultural difference to be sure, but a very strange one. As our guide explained to us, there is a witch doctor for every family in some regions, and usually a grandfather or someone elderly who you look up to. I guess it’s hard to deny help from those you trust, only to go to people you don’t know. Maybe only the spirits have the answer.