The One Question Guaranteed To Change Your Everyday Narrative

The greatest tragedy for any human being is going through their entire lives believing the only perspective that matters is their own.”

Doug Baldwin

I have come a long way to learn and practice forgiveness.

Even then, it has been hard to forgive Dar es Salaam. It has been hard to absolve this beautiful coastal city, full of life with its wonderful people and splendid sandy beaches. A town with a warm heart that majestically opens up the doorway to world-class, spicy islands that imprint unforgettable love and experience to whoever lands on them.

Surprisingly, I picked up a tiff with Dar some twenty years ago, in the days of my unlimited curiosity and Vasco da Gama type of desire to explore the world. Because of the violations it meted against my youthful destitution and identity of origin. My grudge with this town has remained undiluted after I vouched to never step on its soil again.

But Dar had nothing against me.

Save for the fact that I was a novice Kenyan traveller with a shoestring budget. Armed with a new bride and a job that proved I was no longer a peasant’s son, I planned for life adventures only seen in Hollywood fiction. During this stage of my life, fantasy and reality were somehow fused. Little money made me think I could live like a king grafted with a movie star. I guess twenty-somethings of today no longer face this disillusion. Back then, it may have been due to the drawbacks of growing up in the village or the general ignorance of my unexposed generation.

My aspired life had a list of urgent and must do things after college. The first was to eat and drink everything I could afford. The second was to wear all second-hand clothes I had never afforded; Camera – the highest grade of used clothes that was a reserve of working-class and swanky Matatu conductors from Eastlands. The third was renting and furnishing my house with the best electronics and furniture. And finally, to travel and see the country, and the world. The latter was the separator of ordinary people and those of big means and fine taste.

My journey to Dar marked my first trip outside Kenya.

Those days, we required no formal passport to visit neighbouring countries. I had never seen a passport or dreamt of having one, so it never mattered. All I had to do was handwrite a request to the immigration department, walk in there, and have the foolscap stamped. And there was my East African Community pass to use until the paper tore into pieces. Next, I got my yellow fever jab and its yellow vaccine ‘passport’.

The final prep was booking a long-distance bus. I opted for the luxurious Akamba, the yellow bus line whose every employee spoke Kamba. Besides its relatively classy coaches, I connected with it because I too speak the Kamba language. That gave me comfort and a strong sense of belonging. I paid for the twin ticket for me and mine and looked forward to the day of travel. But much later on, I got disappointed to learn that the fleet name and ethnic language of the staff was a clever, indigenization cover-up by the Asian family that owned it.

A rookie traveller never gets details of their trip.

So I left Nairobi only knowing that Dar was 700km away. And that I had to sleep overnight in Dar to catch a ferry to Zanzibar. The scenic island was the ultimate goal of my impressionistic trip. Visiting Zanzibar would startle my haters and elevate the game with my secret admirers. If a girl came to know that I got someone else on a trip to the spicy island, she would be amazed by my level of romance. But let me stop digressing from the subject.

Long is not the word to describe the trip. It was utterly dull and exhausting. After passing the scenic Moshi, I slept in and out and woke up to the same landscape. Then I slept again and woke to the same scenery. At some point, I even thought the bus had stopped moving, and so had my dreaming. We cruised in daylight for the better part of the trip, which was worse. The night is usually better because darkness allows your mind to forcefully wander and give you a chance to unleash your wild imaginations.

At last, we arrived in Dar.

I proudly booked and checked into a hotel around Kariakoo, the largest market. Those days, I did not know that the distance between your lodge and the local market determines your tourist class. So I had no qualms checking myself into a crowded marketplace motel. It offered the convenience of commute and sense in budget. It was a comfortable stay that made me feel at home, without the pressure of eating with a fork and knife. That nightmare of a village diner in town.

I spent the following day walking around the market and shopping for small items. And this is when my trip stress began. Every time I opened my mouth and spoke my upland Kenya Swahili, the vendors immediately changed the price and currency of goods. I became a foreign tourist with the ability to part with top dollar. Everything had to be paid exorbitantly and in American dollars. Yet, I had travelled by public bus on a shoestring budget.

The day after was travel to Zanzibar.

I had been well briefed that there were conniving ticket vendors there at the ferry. On arrival, I went straight to a sales booth that looked credible. There I met a smooth-talking vendor who seemed not to discriminate against Kenyans. He politely offered me the best deal for first-class tickets on a high-grade ferry. At one point, he sensed my hesitation and suggested that I should see how good it was before making the payment. And for sure, it was nowhere close to the rustic, flatbed carriages in Mombasa. The ones that dump people into the narrow marine channel now and then. This one had a top cabin with couches, music and fantastic views.

I paid for the trip, the return one, and accommodation too.  And off we went to Zanzibar. On arrival, the lovely affordable guest house in Stone Town turned out to be a dark, damp, fetid hostel that bats would find hard to live in. But there was no way out because there was no refund for bookings made in mainland Tanzania. This dingy place would be my mandatory home for the next four days.

Zanzibar is truly magical.

I had never seen so much seafood like in the night market in Stonetown. All types of ocean and Swahili dishes needed by a young man with money and a full-time female companion were there. Prawns, crabs, calamari, lobsters and the ultimate pweza. All cooked in different ways and displayed on tables magnificently lit with kerosene pressure lamps. Fronted by the countless polite vendors, swamped by white tourists, and a few black tourists like myself. This spectacular night food market has a safe corner in my headspace till today.

Then came the spice tour. I joined other tourists to travel to the Zanzibari hinterland to learn why Zanzibar and Pemba were known as the spice islands. I have always had a spicy tongue despite coming from a community known for its unapologetic intolerance for flavoured foods. I developed mine by eating my fathers’ highly spiced left-over food to eternally escape eating my mother’s overboiled and soupy githeri. This spice tour taught me the ins and outs of spices and forever changed my cooking and eating tastes. It too, remains a treasured and life-changing memory.

It was then time to get back home.

That day, I had booked a late-night ferry to arrive early in the morning and go straight to the bus stage. That way, I would escape the cost and social nightmare of spending a night in Dar. I boarded the ferry at midnight, got into the VIP ferry entrance and met a strong wave of fishy and fetid aura. By then, I was tired of protesting. So I handed over my ticket and walked straight to a deserted bench at the corner. More passengers kept streaming in. Carrying big baskets of writhing slimy raw fish, whole spices and intimidating crustaceans. Squeezing into every square inch of the poorly ventilated vessel.

It was finally time to depart, and the announcement was followed by guys quickly dishing out black polythene bags to every passenger. I too, picked mine without care. Later, one of my neighbours told me it was a sickness bag. And for sure, it was needed. The moment we got into the deep waters, everyone retched their guts out. Repeatedly loading the bags. When we landed at dawn, I quickly dumped mine with anger and frustration and headed straight to catch my bus.  And vowed to never, ever step in Dar es Salaam.

Since then, I have learnt many life lessons and changed in multiple ways.

But never forgiven or returned to Dar until this week. Today, I am writing this winding prolix by the serene Jangwani beach. Far from Kariakoo market and watching the ferry from a safe distance. I am going through closure because nothing lasts forever. This is even truer for a grudge that no longer serves me. I have learnt that one needs to often meet their grudges to keenly evaluate if they are doing a good job. And if they are not, they deserve a hard kick in the butt. And that is what I have done with this one.

But my most recent life lesson is to ask myself one simple question in every situation. What is the other way of looking at it? Because there is always another way of looking at everything! Every stick has two ends. The one I am used to belongs to my raisers and all the people I have communed with. And I came to realize that I have been conditioned to look at only one end in every situation. That end is always right, and the other one is always wrong.

Questioning has helped me start seeing things like never before.

If I was a poor hawker in Kariakoo twenty years ago, what would be my opinion about haughty Kenyans? Would I have been treated that way if I had the money to book my travel through an agent for both flights and accommodation? Suppose I changed my conversations with hawkers and explained that I was a peasant’s son on his first job, would they not have mercy on me? What if I had done my research more before planning the trip? Would my decisions about where, how and when to travel not have been different?

Asking myself this one big question about Dar before this trip allowed me to analyze my two-decade grudge and conclude that holding it up is petty and moronic. The first experience of a place does not determine the subsequent experiences decades later. And with this, I decided to revisit Dar. And I have enjoyed the places I have visited and the people I have met. And whenever my mind tries to pull me into my past judgements, I remind myself that I have another way of looking at whatever situation. And this resets my opinions and changes my experience.

I no longer hold my initial judgements as my truth or the universal truth.

All through my life, I believed that the way I see something first is the way it is. And the way it is in my head is the right way. Without knowing that my first point of view is not the only way to see the world. And that there is always an opportunity to look at the situation differently. This has come to be a big life changer. Whenever I look at the other view, it is always the better one.

Slowly, I see new dimensions of the same things that have never been revealed. The alternate perspectives are raising my self-awareness and increasing my emotional intelligence. And with that, I am making better decisions, which means my life is improving. Because everyone’s life is shaped by their small day-to-day decisions.

Open your mind to see things the other way in every situation.

In each moment, try to see new things or see things in a new way. Whether it is how you view and treat people or how people treat you. Or how you respond to situations in your life now and then. You will realize that you most certainly have been seeing things wrongly and making poor decisions most of the time. This constant introspection will reduce your craving to be correct and temper the desire to make other people wrong. It will grow your compassion towards others and bring you peace in situations that have always brought you misery. It will enable you to become more decisive and raise your courage grade, necessary to turn your life around.

Quoting actor Chris Pine “The only thing you sometimes have control over is your perspective. You don’t have control over your situation. But you have a choice about how you view it.” No matter the situation, allow yourself to look at it the way you have never done before. As a result, you will find new dimensions that will help you make better decisions than ever before.

By seeing things differently, you will dump your default mentality and find a way to change and renew your life forever.

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Published by Kariuki Mugo

I live cherishing the outdoors, especially green, rugged and watery spaces, but still enjoy the city life. I dedicate in and cherish a family system that provides the foundation for nurturing strong, loving relationships. I trust in thriving communities that provide a better life for everyone, and I am highly committed to creating knowledge. I am a husband, a father, a friend, a development worker, and a teacher to many!

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