Sunday, May 28, 2006

Kazi Nyingi

Once I wrote an entry for a different blog ( about a man named Kazi Nyingi here in Bagamoyo. I am going to print it here because on Tuesday, Kazi will start to withdraw from heroin. He confided in Caito, my husband several times about it and finally, Caito took him to the doctor. I want to republish the blog and tell Kazi about any comments so that he knows people are rooting for him. Kazi has done so much more than clean nappies. He has helped us build a home for some kids, he delivers formula on the fly if we need it for a baby..he is always there helping us and I hope we can be there for him.

Even if reprinting blogs is not good etiquette, I think the folks at loungechicken will understand.

Kazi Nyingi vs the Machine

Some people might find it appalling that we pay a man two dollars to clean our son’s dirty diapers, or maybe shocked to learn that he’s a heroin addict. I was my own version of shocked and appalled, but I am over it. It's Tanzania, and I don't know if the rules are different, but most of the time it doesn't even look like the same game. Kazi Nyingi is his name and it means "a lot of work" in Swahili. At first I thought this was a hilarious, but admirable, tool of self promotion, as I imagine that there is a lot of competition for day labor, but I've learned he is most worthy of it. The first time I met him was when my husband Caito’s bicycle was stolen. Caito went to where the heroin smokers hang out and asked for help. Kazi and his friend found the guy who stole it and got the bike returned somehow. I was impressed. I remember him telling the story of the bike retrieval and thinking "Maybe Caito meant cocaine? This guy has a lot of energy!" He’s probably in his late twenties, thin, but muscular, and he smiles a lot. He’s got big eyes that are a little wild. He often wears cut off jean shorts with a rope for a belt.

When our son Justis was born by c section, Caito washed the diapers the first week, but he had 800 other things to do, so naturally that was the first thing he attempted to outsource. I tried to do it once in the second week, but I knew I'd hurt myself. Caito asked Kazi. This is how I know some people might be appalled, because I was. I couldn't even look at him at first because I thought he'd hate me for being such an inept white woman. I imagined he felt degraded, but too in need of money to say no, and it was my/our fault. I also wasn't thrilled that "this man" was cleaning my kid's diapers. We'd had a US government surplus washing machine donated to us, and I kept hoping it would be repaired soon so my conscience would be cleared, and I could deal with defecation the way rich people do... by whisking it away. But Kazi always greeted me in the same, almost jubilant way, and without fail, he asks how Justis is. I started to feel less hung up and gave him some of my old dresses for his mom. One day I asked him about his only daughter and, although she is not of school age, he just said "she's learning, she's learning". I gave him a pair of white patent leathers to give her, and thought it was sweet the way he looked at the shoes. And while I'm sure he has a gruffer, street wise side that he doesn't show me, he has an innocence about him that to me is unusual, and very definitely not simpleminded . One day he and another guy were at the house doing some work to help us prepare the house for the orphanage we are starting. Kazi said that we should have just let him do it all because the other guy was lazy. My admiration grew. Even still, I resorted to assumptions and stereotypes when he just didn't show up one day. I figured he probably hadn't had steady work in awhile and had taken a day or two to score some heroin to smoke and he'd turn up in a few days.

Then one day I was sitting in front of a store and saw a big blue flat bed and a bunch of men, one of whom was Kazi. Shopkeepers get together and rent one truck to haul supplies to our town from the port of Dar es Salaam. The bags in back were enormous-almost the size of a full grown person. 50 kg of sugar, 100 kg of beans, some even more. There must have been 10 men standing around the truck, but only Kazi was lifting anything. I stared at him as he maneuvered the bags onto his back and made his way slowly to the stores without help. Again, he is not a large man and the strain looked incredible. Did he insist on doing this alone? Were the bags too wide for two people to carry? The other men, and the ones playing cards nearby, all watched him too, but not with the same awe that I did. They seemed used to it, as if saying “whew, that’s kazi nyingi!", and I saw where his name came from. He will not turn work down and he laughs at people who do. Now I can't figure out when he has time to smoke heroin. I think that the times he doesn't show, he just finds some other, more profitable work.

Meanwhile, the big American washing machine was fixed and I had a month of blissfully mindless diaper cleaning. I’d been away from the USA long enough that it amazed me I could get work done in my sleep! Add soap, press button, do something else! Wow,and it may be cheaper! But the machine got the diapers all tangled and it frayed them. Maybe it was just that they've gotten older, but the machine doesn't get them as clean as Kazi does, and now it's broken again. Since ours is probably one in 5 washers in the town (the others are at hotels), there aren't any Maytag repairmen around and getting it fixed is not easy. Perhaps because both are black men, I am reminded of John Henry- the real man and not the tall tale one. I think about how the whiteys building the railroad in the US, eager to save money and time, brought in the steam engine† to replace the laborers, many of whom, like John Henry, were ex slaves. John Henry challenged the machine and won (although unfortunately it killed him). I wonder if the steam engine ever broke down? Kazi beat my machine, and he didn't show again today. Man vs machine 0/0. Woman against stinky pile of diapers, outcome unknown

1 comment:

Jesse said...

etiquette schmetiquette. it's a great blog. i will add the link to lounge chicken and will be checking regularly. i will also provide the email info i promised so long ago. :) give my best to Kazi Nyingi. Having had the pleasure of meeting him i am wishing him well. love to Caito and's great that Kazi confided in Caito and makes perfect sense...