002. Kigamboni

For those first months, while I lived in the southern suburb of Kigamboni, I took the ferry across the channel to reach downtown Dar es Salaam. To board the ferry, you were first funneled, along with thousands of other day-walkers, into a sort of shaded corral beside the ferry dock—that is exactly what it seemed like, cattle-cramming—to wait for the ship’s arrival. If you were lucky, you only waited for a few minutes, pressed in there against hundreds of other sweating, heaving, sniffling, wiping, dripping, aching, shrugging, sighing, boiling humans. The sea air, already dense and saturated, became even more so under the corrugated tin awning of the corral. And all the bodies! Most people seemed to be holding their breath, trying sensibly to conserve our limited stash of oxygen. The man beside me, his cheeks tight with unreleased air, was rapidly turning the cells in his body to carbon dioxide, getting woozier and less stable, swaying visibly (no danger of falling down in this sardine-can of a waiting room!)—Brinking on unconsciousness… The massive woman in front of me pulled panicked on the collar of her shirt, her Himalayan bosom straining upwards for the slightest air-whiffle coming in off the sea, and we were all growing warmer and warmer and warmer… We were becoming radiator-hot, scorching to the touch, portioning out our last mites of oxygen to the weakest among us, swaying in dis-unison—severely imbalanced but buttressed on all sides by soggy fleshy props…

And then the gate-guard stepped up to the padlock, key in hand. Apathetic jailer, militant gatekeeper: only great callousness or great discipline kept him from turning the key. The veins in our necks and temples were tight with waiting. The ferry lowered its groaning boarding ramp, unspooling black metal chains thicker than a woman’s thigh—eeeeee-iiiiiiiiiii-ergh—followed by the scrape of metal on concrete as the ramp slid into place. And then, abruptly, the gates opened out, unleashing the cattle-stampede we’d been dreading and longing for (the terror! the relief!), and we were sucked straight into the mad suffocating crawl toward the ship and to free air.  We were moving and not moving: borne along, a compulsory charge. With very little effort, you found yourself trampling dress hems, exposed heels, small children—but there was no way to stop moving forward! The unrelenting human mass kept steamrolling out of the gate and toward the water, beneath you, over you—but you were a part of it, there’s no exempting yourself!—bobbing along… one more benign, oxygen-less cattle-face, soaked with perspiration.

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