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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs

Waiting for the procession to pass by.

Submitted: March 21, 2018

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Submitted: March 21, 2018



Somewhere between the village of Mswakini and Arusha, we were alone on the road when in the distance, we saw a car with blazing headlights coming towards us. When it was closer, we saw it was a police car, driving down the middle of the road and as it drew level, a white-gloved hand waved us to the side. Well, we had to move over because there wasn’t much room left for us! The next police car was doing the same thing, but he ordered us to stop and wait! Nothing was happening, but after an hour, a stream of cars came along, a police car, two limousines with black-suits in them, and close behind was the president’s car (who ignored us). He was followed by two more limousines packed with black-suits. The road was empty again, front and behind, so we tootled on home.

On another occasion, while making our way into Arusha from Usa River, which is a much more travelled route, and some say one of the most dangerous of roads. We noticed a policeman standing on every side road that joined the main road. By now we knew what was afoot. Soon, a police car came along, headlights on and driving in the centre of the road, with the same white glove ordering us to the side. This was the signal for the standing policemen to stop us and close off the side road.

The wait was two and a half hours! Not everyone can sit in a vehicle for two and a half hours without their bladder irritating. The men weren’t embarrassed to let it flow on the edge of the road, backs to the vehicles, but it’s not so easy for women.  Most of them squatted in the grass beyond the edge of the road. Once you’ve seen one… but I was more fascinated by the vehicle in front of me. The driver was an Indian fellow, who had had passengers, but they didn’t get out and I could only make out their shape. He, regular as clockwork, stepped out of his car and opened the boot (trunk). He had a box of booze sachets in there, Konyagi, and he took one at a time and returned with it to his seat. It’s doubtful that he shared the neat booze, but maybe he diluted it. After a quarter hour, the empty sachet was thrown out the driver’s window, and a couple of minutes later he would be back in the boot! He must have been fairly inebriated by the time two and a half hours were up!

Eventually the cavalcade arrived. The fuss was over the Kenyan president. He was in an open-topped car, travelling fairly quickly but as he passed it looked like he was wearing leopard or cheetah shin and he was waving an ivory sceptre-thing with a golden-something-or-other on top, I can’t be sure what it was because he was going too fast. As soon as the cavalcade had passed, pandemonium reigned! Every vehicle wanted to be at their Arusha appointment at once, so there were no driving manners, it was Monte Carlo time! I decided to let them go!

While I became used to this sort of rigmarole for dignitaries, it’s much lower key at home. The only time I saw a big procession was in December 1953 when the Queen visited after her coronation. I was a midget Boy Scout and I guess we had an official role, which included being given a Union Jack to wave. There was bunting of Union Jacks slung between trees, throngs of people and it was truly a big thing. At school we were given commemorative medals, mine is pinned to the noticeboard here above my desk. The gold is a little tarnished, the blue satin has faded a little, but there she sits, crown on head and quite calm, after almost sixty five years.

As I rattle this keyboard, one Barack Obama is in the country. Not as a dignitary but as a private bloke. Nevertheless he’s looked upon and has the status of a dignitary. From my little corner of the world, we don’t get to see how the rich live in real time, although we’re not bereft of what the media has to offer. Obama is a big deal to have in our country and regardless of politics we recognise that he’s an important player on the world stage. Because of what politics is, some people will like him and as many won’t, but the people who will pay big money, to dine with him and to listen to him speak, will all be in the palm of his hand.

During the time President Obama is in the country, even though he’s in a private capacity, the taxpayer has to cough up for at least some of his security. And there are some taxpayers who resent the cost. To most of us, it doesn’t matter if Obama comes here or not, but if he does, it’s sensible to protect him. Good publicity is better than bad any day. But just the same, there’s a question: how much opulence should status carry with it? Not just Obama, all the dignitaries we metaphorically tip our hats to. You and I have the same coloured stuff flowing through our veins and our bodily processes are exactly the same, so how come they need a fur-lined dunny seat or a gold teaspoon?

Not everyone seeks high office, although most wouldn’t mind the money and trappings that go with it! The thing I have noticed, is while we were taught that promotion, and ‘getting there’, is based on merit, but the reality is that merit is quite far down the list. Joe Blow doesn’t have a show! High on the list is opportunity, sometimes tinged with a little luck; ambition, usually peppered with ego; it helps to have family wealth and with the folding stuff, comes the inevitable connections.

Ndivyo ilivyo, that’s (just) the way it is. Personally I wouldn’t have a bar of Obama’s world, or the likes of him. I don’t think I’d enjoy rubbing shoulders with his mates either – or sit on a fur-lined dunny seat!

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