The Royal Visitor
Settling into a small African village in the middle of rural Tanzania was not as difficult as I had anticipated. Perhaps it was my experience growing up as an only child, that I was able to easily entertain myself through various means of daydreaming of soap opera type scenarios in my mind of what I imagine my life was like in an alternate universe. I always had a way of finding excitement in the forbidden, and would later in my adult years fully bring that concept to fruition.
But back in Africa there I was a young adolescent girl in a place where all eyes were on me. Not because I was particularly cute or worthy of any attention, in fact I was at the peak ugly stage with my new little cone boobs stuffed in an ill fitting training bra and face full of acne. I was the only white teenage girl in our village, and probably the first that many children and adults had seen. My skin, hair, clothing and activities were a source of fascination among the towns people. I only apologize that this was the first impression they got, because I assure you I die every time I see old pics of myself. Teens today will never understand life without filters and not knowing how at one time we didn’t wear make up that contoured and covered up the misery of awkward adolescence. This type of attention I can assure you is remarkably uncomfortable and definitely the first time I had experienced in my life being “the other.” However, I think it also played a major role in feeling comfortable and confident later in life and navigating the unfamiliar and adapting to my surroundings easily.
I had begun to explore and move more comfortably in my new community of Mgololo. There was a club house nearby where members could access an outdoor pool. It was rarely used by the local members as swimming wasn’t an activity that was actually common for the local kids and adults. So I would go naively in the hopes of meeting friends, but often would end up more like a circus act of one. The children would line up along the fence and people would collect and watch from the stands. It didn’t help that these were the years where Body Glove Swimsuits were in and there I was with an electric yellow neoprene suit looking like sponge bob flapping about in her very own Bikini Bottom Village of one.
Like I mentioned before I had the tendency to escape into alternative universes of reality. When I was at the pool I’d spiral into my make believe worlds, and this was like any other daydream where I became an Olympic Synchronized Swimmer- without the team obviously. I had no idea what I was doing as I had no experience in Synchronized Swimming nor had the athleticism to hold myself in any kind of position that would even remotely look like something graceful and coordinated. But I’d dance away, flailing my arms about, doing handstands, then darting out of the water with one arm shooting up to the sky. A few times I’d come up coughing and choking from taking in too much water in my aggressive attempts at more dangerous and intermediate moves. I’m absolutely sure I looked completely insane. My plan to draw in friends and meet people was completely annihilated by my weird ass resulting in defeat and loneliness. I skulked all the way home that day, retreating back to my bedroom and slamming the door in defeat. My only solace was eaves dropping on our gardener Felix who I had already begun to spin a forbidden romance with in my mind as I watched creepily through the curtains.
The next day was a new day and I had been in the bathroom for about 4 hours learning how to cornrow my own hair so that maybe I’d fit in more. I’d later find out that our hired house assistant Katherine could do it in the matter of an hour. I would also like to share that as Boujie as having a gardener and house assistant sounds, I assure you it was not and just a means to employ some of the folks. Our house was not even large enough to need any help with either, so often we’d all just hang out in the yard. I heard a knock at the bathroom door and opened it slightly as to not reveal the hideous attempt of cornrows on my head. Katherine was at the door giggling and told me I had some visitors. I thought she must be mistaken, unless word of my incredible Syncho Skills made it to the Olympic committee. She stated that there was a young girl my age named Miriam Mbelo at the door with her chaperone Charles Mbelo- whom I’d learn later was her older brother and worked at the same Mill as my father as a junior supervisor.
I quickly ripped out my braids, leaving my hair all crazy and kinked and approached the door. Miriam was tall, slender and had beautiful dark ebony skin with short hair. She was wearing a traditional African print handmade dress, and looked so mature and regal for her age. Miriam introduced herself and I was so pleased to find out she was my age and had invited me to come to her home the next day. Her older brother Charles quickly moved in front of her, introducing himself likewise. Charles was very formal in his introduction and advised that he would be coming to collect me the next day to escort myself to their home. I advised that I could find my way just fine as it was only around the bend, however he insisted I be escorted. Not wanting to ruin my chances at making a new friend I agreed riddled with anxiety about what on earth did I just experience. First who the hell were these people, how did they find me, and what is a chaperone and why did I need an escort? Katherine was no help and was snickering in the background the entire time because she already knew what was on the horizon.
Later that day my father had come home for lunch. It was customary in Tanzania for the big meal of the day to be eaten at lunch time. We’d all sit around the table and eat the equivalent of a meal that could be more suited for dinner. It was also an opportunity to acquaint Felix and Katherine to some of the North American delicacies we’d have shipped to us. Kraft Dinner was a popular one that we could all agree tasted better with hot dogs and hot sauce. At lunch that day, Katherine sat there staring up from under her shy disposition giving me the “eye” and signaling that I should probably share that I had visitors today and subsequently agreed to be “escorted” to an adolescent play date.
I casually blurted out to my father that I had met a friend named Miriam Mbelo and would be going to her house the next day.
My dad looked up and began roaring with laughter- was he drunk? Did I miss something? Being drunk at lunchtime in Africa was not a far fetched concept for either of my parents during this period so it was possible.
My dad began to sputter through the laughter and mouth full of food that our dear friend “Charles” had arrived at his office earlier that morning introducing himself and sharing a lengthy resume of accomplishments with my dad. My father stated he was really confused because he had not known or spoke to him before but had only heard that people called him “Prince Charles.” He had been left wondering what had he done to be blessed with the presence of such a royal visitor, the Prince himself. His reputation of having quite the inflated ego and sense of self importance among his colleagues was how we all became familiar with how he got the name “Prince Charles,” and was forever only addressed by this name forever after. My father provided a bit more background with regards to how the Mbelo’s were higher on the status pole within the village and could only guess where this was heading. I’m pretty sure they 100% knew where this was going but at my expense wanted it to play out for their own entertainment. My family can be cruel, especially if it means there will be laughter and humiliation involved.
So the next day, Prince Charles arrived promptly in another freshly pressed ill fitting suit that I imagine had been his fathers at one point, or still was his fathers. The pants were too short and displayed his long thin dusty ankles, which made his Sunday Church shoes look surprisingly newer in comparison. Clearly, his freshly moisturized legs had no chance against the dusty red clay roads that he marched fervently through to get to my house around the bend. I can only imagine the spectacle that this journey created in the little village, because by the time he arrived at my house there was a group of children trailing behind him with curiosity. The last time someone was dressed like this was when Mama Fifi, who owned the brothel by the mill, got married.
There was no turning back at this point for any of us as the ground work had been laid and the wheels were in motion little to my knowledge. Katherine promptly opened the door and invited Prince Charles in who sat poised like a regal Lion looking down from his perch above the Serengetti Plain…. except his perch was on our little wooden couch. I came out in my over-sized Spike Lee T-shirt, ripped jeans and threw on my flip flops completely oblivious to what was occurring. When Miriam was not there I just assumed she stayed in from the African heat. I scooped my Nintendo System, and some of my plastic friendship bracelet wire so that there would be no room for awkward silence between Miriam and I. I was not familiar with what African girls that were my age did and was more than willing to share a bit of what us Canadian girls did. So I headed towards the door uncomfortable with the formal presence that was sitting in my living room, and headed out the door without Prince Charles. I mean what was he waiting for, I didn’t need an escort to begin with?
There I was walking ahead at a brisk pace, village children trailing, and Prince Charles bringing up the rear. He asked if he could oblige by carrying my game system which I said “I’m cool, I got it.” Like what does a 13 year old girl talk to a twenty something year old man about? These were before the days of social media and internet whereby girls were not fascinated at all by grown men unless they were a lead singer of an 80’s hair band in spandex. The only boundries that were crossed at that time was maybe that one time my mom caught me tonguing the shit out of my Ralph Machio poster. Again, humiliation at my expense.
Thankfully the walk took less than 10 minutes as I had not developed the gift of small talk at that age yet. Prince Charles had gotten my age, grade, and that I was only child out of me before we landed at our destination- The Mbelo House. Miriam came out to greet me very formally again and was brought into the modestly decorated home that had a lot of the same furniture we had in ours. When the mill was built, many of the houses must have all been furnished the same in order to settle a mass amount of Expats and Tanzanians into a small remote village to run a fairly massive pulp and paper project. Miriam was impeccably dressed again and I wondered if she was always going to be this proper as I was not equipped to match her class and polite disposition. Lets face it, I was swearing like a trucker by the age of 5 and I was eager to see what damage my influence could do. Prince Charles who was in my peripheral was not helping either with my master plan. I wanted to talk about boys; boys private parts, anything and everything to do with boys. I needed to know if she had gotten to 3rd base because I wanted to share that 2 months before I got felt up over the shirt, and needed to address the other burning preliminary questions that would help us be BFF’s for life! I wanted to know did she love Bon Jovi as much as I did and if she thought Axel Rose stuffed a sock in his white jeans or was that really his ding dong? Prince Charles needed to make an exit, and wasn’t going anywhere as we sat there in silence.
After what seemed like an hour of staring, I asked Miriam if she wanted to go cruise the red clay streets of Mgololo. Surely this girl knew this was code for lets go find some boys to flirt with. I would never find out though because Prince Charles insisted he “escort” us about the town. The term cock blocking had not yet been introduced to my vocabulary at that time but without a doubt this was my fist experience of the cock who cock blocked. There we were, two teen girls who couldn’t look anymore different cruising the red clay African streets, village children in tow, and Charles bringing up the rear watching over his flock. Thankfully the walk provided us enough space to get in some more comfortable small chat in and make plans to hang out again. Miriam and I would spend a few more times hanging out, going for walks and watching movies. I even managed to get her in on eves dropping on Felix from behind my bedroom curtain. However, my plot to pollute her christian mind was never actualized and perhaps she remained a better person and wife for it.
However the story of Miriam and I’s friendship did not end there. It seems Prince Charles had his own agenda, similar to the fairy tales I was known to dream up in my head.This moment is exactly where my parents were anticipating on landing in terms of their own selfish desire for cruel humor at the expense of their equally devilish daughter. It was a Sunday afternoon and we were sitting on the pack patio pressing the passion fruits to make juice for the homemade Popsicles. From a distance we heard singing, similar to the choir that could be heard at the church. In fact it was the church choir singing Immaculate Mary, Thy Praises we sing….growing closer and closer. Wouldn’t you know, there was the choir coming up the path to our house, village children in tow, Miriam Mbelo, Mr & Mrs Mbelo and at the rear Prince Charles. The other Expats who lived around us came outside to check out the spectacle. My dad pulled his head out the hood of our Jeep, opening a fresh bottle of Tusker Beer and taking a long swig of it. It was in that moment he knew it was the moment that he had been waiting for. The moment in which decades of tearful laughter could be had at the expense of his daughter. He took another long swig and finished the freshly opened bottle, placing it on the hood of the jeep and making his way over to his pride and joy, his daughter, who was about to be proposed to by Prince Charles.
It seems that once Prince Charles had spent enough time observing the potential of Miriam’s new friend that it would be only right to approach this said friends father with a marriage proposal and Dowry offering of 50 Goats. It seems it would have been higher had I not ended up disclosing to Miriam that I had been felt up over the shirt which brought my worth down substantially.
Oh the Betrayal!
Firstly, Miriam never intended on being my BFF. I felt so used!
Secondly, Prince Charles used Miriam as an informant to plot and assess what I was worth in goats.
Thirdly, Prince Charles wasn’t escorting us anywhere, he was protecting his investment and took the concept of cock blocking to a whole new low.
And while the subject of child brides are nothing to be laughed or joked about, leading me to believe that I was about to be sold for 50 goats apparently was. I kid you not, my parents sat for approximately 2 1/2 hours with this man and his family, playing along poker faced until they could no longer hold it in any further. Even the church choir and village children had begun to disperse as the negotiations fell apart and no compromise could be settled upon . There would be no royal wedding in Mgololo after all. Prince Charles left with his ego dangling limply between his legs and offended that his seemingly gracious offer had been refused. His dreams of making babies with this girl were now assembled in a small pile of ashes, soiling his Sunday shoes.
My dad would often joke that had he been able to get at least 100 goat that perhaps his investment in my education would have paid itself off eventually. Years later I would remind the boyfriends I had along the way that dumped me that there was a Prince in Tanzania that offered to pay my parents in goats in exchange for my good lovin’. They were not impressed and I remained heartbroken and alone time after time. My hat goes off the the women of the world whereby this practice continues as it was by far the most insane experience I had while living in that little village. And if you are ever curious about your own worth in goat there are actually quizzes you can take online in case you hate your children like mine did and want to get into goat farming.
Click here to see how many goats your worth!