“I have some bad news”, said my colleague, when I answered her call on Sunday. So she wasn’t calling to check I’d got back from Zanzibar in one piece – since there was yet another ferry sinking recently, Tanzanians are a bit nervous about boat trips. No, she had bad news, and oddest of all I didn’t get that sudden heart-sinking feeling you usually get when you hear those words, because I knew it was coming, knew all along there’d be a story from among my colleagues at some point, even dreamt a few days ago that one of them was killed in a car crash.
Not a traffic accident this time but cerebral malaria. JD, our gardener/groundsman – the one who told me just a few days ago with an earnest face that I looked good, I was getting fat – had got sick fast, had been brought to hospital and then sent home, got worse, and then died, leaving a wife and five kids behind.
The atmosphere in the office was a little sombre today, but not much different. Sad, but not shocked, not upset, not angry.
Tomorrow, before the body is taken to be buried, my colleagues will visit; when they suggested I come along to take photos I had to fight the irresistible urge to laugh out loud. My job description as communications officer didn’t include taking pictures of coffins.
And while we’re talking about Bad Stuff happening, Tanzania seems to be going through troubled times. Yesterday a journalist was killed during clashes in Iringa; last week another man was killed during riots in Morogoro, and anti-riot police shot dead two civilians when they tried to invade a gold mine. Not to mention the suspiciously unreported murder of an expat in my neighbourhood two weeks ago.
I don’t expect my writing to make much of a dent in the consciousness of the world about Africa – but yes, spreading all this bad news about my country does make me question my sense of responsibility. You people who keep calling for more good news out of Africa won’t be happy, I know.
But you see, a lot of the time, there’s just more Bad Stuff to write about. And ignoring it won’t make it go away.