Good Friday morning ...
She appeared ... all of a sudden ... seemingly out of nowhere. One second she wasn't there ... the next she was ... right in front of me! She must have come in through a side entrance and taken a seat at a small table directly opposite me in the small side-street cafe where I awaited a friend. There, dressed in western attire, she quickly dispersed a small brown package from her shoulder bag, placed it conspicuously on the table and sat casually.
I was startled ... not so much by her presence ... but by her eyes. They were riveted on me ... ablaze with a hauntingly eager look. She stared directly at me ... into my eyes ... seemingly unabashed by her boldness ... comfortable ... fearless ...quite unusual for a woman in her African culture. My senses were immediately peaked ... as one might expect at the sight of a beautiful woman. Yes, she was beautiful as many young Tanzanians are and I was struck by her stunning pulchritude.
I quickly diverted my eyes ... uncomfortable with her attention and with my own distraction ... busying myself with the backpack at my feet and hoping my waiter would arrive soon to take my order. He did and I ordered ... a cup of chai and a mandazi ... now hoping my friend, Julius, would soon arrive. He didn't ... and so I waited.
The beautiful Tanzanian also ordered ... a cup of chai and a mandazi ... the same as I. As I drank my chai ... she drank hers ... seemingly sip-for-sip. As I ate my mandazi ... she ate hers ... seemingly bite-for-bite. Was I imagining things or was this for real? I became flustered ... unaccustomed to the boldness of an African woman in the presence of a white man. While I became flustered ... she did not. While I became anxious ... she did not. While I became embarrassed ... she did not.
My imagination began to run wild. What was I up against? What was her intent? Was I being pegged for a pickpocket? Was I being singled out for a take-down? Certainly not here ... not in the Naaz Cafe, a place I frequented often when in Arusha! Certainly not on the last day of a three-week spin through Maasailand doing Kingdom work! Certainly not me!
I continued to wait ... eager for Julius' arrival ... anxious to carry on with our plans for the day ... but becoming more tense by the moment. The beautiful Tanzanian continued her on-again-off-again stare, uninhibited by my growing nervousness, perhaps even enjoying my uncomfortableness ... which made me all the more troubled.
My attention fell to my journal ... deciding I could best occupy my time and distract my nervousness by journaling. Extracting it from my pack ... I busied myself reading notations and memory jogs from the previous day and began writing in earnest. Soon I was absorbed ... my mind focused, my anxiety diminished. Then I heard the scrape of the beauty's chair across the tile floor.
Was she leaving? Was her threat abandoned? Was my anxiety unfounded? Or was she making a move? Had her accomplice just arrived? Were my troubles just beginning?
Alerted by the noise of her chair, I raised my eyes to see, not just the beautiful Tanzanian, but beside her, a tall young man ... his face concealed from view. He, too, was dressed in western garb. I was startled by his sudden embrace of the woman ... a not-so-common public display of affection in Tanzanian culture ... made even more bizarre by her previous staring in my direction.
What was going on? Was something about to happen? What should I do? The cafe was empty ... except for the three of us. My position was concealed from the view of the waiter. So was that of the couple now standing in embrace. I would have quickly left ... had I not been waiting for Julius. So, there I sat ... befuddled ... uncertain ... approaching fear.
Then it all came together. As the tall male released his embrace of the beautiful Tanzanian woman, his face came into view for the first time and my fears were suddenly relieved ... my anxiety squelched. It was Julius ... the very friend upon whom I waited!
As it turns out ... the beautiful Tanzanian woman with the bold, eager eyes was the fiancée of my friend. He had intended to meet me earlier and surprise me with the introduction of his bride-to-be, an education student at the University of Dar es Salaam. However, he was delayed (a not so infrequent occurrence in African culture) and she was early, which provided her the serendipitous opportunity to pull a prank on this unsuspecting American whom she knew from Julius' descriptions to be me. Later we all laughed heartily over the encounter as she readily and eagerly confessed her unusual boldness and the surprise coming-out of her devilish nature at the realization of my uncomfortableness. After this encounter I knew God had chosen for Julius a very special woman!
As I have so often discovered ... things are not always as they seem. We can easily misconstrue, misinterpret and misunderstand the actions of others ... especially in cultures different from our own. We often perceive actions to have an intent far different from that which was planned. We often mistake words and bits of conversation to mean something other than what was intended. And unfortunately, our perceptions are often negative ... as we fail to put the best construction on that which we observe and hear.
I did that very thing in Arusha. I was nervous in the Naaz. And though I had every right to be cautious ... for one cannot be too cautious in traveling ... it was unnecessary to have been afraid ... and it was unnecessary of me to have thought evil of this woman. As I found out ... she was far from evil ... just a kind, gentle-hearted woman with a prankish nature not unlike my own!
"You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor" God says in commandment number eight [Exodus 20:16]. In the explanation to this commandment we are asked to put the best meaning on everything, that is, we should explain our neighbor's actions in the best possible way. Good advice at home and anywhere ... and certainly meaningful to me as I learned from my experience at the Naaz.
Have a blessed weekend ...