Remember the time when I wrote about how Sam and I struggled in our own way, explaining our long-distance relationship to our families and friends? For Sam, while his family had no serious objections to us being together, most of his friends doubted that I was ever coming back to Tanzania, and some thought I wasn’t even real. But I suppose Sam wasn’t easily swayed by other people’s opinion, because I didn’t turn out to be the “player” some of his friends predicted me to be. Actually, one of the first stops we met the day after I arrived, was to see one of his good friends, Julius. Buckling my seat belt, I was very much looking forward to seeing the Arusha town again, and most of all, to meet his friends. As an avid storyteller, I am always keen on hearing stories. And the more I spent time with Sam, the more I wanted to know all about him. How he grew up, where he spent his childhood? What kind of a student was he like? I wanted to hear all of the embarrassing stories, not just the heroic ones, and I was craving for a full picture of his life. Of course, I didn’t ask all of my questions at once. He would have likely been scared off by Day 1. Instead, I was eagerly waiting to meet his friends, people who knew him better than me, who can share their stories about this man that I was beginning to really, really like.
Julius managed his sister’s shop in the middle of the bustling Arusha town. The shop sold jewelry, perfume and a few other random items that made it seem oddly like a convenience store. Beside it, there was a nail and hair salon, where a few women were sitting on chairs right outside getting their nails painted, while getting their braids done.
And I’d eventually discover this about Sam, but he wasn’t very good at explaining what we’d be doing, nor was he used to a schedule. He was an extremely detail-oriented, punctual safari guide, but when he was off duty, he became this relaxed, nonchalant guy that enjoyed long chats with his friends. Initially, I thought that the stop to see Julius was just one thing on our packed itinerary of the day, that he was one friend out of the many we’d be meeting that day. It turned out that this stop lasted more than a few hours, and we basically just hung around and chatted the afternoon away.
When we first walked into the shop together, I distinctively remember Julius’ large, brown eyes widened and in less than a split second, his entire face gave way to the biggest smile as he chuckled and clasped his hands together. Sam was laughing as he stood by the door, and then they greeted each other in Swahili, with bouts of laughter in between. And I, apparently needing no introduction, was asked to sit down, as Julius pulled a chair from behind the counter. Like Sam, he also spoke a good deal of English, and he had a very charming way about him. He spoke very slowly, as though he were always savoring his thought before he vocalizes it, and he seldom said anything without a smile. Our conversation jumped from one topic to the other, from my life in Canada, to how I liked Tanzania. “Do you enjoy the food?” He asked, eager to hear my answer, and I could tell that he was likely a foodie, just like me. “What was Sam like in high school?” It was my turn to ask the questions, and it was so exhilarating to talk to someone else who knew Sam. For the six months that we were apart, I got to know Sam solely based on what he told me. I had no other references. But now, Julius was standing in front of me, with apparently a ton of anecdotes that he couldn’t wait to share with me. And I shared in his enthusiasm while Sam looked on with a slight embarrassed expression as he grinned at us.
According to Julius, Sam was quite the football (soccer) star, and was often compared to Malouda (if you watch the Premier League, you’ll know who I’m referring to). And as outspoken and outgoing as he was in school, he was shy around girls when put on the spot with them. One day, as a joke, his friends somehow got Sam in a classroom with a girl and prevented him from coming out. As Julius recounted this story, he chortled with glee, because apparently Sam was scared out of his wits. That being said, this particular social handicap didn’t deter him from pulling harmless pranks on boys and girls alike, but he just didn’t enjoy speaking to girls one-on-one. At that, I nodded in approval. Better shy than a player, I suppose.
After we said goodbye to Julius, and promised him that we will meet again, over fried chicken and drinks another day, Sam and I found ourselves in one of the busiest streets in Arusha. Curious glances were cast our way, and it was obvious that Sam and I stood out in the middle of the crowd. But the attention didn’t bother me, at least not back then, anyway, and we strolled lazily past the shops, our hands not exactly touching since Tanzania was still more conservative back then, but there was no doubt that we were now being seen as—and were, in every way, a couple.