The Hostel

MOSHI, Tanzania—We were just sitting down to watch “Inception” when the power went out. At first we couldn’t find the DVD: Who watched it last? A search commences. As it turns out, Liz (Boston) watched it last. “At least we weren’t halfway through,” Lucy (Manchester) says. Jaimy (Amsterdam) wants us to play a Dutch drinking game called Spiker Pooper. It involves attaching a pen to your waist, spinning around and trying to lower the pen into a beer bottle. Laurens (Australia, by way of South Africa) and Jaimy play, and Laurens wins.

Frankie (Newcastle) has brought two candles into the room, so we have two small huddles of light through which to strain to see each other. You can barely make out the bookcase in the back of the room, stuffed with falling-apart books, mostly in English. It’s deceptively valuable because books, especially fiction ones, are fiendishly hard to find and expensive in Tanzania. A picture of David Hasselhoff, made up of thousands of tinier pictures, hangs on the wall alongside abstract art by the hostel’s manager, Abby (Tanzania). Abby also paints stunningly realistic baobab trees, elephants, other wildlife. He told me it takes him an hour to paint the realistic pictures and four hours for the abstract ones.

Maayan (Israel) and April (Michigan) are looking through Lonely Planet: Tanzania. “Gal, please don’t have sex with me in Zanzibar,” Maayan comments. He reads, “Homosexuality is punishable by 14 years in prison.” He gives me my hand flashlight back. “Thank you. I am completely displeased.”

Brendan (New Zealand) wants Gal (Israel) to friend him on Facebook. Gal is lucky enough to have brought a laptop[1] and bought a wireless Internet card. He is surfing the Israeli news site Ynet, reading about a soldier that was taken by Hamas. “But you probably can’t read it, it’s in Hebrew,” he apologizes. Gal and Maayan are teaching me Hebrew. Ma Shalom?

With eight rooms, a porch, and two tents, the hostel is too small for 27 people with an average age of around 23. There’s no hiding here; you have to be friends with these people who are so different from you. And so you fight, you learn, and you have fun.

[1] Maayan would like it to be known that the laptop is his, and that Gal is lucky to be friends with him.

Anita J. Joseph, an editorial chair, is a Social Studies concentrator in Leverett House.

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