Tanganyika

by Kai Schreiber

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The bright sun was shining over the smooth surface of the lake, his reflected light illuminating the underside of the leaves of the nearby trees. This was the only time of the day this would happen, and some insects, used to a soft, moist darkness, were harshly awakened by the fierce flash and the heat brought by it. Shuffling around quickly they crawled to the top of their green hideouts, disturbed for a while, but their primitive nervous systems quickly forgot what had happened and they returned to their routine of eating, fucking and dying. The sun meanwhile had risen, his reflected light shining toward the sky now, where it escaped to deep space once more, leaving behind a fraction dissipated to fill the sky.
A few kilometeres away from the lake, in a low wooden building, the class got ready, some were watching the slowly climbing sun over the lake, others, eyes half closed, extending their sleep into the first lesson. On the back benches some girls were talking and giggling, eyes half turned down, from the corner of their eyes watching some boys passing by outside, and in reaction giggling even more.
Mr. Slurpee just had started the morning prayer, fixing each of the children in turn while he was reciting the Lordís prayer, noting who tried to speak along and who didnít, wo payed attention and who just stared out the window, or blankly into empty space. He didnít find any surprises though, just the usual followers.
All right, Slurpee said, last time we talked about how the LOrd god created the earth in seven days. Now, who of you remembers what he did last? The amazing thing with Slurpee was, that one could actually hear the capitals.
Sleep of course he did, after so much work, one of the girls in the back said. Much giggling ensued. Slurpee tried to look intimidating and forgiving at the same time (he had read something about authority somewhere), but he didnít quite succeed. His expression instead caused much more giggling among the backbenchers. One of the girls was pointing at him. He blushed and looked away.
The LOrd our god wasnít sleeping on the seventh day, he said, trying to appear as calm as possible, he was resting. That is something entirely different.
But he must have been tired, another girl shouted. He was just talking pretty, all rich people do that now, my daddy says. Some of the girls looked worried now, carefully watching Slurpeeís reaction to this, but the majority seemed overjoyed by the reply. Slurpee still tried to keep his composure.
The correct answer is of course, he said firmly, the last thing our LOrd did, was to create man. Man is the crown of creation.
But, one of the girls bursted out, Mr. Slurpee! That canít be! He turned toward her, perfectly calm on the outside, struggling to remember her name and failing, And why is that, my dear?
You can not wear a man, Mr. Slurpee! The excitement now washed over them, they were all talking at the same time, some giggling, some laughing, and whatever Slurpee said caused more of it. After ten minutes of complete chaos, he sent his class home early, turning his mind to the bible studies he had neglected for such a long time to be able to fulfill his educational duties.

The bright sun was shining over the smooth surface of lake Victoria, the reflected light once again disturbing the crawling and the small. In the nearby school, missionary Slurpee sat behind his desk, staring straight into the mess that was his class. Sending them home the day before hadnít helped (and he hadnít found much solace in the lordís word, almost despairing instead of his own lack of devotion and sureness. What was he doing here, teaching those children something they neither wanted to know nor apparently were even able to grasp? On the other hand, where else could he be? Working in politics, like his younger brother, who had been overwhelmed with happiness when Tanganyika had become independent the year before, and who now had a job somewhere in government, doing what he thought was right. And what did Slurpee himself think was right? He stared out through the window, sad and helpless, while all around him the class exploded in mindless merriment and laughter. He made it through the lesson, but only barely, and just because he didnít want to send them home two days in a row. That would be admitting defeat. But what if it didnít stop? What if people just kept laughing at him? Not long ago he might have prayed to GOd, asking for advice, and he might have gotten it. But not any more.

The next day it was just the same, and the day after that it got worse. He started asking the most disturbed girls not to come to class the next day, but then others would be taking their part, and even the girls who didnít giggle werenít able to concentrate on anything he said. Neither was he. It even seemed to affect the townspeople, and when Slurpee asked one of the girls why she laughed so much, she said she felt like somthing was moving in her head. He stared at her for seconds, until she started giggling again, then he quickly sent her away, uneasily wondering what it all might mean. Or whether it meant anything. In the following weeks, medical doctors arrived and tried to find a cause for the laughing epidemy, as soon it was called, but they, too, failed. Slurpee had practically stopped teaching, and he didnít read much either. He was sitting on the shore of the lake, watching the sun make his way across the sky, watching the changing reflections in the water. He was searching, he didnít know what. Sometimes other teachers joined him on his silent watch, none of them talking. They just silently watched the lake together, while in their back, throughout the village, laughter roared to heaven, dissipating into the blue sky.

Six weeks after Slurpee had first sent home his class the school, his school closed down on March 18th 1962 to prevent spreading of the laughing epidemy. Life went on.
Two years later, Tanganyika merged with Zanzibar and Pembar to form the United Republic of Tanzania, Slurpees brother got an important position in the bureaucracy of the new government, and Slurpee himself finally left the church and joined the socialist party that was to run the country. They gave him some small bureau job, and he didnít complain. Sometimes he sat on his desk and thought back to the laughing epidemy and how nobody had had an explanation. He then felt distantly as though he should have taken the laughing for the sign it was, for a miracle, a confirmation of his choice, but instead he had felt disoriented and rejected and he still did.

The sun rises above Lake Victoria, his rays reflected from the surface of the water hitting the underside of nearby leaves, but nothing moves today. Itís the seventh day and all the creatures are sleeping and resting from the work they did. But in a bureau somewhere in Bukoba a man is laughing at the wall and doesnít know why.