Have you ever wondered what’s it like being a Jamaican living in Tanzania? In this episode of “Jamaicans to the World”, Jamaicans.com founder Xavier Murphy speaks with Lascelles Chen. He is a Jamaican living in Tanzania.
Xavier: What is it like being Jamaican in Tanzania? Hi, I’m Xavier Murphy, the founder of Jamaicans.com today in Jamaicans to the world, we talk to
Lascelles Chen a Jamaican living in Tanzania. Hi Laselles, how are you?
Lascelles: Nice to meet you, we are okay. Thank you very much.
Xavier: Good, good and from here on out folks Lascelles seh (said) him (he) like to be called Butch. From here on out you might hear me seh (say) Butch instead.
Lascelles: Respect to my old man. Respect to my old man my daddy, daddy Give me that name.
Xavier: Okay, good, good. Butch tell me now which paat (part) a (of) Jamaica yuh (you) come from?
Lascelles: I was baan (born) in Mandeville, but grew up in Claremont, St. Ann. The basic school, the small things, then we moved to Harobur View, where I went to Harbour View Primary School and then High school, I was living in Cassia Park. That was when I was at St. George’s. From that, yeah, move around a likkle (little) bit and live in several places.
Xavier: Good. a George’s Man?
Lascelles: Yes. North Street people, you know.
Xavier: Yes. I have some very good friends from George’s, and I we do an event with them. I go to JC (Jamaica College) and we do an event with them. Good, good. Tell us now.
Lascelles: What kind of what kind of event What is it?
Xavier: We have an event we call the True Blue Event where the two blues clash. Wi (we) play soccer. But the clash.
Lascelles: Football? Aww!
Xavier: Yeah, but the clash really, George’s typically bring a good, good team and we’ve won the last couple years, but most of the time is George’s. But the event honors Dennis Zadie, that’s who the event honors, Dennis Zadie.
Lascelles: Oh, yeah, Mr. Zadie is a Big man at George’s.
Xavier: Yes. Tell me now, how did you end up in Tanzania?
Lascelles: It’s not really a big mystery. You know, Jamaican people, we are told that we are Africans from we are kids. Some have a spirit to repatriate and I had that spirit. Move with the family ‘89, beginning a (of) ‘89, after Gilbert and I have been here since that time 1989. Family grow up, children move on, but we are here.
Xavier: Okay. Tell me now, was it a big adjustment? I mean, you move there with kids also. Was the adjustment a big, big adjustment for you and the family when you moved there?
Lascelles: Of course, change is change, you know. But my determination was to give my children something that I didn’t have. To be able to grew up in the African continent as Africans, so that later on in life, they would have a point of reflection. It wasn’t really a humongous thing, we choose Kenya. We came to East Africa in ‘86 and we move around the place and Kenya seem to be a soft landing, plus now my background, banking and finance, I saw some openings you know, I can get some work or something.
It was good. After dat (that), we went to Uganda, which again is another soft landing. When I say soft landing, I’m basically talking about language. If you in a country.
Xavier: I see.
Lascelles: And you can communicate with the people way down the road but if it was a challenge you have to use an interpreter and then you have a learning curve. That is when you get a bit of a problem, Kenya, they deal with English, Uganda, they deal with English. It was okay and fortunately God smile on me, I was able to get some good work, kids could go to good school. International School mix with international kids. My only prayer is that now, they see the value of what you know, of the education that they got. I thank good every day for that.
Xavier: That’s good. Is Tanzania the language? Also you said a soft landing. Is it also English in Tanzania?
Lascelles: No, in Tanzania, they speak Swahili. You have to learn the language to be able to communicate with the people. But it’s like a split society, because, hear the problem now, they teach in Kiswahili up to standard seven in primary. When the kids go into secondary now the teachers are talking English. There is a challenge in the Tanzanian system right here, but again, I was fortunate enough that at least my little girl could go to an English primary school so going into secondary is not a problem.
Xavier: I see. It’s almost like this debate we have about the mother tongue is Patois. And we have English, but that’s another day that discussion is another day. Tell us a little bit now about the people there. What are the people like? Tell us a little bit about the people of Tanzania?
Lascelles: Well, the people of Tanzania are nice people. You know, in my 30 add years, I’ve lived throughout the region, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, and I’ve traveled up and down this eastern side of Africa, and even venturing into Nigeria, and so on. The people really is di (the) same people nice people. You know, it’s not a confrontation and you know us as Jamaicans, we know how to live with people. We don’t have that problem, to do segregation and those things, no, no. When you live in Africa, you have to deal with the neighbor. Africa, cum een like (it seems like) country living. I don’t know, if you grow in the country, but me, I grew up in di (the) country. And when you pass people you have good mawning (morning), you have good evening, you have those, niceties. Is the same thing now in this culture, you don’t just pass people on the road, you have to greet them and you ask about their relatives, and how they are and so on. It’s a very polite society and I appreciate that.
Xavier: I see. I didn’t grow up in a country, but I spent my summers in the country caw (because) my parents sending you to the country every summer. I know what you’re saying. In the morning, it’s like, practical most of the morning is spent greeting people walking by and greeting this person.
Xavier: You bring something here and just so much of a community, a strong community.
Lascelles: Yeah. That is, how Africa generally is. Generally speaking, you live in a community, Yuh (you) just work with the people. When I come to Africa, I have Muslim friends, and you try to understand because if they have their celebration, you go, if they have their funeral, you go the wedding you go, when you have your things, they are there. The only problem is the Church thing. You might be outside the mosque, or they might be outside the church, but is a communal thing. When you cry, you cry together, and when you’re happy, you’re happy together.
Lascelles: That is one of the greatest lesson living in Africa. That is living in Tanzania I would say.
Xavier: That’s great. I love that expression. When you cry, you cry together, when you’re happy you’re happy together that sound like a lyric out of a song.
Lascelles: Yeah mon (yes man).
Xavier: Good. So.
Lascelles: let me give you an example. Now, it is a serious thing because I am away from my family now, and my wife call me yesterday and give me
a message. Now, this message is that two good Professor friends of mine, a husband and wife, the two of them are professors. And they work in the university, which is next to us. Now, the two of them are in hospital with COVID and when my wife called me, as far as I am here, you feel it. Because you don’t get that news Just suh (so), you get that news because somebody know that somebody know that somebody know you and how you connected with those people. Is somebody from the university know and seh (say) we have a number for Mr. Chen wife, because she’s a big woman in the community there. They call her and said pass the message to Mr. Chen that the Temo’s are in hospital. Is a very communal ting (thing) you have to appreciate that.
Xavier: That’s just wonderful.
Lascelles: Cry together.
Xavier: Yeah. Yeah.
Lascelles: And pray together.
Xavier: Sorry to hear about your friends. Let me ask you this about.
Lascelles: And is two big people. is two big people. Its two people who help the community. Professors, you know, but dem (they’re) not people who are on their high horse. These are people who walk with me in the village. I really feel it, because I know even dem (their) kids. Wi (we’re) praying that they guh (go) tru (through).
Xavier: When people because you mentioned, you know, it’s, it’s such a village and, and, and so on, when people learn that you are Jamaican, you mentioned Jamaicans get along with anyone else. So when they learn that you’re Jamaica, what’s the typical response from people when they first learned that you’re Jamaican, and from Jamaica?
Lascelles: The typical response is happiness. In every society of two different kinds of people. You have the ordinary people, and you have the government people or the officials You know. I have no problem with any of them. The official people or the ordinary people, because ordinary people know, Jamaica, through our culture.
They know Jamaica tru (through) Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, all a di (of the) artists, all of those that side of the culture, which a lot of Jamaicans doan (don’t) understand where the culture reach.
Lascelles: People who don’t know, each language, will sit and listen to Bob Marley the whole album and sing lyric to lyric you know, suh (so) Jamaica, when you tell people that Jamaica is a small place, it’s like dem (they) seh (say), no, you don’t come from Jamaica. Jamaica is a big. I explained to dem (them), no, it’s a small place. Because when I was a kid in university, I used to leave university on Friday evening with my friends riding bicycle and wi (we) head east and wi (we) guh (go) St. Thomas and cut roun (around) Portland, and maybe we sleep in a Oracabessa then from there now we would just continue to Negril. Wi (we) kno (know) Saturday, wi (we) in Negril sleep in Negril Saturday. Come back, reach home Sunday, prep up; back into class Monday morning. I explained to people that that is what I used to do in university and then said no.
Xavier: We Jamaicans.
Lascelles: Being a Jamaican is a big ting (thing).
Xavier: Yeah we Jamaicans love hear.
Lascelles: I would like to say is that the Africans look at Jamaicans as representatives of Africa outside of Africa that is how, I would best package it, because nobody else in this world sing about Africa, like Jamaican people.
Lascelles: Think back, which artists, which genre of music are anything people celebrate Africa? is only Jamaican reggae music. So I can tell you I have been some places in Africa and play my music and create problems. Because I have my music on my laptop. I play my music anywhere and people just yah man! (yes man). A likkle (little) Sugar Minott.
Xavier: You carry a likkel (little) sound system on your laptop.
Lascelles: No! nuh likkle (no little) sound system, big! big! I am a sound man enuh (you know) Xavier.
Lascelles: Yeah. All of my music … I realized that walking with record and cassette (tapes) and those tings (things) was a waste a time. I just tried to digitize it. I have a son in America and him (he) send me a ting (thing) we’re just play the music and it goes straight into the computer. We try to just digitize it and walk with the laptop. Just before this interview is Mi (me) an a (and a) South African siddung (sit down) yah suh (over here) a listen to Sugar Minot.
Xavier: Oh wow!
Lascelles: We deal wid di ting (with the thing) is our culture suh (so) mi (I)play my culture.
Xavier: Nice, nice. We’re gonna move on to food. What is the food like? If I was to visit, yuh (you) seh (say), “Xavier, here is sumting (something) yuh mus (you must) try. Give me two tings (things), two tings (things) that you said man, you have to try inna (in)Tanzania.
Lascelles: Well, the food, it is nice and there’s a lot of things that you could try. But my favorite now is the one pot special. African society built around two things basically, shade and a pot. You can find now inna (in) the village, the mama under the shade, and she hav (has) the one pot and by the time she finished, I’m telling you mon (man). Dem (they) kno (know) how to deal with that one pot style. You will have something like, all kind of greens and potato and banana and everything come down is like when we a youth (teenagers) and we used to do a ting (thing) name bolo slosh, Run Dung (Run Down). You know that kind of style. coconut milk.
Lascelles: Very nice. Very nice. Yes. Den (then) now mi (me) is a fish man. I like to go and get the fish and they have a way that they grill the fish. And you know, you can enjoy that. But food wise you’re not lacking is because it’s the same topical ting (thing) you know.
Xavier: Let me ask you this then you get any of your Jamaican foods there and you cook any of your Jamaican foods on a regular?
Lascelles: Well, you know me I cook because I learned to cook from I was a child. I come from a Chinese family and my mada (mother) and my sistah (sister) teach me the basics, and mi (I) push on from there. Mi (I) cook; find the breadfruit and wi (we) deal wid (with) the breadfruit and the coconut milk and everything else thing. Wi (we) don’t have nuh (no) Ackee so you can leave that alone, but run dung (run down), escovitch, curry goat, curry chicken, oxtail, mince all dem ting deh (all those things) we deal with it cause(because) at home yuh (you) know, sometimes mama busy so I step into the kitchen and deal with it. And then my little girl Now, she’s 13 she turned her hand and learn a few things. How to make dumplings and scrambled eggs Jamaican style. Simple things you know, we cook and enjoy what is there.
Xavier: Good You mentioned that you know, it’s such a community. Have you shared some of these Jamaican dishes with some of the folks in the community? What has been the reactions of some of your friends when they try some of these Jamaican dishes.
Lascelles: Hear the challenge now, for a man to be in a kitchen, that is not something that people latch on to so easy. They will go to a restaurant and there is a man chef, but to go to somebody’s house, and then it is the man who is in the kitchen, and the woman is sitting there with the guests, that is not something that would go down so nice. What we usually do is just cook and step back. Step aside, mama now can, madam can add to her things to it and. You know, we’re kind of mixed it up a bit. But people love when mi (I) cook man when mi (me) cook, you know, the people come and eat and feel good. I put in a likkle dis and a likkel dat and change it up a bit (Put in a little this and a little that and change it up a bit) Because some of food that they cook, I don’t like.
Lascelles: I really don’t like it. Because it’s just not my ting (thing). We try and add to it and change it up a bit.
Xavier: Yuh (you) Jamaicanize it a likkle (little) bit.
Lascelles: Yea (yes) you know we have a Jamaican restaurant in our city in Dar es Salaa and the lady that run it. Sometimes she’ll bring some pica pepper, she brings some jerk. We get to pinch likkkle (little) seasoning off her and come home and cook something nice. Di adda (The other) day we get some Ackee, cook some Ackee.
Xavier: listen man. I’ve spoken to a few folks on the continent, and it seems like the Ackee is in West Africa. You’re a bit central and east, right?
Lascelles: Ackee is in Ghana.
Xavier: Ghana. Yes, yes.
Lascelles: I have some friends in Ghana and people use Ackee an (and) stone dawg (dog). Ackee is there because that is where it came from, to reach Jamaica you know Yeah.
Xavier: Yes. Ackee is there.
Lascelles: But, it is a slave food, but it is there yeah (yes).
Xavier: Yeah (yes), it is there. Speaking of the location, you I believe in our conversations right before this. There are some places that’s just amazing place, I believe. What’s a mountain there that you mentioned that you can view?
Lascelles: Oh, we have a very long coast. Yeah. But as you rightly say now the highest mountain in Africa is in Tanzania. It’s called Mount Kilimanjaro highest mountain. Yes, snow on the top. Very serious. Climb. Yeah, very serious.
Xavier: Have you gone up there?
Lascelles: No. I remember the first time I saw it in ’86, and I realized this is something that people really climb and you can walk. So I figure Yes. Have to do it, but in the 30 odd years I have been here I haven’t had the budget or the time. It takes about three weeks, two weeks, three weeks, a long time because going up and coming down. Sey (say) three weeks and yuh (you) need about $1,000. Seven Hundred ($700) to a thousand ($1,000) dollars. And of course you have to deal with the government things, but there are some companies dem (they) just handle it and you alright.
Xavier: But you have to prepare?
Lascelles: No, you have to be fit, no joke, not a joke ting (thing), there is an altitude.
Lascelles: Yeah, and people die on the mountainside?
Lascelles: Yeah, there’s not a joke thing. You can’t just get the permit like that, the people have to look at you and see that well, alright, you can deal with it.
I saw a documentary the other day with somebody, a wheelchair person who made it and it was people pulling and pushing, pulling and pushing until this person now reach the top, which is a celebration, because even blind people reach the top. We really see it and you know, we understand even myself I could do it because I am reasonably fit. I do my jogging. very week we cover the 20 kilometers.
Lascelles: But now, I don’t think I could do it without somebody else. Those things you do with company, you know, you don’t just go on your own.
Xavier: Right, right.
Lascelles: Cause (because) the good book seh (says) you must walk together.
Xavier: You need a group; you have a group.
Lascelles: Yeah, even one more person.
Xavier: Let me ask you, Kilimanjaro is there, if there is another experience our place you would say if you visit Tanzania, do this, our experience this? What would that be?
Lascelles: Zanzibar. Now Tanzania is a union of two countries, Tanganyika, which is the continent and Zanzibar, which is the island, of the coast. Go to Zanzibar I’ve been there several times and nice. Nice very nice. It’s of course coastal. So in sea ting (thing) Jamaica people use to the sea ting (thing). All the different kinds of food that you get there out of the sea, very nice.
But the experience I remember the most is on the Eastern coast of Zanzibar. The first time I went with my first wife. When we reach it was in di (the) afternoon, we reach, we check inna di (in the) hotel and we scout the beach and we she (say) yeah, this we can deal wid (with) di (the) beach in the morning. When we wake up inna di mawning and there is no beach (when we wake up in the morning and there is no beach) the wata (water) gone way out like 400 meters enuh (you know) way, way out 500 hundred. I said to my wife, mi seh (I said), “Janet, weh (where). That was when me as a big man actually get to understand what tide is.
Xavier: But that sounds serious you know.
Lascelles: We walk out because when we looking enuh (you know) way out we see some ladies some women bend down, way out, bend down whole heap (a lot) a dem (of them), like three or four hundred a dem (of them) So Mi seh (I said), “Janet, come mek (let us) go spy this ting (thing) out so we walk, walk, walk, walk out. You know what was happening, they were planting Irish Moss.
Lascelles: Yeah dem (they) peg di ting (the thing) and have some wire and whatever and den (then) now dem (they) tie Irish Moss underneath there, you understand me. Dem (they) plant it out and dem (they) do everything. Mi a tell yuh (I am telling you), big space enuh (you know), big space cause (because) one woman have har likkle (her little) space and har (her) neighbor is there, like a collective. Mi (me) and Janet wi deh deh a watch dem ((we are there watching them) and we asked dem (them) weh dem a duh? (what are they doing), and dem (they) explain to us and dem a duh dis from dem a pickney (they are doing this from they were children). Dis a di (This is the) family business. It’s like yuh woulda (you would) have somebody with a piece of land where dem (they) grow onion or something. These people have a piece a di (the) beach, weh dem (where they) plant Irish Moss, man.
Xavier: What do they do with the Irish Mosss?
Lascelles: My yout mi a gi yuh di (youth I am giving you) story. Now me and my wife now ketch (catch) a swim because di (the) water is there we catch a swim and we a guh (are going) in and have our breakfast and seh (say); we a guh (we are going) link up with dem (these) lady yah (here). When wi (we are) finished now and fresh and guh (go) back pon (on) di (the) beach, yuh (you) can si (see) now the ooman (woman) dem (them) gone and the water now coming in, caa (because) this is late mawning (morning) now. De (the) water start come back in so we take a walk go uppa (up) the beach and find the ooman (woman) dem (them) a likkel (little) bit up and dem (they) have the Irish Moss spread out (pon) on tarpaulin and dema do dem (they’re doing their) tings (things).
Mi (I) si (saw) some Irish Mosss and mi (I) ask the lady mi wah fi (I want to) buy likkle (little) a (of) dis (this) she asked mi weh mi a go duh wid it (me what I was going to do with it). Mi sey inna (I said in) my culture wi (we) boil it and drink it. A deh suh now mi (is there now I) asked them what they are going to do with the harvest? Well is an ingredient in cosmetics So they exported to Italy.
Lascelles: I am telling you Xavier, I treasure every day I make every step, because I learned some things I never know.
Xavier: What was their reaction to that?
Lascelles: No, it was no surprise to them because they also use it. but they use it fresh like lettuce.
Xavier: They eat it?
Lascelles: Yeh mon (yes man), but me now, me tell dem Seh mi (them that I) boil it and mek (make) a drink. And mi (I) explained to them. how, we do it and it was no surprise to them because them know people use things to duh (do) different things for different things. But I learned several lessons; first I learned tide, what tide is. I learned that people plant seaweed and make a living out of it. I learned that some people are allocated Space on the sea floor to do this kind of thing. A (I) learned that Irish Moss is exported to Italy as an ingredient in cosmetics and that was enough learning for that day.
Xavier: I learned a lot from this. Butch listen, I appreciate you taking some time to tell us your story about living in Tanzania. And as I said the Irish Moss story is going stick with me. I’m going to tell someone today, I got to tell a few people about that one today. What would you say, last question? What would you say to any Jamaican who is thinking of coming to the continent or even Tanzania? What would be the one piece of advice that you’d give to them? And that’s my final question before you go in teach me something but I’ll hold that till you finish this answer.
Lascelles: Yeah. Well, I glad you bring it up, because it is an important ting (thing) in this time. There’s a lot of interest in the continent. I am here in Tanzania, and I’ve met some African American people who because of the politics there and because of the COVID and whatever, they have found themselves in Tanzania and get a chance to communicate with them.
Now, for me, I can’t. My understanding is limited to the Jamaican context, because I have friends, I have mentors, elders who left Jamaica and came to East Africa. We have many of them who are in Ethiopia, and especially here in Tanzania. A contingent came in the late ‘70s. We have elders like Professor Ucaluli, Ken Edwards, who has passed away. RIP (Rest in peace), God bless his soul. We have other people like Rass Bupae, who has also passed away and some other elders.
We came because they were here. But if somebody is thinking of coming to Africa. In this time, I would say, there’s a lot of research, a lot of scope for research, use the internet, track and see what is happening in your favorite country. Africa is not a country; Africa is a continent of 54 countries. You need to pick one, pick two pick three, do your research. I would not advise anybody to go to a country where the language is going to be a problem or challenge. Not a problem, but a challenge.
I wouldn’t advise it, because you don’t want to have that kind of introduction. You want to be able to talk to people, especially in officialdom, explain the situation and do what you want to do. Plus, you don’t want the kids, if yuh (you are) coming with children, you don’t want them to have that challenge also. I would say, consider the language please, because that is something. The other next thing now is you want to understand what the government position is in terms of coming to Africa. Coming to Africa is not like moving from St. Mary to St. Catherine. Is not like moving from Florida. to New York State, or Vancouver to Montreal or from Italy to Spain. No, you’re moving from one place to a completely different place, and you cannot expect anybody to be here waiting on you. People are more expecting you to carry something for them. Please, anyone Jamaican you are my brothers and my sisters will come to the same navel string, do your research. And if you want that a quick, quick answer, I would say focus on Ghana as a quick answer, but don’t tek (take) my word and hang me. For from what I know, Ghana government look receptive. Dem (they) have whole period where dem (they) say point of return. English is the language and the history of Ghana. Ghana have a very rich Pan African history. I would recommend Ghana, but don’t hang mi (me) on that one.
Xavier: Alright. A wealth of information given here, and I always end this way. Now is where I’m going to put you on the spot, I won’t hang you but a putting you on the spot. How do you say bye, bye in Tanzanian in the most informal way, you’re teaching me how to say bye?
Lascelles: Well, even before we say goodbye, because goodbye is a terminal ting (thing). We want fi (to) appreciate the work that you’re doing, because we watch some of the videos, and it is very educating, very informative. I don’t know how yuh (you) plug it into educational sphere, how people look at it and get some benefit from it. But just to encourage you to continue what you’re doing because is a small island, but as dem seh wi likkle but we tallawah (they say we are little, but we are strong and fearless). Everywhere you go you find Jamaicans and it is good that people can appreciate that. Jamaicans are always there and as I always say, is a very unique country because most of the people don’t live there. I appreciate when somebody like you can highlight where they are and what they are doing and their constant links with the island. In stepping down, goodbye in Swahili is, kwa heri.
Xavier: Kwa heri.
Lascelles: It’s really two words. Yeah.
Xavier: All right.
Lascelles: KWA HERI, is two words. Kwa Heri.
Xavier: Kwa heri.
Lascelles: Kwa is for and heri is like a blessing.
Lascelles: When Tanzanians are departing, they are really blessing you when they’re departing.
Xavier: Okay. I like that.
Lascelles: Kwa heri. Yeah,
Xavier: Butch, Kwa heri my friend.
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