After Dan was stuffed and was thinking about slipping out, the reporter asked if Dan would go with him to pick up their fee. What fee? Oh, just the two hundred yuan for their attendance, what they call “money for your troubles”: submit your business card and the host will pay you two hundred yuan for the article you might write about the meeting. Dan gulped the air: two hundred: that’s several times a reserve worker’s monthly salary, plus a meal fit for a king. And all it takes is a business card!
Crooked businessmen and bent journalists moving in a city that is in flux;, a world where you can’t remain uncorrupted, but can always reinvent yourself. Not Dar es Salaam, but the Beijing evoked by Geling Yan in The Uninvited, her 2006 novel that a friend recently picked up in town.
Our hero is a “banquet bug”: a faux journalist who attends press launches to enjoy the free – and usually splendid – lunch and pick up the brown envelope provided “for your troubles”. The parallels with certain practices in the business and media worlds here in Dar are obvious. And nobody’s whiter than white: I was a banquet bug myself once in Hong Kong. Yan nicely catches the bare necessity behind the practice and also the gnawing fearof disclosure.
In the book world, we’ve yet to find our Geling Yan in Tanzania. Eric Shigongo’s tabloid serials, sometimes released in book form, capture the fluidity of relationships and the vagaries of power. But his style is flat and to my mind not too compelling. Even an episode of “President Gabriel” raping one of his guests in the bathroom of State House didn’t quite put The President Loves My Wife (Rais Anampenda Mke Wangu) in the “unputdownable” class, for this reader at least.