Travel Essays

Suggestion Box


This shot was captured in an abandoned train station in Moshi, Tanzania. A weathered wooden box, which once collected anonymous input now swings uselessly from a rusty anchor. A small, thought-provoking relic of a bygone colonial era. When I saw it, I imagined the human faces of foreign powers who descended one-by-one in please take a number fashion upon this corner of the world. Vying for resources, installing systems and casting steel, stone and tile symbols of what they believed life should be like in this place. This train station stands as a preserved example.

The suggestion box with parenthetical Swahili, a haunting and hollow attempt to consider those who actually reside here. Located just outside the station foreman’s office. I wondered, were there ever any suggestions placed into that box by the real residents of Moshi? If so, what might these suggestions have been?

A land constantly tormented by outside forces, would you like to leave a suggestion in the box? It seems in the very least insincere and more like utterly ridiculous. This land was once part of German East Africa, then under British mandate as Tanganyika and finally becoming the Republic of Tanzania. Don’t be fooled, outsiders still exert their influence, only now in less obvious and less official ways.

So this station now sits empty. As the warm, humid air blows, there are no sounds of the next train approaching or any sign of those scheduled to arrive today, tomorrow or any day ending in “day”.

It simply sits in silence.

The grass-covered tracks now a well-trodden walking path for the residents of Moshi.

Once the outsiders left, residents simply returned things to how they believed they should be. Why should you care for something that isn’t yours to begin with? They didn’t have a train before, they don’t need one now. But hey, thanks anyway for the walking path. You see, they use it now the way it works for them. And you foreign tourists, well you can use the bus.

Do bygone colonial activities in African nations keep me up at night? If we were sitting over coffee, I might like to convince you that my mind is constantly pondering such important and complex ideas. But as we are not enjoying each other’s company, I get to bring it all back to me. Remember, I am but a narcissist, reminded by this observation that there will always be a line of people willing to tell you how you should live your life. Which ideas should govern your thoughts, what should ignite your passions, whom you should love and most certainly whom you should hate.

They mean well enough. No true malice intended (well, maybe some of them), but it is just so easy to let them have all the influence. All in the name of keeping the peace. So much so that sometimes your life is transformed into a single-hinged suggestion box into which to place your own ideas, to be read and considered when the new foreman in charge has the time or inclination. Those who keep the outsiders where they belong – as visiting tourists – have the right idea. They know how to welcome the outsiders, make them comfortable, let them spend their money, enjoy a lovely chat and then send their happy asses home. These folks would never consider giving up the foreman’s office.

And neither will I.



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