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Published: September 22nd 2005
The last couple of days have been spent trying to get me "legitimized" in the eyes of the Tanzanian government. Although I have my visa, we were not able to get me a residency permit before I got here, which is something I'm supposed to have. Ali and Thomas discussed it, specifically the risk involved in just ignoring it, and finally decided it wasn't worth it. I agreed since I will have to renew my visa while I'm here and I figure when the time comes we will be busted. The hardest part has been that the authorities told Ali he had to go through a certain branch of the government -- the Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) -- because I'm a student. But as it turns out they only issue permits when you are here to do research. My entire summer was a comedy of errors as I tried to explain to COSTECH why it is impossible to write a research proposal when you're not actually doing research. The funniest thing is that I was finally "approved", which ends up meaning basically I can buy a permit for $300 US. Um, no thanks. Another source told me that I can apply for a residency permit directly as a student volunteer, so we decided to try to pursue that avenue.
So away went Ali and I to the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration in search of the correct forms and some reliable information. After a long walk through the crowded streets of the city centre we arrived at (presumably) the correct office only to find that half the population was already there. (Which is strange, because I could have sworn that three quarters of the population was on the streets we were trying to pass through, but whatever.) It seems the Tanzanian government in its infinite wisdom has decided that the good people of Tanzania all need new passports. The noise level and chaos inside that building were not to be described. But Ali bless his heart is not easily intimidated and he finally found someone who could answer our questions -- which they did, by sending us to another office. Riiiiight. I'm beginning to see why this wasn't all sorted out before I got here.
At the other office building, we were greeted with the exact same scene. However these folks were in fact in possession of the correct forms. There were several other documents that we would also have to submit, along with another set of passport sized photos. Which struck me as hysterically funny because this will be about the fifth set I've had done in pursuit of this elusive permit. Why not? This is the kind of thing that cracks me up being here, but that nobody here sees as funny at all. Of course, I know, because it's all relative. But it's one of the main reasons I'm glad to have this blog. You guys might not get the humour either, but at least I have somebody to tell it to.
So off we went to get my picture done, and of course the passport photo place was also packed, but surprisingly enough, air conditioned. I so didn't care how long we had to wait! But I guess it wasn't cool enough because when I sat down in front of the photographer he looked at me through his camera, did a double take and looked up at me, and said, oh, your face is very shiny. And proceeded to hand me a roll of toilet paper! Because of course, as always, I was pouring sweat. Too funny. Even Ali laughed. The photographer just looked kind of bewildered. Yeah, I know man. Welcome to my world. Hard to fathom, isn't it?
Anyhow, we collected all the relevant documents, which included a letter from FOGOTA, their articles of incorporation as an NGO, their certificate of registration, a copy of my passport, a description of my program, and proof that I am a student. All this to register as a student volunteer. Oh and of course it's all available to me for the low low price of $120 US. But I don't really mind because I think it's a legitimate fee and not just an attempt to wring money out of me.
So it's all been submitted but Ali has to phone tomorrow and make sure everything is okay. I'm keeping my fingers crossed but I'm not too worried because if there's one thing I know for certain it's that I'm not going back to COSTECH. So we will make this work somehow.
Today I am feeling quite a bit better than I was. My homesickness has lifted, thanks in large part to all the supportive feedback I got from you guys when I put it out there. The last couple of days I was nauseated and had a headache which I'm sure was from the heat but when I got up today all that had passed, which was a great relief. I had a productive day at placement which was really nice. And I am feeling so good about being here, especially as I'm hearing from my colleagues in other countries that are not so advanced in their treatment of women. Specifically the girls in India report that they are grabbed on a regular basis by men on the street. One has taken to carrying an umbrella with her so she has something to hit them with. And I am working with two of the kindest and most compassionate men I have ever met. Such a huge blessing. And in the office, Dorcas and Ali make a point of telling me, "Now we are three". Meaning I belong there and have a place there every bit as much as them. Who could possibly ask for anything more?
Walking through the streets of the city centre, in fact walking anywhere, one thing I am really struck by is the amount of garbage that is just lying around. Tons of litter everywhere you go, and sometimes household garbage or whatever just there by the side of the road. It really is incredibly dirty, in terms of litter and trash, in terms of pollution (the daladalas have huge plumes of black smoke that pour out of the back of them) and in terms of just regular dirt. Walking along I am often in two or three inches of a sandy dirt, even in the most built up areas of the city. My feet are constantly filthy and even my nightly shower doesn't get them clean. There is dust and grit in the air whenever the wind blows, in my hair and eyes and nose and throat. My clothes get filthy and I'm not really getting them clean. And then walking along today, I passed a public garbage bin, the first one I have seen since I got here, and on the side, without a trace of irony, it said "Keep Dar es Salaam clean". And that's one thing I love about this place, there is a funny sort of positive optimism in everything the people do.
As I get more comfortable here I am asking more questions about lifestyle. One thing I had to know...I often see women on the street carrying things on their heads -- big bundles of clothing or other things, huge buckets of water, sacks of rice or flour, just about anything you can imagine. I wondered, can all the women here do this? Can the women I work with do this? It strikes me as an incredible skill. I saw a little girl the other day, no more than two years old, and she had something in her hand and she kept putting it on her head and trying to walk with it. She would walk a couple of steps, it would fall off, she would stop to retrieve it, put it back up there, and continue on her way. It was one of the cutest and most touching things I have ever seen.
So I asked Dorcas about it and she said yes, she can do it, they can all do it. She said she would be hard pressed to find a woman in Tanzania who cannot walk and carry something on her head. She said often women do it with a baby strapped to their back as well. Then suddenly it seemed to hit her that I was asking, and she said, why, can't you? And she was really surprised. I said no, I can't and in fact I don't know anyone who can. We think it's an amazing and incredible skill. This cracked her up. She said only the women can do it, because part of the women's chores involved fetching water and other heavy things, and there was simply no other way to carry them. She was quite amazed to know that women in Canada don't do this.
Speaking of watching women in the street, I have really been noticing people's clothes lately. Walking down the street in Dar es Salaam you see all manner of clothing from completely western (rare, but it happens), to completely traditional, and every possible variation in between. Most women wear long skirts of some description, often covered with a kanga. The kanga is a piece of cloth, actually two pieces of cloth, that has a traditional African pattern on it and often a sort of proverb or saying. It is in Swahili always so I can't read them, but I have been told that they tell something about the personality of the wearer. For example a woman who is recently engaged might have a kanga that says something about marriage or weddings. People may profess their religious affiliations, or some piece of wisdom that has a particular meaning for them. The second half of the kanga, which is identical to the first, is used sometimes as a head wrap, or as a shawl over whatever top a woman is wearing, or to carry something, or most often, to tie a child to her back.
The men most often dress in a more western style, although I have seen so many men in traditional Masai (a well known Tanzanian tribe --you'll have to google it, I don't have enough time to find a link, sadly) garb, including various piercings, that I don't even stop to look anymore. Most men wear pants like we would but what is funny is their choice of shirt. I see tons of shirts that have English sayings on them and I have been wondering if the people who are wearing them know what they say. For example one day I saw a tshirt that said "Let the asskicking begin" and I thought, okay, there's no way he knows what that means. That is the kind of thing that cracks me up, but there's nobody around to understand and share the humour. One guy was in a shirt with a huge pattern of Christmas wreaths. But the funniest was one day a guy had on a shirt that said "Newmarket Fire Department" on it and in fact it looked exactly like a uniform shirt. I called him over to ask about it, but he had no idea what I was saying, and clearly no idea what his shirt said. I asked Ali about it and he said that many secondhand clothes from Europe and North America find their way here, and people just buy them because they like the colours or whatever, but no, they don't know what the English words mean. It keeps me thoroughly entertained, I have to say, and they're happy because they know they're stylin'. Too funny.
So somebody was asking me about safety here in terms of my adventure in Kariakoo where my bag was cut into. I ask regularly about the safety of anything I'm planning to undertake. What I am told, by Thomas and Ali and the sisters at the hostel, is that I shouldn't go out alone after dark but if I'm with someone else, Tanzanian or not, it's fine. I shouldn't go to Kariakoo by myself, more for the risk of theft than personal safety, but that is really the only place. I told Ali that on the weekends I like to walk around and get to know the city and that sometimes that will mean being alone, and he said that is fine. And trust me, if Ali says it's fine, it's fine. He is very protective of me and along with Thomas very concerned that I stay safe and healthy and that I am returned to Canada in the same condition they got me. So I trust that their advice is good. And of course I use my own common sense and gut instinct, so that if something doesn't feel good, I will leave. But so far that hasn't been a problem.
The Msimbazi Centre, where I am staying, is actually a big compound with several buildings that has a big stone wall topped with barbed wire around it. There is a gate with security guys who let all vehicles in or out, and in fact security guys patrol the grounds at night as well. As Thomas told me, safe, very safe. I read the paper and there is very little report of crime of any kind, which I realize doesn't mean it doesn't occur. But for the most part I am free to roam where I like, as long as I am in before dark. If I am somewhere specific, like a restaurant, and it gets dark while I'm inside, then I take a taxi home. And my guys are fine with that practice as well. Although Ali worries about my getting cheated. He is too funny. The day we went for the permit we were wedged onto a bus and it was so hot I thought I'd faint and he patted my arm and said, encouragingly, that it was a good experience for me. But today we left the office at the same time and he waited with me for my daladala and when I went to get on he said, no no, it's too crowded, and made me wait. I said, Ali, if I wait for a daladala that's not crowded I'll be here all night. You should see what I ride on to get here in the morning. But he insisted. He is a very sweet man. I feel very fortunate to be with these people.
So that is the news from this side of the world for now. This week I got a post card from the girls in India (Chizuru and Louise) and one from my friend Naomi. They totally made my day. I love snail mail, but I am really enjoying and appreciating the email as well. Take good care of yourselves and for God's sake don't forget your mosquito netting...oh wait, that's me. xxxxoooo
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