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Published: March 13th 2011
It’s hot as hell in Dar, and I’ve been taking more showers than I can count. Yesterday I walked back from the local craft market and my shirt was completely soaked through with sweat. I finally broke down and hopped in a Bajaji, driven by a skinny guy wearing a Michael Jackson t-shirt. And when the electricity goes out, it’s especially lovely because so does the air conditioning in my room. I ordered a BLT for lunch today, which is basically toasted fat on bread, but there is a breeze going and I am listening to roosters, birds, and insects chirping. No wonder there’s “no hurry in Africa,” it’s too damn hot to move sometimes!
Last Sunday I enjoyed my last day in Mwanza (which was much cooler) hanging out at the pool at my hotel with local friends. They all claimed they were good swimmers, but drop them in the deep end and they suddenly panicked because they could not feel the bottom. So I had to play lifeguard a few times, swimming out to the middle to calm them down and help them to the side. There were even a few Indian men hanging out who were trying
to show off their swimming skills, but one of them was even worse than the Tanzanians, practically screaming because he was so scared. It’s a good thing I am a strong swimmer, because there’s no such thing as a lifeguard in these parts.
It was nice to sit by the pool and gaze at the enormous lake, watch the lizards scurry by, drink Kilimanjaro lager, give lessons on how to use my high-tech camera, and listen to the locals tease each other in Kiswahili. The guys were especially funny, and they are now known as my African men, while I am known as wetu mzungu (“our white person”). My pale skin indeed paid a price for the afternoon since I have been covered with lots of warm clothes the past few months, but it was nice to be in the sun again.
This week has been totally crazy. I spent countless hours training my quantitative and qualitative teams on how to effectively carry out the Fataki study so that we receive good data. The quantitative team was meeting on the roof of the Synovate building (our contracting survey agency), which was awfully hot. In the afternoons I would
go back to the Hopkins office, which was air-conditioned and much more comfortable. But time for food and refills on clean water have been a challenge this week, as everyone wants my time.
Like most research studies I’ve led in the developing world, this study has had a slew of issues before it even gets off the ground. The survey agency was a disorganized mess until they flew in a woman from Kenya with a lot of experience. On the qualitative side, I lost a couple of my researchers—one had malaria and was in the hospital, another had a root canal, and a third had two (yes, two) car accidents in one day.
But what has been most challenging is that I am learning that Kiswahili is very limited in its vocabulary. So if you want to ask, “Does your partner care about you?” and “Does your partner understand you?” it translates into the exact same thing. Much of the week has been spent debating how to ask a question in Kiswahili in a way that makes sense. No wonder so many people tell me the language is so simple—simple in that you can say one thing and it can have 5 different meanings.
Training field staff to interview Tanzanians about sex is a whole issue in itself. A few highlights of the questions I have received:
• “What if we encounter a woman who is menopause?” (My answer: Women who are menopausal have sex, too. Oh, the horror!)
• “By sex position do you mean different place in the house?” (My answer: No, I mean lying down, standing up, etc. But when we ask respondents about what makes them sexually satisfied, if they say having sex in the kitchen surrounded by food, that is okay too. <giggling>😉
• “Some people must have sex more than once per day, yes?” (My answer: Yes, I suppose, so if that is the case, select that they cannot go less than one day without having sex.)
• “In America, you have this Fataki problem?” (My answer: Yes, you have older men dating young women, but the problem here is that many women get HIV in these relationships.)
In preparation for my research, I have been reading a lot about multiple concurrent partners—having more than one sex partner at a given time (not like a threesome, but having a main partner and then someone on the side). Previous research and projects make it out like all Tanzanians have extra partners. But I wonder if it’s really that “all” of them do, or perhaps the ones that do are just more open about it. In the U.S., we know that 50% of partners cheat, but we tend to shun such behavior (although some young men that do this are considered heroes). We never like to approve of someone cheating, and if people do cheat, they rarely tell anyone about it. People almost live two lives, and generally it is socially unacceptable (although we all love the gossip when we hear about a cheater. Thus, the popularity of the show Cheaters.)
But here, it seems as if cheating is expected—men are expected to need more than one woman to satisfy them sexually, and women are expected to cheat if their man is not providing for them financially. Rather than it being stigmatized, it is almost socially acceptable (although people still get angry and jealous like they would anywhere else).
The more I learn about the issue, and the more I become friendly with locals, the more I think I don’t want to know the details. I’ve seen a couple of guys show up with their “other women”, and when having conversations with people about their spouses and children, I can’t help but wonder if they have plans to see the other partner tonight. And the few expats I know who have dated Tanzanians have also been victims of cheating partners. I almost think I prefer the more secretive approach, otherwise things always feel sort of dirty and messy. And rightly so, HIV is most commonly spread through multiple concurrent partners in this country. But on the other hand, if so many people in this country expect that their partner could potentially be cheating, why is condom use not more widespread?
Anyway, this week has made me feel uncomfortable in a lot of ways (aside from the heat) and has been pushing my own limits. I’m learning more about the sex work scene, cheating partners, and ways Tanzanians like to do it (like “frog style”). I’ve had to explain sexually explicit concepts to wide-eyed strangers. After working in Nepal where even discussing sex was taboo, or South Africa where the problem was more sexual violence and having sex while high, this has been a bit of an adjustment. I don’t know if I would classify Tanzanians as sexually liberated, but a few people have told me, if you give them a chance, Tanzanians will talk only about sex and alcohol. Let’s hope that means good data for my study.
Tot: 0.323s; Tpl: 0.017s; cc: 10; qc: 54; dbt: 0.0435s; 1; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb