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Published: June 14th 2011
Oh East Africa! What did I do without you and Swahili culture all of these years? Today I felt like a local rather than a mzungu on the peninsula. I had chips mayai for lunch (French fries fried with eggs into a pancake sort of thing) and spent all day at our survey contractor’s office (run exclusively by locals) to supervise a training (in Kiswahili). I spent most of the evening hanging out with a friend in his video shop in a locals’ neighborhood called Sinza, drinking coke and talking about the differences (and similarities) between Americans and Tanzanians. “Tanzanians want da cash money!” he kept telling me, including Tanzanian women, whom he claimed will tell you that you have a nice face to get with you, but once you are “broken” (broke), she will up and leave. Speaking of da cash money, I got hosed by the taxi driver on the way home, thanks to my nice mzungu face. At least I got to practice my Kiswahili with him.
This is my third trip to Tanzania, and now that I know my way around and ninongea Kiswahili kidogo (I speak a little Swahili), I can focus more on learning how Tanzanians think rather than surviving day to day in a foreign land. I’ve been here a little less than a week, and already I have had conversations about monogamy and polygyny, what Tanzanian men and women want in relationships, sexual violence, male circumcision, anal sex, and reasons for having large families. It's amazing the scope of conversations my research will produce. I’ve had debates about the voluntary vs. involuntary nature of homosexuality, learned about what makes a Tanzanian attractive to the opposite sex, and tried to explain to a room full of budding researchers about the different levels of sexual violence.
I even had a Maasai warrior that guards my hotel ask for my number. And yes, he has a mobile.
The goal of this trip is to get a baseline survey up and running in 16 regions across the country, with a sample of 4000 people. It's a huge project that I have been working on for months, but it feels great to finally see it come to fruition.
East Africa is unlike South Asia, where every day living there I saw something happen where I thought, “What the fuck is happening, and where the fuck am I?!” East Africa is calmer, more laid back, more “fresh” as the young guys like to say. I love it! And I think my love for it is coming through in my work, because I’ve been devoting all of my time to it over the past few months, including Swahili lessons, time spent listening to bongo flava music, and searching for East African literature. My superiors have noticed this and are pleased, as I was asked to relocate here for my job. A tempting offer with the beach right here, the laid back lifestyle, the warm weather, and the tax benefits. But not feasible right now. And I don’t know if Ken is ready for Africa beyond a safari and diving in Zanzibar. But, I will be on these projects (and new grants we anticipate) for the next 5+ years, so I will see plenty of east Africa in my future.
One thing I’m not sure of yet is the women here. I am so used to research on women done by women in the other countries I’ve worked, that I generally learn more about them than the men. But here it is the men I work with most of the time. They make up the majority of my staff, they serve my meals, they drive me around, and they come up and speak to me in English. Women seem very shy and hesitant, unless you are dealing with a very well educated, successful woman. But so far there are few of those with whom I have come into contact (and I think generally they are few and far between). I’ve even tried to talk to the housekeepers at my hotel, but their English is limited and my Swahili is even more non-existent.
I went to a party on Sunday night with a bunch of other foreigners. I ended up talking to a guy from DFID about why the foreigners here are so segregated from the locals, as compared to places like Kempala. He thinks it is because the Tanzanians appreciate foreign aid but at the same time don’t feel they need it. He said they seem to like having us all in one place away from the rest of the society where they can sort of keep an eye on us. I, on the other hand, don’t really see a lot of effort on the part of foreigners to mix with the locals, at least in my limited time here.
I did see a nice mix of people at what was to be the Hugh Masekela concert this past Saturday night. There were many well-dressed, sophisticated Tanzanians and plenty of foreigners drinking Ndovu and Kilimanjaro lager, waiting for the founder of Afro-jazz to make a very much-anticipated appearance. It was a beautiful setting—a white tent with twinkling white lights lining the ceiling sitting on a cliff overlooking the beach. But 2 hours after the start time, the production company representative came on stage to tell us that a contract could not be agreed on (even though they had been working on it up until the last minute), and Masekela would not be performing. Very disappointing, but TIA (this is Africa).
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