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Published: March 10th 2011
I can’t believe it’s been almost a week since I’ve been in Tanzania already. The week has been filled with long days at the office, multiple dinner meetings, and tons of work trying to coordinate the big study I am doing this time on Fataki—older men who have sexual relationships with young girls and women.
The study is evaluating the effects of the Fataki campaign, which has been running in Tanzania for the past couple of years, that tells people to protect their loved ones from Fataki. Women are contracting HIV in much higher numbers here than men, and it is thought that Fataki relationships are to blame because women and girls in such relationships where they do not have as much power are not able to negotiate condom use. The campaign attempted to change the idea that Fataki relationships are to be coveted, and rather that they are dangerous. http://www.pepfar.gov/press/119789.htm
For the study, I am leading a nationwide survey of 2000 people and a large qualitative piece where we will interview young women, older men, and members of communities where HIV rates are highest. The study looks not only at whether people are now intervening with Fataki, but also how people feel about such relationships, their levels of sexual risk behaviors, and ideas about men and women’s roles when it comes to sex. This stuff is totally up my alley, so I am loving the project. It’s a huge thing to coordinate—we contracted out the survey to a local research organization with a staff of about 50 people, and the qualitative team is made up of 10 interviewers I will train next week. And then there’s the task of making sure quality of the data is up to par. But if everything goes as planned, the research will produce some amazing data that I will be analyzing over the next year or more.
Yesterday, on the way to the airport, my usual taxi driver asked me about my work for this trip. I explained the Fataki study, and he proceeded into a rant about women being Fataki as well. He told me how white women come to this country, fall in love with rastas (because they like their dreads), and basically keep the men at home while they work. I started to explain that a Fataki relationship is one where one person is being exploited to some extent and there is a great power imbalance which leads to risky sexual behavior, but he then bought a local Swahili newspaper equivalent to the National Inquirer from a guy selling it on the road and summarized the false stories about Gadaffi on the cover for me. Regardless, whenever I tell people I am here to study Fataki relationships, they become very interested and have an opinion about it or tell a story about one that they know.
Right now I am sitting over Lake Victoria in Mwanza, drinking “white tea” (tea with milk), enjoying the view, and trying to decompress from the week. I came here to see a friend I made on the plane last time I flew to Mwanza. She was going to come see me in Dar, but I figured it was an opportunity to escape the Dar heat for a weekend and actually enjoy Mwanza, rather than working the entire time. I am staying at a place called Malaika Beach Resort, which I think is owned by Indians because a majority of the menu at the restaurant is delicious Indian cuisine. I can see the water from my hotel room, walk along the beach at sunset, and will hopefully have time to take advantage of the infinity pool before I leave tomorrow. The only thing about Mwanza is the invasion of lake flies at night and the risk of malaria, but repellant and prophylaxis take care of that.
Last night a group of people took me clubbing on the local scene. There were guys from RTI that I had met the last time I was here doing malaria research, and several of their friends. First we went to one guy’s house, and they gave me some Amarula and we watched African MTV until it got late enough to hit the town. One of the guys was recovering from malaria, and the other had food poisoning recently, but we were out until 3am drinking all sorts of liquor watered down with tonic. First we went to a place called Club Lips that is at a new resort frequented by foreigners, but the crowd seemed to be mostly local. There were black lights everywhere, disco lights, and a lot of the music was 80s club music like PM Dawn and Madonna. My Tanzanian friends knew all the words. The men were usually the first to get up and dance, shaking it without a shred of self-consciousness.
We then went to a place called Club Stone around 1:30am, and it was packed. I was the only “mzungu” (white person) there, so I got a lot of looks, but it was a blast. That club played mostly Bongo Flava music, but then at the end they played some Congolese, and a couple of people I was with started dancing Congolese style, which is hard to describe other than to mention there’s a lot of fast shaking.
I had a really great night and got a chance to see the local party scene, which I love to do when I travel. I was so exhausted that I passed out in the back seat on the way back to the resort. But the constant desire for a nap today is totally worth it. Who knew such a wild night could happen in Mwanza, Tanzania? I guess it doesn’t matter where you are in the world; people love to have a good time. And the nice thing is, I feel totally safe here. People might look at me when I am in areas where mzungu are a rare occurrence, but I have never felt unsafe or threatened. That’s one of the things I love about this country—Tanzanians are very peaceful. And although they always run late (my friend was supposed to meet me 45 minutes ago), the “no hurry in Africa” is a nice break once you finally accept it.
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