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Published: June 21st 2011
My quest to experience Tanzania as Tanzanians live it has continued. The past week has been all about hanging out with locals. On Friday night, some colleagues took me to a local restaurant for chips na kuku (fries and chicken) and Tanzanian beer. We then went to a place called Bilikana, which is a fancy (by Tanzanian standards) dance club that got packed wall to wall by 1am. We danced until 3am, when I thought I would pass out from exhaustion. But it was such a fun night! And it was nice to bond with my colleagues, with whom I communicate every day but only see every few months. And it was especially sweet when I was told that they would love to have me here full time because I have done so much for the research part of their programs. “We are proud of you, Michelle.” My heart melted.
Saturday I flew to Mwanza to prepare for part 2 of the questionnaire training. I have made a small group of friends here, thanks to a project that brought me here during my first trip to the country. Saturday night I did the whole party thing again. This time to
I ordered tilapia filet, but it's rare that your order actually comes back correctly.
a place I had been to before—Club Lips. Last time the DJ played oldie American dance tunes, but this time it was mostly bongo flava hip hop, Congolese music, and some South African dance songs, to which I learned the dance steps. I love the way African men just get up and dance, not stand on the perimeter of the club, creepily eyeing women they’d like to fuck. They dance like no one’s watching, and they have a blast. They even dance in groups with each other. And they definitely know how to move! This time we danced until 4am. And by the end I was drenched in sweat and my legs were hurting.
Sunday the party continued. My friends took me to the beach in the evening. It was totally inhabited by locals, and for good reason—the sun setting over the lake was beautiful. Kids were playing in the sand, lovers were snuggling on the grass, and a group of men were sitting in a line at the perimeter of the property chewing on some plant that is supposed to give you a bit of a high. My crew and I drank beer, teased each other, and took photos to document the fun. We then piled into my rented vehicle (7 people total) to go to a sizzler restaurant for chips kuku. Another late night, although this time I was in bed by midnight. But for a Sunday night it was rough. Tanzanians truly know how to live life to the fullest!
Back to my rented vehicle—somehow I thought it would be a good idea to rent a car so that I could come and go as I please without having to find a taxi all the time, especially because Mwanza is such a small city (compared to cities in the developed world). I thought it would be a good time to learn to drive on the left side of the road with the driver seat on the right side of the car. This is all true, and the vehicle has actually come in handy since there has been no electricity where the training is taking place and I’ve been hanging out at a friend’s office in town when I need to charge my laptop. And it was so easy to rent a car—a man met me at the airport with a Toyota “saloon car”, as they call it, and he just gave me the keys. Didn’t check for an ID or a license or anything.
But driving here is CRAZY! First, only the main roads are paved. The others are not just dirt roads, they are dirt roads covered with lots of rocks. Children are running everywhere, adults walk where they please, daladalas (public transport mini-buses) disregard traffic laws, and various animals (ducks, goats, cows, chicken, dogs) stroll across the road at will. There are men riding bikes with bags of apples strapped to the seat, women carrying large containers on their heads, men selling whatever they can find on the side of the road, and today I saw three men pushing a cart full of huge bunches of bananas.
Every time I’m in the car, inevitably people give me funny looks, wondering why the white woman is driving herself through the neighborhoods in Mwanza. I especially love when kids stop and stare. The other day I went to visit some friends’ house and there were a bunch of small children playing outside. When I pulled up, they shyly said, “Shikamoo!” which is a respectful greeting for an elder. I started to speak to them a little in Kiswahili, and we could still hear them giggling as we went into the house.
The training is going well. We completed the one in Dar last week. The one in Mwanza is 3 days, then they will do one in Mbeya when I leave. It’s conducted in Kiswahili by the research organization we contracted to run the survey, but I sit in during most of it to answer any questions and to give explanations of anything from proper condom use to anal sex, to IUDs, to oral rehydration therapy. They go through all 180 items in the survey to make sure each interviewer knows what it is asking before they start to practice the survey amongst themselves.
This survey is different from the others I have done in Tanzania because there is a lot on sexual violence. Our latest project is supposed to weave gender issue throughout, so we need to know how sexual relationship power, sexual violence, and sexual risk behavior are all connected. Tanzania has laws against rape, but marital rape is a foreign concept, and sexual coercion is actually accepted as part of the sexual game in some regions, particularly Mara and Iringa. A couple of my colleagues tried to explain this to me one day, saying that women in these cultures will always pretend they do not want sex so as not to seem easy. So they always say no. Even prostitutes will negotiate their fees at a bar, but once you get them into a room in a guest house, they will say no. But then how do men know the difference between a no as part of the game and an actual no? Frankly, I felt nauseous during the conversation. And, this will be a real challenge for the survey, so we’ll see how the data shakes out.
Explaining why I want to ask people about anal sex has also been a challenge. “You want to know about special sex between two men??” Yes, I explain, because that is the riskiest kind. I also want to know how many women are forced into anal sex. Women with big assess are the most coveted here, often because a man wants to have anal sex. As one colleague explained it to me, women’s vaginas become lose after having babies, so men like the tightness of anal sex. Add to that the practice of multiple concurrent partners, and it’s no wonder women have HIV at higher rates than men. My colleague also told me that a woman can file for divorce if she can prove her husband is forcing her to have anal sex. “Prove” is the key word there.
Regardless, this survey has been a learning experience for everyone involved. I’m learning new terms (“romance” is what they call oral sex), and they are learning the difference between giving and receiving oral and anal sex. It’s a bit of a challenge because on the one hand, Tanzanians are so open about multiple partners, which has its roots in polygamous Bantu culture. But on the other hand, they do not want to talk about the type of acts that they do. Ask them how many partners and they tell you right away. Ask if they’ve had anal sex in the past year and some become angry that you would even inquire about such a thing. But I look at this whole trip as my own little sexual risk intervention—so far I’ve trained about 75 people on proper male and female condom use, HIV, and sexual violence as part of the preparation for the survey. That in itself is what I would call a productive trip.
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