Post-trek Contemplations

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Disclaimer: Just to warn you in advance, this piece is ridiculously, but intentionally, long. I felt I needed to purge and expel some of the thoughts that have been welling up for, well, years. I understand that few of you will be able to stick with me as I meander through my thoughts, but I promise if you do, the content of this composition will prove relevant and connected. Now before we move on I also feel strongly compelled to note that the grit I end up getting to only signifies my own experience and strife. My intention is not to criticize or argue what others should do. I recognize that what is right for me is not necessarily right for someone else; I am simply sharing my personal progression of understanding and ask that you bear in mind I am not suggesting you should think in the same manner but rather question whether or not you happen to relate to or agree with such sentiments.

Shortly after rising from my slumber, I received a call from an indistinct number (a common occurrence during my time in Tanzania –pronounced locally as Tan­­–zAAHn–ia). I immediately recognized the voice but no face came to mind. After exchanging many of the typical pleasantries used before getting down to business, I inquired as to whom I was speaking with and learned it was the young tour guide from my hiking trek a few days earlier. We casually chatted for a bit; I asked him what he had been up to since we had last seen one another, at which point I became aware he hadn’t had any other clients since our tour… four days prior. In light of the fact that I spent five hours hiking with him, I had learned he’d been working as a voluntary guide for the past 9 months in the hopes of gaining a position in the park, relying solely on tips as a source of income, and hence, this news was entirely disheartening for me to hear. Nevertheless, I was happy to have heard from him, we wished one another well and that was the last time we spoke.

Days later though I couldn’t shake this lingering feeling of unease, a strong feeling I still possess as I have returned “home” and left behind the life I had lived, the people I met and the culture I had grown accustomed to for half a year. Discomfort and dismay has followed me as I wait in this familiar yet unfamiliar place and try to understand and come to terms with what I was blessed enough to gain some insight into. So I do what I have learned I need, taking time to contemplate and grapple with the disparity I felt and am persistently feeling between here and there.

During our hike I learned my tour guide friend had moved away from his home and his family in Kilimanjaro to pursue a college certificate in tourism management, explaining it was his best chance to earn money to send back to support his family and contribute to his two younger siblings’ education. He waits, hoping the opportunity for a stable, non-voluntary position will one day be granted to him. In the meantime, he does his best to line up tours despite their uncertainty and relies on tourists’ judgments of how much to tip after they’ve already dished out sizable amounts for entrance fees, flights, tour companies, meals, accommodations and transport, leaving him dependent on the margins of their uninformed generosity or stinginess.

It is this position I found myself in, albeit I was more fortunate than the average client as I was touring by myself and hence had the opportunity to hear him share part of his life’s story with me and become aware of the grave and tense circumstance I found myself in.

Even trying to make sense of it now is upsetting. I cannot begin to wrap my head around all the facets at play in this situation where he is reliant on the uncertain influx of tourists and their tipping discretion- colonialism, post-colonialism, systems of inequality, privilege, ignorance….

All the more confusing is that the circumstance represents a dichotomy for me, and is intrinsically parallel to the turmoil I have felt for years, the turmoil I think many of us, at one level or another, sense and feel each day when we face the interconnected mess and disparity that has enfolded and continues to enfold before us.

On the one hand I am utterly ashamed of even being in such a position of power and prestige in the first place– I don’t want it and I don’t deserve it.

I have done nothing to earn this fortune, this luck. Why is that I hold this position over him and he doesn’t hold it over me?

To be put in a position of judging how much to tip someone who has been so undeservingly limited, denied opportunities and faces such complex and deeply rooted systemic inequality. How do you be generous? How do you gauge what is right and fair? Any amount seems too small, especially when I think of the fact that the wealth I don’t deserve but have been fortunate enough to acquire has only been possible due to the exploitative systems of inequality that I benefit from. I have lived in such a position of advantage, with easy and abundant access to opportunities compared to my new friend of such noble character who, like so many others, has been placed in a position of disadvantage and inhibited from grasping his longings to actualize his potential and improve his family’s lot.

I’ve never had to worry about helping to pay for my siblings’ well-being with unstable tip money from foreigners.

I hate having found myself in this position.

I can’t handle it.

I feel he is far more deserving than I of everything I have, of everything I have ever had. I want to give it all to him. He is way stronger than I have ever been, way more gracious, far more passionate and has a curiously bright mind. I learned much about him in our five hours together. I have grown so fond of him, I’ve grown to admire him so. I bear witness to his raw potential; he is hungry to learn, he is smart and disciplined- he has learned to speak English in two years at a level where I had assumed he had been speaking for at least for the past seven. He has such a singularly valuable perspective to offer.

As we sat on the ledge of the waterfall’s second tier, overlooking the vast African landscape of sugar cane; maize fields and winding light brown roads against the lush mountainous backdrop, stretching farther than I knew possible, he asked if Canada hosts the same animals that I had seen on my Safari the day before. I explained only in zoos and showed him pictures of moose, beavers, elk. He gazed at the pictures for long stretches, meticulously reading the descriptions and information of each one. He then promptly put forward the notion of bringing North American animals to form a zoo in his country. Such a picture had never crossed my mind before. Some time ago I developed an uneasiness towards the concept of zoos but his statement made me better understand the ludicrous and absurd misappropriation and looting of animals- relocating creatures to a nonnative continent, climate and unnatural alien environment.

He gave me much to think about in the time we spent talking and trekking. He was extremely knowledgeable about the region’s local species of plants and trees; he was extremely insightful and hopeful. I genuinely appreciate meeting him and learning from him.

In spite of my feelings of undeserving ashamedness, I also find myself utterly relieved to be this position of power as opposed to the alternative of my life being defined by limitation and obstacle. I know I must come to terms with it and remind myself to respond with gratitude, to not fail to be grateful for the privilege I have been unduly granted.

But I also know that a response of gratefulness is not enough. It is lacking. A further response is desperately necessary to begin to reconcile this deep tension.

So now, we are back to the quandary. How much to tip?

How am I to measure this privilege of meeting him, hearing his story, learning from him, getting to see the diverse species of this majestic country. How can this be measured?

What is the appropriate response to this relationship of utter inequality. Can we trade? Can I transfer my privilege, my resources, my unlimited access to opportunities to him? Can I take his place; relieve his burden even, if only for a little?

Nothing I can think of even comes close to what I imagine to be fair. He wants to go back to school to upgrade his certificate to a diploma; he wants to learn German, he wants the very best possible for his family. He is only 23. I don’t deserve any of it and he would go farther than I ever could.

But I can’t take his place. I can’t rectify the injustices he and I were born into through this brief encounter, in this short circumstance. If only I had that kind of power.

So I find myself where I have been time and time again- questioning what I can do, questioning if I am able to play a part in diminishing this tension that eats away at me day by day, if I am able to play even a minor role in reconciling just one of the unbalanced conditions I have benefitted from.

It’s an overwhelming place to be in- a place admittedly characterized, at times, by manic uncontrollable convulsive weeping. It’s exhausting and excruciating to allow yourself to linger in the unsettling. I have often collapsed under the weight, felt defeated, useless, have given into the notion that it’s all just a hopeless cause.

It is easy to choose to live in ignorance, to choose indifference. It is easy to disengage, to live detached. It is easy to choose comfort, safety, security, to surround myself with only that which I already know, that which I have always known.

But it’s also boring, mundane, lacking to not push myself, to not give of myself.

“Life without sacrifice is abomination” – Annie Dillard

I believe choosing hope, choosing to try, is better than doing nothing.

I can no longer choose the easy. I can no longer handle extravagance. Since my return, I feel an immense weight, I feel so heavy. I feel surrounded by so much that doesn’t matter, so much emphasized and convoluted meaninglessness. So many unnecessary complications that detract from the simple truths and meanings of life.

So what can I choose to do?

I could recommend him as a guide to others, I can hope he will get a stable position, I can give him a tip all the while knowing no amount is sufficient. I can write about it.

But it’s not enough.

I don’t know if anything I do will ever be enough. But I think being aware, reflecting, asking questions, getting to know others, hearing their perspective, allowing them to change the way you see things, sharing these views with others, I think that is the first step.

I think what I want more than anything, truly and deeply, is to see that others are granted the same opportunities I have been.

Those, like my guide and many others I had the fortune of knowing during my time in Tanzania, they long for opportunities to learn, to improve conditions for their families, they are diligent and passionate, they make selfless sacrifices for their loved ones every day. They have so much potential and so much to offer, if only allotted the chance to thrive.

And that is what I want to choose to be a part of, to be a part of something that works to expand opportunities and access for others. It is going to take time, effort and many sacrifices and after all that I may not even contribute anything of worth, but at least I will have tried, and know that I chose to try.

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If any of you ever find yourselves planning a trip to Udzungwa National Park, do let me know as I have his number and he is such a dear.

Lists & Paradoxes

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The charming cemetery I will dearly miss passing everyday on my way to work

Any of you who know me are aware of my borderline insane list-making tendencies. And seeing as I haven’t sat down to write anything for quite some times now, largely due to the fact that I have been subconsciously avoiding the inevitable truth that my time here is running out extremely quickly (< 3 ½ weeks left), I figured the best way to begin wrapping things up would be to share my thoughts and some lists with you.

Naturally, despite the attempt to mentally prepare myself for the upcoming departure date, I have been experiencing a range of feelings that I’m sure many of you can relate to when facing the end of a chapter and uncertainty of the next.

I continue to feel utterly blessed and thankful to have been granted the opportunity to live and work here for half a year’s time. It has truly been beyond anything I could have imagined for myself.

I’ve learned and had the fortune of experiencing a plethora of things, to name a few:

  • Seeing chameleons, preying mantis, crocodiles, monkeys, mice, bats, giant tortoises and holding a bush baby (I had no idea what a bush baby was at the time-so if you are in the same boat refer to the photo below)
  • Learning how to use my spare time well- multi-tasking and building edifying habits (managed to successfully reach my goal of planking for 5 mins while catching up on all seasons of Game of Thrones)
  • Getting a ride from and chatting with the FIRST female UBER driver in Tanzania! (Don’t think I’ve ever felt more empowered)
  • Playing football (soccer… well actually American football too) on a sandbank island before watching it disappear
  • Gaining a better understanding on the inner workings of local NGOs, development strategies, the informal sector and gender equality
  • Seeing an Albino Awareness Day march overtake a main street
  • Hiking up to the most stunning vast view at the Irente lookout point
  • Experiencing the wonder that is Zanzibar
  • Visiting historic sites (such as the oldest church in Eastern Africa and one of the world’s last open slave markets)
  • Learning about the East African Slave trade, colonial history and local social, cultural and political processes
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Bush Baby also known as a Galago

Along with overwhelming feelings of gratitude, I am also feeling extremely anxious. Anxious to be see my family who I have missed so dearly- to squeeze my lil blond angel rascal nephew who has grown so much while I’ve been away, to finally see my sister’s new tattoos in person, to hug my lil mama, to hear the way my dad’s voice changes when he plays with his grandson, to see my eldest sister’s radiant smile. Okay okay, so as I am typing this I am actually tearing up. I am really, truly and deeply eager to be reunited with my family but I am gonna miss my time here a whole awful lot.

Mostly for my own sake, but what I hope will also simultaneously serve as amusing for you, here follows a register of what I will and will not miss after I depart from this place.

I will greatly miss:

  • Naturally learning new Swahili words everyday and the motivation to learn by being surrounded by people who speak a different language
  • Daily patterns I’ve grown accustomed to- the many friendly faces I greet and exchange pleasantries with everyday, hearing the kids playing football on the street out front ever sunday, joking around with my dear and lovely coworkers, studying my homemade Swahili flashcards on the daladala ride to work
  • Having top-notch Indian food delivered for dinner by bicycle courier
  • Oceanside views and seaside ventures
  • Actually affordable cellphone packages (why Canada, why!)
  • The constant amusement from the ever-changing, novel nature of this bustling place- hectic and always developing, there is always something new to see and learn
  • Falling asleep to the sound of jingling coins
  • The endless number of greetings people give to one another- it really takes Canada’s polite and friendly reputation to  a whole new level here
  • The bright sunlight which greatly enhances my mood, temperament and motivation level
  • Obviously Stoney Tangawizi (the best ginger pop)
  • The ease of meeting and engaging with new people here- not looking forward to the individualistic and closed-off nature commonly harbored back home

I will not miss:

  • The tedious task of tucking in my mosquito net every night
  • Hectic, ‘too many close calls’, teeth-clenching traffic
  • Stiff hand-washed clothes that never really manage to come clean
  • Insects- although the bug situation has not been nearly as bad as I anticipated, I will not miss the sizable cockroaches, bafflingly endless ant infestations or the pesky mosquito
  • Unsafe tap water – really looking forward to no longer showering with earplugs in (the length I resorted to to avoid getting yet another ear infection)

Evidently, the good has far outweighed the trivial downsides of being here, and I really hope to return. Seeing as Kiswahili has completely overtaken the progress I once made in Spanish and that, to my own surprise, I have actually managed to have some conversations in Swahili, I am very interested in exploring opportunities to come back and further develop my understanding of the language. (So if you are reading this and by chance have any connections or ideas for opportunities in Eastern Africa- particularly Kenya or Tanzania, please do let me know!)

For now, I find myself at the same place as I have time and time again- a place of equally hopeful and frightening uncertainty towards my next chapter. But I am getting used to constantly being in a state of paradox and I am recognizing that it is good place to be. So I will continue to do my best, enduring the dichotomy of dreading leaving while being eager to return, feeling distressed and at peace towards times to come.

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As Requested: A post on Dance

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One of the hasty and slightly imprudent things I promised to do during my fundraising campaign was to allow donors to choose any blog topic for me to write on. And so in honor of my lifelong friend Kristin Gee, I will be tackling the subject matter of DANCE. First off, I truly hope the irony of me writing on this topic is not lost on you but for those of you who are unaware of this irony, I have long claimed that I hate dancing and that I plain and simply DON’T dance.

Unlike most of you normal people out there, I just don’t find it fun. The few times I have attempted to fit in and pretend I am not an anomaly, I felt exceedingly uncomfortable and awkward, and hence resorted to refusing to dance. I get a lot of flack for it but I’d rather put up with people giving me puzzled, condescending looks than the unnerving, unnatural feeling I experience when I try to move my gangly body- I never know what to do with my lanky arms, always just end up feeling like one of those crazy flailing inflatable tube men you see at the car dealerships.

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My dance inspiration- whether on national Tanzanian television or by herself on a beach, my dear roomie typifies the most prime, casual, carefree dance style

I am certain my somewhat repressed upbringing is a major contributing factor to my uneasiness towards dancing; other factors include past personal struggles with insecurity, fear of trying new things and timidity. And while I continue to personally refrain from part taking in dance-for the most part…. but we will get to that later…- I do enjoy watching and appreciate the skill, form and diversity of what I will refer to as the higher forms of dance- the singularly distinctive, mastered and culturally rich varieties in contrast to less-skilled forms. And over the past four and half months, as an aside-I am finding it utterly daunting that I only have another month and half left here, I have come into close contact with both of these forms.

In reference to the lesser form, I have been trying to push myself to embrace the big city social lifestyle, going out more than I am accustomed to back home, and therefore finding myself encountering situations where dancing is the expected normal thing to do. For the most part I have carried on in my standard disposition, avoiding any sort of engagement in the dancing activities; however, truth be told and as some of you will be either quite shocked and/or pleased to hear, there have been some moments during my time here where I have actually danced… just a tad. The first time accorded with my first African church service experience where everyone was dancing and it would have been far more awkward, not to mention discourteous, to be the only one not dancing. I will even admit that it was pretty fun, but can only say that because it wasn’t too unnerving to stay in my row and just copy the worship leaders’ moves like the rest of the congregation. It’s when I am in a crowd of dancing people with no sequence that I just can’t handle it. That being said, I have been caught in such situations on multiple occasions now where I have decided it would be far more awkward to stand there and do nothing than to attempt to move a little and please my companions. Oh and also that time when I foolishly promised that I would only dance if Lil’ Wayne came on….which I thought was a pretty safe bet considering the venue had been playing a lot of electropop, but then Got Money came on, thankfully though only for about 30 seconds, and because I keep my promises… I danced for those 30 seconds.

So maybe, just maybe these occasions have caused me to start warming up to the idea of slowly and gradually transitioning myself into dancing. I still have not ventured far enough as to engage with any outsiders, which proved extremely beneficial when a guy last weekend tried to dance with me in order to steal my phone – little did he know my oddity- and hence my phone was safe unlike three others in my group who had their belongings nabbed while dancing the night away. And I regret to inform you that none of these moments were caught on camera, or be rest assured, I would have included for you documented proof of me attempting to dance.

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Dance is a major part of Tanzanian culture and tradition. Numerous times a week there will be street corner preachers with these massive and incredibly loud speakers blasting music and there will be a crowd of folks just dancing joyously away at 9 am. And the other week our dear friend, who is a Muslim Tanzanian we see nearly everyday as he has a operates a small business on our street, came out with us and danced ALL night long- I have never before witnessed anyone work up that much of a sweat from dancing- he danced so much, so hard, for hours on end- he loves to dance. He was really, really good and I immensely enjoyed seeing him teach my roommates some new dance moves.

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And in regards to the higher form, I got to see an incredibly talented local performance group use music and dance to draw in a 500+ person crowd in one of the markets my organization was conducting an anti-GBV campaign. I’ve attended a handful of concerts where local artists and dancers on stage were throwing their bodies around, booty shaking, popping & locking, hair whipping and contorting in ways I wasn’t even aware was possible- the manner in which girls here are capable of moving their hips and booties is entirely baffling! These, among other showcases, have grown my appreciation of dance and maybe even possibly a bit of personal intrigue.

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P.S. Kristin, I’m not sure if this turned out along the lines you were expecting but I must say I had a lot of fun writing it. As you are well aware, I don’t know how to be anything but honest and I figured you would enjoy my dance confessions, sarcasm and discourse surrounding this topic I used to fear so much. Love and miss you dearly!

Five Days of Confinement

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This week I am participating the Global Solidarity Challenge- where I will be attempting to raise awareness of and relate to the poor working conditions informal sector women endure.

Over the past four months, I have seen the bulk of the populace here that makes up the informal sector, which accounts for over 93% of Tanzania’s working population (UNIDO, 2013), exemplify the definition of toil- to work extremely and incessantly hard. Everyday in this bustling city people are busy selling tirelessly and continuously. Whether sitting on a bucket for 10 hours in the market vending vegetables, weaving in and out of traffic with a hefty basket of drinks for potentially thirsty commuters, setting up a small tarp on the sidewalk selling a pile of used shoes, or manning a 30 cent/orange cart, the people that make up this country’s prevalent informal economy are utterly unremitting and resilient. Repetitive, tedious labour for long hours each day, with steep competition and low profits commonly characterizes the unstable work that is the informal sector.

The majority of workers here toil on the streets and in markets under conditions of:

• tight confined crowded spaces (sellers often sit on a bucket or the ground or stand all)

• incessantly gritty, sandy, dusty air

• prevailing scattered trash and questionable filth that bring intensified odors with the heat of the day

• lack of sanitation, water and washroom facilities

• increased health and safety risks

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I will be spending this week working on the ground in a small confined little room at my office that is used for storage and washing dishes at a small sink station. I usually work in a large spacious office with a nice comfortable chair, two desks and a ceiling fan to provide relief from the mid-day heat. But for the next five workdays, in solidarity with my market women sisters, I will be attempting to share in and relate to the poor working conditions they repeatedly endure.

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I just want to stress that the discomfort I will experience during this week, and the bruised bottom I will inevitably develop, only represents identifying with these courageous women to a slight degree, as I know that in addition to these poor working conditions they also regularly face multiple forms of abuse, violence and exploitation in the marketplace.

I recognize I am beyond immensely blessed, privileged and favored to not wake up knowing I have no other choice than to work 10 hours under deplorable, unsafe conditions where I am also harassed, incredulously underpaid and at an increased risk of being raped.

I hope that this week you will share with me in contemplating on this global issue of gender inequality and realizing just how fortunate we are to have the choice and opportunities to work in safe conditions.

So, as I sit here on the tile ground writing this, my behind is already incredibly sore and I just noticed a swarm of ants encroaching nearby… this is going to be a fun week! If you would like to help me reach my goal and support me in this challenge I defer you here: http://solidarity.videa.ca/participantpage.asp?fundid=1845&uid=3397&role=1

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Senseless and Seemingly Ceaseless Conditions of Informal Sector Markets

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Last week I was editing a report that included an account from a market I pass by everyday on my way to work, a market I have visited a number times. A girl working there had been gang raped by a group of male traders. A market leader brought her case and the offenders to the local Police, where they were immediately released. Considering I was reading this account under the ‘Success Story’ section, you can imagine the abrupt shock I experienced when I realized that was the end of the story. Sitting alone in my office I reacted, admittedly quite vocally, out of disbelief, vexation and horror.

Nearly every workday I read, write and/or edit reports that outline the hoard of issues, struggles and barriers female market traders face and hence, I responded to this story with extreme indignation. I began to link all accounts I had read, all the stories I had heard of mistreatment and all the times I had seen firsthand women be eye-raped, grabbed and marginalized by men during my time here. I asked how is it that men can continue to do whatever they want to women without facing any consequences? How is that women and girls are not only put in such positions of utter powerlessness, but then also deprived of their right for justice.

While these are important questions, I think it’s imperative to recognize they are also very broad. Being that I basically have a degree in how fucked up things are (sorry mom), I know far too well how easy it is to get stuck in the frustrating standpoint of asking broad questions that view these issues as entirely prevalent and relentless.

So why was the account deemed a success story? While “success” is beyond a stretch and while it remains obscene that these men were not held accountable for their actions, when one considers that real sustainable change is a gradual, grinding process, the fact that this market girl’s case was brought forward at all does represent a twofold successful shift towards improved conditions.

Foremost, what we need to understand is that when Equality for Growth (EfG) first began looking into the circumstances of local markets back in 2009, their studies revealed physical, sexual, verbal and economic abuses were commonplace and not being reported. Violence Against Women (VAW) was largely accepted and normalized behavior, market leadership failed to recognize and protect women’s rights and market traders were alarmingly unaware of their rights to not be abused and exploited. In response, EfG has been working within markets to increase awareness of rights, change policies, increase women representation and work with market leaders on addressing VAW.

Whereas previously an incident such as this would have gone undisclosed by the victim, the girl chose to report the crime. And secondly, whereas market committees and leaders were ignoring women’s rights, the market leader recognized the offence and brought her case forward.

My point in sharing this story is not only that it profoundly struck me, but also that it relates such much to my experience grappling with what true “development” looks like.

If I learned anything at all, it is that there are no easy fast band-aid solutions. It is no secret that I share with many others, a critical outlook on the shortcomings and failures of the development sector- a lot has been done wrong, a lot is still being done wrong.

My experience trying to come to terms with development has been wreaked with low points of frustration, cynicism and hopelessness as it is easy to become overburden by the endlessly-emerging, complex, abundant issues that can be found at all levels. Just when one facet begins to improve, another obstacle emerges and it is hard to not feel like we are fighting an uphill battle.

But since entering this realm, I constantly try to remind myself that it is always better to try than to do nothing at all. And although it is frustrating and the senselessness is prevalent and seemingly hopeless, it’s not ceaseless. It is grueling, grinding, painful and tiresome, but possible. And working to expand opportunities and access to those who were never afforded them, is the only cause I know to be of worth and true.

The approach of trying to address these complex development issues is of critical crucial importance. Rushing into “solving” these multi-faceted and multi-leveled systemic problems can result in detrimental implications for already vulnerable populations. But explaining the intricacies of a development issue isn’t sexy. Far too often organizations downplay the complexity of issues, strategically dumbing them down to get funding. This is one of the biggest things I admire about the organization I am currently a part of. VIDEA understands these issues must be addressed at the local level, that real sustainable change starts with awareness of issues in order that we begin to put measure in place to prevent cycles that create the senseless conditions we have allowed to thrive in our societies rather than just slapping on some palliative care and patting ourselves on the back for “helping people”.

And it is for all these reasons, and many more (but this post has already gotten out of hand enough), that I am taking part in this year’s GLOBAL SOLIDARITY CHALLENGE, striving to raise awareness on the issues borne by the market women my organization works with.

Alongside of the increased risk of rape and sexual assault that plagues the 85% of Tanzanian women working in the country’s informal economy informal market, I have come to learn they also commonly face the following challenges:

  • job insecurity
  • increased health risks
  • verbal abuse
  • physical abuse
  • economic violence
  • sexual harassment
  • poor working conditions
  • obstacles to accessing land due to restricted inheritance laws
  • barriers to accessing loans
  • being at the mercy of men- renting market stall spaces from men and procuring products from men putting them in extremely vulnerable positions to being exploited
  • strapped with the low-skilled, low-earning positions while men dominate the higher earning market sectors

As I could only choose one issue, that had to be doable without compromising my work or putting myself in unsafe situations, I have opted to try and relate to poor working conditions. To join in the uncomfortable and strenuous conditions women traders work under everyday, I will be giving up my spacious office complete with a cushy chair, desk and celling fan to work on the ground in a confined, tight, stuffy space for a full work week.

A detailed post on market working conditions and the particulars of my challenge will follow hereafter.

 But if you feel so inclined to give me a head start, help out Team Gender and contribute to these phenomenal organizations that are taking attentive and truly transformative approaches, you can contribute any amount here:

http://solidarity.videa.ca/participantpage.asp?fundid=1845&uid=3397&role=1

 I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from David Foster Wallace, that I think ties all this together quite nicely:

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom.”

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Some Unfamiliars becoming Familiar

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As my time here has now reached the half waypoint, I thought I’d share some of the daily routines, patterns and occurrences I have been growing accustomed to over the past three months.

Noise & Clamor

It did not take long to entirely habituate myself to sleeping through the call to prayer, I rarely notice it these days. Alternatively, each day I am greeted by a whole slew of regular noises that characterize my neighborhood of Kariakoo. Quite commonly in the mornings, as well as sporadically throughout the daytime, is the unbelievably loud crowing from a nearby rooster. Insistent, repetitive honking is also a frequent occurrence, the reason for which is still unknown to me; however I speculate it must be drivers signaling their arrival for deliveries seeing as my neighborhood harbors a multitude of pharmacies and a fair number of apartments in my building are solely used for storage- our hallway and stairway are regularly lined with boxes and boxes of meds that I must squeeze past and I often dodge oncoming box haulers as I climb the 11 flights of stairs to my floor.

My days also routinely begin with the sounds of passionate shouting from the street below. Whether fiercely asserted feelings about the most recent football match or rapid, strong, escalating remarks, of which I can only pick up a few words such as “mwizi” (thief), clamor has become a normalized part of my days.

Probably the most common noise I have gotten used to is the sound of jingling coins. Pretty much nonstop, guys stroll the streets clinking a handful of loose change to announce they are selling something. Carrying a bucket or basket on their head or side, male sellers roam the streets with offerings such as cigarettes, peanuts and water. This use of coin jingling to get people’s attention is entirely commonplace and also used inexhaustibly by local daladala bus conductors to signal you to pay up. This sound is prevalent all day long, and continues throughout the night, as I have even heard it when I’ve been awake at the wee hours of 2 am and 4 am. If one does not have a handful of coins, the streetwalkers will alternatively make a smooching, kissing noise to make their presence known to potential customers.

And while I have grown somewhat attached to the jingling coins soothing me to sleep each night, I know I will never get used to hearing the deranged, deafening hissing and squabble from my neighborhood’s demon-possessed street cats.

Trek & Transit

Although still terrifying at times, I have gotten the hang of the using the best techniques to safely walk these hectic streets. I anticipate it may take quite a while for me to unlearn checking for the opposite direction of traffic, j-waking and squeezing in and out from between vehicles.

Despite having used the daladala as my main method of transportation for the past 3 months, I still almost entirely rely on luck when it comes to choosing which one to board. I know the three colors that go to my work and back, but sometimes one doesn’t stop where the others do, and once another went a completely different direction half way for no apparent reason and had to walk the rest of the way home.

I have learned though to stop freaking out that I got on the wrong bus when the daladala goes off route. I am now familiar with the notion that they divert from their route from time to time but that, aside from that one time, they do get back on course.

I still have yet to figure out how to know which ones will leave right away vs. which you end up sitting on for 15 minutes before they finally depart. Sometimes you can gauge if a bus is leaving soon by its fullness; however, there is often a false full illusion as some seeming passengers get off and receive payment from the conductor in exchange for making the bus appear more popular that it actually is I guess. On the other hand, if you choose one that is too full you may end up having to stand, which, I have learned the hard way, means I am the one person with their neck cranked at an extreme angle as I am too tall for standing upright on the buses and tower over the majority of people here.

Similar to the fake passengers, I can’t for the life of me figure out how the whole daladala driver, conductor, and promoter arrangement works. It is such a mystery. All of a sudden the driver might get out and a new driver jumps in and that person becomes the conductor. And others times when you are passing by and a promoter is trying to persuade you to take their bus and not another bus, that you think is the conductor, and at times they are, but more often than not the real conductor will show up out of no where and just before the bus embarks they will pay off the “fill-in conductor”.

Lastly in regards to transport, I will just take a moment to note my surprise that it is a completely ordinary thing for many vehicles here (and on other countries as well) to have a decent sized screen in the dash playing music videos… in the direct view of the driver during the commute… something I can’t quite wrap my head around.

Throngs & Contact

For those of you who know me, you are aware of my discomfort for and avoidance of crowds. Considering Dar’s population is on the verge of 5 Million, these past three months have been forcing me to get over this nature. When I think of the throngs I have encountered, what comes to mind in particular is this certain narrow market street I sometimes pass on my way to work. Looking down the slender street, as far as you can see there are people buying, selling, carrying, walking, conversing, moving, hauling. It is the epitome of a bustling, lively, infectious crowd.

I have now lost track of the amount of times I have been caught in mass mobs and while I have grown accustomed to losing my personal space I have still retained my Canadian tendencies of not even knowing how to push and being the only one waiting in my own made-up line.

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An anti-gender based violence campaign in one of the markets EfG works with- feel free to have some fun playing ‘Where’s Waldo’ to spot me

 

And although the societal flow is more based on assertiveness than I am used to, one thing I hear about all the time here, as well as witness, is that Tanzania is one of the most (if not the most) peaceful countries in all of Sub-Saharan Africa. When people learn I am from Canada they often react by lighting up brightly and saying with a smile something along the lines of how Canadians and Tanzanians are friends because of this shared commonality of being so diverse and yet so peaceful.

From sidewalks, busses, trains, to the short harbor ferry ride I got to experience the other day, all forms of commuting here are in frequent use. Every time I walk in my neighborhood I feel like I am playing a video game- dodging people, obstacles, cars, holes, pegs, puddles, heaps, mounds and ducking under umbrella stands.

Alongside of growing accustomed to close quarters, I have also been thrown into countless situations that have been forcing me to get used to handholding. It is accepted for someone to continue holding your hand after you greet them; however, there have many times where I have been suspicious about some guys using this quite strategically to their advantage. And as someone who generally shys away from attention and cameras, the sometimes “celeb-like” attention can be a bit much, but I have learned to just be gracious and patient about having my arm squeezed when I walk down the street or being grabbed in for photos, and just being amused when people either try to sneak selfies with me in the background.

The last thing I will mention I have finally gotten the hang of is the innumerable greetings used here, each with a different response. Knowing the correct greeting and its corresponding response changes constantly depending on the time of day, who you are talking to, how many people you are talking to and then you also have to account for street slang and respectful greetings. Despite the scores of possible addresses and answers, I feel after 3 months I can finally greet and respond appropriately…. most of the time.

For those who are curious, I will leave you with some examples of the most common things I hear and say everyday (only some of the vast potential  G=greetings & R=responses):

G: Habari ya asabuhi/mchana/jioni – good morning/afternoon/evening  R: Safi- clean

G: Umelalaje-how did you sleep, Umeamkaje-how was your wake up     R: Salama-peaceful

G: Habari, habari yako, habari gani, za kwako/ habari zenu? – How are you/you all    R:Nzuri- good

G: Hujambo?- do you have problems       R: sijambo – I have no problems

G: Shikamoo – respectful greeting for elders    R: Marahaba

G: Mambo/Mambo Vipi?- what’s up     R: Poa- cool

G: Kwema- are you fine?            R: Kwema- I am fine

G: Mzima- are you well?      R: Mzima: I am well

G: Usiku Mwema – goodnight, Lala salama- sleep peacefully      R: asante sana, na wewe pia