That’s a Wrap

Things have been busy, I’m trying to finish my project at MikonoYetu and hand off what I can’t complete to Steph in a semi-comprehensive way. Therefore, I have not had the time or energy to write for pleasure as much. I woke up this morning to an email from my mom telling me that I haven’t blogged in a while and she misses it. And because we all secretly live to make our mothers smile, I’m taking a short break from sifting through literature about the UN Conferences on Women and reading over interview notes to record what I’ve been doing and thinking lately.

We finished interviews on Saturday, first heading to Lydia’s place to meet an interviewee there and then went with Maimuna and her son to a village about an hour’s drive away. The fishing village was remote, beautiful, and I got the feeling many of the kids we encountered had never seen someone with skin so bright as mine (just so we’re clear, my skin is really white and tends to shine in the sunlight. The Irish life chose me). The first interview in the village went well, although Steph and I had to be inventive when it came to the set up. That marked the tenth interview, but Maimuna said that there was a community leader that she was connected to in the village that she wanted interviewed. I was all for it; we could definitely use some more variety in the case studies and I definitely wanted to hear her story. Unfortunately, she was in a street meeting that day, and if I know anything about Tanzanian meetings, time isn’t really a factor. By street meeting I mean just that; everyone was assembled by the main road in the village, sitting on the ground or standing, listening to anything anyone had to say. We drove past it a few times, and it was such an awesome, potent symbol of community. While we waited, Maimuna brought us all to a beach where villagers were fishing, drying sardines in the sun, and selling their catches. Maimuna (a master bargainer, we discovered) bought a huge bag of sardines, which I’m positive made me smell like fish for the rest of the day. Finally, at around 4:00 pm (we arrived at the village around noon), the last interviewee showed up. Eleven interviews completed, we went home and I managed to feel a small sense of accomplishment.

IMG_3174

Jane, our beloved taxi driver, took us to a festival for Nane Nane (the eighth of the eighth, a Tanzanian peasant holiday) on Sunday, where we walked around, suffered through a couple marriage proposals (more common that you’d think), stopped in on the MikonoYetu tent promoting clean, environmentally- and health-friendly stoves, and enjoyed Jane’s company. We were then invited to Jane’s home for dinner. She made us chips (fries) and chicken, which we’ve come to discover are Tanzanian staples (I’ve eaten more fries that I’d like to say during my summer here, and have gained weight). It was absolutely amazing spending time with Jane, seeing her house, helping her make dinner, and taking pictures with her in front of her house. She’s such a vibrant woman, I will miss her so much it hurts a little.

IMG_3213

I miss cooking for myself, vegetables, baked goods, family and friends, and being able to walk down a street without every single person around staring at me. I miss independence. But leaving this place is going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Tomorrow we go to EBLI and MikonoYetu for the last time. Nuri has to finish up interviews, discuss some things with Bernard Makachia, and say goodbye. I’ll miss everyone at EBLI, and philosophical conversations with Bernard. We had quite the debate about love and equality during lunch yesterday. I’m going to be a mess when we go to MikonoYetu for lunch and to say our goodbyes to the staff. I’m a bit of a mess even thinking about it. They have all been so wonderful, giving, welcoming, and friendly to us interns this summer. A very large part of me doesn’t want to leave this beautiful, hospitable space where I have found friendships, love, warmth, forgiveness, and have grown beyond measure. I’ve already warned Nuri that I’ll be an emotional wreck the entire plane ride to Dar, to which she graciously answered that she always has a shoulder for me to cry on.

Before I leave, I need to finish writing up the case studies and do what I can to write up the majority of the context for a booklet Maimuna wants to showcase the case studies. Reading what these women have gone through has made me so angry, but seeing where these women are now gives hope. Every single one of the interviewees said at the end that programs like MikonoYetu and Kivulini Women’s Rights Organization, the organization that Maimuna originally directed, need to continue helping more women. Women need to know their rights and be invested in. One of the mamas said that women need to be given training, but that youth also need to be invested in. These women have been through hell and back, are weathered mothers and community members, and know what they’re talking about. I have been honoured to come into contact with them, even if that contact has been limited by my lack of proficiency in Swahili. I wouldn’t trade those small interactions, or working on this important project, for the world.

So at this point, I don’t know what to think. When friends ask how I’m doing, I don’t know what to say. When my mom says she’s counting down the days, I don’t know how to respond. I have four days left in Mwanza, and then a short five days in Zanzibar for some vacation time before the 19-hour trek to Pearson Airport. Then I’ll burn through some literature about grassroots organizations and how they seek to solve implementation gaps in national legislature, try my best to plan coffee dates with friends who have much to tell me considering I’ve missed three months of their lives, and find a new job (wish me luck). I’ll start school again, finish my bachelor’s degree, see family, witness milestones. But I will always store a piece of Mwanza, Tanzania in my heart. I will miss this place very, very much.

Advertisements

Kijiji

It took us seven hours to get from point A to point B on Saturday. Seven hours. And we didn’t go that far.

Ben, Maimuna’s son, and Kato took Steph, Iris, Nuri, and me to a village in Sengerema (I think it was there), which is a region of Mwanza across the lake from where we are. So naturally, we drove to the lake (about a half hour drive) and geared up for a short ferry ride. The girls and I waited on benches with the rest of the passengers traveling on foot while Kato and Ben waited with the car. Kato came to check up on us every so often, apologizing for the wait each time. We had to wait until Ben was allowed to board a ferry with the car so that we could all make the 20-minute-long trip across the lake together.

We waited three hours. And then got on a ferry without Ben and the car. So we had to wait another 2 hours for him to cross over and drive us to the village for a MikonoYetu event that we were late for. MikonoYetu got about six different villages together for a big event to promote and celebrate a kind of stove that gives a more environmentally-friendly and safer alternative to open fires in rural parts of Mwanza. The seeds of the jatropha plant can be used for fuel; jatropha plants are hearty and don’t take up much space so they can be planted and used for their fruit and the seeds can be used for fuel. The day consisted of a cook-off featuring twenty women cooking and lots of food, a chicken chase (this is a legitimate thing I promise you), dancing and drama, and a soccer tournament. Everything was supposed to wrap up at 4:00 pm; we rolled in to drop off T-shirts and pick up some things to bring back to the MikonoYetu centre at 6:30 pm. The final soccer game was just finishing when we got there. The girls and I were flocked. Women took turns shaking our hands as we greeted them, children vied for our attention, and when we walked across the field there was a flock of people following in our wake and brave kids reaching up to hold my hands (I was the last and therefore closest mzungu walking in front of them and ended up with about four or five kids hanging onto each hand). We were quickly ushered into plastic chairs beside a trophy to watch the last few minutes of the soccer game. The sheer happiness of the villagers as they celebrated the end of the game and the victory almost moved me to tears. It was worth the wait. Miraji came over to me and informed me that I’d been selected to present the trophy to the winners. I now know enough not to be overly flattered when this kind of thing happens; while I was honoured, I’m usually picked out because I’m the whitest mzungu in our group and for some reason people get a kick out of that. Miraji and the rest of the MikonoYetu team may have also put in a good word for me, since I’m technically their intern. Nonetheless, Nuri and I both took hold of the trophy and presented it to a member of the winning team. He shook our hands a few times, and then we all took countless pictures with the whole team and anyone else that decided they wanted to be featured in the pictures. A goat was also presented to the winning team. I think I was originally told to present the goat as well, but Miraji took pity on me and my lack of goat-handling expertise so he did it himself.

IMG_3119

With the soccer tournament finished, the event was technically over. Ben and Mlola unloaded the T-shirts and packed up the car with things that needed to be brought back. The villagers crowded around us, giggling when we looked their way. Many pulled out small phones and snapped pictures of us; I try not to think of how many low-quality pictures of my travel-worn, dirty face there are now. I felt like a celebrity who had done absolutely nothing to deserve any reverence. These kinds of situations bring mixed feelings. I love interacting with Tanzanian locals, I smile and ask surrounding kids questions in bad Swahili and try to hold as many hands as possible and say “Shikamoo” to as many elders as possible. I always feel so honoured to be amongst so many Tanzanians at once, even if they only like me because I look different. But, on the other hand, my interactions with them is just that. I’m a foreigner that represents wealth. Before we left, Kato translated what most of the children had begun to call out; they wanted us to give them sweets or money. I felt dumb and mentally kicked myself for not bringing some candy, although in hindsight I would’ve been swarmed more than I already was if I had brought out any form of gift. My interactions with these villagers, and many Tanzanians, is an experience marked by gawking, touching, and people scrambling to talk to the foreigners simply because we’re foreign. I’ve gotten used to this reality and while I was standing in the village amidst all of the villagers, searching wide-eyed to make sure that there was always a MikonoYetu staff member in my line of vision, I didn’t mind their attention. I know I’m foreign and a novelty, and I’m mostly okay with that. I’ll gladly shake hands and hold hands and smile at kids and stay later to watch a dance that some had put together. But looking in hindsight, these realities taint the memories a little bit, I’m finding. I’m not bitter or jaded, but I have my moments.

Nonetheless, despite the long day and the fact that it took another three hours to get on the ferry again, I had a fantastic day. I’m so glad we decided to go to the event at the village, and so blessed to have some really awesome friends at MikonoYetu to look out for us. Kato spent hours with us waiting for Ben to cross the lake, answering our endless questions and talking politics with me (his opinion on the new president of Tanzania was different from what I usually hear, so I was intrigued and had him exhaust the topic). Miraji tugged on my arm numerous times to get me out of the way when the villagers got a little too wild for me to be in the middle of things. Mlola bought us all coke while we waited for the ferry back home. All of these guys watched out for us and were good company while we waited after dark for our vehicles to inch their way to the front of the line to board the ferry.

We got home more than twelve hours after we left the hostel. Most of the day was spent waiting. But it was more than worth it. Surprisingly enough, I was never really that bothered by all of the waiting. Maybe Tanzania has taught me some patience.

[Note: it’s been a while since I’ve recorded some of these names. Miraji, Kato, and Mlola all work at MikonoYetu. They’re great human beings.]

Stop, Collaborate and Listen

I have just over two weeks left before we leave Mwanza. Two weeks is not going to be enough to get everything done. I have to do as much as possible in terms of the event so that Steph isn’t lost when taking over (the MikonoYetu event has been pushed to the middle of September, so unfortunately I won’t be around for that), finish interviews, finish putting together case studies, do research for write-ups before and after the case studies so Maimuna can make them into a nice booklet, and figure out how to edit the video footage I’ve compiled. Maimuna’s been in Dar es Salaam for the past week getting her passport figured out, and apparently she’s been sorting out a visa as well. She’s headed to Switzerland for a funeral. I’m glad she was able to go, but was rendered a tad panic-stricken when she emailed me saying that if there was anything urgent I needed, tell her soon because her flight left at 5:00. I’m not sure when she’ll be back.

Steph, as I’ve mentioned, will be here in Mwanza until October and will be working with MikonoYetu as well. I’m passing the torch to her in terms of the event, and am very excited that she’ll be doing her internship at such an awesome establishment and with Maimuna. And that I have someone else to work with.

I’m finally buckling down to get these case studies nailed down. I have translated notes for five of them, three have notes that I still need to be translated into English, and then there are two more interviews that still have to be scheduled (made a little more difficult with Maimuna out of the country for a bit). I concluded about a month ago to work within my skillset and not try to do more than I was capable of as it would just lend to my frustration. This led me to the decision to ask Iris to help me with the videos that Maimuna wants me to make out of the interview footage. Iris has made videos before, has a photographer’s eye, and has relevant software already on her computer. She is also the busiest she’s ever been this summer at the moment, and will only get busier these next two weeks as the SAUT students finish exams and are able to actually work with Iris and Samira. Upon realizing this, panic-stricken Andrea got a little more edgy.

Not that I’m a fretting basket case right now. I have my bouts of rant-filled panic (Nuri’s a champ and usually is around to sit through all of them), but overall I’ve realized that I, only one person, can only do so much. I can send Maimuna final drafts of case studies and write-ups from home after I get back if need be, and have already decided to keep in touch with Maimuna and tell her that I’m always open to editing grant proposals if she thinks to email them to me, whether I’m here or back in Canada. Regardless how these next couple of weeks go, this internship will not have been a failure. I’ve learned so much, have developed my personal philosophy in leaps and bounds, and have built limited relationships with numerous wonderful people. Even as I stress and fret about how the heck I’m going to edit my messy video footage into comprehensive short videos and create a decent website for MikonoYetu so that they can finally have a website (yay!), I’m discovering how far fretting and stressing gets you. Answer: not very far. So instead of fretting, I’m doing what I can, reflecting, and have burned through an entire season of Game of Thrones in the last two days (oops).

Speaking of videos and websites, I once again need to remember that collaboration is key and I’m far from being alone in this work. Steph blogs regularly (check out her travel blog it’s fabulous: http://www.thepinkbackpack.com/) and is much more adept at navigating the online world than I, so we’re going to work together on the website (MikonoYetu website url coming soon!) and get that up and running for Maimuna. And just this morning, while complaining about how little time I had to crank out ten short videos when I had no idea what I was doing and couldn’t rely on Iris (a typical rant centred around me and all of my problems), Steph said that we could get Iris to give her a crash course on iMovie for her Mac, and then we could work together on the videos over the next two weeks. Steph got a very big hug after that statement. Together we can sort out the best ways to portray these women’s stories, pick each other’s creative brains, and get them up on the website. I’ve never been happier.

I thought I’d grown through this summer and successfully integrated a collaborative spirit into my being. I thought I had this whole thing figured out and could roll with the punches. I thought I knew how to ask for help and was finally okay with depending on people a little bit. Apparently, I still have some things to learn.

Here’s to two weeks left in Mwanza, Steph being awesome, and the fact that I haven’t worn sunscreen on my legs in a few days with the small hope that they might get slightly burned and that will in turn become a slight tan. Here’s to Mwanza, and all that I’ve learned and experienced here. Here’s to it all, especially the learning curves.

Gesellschaft

I saw two people that I have met before at lunch today. We tried a new place in town for lunch, and upon arrival we passed a gentleman who looked up from his food and greeted his “Canadian friends from London.” Nuri and I met Oscar while waiting for our burgers at a food truck close to our place, and found unexpected common ground: Oscar works at Fort Mac and is home in Mwanza visiting for the time being. We were able to chat with Oscar a little before bunkering down with our food at a table that seated four, a chair for each of us and none for anyone else.

Noting the number of chairs at our table may seem like an odd thing to do. However, in hindsight, it’s a very potent symbol of the cultural differences that I am becoming more and more aware of.

Samira’s still away visiting family so it’s Nuri, Iris, Steph, and me at the hostel right now. Both Maimuna and Bernard are out of town and the SAUT students that Iris is working with are in the midst of exams right now, so nobody had anywhere to be today. I wanted my room cleaned (side note: I’m being spoiled in Mwanza because I get my room regularly cleaned, it’s wonderful), so Nuri and I went to the churchyard behind the hostel and climbed the steps to the roof of one of the buildings for some peace and quiet to work in. Iris and Steph stayed in their rooms, where they could listen to the noise of the hostel staff moving things around and the various conference guests milling around. Unbeknownst to us, the staff were moving beds around. Into rooms that already had beds in them. Into our rooms, for instance. By noon, we were all hangry and there was a spectrum of annoyance amongst the four of us.

Flash forward to us walking into the restaurant. We scoped out the buffet (yes, a buffet!) and then dropped our backpacks at our table of choice. I exchanged pleasantries with Oscar before hightailing it to the buffet for some food. We spoke again when Oscar and his friend were on their way out, chatting about how long we’re staying in Mwanza and how things have been. Looking back, I can’t help but wonder if we should’ve sat at the table they were at, a table that had more than enough seats for us. I wonder if we should’ve invited him and his friend to sit with us. That would’ve been the kind thing to do, and also the more social, relational thing to do.

After we had been eating for a bit, a man that Steph and I had met last week walked in and sat down across the room from us. When we met him, he had sat down at our table in the small restaurant we were eating at and had conversed with us until he had to leave. We’ve discovered that this is just something that happens, people sit at your table and strike up a conversation. We’re pretty used to this happening by now. This particular gentleman explained to us what kind of work he did (I couldn’t hear him well, Steph gave me the gist of it afterwards), and that we could work for his company and gain a commission. He proceeded to ask what we were doing that weekend; we were busy. I’ve discovered that the men in Tanzania are more forward than what I’m used to, but have also found that the culture is overall more relational and open. It’s perfectly normal for people to sit down with us and start talking, or even to offer to share their food with us (we always decline graciously). Once this man had sat down near us today, Steph looked straight at me and we agreed to not make eye contact with this guy and avoid any conversation or engagement. Luckily, we made it through lunch without him approaching us.

I’m an introverted, awkward human being. I tend to avoid people that I know even in London, Ontario, when I encounter them in public and out of context. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood to talk to people, or have no idea what I would say to that particular person that hasn’t seen me yet on the bus and therefore choose to dodge the encounter entirely. I’m not necessarily proud of it, but it’s a truth nonetheless. That being said, I’ve talked to the other girls about this and have concluded that it’s not just that. We’re not used to constant interaction and the lack of social boundaries Mwanzans have.

North American culture is by definition individualistic. The social climate that I was brought up in values individualism, productivity, timeliness, rational thinking, and calculated interaction. While personally I feel that this way of thinking has led to heightened anxiety and isolation in our “efficient,” “developed,” “industrialized” society, I am still through and through a product of my North American culture. I like getting things done, I like being able to do things by myself, and if I don’t have to interact with anyone on a personal level from time to time, I honestly don’t mind. Likewise, I generally enjoy predictability and routine, something I have realized more than ever during my time in Mwanza.

Tanzanian culture, on the other hand, values collaboration and relationships, and while those I encounter in Mwanza work hard and are generally incredibly resourceful, efficiency is not something that’s on the table for most. This brand of thinking leads to flexible schedules, slower-paced lifestyles, less productivity, and by and large happier, more confident people. It should be noted that the bulk of Mwanza’s economy dwells in the informal sector, which only supports so much productivity and development in the short-term. Instead of people competing for jobs and walking down the street day after day without talking to anyone, my experience supports an image of people talking to whomever they pass, of taxi drivers, for instance, on any given corner sitting and chatting, stopping only to say hello to us and ask us how we are. My experiences are by no means pure or untainted: as a mzungu who is visibly different my experiences differ from those of locals, and as an outsider I am obviously biased based on my own different experiences and upbringing.

I talk to locals about this, though, and they agree that Tanzanian culture is based on hospitality and collaboration. Lydia, the woman who has been conducting interviews for me, shared with me an experience she had a couple of weeks ago. She went to a village to hold a baseline survey on HIV in mining communities, and before anyone would cooperate with the interviews her and her companions had to share a meal with them. It wasn’t a question of whether they wanted the food or not, or if they had time to sit and eat and talk. It was just something that had to happen before the survey began. Lydia told us that in Tanzanian culture, you could go anywhere unannounced and expect to be hosted in someone’s house.

She also said that this is now beginning to change. Which makes me sad. Not that I want to share a meal that I’m eating with anyone that decides to sit down with me. I was even a smidge upset that the hostel staff put an extra bed in my room without first telling me that they would be doing so. Looking back, it probably didn’t occur to anyone that something like that could upset me. Also looking back, I suppose it shouldn’t upset me.

This tension is what I’m walking on these days, tension pulled taut like a tightrope. One the one side, I love Tanzanian culture and how relational and open and loving they are. I love that I can walk past an older lady, say “Shikamoo” to her, and have her smile back and ask me how I am. I love that the climate isn’t based on efficiency and blind individualism. But it’s so exhausting sometimes. I’m not used to constant interaction, and find myself frustrated that I keep missing the mark on cultural norms and consequently come off as a rude, arrogant foreigner when in reality I’m tired and am still figuring out what’s expected of me in a society that is much more community-oriented than my own.

My sincere hope is that I take a lot of my learned values back to Canada and can hold onto them amidst the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life in an industrialized, isolated society. Values such as collaboration, acceptance and openness, and putting people before tasks. I mean to integrate these ideas into my own personal philosophy in the way that I see it here in Mwanza, where I have come to realize that I don’t value these things as much as I should. I’ll bring these tensions home with me, and try to live in light of the juxtapositions that I am left with: collaborative individualism (i.e. I am capable, but better with others), flexible efficiency (i.e. grace-filled deadlines), and people-oriented scheduling, which is more of an oxymoron than one would think considering real, genuine interaction never truly fits into the time slots that my day planner so conveniently makes for me.

I will never fully understand the norms and social mores of this culture, and will probably continue to do things that mark me as a hyper-efficient, empty Westerner during my last few weeks in Mwanza. I’ve come to terms with that. I just hope that I don’t forget everything that has been impressed on me during my short time here. There will be a lot of tensions to work through when I find myself in London, Ontario once again, reintegrated into a life that will keep racing on if you don’t make a conscious decision to do something different, even if it is just slightly different.

Musings: now that the countdown has begun

In four weeks today, I’ll have landed in Toronto’s Pearson Airport and will be sitting at home. Preferably with my mom making me food and stuff; I’ve resolved to guilt her into making me a cake for when I arrive home, she doesn’t know this yet. Sitting here on the porch of Lydia’s house, surrounded by beautiful greenery, hills and rocks characteristic to beautiful Mwanza, and a lovely breeze to counteract the heat of the midday, it’s hard to believe that I’ll be saying goodbye to this place so soon. I’ve come to call this place my second home. However, I will be happy to go back to Canada.

It should be noted, first, that Lydia is a wonderful woman who is now executing the rest of the MikonoYetu interviews for me. She is a dream to work with, incredibly kind and caring, and has welcomed us into her home that she shares with her sister with open arms. This was especially helpful after I discovered that the interview space I was promised at the hostel was occupied yesterday (an hour before the scheduled interviews of the day). Rafiki Africa, which functions as a home and shop for Lydia’s sister’s wares, is beautiful and peaceful, the quiet only interrupted by the odd piki piki (motorcycle) driving by, birds in the distance, and children’s laughter. Suffice it to say that I really love it here, and have no problem sitting outside waiting for each interview to be finished.

As per usual, when I was supposed to get the remaining three interviews completed today, that didn’t happen. My morning interviewee is sick (Maimuna finally called her after we waited for an hour and a half), and the woman Maimuna found as our tenth interviewee isn’t available this weekend. One more interview down, two more to go still.

All the waiting gave Steph and I some time to chat, though. Steph is the newly-arrived and long-awaited WHE intern that will be here until the beginning of October. We talked about ethics and our roles here and language and countless other things, but we both articulated something that both makes me feel better and a little sad.

We don’t belong here.

We discussed the language barrier, and how tiring it’s been that no matter how hard we try locals will persistently laugh at us or make fun of our foreignness. I said that even though I love Mwanza and am so happy to have been here, I am looking forward to not having certain attributes assigned to me as soon as people look at me. My white skin seems to invite people to think of me as a wealthy, ignorant foreigner that can do things for them. Not that this is a uniform response, but I’ve had this happen enough that I’m mentally exhausted, if I’m honest with myself. I realize and acknowledge my privilege, but crave interaction that isn’t automatically riddled with assumptions.

As I write this, I feel even more privileged. I’m tired of having more than the people around me by virtue of being from a different place. It makes me sound silly and shallow. It makes me feel silly and shallow. But regardless, these feelings hold strong. I’m still excited to be here, and would never say no to coming back. I love the people and will enjoy the next three weeks in Mwanza (the last week in Tanzania will be spent in Zanzibar on a real vacation). But I’m drained, and I think that’s still valid.

That being said, I wouldn’t trade the last two months or this next month for the world.

Shule

Shule: (noun) school

Education for Better Living (EBLI) holds programs for secondary schools in five regions of Mwanza. The programs seek to educate the students on sexual and reproductive health, human rights, and respecting both themselves and others. In order to evaluate this aspect of EBLI, Nuri has to visit each school and interview most if not all of the students involved. Today we went to Igogo Secondary School.

IMG_3031

I love going to the schools, it’s such a neat experience. It’s been great getting to see areas of the Mwanza region that we haven’t been to yet, I feel like I fall in love with Mwanza all over again every time we go somewhere new. Rose and Gertrude, the two lovely EBLI staff members who work with the school programs and help Nuri interview the students, are the sweetest ladies ever and love to chat with us. We’ve talked with them about our schooling, our futures, marriage, pregnancies and labour (it should be noted that Gertrude is seven months pregnant with twins), Swahili, and everything in between. They love to laugh and are so easy to talk to. Interacting with the students is difficult, Nuri and I are novelties to them and the closest we’ve gotten to any true interaction with them is last Friday when one of the students said they wanted to shake our hands, so we had to walk around the whole room shaking outstretched hands and listening to their giggles as we chirped “asante” over and over. Nonetheless, I love seeing the students in action. I love listening to them answer Nuri’s questions (in Swahili, I can usually only pick out select words and then wait for Rose to translate), I love watching them interact with their fellow classmates, and I love being in the school setting. Teachers are eager and proud, and students are eager and giggly.

I was woken up at 5:30 this morning by a really loud horn. I think, at least. My half-asleep brain registered it as a horn of some sort. Regardless, I couldn’t fall back asleep so I skipped breakfast to wallow in my tiredness for a bit longer before concluding that I wasn’t going to get anymore sleep and got up. Checking my phone, I saw that Nuri had texted me; Rose said we were going to another school today, and she would meet us at Agha Khan Hospital in town so we could all catch the dala dala together. Since interviews for MikonoYetu have been put on hold until Maimuna and I can sort out another way forward with a new interviewer and I’m still a little unsure of what the task list for the upcoming event is, my schedule is pretty flexible. Off we went to meet Rose and Gertrude.

Gertrude was about half an hour late, but she’s fully excused because she’s super pregnant and because being late is just a thing here. We trekked to Idogo School and chatted with the headmaster for a while before filing into a classroom of probably eighty students that I tried to smile as warmly as possible to. My smile was met with giggles and stares, as per usual.

Nuri conducted the interview with the group once the Form 1 students filed out; they hadn’t started the EBLI program yet so there was no point in them being present. Rose translated, Gertrude sat down and scrolled through Facebook on her phone, and I tried not to listen to Rose’s translations as much as possible so that Nuri had an extra set of ears to work with. I succeeded in half listening, not-so-subtly people watching, writing down a to-do list for tonight (blogging not being part of it, but that’s beside the point), not-so-discretely taking a picture of the “Speak English Only” sign on the door, and almost falling asleep a few times.

IMG_3039

Speaking of the aforementioned sign. “Speak English Only” was painted in light blue paint near the middle of the door. I couldn’t tell you my source, but I heard before coming to Tanzania that secondary schools were all taught in English, which I found really intriguing; obviously this is a very tangible remnant of English colonialism (fun fact: Tanzania became a British colony after the First World War when Germany was stripped of all its colonies). Turns out that source is unreliable; elementary school (Standard 1-7) is taught in Swahili with mandatory classes teaching basic English, and secondary school (Form 1-4) is taught in Swahili with a bit of English, keeping in mind that every single one of these kids speaks Swahili at home and in their communities. Only post-secondary education is taught in English only. That being said, the fact that English is taught in schools, post-secondary education is entirely English, and there’s a sign on the door of a secondary school classroom asking students to speak English shows that English prevails as the language of education, power, and prestige. Which, frankly, is unfortunate. I’m not here to change the culture or even assess the culture and give it two big thumbs up or down, nor am I here to criticize aspects such as the persistence of a colonial tongue, especially when I myself have benefited greatly from the prevalence of English in this space. As my father loves to tell me, I’m pretty blessed that the language of business and power is English (this is always followed by a small rant about the inevitable and impending collapse of the United States of America. Miss you, dad). Nonetheless, why do Tanzanian teenagers need to learn English? Why do they need to take time out of their school time to learn English when they could be learning math, reading, writing, science, history, and social studies in their native language? Is English relevant to the majority of these students? Is forcing English a good idea? I by no means have answers to these questions, nor do I purely disagree with English being taught in schools. I simply see merit in asking these questions, and wonder if part of the dependency that has hindered many African economies is in part an issue of language. But that could be my English minor speaking up, it’s hard to tell.

That long rant aside, I had a fantastic day today. We explored another part of Mwanza (pictures below, along with a few from our hike to Capripoint on Saturday), laughed a lot, learned more about how to interview the students and about their feelings towards the program, and navigated our way back home very effectively. I’m exhausted, just spent the last hour writing and ranting instead of putting together case study drafts, and have just resolved to shower tomorrow instead of tonight because showering is dumb and tedious. But it was a good day, and I think it’ll be a good week. I’m meeting with Maimuna tomorrow morning to discuss a way forward and chat with Lydia, who will probably finish up the interviews for MikonoYetu. Hopefully we’ll have a plan after the meeting, time will tell.

Over and out.

IMG_2956
Lake Victoria
IMG_2970
Mwanza from Capripoint
IMG_2971
Lake Victoria from Capripoint
IMG_2979
The Rock City
IMG_2984
Lake Victoria
IMG_3001
Lake Victoria, from a lower vantage point
IMG_3017
Inside one of the classrooms
IMG_3045
The view from Igogo
IMG_3047
In looooooove
IMG_3053
Exploring new spaces
IMG_3057
Rock formations in Igogo
IMG_3060
Looking back at students walking home
IMG_3003
Lake Victoria (again)

Point A to B

“If you want something done right, you should probably do it yourself.” – Andrea Burke, said on numerous occasions

I wouldn’t say I’m a control freak, but I also wouldn’t say I’m not a control freak. I’m a task-oriented, perfectionistic Westerner that likes to check things off of her to-do list and evaluate all that she’s accomplished at the end of the day. I realize that all of my posts for the past while have been me rambling about this exact thing. Here’s another.

I was in the middle of writing a depressing post about how I’m feeling drained and tired and like I’m not getting anywhere. I can’t seem to focus, I can’t seem to get anything done, and this week has been the week of “ethical quandaries,” as my best friend so helpfully articulated. Right when I was going on about street kids and how I feel helpless to help them but they all seem to think that my purpose in life is to give them anything they ask, I remembered that I had yet to read a lengthy email sent to me from someone who has spent the last 15 years on the continent. I reached out to her about a month ago, asking her mountains of questions and assuring her that none of them were pressing, I just wanted to know her thoughts on some things. I turned my light on so I wasn’t brooding in the dark any longer, let Nuri into my room so she could use my internet hotspot, connected my own laptop to my phone’s hotspot, and opened the email.

I’m not even through reading it. I have one of the articles that she sent open in another tab, and have resolved to read it between now and when I go to bed. The email is filled with assurances that I’m not crazy for struggling with the different values. It’s filled with weathered wisdom and phrases that will become personal mantras for this evening, this weekend, and possibly for much longer. I really needed to hear many of the words that I just read.

It’s wild how these things happen. It’s wild how, at the end of a week where things keep going wrong and I can’t seem to get an ounce of work done, I can sit on my bed in Mwanza, listening to Nuri type away at the desk close by, realizing that it’s not about me. It’s not about how much I can get done. And it’s not about the tasks (that are piling up, by the way).

I might be out an interviewer, which is frustrating. My interviewer from SAUT asked me to loan her money and I refused, and I’m not sure if she’ll be finishing the interviews or not. Maimuna managed to line up another interviewer, but I’m not sure how her English is so we may have to get the notes translated. Which adds another step to the process, and I’ll have to discuss with Maimuna how to proceed in terms of payments and budgeting and whatnot. I’m also probably behind on getting things ready for the event, but that’s nothing new and I’ll save anyone who’s kind/crazy enough to read these rambles the headache and not go into detail there.

I’m making leaps and then regressing. I’m realizing things about myself and my surroundings, and then realizing that those realizations apparently don’t mean much when I’m stressed and mildly homesick. Old habits die hard, to add yet another cliché to the mix. It’s beyond frustrating to make one step forward only to end up two steps behind again.

Nonetheless, the phrase that stood out to me most from that lovely email that I’m still not finished reading is this: “the value lies more in relationship than task” (thanks, Cheri). If I’m meant to be two steps back in order to establish certain relationships, strengthen other relationships, or be somewhere when I should be, then so be it. This summer internship is shaping me more than I ever thought possible and in ways that I never expected, and I still feel selfish listing that as a positive point but I’m realizing that it’s okay. Collaborations are relational, and community development takes time, as Nuri just shared with me. I feel like I know this, everyone knows this, but I also sit here thinking about that and realize how poorly equipped I was for this reality.

Real community development and lasting change is this: Nuri and I went to interview groups from two secondary schools that have implemented EBLI-run behaviour change programs centred around sexual health and reproductive rights this week. Nuri, with the help of translator-extraordinaire Rose (who happens to be one of the nicest women on the planet, I’m convinced), asked groups what their expectations were going into the program, if they’ve seen results, and what they think is needed to improve the program. The responses we got were incredible. Young teens were saying that the program informed them so they understood the negative effects of drugs, bad peer influences, unprotected sex, teacher-beatings (which apparently is a thing), and female genital mutilation. Students explained how they brought knowledge of human rights and equal opportunities home and into their communities. They’ve challenged their parents to treat their daughters and sons as equals, and some have brought violence to a screeching halt. Others lamented that adults don’t always listen to them when they try to explain what they’ve learned, and most students recommended that the EBLI program run more often than a mere twice a month. Nuri’s evaluating the program this summer, and my general and preliminary impression is that her main recommendation for EBLI should be to continue doing what they’re doing for as long as possible.

I don’t know how things happen in Mwanza, if they don’t happen in a task-oriented, efficient way. I probably won’t find out, if I’m honest with myself. Things happen slowly, organically, and keeping culture and relationships in mind. I won’t be privy to this process in my short three months here. I’m really sad about that, not because I won’t see any impact of my work, but because I want to see communities actively being invested in and changed for the better. I want to see the amazing people I’ve met and the amazing programs I’ve encountered in action.

However, if I choose to focus on things like the feedback we heard from the students participating in EBLI’s program as opposed to my inadequate work, I can actually appreciate the work that has been done for years before I decided to show up for three months and whine about how I feel ineffective. If I choose to think of the interview notes that I just read a couple of days ago based on the interviews completed last Sunday for MikonoYetu instead of how I still haven’t finished the FKT concept note for Bernard, I can truly see value in the initiatives that I am blessed to be a small part of this summer. We’re only getting a taste of it all in these three months, but I’m so happy that we’re fortunate enough to get that taste. Reading notes from the five interviews that we held with women who were economically empowered through the Kivulini and MikonoYetu programs moved me more than I can put into words.

I do have many things to do in this next month (side note: one month exactly before I hop on a plane and leave Mwanza). I will probably journal similar thoughts, rant about similar thoughts in countless emails to my parents and close friends back home, and will definitely write more posts about how I feel like I’m not doing enough and my expectations aren’t being met. Bear with me. But these initiatives were put into motion long before I could even locate Tanzania on a map, and will continue and thrive long after I have to leave this beautiful, vibrant space. None of this is about me. And I’m very happy about that.