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.

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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.

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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.

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.

Use

I’m currently trying to figure out how to write a real proposal. Nobody tell Bernard, or anyone at EBLI. Thanks.

Nuri and I went to Education for Better Living (EBLI) today, so that she could talk with Bernard about her plans for evaluating the three programs that EBLI executes. Bernard goes off on tangents sometimes, we’re learning, so we ended up chatting about FKT and if we knew anyone that would be able to write a proposal for funding. At this rate the FKT centre is going to have to shut down next year if they don’t get some serious funding. Which really sucks.

I said I could. Bernard thought I was saying I knew someone that could write proposals. I said yeah, the person I knew was me. If it was in English, I could do it. Can’t be that hard, I like to write and the internet is a wealth of knowledge. So Bernard put some documents on my USB drive for me to look at and directed me to the FKT website (http://foundationkaributz.weebly.com/) so that I actually would know what I was talking about. I asked how in-depth he was looking for, and we worked out that I would write a concept note that had all the relevant information in it and would in turn be used for various proposal formats. While I’m not working for EBLI and nobody from WHE is working for FKT, I can definitely pull my eyes away from the MikonoYetu work and the endless YouTube videos that I’ve been watching (woops) and familiarize myself enough with FKT to write something that will hopefully help keep them open for a while longer. I am more than happy to do everything that I can to help any organization that comes across my path that helps alleviate systemic issues; FKT keeps coming across my path.

Foundation Karibu Tanzania rehabilitates abused children while simultaneously counselling their parents and families. The aim is to get the kids back home to healthier environments and prevent future instances of domestic violence. They employ nurses that give 24-hour care as the admitted children recover, social workers to work with both the kids and the families, and teachers that invest in the children. When I first heard about it I was floored; this organization is both working with rehabilitating victims of terrible abuse and taking preventative measures at the same time, on a level that is rarely tackled. It’s investing in families.

So of course I’m going to Google how to write a concept note/proposal/any templates that may help me out. If it means contributing to a phenomenal organization in any way, I’m in. So here I go, proposal writing.

Thinking a little deeper, while sitting in that office I felt for the first time that I would be back. People ask us all the time if we’ll come back to Mwanza, from our community partners to the guy we met at the food truck near our place (sidenote: I had to come all the way to Mwanza for the best burger I’ve ever tasted, courtesy of this blessed food truck). Iris usually says maybe. Samira explains that she will be back, her mother’s from Tanzania. Nuri always says that she can definitely see herself coming back, but doesn’t know what will end up bringing her back or when. I tend to offer a smile and a vague answer like “I wouldn’t mind coming back, if an opportunity arose.” I love Mwanza, and have known for a while now that the chances of me living my whole life in Canada are probably slim. But the last month and a half have been filled with me wondering why I ever thought that was a good idea, followed by me frantically trying to tell myself that, while my time in Tanzania will be awesome and I’ll learn lots, maybe in the future I’ll end up somewhere else though. Maybe the Middle East or South America or the moon will like me better.

Now I realize that I was wrong. Mwanza treats me just fine. But even as I started to see that, I still wasn’t sure how I felt about coming back. The world is a big place, and I wasn’t sure what I can offer Mwanza (I’m still not really sure tbh). I reasoned that I’d probably be more useful somewhere else. Not that after this “aha” moment this morning I think that I can turn Mwanza on its side and contribute buckets and buckets of stuff to this amazing space. I’m going to do what I can for our WHE partners this summer and contribute as much as I can, and then I’ll see where the road takes me. I’m content doing that. But it was a really cool feeling this morning when I could actually see myself here again.

I’ll probably say “see ya later” to Mwanza when I leave in August. I really like that thought.

P.S. Click on the link. Learn about FKT, it’s an organization that deserves a lot more recognition and attention, in my opinion. I just wrote an entire post so that I could include that link somewhere in my blog, I’m not kidding.

Chipsi

I know what Iris is going to say when her and Samira come home from their meeting at SAUT. She’ll ask us what Nuri and I got for lunch, and then she’ll say “chipsi mayai, again?!” It may or may not be what we’ve gotten for lunch the past three days (or maybe more…I can’t remember).

We’re settling into routines and getting things done with our projects. I’ve learned to tell Maimuna to let me know if there is anything that I can do, it makes her happy and makes me feel useful. I’ve looked at proposals, written things for events, and am working towards getting things solidified for the event. Slowly but surely. I’ve written a proposal for the interviews that Maimuna wants me to do, have compiled questions, and am currently working out who should be conducting said interviews.

In other words, things are going really well.

I didn’t do much this weekend other than burn through a novel and text the other girls asking when they want to go out and grab some food. We’ve all settled into our own things, have figured out who needs space and who doesn’t and when, and have found that we all get along pretty well. These girls, the other interns, are really special girls. I’m happy to be spending my summer with them. They’re all caring, supportive, and fun. Iris makes us all laugh on a regular basis. We know we can talk to Nuri about anything. We’ve started calling Samira “mom” sometimes. It’s been really neat getting to know them.

I’m settling into a routine. Time is flying by, and I’m starting to have a lot of mixed feelings about that.

I want to go home. I’m missing big things that are happening in my brothers’ lives. I’m missing long conversations with my parents. I’m missing deep talks with good friends. I’m missing in-person obsessions over course registration and summer jobs. I’m missing watching the kids of my friends grow. I’m going to be missing visits with extended family, something that doesn’t happen enough as it is. A whole summer is happening back at home, and I’m not a part of it at all. I miss that, and after three months I’ll be happy to return and become part of everything again.

I no longer feel that three months won’t be enough time for us. Even if we stuck around for longer, there’s no guarantee that we’ll see the results that we’d want, whatever those expected results were. We’ll do our best in three months, learn from it all, love and care as much as possible, and it will be good. We’ll experience things and learn how to make it in a different context.

I read a novel this weekend that I would’ve normally read back home. The other girls and I have regular movie nights. We’ve decided on the foods that we like and don’t like, and have figured out where to get cheap food and where to splurge on good food. My diet is by no means balanced (chipsi mayai is just an omelette with fries in it) but I’m eating good food and have managed to only get a little sick once (knock on wood…I haven’t been feeling great today). I’ve assumed a new normal in Mwanza, Tanzania, and it’s really not that different from life back home.

Even as I count how many days until I’ll be landing in Pearson Airport, imagining myself seeing my parents again and asking them to stop to pick up some long-missed food (right now the first food item that I’ll want when I get back is a toss-up between a cinnamon bun and a whole bag of baby carrots), I know I’ll miss Mwanza. I know I’ll miss its beauty, its people, its pride, its liveliness, and more specifically everyone that I’ve had the chance to meet here. Mwanza is such a special place, and while there are differences and ups and downs, I am so happy to be here. I’m happy to have gotten to know the other interns, I’m so blessed to have so many people supporting us and willing to give us all a helping hand, and I’m happy to have the chance to grow and learn in this space.

I have times when I’m stressed out. I have times when I don’t want to leave my room, or times when I’m sick of seeing the inside of my room. I have times when I don’t know how I can be of help. I have times when I’m really hard on myself, and (more recently) times when I realize that I can’t be so hard on myself.

I have learned so much about myself it’s ridiculous. I have learned that I don’t like to have to depend on people, but that it’s okay to depend on people. Sometimes you have no choice. I’ve learned that I can’t hold myself to impossible standards or I’ll always lose. I’m still working on a lot of things, but half the battle is realizing and learning. This sounds so fluffy and kind of silly (i.e. Andrea came to Africa and found herself), but it’s true. You take yourself out of your regular routine and familiar context, and this stuff happens. You learn from how you cope, adjust, and work. This isn’t a new concept, but I suppose it’s new to me. I knew I’d come back “changed” (whatever that means), but I had no idea what Mwanza would do to me.

I’m working hard, allowing myself down time and fun time, being social but knowing when I need space, and am finally seeing some progress. Not in the time that I want, and not the progress that I envisioned. But whatever I envisioned was incompatible with reality anyways.

Fruit for dinner tonight, and maybe I’ll have some chapatti. As good as chipsi mayai is, it kind of hangs out in your stomach for a while.

The Problem with Perspective

My parents read my last post about me overreacting and, in turn, overreacted.

I don’t mean to bash them (sorry, mom and dad), but it’s hard when you wake up and are more upset by emails sent by your parents than by the actual events that caused those emails to be frantically written. I have discovered that a travel blog is a helpful medium for reflecting and it has forced me to be transparent and confront what I feel and why head on. It’s also a way to explain exactly what I’m experiencing and how I’m taking it to people back at home; going back to Canada having wrestled with so many things and having people ask how my internship was is going to be hard, so it might be nice to take the lazy way out and direct them to my blog, written in real time complete with all of my thoughts, feelings, musings, and rambles.

That being said, I wrote my last post when I was upset. I wrote it while I was trying to drink enough water to make up for the lack of water I had ingested throughout the day. I was tired and not looking forward to registering for courses that evening. I probably needed sleep. Things hadn’t gone the way I had wanted them to, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing but had definitely thrown me off. I should have written out my thoughts and then waited until I had slept and processed a little more before posting it. But I didn’t, and a part of me is glad I didn’t. If people want to know how my time in Mwanza is going, I want to be honest and upfront. And sometimes I have bad days and am paranoid and just want to lock myself in my room at the hostel for a while. Which is what I did. I blogged, reached out to my best friend who talked me through it all, and figured out what courses I’ll be taking in my last year of undergrad.

I’m better this morning, although I am frantically trying to make sure people back at home tell my parents that I’m going to be okay. I’m allowed to have off days, even in Mwanza.

It’s really hard to relay some things to people that have never seen what I’m seeing. It’s hard to explain to people that I’m not being a martyr or even just the stubbornly independent person that I am. I am not throwing safety to the wind and getting myself in situations that could otherwise be avoided. Either I get on a plane now and go back home, where I still experience safety concerns and have bad days, or I continue on as I have been, being smart and making sure that I always have support around me and people that know where I am. I’m doing all of that, I am being as safe as I can be. I’m taking precautions and not being an idiot. Things are just different here, and that is rooted in multifaceted, systemic issues that aren’t just characteristic to Mwanza or even Africa. Mindsets towards women, foreigners, and foreign women are problematic in many spaces; do me a quick favour and reflect on Native women in Canada and problems that this minority has faced by virtue of being the way they are. I’m not likening my plights to the very real abuse of Canadian First Nations women, nor am I seeking to devalue either my experiences or the experiences of North American minorities. I’m simply pointing out that in Canada, a “developed” country where I’m allowed to take public transit and walk by myself (this all has the parental sticker of approval), there are still problems with attitudes towards minorities. And this isn’t even taking into account that I represent the upper-hand in the historically-rooted power dynamic. There’s a whole set of feelings linked with irresponsible cultural interactions that are assigned to me, whether I want them to be or not.

Friends and family at home don’t see the scenes as I see them. They don’t see that for every guy that tries to grab my wrist (very few and far in between), there’s a woman that kindly asks me where I’m from on the dala dala. There’s a man that asks me “Sister, where are you going?” when I’m trying to figure out how to get to where I need to go. For every person that whistles at me or calls me a mzungu, there’s a street boy that smiles at me and a woman who sells scarves that looks out for us and watches our backs while we’re pile shopping. For every person that says something to me intending to be crude, I always have a fellow intern and friend that braves it all with me and offers support.

It’s hard to relay what I feel and see to people that don’t see and feel everything along with me. It’s hard to encounter a space that is so beautiful and strong and also so broken. It’s hard to convey the parallels I see with my own home and what differences I see. It’s hard to ask people to step into your shoes when you’re still a little unsteady in them yourself. I love Mwanza, and I love the people that I have met and encountered here. But there will always be people that make any space less safe or less comfortable. This will be the case whether I’m in Mwanza, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Dubai, Berlin, or London, Ontario.

I’m not being a martyr. I’m not being brave and trying to be tough. I’m not being a penny-pincher and trying to cut costs by using the public transit system. I’m not even trying to act like a local. I’m simply trying to do my best in a country that is not my own. I’m going to run into issues, just like I do at home. But I am safe and well and am devastated that I made people worry about me.

I don’t know if this is helping, but contrary to what is apparently popular opinion, I’m safe. My safety has nothing to do with whether or not I take a taxi all the way to Buswelu every single time I want to meet with Maimuna to get some work done. It has everything to do with the fact that I’m a foreigner trying to live in a poor country. I’ll always have people yelling at me and wanting to talk to me and there will always be people that aren’t necessarily happy with my presence. But that hasn’t stopped me yet, and it’s not going to stop me now.

Sorry to have worried anyone.

Today was a day

Thoughts are pretty much drowning my brain right now, I’m not really sure why I’ve been so assaulted by dilemmas and realizations today. They’re all across the map, so again I have to ask you all to bear with me. And unlike I promised in my last post, this one isn’t going to be super cheery and colloquial either. It’s going to be disjointed, answerless, unsure, and today it will be a little paranoid. Here we go.

Nuri and I went to MikonoYetu today. Mlola picked us up (he’s back at work after having two close family members pass away and being sick, so it was good to see him) and we went to pick up a contract before walking to the dala dala stand. Hemal said he’d have our contract for the venue for our August event at his shop. He didn’t, but it was five minutes away. About forty minutes later, I had the contract on my USB drive thinking that I should’ve just asked Hemal to email it to me. I was late for a meeting. The one time I had to be at MikonoYetu at a specific time, I was going to be an hour late. The meeting where I was introduced to our partners that would be helping with the event was scheduled for 10:00 this morning. He got to the dala dala stand at 10:04 (yes I remember this). I was cheesed, inconvenienced, and kept going from brushing it off to African “pole pole” thinking to being upset with my time management skills and knowing our lateness was my fault. I was already anxious about this meeting. I’m pretty anxious whenever we go to MikonoYetu in the first place. I’m also usually anxious, for no real reason. But I was more anxious than usual, so I was on edge this morning.

I realized something this morning that I’ve never clued into before, here in Mwanza or even back at home in Canada. While I was stressing about time and the contract being late and being late for the meeting and having to go to the meeting in the first place, I realized that nobody else around me cared. No one. They didn’t care. Everyone was going about their days as usual while I worried myself into a little knot. Why was I the only one caring?

Apparently I was the only one caring because there was nothing to be worried about. Maimuna didn’t even respond to the text I sent her saying we’d be late, and when we got there nobody was at the centre except for Maimuna and a gentleman who was going to paint murals in Kahamulo village. I ended up listening in while they finished up their meeting for another hour. What happened to our meeting at 10:00?

Answer: meetings in Mwanza are different from meetings in Canada. We were visited by three women that trickled in throughout the afternoon. Each of them are friends of Maimuna or have been connected to her through MikonoYetu or Kivulini. We showed two of them what I’d come up with in terms of various letters for the event, then we brainstormed things to call the annual festival that we’re hoping will come out of the upcoming event in August. We looked at logo options. So much for my stressful meeting this morning.

Afterwards, Maimuna wanted me to show her the interview questionnaire that I had put together. I had loosely translated all of my questions (thanks, Google Translate), so there would be a question in English and then the same question in Swahili typed out right underneath. I had almost a page of questions, nicely typed out. I had already sent this document to Maimuna, but she hadn’t looked at it yet. We spent the next hour or so retranslating my questions. Maimuna assured me afterwards that the questions were good (at least in English). Maimuna dictated, and I asked for the spelling of basically every single word. She didn’t seem to mind, but my incompetence wore on everyone else and I think she was feeling pretty tired by the end of it. Halfway through, Nuri whispered to me that I should just give my laptop to Maimuna so she could type everything out instead of tediously spelling every single thing she said, sometimes twice. For some reason I felt like I had to do it that way though. Not that I really understood every word that was used (actually most of them I didn’t understand and still don’t), but seeing how things were spelt I think will help me with pronunciation, and I hope I retain at least a little bit of the vocabulary and knowledge of sentence structure. Regardless, it was tedious and I was struck with how silly it was for me to be doing this. I am lending organization and writing skills to this internship. I have already realized that, and I do believe that these are valuable assets for MikonoYetu this summer. I’m a hard worker and even if I haven’t managed to impress Maimuna, I’m pretty sure she still likes me. But these people could have been doing so much more with their afternoons than watching me write down every letter of a bunch of words that mean nothing to me. It would have been done more efficiently if someone else translated. I was being a stubborn time-waster this afternoon, and felt really silly.

I also had my first major word mix-up, which I’ve been waiting to have for ages. It was bound to happen, and I doubt this will be the last time I do it. I wrote down “kusubu” instead of “kusuhu.” “Kusuhu” is the Swahili verb meaning to tell. “Kusubu,” on the other hand, means to kiss. Everyone got a good laugh out of that one.

I didn’t drink enough water at MikonoYetu, and I’m always pretty tired after spending time there in the first place. After accomplishing a few more things, Nuri and I decided to head back to town. We said goodbye after chatting with Maimuna about how these last couple of days have been cooler than most (not that I’ve been able to tell) and walked to the main road. We caught the next dala dala that passed by. After a while, it broke down. Luckily one of the boys that was sitting near us spoke a bit of English, so when everyone else got off he kindly told us that we had to switch buses. The next dala dala was larger but also fuller, so Nuri and I had to stand for most of the ride. Standing in the aisle of this dala dala holding onto the pole overhead for dear life while being driven over unpaved roads made me vow to never complain about London transit ever again.

The guy taking our dala dala money understood that I was paying for both Nuri and I (she gave me 500 shillings, which would have served as my change for 1000 shillings anyways). I successfully proclaimed “wambili, asante” like I’d been told to say if I was paying for more than myself (shout-out to Miraji, who taught me that last week). He seemed happy that I kind of knew what I was doing, and then proceeded to say some more things to me. I had a headache and have resolved to not kid myself when I don’t understand other people, and after trying to decipher what he was saying for a second I smiled and said regretfully, “sifahamu, pole” (I don’t understand, sorry). He didn’t seem super pleased with that. I don’t know what he said, but he said something about this mzungu to someone at the front of the dala dala. I ignored it, and waited until we arrived at the market, where our stop is. To be perfectly honest, this happens all the time, but for some reason this encounter had me on edge. The dala dala arrived at the stand without further incident, and Nuri and I got off along with everyone else. When I got off, the man working on the dala dala was talking with the group of boys that was on the first dala dala with us (the one that broke down). I heard “mzungu” a couple of times, and as I was walking away from the dala dala this man yelled something at me. I don’t know what he said, but this was the first time I was genuinely worried for my safety during my stay in Mwanza. I was worried that Nuri and I would be followed and harassed further. I was quiet and walked pretty quickly the entire walk back to our area of town.

I am fine. Nobody followed me, Nuri and I were both as safe as can be, and after reflecting I’ve concluded that the chances of anything happening were pretty low. It was the middle of the afternoon in the busiest part of town. Nuri and I were together. We knew where we were going, and can deal with people yelling things at us.

But this all got me thinking, while walking back home. Now that I’m more comfortable in my surroundings, I’m noticing things more and more that actually make me uncomfortable. I’m no longer going cross-eyed taking everything in and am no longer solely focused on making sure I’m still with the other interns and am going in the right direction. This is a good thing, but now I actually have the brainpower to split my focus and notice things that I genuinely don’t like, and not just because it’s different.

Like the guy making kissing noises at Nuri and I while we were walking down the street, almost home. Like nobody ever sticking up for us on the dala dala when we get not-so-fine gentlemen yelling at us, making crude remarks, or touching our hands, hair, and arms. No one says anything, not even the people that we know. Things like the pssst noise some men make when they want my attention; I can handle a shout or even a whistle, but the pssst noise really unnerves me for some reason.

I am different, foreign, a novelty, and usually have no idea what is being said around me. I am fine with being called out, and am able to laugh off whatever is said about me or to me, whether I understand it or not. A part of me is bothered whenever friends back home tell me how brave I am for going through all of this and trying to sympathize. This is the new normal. And a part of me knows that to a certain extent, the citizens of Mwanza, Tanzania are allowed to be wary of foreigners and malcontent with my presence.

People don’t have to be rude, though. People don’t have to scare me. I wouldn’t do it to them if I was in their shoes.

I just realized how scared I was today. And how frustrated I felt, and how out-of-place I felt. None of these are pleasant feelings. I didn’t have pleasant feelings towards Mwanza today. Not all of it was bad, but friendly faces were few. I found myself longing for home, when at least I can consciously choose not to respond to people when they say things to me that I don’t like. Here I don’t have that luxury.

I am fine. I’m not about to hop on the next plane to Anywhere-But-Here. I know tomorrow will probably be better. But today was a rollercoaster, and it’s not even over yet. I still have course registration to get through in t minus three hours.

What the heck have we been doing?

The wifi’s not working (again), and I’m trying to do work on a Saturday morning because I was tired yesterday so I neglected doing all the things I should’ve been doing. So I’m a little cranky.

That being said, I’m also (probably self-righteously) upset with my society. Nothing really new here, I know. One of my favourite pass-times is complaining about the problems in my society and then doing very minimal things to change the system, if I do anything at all. I try to have a sustainable, ethical outlook and be aware of the effects I have on the world. But I am a millennial that loves comfort and doesn’t really like it when things change. So I guess I can be a huge hypocrite half of the time.

So this is going to be a self-righteous post that’s allowing me to stall (yet again) when it comes to doing the work I should be doing for MikonoYetu, and is probably flowing out of me more because of my current headache than any real ideas.

I’m reading the MikonoYetu Center for Creativity and Innovation organization profile. I want to include a page about MikonoYetu in the information package that I’m slowly putting together for the fundraising event in August. Since MikonoYetu doesn’t have a website or anything written about them on their Facebook page, I asked Maimuna if I could have the written profile for a bit. Reading through it, I’ve learned a lot about the organization (that I’ve technically worked for for an entire month already), and have a whole new respect for this organization and the organizations and people that partner with, are affiliated with, and are influenced by organizations like MikonoYetu.

It’s about economic empowerment for women. But it’s about so much more.

MikonoYetu branched out from Kivulini Women’s Rights Organization and became a registered, women-led non-profit organization in 2011. Kivulini focuses on curbing domestic and sexual violence; Maimuna and a few other current MikonoYetu staff members used to work at Kivulini. An evidence-based study discovered that when women are economically empowered they have options; they can step out of the vicious cycle of violence, realize their rights, become leaders in their communities, support other women in similar situations, and they can also send their children to school and invest in their children’s development. I asked Maimuna yesterday at our meeting why she created a whole new organization to promote economic empowerment; why didn’t Kivulini just form a new program to run under their already-established umbrella? Maimuna told me that Kivulini is focused on domestic violence, and it would split that focus if they began to also address economic empowerment. So Maimuna branched out and created MikonoYetu. Which is a brilliant organization.

In Tanzania, women don’t receive the same opportunities as men. Poverty statistics are worse for women, violence against women rates are sky high, and Nuri has discovered in her research that Tanzania has one of the highest teenage pregnancy ratings in the world; one in three 18-year-old girls will get pregnant (I don’t have the source, but believe this information was in the 2011 UNICEF study that Nuri found).  I’ve also found from reading MikonoYetu’s profile that less than ten percent of Tanzania’s population have formal certificates of their farmland ownership. While this works out fine for an informal economy, especially agriculture based majorly in rural areas and villages, this makes it very easy for those who operate in the formal economic sector (mainly international investors and East Africans that are of higher economic classes) to exploit these people and take their land with no compensation. What the profile doesn’t detail are the specific repercussions of this: whole communities losing their livelihood and becoming displaced, families breaking down, family members leaving to look for work, abuse and violence in the home and in the community, heightened poverty, lack of literacy and education for children, crime, and I’m sure I could go on.

MikonoYetu’s four programs include land rights education, equal rights advocacy, economic empowerment, and natural resource management. They inform the masses on how to seek legal action and give assistance on how to acquire title deeds and lawfully sell land. Women and girls specifically are educated on their equal rights to own land under the Constitution of Tanzania and similar legislation. Advocacy on equal rights between men and women in other areas is also a part of the organization. Economic empowerment projects include promoting fair trade, high value, nutritious agricultural practices; livestock breeding for milk and yogurt production, meat, and leather; taking advantage of Mwanza becoming an emerging touristic city and seeking to provide opportunities for women’s involvement in cultural tourism; and forest management that motivates communities to grow trees. Women are also trained to be entrepreneurs through training programs as well as mentorship programs. MikonoYetu has even helped establish community banks and linked farmers to microfinance institutions and programs. Farmers now use waste and cow manure to fertilize soil. Communities have planted trees to combat climate change and promote biodiversity. Individuals have been supported to own property.

I realize this is a profile written by the MikonoYetu staff. It doesn’t give the roadblocks or the gaps in the programs. But in only a few years (I’m not positive when this profile was written) MikonoYetu had brought rabbit-keeping programs in two village primary schools. They had increased the income of more than fifty women and young people. They had supported more than fifty women, girls, and young people to own property and land. They had mobilized rural women, young people, poor men, and children to plant 7,000 trees to combat global warming. They had established food banks and had strengthened communities.

This is a really cool organization.

So while I have been sitting in school with my iPhone, overstimulating my brain and trying to figure out what I’m going to eat next on campus, there have been organizations that are combatting climate change, resource inequality, and gendered poverty. And they’ve been successful and will continue to be successful. They are partnering with local governments and are building strong communities that see the fruits of their labour. They are alleviating systemic violence by targeting full communities and making individuals realize that these issues are community issues. They are planting trees and composting to combat the very desertification that will hit Sub-Saharan Africa hard, even though under-industrialized nations have little to do with the bulk of the pollution that is causing it.

I don’t mean this to be self-loathing or overly critical of how North Americans spend their time. We live in a different context and address our own societal issues (poverty still being one of them). I’ll still use my iPhone and when I go back home I doubt I’ll spend all of my time planting trees to promote biodiversity and fight climate change.

I’m just struck by how they’ve gotten it so right, when there are still people in Canada that don’t even think climate change and resource scarcity is a thing. Tanzanians are investing in solar energy, yet Canada released a statement a few years ago that because it’s so cold in our country, we can’t reduce our emissions like we promised in the Kyoto Protocol (two side-notes: 1. Canada’s emissions actually increased after they promised to take action to lower them and 2. most European countries significantly lowered their green-house gas emissions, which basically means that our country being cold is a silly excuse).

Why am I so whiny lately? I’m tired and a little stressed and if I’m honest with myself I’m a little homesick. But I’m also kind of upset. About a lot of things. I’m a lower-middle class Canadian girl that has packed her bags and made the trip to Mwanza, Tanzania for three months because I wanted to help out with a Western initiative that I have a lot of faith in. I also wanted to gain more practical knowledge and open my eyes to how it really is in the world, or at least in this little corner of the world. I encountered a vibrant space that is breeding systemic inequality. I encountered street kids, abused women and children, uneducated masses, and people that know I have more than them by virtue of my skin colour. It’s been a lot to take in.

Yet they’re getting it so right in some aspects. I’ve always admired African movements that address sustainability, resource management, agriculture, and environmental issues. In a world where the solutions to poverty and “underdevelopment” are loans, structural adjustment programs, aggressive industrialization, and economic decentralization (thanks, capitalism), many nations and communities have rejected these approaches and turned to grassroots microfinance, local business, and sustainable farming. These communities still have to fight against exploitation and calls for stronger top-down approaches. They still face poverty and issues associated with small economies. There will still be exploitation from industries and businesses that refuse to leave poor people alone.

But, reading this profile and trying to figure out how I can put all that MikonoYetu does in a couple of short paragraphs (and also trying to figure out how I can blame the lack of wifi to stall some more), I am dumbfounded that they can do what environmental activists are still trying to get through to us back home. I’m sure there are dozens of theories that seek to explain this (I’ve studied a few of them). My overarching point in all of this is not that I believe Canada should be more advanced in every aspect including environmental responsibility. We have our problems too, and the last thing I want to do is enforce any views of African nations as perpetually behind. My point is that our views of “underdeveloped” countries and regions stunts these very spaces. They are focused on community initiatives right now. But why shouldn’t Tanzanians become more of a voice in the climate change dialogue? Why shouldn’t they become leaders in the environmental sustainability movement? Because it’s not just MikonoYetu that values these sustainable approaches; I’ve noticed that it’s a big topic here. It’s a very real topic. Renewable energy is being widely used (particularly solar energy).

I think we’re too comfortable to really do anything in the West. So maybe countries that can’t afford to be comfortable yet need to start shaking things up and pointing fingers.

This has turned out to be another dry post. My apologies. I promise to be cheery and colloquial and uplifting next time.

[Note: this post was originally written on Saturday, June 18th. The wifi hasn’t been working this weekend (as I mentioned at the beginning of this post) so I decided to write down my thoughts and worry about posting later. Reading this a couple of days after writing it I realize that I sound really cranky, but I’m not going to change that because I want this travel blog to be as true-to-life as possible. And sometimes I’m cranky]

Looking Back

It’s been a month today since I got up from a sleepless night to my first morning in Mwanza, Tanzania. I’ve learned a lot about my surroundings and about myself in this time. It’s been really good for me.

I’ve learned some Swahili; people still laugh at me when I try to speak but I’m getting more confident and learning as I go. My eyes have also been opened to how ineffective one is if they are unfamiliar with the local language. I can come in with all of my theoretical knowledge and superior schooling, or even just armed with my good intentions, but I still can’t relate to anyone that I interact with on the level that I would like. I sound like a broken record, but I never fully realized how little I can do if I don’t know the language. I’m more of a liability at times, as locals attempt to teach me words that I’m unfamiliar with and I try to get across what I mean with a dysfunctional game of charades. I’ve been reflecting on this over the past few days. I would love to travel and do this kind of work after I graduate and finish my schooling. I would love to figure out ways to do this kind of thing for a living. I have always known that I won’t end up living in Canada. But I’m also a writer. I’m a communicator. My strengths lie in my words, because if I’m honest with myself I don’t have many other skills to speak of. On the flip side, I’m a huge advocate for African countries to take back their local languages and dialects and find unity in their own unique diversity. Colonialism brought European languages into these spaces and caused them to be languages of power. There is a wide spectrum of this in post-colonial spaces, but for the most part English (or French or another European language) is the language of education, business, and of the upper tiers of the social hierarchy. These imported languages also come with historical baggage.

I don’t write in Swahili, or Hindi, or Farsi, or Mandarin, or any other language other than English. I love learning about other languages and am totally in love with Swahili, but will probably never be able to write fluently in the language and use my talents to make any lasting difference within this context.

This is turning into a whine-fest featuring my own existential crisis.

I’m tired of having limited conversation with passers-by, the people I work with, and the marginalized populations our organizations seek to help. I can order food, barter a little (although I’m not the bartering type even in the language I’m comfortable in), and exchange pleasantries. I can get by in Mwanza, Tanzania. I’ve been here a month. I know how to get places and if I don’t I know how to ask. I’m doing well. But I’m so tired of that being it. I’m tired of not being able to be innovative and reach out to people and listen to others and learn from people. I love learning from people, and I know the individuals I interact with have tons of things to say. But I don’t understand them. It’s so frustrating. I’m tired of being two steps behind and still not really knowing what’s going on.

Will I ever be effective in this context? I don’t know, but likely not. I will do my best, and I’ve concluded that if I do my job as effectively as I can then this will be a successful internship. I can lend my organizational skills to getting the MikonoYetu fundraising event off the ground, and can do my very best with developing interview tools and questions to bring out the stories of some spectacular women that have been through the economic empowerment programs through the MY centre. I know I can do that. I’m excited to finally know that I won’t completely fail this summer. I can contribute my skills to my projects here, and that is really encouraging.

But I don’t know if this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Do I still want to devote my life to development work and helping others? Of course. I just don’t know how anymore. I don’t know if I’ll have to do it in my own local context or if I can go elsewhere and not be deadweight just trying to get by. I’m not necessarily discouraged or apprehensive. I’m not angry or worried. I’m going to wrestle with this for the rest of my time in Mwanza, and then afterwards as I integrate myself back into Canadian life. I’ll mull it over during the next year, two years, maybe more. I am so glad that I decided to come to Mwanza, Tanzania for three months to work for a women’s rights NGO. I am so blessed to have gotten an opportunity like this, and to come from a place where these kinds of international experiences are actually feasible. I have learned so much about myself and have benefited greatly from being outside of my own, familiar context. I love it here. I love the people, and have enjoyed getting to know everyone that I’ve met. This last month has been one of the hardest times for me, but it’s also been the best month I’ve ever had. I hope to continue growing and evolving and learning and working and building relationships. I hope my Swahili improves.

I just don’t know what I want anymore.