Monthly Archives: April 2012

Dar experience: the movie

It wasn’t even my idea, though my list-making mania has rightly been pointed out: my group chose to make  a film that is really only a list, the visual counterpart of what I had summed up previously in writing.

Anyway, a day of shooting and few painful days of editing later, here it is. Forgive the cheesiness, and don’t blink – it’s called “A short film” for a reason.

(More experiments over on the In video page.)

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Status anxiety

I met up with a guy called Ian, who’s travelling the circumference of Africa, when he passed through Dar on Friday. I was intrigued as to how someone could spend a whole year, alone, on public transport. He said he was happy to meet up with someone who wouldn’t end a friendly conversation by trying to sell him something or by asking for money.

That’s one of the saddest things about being here. You go from being a normal nobody back home to someone important: someone with money. And you’re aware of it all the time: In the expat neighbourhoods, where the waiting staff, the guards, the cleaners, the taxi drivers are all Africans and who, we happily tell ourselves, earn a good wage from us as customers or employers. In the poorer parts of town, where a white person is more of a novelty, and where kids with bad teeth or polio cripples ask for money and market sellers give you extra attention because you’ll be spending big bucks. Continue reading

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Crime scene

Survived my first drive-by mugging attempt yesterday. Luckily they were truly rubbish at it: the car was too far away so the guy leaning all the way out of the passenger window couldnt quite reach my bag to pull it off my shoulder. Even luckier, it was one of the rare days I was carrying both a camera and a laptop. What a rookie.

By now I’ve realised that almost every expat you talk to has a similar story. Some are a bit scary – being dragged along the road as they try to wrestle the bag off your shoulder. And the leafy, quiet neighbourhood popular among expats where I live seems to be one of the worst places. Still, it’s not till it happens to you that you actually take it seriously. So thank you, useless muggers, for reminding me to be more careful.


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Could do (much) better

I’ve already written here about the language of instruction in Tanzania, but recently developed those ideas in an article for the Washington Times.

When I called the Ministry of Education’s spokesperson, she told me that they are not considering changing the language of instruction while English remains so important globally. Ironically, her own level of English was not great, but she didn’t seem to see the irony in defending a system that isn’t doing what it’s supposed to.

As usual, I discovered many more aspects to the issue than could be explored in a 900-word piece. Like the fact that overall quality of education here has actually got worse since the last generation (still trying to pinpoint why). Continue reading

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The good, the bad, and the ugly list-making habit

In Mama Dar, a book of short stories about Dar es Salaam, one writer recalls her first few weeks here as being not positive, not negative – just experiencing a numbness as she tries to figure out how things work. Another friend who’s just arrived says the same: trying to answer the question of whether she likes it here or not just doesn’t work.

I had the same feeling – I still do. Living here is still just a mish-mash of the wonderful and intriguing, the infuriating and depressing. My answer ends up involving listing a few examples of the good and bad stuff. Maybe for wherever one lives, whatever one does, it’s like that. But being somewhere new, I guess, makes you a bit more receptive to the everyday experience. The unfamiliarity makes for deeper impressions.

So – now that I’ve accepted that I’m never going to break my list-making habit – here it is, in no particular order. Now stop asking us if we like it here. Continue reading

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For sale

I was sitting in on a teacher-training workshop the other day, and during the break the (unofficial?) photographer carefully laid out his works for sale – 2000 TSH (about EUR 1) per unframed photo, a bit more for the frame. It seemed to be all about getting them printed as fast as possible rather than trying to make sure he got decent shots of each participant – some of them were truly unflattering.


A day of microloans

Expect a more substantial/better thought-out post on microfinance soon, but in the meantime: I spent the day with Investours, a non-profit set-up that combines tourism and microfinance. It’s a kind of a Dragon’s Den for well-meaning tourists who don’t necessarily know anything about business (nor about Tanzania) but who can decide which tiny business will get their money on the day they visit. It’s an unusual approach and one that is about to take off, it seems: already established in Mexico, they’re also looking to launch in other East African countries and Asia.

In the meantime though I’m getting into microfinance in a more direct way. This morning one of the guards asked to borrow money again. He always repays it. Continue reading

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Rainy season, and far-off fears

Stuck in traffic, but it could be worse

E-mail from the Irish embassy a few hours ago: “Please note that there is a Tsunami warning in place on the Indian Ocean following earthquake this a.m. in Indonesia. Please monitor local radio and tv stations for up to date reports.”

By now the warning seems to have been lifted. For a brief afternoon though, we wondered if and when the tsunami would reach the East African coast. I started worrying about friends on Zanzibar. The rains that came down relentlessly for most of today – rainy season has finally got underway – seemed to warn of more frightening floods to come. We were sent home early from class because everyone realised how hard it would be to get home; meetings and gym classes this evening were cancelled; remembering the December floods in Dar es Salaam that killed over 50 people and destroyed numerous homes and offices, people began packing up valuables. Continue reading

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Getting in the way

Tomorrow I’m off to the dark underbelly of Dar to capture on film the corrupt authorities at work, and the people paying them off.  Except I’m not actually allowed to go along: the others in my group, two Tanzanians, told me: “You should stay away”. People would be too suspicious if a white person was asking the questions or even within observing distance.

We’re lucky, though: we have James in our group – now a musician, he used to live on the streets himself and he knows exactly where to find the people who’ll be smoking joints and likely to be paying bribes to the police. Continue reading

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T.I.A ?

Every time I go to the bank, I overhear other Westerners complaining loudly: about the transfer that didn’t go through but no one informed them; about the ATM machines that are broken again but no one knows when they’ll be fixed; about the staff wandering around while customers are waiting to be served. One guy – who spoke fluent Kiswahili – became particularly enraged when he saw the letterbox with the words: “Don’t hold back – give us your feedback!” He did.

Their irritated, impatient voices as they give off to the meek-looking Tanzanian employees made me cringe at first. But now I find myself doing the same – and, worse still, in that same incredulous, exasperated tone of voice. Continue reading

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