Tag Archives: communication

A little bit of a change

Flipchart

Lots of ideas

“So how would you avoid making the same mistake as Mugabe?”

It wasn’t a question I’d expected to ask of my trainees yesterday, the staff of an organisation called A Little Bit of Hope in the nearby-ish town of Busolwe. They’d raised the Zimbabwean president’s name: we were discussing the role of a communicator and one of them had mentioned the time Mugabe had delivered a whole speech without realising he was reading out the one he’d given last month.

The point was relevant though – and a sign they both understood my questions and were volunteering their own ideas, two things I’ve learned not to take for granted. Continue reading

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Contagion

I couldn’t think of a single follow up question. Or didn’t want to.

I was doing a quick interview with a woman on the street outside the school. Her kids often had to miss class because she didn’t have the money, she said. And suddenly, I was too tired of hearing it again. It was always the same, tedious story. Nothing changed. I couldn’t fix it, and I had no idea who could or would. What was the point?

Later, Okwany asked me for advice: his mother had lost both legs, his father was very old. They lived far away and didn’t have enough to eat. Later, when he hinted at the allowance we might pay them to cover their travel costs, I pretended not to notice, till the subject was changed. I wanted Okwiri to deal with that – even if we split the cost – I hated them thinking I was money.

But I wasn’t the only one.

‘They’ll all be saying, now you have money’, Teacher Alice told me, as we waited for the others to come back from filming. Continue reading

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Urban legend

Keep walkingNairobi, Nairobbery, they say. One of those places you’d never want to visit.

Except that you do, because there’s a buzz about this place and stuff happening like nowhere else on the continent: the developers and innovators building ‘silicon savannah’; the newspapers and corporations making this the bolshy media and business capital of East Africa; the donor money settling in offices here, trailing the idealistic and the cunning behind.

This is no hilly Kampala with her jovial motorbike-taxi drivers, or Dar es Salaam with her Indian bingo clubs and beach bars. This beast of a city has everything in more extreme measures: more choking traffic, more crime, more high-rise buildings and more low-rise shanty towns and all the problems they bring. Continue reading

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No to nostalgia

RainWe finished the film, even with 4+ days without power; our main actor walking off set mid-scene; and people never turning up when they said they would. We screened it on my laptop in a dark classroom on my last evening in Kazo, to about 20 people, and it was kind of special to feel proud of something that I had not done: the guys had done virtually all the actual shooting, acting, editing.

But there’d been too little time (or energy, or electricity) to do all that I could/should have done. I could have done a camera class with the teachers and P2 class, could have helped Eliab with his CV, could have helped Godfrey with his dance website and Joseph with his exam prep, could have helped Shakul and Baker create flickr accounts, could have given Poul more time on my computer to play with Photoshop, could have done more editing with Daniel, could have taught Juliette how to use Excel and Word, could have made that brochure for Ronald, could have done more photo sessions with everyone, especially the latecomers, could have pushed further on the AIDS issue that was always sort of there but never properly discussed. I could have done more for so many good-hearted, courageous people. Maybe I need to come back.

Before the nostalgia sets in, I’d better remember the worst bits. Continue reading

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Who’s in?

Photo by Shakul

Photo by Shakul

I’ve almost adapted to African timekeeping, but I still don’t get the agreeing to come the next day and then you find out that person had something else on (like school), that everyone else in the group knew about and just didn’t tell you in the first place. Is it that they want to please the figure of authority, the foreigner – and they just tell us what they think we want to hear?

In the meantime, one of the guys who does turn up should actually be in school, but isn’t going – as far as I can work out, because he hasn’t been able to pay school fees. My first reaction was to send him away to avoid encouraging skipping school, but if he really has been sent home, isn’t it better he’s here, maybe learning something? Continue reading

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Learning, not burning [churches]

“All these men just hanging around doing nothing…!”, my Mum kept commenting when she visited Tanzania. It’s true. Partly because social life happens outside, and partly because Time here is a different kind of commodity – something to be shared, not jealously guarded as it is by us in the West, running around shouting about how busy we are.

By now, though, I had stopped noticing the lazing and lurking and staring; I (sometimes) enjoy the gentler approach to time. And many of these men – they are usually men – do work somewhere, during irregular hours perhaps: selling produce in the market, working in a relative’s shop, repairing things.

But even if they’re lucky enough to have that informal employment, a desperate lack of skills prevents them ever getting more than unstable, unreliable work for a minimal wage.
That skills deficit starts at the most basic level. Tanzania has made progress: the share of national income spent on education more than tripled in the last decade; in the same period, enrolment in primary schools doubled. But just being in school, it seems, is not enough. Continue reading

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The conference I wasn’t supposed to be organising

Tomorrow’s the big day. Whatever happens, I did learn a few things.

1) How to use a phone,  combining the best of Tanzanian and Western methods. In other words: If they don’t answer, keep ringing. And ringing. If they say they’ll check something and call you back, say you’ll stay on the line. Phone everyone you’re working with every day to remind them of what they said last week they would do by yesterday. Phone everyone you’re working with to check they received the e-mails you sent. Don’t bother with landlines; any numbers you find on websites are probably already out of order. Get everyone’s (three different) mobile numbers. Lose any self-consciousness about shouting down the phone. Hang up before either of you says goodbye. Continue reading

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Communication for beginners

Have I learned nothing in all the time I’ve been here?!, I wonder sometimes.

The past week I’ve been in long meetings with an experienced Belgian colleague who’s in the country for a week. With our Tanzanian colleagues we’re working on the “exit strategy” of an education project – trying to pave the way for continuation of what worked well and ensure that what’s been invested isn’t lost as soon as our funding ends next year.

So I arrive with my laptop, ready to note down action points and to-do lists and questions to be ticked off. And then struggle against the rising irritation in my lungs as people we were scheduled to meet simply don’t turn up, or are late, or sit there yawning or answering their phones. Continue reading

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Emerging markets

Two per cent.

I had two meetings today with media people, and both of them quoted that figure – the proportion of Tanzanians with access to the internet. They were exaggerating, surely?

Apparently not: recent research found that indeed, a mere 2.5% of Tanzanians had access to the internet. I’m not sure how “access” is defined: ITU figures from 2011 say that about 11% are classed as “internet users” – those who’ve gone online in the past 12 months. Either way, it’s a fairly insignificant minority. What’s incredible is how those 2.5% with (I assume) regular access get online, as the graphic pinched from howwemadeitinafrica.com shows:

Continue reading

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Excuse me?

Just don't expect him to know where he's going

It took me a while to realise this but when Tanzanians say “Yes?”, they don’t mean yes. Obviously. They actually mean “pardon”, as in, they haven’t understood what you said.

Considering I work in communications I’m finding actually communicating mighty hard. A big part of that is the language, especially outside the capital where few people speak English. But even with the educated ones who do – like my colleagues, or like the secondary school teacher I met yesterday – it takes me about three times as long to get an answer and even then I’m not totally sure we’ve really understood each other or that they’ve told me what they really think. Continue reading

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