Tag Archives: expat

The luxury of leaving

Washing lineOn day 4, we stood in a circle and held hands while Lawrence – fondly nicknamed ‘the Pastor’ – asked that God bless my safe return. It was nearly dark: we’d waited a long time for Okwiri, who’d spent all day with a mechanic after some kids vandalised the friend’s car he’d borrowed to drive us into Dandora.

But there was still time for a prayer. ‘Does it feel like a ritual?’, laughed Okwiri, who seems – either from experience or instinct – to know where the great divides between Africans and Europeans lie. ‘No! It’s nice’, I said – and was glad I didn’t have to lie.

Their enthusiasm to work with me all week was heartening – though given that the chef at my hotel and my taxi driver seemed equally sad to say goodbye I don’t quite take it as a measure of success. 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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The creative spaces

Not just there for the free wifi

I’d had the same idea, but someone else got to it first – writing about Dar es Salaam’s emerging tech/innovation sector.

“With Kenya’s ‘Silicon Savannah’ booming to the north, and money being ploughed into Rwanda’s ICT dreamland to the west, Tanzania seems to have been left in the dust”, writes the journalist.  That’s starting to change though, thanks to Dar’s two new tech/innovation hubs. I’ve been to one of them a few times: TANZICT hosts unusual, and actually quite useful networking/learning meet-ups, in a free, open public space with wireless internet and electricity – not to be sniffed at in this city. Their ‘Girls’ Night Out’ series of events – women-only sessions for learning, practising or sharing new tools and technologies – are a brilliant idea.

Dar is still a long way off Nairobi though.  “If there is one truthful stereotype of Tanzania, it is that the country can be painstakingly slow”, continues the article. Continue reading

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Fruit market to red carpet

My photo albums are sufficiently stocked with the postcard images of Africa (smiling schoolchildren, colourful markets, battered old buses, banana trees, misspelt signboards, etc…). And they do tell part of a truth about this country; the kids do smile and the buses are old. But, of course, they leave out the aesthetically uninteresting and the (to our eyes) unexotic/normal. That selectiveness is how photography (and any art) works, I guess, and it’s what makes your images yours and not someone else’s.

But a more real account of Tanzania would describe the rest of it too, which is partly what led me to (or at least led me to bring my camera to) a flashy event in Dar last night. Continue reading

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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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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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On St Paddy’s Day

It’s nice to be part of the expat community renowned for throwing the best diplomatic parties. Last night I lived out that image people always seem to have of expat life: rubbing shoulders with ministers, CEOs, and ambassadors’ wives in a leafy suburban garden with a pool, fed by dozens of local staff with endless rounds of smoked salmon appetisers.

There were lots of other ordinary folk there too, of all nationalities: the NGO manager, the Toyota sales manager, the teacher, the consultant-turned-author – and, this being an Irish event, a few missionaries too.

Being Irish in Tanzania has its drawbacks though, like the 100 USD tourists pay to enter the country (for some reason, many other European nationals pay less). Continue reading

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