Tag Archives: income gap

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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Taking your trash out

I know – another post about rubbish – but only because of this guy, who we saw frantically rooting around for plastic bottles and such, unknown to the driver. Somehow, he retains his balance round corners and over bumps, managing to fill a sackful before he jumps off, at the last moment – before the truck turns off the main road and disappears into the depths of the Dandora dump.

Trash-2 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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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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Fashion on the farm

Spice farm style

Trying not to write another blog post about crime in this city, because I’m sick of hearing about it, talking about it, even dreaming about it. So maybe: something about the absurdity of days here? A morning struggling through the thick knots of desparate, angry young men in the city centre – taxi drivers that nearly start a fight to get your custom, snarling market hawkers resentful of your rich white faces, opportunist thieves and their violent fists – and the same evening, finding yourself admiring the modern art and marble worktops of a four-bathroomed apartment with sea view and private gym.

I hate lazy travel writing that sums up a destination as a place of contrasts – you can always find them if you look – but I can’t get away from the disjointed reality of Tanzania sometimes. Continue reading

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Where to put the tourist dollars

Lucky/unlucky Tanzania is poor enough, but also stable enough, to attract thousands of international NGOs.

One of the more unusual ones in Dar es Salaam is Investours, a non-profit that combines microlending with tourism.* Visitors spend the day with local business owners and afterwards decide which one gets a loan, funded by the tour fees. A few months later, the money is repaid: the local microfinance bank responsible for prescreening businesses and administering loans keeps 30%, and the rest goes to Investours to cover their operational costs.

It’s not running perfectly yet – I did the tour over a month ago and am still waiting for the promised updates from the hair salon I selected, and for an invitation to the Investours online “community”. 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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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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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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