Tag Archives: mzungu

Power-saving mode

On the way here, Gerald the driver told me he watches Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and The Weakest Link on BBC Entertainment. Why did so many places in England have names ending in ‘shire’ and why was she only the Queen of England if she ruled the whole United Kingdom? I didn’t know.

Busembatia is only an hour’s drive from the expat-friendly, tourist-magnet town of Jinja, but it feels far from that world.

“Bye Mzungu!” squeal all the kids.

“Mzungu – it’s that colour that you have,” a man called James explained, slowing his bicycle alongside me to introduce himself. White people have stayed here before, but that doesn’t seem to have dulled the excitement.

Resources feel precious now. 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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New Vision and the Thieves

_NewVision of the Thieves

There’s a whole story behind this photo that I don’t have, but what I do know is: this is the Local Council, a one-room building not far from Kazo Playground. The guy sitting down is the ‘Defence’.  The two young men being photographed, by a New Vision journalist, have been taken in (arrested?); their shirts are tied together. At first, I was told they were thieves. Later, someone said they were homeless and caught squatting.I never found out what they really did. Continue reading

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Blissfully uneventful

Family portrait

Landing was just the beginning.

It’s not only Kigoma’s runway that’s not paved; most roads in the region – far from any big city and close to the borders with stricken Burundi and DR Congo – are rough roads.

Driving from village to village, thick clouds of dust swell with every passing vehicle, turning the roadside vegetation orange-brown. We narrowly miss a dog, a goat, and a huge lizard that runs across the road; a bird is less fortunate. One afternoon, in Kigoma town, a man has collapsed in the middle of a main road: he tries to get up, but fails. Malaria? Something else? Just drunk, it turns out.

When I buy my bus ticket for the return journey towards Dar, I get a seat number that’s next to one of two armed guards. My colleagues had been joking all week about what we do when we meet the bandits.
Continue reading

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Morning warning

At least there aren’t many wild animals in Dar

One of those ubiquitous white 4x4s cut across my path on the way to work this morning, pulling up in front of me. The driver didn’t say “hello sister” or “hey mzungu”, just a polite “excuse me?”, so I stopped. He was a mzungu too: maybe he needed directions.

“You are aware that there’ve been a lot of bag snatchings on this road,” he says, a statement more than a question.

On this main road, at 8am, with a constant stream of jeeps and bajajis and pedestrians all on their way to work? I sigh: “Yeah I know… it’s usually ok in the mornings though…”

Poor naïve girl, says the look he gives me. 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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