Tag Archives: survival


Flee to Uganda and you can make a future here, if you’re a little bit lucky or not too poor.

Like Mimy, a Congolese mother of ten (!) who spent two years barely scraping by in Kampala — but was then taken to Nakivale settlement, where she no longer has to pay rent, and gets monthly food provisions and medical care, while running her dressmaking business.

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Or like Nshimiye, who spotted an opportunity for more footfall when a new distribution point was due to open on another street, and requested to move his business there.  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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The right to shine

Not for saleWhat did you learn today?, I asked Jennifer, aged 9. We learned about child abuse, she replied. Bit of a conversation killer, that one.

I’m supposed to be blogging about human rights today – part of the global Blog Action Day. I’ve only been in the country three days, though, so I’m not exactly a voice of authority. But surprises – like the primary three curriculum – have given me some indication of what issues Ugandan bloggers might be discussing.

Like the scrawled not-for-sale signs on houses and plots nearby, defensive and angry at developers trying to buy their land. In some cases, they use fake documents to kick them off, I was told; people who can’t afford a lawyer are powerless. 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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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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Through her eyes

International Women’s Day, and all the donors (or “Development Partners”, if you please) and NGOs and media are jumping on the bandwagon to frame their cause through a woman’s eyes. (More on “piggy-backing” your issue onto the topic of the day in this beautifully written piece on famine.)

Well, I’m doing it too. As part of my job here I’m supposed to contribute to another blog. We don’t do anything specifically aimed at women though. Instead, I wondered what issues face women in general, and the one that grabbed me was this: they are often forbidden from inheriting land. Continue reading

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Still in the dark

Window-shopping from your bus seat

What makes you feel lost, unsure – a foreigner – in Dar?

It’s a fairly safe city. But there are no street lights, and those that exist are long broken, so travelling after 7pm always feels eerie, and nothing like being in a big city; there are few street names or house numbers (people laugh when I ask the address), so you can’t find your way round with a map; bus stops aren’t marked and your “taxi” might just be a man with a car; and there aren’t many traffic rules that people actually obey, so the roads are chaotic and dangerous; and when your bus slows down the boys hawking cold drinks or pineapples are frantic in their insistence on selling you something; and elbows and arms of your fellow passengers thrust into your face on the daladala, people are even climbing in through the back window to get a seat; and people don’t understand my broken Kiswahili because all the words are so easy to mix up; and opening times might be given in Swahili time; and cafés don’t have menus, or if they do they don’t actually have what’s on the menu; and men ask you personal questions before they even know your name (Do you have a husband? How old are you? Can I have your phone number?). Continue reading

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“Watch out for the seven-month dip”, warned my Canadian colleague, a seasoned expat who’s lived in French Guiana and Malawi before coming to Tanzania a few years ago. It’s just enough time, he says, to have got over the shock of the new, but not long enough to have made real friends (though I disagree with that) or to have achieved enough at work to make you see the value of sticking around.

We’d been told something similar during training back in Europe: things go great for the first few weeks or months, until the novelty wears off – expect it to go something like this, they said: Continue reading

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All I want for Christmas

Little things are a whole lot more complicated when you start somewhere new, but on the plus side you get to enjoy the rush of pride that comes with every moment of near-tears averted. Ticking off those little successes keeps you going: making it into the city centre and back in one piece; figuring out how to top up the electricity meter; surviving my first stomach bug; discovering that the ancient radio set in my apartment broadcasts BBC World. And finding someone to spend Christmas with.

My new travel buddy and I are off to Lushoto, about a 6-hour bus journey north of Dar. It’s supposed to be a bit like Switzerland – a picturesque place in the mountains – but apparently there’s no ATM in the whole town, so the analogy doesn’t quite hold. Continue reading

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