15/03/2013

notes from Kamachumu in Kagera in Tanzania in Africa





'Despite it all, we still like you.'

– Abraham, on Tanzanians' general attitude toward white people.



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"Hello supervisor, can we have the vital operating budget we were allocated?"

"Hello! No; it's not here."

"Oh no! That sucks. Can I just pay it for them, then?"

"Heavens no! That would breed aid dependency."

"Oh. Well, maybe. Can I lend it to them until the budget comes through?"

"Heavens no! That would breach the equality of volunteers! We have planned under the assumption that volunteers have no no money."

"But that assumption isn't true - look, here's my lunch money."

"Yes. So?"

"...
...

...So in fact we're playing a game here? A game, with these people's lives: SimVSO. This whole strand of the project is to be undone over £4 of printing costs?"

"Welcome to the third sector!"

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Coldplay ring out over Africa.


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Excellent things in Tanzania:

  • Ludicrous freshness of the food.
  • The instant familial, familiar communitarianism. (We the human family.)
  • The looseness of property that attends that (Mi ipod es su ipod.)
  • The style, the condition and the volume of the women's clothes.
  • The baffling lack of racism against whites.
  • Teachers playing football deadly seriously against their 11 year old charges, losing.
  • The word and practice "kugongea": a visit to someone's house expressly for the free food.

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Tanzania's buildings and artefacts are austere and scabby - but its natural surroundings are rococo. (Monkeys climbing on the roof above the bright green matoke and bright red dirt.) What world place is the converse, with gaudy things and mundane nature? Los Angeles? Tokyo?


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Widely accepted ways of despising the poor:

  • Portray them as parasitic. ("Not job creators.")

  • When confronted with poverty, talk about aid dependency.

  • When confronted with an individual case of poverty, immediately change the subject to begging rackets. (Makes donation naive and immoral.)


These aspersions are not merely delusions borne of ignorance and self-interest. But no one using them knows how much they actually manifest - whether they are poison or just the idea of poison which has the same effect.


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The received idea of Africa:

"that hot place where people die".


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My family here are Muslim. But in three months no one asked me my religion. Just "brother".



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All of the town signs in the country are Coke branded!


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Ha! There are no appointments in Africa!
- Ta Bwogi, project manager



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Tote bags and screen prints display constantly the gods of this region:

Nyerere, Marley, Obama


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Maxims for the International Third Sector

  • Contacts are king. Take everyone's number, note everyone's skills.
  • You do not know what to do out here. But few do.
  • The plan will perish. Do not drag people down with it.
  • Do no harm.
  • Confirm all appointments twice.
  • Keep obsessive records.
  • Allow lots of slippage time.
  • Keep your inner life floating free. Critique silently.
  • Will haste serve justice?
  • It is imperative that you not look bored in meetings. "Penye wengi pana mengi."
  • You have not succeeded until your successor succeeds.
  • 'Enliven morality with wit, but temper wit with morality.'


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Local: "I do not like this David Cameron."
"Oh? Good. Why?"
"He is tying foreign aid to gay rights!"
"..."

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Something we did almost every day and which now seems dodgy:

Hiding round the corner from a shop while our black mate went to buy the things we wanted - at the actual price, not the bei mzungu.



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16/8/12. Come across a dying dog on my way home. Shout for help. No response. It is barely breathing. What to do? Carry it to the RSPCA? Curb-stomp it in my sandals? Later, passing through the narrow banana grove at 50mph, at night, Ta Sunday runs it over with his Toyota pickup, anyway.


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19/8/12. My first Eid. Lunch was weird - sat in a circle on the floor with eight men facing a massive 20kg mound of rice which we handled admirably.


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Feeling the crush of intellectual violence here: the phrase "Well, it's my opinion", wielded as a club to dismiss rational challenge. "That's your OPINION." - the word rightly spat out, being as it is an insult and a torture device. This phrase is used as if the hope of consonant reason was a waste of time, since the iron and homogenous fact of all matters is that

YOU THINK THAT AND I THINK THIS AND THAT'S THE END OF IT.


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THE SUN SHINES ON THE ONE WHO PRAISES IT
- Swahili proverb



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Me: "Yeah, I don't really like Bob Marley."
A: "!? I thought you said you liked philosophy?"


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S & A have been smoking weed throughout. Police weed. The cop just gave it to them. It is difficult to think of this as corruption.


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Urg. The women talked about their 'right' to sex with their husbands.


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The modern world has equipped developing-world doctors with incredibly powerful meds - but extraordinarily weak diagnostic skills.


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The most horrible thing I encountered was the (illegal) old Haya bride kidnapping custom.
Step 1: Invite, trick, or kidnap yourself a woman.
Step 2: Keep her in your room for 40 days.
Result: by tribal law, she is your wife and her family must accept you.

Apparently, a man tried to do this during my time there. Ranting to my sister about this, she listened politely and added: "Worse than this: some men are taking women without paying anything!"



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Bought my brother some Maasai viagra ("mkongora") as a joke. It was sold to me without ridicule or bawdry, just beautiful quiet understanding.


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It's utterly taboo for men to cry. Poor N learned this in the throes of a breakdown, suddenly ostracised by his family.


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In 1911, Italian Catholic priests put before a group of Acholi elders the question “Who created you?”. Because the Luo Language does not have an independent concept of 'create' or 'creation', the question was rendered to mean ‘Who moulded you?’ But this was still meaningless - because human beings are born of their mothers. The elders told the visitors they did not know. But we are told that this reply was unsatisfactory, and the missionaries insisted that a satisfactory answer must be given. One of the elders remembered that, although a person may be born normally, when he is afflicted with sclerosis of the spine, then he loses his normal figure, he gets ‘moulded.’ So he said, ‘Rubanga is the one who moulds people'.
- Kwai Miredu


Thus in Luo, the Christian god is called "Rubanga". And hence a fair translation of God is "Hunchback".


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The priests' houses up at Rutabo are ludicrous mansions. And they held an all-day party at the church to celebrate him moving into his second mansion.


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You go to church for the Mass, not for him giving Mass."
- Dotto,

explaining how there can be such high church attendance
alongside such distrust of religious leaders.


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A name for a modern phenomenon: the glass bully.  Full of insecurities and microaggression, they wield them for the purposes of ensuring attention and exoneration. They pose unique difficulties for good people because of their emotional fragility and incapability of processing criticism. It always seems clear that standing up to them will just multiply suffering. Thus on they go.


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I actually learned fragments of three languages in my time in Kagera: Kiswahili, Kihaya and London:

This tongue has "peng" (attractive), "next" (extreme), "bear" (very), "vex" (annoy), "gassed" (excessively pleased), "chattin shit", "he got some grow" (weed), "swag", "He's my link" (casual booty call).

thus "Marilyn Monroe is bear peng."


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12/9/12. The head of Kamachumu B Primary School fetches a pile of sticks to punish the entire class of 10 year-olds. He herds them like sheep and beats them one by one on the arms, legs, back until each stick breaks. We never do find out what the entire class is supposed to have done.


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Moralising Parent: There's a lot of sick people in the world.
Me: [to myself] Yep, and most of em have children.


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The volunteers were required to do a lot of corporate evaluation. Asked for the fifth time about "my personal development on the programme" in writing, I opted for excessive honesty:


"At the beginning of my time in Tanzania, my reaction to the company of awful people was the same as anybody's: run away, express disgust, perhaps attack them. But this standard response is naive, given that many of us must spend much of our lives co-operating with dreadul people.

I realise I'd led a sheltered life, with very little of it spent around dreadful people - a few hundred hours in high school, some more during my spell as a waiter, and a while in English tutorials at university. Lucky then, that I was given this chance to intensively practice patience and tolerance in my work placement. I was able to:

  • discover the limits of my charity;
  • grow used to futility;
  • give my self-mastery a daily workout.

Furthermore, the long periods spent withdrawn to an inner redoubt were surely salutary to my mental upholstery and foundations.

More seriously: as a result I've acquired the belief that it is weak to hate people. Hatred is the product of a failure of imagination. Failure to imagine, ignorance, of what made them as they are, without which ignorance hatred could not survive. Polite disdain is the order of the day, and I now know it's not beyond me.

Less seriously: consequently I find myself a more stable and employable individual - for what more employable skill is there than the ability to stomach fools? I face my future with irony and calm."


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Where else would you find a regional office of the ruling political party storing 700kg of vanilla pods?






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