Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Life of a Tanzanian Woman

Being a woman in Tanzania is hard.  You get up at dawn; you fetch water from the spring; you cook breakfast; you wash the clothes by hand; you hoe the fields; you feed the chickens; you take care of the kids, etc, etc, etc, until you finally go to sleep at night.  Tanzania has very definite gender roles and the role of the woman is never ending.

I was giving a ride into town to a few Tanzanian mine workers and while driving down the road we saw a guy run out of the bushes, across the road and into the bushes on the other side.  A few seconds later he was followed by another guy and then a woman.  She was carrying a bunch of things and tripped trying to get up the hill after she had crossed the road.  She turned around and looked behind her, eyes wide in fear.  I followed her gaze and saw a man with a large dog, obviously chasing them.  I don't know what they had done, probably lived somewhere illegally or perhaps stole something.  The men in my car said "the life of the poor women in Tanzania is hard."  They noticed that she was the one carrying all the things and when she tripped the men she was with didn't even attempt to stop and help her.  They mentioned it was better to be a man here.  I'm not sure what happened to the woman or the men she was with.  I hope whoever was chasing them was merciful.

Life for me in Geita is not the same as for Tanzanians.  As Americans, we obviously come from a different culture and don't do things the way Tanzanians do just because we live here.  Sometimes, though, it can be frustrating because everyone expects that we do and should live that way.  If Brett takes Baylor into town people say, "Where is the Mama?  Why do you have the child?"  A Tanzanian man spent the night at our house last night and in the morning (after I had cleaned for him, cooked for him, and made up his bed) said "why did you sleep so late? (it was 7am) Your child was up, your husband was up; he had to make me tea and take care of the child.  It's not good.  You should not do this."  I just decided to leave the room and start making breakfast.  I don't think he was trying to be rude or insulting. He was just trying in his manly wisdom to point out that I wasn't performing my motherly and wifely duties as I should be and that I should work on that.  And so yes, it can be frustrating living in this society as a female, but I do know that it could be much more difficult and I am grateful for the life that I have.  I don't think that it's necessarily a bad thing to have gender roles; I'm just happy that I have the freedom to move about them some.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Great Modern Divide

As with everywhere in the world, times are changing.  They just seem to be changing slower here.  I think it's important that all people have access to education, good health care, nutritious food, adequate shelter.  I don't think it's a bad thing when people move from huts to houses.  I do think it's sad when people lose what makes them unique.  I've traveled a lot and it seems to me that while every place is indeed different, countries and cultures seem to be rapidly melding together.  There's a McDonald's on every corner in China.  Clothing styles in Peru look much the same as in Virginia.  I can buy all the seasons of Friends at a gas station in Dar Es Salaam.  It's nice to feel comfortable no matter where you go and have something in common with people on the other side of the world, but I imagine traveling the world a hundred years ago, or even fifty, was a much more eye-opening experience than it is now.  All that to say technology and modernization come with great advantages, but I hope the world's cultures hold on to what makes them special.

Tanzania is a country where for the vast majority of it's people, life has not changed drastically for centuries.  Most people still live in mud huts with thatch roofs.  Most walk to the local stream or well or river every day multiple times to fetch water.  Most people don't have electricity or running water.  They often wear the same style clothes their great grandparents wore, especially the women.  Life changes slowly in Africa.  Traditions are held onto; sometimes for the love of them, sometimes for the lack of ability to change them.

Yet there are quite a few who currently straddle the modern and the traditional here.  I could talk about the struggles that come between the younger generations with their elders or the difficulties of getting ahead for anyone who actually makes any amount of money, but I feel this post has been serious enough, so instead I'll amuse you with images (or rather descriptions) of a couple people I've seen recently mixing the old with the new.

Not many people here can afford to fly.  So you know anyone who steps off a plane is someone with great resources, probably from a larger city with access to malls and movie theaters.  The other day while dropping someone off at the airport I saw a Tanzanian girl in jeans, high heels, makeup, the works.  When she got her luggage, she picked up the suitcase, firmly put it on her head and made her way to the taxi.  I wanted to ask her if she noticed the suitcase had wheels.  Girls are taught to carry things on their heads here at an early age.  Yesterday we were driving down the street and I saw a women walking in a business suit, carrying a briefcase.  This seems to be indicative that this women has been well-educated, accepted in her career and is probably successful.  Not easy in this society.  Strapped to her back in a Kanga (the traditional cloth of choice) was a little baby, sleeping away.  Some things are just ingrained forever.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Tandem Biking

There is a South African/British couple venturing across Africa on a tandem bicycle.  They left England eight months ago and have been through part of Europe, the Middle East and quite a lot of Africa.  Someone they met along their journey knew Calvin and they asked him if they could stay with them while traveling through Geita.  The Groens, being in America on furlough, referred them to the McNeals, and so last night we met them over there for dinner.

I'm not sure quite what I expected of people who are bicycling across Africa, but I assumed they would be hard core athletes who love nothing more in life than exercising on the open road.  I did not expect them to have Phds from Cambridge with plans to teach geology in Cape Town upon arrival.  They are just very smart people who love exercising on the open road.  While here they wanted to talk with some geologists at the gold mine so we introduced them to some people we knew there and as I type this post they are touring the mine and asking lots of intelligent questions.

Living in Tanzania I've found that I meet all kinds of people I never would have otherwise--there's never a dull moment.  Well, actually there a lots of dull moments, but those aren't very interesting to write about, are they?

If you'd like to read more about our cycling friends, their website is www.tandemafrica.com

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Geita -- the Capital

Geita used to be just your everyday district in a larger region ( a region is essentially the same as a state; a district like a county).  But as of january 1st of this year, Geita is now the capital city of it's own region.  Yes, we are now a state.  For the last several years the Mwanza region has been rapidly growing in population, yet retained the same number of government offices and employees.  Things have been getting backed up, to say the least.  We heard the rumor long before it actually came to be.  We wondered if it would really happen.  Surprisingly, it did.  And even the exact date they said it would be.

Because of this, Geita will be changing a lot over the next several years.  They've already started clearing land for the the new government offices.  They've outlawed bicycle taxis (I'm not sure why) though people aren't paying much attention to that particular mandate.  They've even put big red Xs on raggedy buildings along the main street to mark them for demolition; I assume to make Geita look prettier.  We figure one day we might even get more than the one paved road we already have.

All this, though, did not make renewing our residence permits easier.  We still had to go to Mwanza to the Immigration office there as ours does not yet have the capabilities to process the visas.  So off we went.  We were told this would take a day or maybe two--instead it took 5.  I suppose that's not so bad compared to the five months it took to get our original visas.  But we do get tired of driving to the "big city" to do things like this.  It's time away from home and work.  Brett managed to get some work done there, but still, it's gotten a little old.  I don't know if having our own immigration offices here in town will make the process any shorter, but at least at the end of the day we can come home and sleep in our own beds. And of course we also have the pride of being Geita, capital city of Geita region.  And if that doesn't make life fantastic, I don't know what will.