Merry Christmas! And The Gift Of Dependancy

The tale of my Christmas visit to Peter and Debra; yes folks this is pure gold: Peter and Debra Become Guest Dependant

My Christmas vacation in Kibaya, a town between the cities of Dodoma and Arusha, has been spent relaxing;

with cats, on the verandah;

birdwatching;

visiting a Masai village, where we

compared Western toilet paper to Masai toilet paper – the fuzziest, softest tree leaves around,

commiserated with the head of the family,

tried on traditional Masai jewelery (check out Peter and Debra’s blog, above, for a picture of me trying it on),

admired the lovely children,

and of course, back at the ranch, exchanged gifts and had Christmas breakfast!

The Masai are fascinating people, whom I will perhaps blog about at a later date in more detail. To start, having spent an entire day at their compound, they did not once ask for money. In fact, they downright turned it down when I tried to buy jewelery from them (I thought they were trying to sell it to me, but apparently not!). Further, they feed their families (read: children) well with diets high in protein, and take excellent care of their livestock. However, I have just been informed that not only can Masai men have as many wives as their please, but they can also share wives, as in when a wife marries into a family, all the brothers of the husband can also come visiting to her hut at night. Debra recommended a few books about the Masai* that I will try and find someday.

This has been a great Christmas, a great break from worrying about my Kiswahili apart from market visits, a chance to get a bit of a tan, thanks to the enclosed verandah, and some quality time with fellow Canadians. Oh, and if you ever get a chance, check out this British TV comedy show called Gavin and Stacey. We’ve been on a marathon of it and have started referring to the characters like they’re our friends. Creepy, but satisfying.

* The Worlds of a Maasai Warrior by Tepilit Ole Saitoti (really worth it, according to Debra) and My Maasai Life: From Suburbia to Savannah by Robin Wiszowaty (somewhat worth it)

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Doing Development Differently

This week, we learned how to do development differently.

On the weekend, this involved drinking copious amounts of alcohol and dancing late into the night. We danced barefoot on the beach and in the bars, we danced on counters and we danced in hotel rooms. This barefoot dancing was so whole-hearted that one night I lost my shoes. Thanks to some efficient, kind-hearted beach boys (for those of you who know Gambia, think bumsters but less aggressive), I recovered my favourite flats the following night.

I know what you’re thinking. She goes to volunteer, to help, to lend a hand, and now it turns out she’s partying on the beach. And you’re right, it happens a lot when people work overseas. But coming off over a month in the bush, and spending time with my fellow Canadians on a beautiful beach blessed with Captain Morgan and Serengeti baridi (ba-ree-dee – cold), I think I am past due for a weekend of all-night dance parties.

Luckily, I am not only here to drink but also to learn, like I mentioned, about development. Our Annual Volunteer Conference was held at a convent in Dar es Salaam (they serve beer, along with Jesus). On the day after the conference our Country Director, Jean Van Wetter, put together a seminar with the same title: Doing Development Differently, attended by higher-ups in Tanzania’s development scene. I will start with this quote from the Country Director of UNICEF. She stood up without coming to the podium, put her prepared remarks aside, and spoke about her daughter applying to study development in university. “Oh my God, please don’t do that,” was her response to the idea. Her view is that International Development as we know it will be a dinosaur in the foreseeable future; not something you’d expect to hear with such frankness from a UNICEF director. She asked the audience to envision a Tanzania free of development assistance. The rest of the program also worked to challenge the status quo, namely the director of Foundations for Civil Society, John Ulanga.

His talk ended with a shockingly bare-bones statement about government spending: “look at the big cars our brothers drive.” The representative from the President’s office, sitting in the front row, chose that moment to get up and walk out of the meeting, to which Mr. Ulanga faced up, calling out to him, “I hope I have not upset you; are you walking out?” The man made some excuse about his phone, and Mr. Ulanga’s thank-you slide came up. What a conclusion.

I am actually writing this on a notepad while listening to the facilitator’s commentary, in the workshop itself. Admittedly, I am hungover. Free wine at the Canadian High Commission last night, paid for by your hard-earned tax dollars, led to some double-fisting by we Canadians who are loath to turn down such an opportunity. My hangover is not preventing me from being really surprised and impressed. I registered for this seminar expecting participatory process. The flouf is growing on me, I admit, so give me post-its, small group brainstorming, and yes, god forbid, flipcharts. But that’s not what we saw when we walked in. We saw a head table, a schedule with “remarks by the Permanent Secretary to the President’s Office”, among many others, and block seating for the audience. Doing Development Differently? As Chloe aptly put it; “if you wear dark suits like that, you can never do anything differently.”

I prepared to pinch my wrists to stay awake, and started writing this post to look engaged. Surprise again. Jean has done a very slick job of walking the line, pushing boundaries, because to lull government reps into a sense of security, to bring in an MP from Calgary and a VSO Trustee, a Baroness, to hold proceedings at the British Counsel, whose goal is to “spread the British way of life” – awfully American of them, no? – to do these things, to spring challenging subject matter on them and on us, comments on the sensitivity of his approach. Make it look official and sneak-attack an alternative message. Nice.

A rep from one of the oil and gas companies doing exploration in Mtwara spoke, even taking the microphone to answer straight-up questions from the audience. VSO volunteer doctors spoke about catalysts for change, an opposition MP about government spending, a Tanzanian about why Tanzania has a mentality of waiting for help instead of acting, “we are what our actions indicate”, and the facilitator about a spot banned by the government which asked “if we are so rich in resources, why is this country poor?”. The private sector was brought to the forefront despite Tanzania’s socialist leanings, and the surprisingly engaging DFID rep (surprisingly, because we’ve noticed a lack of liveliness in British speakers this week) finished with “Good development is not done with the heart. It’s done with the head.”

It wasn’t a day out of a Robert Chambers book*, in terms of methodology. All the better, if change is really what they’re after. It was challenging, it was outside the box, it spoke in plain terms to influential people, and it was definitely Different. Oh, and we had tiramisu and ice cream for dessert after lunch.

*Robert Chambers has written a few milestone books on participatory development practices, particularly (but not exclusively) in the field of agriculture. Whose Reality Counts?: Putting the First Last gives a good overview of participatory methodology. Plus, you don’t need to read the whole book… it’s so repetitive that you get the gist of it from a few chapters!