My Pikipiki Adventures

Right before Christmas I rode my piki for the first time here in Kamachumu. Although I completed my course in Dar successfully, I didn’t ever receive my certificate, so I had been unable to get a license. Similar to the way that even though I completed my course in Canada before I left, I didn’t have time to get my full Class 6 (motorcycle endorsement), because there’s a one-month waiting period after the course. Oh, guess what? The learner’s license expires after a year. I will have to retest when I get home, and no. There is nothing Access Nova Scotia can do about it. The least accessible service portal, ever.

I am reminded of a friend who told me about his first experience on a motorbike: they put him on it, on a big hill, and he promptly ran into a banana tree. Here in Kagera Region there are plenty of hills, really steep ones. These little pikis, never more than 125cc, sound like they’re going to explode, but it’s made up for on the downhill side; the drivers usually turn off the engines to conserve fuel. Unfortunately it also makes it hard to hear them coming….

I’m still trying getting the hang of shifting down early enough to handle the hills. Considering it was only a few years ago I learned to drive a standard, I think I’m doing well. Seems like not so long ago I was sitting in Amy’s car, in Truro, stalling. Through three, yes, three green lights. On a down-hill.

My piki driving is made more difficult by the fact that I always have someone on the back, usually a fairly heavy man. I’m thankful when Steven shows up, as he’s the smallest of the three. They are all surprisingly calm to have a mzungu girl driving them around. They probably don’t realize just how different driving here is. Pavement is a novelty. They drive on the left – except when there are potholes or a drop-off on that side. Villages are mazes of tiny tracks, more suited to goats than pikis. Half-naked children leap out, yelling mzunGU! The other day one of the town’s “crazy ladies” got in front of the piki and held on to the front tire until someone chased her away with a stick. Only a threat, don’t worry! No harm done.

I am becoming acquainted with not only the local crazies, but everyone else as well. People are beginning to recognize me not only as “mzungu” but as Margaret, which is gratifying. Last week I was returning from a visit to Marc and Djoke in Ndolage. I approached the bodaboda stand (bodaboda is the term for a motorbike taxi) asking for a ride to Kamachumu and the boys said, “lakini unaweza kuendesha vizuri kabisa pikipiki!” (rough translation: you can totally ride a piki well!). Bodaboda boys are king on the Ndolage-Kamachumu road. If they say I’m a good piki driver, it’s the truth.

My first day, I stalled coming up the big hill by my house. I almost got frustrated until I turned and saw two little kids on an oversized bicycle coming over the bridge behind us. Their eyes were popping out of their heads at the sight of me. The little boy steering didn’t blink and didn’t take his eyes off the mzungu girl trying (with minimal success) to drive a piki. They went straight into the ditch. Again, no harm done. It was hilarious*.

*Cultural context: it is completely normal here to laugh at people’s misfortunes, or because they look funny, or different. The sight of me out running induces hysterics in groups of children every single day. But that’s a story for next time!

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Cuso International Shows Up In Dar!

CUSO-VSO has recently undergone a facelift and transitioned to a new name, Cuso International. Umeeda Switlo, who works with Cuso, is currently in Rwanda doing a placement. She popped over to Dar for Tanzania’s, and VSO Tanzania’s 50 year celebrations which happened alongside our Annual Volunteer Conference (AVC). She interviewed most of the Canadian volunteers, and managed to grab a few minutes of my time between breakfast and my first Intermediate Kiswahili lesson. Needless to say I was only half awake, having come off a very busy week, but I think I sound reasonably lucid!

Listen to the interview by clicking here!

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!

On Power Dynamics

Meetings are a good place to observe power dynamics, particularly since I don’t understand much of what’s being said.

This thought came to me while sitting outside Bukoba’s nicest hotel, waiting for World Vision Tanzania representatives. Sunday (my boss) and I had come to town for a meeting with them at 9:30am. However, when we arrived at the office, nobody was there – they had gone for a year-end meeting up at the Walk Guard hotel. I don’t know where the fault lay for the miscommunication, but we went up to the hotel to give them our reports, bringing us to sitting outside, waiting.

The word that came to mind was marginalized. Now, maybe that feeling was only partially accurate, since Sunday is a well-respected businessman and I am, well, white. But he doesn’t speak English and is computer illiterate, and I was dressed in sandals and carrying a backpack. The feeling was magnified when we were pulled in to the room during tea break. At every seat there was a laptop and a slide show was being projected onto a screen at the front. They had dismissed us before we even walked in the door, but Sunday tried his best to adhere to the formal process of greetings and introductions. Upon asking them to explain a call for proposals to me, the two men looked pityingly in his direction and said, “they just think that you have arrived with some money, but that’s not true is it”. And proceeded to tell Sunday that I was still learning and perhaps later I could be of some financial assistance. Out of politeness I did not say, “perhaps you could explain the grant to me and I could be of some assistance now”. We were shuttled off immediately and the two men rushed to their tea. We, of course, were not invited to share it.

A meeting I attended yesterday allowed me to get a different picture. It was a quarterly meeting of KALIDEA, a larger organisation on the same model as KAVIPE. Some of our CBO’s also belong to KALIDEA, and Mkinga, the livestock officer, spends much of his time on their animals. It was an honour to be invited, I soon learned. Let me set the stage: me and Joseph (another VSO) at the head table along with the Muleba District government vet, and three Board members of KALIDEA. The rest of the room was filled with Division representatives and extension officers. I was the only woman in the room and the youngest person by at least 20 years. The meeting went on for four hours while representatives read aloud every word of their quarterly reports, and discussed pressing issues like stolen livestock and insubordinate splinter groups. The meeting finished with the government vet reaming out Mkinga publicly for insufficient rabies control in the area (!!).

Although the meeting was extremely formal, and a rather shocking representation of the old boys’ club, we managed to make some concessions. When I introduced myself (in English with Joseph translating – this was no time for bumbling along in Kiswahili… I am called Margaret, I come from Canada, my work is a livestock advisor… *shudder*) I smiled, explained exactly what I was doing here and for how long, and said, “I admit, I am quite young,” and received a gratifying, and somewhat embarrassed guffaw from the men. In turn, the Chair greeted me, his last sentence being “and you can help us out with gender!”, prompting an equally humble laugh from me. We had managed to clear the two elephants in the room, which is more than I can say for the World Vision fiasco. From this meeting, I hope I gained some respect. I certainly gained many an invitation to visit other Divisions and to meet the players in the government ag offices: this good. I exist.

Now comes my admission that I am more comfortable in a room full of older, well-educated male farmers and extension officers than I am in a meeting of KAVIPE stakeholders; poorer, the baseline of the population, less educated. My worldview differs from both groups, but the latter is removed by another degree. So my challenge evolves: how do I engage the farmers that really need to be heard? The ones who have little power, and as such, are so much harder to communicate with? How can I avoid marginalizing them as Sunday and I were in Bukoba? How do I help make them exist?

When I went to the equivalent KAVIPE meeting a few weeks ago, the attendees were at least of mixed gender; the age thing is another can of beans altogether, as hierarchal cultures can be somewhat unreceptive to youth. I was expected to give flowery greetings, make light of my marital status and whether I had any children, and summarize every village and type of farm I had visited thus far – all in Kiswahili. The reports handed in were all handwritten, not typed, and the presence of our Chair, Sunday, did not elicit the same deference as did KALIDEA’s. Toward the end of the meeting, one of the farmers stood up and began to rant to the audience about the need for a change of attitude, the need for hard work, the need to take opportunities like VSO volunteers and run with them. The need for innovation and movement forward before the entire place stagnates.

So my relative discomfort retreats. If people like that are part of KAVIPE, the stakeholders are accessible. Instead of wishing I was speaking English and theorizing about improvements to the local systems with government employees, I can latch on to the people who create grassroots momentum.

I am currently writing a proposal for a workshop to do a rough organisational assessment of KAVIPE with some of the key stakeholders. I hope to learn how to communicate and identify with them more than the old boys’ club. KAVIPE has access to the people who hold the key to change around here, I think. But I will make nice with the government boys too. I will be needing their support, it doesn’t hurt to debate theory from time to time, and it doesn’t hurt to show a young female face in the midst of their institutionalized ways.

*I have a video of this that I will share when I can upload larger files!

The Man Who Feeds His Cow Everything

“Here, take this passion fruit. I can’t get the cow to eat it.”

Many of my days are spent traveling around Kamachumu Division, tagging along with one of the KAVIPE board members while we check up on the loaned dairy cows. We set out on a pikipiki (motorbike), or on foot, and trek through the most confusing networks of tiny roads, among the banana trees. Today, I went to Bulembo (boo-lay-m-bo) with Steven.

We saw more cows this morning than we do most days. We saw both the best and the worst I’ve seen so far. The worst was a family with two cows, who had complained they weren’t getting pregnant. This is a common complaint, although I can rarely figure out whether or not the cows have actually been bred. Usually, when I ask that question, we get pulled into a rant about how badly the farmers need access to AI (artificial insemination). But that is a debate for another day.

These two unpregnant cows were pacing franticly in their rickety pens, causing liquid manure to fly everywhere. Meanwhile, a few feet away, a woman and two children were within flying-shit-flecks reach, hulling beans! I got splattered standing next to them. Both pens had empty feed troughs, whose wooden bottoms were falling out, and no feed was produced even when we asked. Suffice it to say that both cows were extremely skinny. As to my question, had they been bred, I really hope they hadn’t wasted their money taking them to a bull, since generally in order for conception to occur, the animal must be fed. In this case, we advised to clean the pens, add bedding, fix the troughs and FEED THE COWS! We will return and check within the next two weeks that the issues have been addressed. To blame? Lack of education on proper care, lack of money, lack of time… but the first is the major issue, that I hope to help change.

I contrast now with the last farmer we visited. He had clearly been waiting for us (word travels quickly when visitors are around!) and when we pulled up he leapt, as only an old man can, from his porch and started to show us all the different feedstuffs his cow was eating: grass, bean hulls, avocado leaves, a green avocado (I doubt she’ll eat it, but he said she does…?!), young corn plants, and a coarse grass I’ve seen before. To top it off? Fresh, clean water and 5 inches of dry grass as bedding. I told the old man I wanted to bring him in to train the other farmers. It’s not really fair to compare this retired man with all the other families we saw this morning, but it’s also difficult to avoid. In some ways, I guess it’s the same anywhere: some people are passionate about cows and some aren’t. Difference is, at home, the people who aren’t passionate about cows can afford to buy milk from the grocery store, and don’t keep cows. Maybe having children to care for and no help also decreases your passion, about anything.

I was glad to finish the day smiling, however, when the old man ran into the house and emerged with a single passion fruit in his outstretched hand. I’m used to receiving gifts, but this one was more of a cast-off: “I have many, many,” he said, gesturing to the gardens surrounding the house, “but I just can’t get the cow to eat them! So here, I guess I can spare this one for you.”

Oh yes, and please let me know if you’ve heard that avocados are poisonous to cows.

KAVIPE

It’s long past time to introduce my workplace. KAVIPE has welcomed me with open arms and exceeded my every expectation. As with anywhere, it’s the people that make KAVIPE wonderful. My coworkers, the Board, are all volunteers. I can say with certainty that they appear at the office more often than many a paid worker in Africa.

                                 

KAVIPE’s mission is to promote agricultural development in the region. They work throughout Kamachumu Division, in 18 villages and with many more Community Based Organisations (CBO’s). The biggest ongoing project is the provision of dairy cows to members. Spread throughout the Division, there are 138 Friesian cows (Holsteins, in North American terms, but these girls are much smaller like the European variety), on loan to suitable KAVIPE members. For a moderate price, a member gets a heifer and training to keep a dairy cow. They must have an appropriate facility, which entails a partially-roofed enclosure, a little crush gate and a feed trough.

Female calves are property of KAVIPE and are again distributed to members. The idea is that families can supplement their diets and add income from the milk, and this has been somewhat successful. As you can imagine, however, the cultural adjustment from keeping Zebu cattle with a hired herdsman for traditional free-grazing, to keeping Friesians on zero-graze, is huge. In a zero-graze system, the grass is cut and brought to the cow. I have yet to encounter a cow producing more than 5-6 litres per day. My first training priority: nutrition.

Other projects include dairy goats and poultry (also on loan), small-scale irrigation, provision of certified vegetable seeds, and community animal health care. The first week I was here, everyone was under the impression I was a vet. Due to the fact that my Kiswahili is only slightly worse than KAVIPE’s cumulative English, I was unable to explain that M.Sc. does not equal D.V.M. This led to awkward situations, for example a CBO meeting in which Wilson cried “and that is why they’re so happy to have you… you’re a DOCTOR!” followed by a visit to a sick calf where I tried to look intelligent while saying “ahhhhh yes, East Coast Fever….” I was pretty happy when some guy showed up with antibiotics because I was terrified they were about to hand me a needle and syringe.

After that, I got my fellow VSO, James (from Uganda, he also works in Kamachumu), to call the Chairman of KAVIPE and explain the situation. The Chairman, Mr. Sunday Buberwa, apologized profusely to me, as is his usual reaction to the slightest hiccup. He is always worried about my wellbeing!

Back to KAVIPE. The organisation was put in place by World Vision upon the phase-out of their 15 year presence in Kamachumu Division. Also established were a Community Care Coalition – Safina, dealing with vulnerable people (people living with HIV, orphans, etc.), and a credit entity, or SACCOS (Savings and Credit Cooperative Society) for lending money to members. World Vision left very little capacity in terms of procuring funding, starting new projects, or even maintaining what was there. An example is the on-site processing facility with a grinder and oil press for peanuts, sunflower seeds, blenders for making fruit juices, etc., none of which are operational. It’s the typical story, after the funding agency pulls out, things grind to a stop…. I think KAVIPE has done very well, considering. They meet regularly, do frequent inspections on loaned animals, and most importantly, recognize the need for more capacity. They strived to acquire someone (me!) to get the organisation energized, to build the knowledge base, and, I pray, to get them some funding.

I couldn’t ask for more. Motivation to work is not a problem when you have a team of willing and enthusiastic people surrounding you.

Take a Dip!

This morning we visited Mr. Mkinga, the Livestock Extension Officer, at the bi-monthly acaricide dip. Sunday and I took the piki, and as usual I had no idea where we were going (language barrier… again). As we traveled, we began to pass herds of cattle going in the same direction. We crested a hill and in the valley before us were hundreds of the local Zebu cattle:

When we tracked down Mkinga, he filled us in on the proceedings. Waving a Burdizzo (a type of bloodless cattle castrator that crushes the cords), he explained that the cattle are treated for ticks by swimming through the acaricide dip, and he is available for castration. Ticks carry three of the major diseases in the area; East Coast Fever, Anaplasmosis, and Heartwater. Mkinga estimated that about 10% of calves are lost to East Coast Fever. There was hardly any hesitation among the cattle to jump/slide/fall into the dip; they’re clearly used to the procedure.

                                                   

It’s the first time I’ve seen a Burdizzo used. They cast the bull, tied his hind legs, pulled them back, and then with four squeezes; squeeze squeeze – check – squeeze squeeze – check – repeat, Mkinga castrated the bull. They got him up and I could see his testicles shrinking up… ouch.

The dip was built in the 70’s by the government and is one of 5 in the division. The acaricide is completely replaced about once a year, and should be good for 10,000 immersions. After each session, they measure the dip level and fill it back up accordingly with water. This dilutes the existing dip and is intended to discourage “people who are good at evasion”, since herders will run their animals through outside of the official sessions, to save money. Immediately before the next dip, Mkinga and the dip committee top up the acaricide so it is at full strength for the paying clients. It costs 100 Tsh per animal, per dip (less than 10 cents). They do 800-900 cattle every time, and any sheep that come along. They even threw a tiny lamb in! Each animal is supposed to leave with one litre of acaricide, so after they go through the dip, they stand in the slanted drip pen, which allows the additional acaricide to run back into the dip. Little boys with sticks keep the cattle in the drip pen until the herdsman is ready for them.

Hiking At The “Famous” Ndolage Waterfall

This beautiful site is a mere 5 km away from Kamachumu, and a 5 minute stroll from my fellow VSO volunteers’ house. Djoke is a doctor working at the Ndolage hospital and Marc, her husband, is an artist collecting material for drawings and paintings. As you can see there is plenty of natural beauty to be depicted!

We climbed down a ladder to get to the bottom and then did some mildly intense rock-climbing back up the other side. It was a beautiful day with some clouds but no rain. We are so lucky to be placed in such a breath-taking location….

I hope to do more hiking and soon, mountain-biking, and running (since I’ve signed up for a half-marathon in February!). So by the time I have visitors, I will be able to show you around properly!

Welcome To My Home! (Karibu Nyumbani Yangu!)

This will be my abode for the next two years, and I’m pretty pleased with it! Tiny, it’s completely manageable in terms of cleaning. It’s also quite secure; my front door opens onto a locked compound shared with another volunteer. We have a security guard at night. I have power nearly all of the time, and running water occasionally. When the water being on lines up with me being at home (mostly, it’s turned on when I’m at work), I can have hot showers! Hot being the optimum word: there is no intermediate temperature so I alternate between scalding and freezing, mimicking moderation. I was provided with most dishes I need, curtains, blankets, and cute little doormats made of cloth scraps. Since there is still no running water at all in the kitchen, they set me up with large buckets under the sink, which I fill in the bathroom and use for washing hands and dishes. My cooker (stove and oven) tries to electrocute me, but at least it heats things. Laundry takes forever to dry, similar to home when it won’t stop raining. The difference? No dryer.

Compared to some of my fellow volunteers, I am living in the lap of luxury. They have various problems, like no running water, no electricity, nasty toilets, or no house at all! Last but not least: my internet connection is reasonably good – we’re on top of a plateau resulting in excellent network coverage!

Daladalas, Gelegeles, And How Learning Really Takes Place, Part I

I will warn you now that I have a fascination with public transportation. As such, blog entries about it will be way too long and drawn out, so bear with me… this comes from a girl who was fine with a two-hour commute each way when living in Montreal; oh the people-watching, the pages of writing and the books I read!

Mass in Eastern Senegal

Mass, driva of the most epic - and terrifying - gelegele ever

My first daladala trip in the regions happened today (check Peter & Debra’s and Ishwar’s blogs for accounts of the daladalas in Dar). I left the house later than I’d intended and walked to the roundabout to wait for a vehicle. I had wanted to get one starting in Kamachumu, in order to get a seat, but when a full vehicle arrived, I crowded up to the door… how could I resist! One man, tapping on the passenger seat window, said “mzungu!” (mazoong-goo = white person) and I thought he might be indicating that I could get the front seat. My first mistake, hesitation. Then the conducta tapped my bag as I attempted to climb in, so I took it off, and he grabbed it to take it in the back. A second loss of ground. Now, I almost waited to climb in, wanting to see my bag safely in the back.

In Senegal and the Gambia, there is an unwritten code that in a garas (anywhere you catch public transport), bags are not stolen. It’s worth the aparenti’s (the man who deals with money etc.) and driver’s reputation to keep the baggage in their charge safe. So while you wait for a vehicle to fill (and they do not leave until full!), you can leave your luggage on the roof and go off for hours to eat or shop, knowing it will be there when you get back. It is your responsibility not to be swayed by the aparenti’s constant jabbering that you will be leaving in five minutes, which he will do even when there are only three people waiting for a 15-passenger van. He does this in order to keep people from wandering away, because once you’ve claimed a seat and your luggage has gone on the roof, he really can’t leave without you. So he wants to scare his charges into staying close-by. If you are late, the aparenti gets really angry at you, as do all the other passengers. This rarely happens, however, because when there are just a few seats left to fill, he’ll amp it up to a fever pitch, running around yelling at people, the driver will start the engine, and idle near the gate for as long as it takes. At this point, you had better be in the vehicle, but the hurry-up-and-wait can be absolutely toxic when the exhaust is seeping in, the windows don’t open, and sweat is dripping down your legs.

Now, here I come to the main point of difference between Gambian and Senegalese gelegeles (gellygelly) and the Tanzanian daladalas. In terms of development, Tanzania seems to be mostly ahead of the game. Rules of the road do not fall in this category. In West Africa, when driving on a main road (i.e., with police checks), every passenger must have a seat, and it is strictly enforced. In Tanzania, this sort of safety regulation is ignored. My hesitation today caused me to have to stand, bent sideways, half sitting on an old man’s lap. The conducta carefully arranged my feet before squeezing himself in and slamming the door. As we set off, leaning wildly around steep curves, my proximity to the ceiling made me feel pretty sick. I was even forced to stop texting!

During the trip, people leaned on me, sat on me (a large woman, nonetheless, while I was propped sideways on a seat with metal digging into my hip), groped my boob (I don’t think it was intentional, his hand had nowhere else to go), and talked about me. “Mzungu, unaweza kusimama”. The literal translation is “white person, you are able to stop”, but I have no idea what he meant by that, since I was doing exactly what everyone else in the vehicle was doing. I was reminded of Leanne, in the Gambia, realizing that not every mention of “toubab” in her presence was about her. Rather, people could be talking about a “toubab car” or “toubab music video”; referring to anything Western. In this case, the man could well have been talking about the crowded vehicle and the stubborn refusal of Tanzanians to behave normally on the road. Once, sitting in a gelegele back to Njawara after a long day of travel, I got frustrated by a man going on and on about me. I turned around and made a snarky comment in Wolof, to which he threw his head back, laughing heartily, and said “toubab ku nuul, nga am”; “you are a black toubab”. It completely made my day.

In today’s daladala, having driven off the road onto something resembling a goat path, we all got out in to push through a mud-hole. When the men were pushing, I wanted to join but I knew it would be an exercise in futility, plus I’d be covered in mud. One man didn’t join in and sure enough, the conducta said, in Kiswahili, what are you, a woman?! Come push! Brilliant; an inkling of comprehension…!

When we finally rejoined the road, it was heaven. My nausea began to subside with the breeze coming in the window, and my hunch was confirmed: we had gone off the road to avoid a police checkpoint, because apparently, it is illegal to overstuff vehicles! We were stopped by a police piki, and they immediately forced about five people to get out of the car. They were left sitting on the side of the road, and I was finally sitting (with half my ass, anyway!) on a seat! When we picked up five more in the next village, my seat priority status just meant that someone had to sit on me rather than me sit on them. But that’s fine. I’ll take a bruised hip and being sat on by a fat lady in a white dress over nausea any day.