A BRUSH WITH SOMETHING
So, I was on my
way to a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer's site in early August, and
feeling a bit adventurous, so I decided to try hitching a ride.
I got a ride as far as Mwanga, which was only a quarter of the way
there. So I was standing on the edge of the road in Mwanga for about
a half an hour and starting to lose hope, when this police car comes
screaming by, followed by an Army truck with a bunch of soldiers.
Usually when this
happens, it means somebody important (like a member of Parliament)
is coming through. Though
my chances were slim,
I figured, "What the heck!" and stuck out my thumb. Very soon I
was watching Benjamin Mkapa, the president of Tanzania staring out
his window at me and laughing incredulously. Some people just think
they're better than others. Turned me down for a lift; no way I'm
voting for him in October.
WHO SAYS YOU NEVER
GET A SECOND CHANCE?
Well, I might
not be voting for him, but everyone else in Monduli will. Just a
week or two later, Mkapa pulled through Monduli for an 'unofficial'
political rally. The occasion was that he was already in town to
confer officers at the nearby military academy.
So, he zipped
through Monduli to promote the ruling party, the CCM (far and away
the dominant party). With elections here in October, it is *really*
interesting to listen to the party politics I hear discussed here,
and then go home and hear the shortwave radio news stories about
the Democratic and Republican conventions back in the states.
PARTY OVER HERE,
PARTY OVER THERE
I'd like to think
about how the outcome of the election here is completely a foregone
conclusion, and 'how much better it is back home...' However,
I realize that regardless of a Bush/Gore choice, that the real 'outcome'
of the American election will be the same: Big business will continue
to own Washington, government will continue to get bigger, education
will continue to be cut so that Congress can spend more money on
the military and putting people in jail for victimless crimes, without
having to raise taxes. Not that I'm cynical.
Crambo the frog lives in the author's bathroom drain...
Anyway, it *is*
interesting to watch the political processes here. It's very similar,
in an odd sort of way... you know how when the U.S. presidential
candidate goes stumping in Maine, he gets treated to lobster by
the party bosses; he goes to Boston and has baked beans and goes
to a Red Sox game; and then to Kansas City for some BBQ ribs. Well,
here it means when the President comes to Maasai land, all the village
folk dress up in traditional Maasai tribal gear (which many of them
wear every day anyway) and do traditional songs, dances, etc. The
theme is the same: in a diverse country, when an important figure
comes through, we want to show him/her what we're proud of in our
own little corner of the world.
A PAIN IN THE
While Mkapa was
in Monduli, he officially 'inaugurated' the new asphalt road that
now runs all the the way into Monduli and in various places around
the town (previously it stopped about 5k out of town.) The paved
road is one of many great unnecessary projects happening in the
run-up to next month's election (October 29th). It will be interesting
to watch the number of projects that stop halfway finished on November
1st because suddenly they 'ran out of funding'.
Anyway, as I mentioned
in my last letter, there is a severe drought here, and people are
starving. To death. I guess the lesson to be learned here is that
people with cars vote, and people who are starving don't. Or at
least, the starving people can be 'encouraged' through other means
to vote a certain way. Also, since people have always been starving
in one way or another, we can forget about them. What we really
need is a paved road in a town that only has a dozen cars so that
we can feel like we're a big town that has really developed since
the last election.
Perhaps I'm cynical
-- but don't think me ethnocentric. I suffer no illusions that the
same thing isn't happening around the USA right now as Bush and
Gore have their $1000 a plate fundraising luncheons in the major
cities while the homeless folks watch the limousines and Lincolns
roll by. It's easy to 'look down' on the fledgling democracies here
in the developing world without examining our own political system.
We've just had over 200 years to develop an extremely sophisticated
system of obfuscation so that the unpleasant truth is never seen.
On the other hand,
I don't live in Yugoslavia. There's always a silver lining.
ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER
If I thought Tanzanian
politics left an unpleasant taste in my mouth, I had no idea what
was in store for me at the end of August.
The story is this:
When Bill Clinton came to Africa in 1997, he initiated a large grant
for girls' education in Africa. The money was to be used for scholarships
for girls who would not otherwise be able to continue with their
education. In Tanzania, the money has been distributed to Peace
Corps schools so that volunteers can supervise the appropriate awarding
of scholarships. I'm leaving a lot out here, but that's the gist
Anyway, I guess
when he came through Tz for the signing of the Burundi Peace Accords,
he was interested in meeting one of the girls who is benefiting
from this scholarship. He asked the ambassador, the ambassador asked
my Peace Corps country directors... who chose my school because
of my work in Girls' Education through the past year (the fact that
I live right next to Arusha didn't hurt, either.)
So we (the scholarship
committee) chose one of the four students who were getting scholarships,
Janet Jacob. She was the first girl on our list when deciding scholarships.
Her description, which I wrote for the press release, is as follows:
"Janet Jacob is
a Form One student at Moringe Sokoine Secondary School. Her mother
is deceased and her father is not present in her life. She lives
in the home of a distant relative of her clan, one who is indefinitely
hospitalized and has difficulty paying her hospital bills, let alone
Janet's school fees. The 16-year-old girl lives in the home of this
relative, with her younger brother for whom she must care. Nevertheless,
she walks for 45 minutes to school every day, and has maintained
a passing mark.
when desperately applying for space at our school, she told the
Headmaster about her situation. His heart breaking, he asked her,
"How are you going to pay for school?" "...I don't know," was her
response. The Headmaster took pity on her and decided to see if
she could manage to pass her classes in her first term, which she
did. The Ambassador's Scholarship may be the only hope, not only
for this girl, but for the family she supports."
So this Janet
Jacob, who speaks almost no English, and who has only been outside
of Arusha region once before, got to be in the receiving line on
the red carpet at the bottom of the steps of Air Force One. She
was standing with the Ambassador's wife, who personally introduced
her to the Bill and Chelsea. I was standing some distance away,
off the tarmac, close to the terminal. I got some mediocre pictures
(no zoom lens). Fortunately, the Arusha Times had the zoom lens,
and on the front page of the paper that week was Janet Jacob's face
clearly visible in the same shot as Bill Clinton's. I bought four
THE SKIES ARE
NO LONGER THE LIMIT
While still at
the airport, Clinton signed a previously-agreed-upon Open Skies
agreement with Tanzania. What it means is that commercial airlines
have free, unrestricted, and minimally regulated permission to fly
directly from the USA to Tanzania. It's actually the very first
African country to sign such an agreement with the US, so it's a
pretty big deal for Tz. It should boost the American tourism industry
a lot, since the prices will be much lower than they are now for
flying through Europe.
I actually witnessed
the signing of the agreement out on the airport tarmac. Janet witnessed
it up close, because she was sitting with the Ambassador and the
congressional delegation. I was far away because I was put in charge
of seeing that nobody went into the room in which the congressional
delegation put their luggage. A glamorous job. However, I could
see the signing from a ways off.
WITH THE LEGISLATORS
In the congressional
delegation, most of the members were from the Black Caucus. Jesse
Jackson also came with the president, but he went to the VIP room
with Clinton so I didn't get to meet him. I did, however, meet the
first black woman elected to congress from Ohio -- elected only
two years ago. It just so happens that I used to be registered in
her district (East Cleveland, Louis Stokes' old district) when I
went to school in Cleveland. She, like me, is a graduate of CWRU
(although she went to the Social Sciences School) and her official
residence is a block away from the fraternity house in which I lived
for three years in college.
While we were
waiting with them, I also got to meet a charming woman named Betty
Currie who noticed my Peace Corps lapel pin. While I searched my
mind for why that name sounded familiar, she said she had worked
for Peace Corps for twelve years in Washington before her current
job... as Bill Clinton's personal secretary at the Oval Office.
("Oh yeah," I thought, "All those Ken Starr reports...") I guess
she would be the big celebrity I met. She was certainly the nicest.
OH, AND BY THE
As Clinton was
on his way out of the airport on the way to his presidential limo,
he walked by an area of the airport where the secret service had
corralled all the airport employees for security purposes. He went
by the crowd for a handshaking session, and there was one lone white
hand sticking out of the crowd... mine. So I did get to shake the
hand of a sitting President of the United States of America. What
was my impression? He's tall. Tall, with big hands. He looks a lot
older than he did eight years ago. And he was in desperate need
of a haircut.
YOUR TAX DOLLARS
Well, though this
message has been rather cynical thus far, it's about to get a lot
worse. I apologize, here in the middle of the message, because life
has in general been quite positive. However, I know that some of
the details here will be of interest... but as you will see, it's
hard not to be a little discouraged by them.
For a 4 hour visit,
there was a 250 person advance team from Washington D.C., plus massive
security and communications details from embassies in Tz, Kenya,
and Mozambique. There were at least 100 secret service agents, some
of whom apparently came out to Monduli district to 'verify their
firearms' (read: target practice).
When the actual
planes arrived (not counting the above mentioned people, who were
already there), in addition to Air Force One, there was a press
plane, a presidential security plane, and (get this) an entire hospital
plane, complete with a fully stocked operating room and trauma center,
and every type of surgeon, just on the off chance that the President
has a heart attack or gets shot.
They built a pager
system in Arusha for one week and then tore it down. Three HUNDRED
new mobile phones were purchased, and then sold back. The most expensive
hotel in town was converted into a "control center" for the visit,
housing the above mentioned folks, and staffed by embassy and military
personnel round-the-clock. All the other most expensive hotels were
also booked solid, such that by the time the secret service arrived,
they had to be sent out to some of the hotels at the game parks
two hours away from town. The most expensive safari company in Arusha
rented out all their cars to the people who needed to get around
in that time.
There were many
large groups of people working long days and spending money like
sweepstakes winners for things that never happened. Example: They
thought the Congressional Delegation might want to go to a game
park while they were in Tz. So they had folks go to Arusha National
Park and pay the ($25/person for 20 people) park fees in advance,
and also pay the park a whopping sum to make sure nobody else would
be in the park at the same time. There was an entire secret service
detail dispatched around the park to secure the area.
Well, they decided
not to go to the parks, and instead, just to hang out at the airport.
But the thing is, there were five or six different options like
this planned out for these guys, for Chelsea, for the President
himself, for the press, etc. There was a *guarantee* that no matter
what these folks chose at the last minute, that the hours of hard
work and thousands of dollars spent on each of the *other* options
would be just grist for the mill.
I heard were saying that the total cost of this four-hour trip were
on the order of tens of millions of (American taxpayer) dollars.
That's enough to double the number of PCVs in this country for ten
years. A four-hour visit.
Did I mention
that there is a drought here, and that people are starving? That
money could not only feed all the starving people here adequately,
but could also pay for the more expensive distribution of that food
or food money.
I won't go into
much detail about what the Tanzanian government did to prepare for
the visit, but let's just say that all the trash in the street disappeared,
along with the homeless leprosy sufferers. The streetlights were
also all working suddenly.
And yet... and
yet. Bill Clinton is the most popular US president ever here in
Africa. Why? Because he came by to visit. He said good things about
Tanzania. And they'll never know...
A SIDE NOTE ABOUT
THE ARUSHA MEDIA
One of the amusing
things was the complete lack of preparedness on the part of the
local media for what was going on. I was not surprised to be frisked
and scanned with a metal detector before heading out to the tarmac.
The media were totally surprised that their equipment was being
examined so thoroughly. They were indignant that their movements
were so tightly controlled. For instance, the standard practice
here is for a newspaper or TV station to send many reporters to
a big event so that when everyone is fighting to get in (with absolutely
no formal lists or registration) they have a higher likelihood of
actually getting in. They did not understand that they had to be
on a certain list, and that they should have registered for that
list two weeks beforehand.
article in the newspaper I mentioned above was not about Burundi,
or about Clinton's visit per se, but about how the Arusha media
was pushed aside by the US media and the White House press corps.
Close reading of the article revealed that they were not specifically
or deliberately excluded, but that they had just more or less showed
up at the event and were turned away because all of the available
spots had been taken weeks before by people who knew the drill.
BACK TO MORINGE
FOR MORE COMPLAINING So I was back from this craziness for some
frustration at my school. The most recent thing is our computer
building. We have a building in the process of being built, to house
the almost TWENTY computers that have been donated through the Lutheran
Volunteers here. I wish I could say I had something to do with the
donation, but... I didn't. However, I may be the one who teaches
everyone how to use them.
To me, this issue
stresses all of what the Peace Corps is all about and what it is
*not* all about. There have been Lutheran Volunteers at this school
for a long time. Some more recent ones arranged this big computer
donation, and part of the money to have the building built... but
of course, they haven't made any allocation at all to make sure
that there is someone here who can *teach* the people how to use
them! It might be possible that the computers would sit in that
building, locked up, so that the staff could occasionally come by
and play solitaire.
But here I am.
I will likely take on computer courses in addition to all my other
responsibilities (which I think will be fun, even if it is time-consuming).
But what will my school remember? How I taught them? No, they'll
remember the Lutherans who brought them the computers. And the Lutherans
will look at the situation ten years from now and think, "We did
a great thing by sending those computers." They will be right in
that sense, in that it is a fantastic gift which is greatly appreciated.
However, they seem to be content to rest on their laurels on that
issue, without considering that lack of foresight and sustainablity
could potentially make the whole thing a colossal waste.
The latest frustration
of mine on this topic came after I examined the power and voltage
requirements of the computers and printers donated. It appears that
if we run the whole computer room (all computers, monitors, printers,
lights and ventilation) for only *one hour* a month, it may potentially
double our monthly electric bill.
Did we think about
this carefully before we rushed into it? I was reminded of my Peace
Corps mantra: Rather than coming into a community and deciding what
they need and providing it for them, it is better to learn what
the community already does well, and capitalize on that.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING
Not all mixtures
of Tz and American culture are so depressing. Some are actually
quite fabulous. I will take as an example the wedding I attended
two weeks ago between Joseph Kubisiak, a PCV from Wisconsin, and
his Tanzanian fiancee Kiliofa Kilamba. This was probably the most
fun I've had doing something Tz-style in my entire time here.
It was held up
in the Usambara mountains near the town of Lushoto, a lovely little
mountain town, nestled in valleys between rolling mountains. It
actually reminded me quite a bit of any little town in the Berkshires
of western Massachusetts. Perhaps it was the 'colonial' style architecture
(ha ha ha). Anyway, it was held in this area because it is the tribal
home of Kiliofa's family.
two days before the wedding, a lot of folks had come into town,
so there *had* to be some kind of get-together! So we all piled
into a car and ended up going over the river and through the woods
to some grandmother's house or other. I think it was Kiliofa's godparents'
place, or something like that. Anyway, we all had a fantastic meal
(despite the power outage) and met the families of both bride and
The bride was
notably absent -- we were told that, in accordance with tradition,
she had been shut up in a room in the back of the house. Apparently
it is taboo for her to be present for that part of the festivities.
However, I did get to meet both sets of parents. Joe's parents and
his oldest brother (the best man) were there; the rest of his family
was the half-dozen or so Peace Corps Volunteers representing his
were an absolute trip. They were perfect for the whole thing. At
every step of the way, they were into the singing, dancing, and
other celebration. They both seemed to enjoy themselves more than
they would have at a traditional American wedding. They weren't
bothered too much by the fact that they understood little of what
was being said, or never knowing what was going to happen next.
Part of their encouragement could have been the fact that the wedding
cost them a tenth of what it might have in the States.
A LITTLE GOODBYE
The next night
was the Send-Off party, a very big tradition all over Tanzania.
Even in traditional American weddings, there's still a tip of the
hat to the old idea that the bride is being 'given away', that she
is leaving her family and joining her husband's family. In fact,
most women in the States still continue to take their husband's
family name. However, here it is a much more significant event:
The bride is physically leaving her house, village, and tribe to
join her husband's house, village, and tribe. And in this case,
that village (in eastern Wisconsin) happens to be 10,000 miles away.
So what happens
is the send-off party. A party in honor of the bride, given to her
by the whole village. And I mean the WHOLE village! Everybody was
there as different members of both families spoke. A translator
had been hired to make sure that everybody on both sides of the
aisle knew what was going on. So we had a big outdoor party, where
everybody presented their going-away gifts to Kiliofa.
There was a catered
reception afterwards for the families and other invitees... but
the all the rest of Kongei (the family's village outside of Lushoto)
ate on the family's behalf back at the site of the party. The fifty
or so folks on the guest list had more fantastic food at the reception
hall. But again, the folks back in the village basically had a big
sack of rice cooked for them and a whole cow was slaughtered, feeding
the whole village for an afternoon.
THE BIG DAY
After doing some
hiking around the mountains the morning of the wedding, we went
to the church (Catholic) at about 3PM. The actual wedding ceremony
was the only unpleasant part of the whole experience for me. The
Tanzanian minister made sure to include the biblical verses that
reaffirmed that the wife should submit to and obey her husband's
every command, and the she should serve him and fear him the way
Christians serve and fear their God.
He made multiple
off-the-cuff remarks directed at the couple, reminding Joe pointedly
that he is the head of the household, and reminding Kiliofa that
women are the weaker sex. He also said, in two different languages
so everyone could understand, how lucky Kiliofa was to be marrying
this American boy (the underlying idea: not because they had fallen
in love, but because she had been skilled enough as a woman to con
this American guy into marrying her and taking her back to the US)
BUT ENOUGH OF
you might guess from what I've said so far, the actual church ceremony
was probably the least important part of the whole weekend (or at
least, it was a formality to be gotten through quickly). Much more
important were all the different parties, and songs, and celebrations.
was one more of these celebrations. They did have the traditional
cutting of the cake with which we're familiar, and a dance for the
newly-wedded couple. However, more important was this idea that
was apparent: The send-off party is for the bride's village to say
good-bye to the bride; the wedding reception is for the groom's
family to welcome the bride into their family. This way, both families
share the cost of the wedding.
BUT DID HE REALLY...?
A few of you who
know a little about African culture may want to ask: So did Joe
give her family cows in exchange for their daughter? The answer
is, yes and no. Her family is both traditional and modern, so they
accepted a compromise. Joe's official gift was in accordance with
tradition for a woman of her age and status: Two buckets of honey,
a goat, and three cows (big, medium-sized, and calf). However, in
reality, he gave them some crates of soda equivalent to the cost
of the honey, and an amount of money equal to the cost of the cows.
He did actually buy the goat and present it to them, though. :)
WAIT, AM I STILL
AT MORINGE OR WHAT?
completely: I do have a job back in Monduli, too. A few weeks ago,
we met with the girls' club (the demise of which I had been thinking
was near) and had a pretty heavy debate. The motion was "A pregnant
girl student should be allowed to continue with her studies." There
were good points on both sides, but the proposing side eventually
beat the opposing, 11 to 8. A full spectrum of issues, some universal,
some specific to Tz, and the two sides managed to muddle through
them with little help, and the audience came up with some hard-hitting
questions and comments as well. The following Saturday, we had something
a little more lighthearted: A fashion show!
OFF ONCE AGAIN
And with that,
I'm off once again on vacation -- I have a particularly long mid-term
break this term, immediately followed by a conference in Dar. All
told, I'll be away from Monduli for more than three weeks. I'm not
too happy about that, but I am excited to visit one of the major
parts of the country that I have not yet seen: The deep south. I
will be going to Mtwara, Newala, Masasi, and other towns within
a stone's throw of Mozambique. I will also be visiting some of the
most remote bush sites in Tanzania. It will be an adventure, as
always, and I will share it with you.