Sushu's Travel Journal

July 4, 2012

The People of Tanzania

Filed under: Africa — Tags: — admin @ 8:11 pm

Here are some of the people I met:

Amon, the man who picked us up at the airport was orphaned at a young age. His father died in an accident and his mother died in childbirth to his sister. After spending some time in an orphan camp, him and his sister got adopted by a Lutheran pastor. Now his sister is in Germany and he has recently returned in order to run a business. He is very angry about the current president, whom he sees as corrupt and weak (in comparison, Hausa thinks the current president is pretty awesome). He went on a giant rant about how only the “big fish” can afford mansions while the poor live on a meal a day, and how there’s no accountability and the courts are like “watching a movie” – just for show. He is married and has a 5-year-old boy and an adopted child. He wants to expand his business, but getting a loan at the bank is hard because he is Tanzanian and not foreign. His wife has started working at a bank, though, so he will try again.

Nicky runs the lodge at Bomani. He runs a tight ship, and is always courteous and friendly. He met a Tanzanian girl in England and they have a 2 year old girl. Whenever he sees young girls in the village around his daughter’s age, his face lights up and he always goes out of his way to talk to them. He wanted to stay in England but his visa ran out, so now his girlfriend and child lives in England while he lives in Tanzania. He is actually from the Kilimanjaro region, and have only been on the coast for 2 years, so many of his references are to the Masai instead of the local Muslim tribes. Like Amon, he is also Lutheran, though he is happy to say “asalaam aleikum” to the villagers. He hasn’t married because he seems to be holding out for a foreign girl.

Hausa, the driver, grew up in Bagamoyo. His extended family lives in a big concrete house with electricity and 6 rooms. All of the young adults in his family speak great English, so they are clearly sufficiently well to do. His sister is working on her tour guide certificate. He has a 4 year old son who is shy. He likes to tell jokes and listens to Tupac and Dr. Dre.

Abdul is 25 and grew up in Dar Es Salaam with his Mother and stepfather. His godfather sponsored his studies, but when he came up one credit short on his A Levels, cut off his funding. His mother then got laid off and his birth father has his own family, so Abdul can’t find the funding he needs to continue his studies. So he got a computer applications certificate, but then couldn’t afford a computer (400k shillings). Then he came to the village and has spent the last 2 years teaching at the school. He doesn’t have a certificate for teaching, so he doesn’t get paid. Instead he gets along with parent contributions, working with the fishermen, and doing Bruce-Lee-inspired backflips in the Bomani Dance Troupe. It was by doing those backflips that he caught the attention of Solfrid, the Norwegian who owns the lodge. Solfrid is sponsoring the year of studying required for the teaching certificate (dlasses are 400k per term and living expenses are 800k a term). Abdul has great ambitions but doesn’t quite know how to reach them — he says he wants to become a master teacher because then he can earn more money. He says he’d like to promote women’s rights because he sees the suffering of his mother. He wants to find true love, even though he claims to have given up on love after 2 girlfriends left him due to his lack of prospects. He is very actively trying to find another sponsor.

The village doctor started learning his trade from his grandfather when he was 15. To cure people, you describe to him what is wrong, and the he writes an appropriate verse from the Koran on a slip of paper with special ink and the burns it. You then smell it (whether the ashes or the smoke wasn’t clear.) Sometimes there are also herbs to burn and smell or make into tea. He claims to have learned the uses of the herbs when he went “deep into the ocean” and was shown the powers of each herb. He does also do referrals. If a patient shows up with TB or AIDS, he refers them to the western doctor in the village. There is also a pharmacist for when the western doctor is off duty on the weekends. I later find out that this sort of Islamic shaman is called a Mwalimu-Mganga. Many villagers visit him before visiting the western doctor, and sometimes people from other villages come to seek help due to his fame. His patients don’t always pay money – sometimes they pay in gifts. One patient was so satisfied with his healing that he gave the doctor a motorbike. Upon arrival in Tanzania, I heard from Amon that Tanzanian doctors were on strike because they weren’t getting paid enough. I later heard from Nicky that the last time the doctors went on strike (in February – the government still hasn’t responded to their grievances, hence the renewed strike), one of the Bomani drivers got into an accident. Nicky had paid to have the guy air-lifted to a regional hospital, but because of the strike, the driver did not survive. It feels like, between the somewhat sketchy provenance of the mwalimu-mganga and the lack of support for western medical doctors, perhaps the most reliable source of medicine are the pharmacies. The village pharmacist only had about 10 medicines in her cabinet, but the one in Bagamoyo was better stocked (still didn’t have mefloquine, though). The pharmacies in Dar Es Salaam basically had everything, prescription or otherwise.

Isaac was our guide at Saadani National Park. He has been in the guiding business for five years, though mostly in the Arusha region because he grew up in the Serengeti. He recently came to Saadani just for a year or two to further his studies of river and beach habitats. He has a son who is 6 years old… it was an unexpected high school pregnancy. His girlfriend at the time didn’t want to marry him, perhaps because he didn’t have any prospects, or perhaps because their relationship had cooled. He claims it is because women in Tanzania often look for much older men (later refuted by Mr. Abbas, although it did remind me of Kunta Kinte in Roots, though that comparing the two would be like comparing Georgian and Chinese weddings.) So now he works to support his son and be here as a parental figure, though he doesn’t get to see him often. Isaac also stands out because he is Rwandan. He said that his parents and him moved to Tanzania when he was a child, and he grew up in Tanzania. Even though he is culturally Tanzanian, locals have trouble placing him in the tribal schema… he often has to pretend he is from a nearby similar tribe. (I want to know more about this tribal thing. When someone asked Joanne where she was from, she of course said Usa, but then he asked if she was Chinese, and she said her parents were. He was confused until he decided that she was American, but of the Chinese tribe.)

Nick is from a small town in southern England, and 5 years ago went to south Africa to work as a guide. Then, a year or two ago, he came to Saadani to be a lodge manager. He claims that this is the natural next step in the industry, though given that Isaac had been in the industry for just as long, I’m guessing this is the natural next step for white people in this industry. He said he chose to work at the Saadani Safari Lodge because this lodge actually also does eco-tourism and community development… some of the money from the lodge has gone into building a school and a mosque for the local village. (On the way back through the park we passed by a brand new mosque that was a good 2km from the nearest village. I hope that wasn’t the mosque he was referring to, because then the white savior fail would be too extreme.)

I didn’t get to talk to many people on Zanzibar. It is a lot more touristy and people seem less inclined to converse. There is Mr. Abbas, who was our tour coordinator. He runs quite a good racket… he takes our money, and then basically drops us off in different places to different guides (whom we then have to tip) while he runs errands. But he is raking in the money … we are paying him 80 USD tomorrow just for a drive into town and some chaperoning. No wonder he can afford to send his 2 children to a private boarding school in Zanzibar Town (while he lives on the other end of the island near our resort) AND go on trips abroad to USA (Chicago, Miami, Colorado), Dubai, Holland, and Spain. He liked the US and Holland, and wants to go to China next. In comparison, I don’t think much of the money makes its way to the boatmen who took us to swim with dolphins and made us an awesome seafood lunch. Mr. Abbas is a very devout Muslim – he spent 8 years of schooling (probably in a madrasa) memorizing the Qur’an, and he was trying to get me to convert (I expressed a desire to visit Mecca.) We talked about the Hajj – the full Hajj package from Zanzibar is $3500, which is pretty good.

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