Sunday, December 18, 2011

Back in Tanzania, back to blogging

I have been back in Tanzania for a bit over a week now, part of a short stint of consulting work on a case study of HakiElimu, where I worked when I lived in Dar previously. Being back here provides me with constant reminders of my mzungu-ness, which in turn reminded me of this blog and its legion of followers (hi, Mom). Also, my life just seems more blog-worthy over here, so I figured it was time for an update. Anyway, blog-worthiness is likely in the eye of the blog reader, the past few days have certainly been action-packed.

I spent the first part of last week in Dar es Salaam conducting interviews with the few government officials who consented to meet with me at short notice as well as a few other close observers of the education sector. Then on Wednesday I hopped a flight to Mwanza, a.k.a. Rock City, so named not for any connection to KISS but for its numerous and impressive rock formations. (Side note: KISS may not have any connections to Tanzania, but Queen does! Freddy Mercury is from Zanzibar, where his legacy is divided between those who celebrate his musical career and those who were less down with his being gay.)

Just prior to leaving Dar I had the somewhat surreal experience of interviewing a prominent, young Opposition Member of Parliament in the Dar es Salaam Airport VIP Lounge. He was on his way back to Dar just as I was preparing to leave so it seemed like the easiest way for us to meet. Getting into the lounge was something of a comedy of errors… I had to fight with the guy at the check-in counter, who did not want to let me in. So I called the MP and explained my plight and he told me to tell the check-in guy just who I was planning to meet in the VIP lounge. I dutifully and somewhat guiltily name-dropped and it worked! After he left I was allowed to stay and enjoy another hour of crushed velvet, air-conditioned luxury before boarding my flight to Mwanza.

The flight itself was a bit less luxurious – it was a small, noisy plane, and the air conditioning didn’t condescend to start working until about 30 minutes after takeoff. But immediately upon arrival I had the pleasure of meeting “Jammy,” the taxi driver sent by my hotel. When he learned that I was from California began rattling off a list of his favorite West Coast rappers and lamenting that hip-hop really hadn’t been the same since 1996.

The plan in Mwanza was for me to meet with one of HakiElimu’s “Friends of Education” (member of their grassroots network of activists) who would be my guide in the region, introducing me to other Friends in neighboring districts so I could interview them and learn about their activities. Due to some miscommunication I had thought I would be making these visits on short day trips from Mwanza so was surprised when I met my guide the next morning and he informed me that we had to hurry to catch the 9AM ferry to the first district and that there was no way we would get back to Mwanza that night. And so, my plan for two easy day trips turned into a rather exhausting – but extremely interesting – four-day whirlwind involving multiple trips by boat, bus and motorcycle. To round out the experience I picked up a stomach bug, which I suspect comes from drinking a glass of busara (“wisdom”) juice in a village in Serengeti – a yeasty concoction resembling thin gruel. Not bad, actually, but somehow did not agree with me.

There was only one point at which I actively feared for my life (this morning, when the bus back to Mwanza began veering off the muddy road, getting stuck at a precarious angle and forcing all the passengers off. After two hours of futile efforts to right the bus and get going, we caught another bus and made our way bumpily back). But perhaps if I’d been thinking more rationally there would have been others. Tanzania’s many wonders do not include a network of safe roads. That said, our route this morning bordered Serengeti National Park, so I got to see loads of zebras as we bumped along. I was slightly the worse for wear by the time we got back to Mwanza after 8 hours on the road but since my flight (on the ill-named Precision Air) had been delayed, I decided to rally and called Jammy up for a quick tour of Rock City.

I am now waiting in the decidedly un-VIP waiting lounge of the Mwanza airport, hoping that my flight will actually leave at some point, since I have a pretty packed schedule back in Dar tomorrow. Fortunately, the fact that it is nearly Christmas has made it difficult to schedule meetings for the end of the week, so I should have a few days to relax and work on my tan before heading back to the States. Or rather, work to undo my newly acquired T-shirt tan. It’s a tough life.

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