Tuesday, April 12, 2016

This Writing Life: Eight Years and Counting

I never remember the blogiversary of Mikocheni Report quite in time. This has become a yearly tradition, along with the making of promises to improve the blog both aesthetically and content-wise in the coming year.

So: I promise to improve the blog in the coming year. It'll look better and have increased and improved content. No, for real this time. :)

Eight years and counting? Folks, I didn't think this thing would last this long. As a long-time blog enthusiast with a number of blogs that I check on religiously, I was mentally prepared for the slump. Personal blogging is like some kind of mad ultra-marathon that starts out fine and ends up with you limping on busted up content hoping you won't soil yourself too badly/die before you reach your goal. My goal is pretty much ten years, because that's a nice round number and would put me in the league of hard-core non-giver-uppers who hit the decade mark, statistics or popularity be damned. 

Recently someone commented on the fact that I don't blog as much as I used to, and it is patently true. The answer I gave was that I am bored with my own opinion- too much of it has been nothing but politics lately and I already do that for the East African. In a sense, the column that was partly born out of the blog has cannibalized it's sister's energies and left the blog weaker as a result. 

I want to go back  to doing much more interesting stuff like covering cultural events, food and cuisine, random topics, esoteric stuff, musings about development and Africanism and philosophy and things. But we're mid-marathon here, people, and I won't lie: wheeeeeeew. That's the only sound that seems appropriate. My brain is beat up and straining. 

The slump that long-term bloggers encounter is that period of time when other things take center stage, when blogging isn't what it used to be and the passion wanes and you end up trickling down to a very occasional post. But that's what separates the mad from the bad: we just keep going, even when the statistics function of the blog keeps taunting you to throw in the towel. There. Is. Still. Work. To. Be. Done. 

So: thank you readers for still showing up to read when I show up to write. It means a lot, the occasional comment or criticism- they are the equivalent of a protein bar along the gruelling way. It means that this project hasn't devolved into just one big yell into The Void. And that, folks, helps to keep the blog going. 

For year nine I promise (ahem) to have ambitions to make the blog prettier and to blog more frequently across a broader range of topics. I promise I won't necessarily achieve all of that because life gets in the way a lot these days. The one promise that I will keep is that I'll keep showing up, being cantankerous or tender or pseudo-intellectual or uncertain or oversharing. Even if its not as often as I should. Deal? 

Onwards hey! There's a couple of months to climb before next April. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Weekly Sneak: Gender Hashtagtivism

International Women's Day. I was feeling a bit guilty for completely forgetting to write a piece that would hit on March 8th and then decided that March is International Women's Month so I would write a piece anyways. 

My #pledgeforparity under the #IWD2016 sub-theme "call for gender balanced leadership" is to petition my parliament to update its website to provide data on the gender breakdown of elected (not special-seats) parliamentarians:
"I visited the Tanzanian parliament's website with a simple question: how many of our elected legislators are women? After poking around various promising links for 15 minutes (that is equivalent to a month in online research time) I left without a quick and direct answer. Egalitarian? Sure. Weird? Definitely. Something the website admin should fix? Absolutely."
As we all know, information is key to activism. So, webmaster: do you mind? Two places where you can put this information come to mind- the Composition Link in the About Us section and as a column in the List of Members A-Z table in the Members of Parliament section. Also, you could have a section titled "Parliament through history" or something like that where you post the stats on the composition of previous parliaments and other interesting factoids about them. 

Also, this week's article is dedicated to that one irate commentator on my recent piece about education who accused me of being an out-of-touch bourgeoise who only complains but never provides solutions or does anything concrete. What a gross underestimation of my contributions to social development, sir! To be specific, I am an out-of-touch bourgeoise who can hashtagtivist with the best of them from the comfort of my armchair. See: I have just told my government what to do. #HappyWomen'sMonth!

PS: If gender and politics in Tanzania is one of your interests, I stumbled across this paper recently. Seems decent. 

PPS: Jay Kay was pretty keen on gender parity on politics during his reign, one of his better qualities. I never did agree with the various proposals on how to bring this about (the suggestion to have one male and one female representative for every constituency was the worst!) but I did appreciate the intent. I'm going to give the current administration a year before I make up my mind, but it feels particularly testosterone-driven so far. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Weekly Sneak: Dangerously Funny

I was maybe half a year or a year into writing for The East African and still high on the fumes of this totally incredible fricking unbelievable how-the-hell-did-it-even-happen opportunity when a colleague said to me: 'you know that they're reading this, don't you? The politicians and people you write about? Across five countries?'

I didn't really sleep that night. Until I told myself that this is The East African we're talking about, home to some of the continent's most fearless- and funny- politician-dissing veterans of free speech*. Everything would be just fine. And it has been**. And this sense of security hasn't been seriously shaken until today when I read this here article telling me that Gado will not be cartooning for the EA anymore.

The media and freedom of speech have been deteriorating in East Africa these past few years, I can feel it and I can see it and frankly it is why roughly a year or so ago I self-censored and stopped commenting on regional happenings to focus on Tanzania or general topics***. The EA and we residents of the region who had access to it have lost something incredibly valuable, and we might never get it back. :(
"His fans have been spoiled. We're used to taking for granted that when Monday rolls around one of the events guaranteed to make the start of the workweek slightly less dreadful would be Gado's skewering of some inanity, usually political. The last time Gado didn't show up in The East African as expected, there was a complete freakout online. He was forced to emerge from his little break to reassure us that he was alive and well and whatever horrors we were busy imagining were just that- imagined. A pretty strong indicator of the value placed on his work by its consumers, right?"
Little did we know...

*It is true that these veterans generally have a history of being seriously bullied by their governments, somehow survived and continue to be disdainful of despots.

**Turns out that the most dangerous thing that has ever happened to me is reading furious and unpleasant comments/emails from Kenyans. I annoy Kenyans a lot, it seems. I wonder why? Makes me sad because I like them ever so much. Especially their rugby team. Sigh. But seriously, the closest I have ever come to encountering official displeasure was a customs official at Julius Nyerere International who wasn't satisfied with my stated occupation of 'writer' and demanded to know if I was a journalist. When I assured him that I am not, he turned his frown upside down and wished me a pleasant trip. 

*** The reason I make fun of Kenyans is because I honest-to-God like them. They have a  fantastic sense of humor when they're not busy being mad at me for tweaking their ego. As an American said to me once, Kenyans are the Americans of East Africa, which I guess would make Tanzania the Canadians? As for Uganda, it is basically impossible to make more fun of their politicians, including the President, than they do themselves. Mad respect. However, I don't write about the other EAC countries anymore because [redacted] and that's [redacted] [redacted] [redacted] travel to [redacted] [redacted] regional integration. Know what I mean? 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Weekly Sneak: Even A Bad Election Is Better Than None

I know that The General wasn't serious in his last column about Africa and her sham elections but it hit me hard. He may have been joking but all too often I have heard this said quite seriously, by fellow Africans. It never bothered me as much coming from older people who are generally conservative and have colonial hang-overs that give rise to awkward statements. But when I started hearing it from peers? Oh, hell no. There's no way we're doing this nonsense for another generation:

"To be fair, I think that there is a point to the frustration: as was pointed out last week in Jenerali's column, elections are a terrible sham most of the time. That doesn't mean we should give up on them. What would we do for fun?

More importantly, what would we do instead? The answer that seems to be bubbling up silently is to go back to an era of Big Men, to embrace that notion without complaint. After all, it is sort of what we do now anyways. Be they magnificent, former liberators turned cranky old men, be they terrible despots, something always seems to happen once an African leader has been around long enough- and in some cases 'long enough' can be a matter or months. They gain a level of authority and respect that's dangerously close to that accorded kings and other divinely appointed rulers."

Yeah, yeah, democracy is a messy, crazy, surprisingly inefficient and often ineffective. But it's still the best thing we've got, and it can always be improved. The alternative- at least the one we seem to be leaning towards in Africa- is untenable. 

PS: Nobody actually thought Museveni was going to give up power did they? He's hanging around until the EAC federates, perhaps so he can be its first leader, who knows. The man has been consistent about this particular ambition for many years. I wish him luck, may he live so long...

Monday, February 8, 2016

Quick And Dirty Restaurant Review: 305 Karafuu

Well. I knew I was gonna like this place the minute we couldn't find parking on the overcrowded Kinondoni street of a Saturday night.* La Dee thought she wanted some Thai food for her birthday dinner but her sistren overpowered her (yup, bila shame) and dragged her out to some local adventuring instead. 

305 Karafuu is a pretty lil' thang of a restaurant. Flirty, small, bit moody. Kinda perfect. Took full advantage of my time there to peer around corners, talk to the bartender (he's fantastic) and the owner (jury's out on that one, chefs can be a bit temperamental) and the guy next to me on the bar who turned out to be Irish**.

Anyways, after trying unsuccessfully to compliment the chef on his project of bringing the haute cuisine to the excellent array of local produce, we got our food. How was it? It was thoughtful. The fish was magnificent. The steak was not. The salad was actually good, for once, with a home-made dressing that wasn't dripping in oil. And we got bread when we asked for it. 

I loved the fusion of the experience. It isn't complete yet, there is still some growth to see but it's some next-stage growth. The food, like the place, had something that I didn't realize I had been missing so much in eating establishments. It's got soul. It... feels. 

So anyways, go there. That's my recommends. You'll have a nice time. And if you don't, you can go sulk about it at the chipsi kuku across the lane or better yet at Twitter Bar up the road. It'll be an experience any which way you trundle down that road. 

*Also because I spotted the Twitter Bar along the way to good eating, and I smelled the scent of my kinda troublerousers gathering there and thought: hell yeah. 

**Yay! Irish!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Dar Noir Movie Review (kind of).

This is a fun movie. Don't take your Mom to see it, though. 

Some guy who is entirely too familiar with the darkest parts of cinema (cough: life) made a Noir about Dar. Now, I thought I knew Noir but this bro was throwing in movie tropes that don't even exist  even in the impolite world of African cinema (unless you are the kind of awesome freak who watches actual independent African cinema). Somewhere between nearly quitting because the anti-hero's beard was crusted in puke and wondering why a heroin head would try to get a blowjob, I had an epiphany.

This is exactly the kind of movie that upsets folk because folk need some upsetting. Hallelujah. And it was beautiful too, which only adds insult to injury. The peeps who made it clearly love cinema. There was a frisky, dangerous dame, and there was a complicated wreck of a charming guy and there was some urban crime and there was some resultant violence. And there was some laughter, but most of the time the comedic elements were under-appreciated. 

Is this movie good? Sure, I'd rather watch it again than most 99% of what comes out of the big studios. Was it that good? No, it could be better. Like, seriously I Love Old Hollywood better. Did I dig it? You bet. You should watch it, it gives you that sweet feeling of when people were young and daring and they told visual stories and they didn't have enough money and sometimes they didn't have enough skill but that's how they took you on an adventure made it real people fun. Remember when the movies were fun? I do. 

That's why you should watch this. Seriously, though: don't take your Mom to the premier. Fake a terrible illness if you have to. 

*bonus: The general shows up in it, pouchy eyes and dubious moral fiber and all. He's got a nice line in minimal dialogue. Also, the old-school Mercedes Benz was a right tight touch as a character. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Weekly Sneak: Free Speech, I Think...

You ever fall into a deeply metaphorical mood? When connections between disparate things somehow make sense and then you want to explore them and then you write an article and hit send and then you realize that maybe it was a bit (a lot) weird and why can't you just be normal for goodness sakes? Yeah? No? 

Guys, even I am not entirely sure this one worked. But it was the one that wanted to come out, so. 
"I learned a valuable lesson from Donald Trump recently, a lesson about freedom of speech. It was a complex one, based on contradiction. There is footage online shot by the alternative news channel Young Turks of him at one of his rallies, spouting the most chilling hate-speech towards his detractors. He spends quite a bit of time whipping up a mob frenzy to the point where journalists and various people get evicted from the premises with increasing use of force. He uses the terms 'they' and 'us' with a dangerous recklessness.
There he stands waving his arms and I realized that one day in a class about totalitarianism, this footage will come up. He might be crazier than a geriatric african despot, but he has the right to share that insanity with his fellow Americans, because one of the fundamental things that make this illogical man possible in America in 2016 is their reverence for freedom of speech.

It is a distinct pleasure to be able to welcome The EastAfrican back to Tanzania in her physical form after an absence of one year. Regimes have changed and so have ministers et cetera so there is no need to revisit old grievances. However this triumph has been somewhat dimmed by the concurrent banning of another newspaper, Mawio, over charges of seditious content. Here we go again with the contradictions."  

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Weekly Sneak: Racism, Immigration and Other Light Topics.

Oh, it's not that Tanzanians aren't racist: we are. Flamingly so. It's just that we let the simmering resentments bubble up slowly in Kiswahili where nobody can hear them until they are ready to scald everyone. Yet somehow we manage to take the lid off the pot before the house burns down. 

"We have, on the state broadcaster no less, a program dedicated to interviewing Tanzanians who have migrated legally or illegally to greener economic pastures. It is a great show, no holds barred, with folks talking about how to stow-away on ships to South Africa and such. Hint: teach your children how to swim, Tanzanian parents, you never know if they're going to need it. We all know who pipelines the opiates from Asia to the continent and beyond. It's a little ridiculous for us to claim moral authority on the issue of migration: forced, legal or otherwise."

I can't imagine Dar without her Japanese, Chinese, Lebanese restaurants. Her mexican-indian food and her pilaus and octopus curries. If anyone even attempts to get in the way of the benefits that migration has conferred upon my palate, I get a little cranky. 

Speaking of cranky, just a quick note: So Kenyans are constantly getting in touch about my apparent anti-Kenyan sentiments and I just want to say two things: nobody disses the hell out of the ones they don't love, so appreciate the backhanded compliment for the stinging endorsement that it is and leave my gmail alone. And I do love Kenya. Specifically, the rugby team. Who are welcome to Dar anytime, guys, anytime. 

A little birdie told me...

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