Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Weekly Sneak: Hair!

Hi folks, two things this time. First and most important: have you read Bikozulu's blog? Because if you haven't, you should. If you are a writer, you definitely should. If you are an African writer who works in English, you have to. I am currently experiencing a crush on his writing that shows all the signs of becoming a full-bloom deep and abiding love. 

So this week I wrote about hair. Funny thing is, I am that woman who will never notice a new hairstyle. Absolutely hopeless at it. I don't even know why it is a gendered thing: men notice hairstyles all the time*. I? Do not. It has to be extremely radical to register at all. I do, however, almost always notice bad hair. If your hairstyle is rejecting you like an unhappy transplanted organ, I will totally remember you for it. Apparently I am only sensitive to extremes. So much for gender stereotypes.  

"It always amuses me that people toss around that hackneyed notion that a woman's beauty is her hair. So is a man's, for the record, but this is Africa. No stronger case has been made about the riveting beauty of a perfectly shaped, cleanly shaved head than here and it goes for both genders. Aye, the fashion world is not particularly enamored of bald people except when it comes to African models.

I do, of course, have a preference. The personal is political but the personal is also expression and we must all say a little something about ourselves with our hair. I fled the scene of chemical straighteners and hot-combs as soon as I had the chance, but this was driven by an absolute loathing for hair salons and sitting still and the pain of a burned scalp as well as laziness. Imagine my delight when I found out that it was also an effective anti-establishment badge that could strike fear and fury in the hearts of some."  

I can understand the logic of someone who is conservative about clothes even if I disagree, but when it comes to hair I just don't get it. Wear whatever. Especially if it is natural :)

*Most men I know won't voice criticism unless asked for a direct opinion. This is a good skill to have. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Weekly Sneak: So, It Has Been One of Those Weeks.

Feminism, which I haven't focused on for a while now, has butted back into my life quite insistently this month of May. Through a series of events I found myself writing for a Danish readership about being it, and listening to a Franco-Tanzanian panel discussion about it. I was way overdue for a refresher.  

In the event, two of my most stubbornly difficult questions got answered. Feminism isn't a Western invention or imposition, and Africans who identify with this ideology (whether or not they call themselves the F-word) do so of their own accord. No brainwashing required. I have been stuck in this feminism-hostile place for so long that I was beginning to lose perspective, and buying into the 'it's because you are different' poop that was used to explain it all away. Nope, feminists are made everyday in varying flavors and strengths across the gender spectrum, so there. We're bog-standard, boringly common folk and there's probably one sitting right next to you right now. :)

Then that question, that question that just burns my ass everytime I hear it: 

"“why are women their own worst enemies?” It is time to send this idea to a fiery death. This question is an insidious little mental parasite that effectively shifts the blame to the victim.
Women aren't their own worst enemies, we are simply operating in the competitive hierarchies of patriarchy. We face a considerable number of handicaps in this competition, barring us from obtaining resources in our own right. This is the perfect environment in which to cultivate the idea that men are a commodity to be used.

Women can, and do, use men to compete for land, for resources, wealth, power and prestige. We compete with each other for them- this is what we are socialized to do from childhood. Girls are groomed to take their place in these competitions with subtle weaponry, as they are denied the conventional male ones of privilege and violence."

In other words: we're not unicorns, we're just people. But I get how it can be confusing to an observer who isn't attuned. Women do tend to collaborate more and share their emotions and blah blah blah- society's shock absorbers and nurturers and all that jazz. It's a role, we play it. That doesn't mean that women are safe and intrinsically good... but it does imply that people who truly believe that are inexplicably naive. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

A Public Encounter of the Government Kind

Today is the second day that I have had to go to a Government Office to Get A Piece of Paper, which is two days too many. If there is one thing nobody likes doing, it is Getting a Piece of Paper from the Government of Tanzania, unless you are the sort who enjoys going on missions to wrestle with The Civil Service. I certainly do not and avoid doing so as much as I can get away with. Unfortunately, the world is all about Pieces of Paper, so.

On the plus side, it has given me a chance to see if Magufulification had yielded some practical improvements in the Government Encounter experience. It has. First of all, I have to tell you that part of the preparation involved a quick consultation with m'ladies who are familiar with these institutions about what to wear. My government has a chronic obsession with 'proper attire' and every so often the condition flares up, usually to the detriment of women more so than men.

This time around the instructions are a little less draconian than in the past. Cover up any jiggly bits, don't wear anything tight enough to emphasize said jiggly bits, below the knee, cleavage covered and no bare shoulders. That's it. It seems pretty innocuous but we all know it isn't, still at least we have moved past the whole 'women can't wear trousers' silliness of yore. But this, friends, was the first hurdle and I admit to wondering idly what they would do if a Hadza maiden came along to claim her passport in traditional garb. Mh.

Anyways, appropriately attired off I went to get my Piece of Paper having filled out the required other Other Pieces of Paper and appended Necessary Pieces of Paper and stuck on Sticky Pieces of Paper. And lo and behold. The service was...welcoming? Downright friendly? There might have been a ticketing system involved. Things moved along at a lively clip and the officers were professional. I kept waiting to wake up in Tanzania again until I looked up from my seat and saw Magufuli's sort-of-smiling official portrait looming 2 meters above my head. Which means I was definitely awake.

Said portrait is the only piece of 'decor' in the public space of this office (which, by the way, was flooded with light and well-ventilated). 

It's not likely that the Bulldozer had all that much to do personally with the design of the building and the amenities. But his Effect was certainly felt in the carefully cordial way in which both clients and service providers treated each other in that space. Apparently we have rights now, and besides, no civil servant wants to give the Bulldozer any cause to visit their place of work especially not complaints from the general public. So...yay discipline?

Better than that, I detected a whiff of something that is fairly rare but might (hopefully) become more common over the next couple of years: a genuine and confident pride in their work on the part of public servants. However, I hope not to find out if this is emerging in other government institutions because I'm going right back to Avoiding Government Interactions until the next Piece of Paper needs renewing.  

Next up: what does it feel like to for an African to ask for a European Visa in their own country. Let's just say I have had mildly interesting but ultimately decent experiences so far but this is 2016 so no assumptions. Stay tuned. 

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!

A little birdie told me...

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