Thursday, August 4, 2022

"City of the Smiling People"- Ongala Festival 2022

"I am sitting at a table during the height of the lunch rush, waiting for someone. A couple approaches the 4-top and asks if they can sit there with me? Against my nature I tell them “I am waiting for someone” because I don’t know if that someone will be okay with company. This does not go down well. They remark to me, surprised, that surely they may sit since I am only waiting for one person? I do not respond, only apologizing for their inconvenience. The woman moves on, already looking at friendlier tables. The man lingers to glare before turning away and grumbling. The entire encounter takes a few seconds and nary a voice is raised.

I smile down at my phone to avert my gaze, aware that I have just violated social rule of generosity, graciousness and conviviality. Not my fault he came at me with just a touch more aggression in his request than was warranted. In the end, a peaceful silence reigns and nobody’s feelings or pride are hurt.

This is Bongo. Dar es Salaam. We are slated to hit a cool 7 million this year which the upcoming Census might verify for us. Fastest growing city on the continent, one of the fastest growing in the world. And we are holding on to our smiles and our particular brand of Utu with both hands.

Many mistake Tanzanians easy-going and low key approach for something else. Shyness or low confidence, lack of language skills, other- whatever they feel they need to project upon us. While any of these might be in play, much of the time Tanzanians and especially those of us who live in the City know that non-confrontation is a choice as well as an art. Dar is a pleasant city to live in because we wish it so: amidst the trials and tribulations of modern life and the grimness of the human experience we not only choose life, we choose to smile. Why fight, when we can love instead? It takes courage, and effort, and commitment to love. Anger is easy, peace is not.

A much older man approaches the table, eyes me and demands: “what are you doing here alone, young lady?” I protest weakly that I am waiting for someone, knowing that I have lost the fight to protect our table. He uses the privilege of age and customership to let me know I am sitting at his table, in fact. He proceeds to sit down and order his meal while I receive a call from my friend and direct him to our shared table.

The two old men know each other, as it turns out. Veterans of the public service system and nearly of an age, they have much in common including people. They exchange pleasantries and proceed to catch up on news of careers, current affairs, thoughts on the President. I eat quietly, piping up with the occasional question, knowing that I am being indulged by my elders in this glimpse behind the curtain of how political sausage is made.

I look around. The only sign that in this bustling, hustling popular eatery that my two old men are of any importance at all is the way the waiters will respond to their calls with a touch more alacrity. This might also simply be because of age: old folks are cranky, trust me, they are really much more manageable if you respond to them quickly. And smile while you are doing so.

The couple found a table in the end, shared. They ate and ended up alone there, talking for a while before they got up and went on with their day. As they glanced over at our table they smiled and she smiled back while his eyes simply widened and he nodded slightly. All is well.

The older man at whose table I sat is finished before us. He pays our bill as well as his and graciously accepts our relaxed thanks before he leaves us to our business. He is smiling as he goes, no longer the stern elder who commandeered a seat, now just another friendly face.

This is Bongo, Dar es Salaam. The City of the Smiling people. Anywhere I go, I know a little ease, a little charm, a little conviviality will make things well. Home."


Wrote this piece fresh for the Ongala Music Festival that begins tomorrow 5th of August and will be running until Sunday 7th of August at the Silver Sands Hotel in Kunduchi, Dar es Salaam. The request was for words about the 'Tanzanian spirit', thought I would share a vignette of what happened yesterday at lunch. 

There will be a wee bit more of my work and that of other writers and poets at the Poetry and Prose Corner of the Festival. Karibuni sana. 

Enjoy. Let's celebrate Remy and the Arts together. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Social Media, Amirite?

 Y'all, while I was away a lot happened in the Tanzanian social media sphere. Much of it is great, much of it is bad- we are in keeping with global trends in this sphere. So there I was planning to totally blog on the weekend and get things warmed up again. 

But in the back of my mind I had an issue brewing. That of cyberbullying. A friend was going through a very messed up situation and I was quietly meditating on why, what could be done in such circumstances, a whole bunch of factors. 

So on Friday just as I am thinking "Oh, I should select a fun topic for The Mikocheni Report" and going about my day: smack! Got popped right in the face with some Tweets reacting to piece I wrote in The East African a while back. Initially I was pretty open to "dialogue" because I never get feedback on Twitter about the stuff I do on the East African. But then the day and the conversation progressed and I realized this was actually not a good thing. 

Everyone who writes for public consumption gets used to feedback as a part of the job. It is valuable, it is a way to keep a finger on the pulse of things, of finding out how things are going, of getting loads more information and making connections, sometimes even making friends. "Negative" feedback is very important in identifying gaps in your knowledge and 99% of the time it is offered for free by an expert in the field who took the time to write to you and provide evidence, data, articles and so on. Seriously, you would not believe how many experts in various fields a decade of opinion can garner one.  

But there is the other kind of negative feedback: that with malicious intent. Occasionally it is personal: someone just doesn't like you. Which is normal, right? No big. Easily handled. Malicious intent as part of a larger campaign around a controversial topic? Different story. If you're not careful with that stuff you can get dragged by your dreadlox into a very nasty space with no reasonable way out. 

My social media is active, I tend to respond to people who @ me which is not the wisest policy but I feel it keeps the door open. Obviously if you keep the door open anyone can walk in tho. But here's the thing: Mark Zuckerberg is younger than me. Twitter came online in the mid-2000s. I grew up playing video games that had to be loaded of a cassette tape and have learned how to mistype with both thumbs. I might know a thing or two about how to avoid being dragged by my dreadlox into a nasty space.

On the other side of being called a cyberbully, I have to wonder about the whole experience. Evidently it is great fodder for an eventual piece on gender and cyberbullying (it is not a straightforward thing, that) as part of commentary on the changing online landscape in Tanzania and beyond. On a  personal level it was a great check on how well the whole anger management effort is going. Once upon a time I was a chill and easygoing person. And then I was not. Now I am getting back to the Zen zone again and it was nice to get tested on that over the weekend.

Long story short: this is why the first real post on TMR in a long time isn't really a cool piece about something interesting as was originally intended. But it is also perfect because it reminded me that very few of my plans when it comes to blogging ever work out as anticipated. I guess that's just the House Style as it were. TMR may never manage to become a serious, planned out, consistently structured blog... thank God.

Y'all keep safe out there, especially online, y'hear?  

Sunday, July 10, 2022

1527 Days: 4 Years, Two Months and a Week.

In my last real blogpost published on May 3rd of 2018, I said the following:

Tanzania has passed laws and regulations this year requiring bloggers to register and pay a punitive fee in order to keep offering their content. The flimsy excuse is taxation. The real reason is standard restriction of free speech. The Tanzanian blogosphere is too minute to generate anything worth taxing, but it has punched above its weight lately.

So it is with a clean heart that I announce the icing of the Mikocheni Report. Reader, you already knew it was coming.

I say icing because in truth I have no idea what these regulations actually mean and I need time to see. Also...ten years. I am going to take a break. Maybe new opportunities will come along. Maybe there will be an evolution. There is a lot of maybe right now. Maybe the blog is just...on ice?

What I really want to say is thank you. For reading. It is hard for me to explain how essential writing is in my life. Like...how do you explain bone marrow? Since I was a child the world has been rendered in terms of the word. Word is life.”

I stopped blogging out of protest, having amassed enough of a readership by then to be able to leverage this move as a signal that all was not well with my country. It worked better than I had hoped considering TMR is just one woman’s little corner of the internets. Thank you for that.

So here we are again.

A few months ago, President Samia Suluhu Hassan mentioned in one of her speeches that Hon. Nape Nnauye, the Minister for Information, should look into the laws and regulations on online content to make it easier for more Tanzanians to participate in the online conversation. This should apparently preceed a move to overhaul the current Information Act. Because Mama Samia said it in public, I was assured that this meant an easing of the restrictions that led to my pausing the blogging in the first place. But I did not blog immediately.

A lot happened between 2018 and 2022. I turned 40 somewhere in there, praise be. I have now “eaten some salt” as we might say in Kiswahili. The salt of sweat, the salt of tears? The expression never specifies. In that time I lost several “innocences” as well as trust in Tanzania’s leadership class. So no, I did not blog immediately. These days my position is to be cautious, patient, strategic where possible- all of which is a lot easier in one’s fourth decade on Terra than in one’s second or third.

Instead of firing up TMR, I waited. I asked. And asked again. Then triangulated to be sure. Then waited some more to see what might happen to other bloggers. The scene in Tanzania is a wasteland: everyone is on Medium or a shared platform or social media, or technically located “elsewhere” in the ether of the World Wide Web. No point in taking risks- I had made my point and several platforms very generously offered me a couch to crash on during my self-exile from blogging.

It has been imperative to know for sure whether blogging again on this platform would be okay. Not just safe, but okay and understood. Tanzania is not what it was prior to 2015. It will never be like that again. Our culture of Presidentialism might convince you to put the blame on the shoulders of one deceased man but it is not so. This is a paradigm shift in which we all participated in, one way or another. We all made choices. We live with them.

I am still learning how to navigate these new environs. I move slower in my mind and in my feelings: scar tissue.

Sometimes my sleep breaks in the night and I think of a poem that writes about “floating belly-up from the depths” yet try as I might I cannot recollect it nor who wrote it. Sometimes I don’t know I was dreaming and I laugh easily, only to wake up to another day in 2022. For the longest I simply didn’t get out of bed. Better that way, frankly. And yet, my stubborn soul has cleaved to the promise I made myself when I was a child: live. Live it all, live it to the fullest of your being, live greedy for experiences, live. And in that living, write.

So here we are again.

I built this shelter with my own two hands because material things come and go, as do people. But words? Words. Words are a record and my records give me the comfort of a sense of place: somewhere to go that is mine. A Blog of her own. I had to leave it for a while but I am back now. I am home. The Mikocheni Report is online.  

Hello. Shall we… dance? Cheek to Cheek?

#ThisWritingLife

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Loading 2022...

Power up: Good Morning, Author. It is Saturday, 9th of July, 2022 CE.  

Wetware: Running Diagnostics. 

Hardware: Running Diagnostics. Warning: Upgrade recommended. 

Software: Running Diagnostincs. Warning: Retraining recommended. 

Overall Report: Diagnostics ongoing. Main systems appear to be functioning optimally. However, some changes detected in the Wetware and Software due to passage of time. May require further investigation. Recommendation: Start 'er slow, eh. Been in hibernation for a while, she'll need a bit of warm-up time. 

Action: Selection of Topic. 

Action: Software management- run program Music, Jazz.

Action: Idle/Sleep Mode. Engage. 

Power down. 

Friday, July 8, 2022

Tuning. Touching Keyboards. Checking the Dashboard. Trying Not To Cry on the Electronics.

 ...Hello?


Mic check. 

Audio Check. 

Heart Check. 


Maintenance Mode: Engage. 

Cue: Song dedicated to the Written Word. 

Selection: The One and Only Ray Charles. 



Power Down. 

Rest Mode: Engaged

Restart: To Be Determined...



Thursday, May 3, 2018

Au Revoir But Maybe Not Adieu

Hey there. It has been a tradition on this blog to do a yearly check-in every April to mark the anniversary of this blog and maybe talk about how it could be improved.

That last bit was always my favorite  because it was dismally and laughably optimistic. Like a new years resolution- meant to fail. It became a fun inside joke.

But this year I did not check in. And I apologise because that is also canon for this blog.

Here is the thing: I was and I still am exhausted. Exhausted in the true sense of the term. As in used up and burned out. I did a thing last year, a project. Just about killed my writing spirit. Worth it. But. There you go. I only have enough low battery left to try and keep breathing, so if you are looking for me find me at home at The East African. And sometimes hanging out with my new friend Al Jazeera.

Also my country, the love of which is the foundation on which this blog has been built, has been going through some shit. Which means that I have been stressed beyond belief.

It is not an excuse for having abandoned what was conceived as a ten year project. It is an explanation.

Tanzania has passed laws and regulations this year requiring bloggers to register and pay a punitive fee in order to keep offering their content. The flimsy excuse is taxation. The real reason is standard restriction of free speech. The Tanzanian blogosphere is too minute to generate anything worth taxing , but it has punched above its weight lately.

So it is with a clean heart that I announce the icing of the Mikocheni Report. Reader, you already knew it was coming.

I say icing because in truth I have no idea what these regulations actually mean and I need time to see. Also...ten years. I am going to take a break. Maybe new opportunities will come along. Maybe there will be an evolution. There is a lot of maybe right now. Maybe the blog is just...on ice?

What I really want to say is thank you. For reading. It is hard for me to explain how essential writing is in my life. Like...how do you explain bone marrow? Since I was a child the world has been rendered in terms of the word. Word is life.

I actually get paid to write these days, if you can believe it. I have days when I don't believe it either. It is like being paid to eat ice cream.

But never on the Mikocheni Report.

Free speech is a philosophy and a value that one can live in real terms, not just a lefty indulgence. It has never been a chore to write here, it has been an honor and a privilege and a therapy and a haven,a wonderful opportunity for community. I never could bring myself to sully that with filthy lucre.

So, my dears. It is May 2018. I have loved offering you missives. I have loved hearing your thoughts in the comments and in person and via emails. I have loved the occasional opportunity to host. I have lived and loved meeting you.

I am grateful for the chances you have given me to travel and talk to you both at home and abroad because of this little space. I am grateful for the chances you have given me to collaborate. To work. To hear about and pass on beauty and culture and love for Tanzania and beyond.

Thank you seems a bit flimsy to offer in return. But it is the best this limited English language can do. So thanks Google you evil corporation for providing free platforms for communication. Thank you readers for not giving up on the written word in an era of multimedia.

I am going to miss you horribly. Au revoir, but perhaps not Adieu.  Stay well.


Monday, April 24, 2017

The Places That Begin With Q

Go to Mozambique*, they said. It's fabulous there, they said. Wonderful country...they said. I got excited. Mozambique...even the name suggests that this is no ordinary place. It's got z's and q's in it and is pronounced differently by every accent I have ever heard. We call it Msumbiji up here, our quiescent neighbor with whom we have a long relationship colored by the harder, darker parts of liberation and pan-Africanism...

Maputo is beautiful. No, scratch that; Maputo is gorgeous. It is low-lying and tightly bound to generations of secrets of the soils and sea. Everything feels just a little bit dangerous here, behind the smiles are silences that reeks of caution. Maputo, Quelimane: they are beautiful to me the way that a venus flytrap is beautiful, the way that a panther is beautiful, the way that the hand-carved pommel of my grandfather's 19th/20th century rifle is beautiful. 

Tanzania is a complex society- we have many byzantine tendencies that I don't find in the same quantities in fellow Southern African states- let alone Kenya. Double-speak is natural to us, Kiswahili doesn't lend itself to plainness unless one intends to be brutal. But Mozambique? Schooled me. I have never met a people who have such natural resistance to the Tanzanian Charm Offensive. Considering how much I depend on the TCO to navigate, this was a shock. I'm afraid it is hard to outclass a seasoned Tanzanian social operator, but we have nothing at all on our Mozambican neighbors. 

Respect. 

I like complicated places. Lost lands call to me. This Quelimane (Kilimani) that we went to: southern outpost of the Swahili Coast, even further out than the mysterious ruins of Qiloa (Kilwa). I was curious to see what it would be like in these quiet hinterlands of the former Sultanate of Zanzibar. Would the music hark to the sound of violin strings and Swahili Blues, would the architecture show glimpses of the slave markets? Would I be woken by the warm and familiar sounds of the morning call to prayer, would they tie their khangas the same way- would they even call them khanga? Would 'salaam' or some version of it work as a greeting?

In the end, no. They drink Five Roses tea in Mozambique, no spices, for shame. They showed me the school where Robert Mugabe taught back in the 1980s. All of their main streets are cryptically named for long-forgetten events, or after the many dead of the African Leftist past. They bury authors in their Hero's Crypt, not just soldiers. They dance like nobody is watching. 

Bom Dia. Todo Bem. Long beards and kanzus abound, as do crumbling churches and filigreed mosques. Everyone is a little bit of something and a little bit of something else: afro-portuguese, mixed, situated. They might not make it obvious by my god, the place is steeped in class and race/color divisions with a healthy helping of religious polarities- all this besides the political divisions of a post-civil-war society. Perpetually wet with rain, ridiculously fecund, with an architecture that seems to want to both recruit you to a greater cause and break your heart all at once! 

"I have never heard you talk about a country like this before" said La Dee, amused that I had to call every 48 hours to download how overwhelmed I was. This is no land to put a sensitive soul into, unwarned. Poets and writers, singers and lovers, travelers and dreamers: be thou careful here. You might go, but coming back will be a science. 

Go to Mozambique, they said. It's fabulous there, they said. Wonderful country...they said. Mozambique...even the name suggests that this is no ordinary place. Mozambique yielded almost none of her secrets to me, which can only mean that I must now labor under this mystery. It will be a deep and desperate and unrequited love. Honestly, Africanism is not a healthy lifestyle. I don't recommend it. I love it. I am conflicted. These places that begin with Q? Queridos.  


*So on the official side: I am part of a team working on a Learning Pilot with the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) based at Rhodes University in South Africa. We have blog. If you are in 'Development', have an interest in Governance/Southern Africa/ Civil Society/ Development Practice/Research Methodologies/Aid and Donors et cetera? Come by and read, it's pretty good. Karibu. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Other Governance Structure/Why Nobody Gets Called 'Daddy.'

Y'all know how I go on and on and on about the patriarchy. Believe it or not, I actually appreciate some elements of patriarchy when they are done right. Just because I am a feminist doesn't mean I am immune from my own cultural conditioning, hey, and besides one should always be aware of the distances between the ideals we hold and the realities we inhabit. 

This week's article is dedicated to the the very many Africanist pretenders towards the title of "Father"- be that Father of the Nation or any other non-familial paternalistic ambition. An elderly client of mine once invited me to call him "Baba" as opposed to Mzee, or Sir or any number of alternative titles that I always have on hand. I had to politely decline the honor for a simple reason: there is only one man in this lifetime whom I called that and the title died with him. That word has...weight.*



So, you can imagine how unamused I am whenever people inappropriately baptize our leaders 'Father'- especially when the posts they occupy are electoral ones (not even hereditary, jamani!). Eti I voted you in and then I call you Daddy? Not likely, mate. It is a cultural conflation I despise. As republics, we must guard against this mother-father business and refuse to infantilize ourselves in relationships of power. 

That said: I met a total patriarch about a week ago...and it wasn't the worst. Coming to The East African sometime next week, a musing about Bemba royalty:

"I leave you with this little note on patriarchy: Senior Chief Nkula's pronouncement upon his ascension to Chiefdom- and I paraphrase, like, massively- was something along the lines of: “I shall expose my breasts so that my children may feed from them, abundantly.” That our strongest men, our wisest leaders and our most peaceful countries are the ones that admire and adopt qualities of motherhood is a source of pride to me not only as a feminist, but as an Africanist. May our mother continent feed us abundantly. May we thrive."

HRH** Nkula confirmed my long-held belief that the best Fathers know enough to be in touch with their feminine side and appreciate what it does to enhance their leadership. Strength-through nurture, people, strength through nurture. If you want to be called a Daddy, be worthy of the title. #clears throat.# 

*Turns out the only other guy I naturally call Baba is my nephew, but there isn't enough space in this blogpost to weave in a discussion about names, inter-generational practices and African terms of affection.

**Dodged a bullet here, folks, the proper form of address is "Your Royal Highness." No need for Baba or Tata or any other controversial-to-me titles.

A little birdie told me...

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