Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tales of Family Life in Tanzania

Last night's launch of the Mama Dar collection of stories and poems was great. Four of the 27 contributors read their work, and I wasn't the only one who was choked up by the emotional power of the pieces. I learned a number of things there:
  • If all goes well, thanks to the sponsorship of Standard Chartered and CI and everyone who buys a copy of the book, this project may be able to raise 16 million Shillings for the House of Peace. That is some very impressive philanthropy, and a job well done.
  • The House of Peace, established in 2002, is the only half-way house operating in Tanzania at the moment and that getting it off the ground was- surprise, surprise- not at all easy. This is the first time they have been on the receiving end of a charitable activity. Which burns my ass when I think of all the money that could really be mobilized if more companies had reasonable CSR policies (exempting Standard Chartered and CI from this rant).
  • I was surprised, pleasantly, to see that the founder and Director is a gentleman (who quite firmly warned us that we could visit the crisis center near the American Embassy but the location of the half-way house is not available to the public for obvious reasons). Serves me right for being a closet sexist.
  • 'Feminist' is an active, not a passive label that does not discriminate. Can't believe I nearly forgot that one, need a refresher course. Of course this also means keeping a firm grip on the crucial difference between men who adore women, and male feminists. Very important distinction, that.
  • Just one gentleman submitted his work for the project, an insightful meditation for fathers. The irony is that one of George McBean's piece is a comment on the general, and generally accepted, absence of men in the daily nitty gritty of childcare. The event was flooded with women, a light smattering of supportive spouses and, of course, kids running everywhere and making the event lighthearted.
  • There really should have been more Tanzanians at this event. Really.
  • The physical and therefore social experience of being gendered female is inescapably intense and complex, at every age, across all borders. This intensity and complexity infuses much of our literature, where the body and all her exudations, her shapes and vulnerabilities and compromises, her pains and pleasures and surprises is overwhelmingly present. I think it makes for a pretty physical kind of writing, quite a different experience from the non-tactile discussion of intangibles such as Ideas.
The editors of the book, Amy Brautigam and Debbie Ventimiglia are both relocating soon, and this was a parting gift to a city they have come to love. Imagine if, in our travels, we all managed to leave something so good behind...

So in the spirit of sharing, I'm happy to announce TMR's first real give-away contest. It relates to the issue of gender equity. Best 150 or 200-word anecdote in the comments section on someone you admire who has done good work in this area in Tanzania wins a signed copy of Mama Dar: Tales of Family Life in Tanzania from yours truly. Dar residents only (sorry about that Hinterlanders, Diasporans and foreign readers of the blog!)


  1. I admire a lot of people here in Tanzania, since I came here I have met so many that are active in giving back to the society. I'm not sure I can make up my mind, but...

    Last year the Lions Club I'm active in decided to have a one-year project in Children's Remand Home in Upanga, I was responsible for the administration of project but I have two outstanding team members, Ali and Marie, who were the ones to do all the job, I only helped them when they needed money from the Club. They spend so much time and effort in councelling the children, having lessons on everything from self-confidence to discussions on morale etc. They even supplied legal aid to the ones in need! Marie and Ali are true heroes in my mind, I admire their focus, determination and love for fellow humans so much!

  2. Respect to the staff of the children's remand home. I'm biased, due to strong personal connections to the place, but the warden believes in empowering those kids and does his best to make that real. Public service gets knocked too often. Respect where it's due.

  3. For me this one is personal. Plus, I would like a signed copy maan. Hopeful in few years, when you are so big, I can make money of it in eBay or something. Anyways;

    She was married young. I do not remember exactly when, because I have yet to see any recollection of this event. She was married as the third wife, but refused to convert to husband’s religion. Trained as a nurse, she opted to Ujasiliamali in order to raise her four children. She was so mean when we were young. Twenty shillings only as school allowance, enough for one “Barafu” and a piece of muhogo, as seven years old, u were expected to clean your school uniforms after every school day. Curfew was 6 pm, she reviews your school work every evening. A breakfast has to include eggs and milk, and maharage were available on each meal, no matter what. She believed that ample protein is necessary for proper child cognitive development. When Malaria strikes, she was never asleep. Frequent water sponges, and constantly thermometering our tiny selves. You see, she was never rich—her first crack of Ujasiliamali was making and selling “barafu” to local primary schools. She would find the ukwaju, mix with water, sugar, and some bright colors. And spend days filling the magical mix in tiny plastic packets and seal them using kibatari. Each barafu was 10 shillings. That is how she got started. Today she flies to Shanghai and order massive shipments of women clothes for her boutique. Who needs an MBA?

    My mother is an amazing woman and an exceptional human being. A mother four, each has at least Masters Degree and successful on their own ways. She is constantly visiting her grandchildren, and we get inspired to raise them the way she raised us. She embodies the struggle of a black woman in our society and proves that ain’t a thing can stop a determined woman.

  4. Swahilistreet: You are right. I have met a few of the staff there and they are doing a great job, no doubt about that, and I agree with you, HUGE respect to all of them, they are stuggeling with little funds which is a though job!

  5. Hi you guys, thank you all for your posts. I was especially happy to hear about the Children's Remand in Upanga where the warden and his team are doing good work for kids who are in need. I get a real zing every time I hear about good people who choose to do the difficult jobs, and do them with dedication and heart. Obviously, Swahili Street and Emmas, you feel the same. Rock on.

    After considerable deliberation, I have decided that Anonymous will be awarded the signed copy of Mama Dar, simply because of the focus of the tales and the personal rather than communal nature of the gift. In fact, Anonymous: perhaps you should give this to your mother. She sounds like a wonderful woman. email me to set up your gift collection, please: elsieeyakuze@gmail.com.

    Copies of the book are finding distribution points: if you would like to buy one (20,000 shillings) please email me so I can find the outlets for you. It's a great stocking filler and a feel-good purchase. Best of all: no Bono involved :)


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