Wednesday, April 30, 2008

May Day

So, tommorow is May Day. Public holiday for us, and a big one too because We Appreciate Our Workers like any good Socialist Country does. The Trade Unions Confederation of Tanzania (TUCTA) is revving up their loudspeakers. They just changed the theme last minute to something about redistributing the wealth. "We want a bigger slice of the pie" or some such. Fisadis: Message! Prior to that, the motto was going to be: "A Tanzania Without Poverty: It is Possible" (loose translation), which is one of the Party's many lines. Doesn't sound to me like TUCTA and the Party are quite as tight as they were in the glorious past. Heh.

Mr. President was planning to be there with his people at the nation-wide celebration until his Office announced early in the week that he wouldn't be able to make it, so sorry, next time. Might be jet-lag, who knows, but at last year's event the outspoken TUCTA head honcho Nestory Ngulla read out a speech about minimum wages that overshadowed the President's weak remarks quite badly. This year, the fractious teacher's union has called off a planned strike over wages which is good, though the new TUCTA theme does not bode well for the government. Who knows what Mr. Ngulla is going to have to say this time around? Prudent indeed to watch from afar. Workers of the World, Unite!

Bojo, that's so funny...whatever.

Alright people, I admit it: 99% of the time our arrogant, pompous, show-offing, name-dropping, luxury-seeking, Anglophilic asses richly deserve the ribbing that we get. Waitu. Apparently, the accent is hee-fricking-larious.

Everybody's got jokes about akina Koku and R/Lwegoshora now: jingles, skits about bwana Arfred Tibaigana, Ze Comedians, you name it. Actuarry, ze guy in Ze Comedy who does business news is pretty good, come to think of it: "Tonge ra ugari tikiti maji."

Lakini, Wahaya mbona tumekuwa na watani wengi kupita kiasi? Vipi, mnaona Wakurya wameshindwa kazi, muwasaidie? Hm. Angarau tupatieni royalties za vijisenti tukaendereze ka mkoa ketu ka Kagera...

Things Africans Don't Do: Keep Pets.

Next door's mangy mongrel came over to say hello as I was standing outside the office gates this morning. His regrettable lack of hygiene meant that I was a little reluctant to introduce myself and ruffle his crusty ears, but I thought that it was nice to see a dog that hadn't been tortured into a mortal fear and distrust of humans... until the poor puppy got called home and limped off with his tail between his legs, evidently unsure about his treatment there.

Very many dogs and a number of cats, not to mention vervet monkeys, police horses, zebras and other oddities about town get rough treatment at our hands. I was once told by someone that dogs in particular are detested because during colonial times they were used as part of the European machinery of oppression. Even we local bourgeois, eager adopters of a number of 'Western' conveniences (cable, nightclubs, jogging), often get a little squirrelly about creatures. Still, times have changed and the acts of casual cruelty that people commit towards strays and pets is very creepy. I just don't buy the notion that there is anything intrinsically 'African' about treating animals with contempt, no matter how many Afrochauvinists argue in that direction.

I have been sub-letting a friends' pets (one post-traumatic dog and an ill-tempered tomcat) but the time has come to get my own clawed allergen carriers. A natural place to go would be the animal rescue shelters, and I think that when the time comes that's where we find ourselves but for the meantime I am resisting. As a soft-touch, I don't want to go pet-hunting during a moment of weakness and get seduced by rows of sad eyes to take a whole pack of animals home. Besides, I am intrigued by the thought holding out for a Basenji, aka Congo Dog, Zande Dog, Ango Angari. Originally from the Congo-DRC, Basenjis don't bark but they do sing and ululate, clean themselves like cats, are aloof and independent and mischievous, and have an affinity for musical careers.

Coming soon to a health clinic near you: a subsidized sex-life

I found this in my inbox this morning courtesy of Cynthia. I am not entirely sure what to make of this article, except to say that the saying 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions' was coined for these kinds of incidents. Ms Medlin's line, in particular, is priceless. Do we assume that people who are living in poverty aren't rational enough to consider long-term consequences of their behavior unless someone provides a $45 incentive? Why does this make me feel mildly nauseous?

By Andrew Jack in London

Published: April 25 2008 22:25

Thousands of people in Africa will be paid to avoid unsafe sex, under a groundbreaking World Bank-backed experiment aimed at halting the spread of Aids.

The $1.8m trial – to be launched this year – will counsel 3,000 men and women aged 15-30 in southern rural Tanzania over three years, paying them on condition that periodic laboratory test results prove they have not contracted sexually transmitted infections.

The proposed payments of $45 equate to a quarter of annual income for some participants.

The programme, jointly funded by the World Bank, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Population Reference Bureau and the Spanish Impact Evaluation Fund, marks an important step in the fight to tackle Aids, which claims 2m lives a year.

In spite of billions of dollars spent annually on treatment and prevention worldwide, there were about 2.5m new HIV infections in 2007, predominantly in Africa.

Carol Medlin from the University of California, San Francisco, one of the researchers, said: "We hope this 'reverse prostitution' will make people think hard about the long-term consequences of their short-term behaviour."

The Tanzanian experiment is a big advance in efforts to test public health ideas more rigorously, with some participants placed in a control arm not offered payment in order to track the effects of the programme precisely.

"Conditional cash transfers" have already been used in Latin America to motivate poor parents to attend health clinics, and have their children vaccinated and schooled. Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, last year unveiled a project to boost school attendance.

The designers of the Tanzanian programme believe that payments of $45 when combined with careful counselling could play an important role in reducing HIV infection, especially for vulnerable young women.

The study will be conducted by the Ifakara Health Research and Development Centre in Tanzania, in conjunction with researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, the University of California, San Francisco and the World Bank.

The Tanzanian trial programme, which is still subject to fine-tuning and ethical approval, will not specifically test for HIV, which is costly and already widely conducted in the country. It will use proxies including gonorrhoea, and guarantees any participant found to be infected receives state treatment.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The JK Factor

The Old Guard of the political elite is going through some tough times right now. Four ministerial resignations have done nothing but whet the appetite of the opposition, the media and much of the public for more bloodshed. Names are being thrown around with joyful abandon. It would seem that everyone and their grandma is a fisadi.*

It may be that we are having our first real generational power struggle. Our current president is just young enough to straddle the divide between the Nyerere generation and the post-ujamaa generation. He played this card heavily during the 2005 campaign to lure the youth vote, promising change in the form of a government that would be in touch with the needs of the current workforce and not in thrall to the gerontocracy.

As the fourth phase government does battle with the corruption Hydra, an interesting debate has emerged in various fora online and in the papers: is the clean-up sanctioned by Kikwete, or is it happening in spite of his wishes? Is JK an extremely canny strategist who is treading the dangerous path of getting rid of many of the people who helped him get into power, or is JK a helpless captive of revolutionary elements within and without the party? Weigh in folks.

*Fisadi: crook, seducer, corrupt person, vandal, villain, etc.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Red on the ground

The Flame Trees were shedding in the height of summer,

Littering city driveways with confetti.

In the rainy season new greens struggle to come up

through the clinging earth, freshly-turned.

Electric Lullabye

Mondays are challenging. Much more so when Tanesco decides to treat us to an unannouced, unscheduled power-cut, as it has today. Kwa Michael Cheney where I work and live, these interruptions have become endemic in the past few months. Our neighbor has an automatic generator so whenever the power goes our you can tell by the jumbo-jet rumble that emanates from their garden. I guess they need it to drive the electric fencing at the top of their wall, but it does IMHO point them out to potential thieves. Many a night I have been lured to sleep by the endless electric lullabye, drowning out the drone of mosquitoes in the hot still air.

The Tanesco customer service people can be hard to get hold of, but when you do get them they tend to assure you that the problem has been identified, and is being dealt with as you speak: "Power will be back in another half-hour Madam. Yes, we understand that you called an hour ago but I assure you that the transformer is being fixed right this minute. Power will be back right now. Thanks for calling."

Word on the Street: Apparently, Kwa Micheal Cheney is a prime spot for people who steal transformer oil. Athumani, my regular taxi guy, says that a litre of pure transformer oil can be sold for 20 million shillings or more. The oil us used as an industrial lubricant. At that price, there is little incentive for Tanesco workers themselves not to facilitate the 'accidental' loss of a few litres every day.

Something blue in the city...

The Alliance Francaise often brings in artists from different parts of the world (mostly the French-speaking world, bien sur) for free exhibitions and concerts. This Friday, to stave off another case of the Weekend Wail (There's Nothing to Dooooo.....) I went off to watch a group called Trio Ivoire play some Jazz.

They were fantastic. Not all of their songs were particularly to my taste, but the musicians were very proficient and I always get a goosebumps when I hear a particularly good piece of music live (I've experimented with the canned stuff, rarely raises even a shiver). The fusion of Sahelian sound with Jazz worked really well in some pieces, less well in pieces where there was too little structure and notes were clanging all over the place. The group treated us to a mind-blowing moment when the pianist and the Balophon (Marimba) players engaged in a playful call-and-response for about five minutes while the drummer took a break before he jumped back into the music with a mischievous build-up of beats...Whew. So of course I ended up parting with Tshs 18,000 for their CD in appreciation.

I also got to bump into some friends, a lovely couple the male half of whom plays the bass guitar in a brand new blues band. They performed at the Irish pub a few weeks ago (good crowd, suspect venue) and they were a revelation. Especially the lead guitarist whose solos have to be heard to be believed, and whose voice was a pleasant surprise- not too smooth, not too derivative, just himself and just right for the blues. The band, which has no name, will be playing again on May 10th. Stay tuned for an update.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Guest Blogger

I had heard that kids today are starting young with the whole computer thing but Pooh Bear here is still in diapers and she was fixing the blog.

"Aunty Elsie, that banner of yours is really boooring...let me show you how to edit your format using HTML so you can put something cool up there, like Barney. What, you don't like Barney? Because that t-shirt you are wearing sure is dinosaur purple!"

Enough with the sass, kid, and give me back my mouse. This is a Barney-free zone. Why? Because I said so. What? What did you say? Yeah, well, I can put my pants on without my mommy, so there.

Have a cute weekend.

And now, to the food...

Yes, I did mention something about food so here goes. I cook. I cook because I have a wonderful family that encouraged me by consuming all my efforts as a child, including green rock-hard cakes and salty, lumpy "onion soup" that could have felled a bushpig. This dangerous permissiveness early in my kitchen career guaranteed that I developed the (over)confidence to attempt anything that catches my fancy.

Said confidence is not quite matched by my skill yet, but I have come some ways from the days of The Onion Soup Incident. From time to time some of my less toxic experiments will show up on the blog. As a food blog enthusiast, I would love to offer recipes and excellent food styling, but folks, that's going to take time. Besides, I cook by feel which means that I don't measure ingredients and only use recipes for instructional or inspirational purposes. A poor baker am I.

Let me pre-empt by stating that what I do cannot be called Tanzanian Cuisine by any purist. Not that there is a standard cuisine- but that's a topic for another time. Still, I am pretty hopeless at the starchy meal cornerstones: I don't have the arm strength to make Ugali though it is on my To Learn list, as are Chapatis and Matoke. I am passionate about eating local and what goes with it so from time to time I will feature food with a Bongo soul.

But to begin, here's some stuff that's been loitering in the Cyber-shot waiting for a shout out.

First up is the burger. We never got to eat "junk food" when we were kids, so when I finally encountered a real life MacDonalds I nearly peed myself with excitement at the thought of savoring this superb world-renowned delicacy. It did not go well. Hot Box burgers are like manna from heaven in comparison. Nothing on earth, however, can beat a home-made burger, medium rare, on a toasted bun with toppings of your own choice, literature optional.

Next comes the home-made taco, which is just as satisfying. Dee, the sister who stole my height genes, cooks a mean chili from scratch. She toasts her own spice mix, and makes it just the right kind of hot: sniffle-inducing but you get to keep your tastebuds. Leftovers go down supergood with flour tortillas which are mind-bogglingly easy to make. And leftover tortillas fried+leftover chilli the day after that makes some good hard-shell tacos. Chilli: the stew that just keeps giving.

Finally, butternut squash and feta ravioli with chilli-pea puree. This one was a biggie for me, and a first. The pasta was made by hand, and rolled by hand which I don't recommend doing unless you have forearms the size of a prime bullock's thigh. Unfortunately, the dish was fraught with disaster: some of the raviolis exploded during cooking and the feta barely showed up upon tasting. The chilli-pea puree worked out good though. I tested it on Dee and she's still breathing. She had seconds too. And so goes my family's mildly suicidal encouragement of my continued kitchen experimentation...

Down by the sea

I finally a) remembered to download pics from the digital camera, and b) figured out how to upload said pictures. Here are the first few offerings. I thought I would start with a few that show off some of the pleasures of my life in Eden.

This here is the ocean view from my luxurious corner office. Yes, I said ocean view: If you look through them there tall trees right at the end, over the rooftops and across the fragrant waste water treatment ponds you can see the warm expanse of the Indian Ocean. Binoculars help.

Easter weekend, view from my beach banda, Ras Kutani. When you want a drink, you stick out your right hand, raise your flag and the beach butler comes bounding over to take your order. That's right, beach butler baby. The one inconvenience is the lack a little side table, which forces you to stick your frosty glass in the white-hot sand. Life can be so hard.

Sunset in January, Coral Beach Hotel- garden side. You can sit out here as long as you want, the staff doesn't hassle you to order. If you stare at the water at the right time you can catch schools of sardines chasing each other through the bay and jumping out of the sea with glee.

Big Brother Africa In The House

Parliament just spent roughly ten minutes debating Big Brother Africa. One concerned upright member of the esteemed Bunge asked whether the participation of our 'youth' in such a competition would damage the moral character of the country and teach other youths bad habits, considering what happens in the Big Brother House.

To which the Deputy Minister of Culture and Misinformation responded with a brief prepared speech in which he defended the cultural exchange that the competition generates by highlighting the education and exposure that it provides to the participants. You could see his forked tongue slip out from time to time to moisten his reptilian lips. Another MP stood up and asked why Richard Bezuidehout (Winner of BBA II) didn't use his 'expertise' to the nation's benefit by lecturing in universities. The Dep. Min. Misinfo replied that winnerssss of competitions like BBA and Missss Tanzania are regularly used for public service eventsssss.

At which point some grandpa in the nosebleeds, obviously fed up with the ssssslipery language of the Dep. Min. asked point blank how the government felt that Richard's behaviour in the house and his subsequent marital problems would be of benefit to young Tanzanians. This is when the Honorable dropped all pretense and schooled Gramps about the 'global village' in which much more explicit material could be accessed on the web at any internet cafe. No, I am not making this up.

Ah, where to begin. I mean, our Parliament was discussing a television show on taxpayer money. What's next, episode recaps of the Tree Sisters soap opera after the Prime Minister's Questions session? Not to mention the sheer horror of proposing that BBA contestants become role models/university lecturers, as though things aren't bad enough as it is. These people...these people make our laws. I need a drink.

Speaking of BBA, it will be interesting to find out if the Tanzanian judges will pick another baby-faced, long-haired, light-skinned male contestant this year. Personally, I am hoping they choose Mwanahawa from Pemba, a nice village girl who will only let her lawfully wedded husband see her hair uncovered. Represent that Mnet!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Governance triumphs do not make for good international news...

The Western Media. This is a term I have spent some time resisting. I have argued with staunch Mugabe supporters that there is no conspiracy, that organizations like the Beeb at least have a clue, the Jazeera cares about the continent, that, CNN...never mind CNN. The Western Media does not favor negative stories from the continent and other 'difficult' parts of the world- this I have asserted many times with conviction. "Does not, get over your victim mentality!" Um, yeah.

Then I went to Pakistan and Bhutto was killed while I was out shopping for bling-bling costume jewelery to wear to a wedding. I watched the international news channels and listened to the inside stories from my hosts for next few house-bound days in Karachi. Whoa: contrast! In February Prime Minister Edward Lowassa and two other cabinet ministers resigned after a parliamentary commission implicated them in the signing of a very crappy contract with the Richmond Development Company.

It was riveting to watch, because graceful exits are not our ministers' forte. Altogether a delicious moment, and a HUGE democratic milestone: in one afternoon, Tanzania evolved from a single-party political basketcase to something else. Something vigorous enough, solid enough, mature enough, savvy enough to withstand the ejection of a frighteningly ambitious and very powerful second-in-command. In a country where it is common to hear the saying 'Nchi hii ina wenyewe' as in there are folks who 'own' the country, this was no small beef.

I was so delirious with joy at this 'coup' that I was trawling the intertubes for updates on the usual international websites. In my tiny little world, I had imagined that this story would make the big time: 'African Government Overturned, No Blood Shed!'. Or something of the sort. Lets just say that BBC managed to summarize the story and update it just the once during the course of a crazy week when the country was on tenterhooks about the new cabinet. The others aren't worth mentioning.

I then tried to push a connection I have with a former classmate and journalist based in the region who sometimes writes for the Christian Science Monitor. He assured me that the CSM welcomes positive news from the continent. So I dutifully wrote a passionate "summary" of the events and...well, nothing came of it. No thanks, not interesting. There was a nearby violent political conflict to be covered: cruelty and death, desperation. Prime Ministerial resignations do not sell.

I get it: storm in a teacup. This is the media we are talking about: everyone, every agency, every institution has an agenda and good news doesn't say 'ka-ching'. We're up to the fourth corruption-related ministerial resignation at present, with options for a few more high-level upsets. Within Tanzania's borders, this is hot hot hot news. To one or two of our neighboring countries who have an interest in our general political health, it is something of an intriguing trend, perhaps and enviable one. And to the rest of the world, it is just another day in paradise: flight services to Zanzibar, Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti plains have not been disrupted. Halle(freaking)lujah.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Things Africans Don't Do: Steak, Medium Rare.

I was at a franchise steakhouse restaurant on the Peninsula last night, and ordered a chilli-cheese steak. Make it medium rare, I said, with fries. My server asked me if I was sure that I wanted it medium rare, because that's pretty much still bloody. I said that yes, indeed, juicy is as juicy eats. My server then informed me that I must be Mzungu because Africans Don't Eat Uncooked Meat.

Welcome to the Things That Africans Don't Do section of the blog where I will be posting about close encounters with Afrochauvinist Fundamentalists. When someone tells me that I am doing something that Africans don't do, either I have just disagreed with their stupid argument and they have no other ammunition to chuck my way, or I have done something that is outside their narrowly defined set of expectations. Africans, all freaking hundreds of millions of them from thousands of different cultures and language groups, Do A Lot Of Things. Still, it will be interesting to keep track of all the ones that we apparently don't in case I ever decide to become that paragon of virtues, a Good African Woman. Snort, chuckle.

A propos the love of a bloody cut: the most deliciously undercooked meat I ever tasted was a few years ago in Kenya. It was a little roast-goat snack that some Maasai Elders had prepared for us, their NGO Benefactors, when we visited a school project. My two Canadian companions were vegetarians, leaving all the more dripping tender riblets for me to consume. Africans do so Eat Uncooked Meat. And every morsel that we consumed together was chin-dribbling, finger-sucking, fly-waving good.

about the name.

Great cities of the world tend to inspire really good writing about them, and good writers too. London and New York come to mind for me, and maybe Nairobi and Johannesburg, Cape Town. They have Character in spades, as do their citizens. They inspire poems, stories, novels. For me, The City is Dar es Salaam.

This must have happened when I came for some holiday or other as a child and was so warmly enveloped in the heat, the moisture, the lazy rhythms of the place. It has been Home ever since in many ways, some of them undefinable, all of them intimate. We have grown together: Dar from a scrappy little backwater to a booming city of millions, me from a scrappy little tomboy to a scrappy petite urbanite.

Part of what makes living in Dar wonderful is the complexity, though that is easily missed. It is full of delicious contradictions. You survive by your wits, hence the name Bongo, yet it has few of the hard edges that characterize places like Nairobi. Millionaire mansions are built right next door to ramshackle squatter plots, homophobic rhetoric masks tolerant behavior, and jokes are used to get through the hardest times. There is nothing a Bongolander cannot make fun of, no matter how tragic, dismal or inappropriate.

It is also a bit like the Garden of Eden, full of snakes and tropical fruit, though I cannot vouch for the nudity. No matter how frustrating this city gets, with its slow pace and non-committal nature, whenever I leave for extended periods I spend the first half-hour of my plane journey trying not to feel as though I am being forcibly ejected from paradise. Hence the name of this blog, which aims to be a sporadic and terribly subjective meditation on what I can capture about my living in the place that comes closest to bliss.

A little birdie told me...

Follow MikocheniReport on Twitter