Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bad Air

Twenty-plus years of total immunity didn't prepare me for this event. Hoooo-yay, did that plasmodium get me good! I'm talking about malaria, that putrid parasite from hell. This disease is beyond nastiness- of all the ailments I have ever had this is the only one that I would gladly trade for a full-technicolor effects aches-and-shakes migraine headache.

Like most absurdly healthy people, I am an absolute horror when sick. Stoic to the point of stupidity, I spent at least two days reading up on malaria when someone suggested it might be the cause of my stomach ache rather than go to the hospital. After all, it never happened to me, right? Right. I even had the gall to sweat through my liver exploding- twice- rather than admit that I might have to go for a simple. Fricking. Test. Because it doesn't happen to me, right? Right.

Let me tell you what it feels like when those little buggers explode out of your liver. It feels like maybe you have a mild stomach ache at first- kinda like a gas bubble, right up high by your diaphragm. Then it brings The Pain. The Pain is like a supernova has gone off inside your body. It's a cross between the evillest period cramp on earth and a sword thrust through your gut. It's like being vivisected without anasthesia. I was soaked in a cold and clammy sweat, but the high pain threshold withheld the mercy of passing out. So did I heed the advice I was given? No, because I don't get malaria, right? Right.


Well, this story pretty much ends with me availing myself of Tanga's private clinic services on a fine Saturday morning. I threw in the towel, went to get tested and endured what has got to be the slowest and most disinterested medical service on the face of the planet*. Four prescriptions and 25,000 shillings later, it was time to ponder the wisdom of my health policies. What I learned is this: no sane person actually lets their liver explode twice. And: sweet Jesus, children under five are the most vulnerable to this fresh hell? Oh no :(

And finally: thank God for modern medicine. I love it. I love the little yellow pills that take the pain away, and I love the fat white pills that take the pain and the fever away. I love my cantankerous doctor who didn't even check if there were contra-indications with the drugs I told him I was using to treat the stomach ache that wasn't a stomach ache, even though combining them might have killed me (he neglected to say stop using the other ones). I love the slow-ass pharmacist who took forever to get me the pills. The happy, happy pills that took all that pain away. I love the impressively patient people who cajoled/bullied me back to health. I love the trees, I love the air, I love hearing music even though I think I might still be missing a few tones because something went funny when I started taking the pills. I love life, even if my limbs are too weak to do much for the next week or so.

You want to know what love is? Love is the absence of pain. Simple, but true. And that's a lesson I got from malaria. I guess I love malaria too. This might be the delirium talking.

*I am ashamed to say it, but at one point I was ready to elbow a sick old lady and a couple with an evidently feverish child out of my way to get to the doctor before he disappeared for yet another tea break or whatever the (expletive deleted) doctors on duty do when they aren't treating the people who have been waiting for them all (expletive deleted) morning. It got that feral.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

How Did Easter Get Here So Fast?!

Easter weekend is upon us, and every year I try to get out of Dodge for some RnR. Clear the head, forget the smell of petrol fumes- that kind of thing. This year is particularly generous- with Tuesday a public holiday it feels like school has been let out for the long holidays :) So I'm off to Tanga to see what's happening in that wild and crazy party town.

And of course I missed my third blogiversary. Again. Which means that it is a tradition to do so (I totally love invented traditions). Missed it might be, but it must still be celebrated. I'm going to put the snarkage aside here and say a few things:

1. Thank you for reading. In all sincerity. Oh, we writing types, we write and most of us are guilty of hiding our works under a rock of insecurity, not believing that our written voices have a place in the cacophony of the world, convinced that we're atrocious at it but compelled nonetheless to write. In this age of over-achievement, it is especially hard to imagine anyone bothering to stop by your musings when there's so many more out there who are far better at marketing themselves, who are far more well-regarded, who are far more talented. But when the hit meter tells you that someone is reading anyways, a piece of life's pure gold falls into your lap. So, thanks for that.

2. Original Content: okay, I'm gonna get a little preachy here. Blogging is NOT akin to Tweeting, FB-ing, SMS campaigns or any other form of social media. Like the novel, or the three-act play or the Delta blues song, the shairi, the High Mass, the football game- it has a form. This form is tied to a history. Blog is the abbreviation of Weblog- originally a kind of online journal-keeping that could be shared at the author's will. Log: as in to document experiences, the subjective view of life from one tiny human perspective, to the best of your ability, in order to bathe in and hopefully contribute to the ever-flowing river of (written) human discourse through time. Whatever iteration of blogging you are into, if you blog, do respect one tiny thing: the blog demands that you be there in person. It is still a writer's craft, a creator's platform. And Original Content will always remain the foundation, the soaring archways and quiet cathedral sanctity of this medium.

3. Have a great super-long weekend, and if you're in Bongo: may the potholes on the way to your house not flood too badly.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

If You Dish It, You Better Know How to Take It.

And I quote:
"I am very disappointed that I didn't see you or anyone else from the 'youth troop' at the Nyerere week fest at UDSM. You guys always talk about what's missing from Tanzanian discourse and here was an opportunity where there was the real deal in all its rawness..."
If you've ever doubted how interactive social media can get, you should try waking up to text messages like that one up there. To address the issue: where indeed were the young bloggers during Nyerere week? It's a damn shame there weren't more of us, I concur. I can only speak for myself here, and this is what I have to say about it:

Sorry, my bad. Timing was off. Every so often, I get a summons from somewhere: "Hey, there's this training/event/social media thingy and could you..." When the blog still qualified as a hobby, this was exhilarating. Freebies, networking, possibilities. Things have changed in the past month or two: a one-time source of creative pleasure has morphed into something that is pushing its way deeper and deeper into my life. It's basically taking on a life of its own and we're in negotiations about that.

Trouble is, I am fickle. Not by nature mind you, but this is new territory and I am still figuring out how to weigh my choices: which obligations laid against me must I honor? Which ones can I safely ignore? Should I just go full mercenary and charge for event coverage? Or half-mercenary and charge on more subjective criteria (perceived affluence of customer, annoyance tax, subsidies for youth, vegetarians, feminists and guitar-players).

Then there's the fact that it was Nyerere week. I'm having a bad break-up with my traditional Leftist leanings. Bad. And since I am in the process of defecting towards the Right, the last thing I need is to be guilted to death by a mob of Nyerere-ists. Besides which, my current interest is in the living politicians rather than those who have passed on. Yes, Mwalimu is important and he will always be. And I love a bit of Afro-nostalgia as much as the next patriot. But the man is stone-cold dead, and there's a couple of live ones I need to focus on now now. Heresy? Perhaps.

Tell you what- how about next year I promise to gird my loins and enter the lion's den? I'll come and fight clean and fair about pan-Africanism and it's discontents. I'll bring some fiery invective and denounce the current CCM for having "lost it's way." I won't even make fun of the Dashikis. Deal? Until then, here's a consolation prize: the always-excellent Jenerali Ulimwengu's ruminations on the relevance of Mwalimu in this day and age. You haven't lived, my friend, until you have been subjected to the word "hypothecated." Enjoy.

So, That's How It's Done!

I have just seen about seven hours of my life go skipping merrily past while I find out the most incredibly fascinating things about Japanese society and culture. Why? Oh, that's a long story for another rainy day.

But on the feminist/gender studies tip I found this nugget and I thought that it is too good not to share:

[In ancient times, Japanese women wielded considerable authority. Until the eleventh century, it was common for Japanese girls to inherit their parent’s house. The rise of Confucianism and a conservative moral movement that preached the inferiority of women in the early eighteenth century significantly reduced women’s role. In some respects, Japanese women today have less power in society than they did a thousand years ago. Fewer than one in ten Japanese managers is female; women in less-industrialized nations, like Mexico and Zimbawe, are twice as likely to be managers. Only 2.3 percent of Japan’s key legislative body are women, compared with 10.9 percent in the U.S. House of Representatives. In this regard, Japan ranks 145 in a list of 161 countries, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

[The public gender roles, however, are reversed when one steps inside the Japanese home. Typically, the wife handles and completely controls the household finances. She gives her husband a monthly allowance and has total control over the rest of the family income. Half of the husbands in one survey reported they were dissatisfied with the size of their allowance, but could do little if anything about it. While the husband and wife may have a joint bank account and automatic teller machines are available, wives often do not share access to these with their husbands (Kristoff 1996b). (Editor)].

Fascinating isn't it to actually have a record of how gender roles ebb and flow with time, the intrusions of religion and other cultures and economic reorganization? Sometimes it is hard to get out of my own Western bias when thinking about feminism and gender, even though I don't necessarily think this is the best model when looking at, say, Tanzania. But looking eastward (especially skipping right past India's caste system and anywhere that falls under the thrall of the Torah/Bible/Koran) often gives me more "aha!" moments than reading stuff from the West. Go figure.

And how about that bit about the iron-handed housewives, wasn't that a little unexpected? I love the contrast. Nothing is ever as it appears at first glance...

The rest of the article can be found here if you have a spare fifteen minutes to go culture-tripping.

Monday, April 11, 2011

And in Other News: The Establishment is Up To Something. Aren't They Always?

Yes, I was prodded recently by someone about the abrupt and unexpected resignation of the CCM Central Committee and its recent reformation. I do, in fact, have an opinion or three about it but guess what? I am practicing my newly-mastered skill of restraint.

Okay, the truth is: I think it's too early for me to tell. Sometime ago I realized that the frenetic pace of constant reactions to breaking and current news stories doesn't allow for me to see the forest for the trees. In this case, I just don't have the foggiest clue what CCM is really, really up to. I'm not sure if they even have a nefarious plan in action. I'm not even certain which is the "They" to refer to in this case- the ones with their fingers in the control panel. Evidently something has happened. The dust hasn't settled yet.

I have some suspicions, and a few notions based on having observed some of the behaviors of certain folks. I'd venture that it's looking cautiosly optimistic from where I stand, although one has to be careful about being optimistic about The Establishment. I could do with a bit more research to think things through. So in the interest of keeping my foot out of my mouth (who likes the taste of mud) I think I'll just sit on this for a while and let it marinate. It's not like they are going anywhere, is it :)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Stalker: A Local Story of a Woman Who Gets Called By Her Phone.

Oh yeah- leapfrogging. When a technology is adopted so late in the game that the adopter skips merrily past the costs and technological constraints of earlier models of said technology and arrive fresh at the very edge of things. In East Africa, we have leapt the frog on mobile phones and mobile banking. With the right provider you can pay anyone, find out anything and practically fly any plane with your trusty little made-for-EA Nokia (warranty provided in Kiswahili and English). What's not to like?

Well. My phone has started calling me. To be more specific, my mobile phone service provider has started calling me directly. It all started out innocently enough: Bharti Airtel, the Company Formerly Known as Zain, Formerly Known as Celtel, added a nifty new feature. Every time I made a call, it would let me know how many of my Shillings I'd just tossed their way and my balance. No problemo, for those of us on prepaid it's a handy way to keep track of things.

Then, whenever I would send a text message, the phone would let me know how much it had cost me and efficiently suggest that I send a couple more texts to tap into their gajillion-free-sms a day promotion. Alrighty then, I thought- nothing wrong with a suggestion or two. After all, I am already their customer, right? How nice of them to "save" me some money.

Then one day I made the mistake of checking the day's exchange rate. The next day, I was considerately sent a text with the exchange rate for the currency I had checked up on. Shades of Big Brother, but okay. There was an escape clause (so I thought): you could send the word STOP to their five-digit code. So I did. And lo and behold, the next day I got the exchange rate text again. So I said STOP again. And lo and behold, the next day... you get where this is going don't you.

So now, I get the daily text message I do not want. Every time I talk on the phone I get an instant replay after disconnecting. And every time I text message, the little cheerleader that lives in my phone gets a sugar rush and starts yelling at me to send More! More! More! I thought that this is about as bad as it can get.

Until the day my phone called me. I picked up, thinking that a long local number like this might be attached to a potentially lucrative networking/work connection. "Hello?" I went with Professional Voice- alert and friendly but slightly cool to the touch. Silence. Then the pre-recorded message in Universally Annoying Female Voice began. I had just been cold-called by an android from my phone company to sell me services that I don't want. This, in addition to their newfangled habit (borrowed from Vodacom) of dropping your calls mid-conversation for the fun of it.

No one wants to be called by their phone. Ever. What's next, refrigerators that purse their lips in disapproval every time you reach in for just one "last" slice of chocolate cake?

How marketing departments come up with such evil schemes, I do not know. But there is a special circle of hell for them in the eternal inferno where they are hung upside down with their heads in a boiling river of fire and angry customers pelt them with early-model mobile phones while yelling "One minute for a third of a Shilling!" and "Hallo! Hallo! We Nani? Mzee Juma yupo? Kwani we ni nani?"

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Goings Ons

I meant to update the blog but you know what they say about Good Intentions. I had a thingy written up for April Fool's day, and another thingy about women's work and then I thought maybe tackle politics again or something then I got distracted by the offline life and that was that. As a peace offering, here's some stuff I have been marinating that hasn't made it to blogpos/rant status yet. I thought I'd put them down as questions and take the "social" bit of social media for a spin:

1. Have you ever noticed that women are excluded from the streetlife and Kijiwe culture? What do you think about that, and what it does for women's participation in politics/public life? What is a woman's work in this decade, anyways?

2. So there's oil in Zanzibar, and gas and stuff, that's going to be explored anytime now. To share revenue, or not to share revenue- now that's the questin? Apparently natural resources are not a Union matter. I want to hear from the Mainlanders: fair? Not fair?

3. Speaking of: is anyone still interested in dissolving the Union? I mean a Mainland movement, since Zanzibar hasn't exactly been shy about telling us exactly where we can shove our Muungano these past couple of years.

One new development with the blog is that I have recently begun to sell my soul at roughly 800 words a week to the East African. Cross-pollination between media or something of the sort. I tried to keep it under wraps for a while since I'm still figuring out how this thing works (ie. surviving frequent deadline-induced panic attacks). Now that I think about it, trying to be undercover about writing a weekly column in a regional newspaper is not the brightest idea I have ever had. So I'm coming clean... for accountability's sake ;) And on that note, I have homework to do and bail-money to save up for so let me get cracking.

Morning Constitutional

I was trying to squeeze the last drops of sleep out of my Saturday morning when The World's Best Housekeeper switched on the radio. And just like that I was up and out of bed: someone was discussing the constitution! To be precise, ITV and Radio One were broadcasting the second discussion on the proposed Bill to review the constitution that's going to appear in Bunge Anytime Now. They are holding these debates at the University of Dar es Salaam, and Nkrumah Hall was overflowing with young men and the odd young woman. The front rows held all the usual suspects: a row of professors, lawyerly types, opposition politicians and other famous talking heads.

Happy days. It's easy to focus on what's not functioning in a system, makes for better copy most of the time, but the truth is that part of this blog's work is to document (haphazardly) the democratic evolution of this one African polity. We're doing alright, yeah. I don't think my parent's generation was personally invested in the constitution in their day- these were not matters that plebs discussed when there was Nyerere to tell us how to think and what to do and when to do it. My generation does not have that luxury, nor do we want it.

Which is why I had to roll out of bed- we're breaking new ground here. No Bananas and Oranges, no oversimplification, no donor-interests in the driver's seat. Just straight up talking about how we want the country to be run- that's the stuff of democracy. And it's happening at the hill. That's a quiet achievement worth celebrating.

No, we're not likely to pull a South Africa. If the constitution does get amended, I expect we'll have a lot of hair-pulling and name-calling left to do. As it is the Commission that is tasked with doing this review is working under dodgy circumstances, as Presidential commissions are wont to do- no transparency. The opposition parties are doing their fire and brimstone thing, obviously hoping that someone will give them a fight so that they can look like political martyrs. CCM- conspicuously, and wisely, absent. Quality of discussion: variable.

But all of these are expected hiccups on the road to a new and improved constitution. At least if we do this one thing and pass the Bill, the door will be opened up and we'll do more as time and public opinion dictates. My favorite part: this older gentleman stood up and pointed out that public servants have forgotten themselves and gone feral. How is it that we have allowed our public sector to run off unhinged and start dictating to We The People how things must be done? A complete perversion of the governance relationship if there ever was one. We are a democracy, after all and this babu had reminded us of a crucial truth.

Too often we forget that the government is here to serve us, and not vice versa.

I only have the one worry when it comes to this constitutional review thing: freedom of expression. Watching the discussion, it is obvious that the moderator is trying to control the crowd so that nothing too offensive gets said. On the one hand, this is fine: courtesy by all means. On the other hand, the moderator is stifling contributors. It's a fine balance and I don't know if he's getting it right. I'm watching a young man having a Live TV meltdown over his problems: cost of living, hard life, corruption. Very vigorous, but totally offpoint. Not to mention hysterical.

Ah well. At least we're talking, neh?

The King's Diary: Time For My Legacy

Dear Me

I hear complaints about my presumed lack of leadership. Columnists criticize my frequent travels and joke about my Management by Walking About. To all of them people I say: you fail to understand. I just secured my second term; a third term is not possible. I have achieved my goals and now I focus on the future. I have three objectives.

First I will work on my legacy. I will travel the world, mediate between warring factions and become an elderly statesman.

Next I will also secure my son’s political future.

Finally, I will secure my financial future. In the beginning of my term I will take it easy as I do not want any dirt to come out before my term ends, but by the time I retire I have to be rich.

Domestically I will step back and relax. Already I have asked the youth league of the TKP to sort out dissident voices in the party. The prime minister is correcting, on my behalf, Ministers who went against my interests, including the minister of Infrastructure with his attempts to rid road reserves of billboards and other structures. Meanwhile, I will stand by and enjoy the fight between the would-be’s about who will become the next King.

Whoopie --- life is good. Time to hop on another plane for yet another good governance or transparency initiative.

01 April 2011

A little birdie told me...

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