Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Note to Binyavanga: It Can Be Done.

Score. Two great pieces going around that combine personal observation with Bigger Picture reflections on the soul of Tanzania. Nothing wrong with the impersonal reportage style of writing that dominates much of the blogosphere. Facts here, cross-references there- all very solid, and admirable, and useful in terms of pushing whatever development or intellectual agenda there is. But sometimes, it is nice to hear from... people. Which is what makes Binyavanga Wainaina is so eminently readable.

M.G. Vassanji asks: "In Tanzania, is it that they complain too much or they expect too much?" You know, the magic of that first line that gets the core question exactly right? Years of practice, man. Years of practice. Frigging beautiful when it is done right.

Pernille has come up with a different set of observations and personal experiences which lead to a similarly conflicted opening statement:

"'What I love about Tanzania is the deep complexity and the massive contrasts'. I can hear myself formulate this pretentious sentence at a presentation somewhere in Denmark where I have to pass on the idea that I know exactly what's going on between me and Tanzania. Being honest - I am not perfect - this is also the kind of relationship which on occasion makes me so kali that I long for the Danes' obsession with organising things and sticking to plans; their telling the plain truth and not fearing consequences; and with their 'we're all equal and all entitled'."


What I like most about these is that they are outsider/insider perspectives of Tanzania that manage to expose something about the core of our society. This place isn't just complex- it is complicated too. The minute you convince yourself that you know exactly what is going on, and you have mastered the country, Tanzania is likely to buck you like spastic ostrich. Even if you are the President. She's wonderfully egalitarian that way. Its nice to read folks who get that about her.


  1. i just got his book and can't wait to read it! and this post also had me procrastinating for some time on the other blog!!!


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