Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Weekly Sneak: Hair!

Hi folks, two things this time. First and most important: have you read Bikozulu's blog? Because if you haven't, you should. If you are a writer, you definitely should. If you are an African writer who works in English, you have to. I am currently experiencing a crush on his writing that shows all the signs of becoming a full-bloom deep and abiding love. 

So this week I wrote about hair. Funny thing is, I am that woman who will never notice a new hairstyle. Absolutely hopeless at it. I don't even know why it is a gendered thing: men notice hairstyles all the time*. I? Do not. It has to be extremely radical to register at all. I do, however, almost always notice bad hair. If your hairstyle is rejecting you like an unhappy transplanted organ, I will totally remember you for it. Apparently I am only sensitive to extremes. So much for gender stereotypes.  

"It always amuses me that people toss around that hackneyed notion that a woman's beauty is her hair. So is a man's, for the record, but this is Africa. No stronger case has been made about the riveting beauty of a perfectly shaped, cleanly shaved head than here and it goes for both genders. Aye, the fashion world is not particularly enamored of bald people except when it comes to African models.

I do, of course, have a preference. The personal is political but the personal is also expression and we must all say a little something about ourselves with our hair. I fled the scene of chemical straighteners and hot-combs as soon as I had the chance, but this was driven by an absolute loathing for hair salons and sitting still and the pain of a burned scalp as well as laziness. Imagine my delight when I found out that it was also an effective anti-establishment badge that could strike fear and fury in the hearts of some."  

I can understand the logic of someone who is conservative about clothes even if I disagree, but when it comes to hair I just don't get it. Wear whatever. Especially if it is natural :)

*Most men I know won't voice criticism unless asked for a direct opinion. This is a good skill to have. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Weekly Sneak: So, It Has Been One of Those Weeks.

Feminism, which I haven't focused on for a while now, has butted back into my life quite insistently this month of May. Through a series of events I found myself writing for a Danish readership about being it, and listening to a Franco-Tanzanian panel discussion about it. I was way overdue for a refresher.  

In the event, two of my most stubbornly difficult questions got answered. Feminism isn't a Western invention or imposition, and Africans who identify with this ideology (whether or not they call themselves the F-word) do so of their own accord. No brainwashing required. I have been stuck in this feminism-hostile place for so long that I was beginning to lose perspective, and buying into the 'it's because you are different' poop that was used to explain it all away. Nope, feminists are made everyday in varying flavors and strengths across the gender spectrum, so there. We're bog-standard, boringly common folk and there's probably one sitting right next to you right now. :)

Then that question, that question that just burns my ass everytime I hear it: 

"“why are women their own worst enemies?” It is time to send this idea to a fiery death. This question is an insidious little mental parasite that effectively shifts the blame to the victim.
Women aren't their own worst enemies, we are simply operating in the competitive hierarchies of patriarchy. We face a considerable number of handicaps in this competition, barring us from obtaining resources in our own right. This is the perfect environment in which to cultivate the idea that men are a commodity to be used.

Women can, and do, use men to compete for land, for resources, wealth, power and prestige. We compete with each other for them- this is what we are socialized to do from childhood. Girls are groomed to take their place in these competitions with subtle weaponry, as they are denied the conventional male ones of privilege and violence."

In other words: we're not unicorns, we're just people. But I get how it can be confusing to an observer who isn't attuned. Women do tend to collaborate more and share their emotions and blah blah blah- society's shock absorbers and nurturers and all that jazz. It's a role, we play it. That doesn't mean that women are safe and intrinsically good... but it does imply that people who truly believe that are inexplicably naive. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

A Public Encounter of the Government Kind

Today is the second day that I have had to go to a Government Office to Get A Piece of Paper, which is two days too many. If there is one thing nobody likes doing, it is Getting a Piece of Paper from the Government of Tanzania, unless you are the sort who enjoys going on missions to wrestle with The Civil Service. I certainly do not and avoid doing so as much as I can get away with. Unfortunately, the world is all about Pieces of Paper, so.

On the plus side, it has given me a chance to see if Magufulification had yielded some practical improvements in the Government Encounter experience. It has. First of all, I have to tell you that part of the preparation involved a quick consultation with m'ladies who are familiar with these institutions about what to wear. My government has a chronic obsession with 'proper attire' and every so often the condition flares up, usually to the detriment of women more so than men.

This time around the instructions are a little less draconian than in the past. Cover up any jiggly bits, don't wear anything tight enough to emphasize said jiggly bits, below the knee, cleavage covered and no bare shoulders. That's it. It seems pretty innocuous but we all know it isn't, still at least we have moved past the whole 'women can't wear trousers' silliness of yore. But this, friends, was the first hurdle and I admit to wondering idly what they would do if a Hadza maiden came along to claim her passport in traditional garb. Mh.

Anyways, appropriately attired off I went to get my Piece of Paper having filled out the required other Other Pieces of Paper and appended Necessary Pieces of Paper and stuck on Sticky Pieces of Paper. And lo and behold. The service was...welcoming? Downright friendly? There might have been a ticketing system involved. Things moved along at a lively clip and the officers were professional. I kept waiting to wake up in Tanzania again until I looked up from my seat and saw Magufuli's sort-of-smiling official portrait looming 2 meters above my head. Which means I was definitely awake.

Said portrait is the only piece of 'decor' in the public space of this office (which, by the way, was flooded with light and well-ventilated). 

It's not likely that the Bulldozer had all that much to do personally with the design of the building and the amenities. But his Effect was certainly felt in the carefully cordial way in which both clients and service providers treated each other in that space. Apparently we have rights now, and besides, no civil servant wants to give the Bulldozer any cause to visit their place of work especially not complaints from the general public. So...yay discipline?

Better than that, I detected a whiff of something that is fairly rare but might (hopefully) become more common over the next couple of years: a genuine and confident pride in their work on the part of public servants. However, I hope not to find out if this is emerging in other government institutions because I'm going right back to Avoiding Government Interactions until the next Piece of Paper needs renewing.  

Next up: what does it feel like to for an African to ask for a European Visa in their own country. Let's just say I have had mildly interesting but ultimately decent experiences so far but this is 2016 so no assumptions. Stay tuned. 

A little birdie told me...

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