Friday, September 30, 2016

Basic Kiswahili Phrases: 'Nilipopata Ajali'

Just about everyone who lives here has that story. It begins with "when I had my accident..." and goes from there. A city of broken people, we are, all harboring reminiscences of hospital stays caused by incredible events. Those of us who have lived to tell about it. 

Someone asked me recently: how come everybody has that story? I was stumped. I don't drive in Dar anymore... since I had my accident... but the statistics are off the charts. This is a dangerous city for many reasons. Transport is one of them. 

La Dee was in an accident recently. A hit and run. She was the passenger in a bajaj that got swiped from the left by someone who was speeding at an intersection. Through a series of miracles, she was not terminally damaged and good samaritans ensured that we were able to find her and get her care.*
So we are going through recovery. She does the hard work of healing while I get to fuss about her nutrition and general mood upkeep as best I can.**

It turns out that having an interest in cooking makes one a very dubious carer. I had dreams of maybe going to medical school someday in my sixties- should I live that long- to explore a fascination that gets stronger over time. Oh, god, medical science is absolutely riveting. There is nothing about it I don't want to know.

Except for the clinical aspect. So there we were one evening, watching La Dee get one of her ouchies dressed by some docs. First of all, it was utterly disgusting. As someone with a strong stomach it caught me by surprise how the old gag reflex kicks in when you see a loved one getting basted like a joint of pork. I have watched slaughters and flicked worms out of the ass of the carcass of a dead cow... but this? This was horrifying. 

Even worse was the part where my brain started to consider the culinary possibilities as I gazed into my sister's wounded flesh. Hmm. Sure- honey has been used as a medicament since before the pharaohs walked the earth but in this case... it sure looked like basting to me. The more honey they poured in the wound, the more I thought about how rosemary would be a lovely compliment in the flavor profile. Vinegar for contrast, maybe? Cloves? 

How beautifully trussed her leg was, just lovely. Stuffed with honey, clean stitching. Add some herbs and put in a hot oven for a little while, it might go good with some red wine or maybe a nice ice tea...

Oh god.

So this is why I will not be pursuing the medical ambition. My inner omnivore surprised me and while I would never actually eat a relative or a friend... well. I also wouldn't trust a woman who thinks of recipes while watching her relative undergo a medical procedure. Just doesn't seem right. 

I told La Dee about this issue and she laughed of course. Then she told me to blog about my psychopathic moment. So here you go sis, because if it makes you laugh at least we'll both be happy plus your stitches are going to bitch at you as revenge for this request. I am collecting more jokes about Long Pig but will deliver them in person because I don't want to end up in a plexiglas cage with a face-mask on, okay?

Just about everyone here has that story. The one which starts with 'when I had my accident...' The trick? Is to find a way to laugh about it, even... especially... when it can take you out of the darkness. 

* Universal free healthcare? Has kind of become a thing for me now. Going to be throwing some passion at it. 

** not to brag or anything but I am really, really fucking good at getting sick people to eat well and keep an even keel. No idea why, and not interested in trying to quantify it. But if you ever have to be a carer too (out of the blue) just remember sick people need a bit of laughter too and a good tasty meal never hurt anyone. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Keep An Eye Out

I was supposed to write a thing for an online outlet that says it is about African opinions. We didn't agree on how that goes. Oh well. Here's the raw material, complete with holes in the argument and questionability. Still, if it makes you want to Google something, my job is done. Namaste.

Come Bearing Gifts.
by Elsie Eyakuze

Thursday 1st September 2016

This article is the result of my online indignation at Mark Zuckerberg's recent visit to Kenya, where he offered to support various tech related projects... and provide cheap and affordable internet to the poor people of Africa. The online tantrum was a violation of conventions- some Tanzanian blogger had a meltdown over the fact that an American tech billionaire was offering “something good” to my fellow dwellers on the continent of pity. But if India can say no to Mark Zuckerberg, then by jolly goodness so can Africa.

Just a quick note on structural racism: the assumption is that Africa is a poor continent populated by poor people who are simply poor and prostrated by their poverty. We are not supposed to have a past, a dynamic and self-aware present, let alone a future, unless a non-African of means comes along to say so. Because we're poor. But material poverty, much as it has been manufactured over centuries of exploitation, land grabbing, colonialism and slavery, hasn't resulted in poverty of mind, spirit or body. If anything, Africa is emerging with grand vigor at the moment and everyone is trying to jump on that bandwagon. To which I say: nope, not again. This time it has to be on better terms. Our terms.

The Zuckerberg offer for cheap internet in India was tied to giving his company control over the content that his clients would be able to access. There is a lot of literature on 'net control that I can't get into right now for word limit reasons, but please feel free to search on your affordable internet connection about it. Indians are superbly competent in the area of technology as we all know, having been tech-supported by them for the last decade. They looked at these conditions he was proposing and asked him to vacate their online premises thank you very much. Is there poverty in India? You bet. Did they believe for an instant that the Zuckerberg offer was going to make any difference? Nope.

So having observed from them, I feel empowered as an African who uses the internet to resist the offer of good things. I know a scam when I see it, even if my foremothers did not. The bible, the gatling gun, the replacement of local political systems and culture, the imposition of western clothing, taxation as a tool to rob people of their autonomies? Familiar territory to a dying breed of Africanist. I don't reach for the golden ring, I don't thank oppressors for oppressing me economically and I don't want Mark Zuckerberg's drones allegedly providing internet to “poor” Africans. If information is power, you best believe I am going to bring the geopolitical argument into the situation.

On to the numbers: yes, I am part of the economic elite that can afford ridiculous amounts on online presence. But here's what's up in Tanzania at least, and let me quote extensively from an article in the Guardian (Tanzania) about the African Peering and Interconnection Form meeting that recently took place in my city, Dar es Salaam. Ahem. “Tanzania Communications and Regulatory Authority (TCRA) figures show that the number of wireless internet users reached 16.26 million last year” which makes me think that there is more penetration because of shared gadgets- e.g. children who are heavy users don't necessarily get their own simcards. There's roughly 50 million Tanzanians.

Tanzania also has three major competing service providers- Vodacom, Airtel, Tigo- with another one that is challenging the market due to rural penetration - Halotel- as well as a few minor dedicated companies that focus on internet provision like Smile. The market here is hot with competition, and almost nobody uses only a single provider for all services because our gadgets and our markets skew in favor of the consumer. Several providers even provide access to Facebook for “free” with airtime, with one offering a memorable WTF package (Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook) on the cheap for its customers.

For all the competition we have a playful environment, with marketers intelligent enough to appeal to the masses in most cases. Tigo does this best, Vodacom is woefully inadequate but we forgive them because of their cheap, cheap internets. We price-compare, we have several simcards and we always choose the cheapest option. But most of all, we like the freedom to manage our communications how we want, when we want, as cheaply as possible.

I'm sorry if this essay violates any fantasies you have of Africans being static, open to exploitation, prone to bad decisions every time. Not so much. We're having internal conversation that Zuckerberg has no place in. His version of philanthropy can go shove itself up the same hole in history as the bible, the gatling gun, King Leopold and suchlike. Neocolonialism is real, and it must be resisted, especially in times where everyone demands that the world be painted in the simple colors of black and white.

I fully expect, accept and welcome the failure of this small campaign to keep Big Internet out of Africa. Our political leaders have a bad habit of colluding with the oppressors for their own benefit. I might even be wrong, god forbid, about the extent of Zuckerberg's evilness. But the point remains: there has never been a time when a gift has been offered to Africans that they would not regret accepting. Capitalism does not do gifts. Neither does Mark Zuckerberg. Sometimes saying NO is the best thing you can do for yourself and more importantly for future generations.


Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Weekly Sneak: Goddammit, UKUTA!

You made me lose at least four arguments. Just last Sunday I declared with grand pomposity that there is no way the government was going to shut the planned September 1st demonstrations. That the force of discontent would burst through all restrictions as Tanzanians' quest for freedoms and rights breached the damn walls of stupid middle-aged patriarchal crap. I even went so far as to denigrate those who said it would not happen as being stuck in their gilded cages of privilege, unable to smell or taste the sheer fury of the people in the air. 

Full. Blown. Wrong. 


I know the story is not over but there is a reason I didn't comment on it earlier and there is a reason I will probably not write about TZ politics again for a while. In the meantime, here's a nibble:

"How did it come to this? The mechanisms of Tanzanian peace and stability are intricate, and retaining the balance through our various stages of growth is always challenging. I like to say that we cycle through phases characterized by the incumbents we choose. Mwinyi was seen as having been a touch too laissez-faire so his successor Mkapa provided just the right touch of pedantry and discipline to appeal. After a decade of his dyspeptic guidance, we ran happily into the warm and charming embrace of Kikwete. We were in need of fun and relaxation and hope and modernity, what can I say. And after too large a serving of his brand of leadership, well. It was time for discipline again. 
So we swing between the poles. Sometimes we are more open, sometimes we are more conservative. Sometimes we are channeling a very masculine energy, sometimes it is a very feminine energy. Always, it is Tanzania first: that's the “tax” we pay to be so lucky as to be her citizens. Our incumbents usually come to understand, accept and sometimes even be defeated by the fact that our complex society believes in the social contract between the state and the people. Live, but let live."
And for duck's sake, Tanzania: solar eclipses have nothing to do with Magufuli. It is a natural phenomenon, not a sign. 

A little birdie told me...

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