Posts Tagged Ramblings

A day in this Bongo life

I’ve spent about 15+ months now in total living in Dar es Salaam. Originally stemming from it’s Arabic name  ’Harbour of Peace’. Commonly just goes by Dar. Shortcoded DSM. On the streets – Bongo (slang for brains…you need them to survive in the city). Call it what you will – it’s been ‘home’ for some time now and as such has been a big part of my life and experiences over here in Tanzania. Mimi ni mBongo kabisa.

Now that I think about it, it’s climbed up to 4th in terms of the places I’ve spent the most time living in (New Hamburg, ON -> Santa Cruz, Bolivia -> Waterloo, ON ->DSM ->Toronto, ON)  - so I figure I owe it some kind of tribute and it will give you (wherever you are) a chance to learn a little more about this city.

So…somehow this has once again turned into a blog post dominated by the photos and a bit shorter on the narrative. Blame it on laziness and not wanting to write so much or on wanting to showcase some favourite pics – but either way I figure pictures can be one of the best ways (worth a thousand words? - and if that’s not good enough there are real words in all the captions…) to express some of the day-to-day life which I personally experience in this city.

And in the end, I wanted to get out at least one post  in March and with leaving for Ethiopia in a few hours …time was of the essence – so enjoy some random bits of writing and photos from this year so far in Bongo!

Dar has an official population estimate of approx. 3 million people and growing at a crazy fast and rather uncontrolled pace – it’s estimated it will reach over 5 million people before 2020. This growth has mostly been in the form of the unplanned sprawl in every direction with the complete lack of any scaled capabilities in water, sewage, roads, and other infrastructure.

When I arrived back in Dar this past August – I had the task of finding housing. Housing in Dar is the tale of two markets – Generally high-end houses and apartments with rents similar or exceeding Toronto and other major Western cities and the more local housing market where monthly rents are often measured in tens or low hundreds of dollars instead of thousands. Trying to find that inbetween was a long and defeating search – but eventually managed to hit a nice sweet spot. On the positive side -the three weeks of searching everyday after work meant I got to visit all kinds of new unexplored areas of the city and got to see inside some of the world’s most hideously kitsch decorated apartments (this coming from a guy who’s decorating remains frozen in-time to 1st year university dorm styles…)

Dar is generally not one of the top places to visit when people come to Tanzania – maybe a transit point that gets a day or two but its generally not a destination in itself. But that’s one of the thing that I like about living in Dar – you can generally go. All I need to do is go to Zanzibar for a weekend in high season and be surrounded by tourists and people selling things to all the visitors..Jambo rafiki!… and I’m reminded of this again.

After a few months living here I finally went through with my ambitions to buy a bike to pedal power myself around the city. Foregoing the easily available cheap Chinese road bikes – I’ve managed to finally procure myself a mountain bike.  Riding a bicycle down Kimweri Ave in morning rush hour traffic of bajaji’s, pedestrians, dangerous dalla-dallas, equally crazy SUV drivers, and a host of other vehicles and random obstacles – I wish I had one of those helmet cameras to take you with me. It’s been great though to get around and to take aimless rides through new neighbourhoods and just explore the city with my camera. Most of the pictures in this post are from those Sundays on the bike.

Dirty Dar – According to this Forbes article from 2008 – Dar was ranked the world’s 12th dirtiest city – according to a Mercer Health and Sanitation Index Score. It’s certainly not something that is reflected in my day-to-day life as we have regular access to water and sewage (although the latter also flows rather freely in in ditches nearby as well) -but it is a huge issue for many areas and much of the city’s population. While Dar is a beautiful city in many ways, it is definitely also a very dirty one. Garbage is everywhere and burned on the streetside because of lack of proper disposal options.

The multi-cultural make-up of DSM along with the large expat and business population has made for a decent selection and variety of restaurants to choose from. I certainly can’t complain anyways (not that I was going to with 3 sushi places) when speaking with friends living out in more remote areas where only the TZ dietary staples (generally ugali/rice/chips with fried beef/chicken/fish) are available. Still, there are things I would rather not admit to which I would do in a heartbeat for decent Mexican food right about now…

This time around I have been lucky enough to get involved in plenty of different sports to stay active. Regular Football Tuesdays and Fridays, Basketball Wednesdays and Floorball Thursdays have given a much needed outlet to run around and added some routine to the weeks. A proud member of the Valhalla Vikings F.C. – 2009 Dar es Salaam World Cup champions!

There are about 4 different styles of paintings you can buy from the artists and street sellers in Dar -Vaguely categorized as  Tinga-Tinga, Masaai, Zanzibar,Wildlife, and generic african style. Walk into any mzungu home and your often guaranteed to see the same stuff. I can understand you go with what sells – but someone needs to step up and diversify! Now that I mention it, its not just artists – but is often apparent in the general business environment. There are sections of town/the road known as the place to go for any particular item. The problem is – they all sell the exact same thing and are all in a row. Go with what works – but I have to think that being the 9th shop in the area selling mobile phones is not the best business plan.

It really struck me on my second week back – sitting in the plastic chairs, a somewhat cold Safari Lager in your hand and a plate of chipsi mayai in front of you. The the nighttime temperature and humidity down to a more comfortable level, listening to the ting ting ting of the Taraab or Bongo Flava music playing loudly in the background and being lulled away by the table conversation in a language you don’t yet fully understand. It had a very strange and comfortable familiarity to it all being back in Dar.

Likewise there were parts of Canada and western life which I experienced while being home this past summer that felt more foreign. Dress codes? Closing times? Checking the weather forecast? Rules and laws that are enforced and require obedience? Not being able to afford eating out every night? Uggh

Some of the uncontrolled growth in Dar – along with questionable military safety measures/motivations – have led to a pair of tragedies in Dar recently. First in April 2009, and again in February this year – Army bases with surrounding residential populations turned into horrible scenes  when munitions depots caught fire sending  explosions over DSM. I live about 25km away from the site but that night our windows were shaking from the blasts – I can only imagine how bad it must have been for the neighbours.  Read the BBC article here

As nice as the climate is in Arusha, as much of a quiet and stress-free life I am sure one can live down on the shores of Lake Nyasa, as beautiful mountain views there are in Lushoto, and as much of a tropical paradise is Zanzibar…I don’t  think, at this point in time, there’s anywhere else I’d rather live for a long period of time in Tanzania. In terms of social life and a variety of things to do – Dar provides the most (and its not much -hence high ratio of Vicky Mendoza diagonal incidences?)

Last thing – come visit! Seriously – while… less serious offer for you random internet visitors who stumbled upon this. You are making a decision you’ll someday regret right now as you currently tell yourself that you’d love to but you just can’t because of X,Y, and Z. Make it happen and you’ll have the 5-star luxury of a blow-up mattress and guaranteed adventures in Dar!

Anyways, hope you enjoyed and got to see a slice of this guy’s Bongo life!

Cheers,

Dan

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Some ramblings on “doing good” in this crazy world we live in and then what’s next for this guy

Alright, so the topic of this post was originally meant to be the very first or second post on the entire blog back when I had legitimate hopes that this would actually include some kind of deep and philosophical posts -hence the blog name. Well, that didn’t so much happen but I have still wanted to get a chance to bore you with these incoherent thoughts and I heard somewhere that the first shall be (almost the last?) blog post so here we go!

Disclosure: I do not and don’t claim to know what I am talking about when it comes to the hugely complicated fields of international development and foreign aid. What I know and what I will proceed to ramble on about is a little bit of my experience and personal feelings at the time of writing. I hope we are all cool.

Secondary Disclosure. This post is pretty much one fluid stream of consciousness and writing – pretty much raw and possibly not making too much sense. Once again my homies, I hope we are all cool.

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In the beginning…

How did I find myself here working in the international development sector? While, I think that  interest goes back awhile to a childhood growing up in Bolivia and some belief because of this that I wanted to have this international experience of my own – but that’s a whole different story. More recently, I found myself attending an international education conference in Los Angeles in April 2009 where Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and Nobel Peace Prize winner for his amazing efforts at eradicating poverty through micro-finance efforts was the main presenter. I would highly encourage you to check out some of his talks or his books if you are interested. Needless to say, it was an inspiring speech – a kick in the arse if you will – to get up and out and do something a little different.  And so I looked at what my options were and decided that I could probably put my “skills” to use by getting into the business end of the international development field. After all, profit or non-profit, the need for business aptitudes and good people is all the same so applied to a posting with MEDA which was looking for someone for an 8 month assignment in Tanzania in the area of business development and communications. Yada, yada, yada and a few weeks later I had myself a serious “should I stay or should I go” decision on my hands.

Some ramblings on apparently “doing good things” over here in Africa

When I accepted the position here with MEDA Tanzania and began to tell friends and family that I would be taking off to work in Africa for the next year and received a wide range of responses but often a common theme involved a “good for you”/”you are doing something good in this world” kind of line of thinking. Every time someone would make a comment like that I felt a twinge of guilt. What if I am just doing this for purely selfish reasons? I want to travel, I want to try some new work, I want to see the world, I want to get the hell as far away as possible from a mortgage and its locked in responsibility in Toronto before its too late to just pick up and take off like this.

The view from the balcony of 35 High Park...A hundred thousand mortgages twinkle in the Toronto night

I mean, I assure you there was much more to the decision – I have always been interested in international development and wanted to gain some experience in the field, I was a member and involved with MEDA for several years prior and always admired their work, and I did also have a legitimate desire to put some of my efforts towards some kind of a greater purpose than the pleasing Board of Directors and shareholders. (Not that there is anything wrong with working for private sector – I know countless people who give much more to greater causes through other efforts than most people working in non-profit sector). But despite these more legitimate reasons – I definitely felt quite uncomfortable with this line of thinking. Maybe it adds a bit more pressure on you or maybe I just don’t like these kind of conversations but the uneasiness certainly existed.

And what have you learned?

As I mentioned earlier, this post was supposed to be at the beginning of my time here and talk a bit about some of my thoughts and concerns around this topic before I started. But now I have been here working away and my contract is coming to an end  - so what have you learned Dan?

Well, for one thing I haven’t exactly had to make a lot of sacrifices in my life living in Africa. It wasn’t what we expected at all, but life in Dar es Salaam is not always so different than back home for us so the level of personal sacrifice is definitely not that high.  I mean, if you’ve seen some of the photos from my many travels around this beautiful country – you know that it hasn’t always been so rough. We also happened to end up living near our work offices in what we would end up naming ‘Mzungu Paradise’ – not exactly an accurate sample of the average Tanzanian standard of living. (p.s. Stay tuned for the exclusive publication here on the Another dusty foot philosopher blog of the lyrics of the soon to be hit single “Mzungu Paradise” based off of Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise (which itself was a re-working of a Stevie Wonder song- (i just learned that now. (If you haven’t noticed yet, I love tangents)))). I do very much have mixed feelings about this side of the experience and how we have often really not had to make those sacrifices and experience a bit more of the real life over here but that’s really a whole new topic for discussion and debate so I’ll just leave it at that and move on.

Life is a sometimes literally a beach...weekend trip to Mafia Island, Tanzania

The day-to-day and the bigger picture

Another thing that I suppose has surprised me a bit but working in development isn’t really all that different than my work before in a lot of ways. It’s very much like every other business I have worked in and that’s likely because international development is very much a business. There’s no shortage of work, of late nights in the office, of stress, and of waking up in the morning and not wanting to leave your bed for work. It’s bloody competitive to win new tenders and you have targets being set and projects to execute or your organization will fail – just like in the private sector. I regularly go days without my mind even thinking of the “greater goal” of these projects, of how it will help Tanzania meet the Millennium Development Goals, or of the beneficiaries who will sleep protected under these mosquito nets. Probably a bit too often, it seems to all just be purely numbers.

One day, the “bigger picture” did indeed hit home during a particular taskforce meeting last year. It was a bit of a tense meeting as all of the malaria partner organizations met and dealt with one issue or another which was popping up and effectively laying waste to well made plans. As things became more heated one of the head people just stopped the discussion and reminded all of those in attendance that…yes, we will have our challenges such as this but what we cannot do is lose sight of the bigger picture. What we are all a part of here in the malaria sector in Tanzania is something unique. The world is watching what we are doing here in Tanzania and it is by and large a massive success story that will be used as a blueprint in many other countries to fight this endemic.

It was one of those moments that helps put it all in perspective and yeah, it does feel good to know that whatever tiny, tiny part that I have managed to play while over here has contributed to some small part of that success story in the making.

One friend told me before leaving (jokingly..but true enough) - you are just what Africa needs, another white guy going over to help. This picture is for you Mark.

And where do we go from here?

So what’s next? Well, that is something that I need figure out. I’ve been looking seriously at both options – staying abroad and working in the international development field  and also returning home and likely heading back to some unknown private sector job. Some of us over here have been doing lots of reading and talking about the development sector itself and whats done wrong and what is going right. If it’s part of the problem as some people seem to be arguing -than that is something more to consider, especially joining the ranks of the many expatriates working here in Dar and being paid with the aid money. But that’s a whole different discussion once again so I’ll just leave that be. I do honestly think I would be at peace with either path – sometimes you can’t always try to answer or tackle these bigger questions and need to figure out whats best for yourself too.

Okay, so this has been a decently long ramble now and perhaps I should wrap-up but I hope it’s been interesting to you. I know just writing some of this out has been somehow useful to me as well. So, are we all cool?

Thanks for listening,

Dan

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