Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Weekly Sneak: This is Fine.

Hello, happy 2017! Sorry about the long silence. Needed some time to be quiet because of a number of interdictions I had set on myself. First: to carefully not share my opinion on President Magufuli's performance so far. Second: to not have a public melt-down over the Trumpocalypse too early in the game. Third: to have a quiet end to 2016, because.


I filed my East African article super-early this week. Who knows how much time the human race has left after Friday? It seemed important to give my lovely eccentric editor a small gift of joy: he likes it when I hit my deadline:
"First of all, Mr. Trump is going to be the guy with his finger on the trigger of the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. Is he a man of calm temperament, who has demonstrated maturity in the face of criticism (let alone baiting or derision), a man who clearly deliberates before making important statements and taking actions with serious consequences? Does he take well to advice, especially from security professionals from, imagine, his own country? Have you read his Tweets? You can see why he might be a source of anxiety. 
The bomb is not even what is realistically scary, it is just my short-hand way of thinking about what to anticipate if he is ultimately in charge of the world's last super-power. Considering the size of the US footprint on the globe, it behooves us all to have a steady mind and a steady hand at the helm of that particular country irrespective of ideological leanings. Between the half-chewed America First jingoism and his racism and particular vitriol towards Obama for having a Kenyan father, I am not particularly excited about the Trump administration for Africa's interests."
Don't worry, there are a few jokes in there. I have been "laughing" since November in-between bouts of crushing dread because hey, it's the best medicine, right? 

There are those who can live in what they call hope, an optimistic attitude that I sometimes have trouble distinguishing from ostrich-with-its-head-in-the-sand syndrome. The best form of hope in my opinion is to expect the worst, wish fervently that it doesn't happen but be prepared anyways because it probably will. This has served me reasonably well. Articulating a fear helps you face it and make contingency plans, laughing about how horrible a situation is lets you look it in the eye and avoid being caught flatfooted by horror like some wet-eared naif. So imagine my delight when I came across today's offerings from Samantha Bee. Dark humor will get you through anything. Sure, it's not polite, but then again neither is Trump.*

*Just because you don't use swearwords doesn't mean you talk or even think with respect. It is the norm for virulently odious autocrats to be polite, sober, neat people rather than the exception... dun dun dun!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Lego Therapy for Tired Brains

2016, right? But nah, this is about appreciating something good that happened.  

A couple of weeks ago a handful of Danish students visiting Tanzania from Vallekilde Hojskolle (lets pretend I spelled that right) took some time to sit with me in Mikocheni and shoot the breeze about feminism, religion, politics, individual agency and other light-weight matters. Their coordinator, Pia, had cultural exchange in mind.

It was a wonderful experience. I won't lie: there is something always daunting about facing a roomful of skeptical and expectant students and no matter how many times I do it, it is never an easy ride. But it is always a superbly enriching encounter and a challenge to any complacencies that have crept up on me over time. I honestly get depressed that governments are not routinely run by youth. 

Anyways, one of the things that I learned is that Lego is not a Swedish company as I had always believed ( sorry about that). As a generous gift for my time I was given a goodie bag which consisted of a  handcrafted, hand-printed bag with a map of Tanzania on it that made my crunchy-grainy hippie soul deeply, deeply delighted. They also gave me two types of liqorice that I have not yet been able to con anyone into taking. The most disgusting candy in the world can be hard to pass along once people have encountered it even once in life, but christmerrybuystuff is around the corner and someone is going to get it.*

Best of all, I got given a Lego set. My very own, make-three-kinds-of-cars, aged 6-12 Lego set. Ugh! People, I cannot stress enough the importance of play** in adult life. This month a variety of personal and intellectual challenges have come up that are taking some energy to digest. After a deluge of information, forwards and reversals and lateral developments I found myself looking for solace and meditative enabling to walk through some thinking. Writing looks simple but the further I venture into it with time and experience,  the more it humbles me. 

So I am playing Lego. It is three-dimensional and technical and non-competitive, which is helping me to travel through the complexities of a current intellectual challenge. It is soothing, beautiful in design and canny enough to allow one to build structures of incredible intricacies from teeny-tiny bits. Best of all it is fun, accessible to all ages and a surprisingly effective meditation aid.  This is not an ad, but if you are going to give a kid of any age a thing this end of year, consider some building blocks. Or liqorice, if you are that kind of monster ;)

* Dear family and beloved friends: consider it an act of love-slash-lets-start-a-regifting-tradition-because-nobody-actually-wants-it. Yay! That's all the warning I am going to give. 

**Actually it's a thing for me right now. If you smirked at that last sentence, you should wash your filthy mind out with soap.  The role of humor and play in creativity and social life is beginning to fascinate me no end: why does the world restrict these intellectual tools to "childhood" only. I'll get around to ranting about it if I ever get around to reading the literature about it. But if you can, whenever you can, throw off the mantles of adulthood and just build something with your hands without a care as to whether it is useful.  

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Weekly Sneak: What Just Happened?

Somewhere between Trump and Buhari I had a Major Feminist Attack* and decided to write about chauvinism. And then I got completely lost in my own essay. You see, what I wanted to do was comment on the fact that we're still living in an era where men find it normal- beneficial even- to tell women what their place in life is. 

But then I got way too deep into discussing the biological aspect of it and trying to tie together very disparate sciences. And then I got completely lost. By the time I was trying to come to a coherent conclusion the essay was already bizarre, my deadline was long past me and I had no strength left having expended it all on whatever fugue state I was in. 

So. I like the essay but yes, it might be slightly inappropriate in tone and topic for a stuffy middle class rag like the East African. My editor has decided to print it anyways.** Have a good weekend. 
"We've all been raised with the usual barnyard talk about how males have testosterone and big and strong and ooga-booga hormonal drive and that's why they gather in clumps at street corners and catcall and roofie your drink. Truth is that women also have testosterone in rather respectable quantities but they also contend with the behavioral suggestions put forth by their friends progesterone and estrogen. The main difference seems to be a very interesting mismatch between supply and demand for intercourse."

Yes, it all goes downhill from there. I blame David Attenborough's horrid influence on my innocent young mind. 

*Major Feminist Attacks happen when an overwhelming rage is triggered in a feminist by some public incident she has no way of rectifying. They vary in severity but at their worst can result in homicidal behavior. Mine just make me hate every complicit adult for the part they play in making the world a shittier place than it should be. Then I get over it, mop up the blood and move on. 

** I love my editors. However, all things considered, they are supposed to be the voice of reason that holds my cray-cray in check. Sometimes I wonder about them. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Weekly Sneak: An Illosophy of Protest

I am in Grahamstown, South Africa. It is such a unique place. So many characteristics that I find particular to South Africa seem concentrated here. A University town and South African to boot, it is very 'diverse'. The friction of the mixture is like a scent in the air.  A slightly buttoned up malaise mixed with friendliness, as opposed to the brusqueness one might experience in Johannesburg. 

And the students are protesting as part of the fees must fall (trademarked yet?) movement. I was kind of hoping that the entire town would be gripped with tension but nope: it is perfectly calm as things go on as usual. The most drama so far was listening to some protesters chanting a couple of nights ago. Anyways, it felt like a nice opportunity to do some stream of consciousness writing. Blame it on being in a University environment, where the world loosens it's grip a little bit on absolute certainty:
"...I am now watching students chase other students out of classrooms and libraries and dining halls. Staff are hastily closing shops and eateries, the journalists documenting all this are clearly doing so by surfing the crest of the protest wave so they can record the dismay and harried faces of the people being swept out of the way of this movement. Irritation is certainly competing with the envy I feel for these South African youth. The culture of protest is deeply a part of the political dynamic of this country I am visiting and has been used to great effect. There's always a dark side, though isn't there? 
...The saying is that the only constant is change. The question is what amount of agency we have over this change when we try to engage in it. Where do movements move to? I don't know and perhaps it does not matter. Perhaps our duty is simply to move at all. I am back to envying the South African students, and wondering whether I should hope for the same dynamism back in my own polity." 

I think I am still a bit sore about UKUTA... and didn't even know until I started writing. Not because I am a member of the opposition but because I believe that opposition as a principle is the yin to the yang of stability- and where the two grapple ew get dynamism. Not answers, not perfection, but movement itself. 

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. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Weekly Sneak: You Are Who You Eat

First of all, a little notice. I am perfectly aware that the Frankenmonster of an opposition that we have is headed for a full-bull encounter with my stubborn and frightened state security system. There will be more than enough time, with Government The Fifth, to talk about it. 

So this week was the second segment about weird future stuff that I am into and I made a mistake. I crossed the streams. I wrote about food! Ugh. It has not gone well, to be honest. I love food. I love tech (what I can understand about it) and I love sci-fi. Putting the three of them together for a staid, middle-aged regional newspaper though? Was not a good idea. I blame it on the fact that I have been watching Mr. Robot. Things will be better next week. In the meantime:
"The world can feed herself and have plenty left over but we don't, because of politics and power. Tanzania can feed herself and have plenty left over but we don't because of politics, money and power. Well, you know what they say. If you can't stand them, join them? Outside of the nefarious world of terminator seeds there are interesting things going on with GMOs that are worth some contemplation. Two recent innovations that are fun to speculate about are the advances in 3-dimensional printing and the manufacture of meat grown in laboratories."

See you next week and remember that we really are who we eat. That's not a grammatical error. 

A little birdie told me...

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