Jan, 2020 back to Nov, 2010: (nothing)
It's election season in Tanzania, and there's a new bus station somewhere near the middle of nowhere.
A shiny new bus station in Nyaka Kangaga, Tanzania.
I can't figure out how many people need this bus station. Nyaka Kangaga doesn't even appear on the census. The biggest nearby census-polled town, Heru Ushingo, counted about 60,000 people back in 2002. (And how many of them can vote? The number probably fluctuates wildly with Burundian refugee migrations.)
Nyaka Kangaga isn't at a fork in the road. Sure, Burundi is a day's walk away, but there's no border crossing. Few Tanzanians live in the area. Kigoma, the nearest hub, is three hours away. There's no airstrip or seaport. To me, it seems like there's very little reason to build a brand-new bus station instead of, say, hiring teachers or doctors or paving the road.
Oct, 2010 back to Sep, 2010: (nothing)
I'm going home.
Flying away makes me examine my experiences. I reflect and reflect until I worry the mirrors inside me will shatter from over-thought.
To the countless greens of Rwanda, the dusty infinities of Tanzania, the blissful bananas of Uganda, the recently-peaceful politics of Kenya, the picture-perfect beaches of Zanzibar and the friends and strangers who unify and diversify the land with all with your culture, beauty and warmth: kwa heri.
Kahama, in Western Tanzania, has about 100,000 residents and enough dust to cover the entire country.
It's the last town of note on the road west to Rwanda and the second-last on the way to Burundi. A new gold rush has attracted more businessmen (and businesswomen, and women of a certain business) than usual. Kahama has scores of guest houses, though it still awaits a tarmac road. This being election season, the government has started paving the highway; but while contractors did dump a kilometre's worth of gravel here three weeks ago, work seems to have stalled faster than an overstuffed dala-dala with a student driver.
School attendance is dismal, though the students I've seen are enthusiastic. This class, across from my guest house, is learning English outdoors.
Like all of Tanzania, Kahama is missing garbage collection. In the meantime, residents let garbage accumulate in public spaces like this one, the site of an abandoned construction project.
Two years ago on this blog, I made a victim out of a friend.
One week later, the employers hired a replacement. They would never see their old house girl again.
She is beyond rescue. No well-meaning person can do anything about her situation. In the darkest parts of our hearts, for all our pride of our notions of feminism and gender equality and statistics, we know this. And in the darkest part of your heart, you already know all the stories and statistics and words I can muster.
Pendo, this is your eulogy: more respect than most women ever receive in Africa.
Actually, they saw her just last week. And so did I. A few weeks after I wrote my story about her being "abducted" by family, Pendo returned to Dar es Salaam and started sewing dresses for a living. Currently she's unemployed and job-hunting, but her smile is wider than ever.
Thursday night, twelve university students competed to become Tanzania's Miss Higher Learning.
Number 12 was absent: I suspect she lost her nerve. This was an important event, after all: these competitors, averaging 21 years of age, already placed in their respective universities' beauty pageants. The three winners of the Miss Higher Learning contest would move on to compete with winners from other pageants for the title of Miss Tanzania.
There were plenty of cameras.
I'm (occasionally) helping a Tanzanian organization called Femina. Femina creates and distributes magazines about gender, sexuality and HIV.
My job is to help make sure those magazines get to their intended readers.
Femina's flagship publication, Fema, is Tanzania's most popular magazine, probably because it's donor-funded and free. Femina distributes hundreds of thousands of copies of Fema to schools across the country, and an independent study recently confirmed Femina's calculation that on average, 15 people read each copy.
I thought I'd need to haggle to get 67,000 Tanzanian shillings with my $50 USD bill when I arrived in Dar es Salaam, but the clerk gave me 74,000.
The Tanzanian shilling is suffering. When I flew in to Dar es Salaam this April a dollar was worth about 1,350 shillings; now, it's 1,490. In other words, the shilling has dropped 10 per cent in three months.
Why? Politics, according to analysts.
Every July, Tanzania's government begins a new budget. This year's budget costs 11.6 trillion shillings, up from last year's 9.5.
Kahama is a lost trade town: dustier and smaller than its lake-endowed northern neighbour Mwanza, its only assets are buried gold, a few hundred thousand residents and a dirt road that guides trucks from the rest of Tanzania to Rwanda. Google Maps shows it as a low-resolution swerve in the road. On the ground, it seems like every second building is a guest house.
Maybe I should have seen where this conversation was going, as I filled in my midrange hotel's registry:
"Company?" asked the landlady.
"No, I'm a student, I don't have a company," I replied.
Jul, 2010 back to May, 2010: (nothing)
Those aren't boats: they're buses. This is a picture of Dar es Salaam's main public transit canal, Posta.
It's the rainy season.
If you've lived in Canada all your life, you might never have seen rain like this.