Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Technical Assistance PLEASE

Why is it the format I use when I type isn't what gets posted? Like in the previous post I put spaces between the paragraphs, but that's not what got posted. Or the one with the Maska Chaska, the photos were aligned properly and made the post look neat and orderly and when it posted it turned into a mess. I tried many times to change it, but it always post however it pleases. What am I doing wrong???

You're an intern? Humph...

So last night after work my superviser told me that instead of going home we were going to a reception at a certain Ambassador's house (the country shall remain nameless). The house was beautiful...right on the water with floor to ceiling windows, a rich dark wood frame, and a balcony where you can feel the ocean breeze... oh what a house. Of course the shindig was fancy.
The receoption took place in the backyard under the moonlight with little lanterns hanging from the trees. Perfect breeze to cool us off while we sipped our wines and beers and ate tiny pieces of bread with some sort of fish, calamari, some fried cheese dough thing, and my favorite chicken with a kick of spice...mmmmm.
When my boss and I arrived we immediately were greeted by the Amabassador. We both said we were from UNIFEM and went along into the party. I met a minister (one that I will work closely with, but I can't say Minister of what) and a man from east Asia working in his embassy (which shall remain nameless). He was great, incredibly funny. He has been here a month and was standing alone at this function and when he saw me came running over and started conversation. He later said that at all these events there are so many westerners, very few Asians, but then he saw me. I was glad he came to talk to me too, someone just as new as me and who felt out of place among all the suits and high heels.
Later in the evening the Ambassador, not having anyone else to talk to, decided to come talk to me. He asked me how long my posting was, I told him 6 months. He then said "Oh, so are you one of those JPOs?" Now I had been determined not to say I was an intern. I have learned that when I say intern, people shut me out, even within the other UN agencies, BUT I didn't want the Ambassador to think I was a JPO and find out later I lied. SO I said, "No, I'm not a JPO, but an intern." BINGO shut out! His demeanor immediately changed. He was probably wondering why an intern was at his shindig where only so called 'important' people were in attendance. Grant it I was thinking the same thing, but hey just cause I'm an intern doesn't mean I don't know anything.
When we returned home, my boss gave me sound advice..."Don't always be so honest!" In this particular arena your title can open the door or shut you out. I know this, but I've been spoiled by how UNIFEM Tanzania doesn't treat me like an intern, but as a colleague and I get actual work! Sadly, we don't work in a world full of people like the one's I work with. *sigh*
Long story short: Don't always tell the truth. : )

Friday, September 25, 2009

Look what I found!

So I went to the supermarket the other day and found Maska Chaska crackers!!! These were my favorite in the villages of India. Of course there they cost something like 40 cents and here it was a buck, but I still bought a couple. Really made me happy. All the cookies and crackers I've found so far are the same ones they sell in India at double the price, of course. Aside from these packaged snacks, Tanzanians munch on casava chips, which aren't bad. We used to order them at a Indian restaurant back home and here its sold on the streets. Nice to see how they are REALLY supposed to be eaten, with your hands while you walk, not in a plate with silverware while you sit.

After I found the Maska Chaskas, I went for a walk in the city centre and came across a sidewalk vegetable market. I was too scared to take my camera out for fear of having it stolen(I think everyone I have met has told me their story of getting robbed. I would die if my camera got stolen!) Anyway, I was walking through the market when I had to do a double take. I found sitaphul!!! I think the English name is custard apples, in Hindi its sitaphul, and in Swahili its tope tope. I quickly paid too much and bought 3. I first ate this sticky, sweet fruit when I went to India in 2006 with my mom. She loves these things and at the time I had never had them before. So when we were in India, at my grandfather's house, she bought many. I remember we were sitting outside and my mother was soooo happy to tear one open. She gave me some to eat, I took a bite, and said no thanks. Sitaphuls have a very unique, acquired taste and require some effort to eat because of all the seeds. So I didn't enjoy them at first, but my mom kept buying them and then before you knew it, I acquired the taste and loved them. I have yet to seen them sold in the states. I didn't once think about finding them in Dar es Salaam so when I did boy was I thrilled! So for 3 mornings in a row I started my day off with a sitaphul.

There was only one man selling them in that market, but I hope to find more in the bigger market this weekend and I'm still on the hunt for more Tanzanian snacks. Until then I've got the Indian goods and the sitaphuls, custard apples, tope tope (whatever you want to call them) to keep me munching.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Only kitchen gifts...say WHAT?!

The Stage: Notice the clay pot on the non-existent fire to the right. I thought they were going to do a cooking demonstration. No such luck!
Dancing round and round
The happy bride to be on the left and her sister. That's the cake in front. I thought it was a real basket with vegetables. Looked so real! Good job cake decorator, Ace of Cakes would be proud.
All the kitchen gifts, including a deep fryer....mmm fried chicken

So Sunday afternoon I was lazily sitting around not working on my thesis, but reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (a good read) when my advisor who is letting me kindly stay at her house asked me if I would like to accompany her to a kitchen party. I was hesitant at first because I assumed it was some sort of potluck, lets get together in the kitchen and cook some food kind of shindig. Boy was I in left field on that one. A kitchen party in Tanzania translates to basically a bridal shower where the bride to be only gets kitchen gifts as seen in the photo. She was lucky enough to get a microwave and a washer! As I sat there with my advisor, a feminist to the core, I couldn't help but think how the whole event was reinforcing the stereotype that women belong in the kitchen. When I asked my advisor what the theme of a groom's party would be, she wasn't sure (she's Kenyan and they don't do this there), but she jokingly said "Must be a bedroom party" haha

The party itself was very middle class. I couldn't help but compare the event to an Indian event. Though we don't have kitchen parties for our brides to be we do have some similar traditions. Like the dancing and the feeding of the cake. I did notice that at this event the bride to be feeds her mother and relatives a piece of cake as opposed to us who try to stuff the bride with cake. And they use toothpicks while we get our hands dirty. Side note, I find there is a strong attachment to toothpicks here. Toothpicks everywhere!

The oddest thing I came across in regards to the Kitchen Party is that guests are told how much money to give, in this case 100,000 Tsh about 80 bucks. Really?! I find it surprising that you can tell someone how much money to give and not even a modest amount and then when you go to the actual wedding pay again. Baffles me. Societal pressure forces people to pay up or be ostracized. And not just weddings, when someone passes away you are told to financially contribute to the family as well. All sounds like a money making scheme to me.

I know I must stop the constant comparing to India and Tanzania. 2 different countries, 2 different cultures, but I can't seem to help it. Honestly, I will find some nice things to say about this place. Just in a bit of a sour mood due to the fact I'm still living out of a suitcase.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Still without a home : (

Well, I am not exactly homeless, but I might as well be. My boss is very kindly still letting me intrude on her space for a bit longer as I endlessly search for a room to rent. I've found many, they just happen to cost $700 a month or more, money I don't have since I'm not getting a dime to be here. I've ruled out hopes of having a studio or sharing any sort of flat and am now on the search for a family that will kindly rent me a room. I did manage to find a room with a Tanzanian woman and her son, whom I know nothing about. Its a cramped room for $450 a month. I know she's ripping me off, but I decided to take it because its the cheapest I've found. I had plans to move this Sunday, but it seems people at work have now decided to help me find a place and have told me very strongly NOT to take this room because she just wants my money. Yeah, I already knew that, but with no other options in sight, I was just going to let her take what little money I have. It's rather frustrating navigating this unknown system on my own, where finding a place to live basically comes from asking around. I think I've asked everyone I've met if they know of a place and they all promise to look, but I know it takes a special kind of person to help someone they've met for 5 minutes and there aren't many of those. My efforts have born no fruit, but my collegues have talked to multiple people they know so there is an army of Tanzanians out there hunting down a room for me (apparently). So I've decided to trust the people I work with when they tell me to have some patience...pole dada (slowly sister). It's just quite frustrating to read about things working so well for the fellow SIDers out there (grass is always greener on the other side, right?). I guess I have to trust that things will fall into place for me as well...just have to follow with the African way of things...pole pole.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


As I was waiting for my ride home, I started chatting with one of the UN security guards. The following is somewhat how are our conversation went:

Guard: What agency do you work for?


Guard: The women’s one.

Me: Yep

Guard: You gender people always women, women, women. What about us men? There is a reason why men are up here and women down here. (he shows me where men and women are with his hands)

Me: Really? What is that reason?

Guard: Men are supposed to work and make money. These jobs can only be done my men. (I assumed he meant any paid work that doesn't involving selling goods in the market. He obviously ignores those signs pictured above).

Me: And women can’t do these jobs that men do?

Guard: Of course not. There is a reason why women always do worse than men in school. They are just not capable of doing well in school.

Me: Maybe the women you have seen do badly in school have not been given a fair chance. Or perhaps they weren’t given the same support and encouragement that men are given.

Guard: No they are just not able to do the same things we men do. Now everyone is giving them chances. Everything is reserved for women. Soon they will move past us and that is not right. There is an order to things, that’s how it is.

Me: So you are working in the UN, but not believing in what the UN is working towards?

He had no answer and my ride came. Grant it this isn’t word for word, but it is pretty much what he told me.

I wasn’t the least bit surprised by what he was saying. I get he’s simply guarding the compound in exchange for the hefty paycheck he receives. What surprises me is hearing these beliefs coming from the staff working within the buildings, writing the reports, pushing the money through the system. I attended a human rights working group meeting. Though the meeting I went to was rather dull, I was told that the previous month's meeting, which I obviously missed, was much more exciting. During this meeting, one of the UN staff members claimed that gender had nothing to do with human rights. Can you believe that?!?! I quickly have learned that within the UN system, at least in Tanzania, though I've been told it happens in many country offices, gender is not taken seriously. UNIFEM staff members are thought of as those 'crazy radical feminists'.

I've quickly learned that UNIFEM is the underdog here, which makes working for them more bearable because they don't have such big egos. They get far less funding compared to the other agencies and are frequently crushed by the elephant sized hooves of UNDP and UNFPA (whom thinks of gender only from a reproductive lens, as if all women do is make babies). UNIFEM is supposed to be the gender group within the UN system working on gender violence, women's economic activity in non-agricultural sectors, and women in the political arena. They are the 'gender experts'. Except in Tanzania, they seem to be constantly fighting within the system to mainstream gender and to be credited as the gender agency. UNIFEM is frequently left out of the dialogues because the lack of or extremely limited number of funds they can bring to the table. Grant it each agency has a gender specialist, but as my field advisor has told me, they aren't taken seriously by their agencies either. So what is to be done? It is hard enough to fight the battle on the ground, in the fields, but to have to fight the battle within the system too is even harder. To me it makes perfect logical sense, hello GENDER is not rocket science! the staff here. Let's see what else unfolds on this journey.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Frustrated in Dar es Salaam

Dar es Salaam is literally the haven of peace. Yet, I am not feeling very peaceful lately. I arrived 5 days ago, though it feels I've been here weeks. It all feels strangely familar maybe in my past life I lived here, who knows or more likely because it is strikingly similar to a large Indian city, not as big as Delhi, more like Jaipur size. What has been frustrating is the cost of living here. Who would have thought I would be expected to pay more for a room in Africa than in the US...ABSURD! Along with being the haven of peace, Dar is also the home to all the embassies, NGOs and international NGOs; the big dogs with a lot of money. So of course landlords know and jack up the price for everything within any suitable distance to the offices. Sucks for us unpaid interns who are expected to pay those same prices. I've got a temp place with my supervisor as I continue my search for more ''local'' areas where all one is expected to pay is $150 a month as opposed to $800. Just have to find a safe place where I won't get mugged. The previous intern from America stayed in such a place and had way too many muggings for my liking. It seems all the Europeans are forking over the money, its us cheap ass Americans who seem to forgo safety for the savings. Personally, I would like to get away from this very high end western feeling locale. Doesn't feel like Africa at all in this area.
I've managed to meet other expats, but I didn't come here to drink and party everyday as if I was back home and even then I didn't do it everyday. The more I think about it, the better it will be to live further from the office. It'll be more challenging without the comforts of running water and other necessities, but I did it in India and really enjoyed the simplicity of the lifestyle. Its this dual lifestlye that I struggled with in India and I'm struggling with again. Working on narrowing the inequality gap, but living in way that only reinforces the gap. I think many development workers feel this way. How to bridge those lifestyles is still a puzzle to me, but maybe living like a Tanzanian is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, by next time I will have found a place and have a picture to post.