Friday, October 30, 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

International Shopping Festival

I guest blogged for Carribbean. Conservation. Chic. this week. Below is the copy of my post there. Enjoy!

International Shopping Festival

When I saw the posters for this event I was a bit apprehensive. I immediately thought that it must be an event of outright consumerism masquerading under a veil of promoting cultural diversity. Nonetheless, I was curious and set out on opening day to the Saba Saba grounds in the south side of Dar es Salaam, unchartered territory for me. I went with a friend by taxi after haggling with a few taxi drivers. Eventually we got the price down to a fair deal and we set off. Traffic wasn’t as bad as we were warned and we arrived to a relatively empty place. The grounds themselves are filled with various venues, like the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and other venues where what seemed like preparations for a wedding were taking place.

After we explored the ground a bit we paid our 1,000 shilling (.77 cents) entrance and entered a rather empty space. Stalls were up, but most of the vendors were still unloading their goods off the truck. We should have known that though the fair was officially to start at noon that day, it obviously would not be on schedule. There were a few vendors on top of their game and eager to sell their goods including socks, costume jewelry, honey combs (surprise surprise), make up, western shirts, Indian leather jutas (shoes) and a very funny vendor selling vegetable slicers with a full on demonstration on how to slice carrots, potatoes, and tomatoes (I hope for the sake of the hungry they actually use the veggies after slicing them and not just throw them out). We stopped at a vendor from Pakistan selling Kashmiri scarves, bed covers and wall hangings. It was such a nice feeling being in that stall. A cultural difference I’ve noticed here versus India is that when you go shopping here, the sellers don’t show you anything. For instance, when I went to buy my kanga (traditional fabric) I was behind the counter facing the seller and hundreds of kangas piled up, but she didn’t show me any without my having to ask. I had to point to ones in the pile and hope that it would be the one I wanted. Now India is the other extreme where the minute you look at something, the seller never leaves you alone and shows you all they have, so you never have to ask to see something. However, often times you have to tell them what you’re looking for, style, color, etc otherwise they show you want they want to sell, usually the most expensive things. Now both have their pluses and minuses. In India I would get annoyed with the constant in my face approach to selling, but here I get annoyed with the lack of help. So when we went to this vendor, it was great to see a bit of the Indian (and I assume this is a trait of most of South Asia) way of selling. After seeing many fabrics and much bargaining, my friend ended up buying a scarf from him.

A bit of South Asia in Dar

We then moved on to another vendor that was up and running, an Iranian jewelry sells man. Ahmed, the kind young man from Iran, helped us buy the earrings below. At first I didn’t like the eyeball looking beads, but then it started to grow on me. It was interesting to see a couple of African men in suits buying rings with giant stones and I couldn’t help but wonder if they were planning on re-selling them. They didn’t spend much time picking and trying different rings the way someone would if they were buying it for themselves. Who knows maybe I’ll see the rings again somewhere in Dar.

My earrings

The fair is hosting vendors from India, Pakistan, Iran, Malaysia, China, Syria, Oman, Turkey, Egypt, Kenya, and Tanzania for the next 10 days. I was expecting more handicrafts, but I suspect most of the goods coming in were made in China (no offense!). A trend I noticed was that almost all the vendors were men, of course who would send women to Tanzania for 10 days to sell merchandise and most of these men were of South Asian descent. Despite the questionable quality of the goods being sold, it was nice to see a bit of the world and vibrancy gather in Dar es Salaam. I learned that this is an annual event. There isn’t a high demand for these goods year round so they only come once a year. I’m still fascinated by the fact that so many people are intrigued by South Asian and Middle Eastern goods. I still feel like these are the regions producing the most appealing fabrics, jewelry, bags, etc. I have yet to find attractive Tanzanian goods, but I’m still searching…there has to be something appealing that’s not South Asian here! All in all it was an interesting experience and maybe worth visiting again when all the vendors are set up.
The Scene
Leather shoes


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

UN Day Part 2

A bit overdue. Last Friday UN Day was celebrated in one of the public grounds in Dar with a flag raising ceremony, speeches by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Resident Coordinator of the UN, and the President of the United Nations Association. The best speech was by the United Nations Association. They are a non-profit organization that works to highlight and make the UN's work accessible to the communities, espcially children and youth. You might be familiar with them from their Model UN program from your high school days. They have these UN clubs in schools all around the world. Below is a poem, about the birth of the UN, recited at the ceremony by one of the members of the local UN club.

My Dream

I was born in a family, a family of many nations
I was born after my brother, the League of Nations
I was born to accomplish, where my brother ended
I was born for a purpose, for a purpose indeed

Since I was born, I have seen the best
The opposite is true; I have also seen the worst
See what I am seeing, a vision for the future
What the future might bring, it’s a work of every creature.

The world is sometimes bad, not because of bad people
But because of good people, who can’t stop the bad people
The first or the latter, which group are you in?
But before you choose, hear the dream I had then.

Hear the dream I had and see through my eyes
When the time passed, to a darker evening on bed
I lay trembling, with a bad dream in my head
It is not even a dream, it only brings tears
You still want to listen? Alright, give me your ears.

I heard the kids crying, ooh please not me
I saw the women raped, ooh god don’t let me see
I saw the people dying in the heart of Africa
I saw the people fighting in the South-East Asia
My nightmare ended and now I have a dream

Now I have a dream, a nice dream to share
A dream to end hunger, poverty and diseases
A dream to stop wars and live like brothers
Helping the women, and children together
By delivering as one, it is our mission together

By delivering as one, we shall reach our mission
I am only the path, a path to emancipation
For the past and the present, and the future generation
It’s only your contribution, without any hesitation
Will make the world better, better for every person

Otherwise it was another event that I don't feel too eager to blog about. Below are some photos from the day. I forgot my flash drive so these are all I can upload at the moment. Oops!
There was stall highlighting each of the UN's joint programs with local artist performing. The aim of the exhibition was to provide a space for learning about what the UN in Tanzania is doing.

Many local artisans came with their goods to sell.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The dala dala

I learned this weekend that the term dala dala comes from dolla(r) dolla(r), which is what the conducter used to shout. It eventually transformed into dala dala. I also continued to learn that I'm nutty for riding them. Basically the dala dala is a minivan/bus costing 20 cents a ride and is filled with seats for about 20, but usually you find twice the amount of people inside. The ceilings are covered with some sort of cheap carpet recylced from someone's house or a sleezy motel and pipes are installed on the ceiling to act as a hand rail. I've only had the pleasure of having a seat twice. Though, it was almost three times, but I felt the old lady should sit instead of me, which I also learned was not a typical Tanzanian move, silly me. I'm usually squeezed in between people who smell, remember no deodarant here and its HOT, and who continuously step on my feet. Being on a dala dala is a wild ride, which often requires extensive praying while the driver weaves in and out of traffic. I'm always so grateful when I get off and am able to breath again. I got some pictures of the wild things, though none of them are the one I take, it gives an idea of the beasts that rule the streets of Dar.
A leaning dala dala.

A new, shiny dala dala. Wish mine looked and was empty as this one.

A dala dala decked out in Manchester United stickers.

Still trying to get a picture of the cramped insides. But this should give you an idea.

The 'special' mug

So many pictures and events to share...UN Day Part 2, the start of the short rains and my second trip to a beach resort. Since I only have the Internet at work and I haven't transferred the pictures hopefully, by the end of the week these posts will make it to the blog. For now I want to share the occurrence of Saturday morning.

Saturday morning I went to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. Next to the microwave is a wooden mug hanging thing where typically I find 3 white mugs with a blue stripe and 1 smaller mug with birds. Saturday morning there was only the mug with the birds. I didn't think anything of it, so I took it, filled it with milk and put it in the microwave to warm. Seconds later roomie walked in and exclaimed, "What are you doing. Oh no Payal. No no no!" I freaked thinking what the hell did I do now. She quickly turned the microwave off and told me that's the maid's mug. I looked at her and said, "Umm...ok. Is that a problem? Will she mind if I use it?" Roomie told me that the maid (Zainab) wouldn't care, but don't I. I told her it didn't bother me and she turned the microwave back on and told me "I segregated the cups". I couldn't say what I wanted, something along the lines of she's human too, I'm not going to catch some disease from drinking from the same cup, etc. Instead I made my coffee and drank from the mug with birds as she sat there watching me, thinking who knows what.

When she said segregated, it hit a nerve. Now I shouldn't be surprised, I should have expected it. I've seen it over and over with my family in India and I've made similar 'mistakes' in India. The worse being when I walked into a house using the lower caste entrance, boy was I scolded, but I continued to use that entrance anyway, my small rebellion. Given that I've gone through this before, I shouldn't have been so shocked, but I was. It took me by surprise, especially since when I first met Anar she told me Zainab is like family, shes been with the family for 21 years. I guess I was mistaken to think she would be treated like family. The divide, the segregation, the superior complex, whatever you want to call it, has traveled across the Indian ocean and rooted itself here. They replaced the lower castes with black Africans, but the mentality is still the same. One aspect of Indian culture I abhor, though I suspect it is not exclusive to India. I have no answer to how I should handle this, so I'll continue my small acts of rebellion, like going to the duka (roadside store) to buy my goods instead of sending Zainab and drinking from whatever mug is avaliable including the one with the birds (besides its a prettier mug).

By the way I hate using the word maid, but since this post is about my experience and maid is the term used here, I've decided to use it.

Friday, October 23, 2009


I received this cartoon in my email this morning. I'm sorry I can't find the source to give appropriate credit. Don't sue me! I credit this to someone very talented and funny. Enjoy!

Note: This cartoon does not express my sentiments in any way towards the UN and its work.

The U.N. Addresses a Critical Issue

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

UN Day Part 1- Community Service

United Nations Day (UN Day) marks the birth of the UN. This year the UN celebrates its 64th anniversary on October 24th. The aim of UN Day is increase the world's awareness of the aims and achievements of the UN and to gain support for its work. As part of the commeoration here in Tanzania, the UN agencies participated in a UN Day community service activity. On October 23rd (tomorrow) we will be going for an official flag raising ceremony (a post will follow). I participated in the community service activity and have included photos of the event. I've decided to share the factual occurences of the day. It would not be so smart for me to share my opinions, negative or positive, as I still work for the UN. Those of you who know me, especially the one who got a 100% on my 'How well do you know Payal Patel' quiz, will be able to imagine how I felt.

The day unfolded like this:

This year's UN Day theme- education. All agencies were asked to participate and we were split into 3 groups to go to 3 different schools. The group I was in was taken to Ruvuma Primary School. Since I was told there was not enough room in the cars going, I had to take our agency's car with me as the sole passenger. We arrived at the school in the morning after about an hour's drive. We were greeted by a pathway lined with kids singing and dancing to welcome us. The jeeps and minivans (about 6) proceeded to inch through the welcome party surprisingly without crushing any toes along the path.

Once we exited our vehicles, we all gathered in our matching, newly made UN shirts and hats. We enjoyed the kids singing and dancing and then we shook every child's hand. They continued to sing and dance and giggled at the opportunity to shake some of our hands. Following the hand shaking and greeting we sang and danced our way back to the start of the line of children and sat down in school desks. I often heard the comment 'Sitting in these tiny desks brings back so many memories of my school days.'

The UN representative of our group then gave a brief talk on the importance of education and the UN's committment to community service. During this introductory talk, I sat in front of two UN staff members having an entirely different converstation about their personal lives. Caught between the two dialogues I was unaware that we were just given instructions on where to go. So I just followed a couple of people I knew and ended up in classroom 2. There were 3 classrooms that the UN had donated resources for repairing the concrete floors. We entered the classroom and were told to clear out the concrete that was being broken. We formed a chain and started passing chunks of concrete.

Some of us worked very hard and some of us watched.

After some point the classroom became overcrowded with people so some of us started talking/playing with the kids. Too many people and not enough work.

After about 45 minutes, with cut hands, I went in search of some water. I found the person in charge of water and he told me that he couldn't give me any because they didn't bring enough for the kids and we couldn't drink in front of the children. I said that makes sense and I turned around to see UN staff members drinking away. I understood that there were exceptions to what I just heard, but I didn't mind. So I went back to the room but decided that I was being useless and ended up taking photos of the kids.

After a few photos, I went back to the classroom to see if I could be of help, still I was useless. Then a man brought in about 6 bottles of water and handed it to one of the senior staff members. All the children immediately ran to the woman and starting jump up and down trying to grab the water from her hands. Now they were thirsty. The school had no water and the UN didn't bring enough water. She asked the students to get in a line and separated them into groups of about 6 and gave each group 1 bottle to share, while right outside the door some people had their own bottle.

Now I'm not sure exactly what this girl was doing with the water and who it was for, but...

After an hours work we were rounded up and taken to sit back in the desks. An award was given and the bags of concrete that the UN donated were brought out. That was it. We contributed an hours work and left the mess for someone else to finish. We piled back into our jeeps, drove through the line of kids singing goodbye and that was our day of community service.

At lunch that day I was talking to a colleague and asked why priority was given to the floor when the school could have been painted to enhance learning or why not get the children drinking water by perhaps building a rainwater harvesting tank. She couldn't tell me why priority was given to the floors, but did say this is how it is. There were mixed reactions after this event. One colleague said, "Sometimes I don't like to remember that I'm part of the UN." Another colleague said, "Well, I've done my contribution for the month." My reaction...

Let us see how the flag raising ceremony goes tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Kenyan Condom Ad

Saw this ad on my favorite blog on life in Dar, Louder Than Swahili
Made me laugh.

Creative Release

I mentioned in a previous post that I was in search of a painting class in order to release some creative energy. I emailed the local art school and checked out the cultural groups that offer language and dance classes. However, I didn't find any classes for painting or any other art form so I went on search for paints. After not finding any on my own I asked roomie last weekend if she knew. She pointed me towards a stationary store in town. I went on Saturday and met a VERY friendly and funny Indian man. He only had barbie watercolor paints (meant for children) and poster paint. He tried to get me to buy the poster paints because he hadn't been able to sell a single box (he had 6). I told him if he ordered some brushes I would buy it. He's promised to order some and I promised to come back in 2 weeks. As I was about to leave disappointed (yet again) I saw a box of oil pastels and decided that would be my medium. I'm glad I bought them because they are so much easier to blend than paint. So I bought 2 boxes of pastels and 2 Arabic drawing books (they open from the opposite side).
Saturday evening, before my Diwali outing, I played and drew a beach scene, which I will not share (because it REALLY sucks), but it was the MOST FANTASTIC exercise. I felt so much more balanced after that one drawing. So Sunday morning I woke up eager to do more. I sat on the terrace and closed my eyes and thought of where I wished I was at that moment. Though it is an elementary drawing I am comfortable sharing what I saw:

What I pictured was a photo (which I later used for reference Yes I did cheat a little) I took when I was with a small NGO, SST, in Andhra Pradesh India. Behind the NGO was a small pond and hills. The kids from the NGO and I used to walk there in the evenings and watch the sunset. They would teach me how to skip rocks in the water and sometimes we would play badminton there. I loved sitting there watching the sky blaze like fire and transform the hills into silhouettes. It was beautiful and oh so peaceful. It is hands down one of my most favorite spots in India...Ramapuram Village, Andhra Pradesh.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Times Like These it Feels Even More Like India

This is the post I would have written on Sunday if I had internet access.
My collegue and his wife were invited to a Gujarati's house for Diwali celebrations. They told them about me and the family kindly extended the invitation to me, someone they had never met. Now that's true Indian hospitality, to invite someone into your house even if you don't know them. I later learned that roomie knows this family and has spent many Diwali's at their annual function. Apparently, an incredibly well known family in Dar. I was super excited about going and having the opportunity to partake in traditional Diwali festivities. BUT the evening turned out not to be what I expected. I envisioned a traditional Diwali celebration full of laughter, sweets, and fireworks. There were fireworks being done in the city with small additional ones by the family. There were no Indian sweets, but there was a carrot cake and cupcakes. And aside from the family and myself everyone else were expats, all couples, most with kids. I felt out of place, being the youngest and also alone, but it was still nice to be out doing something rather than staying home. I loved watching the little kids chase around the family cat and cry from fear of the fireworks. The house was beautiful. Who knew behind the failing exterior was such a beautiful, rich interior wonderfuly decorated with old dark woods, candels, and rose petals floating in basins all around the house. I really appreciated being invited out and took a step towards noticing the small things.
When I got back to my place the balding roommate was asleep. I had expected him to have gone out. The next morning he non-chalantly said "This is nothing compared to the celebration in India. I've seen better, no need to see it here." Underneath all his talk I could tell he was missing home especially since this is his first time out of India. It was comforting to know I wasn't the only one feeling a bit lonely. Below are some photos from the afternoon preperations and the evening festivities.
Two of the many festively decorated shops.

Barfi, Indian sweets, from Poornima Sweet Shop.

A quick capture of the entrance to the house.

A kid with a sparkler.