Thursday, October 29, 2009
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.
A bit of South Asia in Dar
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.
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.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
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
Many local artisans came with their goods to sell.
Monday, October 26, 2009
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
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
The day unfolded like this:
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 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...
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 prioritywas 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
Monday, October 19, 2009
A quick capture of the entrance to the house.