Tanzania 5 — home, politics, kwaya competition and amazing nature

This will be a loosely connected narrative with a lot of pictures of what I did the last weeks apart from going to school. There is always something going on, especially in Justus‘ life, and even though it’s sad I sometimes don’t get to see him too much because of all his commitments, it is great how many doors are open for me in his company. But I’ll start with the place where I am spending most of my time right now — home (whatever that means this year).

This is „my“ room which I share with Justus younger brother „Liberatus“ (a lot of people have strongly religious names like this one here, at least as their — wouldn’t you guess it — Christian names), a very nice and interesting guy, and I think in many ways a glimpse of what my life could be like if I had been born here. And the living-room, where most of the life happens, and where people are constantly dropping in and out when Justus is at home. By the way, a nice local custom: guests are always offered whole coffee beans, which you open with your teeth and chew the inside, quite tasty!

Next up me with my new, shortest-ever haircut (it was widely appreciated and is still beyond the point where most men here would go and have it cut…) on my favorite computer spot, and a view of the courtyard with the big rainwater-tanks which provide all the water we use — the one for drinking is simply boiled.

These are two pictures of the view, one directly out of the courtyard, the other a few steps down the road, where Justus‘ goats are kept during the day with the traditional method of fencing — a rope around the leg. At least they get good stretching…

Lastly, to prevent all these sunny pictures from undermining your belief in my rain season tales, this is a picture of one of the downpours. It’s just that usually, when it rains, you mostly think about getting back inside instead of wandering around getting your camera soaked. This is also, incidentally, a view from „my“ room. And further, I have to admit that rain is actually so rare even now that I was relieved it rained — the water tanks were almost empty.

The most remarkable activity on the week-end before last one was going to a council meeting with Justus, who is elected councilor for the majority party CCM. I didn’t understand too much obviously, but seeing the democratic practices was certainly interesting. And it provided an example of what I have noticed in general — people’s endurance and willingness to ignore physical discomfort. The councilors and most visitors spend the whole day in there, from 10 in the morning to 6 at night, without any meals. I was quite proud of myself for doing the same without getting into a major bad mood. And for my first shopping completely in Swahili — buying some water…

As the picture shows, the level of luxury even for the elected officials is low, sitting on funny green plastic garden chairs. But they all get a uniform, which I suppose is hot, because most took them off in the course of events. The second picture is my friend Justus delivering a passionate speech of (to me) unknown content.

What fascinated me a lot about this meeting, too, was that I got two sides of the political worlds. Justus being a member of the governing party, he is nonetheless engaged in a motion with a group of other councilors from his party to pursue (potentially in the courts) the case of money that has disappeared in the hands of some part of the executive, spent without any documentation on its use. At the same time, I had a long conversation with a young journalist from the area who now works with a national English-language newspaper in Dar-es-Salaam. He sharply criticized the governing party, heir of the one-party socialist era of Tanzania which only ended in the relatively recent past, for election fraud and the like. This criticism was apparently also voiced by international observers in the last elections.

I suppose transitions from a one-party to a multi-party system are always difficult, given that usually people all over the bureaucracy had to be party-members in the one-party time, and naturally cannot easily be removed all at once. And so an interesting dilemma arises — do I join the big party and try to reform from within, or do I join an opposition party, with no prospect of participating in the power anytime soon? I can see Justus‘ point there as well as the young journalist’s one.

But on to a more cheerful event of the next week-end, that is, the last one. Liberatus leads the local church choir („kwaya“ in Swahili), and there was a big Mass last Sunday in which the four choirs from the area as well as other smaller church-related arts groups met, and there was also something like a formal competition among the choirs. I very much liked the sight of the „differently uniformed“ choirs singing and dancing their way into the church together, lead by an energetic group of young stick-beating dancers.

The church itself was quite an interesting experience, which gave me lots of mixed feelings. On the one hand there is a lot of energy in the air, especially I suppose on this occasion with such an abundance of great singers, and percussion (later more on that). On the other hand, the contrast between the life-energy of the mostly young audience and the old white (!) man in the front, from poland as I later learned, but speaking very fluent Swahili after some 15 years in the country, couldn’t be more striking. And that typical catholic voiceless sing-sang-prayer-tone. So much kneeling on uncomfortable small wooden planks, which I obviously wasn’t the only one to be pained by, but maybe again the only one who’s ability and willingness to suffer discomfort was pushed to the limit. There was even singing on the knees.

And with that Western idea of sooo lively church services in Africa — I couldn’t help thinking that these people could be way more lively without this church. And, triggered by the special role of the white priest, and a white woman who was special guest in the following ceremony, making the jury for the singing contest of all-black choirs two-thirds white, I couldn’t help coming back to a quote by Desmond Tutu about the historic relationship of religion and colonialism:

When the white man came, we had the land and they had the Bible; they said “let us pray” and we bowed our heads; when we looked up, WE had the Bible and THEY had the land. — Desmond Tutu

Anyway, as I said, the singing was amazing, the little dance troupe did a touching dance in front of the altar, and a blind drummer was mixing in some very fancy rhythms.

This is the big arrangement for the competition and other performances, which again lasted the better part of the day without (apparently) anybody but me feeling the gaping hole in their stomachs. But this time, I was prepared with some peanuts, much better than the ones I get back home, much much cheaper of course, my favorite little snack here.

And this is one of the performances that involved more dancing than the choir ones — even though they also involve little choreographies, and in some cases dancing onto the stage is part of the concept. And a young fan, rudely interrupted by (I suppose) an older sister seconds after I took my picture…

By the way, this was another thing that made my egalitarian heart beat in anger — all the performances were directed at the „special guests“, with their aforementioned white majority, and the few people surrounding them (as can be seen in the background of the dance picture). And after I spent most of the choir competition crouched at their feet to take pictures and video, I discovered during the other performances how poor the acoustic was for all the rest of the visitors, a huge majority in numbers. Also this hierarchical thinking I feel an unhealthy influence of the Catholic church.

After a good „lunch“ at around five, to which with Justus I luckily had very early access (I felt slightly guilty, despite a bunch of peanuts I was quite hungry again, I don’t want to know how the other people must have felt!) people flocked to their homes. One of the choir vehicles was a very funny sight. And they even still managed to sing.

After as I realize a bunch of complaining, I can finish on a happy tone with pictures of the landscape here, which keeps stunning and almost overwhelming me with its beauty. The first are pictures from an elevated viewpoint over Lake Victoria.

At night, the lake is beautifully lit by a myriad of small fishing boats. And lies silently under a sky full of stars.

But already just looking out of the car on the road pretty much anywhere reveals beautiful soft rolling hills in lush green, diverse vegetation, always under an interesting sky.

And, by the way, compare these streets‘ emptiness to India. A clear indicator of differences in economic development. Other development? Who knows.

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Datum: Freitag, 20. Mai 2011 18:46
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