Posted by Pernille Bærendtsen on February 20, 2010 at 09:02 AM in Lost in translation, Mzungu!, Photography, Sauti za Busara, Scandinavian Inside, Somewhere on the Swahili Coast, Swahili, Tanzania, Turn up the Volume, Up on the African continent, Zanzibar | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
‘Aren’t there unusually many wazungu this year?’ some people asked.
I don’t know, I am waiting for Busara to share some statistics on their homepage. My impression is that this festival was promoted much more heavily in
Or is it the other way round?
One of the more amusing things is namely that the density of wazungu wearing kanga, kikois, kitenge, beads, shells, flip flops – and who get their hair braided or their bodies painted with henna - probably hits the highest point at the Sauti za Busara. And add to that: the greatest variety of ways of wearing it.
It is in deed a very visible way of expressing that you have been taken away by this place, that you can’t resist it. You have to wear it.
Either you like it or not (as long your consciousness still can reach your brain and make you understand that it doesn’t look as cool on the other side of Equator when you overdo it there).
However, we all do it to certain extents, getting caught by the Swahili Flava. Me too, and apparently to the extent that one of my friends recently had to raise the question:
‘But you will not wear that back in
Of course, I will. (I say now).
But maybe the same thing happens, that when I go back I will again need to match the majority?
Posted by Pernille Bærendtsen on February 16, 2010 at 02:04 PM in A Life Less Ordinary, A-F-R-I-C-A doesn't always make AFRICA, Lost in translation, Mzungu!, Rules of Gravity, Sauti za Busara, Scandinavian Inside, Somewhere on the Swahili Coast, Swahili, Tanzania, Too much caffeine in my blood stream (and a lack of real spice in my life), Turn up the Volume, Up on the African continent, Zanzibar | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
Everybody talks about Mzungu Kichaa. A young white man making music in Kiswahili.
This morning I talked to Espen Sørensen, aka Mzungu Kichaa, after he finished checking the sound at the stage in the Old Fort, preparing himself for the concert tonight.
While waiting, a group of young, Tanzanian journalists explained to me what makes Mzungu Kichaa different: ‘He sings about life as it is. Not just about love stuff. He sings about normal things, so that the people in the streets understand and can relate to it.’
Another thing, which makes Espen, who is Danish by nationality, different, is that he sings in Kiswahili, and that he does it perfectly. In fact, the Tanzanians are amazed.
It is a big thing to be invited to perform at the Sauti za Busara, but Espen is relaxed.
‘I have a fantastic feeling. It is great to play in Zanzibar, because people know me here.’
A lot has happened since last year's Sauti za Busara, where Espen then gave a small concert at the Livingstone Beach Restaurant. The concert then unfortunately collided with the big name of last year’s Sauti za Busara, Natasha Atlas.
Tonight he has been given one of the best placements in the programme, right after South African Thandiswa. I ask him what is means to him to play at the Sauti za Busara:
‘This is a huge mile stone to me,’ he explains, and continues: ‘It is a big scene and here’s a lot of media attention.'
Espen has worked overtime since last year, and he has already created a lot of media hype in both Denmark and East Africa where he is promoting his music.
'There's a huge difference between Denmark and Tanzania. It is really hard to build up a career as a musician in Tanzania,' he says andd explains that in Denmark rules are rules, people keep the time, whereas it can all be bent in Tanzania. In Tanzanian it is also a bigger investment as it takes more money for i.e. equipment.
One of the things which has made a difference since last year was the release of the album 'Tuko Pamoja', and the 'Jitolee' music video which was shot in Kariakoo in Dar es Salaam. The video made it to the Top 10 on the Tanzanian music video charts, and raised Mzungu Kichaa's popularity in Tanzania significantly.
Watch the video here:
Espen has spent many years in Africa, he grew up in Zambia and moved to Tanzania with his family when he was 15. His parents have worked with development in rural Africa, and Espen learnt to speak Kiswahili and he engaged in the culture. He points that the in order to to achieve respect in a certain culture you have to get into it.
This is also part of the reason why Espen was dubbed 'kichaa'. A nickname from his early days on the Tanzanian underground scene.
The Tanzanians normally use the word 'kichaa' for the things they find crazy or odd. Espen explains that it was given to him in a positive spirit, and that it can also mean unique or unusual:
'Being called 'mzungu' is usually not a positive thing, but I think I have broken a barrier, and I am proud of the name,' Espen explains.
What we don't see in Tanzania is Espen's work for promoting East African music in Denmark. Another important part of Espen's agenda is namely to create more space for different cultures in the public space.
Espen plays tonight at the Sauti za Busara at 23:00 - and if you cannot make it, check him out here.
Posted by Pernille Bærendtsen on February 13, 2010 at 04:25 PM in A Life Less Ordinary, A-F-R-I-C-A doesn't always make AFRICA, Mzungu!, Sauti za Busara, Scandinavian Inside, Somewhere on the Swahili Coast, Swahili, Tanzania, Turn up the Volume, Up on the African continent, Zanzibar | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
’What’s your religion?’ the police officer on duty in Oysterbay Police Station asked me today.
’I have none. In fact I signed out of the Danish national church. I simply didn’t like the concept’ I replied.
Here we go again.
Today in Oysterbay Police Station where my religious affiliation appears to be the most important issue of them all. In fact, I cannot report theft if I don’t answer this question. Everything stops, and centres around this vital question.
Because, what am I then?
Me, being Scandinavian, find that kind of categorising rather superfluous in this situation. But I can also not say no to an option of being so ridiculously labelled as 'not suitable'. It calls for being challenged.
Last week in Kibaya I was asked for my tribe. And I wrote ‘viking’, making the guest house caretaker ask: “What is that really?’
'Natoka Ulaya ya Kaskazini. You know. Kali people from the North of Europe. That’s my tribe.'
Labelling people is many Tanzanian civil servants’ favourite amusement.
Today the police officer looked back at me in a rather judgemental way, concluding:
‘You have no religion, and you live alone. What person are you? You are just living?!’
I sort of felt it would be too complicated to explain that I don’t live alone, that my house is full of guests who are also rather hard to put into Tanzanian categories.
But he went on: ‘Most people are something. Either Muslims or Christians! And what about family, where is your family?'
I looked him in the eyes, and told him: 'It's very complicated, I know, but that's how it is!' And then I insisted, and agreed to his previous question: ‘Yes, me I am just living’.
(Ironically, he spelled 'living' like 'leaving' in my report, however I didn't feel I had earnt enough respect to point it out).
Great response here at The Long Gone Daddy to my blog post the other day on when wazungu are made to dance the African way.
Have you ever watched wazungu being forced to dance the African way?
I don't mean forced physically, but psychologically. From where, we the wazungu come from (at least the ones who work for the NGOs), we have been told to be culturally sensitive, to integrate and to do whatever the locals do.
In some cases that involves dancing.
Certain wazungu can't wait for it to happen (personally I need Konyagi to fall in that group) - other times we almost fall sick because we can see what is lined up and expected of us.
I was once present at a reception party where an mzungu director were to be given presents. He was placed in the centre of an open square. Then the national staff began to dance towards him in a line. He now looked as if he was the man of thousand faces, not the man who used to obtain the supposedly highest and most respectable position in the office.
As an mzungu, even many years in Africa, in a situation like this you are left on your own to contemplate in clear view of all people present:
Should I dance? Should I stand still? What should I do with my hands? Not to forget my hips? How the hell do they shake their asses? When will it stop?
It is - in an mzungu way of thinking - a horrendous way of humiliating another person (even better if there are other wazungu present, as they will remind that particular person about this ever after). Similar to this one and this, though these often don't take place in public.
In my opinion it is better to pretend you can dance in spite you can't. I have realised that the mzungu who freaks out will suffer the most. It somehow appears to add on to the entertainment, which by the way is live, free and better than Animal Planet. Besides, I guess, it is a bit about showing interest and effort - and ironically what makes you ridiculous in Europe might not have the same impact here.
The thing is, it is not only about dancing (though that is the thing I personally struggle the most with);
Africans are, in my opinion, generally masters of persevering, waiting, patience, acceptance and saying nothing. When the white woman gives up, panicks and gets kali - she has lost her case. An mzungu who cannot set him/herself free from his/her conventions has lost. An mzungu who focuses on all the stuff her or she doesn't get, has lost. In general; an mzungu who only takes the good parts, but does not embrace the kali parts of his/her life in Africa, is fucked. - Meaning you can be rather talented at mixing Pink Gins while looking at the sun set, but if you can't do the dance thing, you are really not that cool.
To me the making-the-wazungu-dance example is the best one, as it will make any mzungu feel the difference of being on top to not. And that's the 'The Free & Silent African Revenge' in a nut shell.
You might as well get up and dance (thank god for the Spirit of the Nation)!
Posted by Pernille Bærendtsen on January 13, 2010 at 01:25 PM in A Life Less Ordinary, A-F-R-I-C-A doesn't always make AFRICA, Chameleon, Gone Tribal, Karma Cowgirl, Lost in translation, Mzungu!, Rules of Gravity, Scandinavian Inside, Tanzania, Too much caffeine in my blood stream (and a lack of real spice in my life) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Let me say it the kali way;
If you, the mzungu who come to Tanzania or any other country in Africa for a shorter period of time, suddenly find yourself faced with the evident lack of fairness and inequality, and you decide to support, let's say a school child with his or her education, you better stick to it.
Via my job I have received my share of emails from people who have been here, returned to Denmark, and realised that this support they promised while they were here, is a financial burden and a logistical challenge. Or they need someone to document or check up.
This morning I just received a letter from someone in Denmark explaining me his financial constraints contra his promise to pay a young man's school fees; and his failed attempts to get an NGO or others on board.
In general, I don't mind wazungu supporting Africans on a private level. What I don't get, is that a lot of wazungu don't understand the range from how easy it is to make a promise while they are in it in Africa, to how difficult it is to fullfill it back home. A lot of wazungu don't understand that they have to take the full responsibility for what they embark on and for the expectations they create.
What really pisses me off is when a person writes me from Denmark appealing to my conscience, attempting to make me feel guilty (while listing a lot of extremely important facts which appear only to apply in that particular case), because that person wants someone to take over his/her promise.
I find it immensely selfish, and those cases are, in my opinion, in fact the worst examples of misunderstood solidarity.
Posted by Pernille Bærendtsen on December 21, 2009 at 08:41 AM in [ùbúntú], Catching the Deluge In A Papercup, Mzungu!, Tanzania, Too much caffeine in my blood stream (and a lack of real spice in my life), Up on the African continent, What Does A Development Worker Do? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
Posted by Pernille Bærendtsen on November 29, 2009 at 11:16 AM in A Life Less Ordinary, Bling in Bongo, Karma Cowgirl, Kweli...?!, Mzungu!, Photography, Somewhere on the Swahili Coast, Swahili, Tanzania, Too much caffeine in my blood stream (and a lack of real spice in my life) | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
When someone says 'we're in this together' I always get a tiny bit paranoid.
My friends say this a lot. It is such a convinient phrase to explain why there always is people all over the place; why you have to wait; and why you cannot behave as if you're on your own.
Tuko pamoja means that you have to adjust, because you are not alone in this. That you will be given something, but also that you must give back.
A bit ubuntu, just in Kiswahili.
Moja means one. Umoja means unity. Pamoja means together.
I'm Scandinavian, I was brought up in a society defined by the social-democratic idea that we are all the same. It taught my generation that the government will look after you, and that you can find it all defined in the legal system - the regulations for what you have to give in order to receive.
If you go to a bar in Denmark it is perfectly normal to seperate the bill according to who drank what exactly; if you stay with someone you are supposed to add to the budget; and if you borrow money from a friend or relative you are in fact considered to pay back, unless they told you it was a gift.
Very much the opposite of the concept of the classical African extended family, which in the case you happen to be the one who has, can be a neverending source of reception.
In Denmark I am actually not the one who has, but I am still supposed to look after myself.
Here I am considered one who has.
A bit tricky this pamoja.
Addition: Read Swahili Street's thoughts on ubuntu/umoja here.
The question 'Who does Mo Ibrahim think he is?' is being asked over at Swahili Street.
My two favourite answers to questions regarding big or small mysteries on the African continent are at the moment:
That's how it is. Followed by the fatalistic piece of advice: Forget it, you can't change it anyway!*
Capitalism. Followed by the advice: Make noise, go tell them that it is bad for Africa!
I live my life on the African continent between these two explanations.
Swahili Street is right, and I hate to admit it. Because Youssou was still good, old, beautiful Youssou last night and Angelique Kidjo was radiating, in spite they're being paid for by mobile phone company Zain to play for the rich people in Dar es Salaam.
When we walked out the entrance gate of the Karimjee Hall, the casual workers on the load of the taka taka truck shouted, while the truck left an unmistakenly reminder of the uswahilini on its way to collect our rubbish.
Of course, this is absurd.
As absurd as Mo's idea of a cash prizes for ‘good’ presidents - or, well, in this year's case: no prices. We all know that presidents don't need extra pocket money or being invited to VIP concerts. We all know who need it the most.
But Mo's got airtime (in more than one way), and big men listen to money.
However, last night, I said That's how it is, and enjoyed the fact that I got to see some of the greatest African artists under circumstances which would never have worked in Europe.
* Probably a more frequent explanation is the popular 'TIA', short for 'This Is Africa' made famous by the film Blood Diamond, and somehow very bling among newly arrived wazungu on the continent.
Posted by Pernille Bærendtsen on November 16, 2009 at 07:04 PM in A Life Less Ordinary, A-F-R-I-C-A doesn't always make AFRICA, Bling in Bongo, Catching the Deluge In A Papercup, Chameleon, Karma Cowgirl, Mzungu!, Politics, Somewhere on the Swahili Coast, Tanzania, Turn up the Volume, Up on the African continent | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Occasionally I have to go to the international clinic in Masaki on the peninsula in Dar es Salaam. Some weeks ago, after having returned from a 10 hours' drive, I urgently needed a cure, which would make an infernal mix of stomach cramps, exhaustion and back pain go away.
Two women of my tribe enter the waiting room, accompanied by their children, who also make up the reason for their visit. They occupy a line of chairs, and start talking while they make bland gestures, and communicate at the top of their voices in their native tongue.
Exchange greetings, and exchange information as was it habitual commodities. As if they are the only ones in the room. They use irony, and joke with the facts that their children are not dying this time, that it is not that serious.
The talk goes on.
Aimlessly to the indifferent.
Woman A: How are you spending the coming holidays?
Woman B: Oh, I tried calling the X, but everything is booked. One really needs to get away sometimes.
Woman A (nods convincingly, expressing her sincere agreement): We really should get together one of these days. Go somewhere. Bring the children.
I start shrinking.
Not only by the thought of bringing a lot of children to one place, but about the whole idea of being caught in the midst of a flock of female wazungu slowly running out of commodities to exchange. Females, whose men's choice of careers have turned their families into modern versions of hunters and gatherers.
Not that I wouldn't envy - on occasion - the benefits of a man providing, but when I do, I do so for a wide range of obscure reasons. Not that I put all the female wazungu spouses in one box - far from - but when I meet them in flock in Masaki, I imagine the diluted conversations pending.
All in spite, I admit, I am a female mzungu myself - one who does know the directions to the Yacht Club; the best kanga designer/tailor in town; where to buy the best German homebaked bread; where to go for sushi; and a lot of other supposedly valuable commodities for a classic
Here a female mzungu can not only afford the international clinic, lakini, also the irony and the jokes which distances us to the majority of the people. When I lived in northern
The female wazungu operating in flock make me feel like I'm 16 years old again and back in high school spending too much time figuring out why I am not part of what appears to be the group of girls the boys are interested in. 22 years later, I know that that was a waste of time, and that I definitely don't belong among the wazungu females who isolate themselves in a bourgois life style far off the kelele.
Posted by Pernille Bærendtsen on November 12, 2009 at 10:28 AM in A Life Less Ordinary, Catching the Deluge In A Papercup, Chameleon, Kweli...?!, Lost in translation, Mzungu!, Too much caffeine in my blood stream (and a lack of real spice in my life) | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
The logo on my car refuses to stay white.
Gradually it has taken colour after the red dust, and it won't go off, even after lots of rain.
Metaphorically speaking: Not too sure if it symbolises the rest of the NGO I work for.
Lakini, personally I do feel that it is more difficult getting the dust off than getting dusty. It is easier coming to Africa, than returning. It is easier summing up what Africa has changed in me, than what I have changed in Africa.
I know some of you will laugh, but months ago I collected a little bag of red soil from the Kilimanjaro region, where the soil is blindingly red. They have my favourite colour soil in that area, and Kilimanjaro is one of the most astounding places in Africa. To take with me home and stare at when I am going to blend in with the Danish landscape.
Does red African soil fade over time if you move it out of its original environment?
Look, look. Even me I'm dancing like an African.
Time stood still in Tanga; A tourist poster from (I assume) the 1970ties is hanging in a window of a tourist tour service in downtown Tanga.
Our stomach hurt with laughter. The rest of the day we asked ourselves:
But did you see the guy with the skirt?
Were LSD really so easily available in Tanga in the 1970ties?
Were they tourists or development workers?
Is this what happens when you take Ujamaa too seriously?
Is it too much pamoja?
Is it time to go home when you end up on a beach dancing in a skirt?
Where is that guy now (and does he know that he is hanging in a window in Tanga?)
I have taken the first photo at this year's Sauti za Busara in Stone Town, Zanzibar. a
The second is from Mafia Dance Festival announcing dates for a coming festival in August.
Seems like the wazungu go to Mafia, and that people wear clothes on Sauti za Busara.
So much more reason to go to Sauti za Busara 11-16 February 2010.
Posted by Pernille Bærendtsen on October 28, 2009 at 07:02 PM in A-F-R-I-C-A doesn't always make AFRICA, Kweli...?!, Mzungu!, Photography, Sauti za Busara, Somewhere on the Swahili Coast, Swahili, Tanzania, Too much caffeine in my blood stream (and a lack of real spice in my life), Turn up the Volume, Up on the African continent, Zanzibar | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
I quite enjoy to look at Africa from a psychological point of view. To just boil it down to people, desires and emotional behaviour.
According to th Wikipedia, in psychology-related slang, a control freak is a derogatory term for a person who attempts to dictate how everything around them is done. It can also refer to someone with a limited number of things that they want done a specific way.
Control Freaks are people who care more than you do about something and won't stop at being pushy to get their way.
In some cases, the control freak sees their constant intervention as beneficial or even necessary; this can be caused by feelings of superiority, believing that others are incapable of handling matters properly, or the fear that things will go wrong if they don't attend to every detail. In other cases, they may simply enjoy the feeling of power it gives them so much that they automatically try to gain control of everything around them.
We all are to different degrees, us, the wazungu, control freaks (me too. I, for instance, still like to believe that traffic rules should apply; and I insist that people wear safety belts when I drive).
No doubt that the first wazungu on the continent were control freaks: the explorers, the missionaries, the voortrekkers and the colonisers all bear the characteristics of a classic control freak. Stanley might be among the most infamous, while the Afrikaans later turned it into a collective, political concept which was legal till 1994.
And what else can explain the idea behind the Great Trek?
However, the string thrives vibrantly among the modern wazungu, too. Development workers, NGO management, ambassadors, lodge owners, safari companies, volunteers, diplomats and spouses - many fit the control freak profile, too. I can't help noticing that the modern control freaks carry with them different ideas of why they are here to sort it out. Some, ironically, having no prior management or Africa experience. They react differently when realising the challenge, that real Africa doesn't fit the theory.
In my experience, these are the most interesting cases. A majority of the Tanzanians I have met are brought up to choose peace over justice, and will during a potential conflict rather keep quiet than speaking up loud. It is almost too easy for a control freak to abuse this, as an mzungu can set him/herself outside the cultural rules, especially if he/she arrives with an appointed authority to lead; to make decisions; to guide and supervise others.
Chief Mkwawa is an interesting example of a Tanzanian who tried to resist the German control freaks back in the 1890ties. However, I have realised that modern Tanzanians frequently prefer a variety of more silent and sophisticated revenges over the control freak mzungu.
For instance, no mzungu beats a Tanzanian's ability to wait.
Some would claim that some of Africas worst dictators were control freaks, too. That present presidents might be. But when it comes to classifying Jacob Zuma (photo) as one, I'm in doubt, and it somehow fascinates me immensely.
The wazungu control freaks, I know, would never let loose the way Zuma does. Somehow I prefer freaks in favour of control.
Illustration from here.
Friday I managed to stirr my head well with all vital, practical things related to my own (small) role in Danish development aid, electricity, Internet, water, traffic, corruption - to the music pouring out loud from the container bar next door run by the self-acclaimed peaceful rasta (who once told me that he sold drugs for the Nigerians in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, which means I don’t complain when a bar customer cranks up his car stereo outside my gate.);
And that's where I had had it:
He mimicked ‘chakula’. Food.
I got a lump in my throat, and I then went for notes in stead of coins, though it is against all principles (which ones exactly, I’ve luckily forgotten). I thought; World Food Day, my ass. I just blogged about it, and here I face my own limitations one hour later a kilometer away from the office. It made me feel like I was paying a monthly subscription for a lighter conscience in return for representing a nation which have prioritized Tanzania in their development support budget, but not the boy in the street ‘because he is outside the strategy which is focusing on another district, cluster, group or theme.’
Some days it just doesn't stop.
When I finally got home to my neighborhood, all traffic had come to a halt. Two cars had crashed, one driver still stuck in the front seat behind the wheel, people gathering like flies on sugar, hovering like hyenas. Just up front Kikwete's house in the crossing between Ursino and Migombani Street, which got tarmac last year so that people now can drive as if no one else exists.
There is only so much you can deal with in one day.
Your friends at home think you’ve finally lost it, and that Africa has beaten you. They tell you, they told you. That Africa wears you out. That it is time to return home.
So, you stop telling them what's really going on.
Or you insist that this is normal. That Danish psychological interpretations appear absurd in Tanzania. That this is what most people in Africa go through, and you are not excempted just because you are white.
If so, that is because you close your eyes and have lost touch with your feelings and conscience.
Posted by Pernille Bærendtsen on October 17, 2009 at 11:54 PM in A Life Less Ordinary, Catching the Deluge In A Papercup, Chameleon, Karma Cowgirl, Kweli...?!, Mzungu!, Scandinavian Inside, Tanzania, Too much caffeine in my blood stream (and a lack of real spice in my life), What Does A Development Worker Do? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
I can't blame the Tanzanians for occasionally having trouble sussing out the wazungu.
The most frequently offered CDs in the streets of Bongo these days are (- and please sit down);
Bongo is amazing. It gives me an excellent excuse to listen to music I would be condemned for in Denmark.
Living abroad opens your mind in ways I never imagined.
Posted by Pernille Bærendtsen on October 03, 2009 at 09:26 PM in A Life Less Ordinary, A-F-R-I-C-A doesn't always make AFRICA, Bling in Bongo, Chameleon, Karma Cowgirl, Mzungu!, Photography, Scandinavian Inside, Somewhere on the Swahili Coast, Tanzania, Too much caffeine in my blood stream (and a lack of real spice in my life), Turn up the Volume | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
Steve who? the sender texted back.Nothing much beats Steve Bantu Biko, but this one was funny as the sender had never heard about the man.
And sometimes white women are in fact on their own.
Posted by Pernille Bærendtsen on September 21, 2009 at 06:47 PM in [ùbúntú], A Life Less Ordinary, A-F-R-I-C-A doesn't always make AFRICA, Chameleon, Karma Cowgirl, Kweli...?!, Lost in translation, Mzungu!, South Africa, Tanzania, Too much caffeine in my blood stream (and a lack of real spice in my life) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
One thing on this continent freaks me out on occasion, especially if I am too conscious about my own role in it:
Dancing in bars.
I'm not a teenager any longer, but I probably go out with a higher frequency, and have been to more parties in places with exoctic African names like Juba, Yei, Kajo Keji, Moyo, Arua, Adjumani, Kampala, Harare, Johannesburg, Durban, Mbabane, Arusha, Mhingo, Nairobi, Dar Es Salaam and Stone Town, than the average female Dane my age.
In fact, it ought to show on my CV.
However, I can't claim that I get the rules (if there are any); and I feel like the worst dancer next to the overconfident average African who appear to have been practising daily since birth. People who don't give a thing about my Scandinavian inhibitions, and believe me (unless I've had a lot of Konyagi) I face them all when I'm on a dancefloor in Africa.
In Europe each person is granted a personal space, which practically means that other people keep a distance, they don't stare concentratedly or start touching you, unless you have established a relation. That phenomenon is practised way differently here, and in a bar after midnight it is as if it doesn't exist at all. Additionally, in Europe you'd do your best to hide your hips, ass and belly. Here it is all part of the game (which is the part I really do like). In Europe, conventionally, you dance in couples or in a group with people you know. Here anybody can take the space next to you. In Europe I'm used to establish contact via conversation, here it goes through the eyes, or direct touching.
I simply can't overcome the fact, that I feel so invaded when a guy, I have never ever met, shows up next to me; smiles; lays his hands on my hips. As if that is the most normal thing to do.
Dancing in bars in Africa makes me feel part of an anthropological experiment.
Maybe I am?
Posted by Pernille Bærendtsen on August 30, 2009 at 08:09 PM in A Life Less Ordinary, Bling in Bongo, Karma Cowgirl, Mzungu!, Rules of Gravity, Scandinavian Inside, Tanzania, Too much caffeine in my blood stream (and a lack of real spice in my life), Turn up the Volume | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Saturday was the first day of the Ramadhan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar where the Muslims fast, initially in order to concentrate on reaching a higher degree of patience, modesty and spirituality. Amongst others. In Dar Es Salaam, a Muslim friend of mine is hoping that the Ramadhan might help him combat his smoking habit.
In Stone Town during this period of time a lot of restaurants close at day time, and you are advised not to eat or drink in the street when others are going through the hardship of fasting. At 18.32 yesterday, the fast was broken, and eating was allowed. I know for certain, as yesterday evening I was sitting in the car of Isidori with his cousin brother, Hamisi, and our common Italian friend, Simona. We were stopping to buy passion juice in a little duka at the outskirts of Stone Town on the way to Isidori’s home where dinner awaited us, when we heard the call for the fourth prayer of the day, Maghrib.
Obviously, I feel lucky to be invited inside, to someone’s home. Possibly also due to the fact that I’m Danish. I come from this country in Scandinavia which previously and rather randomly has offended Islam, its culture and its people on several occasions. Most infamously, probably, through the publication of the cartoons, however, less known are all the indirect ways the Danish politicians try to distance Danes as a nation from other cultures and religions which, according to our democratically elected politicians, appear strange.
I’m not proud of it. In fact, it makes me both angry and ashamed every time I have to read in a Danish newspaper that another Danish politician tries to define what is strange and ‘non-Danish’. Last week the Conservative People’s Party suggested banning women wearing the bhurka, (un)aware that possibly only 50-150 women wear the bhurka in Denmark (!)
I do understand the dynamics which occur in your head, when you find yourself in a culture which works completely differently than the one you grew up with, and that this can evoke a certain degree of confusion and fear. But I can’t watch silently when politicians use this fear and confusion to create unnecessary stir, when the politicians move people’s attention from the real problems, or when no proper research is being done.
Last night back in Stone Town on the island of Unguja we celebrated the first meal of the Ramadhan with a Zanzibari family. Not a traditional family, but food wise we certainly went along the classical Zanzibar dishes: We had mhugo wa nasi (cassava with coconut); mwali wa nasi (rice with coconut); pweza wa nasi (octopus with coconut), jodari (tuna) and kaimati (small, sweet and spiced donuts).
And of course, the passion jusi. ‘No beers’, our host smiled and apologised rethorically.
After all, this is the Ramadhan, the holy month, and in spite we deal with young Muslims who declare themselves 'happy muslims', who don't go to the mosque to pray five times, and who refer to their Ramadhan practice with a 'nusu nusu' (half half), they do fast during day time. In my opinion and in regard of the few young Muslims I know, I reckon that trying to do your best to follow the concept of the Ramadhan is in fact not such a bad idea. Researching for this blog post, I read that there is an increasing group on non-Muslims practising fasting, too, during the Ramadhan, pursuing the same aim.
But to be honest, I have no clear, conceptual idea of a good way to get familiar with a new culture which on many levels is far off your own. I was raised in a home where at least one adult throughout life has been voting for the Conservative People's Party and the other for the Liberals ('Venstre' in Danish), but I was also taught to behave politely towards strangers, say 'yes' and 'thank you very much' when offered something, and to greet people with respect. I know for sure that the adults raising me with these values had no idea - what so ever - that I'd be practising these in Zanzibar.
However, I know that there is a lot to learn by observing how others go about it. The majority of wazungu hang out in the regular tourist places, and so would I have done last night, if not for my Italian companion, Simona, who is so much better than me about this. Curiousity is another good thing - apropos trying to figuring out the differences of another culture - my sympathy goes to this guy. Curiousity is probably my main strenght in this perspective.
Our evening ended at the Forodhani Gardens (photo above), which has been renovated with the support from the Aga Khan Foundation, and has finally given Stone Town back its vibe. Zanzibarians were munching food, sugar cane juice and smoking cigarettes. According to the rules of the Ramadhan you must get up before dawn to eat Sahur, the pre-dawn meal, and then perform the fajr prayer. There is no eating or drinking before the call for prayer starts until the fourth prayer of the day, Maghrib. You may continue to eat and drink after the sun has set until the next morning's fajr prayer call.
Basically, it is about getting a routine going and planning. For some people, I guess, it turns day and night around, and probably lowers work efforts in some offices. The Ramadhan is ending at September 19th, and will be marked with an important celebration; Eid Ul-Fitr.
Now, my question is; Who's gonna invite me for this?
Read more about the Ramadhan here, which has also been used as the source for the Ramadhan facts in this blog post.
Posted by Pernille Bærendtsen on August 23, 2009 at 08:08 PM in [ùbúntú], A Life Less Ordinary, A-F-R-I-C-A doesn't always make AFRICA, In šaʾ Allāh, Karma Cowgirl, Mzungu!, Politics, Religion, Scandinavian Inside, Somewhere on the Swahili Coast, Swahili, Tanzania, Too much caffeine in my blood stream (and a lack of real spice in my life), Up on the African continent, Zanzibar | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Glad I am not the only blogger out here who occasionally has had it with the missionaries. However, a lot said on the account on the missionaries, could also be said on the account of Danish development workers.
So, I'll leave it, and pass on the word to the Ugandan Insomniac here.
Every week I get questions from people who are planning to move to or travel in Tanzania. A lot have taken their time to read what I or others have already written, and they ask qualified questions, which I do enjoy to give feedback to.
Let me emphasise, that I do not mind giving advice to people who have taken their time to do a little research, write more than one sentence, ask specific questions and who comprise a greeting. But I do not wanna spend my time writing travel and country analysises for free, and obviously I cannot answer specifically when people ask me unspecific questions like these:
Is it expensive living in Dar Es Salaam?
Dar es Salaam is a relatively pricy affair if you crave a 4-bedroom house with a sea view and swimming pool (2500-3500$ per month in 2009), easy access to the International School and the Yacht Club, organic Muesli, Danish rye bread, Norwegian salmon and French red wine. On the other hand, it depends on your income and expectation, right?!
- What is the best place to live in Dar es Salaam?
The expats who have jobs in the diplomacy and higher end of the international NGO sector tend to cluster in the Peninsula along with the richer part of the Tanzanian population (if you are keen on my opinion in this regard, read it here). The middle-class Tanzanian and the wazungu, like me, tend to live in the northern suburbs like Ada or Regent Estate, Mbezi and Mikocheni (and many other places) The inhabitants of Indian/Arabic origin tend to populate Upanga and central Dar es Salaam. The poorest part of the population live in the far outskirts of town, in crowded settlements where security, access to water, electricity and proper sewage is a daily problem. Personally, if I were to choose my own place, I'd probably consider Upanga or Kigamboni.
I really don't know how to answer that. It all depends on you, your experience and education. And if you've got that right, you most certainly wouldn't ask me that question. You'd rephrase it, explain a bit more about yourself etc. I usually answer back to the latter what I did, but that there happens to be thousands ways of doing it.
- Is it safe?
Again depends on your own gut feeling. On where you lived before. On your own limitations. I managed 26 months along and across the Ugandan border to Southern Sudan, which partly explains why Dar es Salaam to me mainly appears as a picnic, and if anyone complains about the limitations of this place I think they should take the first flight back home.
There is no reason for me to google stuff, when you can do it yourself, your connection is most likely better than mine. Besides, get used to the fact that things aren’t obvious. You have to ask and do your own research, and you have to spend hours doing so. Besides, we are different - that's where the relativity again comes into the picture- and what I like, you might not.
My advice is that you turn it into an interest. It’ll make it much more fun.
Posted by Pernille Bærendtsen on August 20, 2009 at 05:51 PM in A-F-R-I-C-A doesn't always make AFRICA, Kweli...?!, Lost in translation, Mzungu!, Rules of Gravity, Scandinavian Inside, Too much caffeine in my blood stream (and a lack of real spice in my life), What Does A Development Worker Do? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
I was at a party some weeks ago at a roof top terrace in Namanga, in Dar Es Salaam, where people were drinking Konyagi.
A witty guy explained that when to serve a bottle of Konyagi correctly, it has to lie down.
'Why?,' the ignorant mzungu asked in anticipation as were the guy about to reveal a national secret.
'Because the man on the label will get tired if standing up all night.'
I hope they have Konyagi in stuck for the Bongo Flava party in Copenhagen (below), or it just isn't right.
I don't think I have ever received a compliment here in Africa without it having a realistic touch to it. Or maybe I should call it a statement, and not a compliment, for what I regard as positive might be negative here and hence not necessarily a compliment in my perspective.
I.e., I'm being told that I look thinner than usual, that it appears as if I'm slimming (which is not always a compliment here, where fat people are considered free of 'the disease we don't talk about'), but that before I used to be very fat.
Right. Eh. Whatever. Sema tena...!
Somehow, I like that. I mean, I don't always like to be told the truth, but I suppose there really is more in a statement when you know it is uttered free from the heart and based on what that person really sees. Cutting to the bone.
In Denmark the concept of giving compliments is, in comparison, that much more complicated, as compliments are not always based on the truth, but maybe only uttered when you have something good to say, or given based on what you believe the respective person wants to hear.
But it is somehow strange to receive a statement which is meant as a compliment, just not in your own culture. In fact, it can mean the complete opposite.
Or maybe I don't get any of it.
On Tuesday when checking out of Tanga, the mzungu hotel manager, who had been circulating around the reception for a while, finally popped her million dollar question while I was in the process of stuffing a long line of assorted and colourful pieces of luggage into my Nissan Hardbody which was parked right outside the best hotel in Tanga.
The question obviously appeared to be rethoric. The manager also didn't hesitate providing the right answer in her own quiz: 'That you never have to carry anything yourself!'
The manager has quizzed me on another occasion earlier on, but conclusions like these still puzzle me. She has a point, obviously. Labour in Africa is cheap, and per tradition and out of lack of appropiate comodities the Tanzanians do not only carry their own stuff, but also whatever the wazungu come along with. Right from the beginning. It is a fine balance about being able to accept this luxury at the right times, and at other shut up and do it yourself.
It is a thing I do appriciate, I must admit, but for me the line is thin: I have no such luxury where I come from and there will be none of it when I return. I am brought up to never bring more than I can carry myself, but having the luxury here occasionally makes me forget it.
My 6-year-old Icelandic nephew, Baltasar, put the case into the ironic perspective when he asked me on his latest visit to Tanzania: 'Why have you got slaves?'. He was evidently referring to my watchman carrying my groceries and washing my car.
Made me think.
Every morning of the work week I drive through the same 4,5 kilometre scenario along the Ali Hassan Mwinyi Road, from Regent Estate at the New Bagamoyo Road to Selander Bridge/United Nations Road in Upanga. And back again.
With very few exemptions the mornings are similar.
From early morning the road is packed with cars, from the oversize, governmental and non-governmental landcruisers with silky white interior to the worn-out Toyota salon cars, the tuk-tuks (which name sounds like a hostile tribe), dala dalas and what not. All forming one long vein meandering its way into the heart of Dar es Salaam.
Occasionally brought to a halt by a VIP enjoying the comforts on this country's weakness for hierachy, leaving the horrors of the traffic jam to the common people.
Due to the fact that the amount of cars doesn't match the squaremetres of available tarmac (though the ones who don't believe in waiting, will make up additional lanes) everything reduces to slow-mode. Here a life of its own has developed along the traffic jams of this road. With recurrent characters (myself included). This morning a traffic police officer greeted me at the Haile Selassie junction; ‘You are late this morning.’ I laughed, I was actually late. It makes a lot of difference when exactly you enter the traffic flow, and this morning I left my house at 7.40, 40 minutes later than usual.
Lakini, the Scandinavian capital I come from, a traffic police officer would never note it.
And Sunday one of the young men selling newspapers embarked on a discussion while I was waiting in the Morocco junction; ‘Why don’t you buy a paper from me?’ I told him, that I usually read them in the office. ‘But it is Sunday, and you don’t work on a Sunday!’
On the other hand I do always buy the East African from one of the regular vendors who appear around the Big Baobab Tree. These guys know their customers well, and I live up to their expectation. The street vendors are in general intensive, but not very logical in their promoting. Do I really look like someone who plans to buy hangers, pillows, oranges and some weird-looking liquid for the car - in the traffic jam? All at once?! My 'sihitaji' or the 'sitaki' is never acceptable, and I am being starred at from eyes belonging to bodies captured by a draining mix of hunger and hope. That is if I don't give in to the junk I don't need and don't want.
My main challenge are the beggars, the handicapped and the sick. The young guy with no fingers on his hands, where one carefully has to leave notes (better than coins) for him to grasp between his palms; The bearded guy with a limp instead of a full leg: The young menthally sick boy with kind eyes about whom I am always thinking could have had a good life in Denmark. There is also the albino who works his way up and down on the whole stretch on all times. Once he summarized the whole scenario to me, when he said; 'It is up to you, babe!', when I looked back at him through a pair of expensive, black shades once given to me by my sister.
I saw myself from outside, and did not like the sight. Maybe he knew. Surely he sparked the dilemma I can afford to let me puzzle myself with on an existential level. The question between my conscience saying if you have, you must give - and my principle lack of belief in giving money to beggars; Or to buying things I don't see the use for just because the vendors then will go hungry.
In spite the days appear similiar, I can't help thinking that the stretch I drive through twice a day makes up the complexity of Tanzania too well. It surely demands patience, and frequent reviews on how far I will and can take myrself.
Posted by Pernille Bærendtsen on May 11, 2009 at 06:39 PM in A Life Less Ordinary, Bling in Bongo, Catching the Deluge In A Papercup, Mzungu!, Photography, Tanzania, What Does A Development Worker Do? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Posted by Pernille Bærendtsen on April 27, 2009 at 04:07 PM in A Life Less Ordinary, Bling in Bongo, Mzungu!, Photography, Rules of Gravity, Somewhere on the Swahili Coast, Tanzania | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
In Danish. Please read more here.
Posted by Pernille Bærendtsen on April 24, 2009 at 08:55 AM in [ùbúntú], A Life Less Ordinary, In šaʾ Allāh, Mzungu!, Photography, Safari, Self Promotion, Swahili, Tanzania, Too much caffeine in my blood stream (and a lack of real spice in my life), Up on the African continent, What Does A Development Worker Do? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
The 2010 FIFA World Cup is going to take place in South Africa next year, however, it is a thing a lot of Africans are looking forward to.
It isn't yet yet, but the wood carvers in Stone Town on Zanzibar are so ready for 2010.
Posted by Pernille Bærendtsen on April 22, 2009 at 06:18 PM in [ùbúntú], Mzungu!, Photography, Somewhere on the Swahili Coast, South Africa, Tanzania, Up on the African continent, Zanzibar | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Too knackered to write anything sensible - but that today's trip went to Kisarawe and beyond; That the long rains were with us most of the day; That the moment I realised I had equipped my car well - brought coffee, knækbrød, a pulling rope, shovel and a huge, sharp and shiny panga - I felt proud (as reflected in this mzungu's face above); And finally that driving with my colleague, Jonas, makes an interesting lesson in participatory forestry management (which was somehow part of the reason we were there).
Posted by Pernille Bærendtsen on March 30, 2009 at 10:42 PM in A Life Less Ordinary, Development, Karma Cowgirl, Mzungu!, Photography, Rules of Gravity, Safari, Tanzania, Too much caffeine in my blood stream (and a lack of real spice in my life), What Does A Development Worker Do? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
First I didn't see them, until I looked up and out my sidescreen of the car - and 10 young men looked straight back at me, probably they had been observing me for a while while I was parking my car at the side of the road somewhere after Mombo - to answer an SMS.
Here there are huge groups of idle young men with nothing else to do than trying to sell green mangos. The mangos come in abundance. In Denmark we pay lots of money for these in a supermarket. Here they can't sell all they have got. The only thing they have got. At least they give it a good shot.
Obviously, this isn't fair. These guys have potential and energy, and it is surely not used fully like this. That annoys me big time. I truly believe anyone could do anything if given the right opportunities. I think this is one big problem here - giving the youth a decent opportunity!
Posted by Pernille Bærendtsen on December 02, 2008 at 01:45 PM in Catching the Deluge In A Papercup, Development, Mzungu!, Photography, Safari, What Does A Development Worker Do? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Photos from last Wednesday's visit to Kiserian Village, close to Longido Mountain, in Monduli District. More here.
Posted by Pernille Bærendtsen on October 08, 2008 at 05:50 PM in A Life Less Ordinary, A-F-R-I-C-A doesn't always make AFRICA, Gone Tribal, Lost in translation, Mzungu!, Photography, Safari, Tanzania, What Does A Development Worker Do? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
There is no definite yes or no answer to that. It's more of a sometimes, when it feels right.
However, what I do like is to give a lift to a group of women. Women are the hardest working humans in Africa. Not necessarily including me. And no offense to the men, but seriously; It is awfully true.
I met this group of women today on the way towards Same. I had got out of my car to stretch my legs and they starting running towards the car.
Huh! Where do I stuff them in?!, you think. And if I put them on the back of the car, which is (more) illegal in Tanzania than in Uganda, I can get fined, accidents can happen, and I can definitely not drive faster than 80 kph. It has been seen before that when one wants to get off, he or she stands up.
But you make it work. Some go inside the car, you secure the safety belts, the rest on the back. And off we go. This was rather funny. The women were laughing and ululuating big time. When we passed a group of other women - walking - they turned up the volume. Made me feel back in primary school for a bit.
Same show when they got off. And handshakes. Very cool.
According to the Wikipedia 'muzungu' is a word meaning ‘white person’ in
many Bantu languages of east, central and southern Africa. That's the short version, as the word stems from a contraction of words meaning 'one who moves
around' (possibly zunguluka, zungusha - meaning to go round and round)
and was coined to describe European traders who traveled through East
African countries in the 18th century. The word became synonymous with 'white person' because of the traders' complexion. Read more here.
That's the short version, as the word stems from a contraction of words meaning 'one who moves around' (possibly zunguluka, zungusha - meaning to go round and round) and was coined to describe European traders who traveled through East African countries in the 18th century. The word became synonymous with 'white person' because of the traders' complexion. Read more here.
However, there are a number of variations depending on the location, and if you write from a specific region and within a certain geographical
and linguistic context - why not get it right!?
If you write from an east African context the spelling is ‘mzungu’. In pluralis it is called ‘wazungu’. Never ‘musungus’ - and also not ‘mzungus’, though it is actually frequently being used also by the locals because the ‘wazungu’ don’t know what the locals would be talking about if they called them ‘wazungu’. We also do not tend to hear the spelling correctly, and we tend to add an ‘u’, where there isn’t any. At least not in Kiswahili.
I’ve made that mistake, too.
We, the wazungu, usually think we can add on an ‘s’ as in English to the ‘mzungu’ and it’ll be pluralis. But in Kiswahili pluralis works way differently, which is a whole other complicated story.
The term ‘mzungu’ works differently in east, central and southern Africa in terms of spelling. Not to forget that there are a lot of internal tribal differences, like in Uganda where you are not just a 'mzungu', but a ‘mundu’ among the Madi in Adjumani and a ‘gilia’ in Koboko among the Kakwa (I’ve never seen the terms in writing, and I'm aware that they may differ) .
Posted by Pernille Bærendtsen on July 19, 2008 at 10:30 AM in A-F-R-I-C-A doesn't always make AFRICA, Lost in translation, Mzungu!, Somewhere on the Swahili Coast, South Africa, Swahili, Tanzania, Uganda, Up on the African continent | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
It's all in my head, but putting the words together in the right order to make up a reasonable conversation speed is not easy.
But still, Kiswahili is the most fun language to learn (and I've tried bits of Icelandic and Serbian). First of all because it has an interesting logic and you quickly build up vocabulary and get the verbs in place in order to construct sentences.
Kiswahili has the most fantastic words. Words you feel like saying over and over. They just feel good to pronounce.
Can I take your picture? is one of the sentences I have tried to use thoroughly. However, Arusha is the no. 1 tourist attraction and the Tanzanians know that the wazungu do take their photos and make money of it. They have seen themselves on the postcards for sale in town. And a hapana is a hapana is a no. Halafu, I'm doing a bit of flowers at the moment.
Many women in rural Africa have a specific impressive skill. They can carry heavy stuff on the head.
A skill which is necessary when you need both hands, have a child on the back, and when there is no alternative to walking.
But how do they do it?
Bjorn from the Kiswahili Language Course at MS TCDC was testing the procedure this noon at Tengeru Market close to Arusha. He actually attempted to carry the green bananas out the market on his head, but the women selling it, wouldn't have it. Wisely, enough.
Hence, Bjorn had to do the test before putting it on the bus back to MS TCDC. It didn't go far, but created a lot of heavy giggling around the taxi-park outside the market.
So - he sort of knows the story. Still, I am impressed with his curiosity, open mind, his ability to go along with a group of adults and their interests. Like a guided tour around Stone Town.
The boy followed track, didn't complain for once about the heat or talk, though he did talk a lot about his (imaginary) friends, 'the frogs' and how he looked forward to a promised swim in the pool at the Dhow Palace.
In stead he was asking questions when we translated the guide's words. At one point he grabbed the guide's hand and walked along with him, while we were watching the curious sight of the little white boy and our Zanzibar guide.
Finally, he wanted to know if there really was more to know. I also felt slightly overloaded regarding information on Stone Town.
Check out more here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74938124@N00/tags/stonetown/
Here in Stone Town conversations sometimes simplify a lot and seem to concentrate only on the essential stuff in life. Sometimes it is mainly a one-way dialogue, depending on my patience or ability to be taken by surprise.
The inter-cultural approach :
Young bloke: Where you from?
Young bloke: - You wanna smoke the Bob Marley cigarettes?!
The surreal romantic approach:
Young bloke: - Hey, cute,
Me: Me? What?!
Young bloke: You speak Swahili?
Me: - Are you flattering me?!
Young bloke: - Come on, I'll teach you. Pole pole. I love you.
Me: Speechless, but wondering silently what these Swahili classes would be like. Probably more fun than the ones I had in November.
Check out photos from today here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74938124@N00/tags/zanzibar/
Basically it is a run-down place, mostly used for wedding receptions, with a large bar area and plastic furniture, facing the beach. Owned by the military.
Just drive after the noise.
On Sundays it is full of people. Actually, full of Tanzanians. I went there last night to meet with a group of Danes and almost every single chair was full. Maybe 200-250 people. Maybe, maybe not - I gave up counting.
A waiter came up to me offering me to 'find my friends'. I have tried that one before and it is always a bit funny when the waiter assumes that he knows where my rafiki are because they must have the same skin color as me. Correctly, in this case, though. He points at a white couple, but they are not my friends, mine are late. However, my friends are as white as me, so they easily spotted me upon arrival.
The Msasani Beach Club is all about loud music, a lot of extremely loud Lingala and a bit of bongo flava. Not that I can really sort one from another in details. Nyama choma, chips and beers. And then there are the performers as in the photo which unfortunately doesn't do them proper justice...it felt much more crazy than what it looks like.