Dear Friends and Family,

Hope you’re all doing well despite the seemingly endless news of hurricanes, bomb blasts, bomb threats, earthquakes, business as usual in the various « war zones, » and the equally unending machinations of various politicians, governments, corporations! May your spirit triumph over political and personal woes (if any…)! I would also like to wish you all prosperity and plenty in the wake of the Hindu festival of Diwali and more specifically, Laxmi puja – the worship of the Goddess of Wealth and Abundance.

Karibu Marc-Antoine!

The major event since I wrote last was the much-awaited arrival of my better half – Marc-Antoine. Some of you have already got a news update from him. I kid you not when I call this guy my better half! He has so far displayed more patience in dealing with the ups and downs here.

By thwarted expectations I refer to “petty things” such as a steady electricity supply, things in the house working, shops always stocking the same things, workmen showing up and doing what they promised, being able to buy whatever you want easily and at a reasonable price, restaurants always being open (Discovery: they can shut during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan) and so on. It’s incredible how attached I am to these notions, though they fail me on a daily basis. The fault of course lies with me – I need to evolve into Marc-Antoine…!

After MA’s arrival, I do laugh much more about these things… It’s been an immense relief and joy to have him here. MA himself is much as before. He remains very attached to his newish, notebook, Mac computer who is called Gimli after the character in Lord of the Rings. He is still to be found staring into it a lot of the time, lost to the world. He downloads new programs from net cafes and fiddles with them. He tries to convert me enthusiastically to new software.

He has turned himself into a somewhat absent-minded house-husband (views differ on the absent-minded bit…) and now deals directly with the maid after I abandoned scribbling instructions for her every night in Swahili. One of the things that happened lately is that he told the maid to buy brown rice. I got the following sms at work from him the next day: “My attempts resulted in rice paddy.” Our maid, being very smart, had turned up with rice husks! (This was after MA had spent some time trying to figure out how to say brown rice in Swahili.)

The relationship is not particularly different either – we disagree, “purr” and laugh about the same things as before. We have set up a comfy house with a few pieces of furniture, mostly bought at discount, at a nearby furniture chain store. (The perky shop girl is planning to immigrate to Canada where her fiancée is working.)

A source of comfort in our home is a small, basic Buddhist shrine. The batiks and posters we I brought with me from Canada have definitely enlivened our walls. The very tangible objects of desire (to paraphrase Bunuel) now are CURTAINS!

I have never given curtains much thought in the course of my life. Have you? Now however my dreams belong to these perfectly forgettable pieces of cloth… We have HUGE windows and glass doors (as mentioned before), which simply have to be dressed up. It meant buying an entire roll of cloth at an afore-mentioned, Swahili-speaking market called Kariakoo, one hot, Saturday morning. Then we went to a tailor and explained the sizes etc. The guy was all smiles but lo and behold – he made the door curtains way too long! Now we have to go back and get him to right them, hopefully for free! We also had to buy more cloth as a result but what is the use of all this when the rods are not yet up?!

We had finally managed to get the fundi to come to put them up after weeks of cajoling. He was replete with reasons for his absence ranging from the ill-health of his various relatives and himself, to the drill not working! One fine day he showed up, with drill, but by then Dar was in the throes of a two-week power breakdown (situation still not fully normalized).

Everything is not discouraging, however. We have managed to eat out at a few nice restaurants, spend a whole day at a beautiful beach nearby, as well as gone on our first short hike in a forested area called Pugu Hills. We lounged around in a very pleasant resort there, with a panoramic view of the countryside, in the company of three supremely self-confident and chatty 8-year-old girls and their parents. Thanks to our guide, Omari, on the hike we saw an owl (yes, in broad daylight), a monkey perched atop a far-off tree and a thick snake, sensed more than seen, at least by me, under a thick patch of twigs. We may also be enroute to making some friends.

We have a good relationship with our jirani’s (neighbours) with whom we exchange food in a typical Indian fashion. When we drop in, we end up talking about politics (I suspect because they are Indo-Tanzanian and Indians tend to be such political animals). They are a joint family, the parents, their son, his quiet and pretty wife, and their two daughters – 2 and 7. They own a cosmetic and perfume shop, run by the parents and the son. The latter travels abroad on business. They are devout Muslims and the women wear hijabs in public. In fact Ramadan was such a big thing here that MA and I planned to fast as well (oh for a day or so) but never got around to it somehow… Next year perhaps?

From austerity to extravagance – contrasting with Ramadan – Muslims dressed in chaste white going to pray in the mosques, was the Hindu festival of Navratri – Nine nights of communal dancing. This is a major event for the Gujarati’s (the majority community which has immigrated here). The women really deck up in shimmering, colourful chaniya-cholis, a full skirt, short blouse and elaborate chunni (long scarf), with tons of jewellery of course. Men and women danced to live music, in a circle, in a temple courtyard – the beat got fast and quite hypnotic. I felt a thrill run through me as I watched (the last time I had witnessed this was around 1978 in India).

Political ploys

(This part is based on my nascent understanding of politics here… with info. gleaned mostly from my favourite weekly newspaper here called The East African. It has a pro-business agenda but some good analysis nevertheless.)

Politics has been claiming everyone’s attention here lately. You may perhaps have picked up on election violence in Zanzibar. The national elections were scheduled for October 30th but the death of one of the vice presidential candidate’s (not from the ruling party) caused an official postponement to December 18 and then a slight pre-ponement to Dec. 14.

The main party here CCM (Chama cha Mapinduzi) is the old Nyerere party and has been in power since 1965. Post independence, socialist Tanzania had a single party system, which went multiparty only in 1992. Nyerere orchestrated the change, just as he had been the designer of the earlier single party system. Most shops and offices here carry a portrait of him, as well as current president – Benjamin Mkapa. Nyerere is the FATHER OF THE NATION. He is always respectfully referred to as Mwalimu (teacher). I had occasion to read some of his later speeches as HakiElimu, my organization, is putting together a second volume of these.

He was a forceful speaker, a visionary and idealist who expected individuals, particularly the educated elite, to sacrifice for and contribute towards the education and betterment of the lot of poor peasants. He was a proud nationalist who wanted Tanzanian’s to be totally self-sufficient and develop everything indigenously, while being open to ideas from other countries. Today 45 percent of the country’s GDP is made up of foreign aid!

Anyhow, the other important political parties, besides CCM, are CUF and Chadema. What are their platforms? I can’t really say because when I asked a colleague he was of the opinion that apart from paying lip service to the idea of delivering social services to people, there was not that much difference between them. Meanwhile they are definitely on a neo-liberal path. The CCM has held as many as up to 95 per cent of the seats in the past, and moreover, some of the key political posts are appointed not elected.

Zanzibar decided to go ahead with the 30th Oct. election. The mainland and Muslim-dominated Zanzibar has had uneasy ties from the start. Though the divide is articulated as more cultural than religious. A CCM candidate has won there since 1995 but always amid cries of foul play, and the people there have never fully accepted CCM. In `95 Shariff Hamad of CUF lost to Salmin Amour of CCM by 0.48 per cent! (Does this remind anyone of the Quebec referendum by any chance?!) Major irregularities were cited in the 2000 Zanzibar elections and violence followed – 23 people died on the nearby island of Pemba then.

In 2001 CCM and CUF signed a reconciliation agreement. But to no avail it seems. Seemingly the CCM won comfortably this time in Zanzibar but CUF won in Pemba. Supposedly there were election observers, but they seem to be partisan and allegedly there was foul play in this election as well. And there was election violence.

The latest is that CUF representatives boycotted the inaugural parliamentary address of the Zanzibar President. The CUF council is calling for an in-depth investigation of the polls. Some 100 supporters of CUF have escaped police violence by taking boats to Kenya. They say that some people have been beaten senseless after the death of a security officer.

In terms of the mainland election the CCM is expected to win and even a small loss of seats to the other parties should be viewed as a victory, a colleague of mine said. In any case Jakaya Kikwete, the CCM presidential candidate is supposed to be very charismatic and very savvy to have even got this far in the complex CCM hierarchy. One newspaper columnist said that though he is popular, his popularity is not helping other CCM candidates and that the mood of the voters is defiant. Time will tell.

Work challenges

I am learning the ropes. HakiElimu is a very interesting organization. The Information Access (IA) Unit where I work is basically the printing and distributing arm or this non-profit. We produce a range of “popular” publications and then must find innovative ways to distribute them in this infrastructure poor country. Some distributions channels already exist of course.
IA also runs a really well-stocked and impressive resource centre mostly used by the staff at this point and we maintain the website.

The other Units are Media, Policy and Advocacy and Public Engagement. I have good colleagues. The main problem is that there is far too much bureaucracy for my liking. We had been warned about this at our orientation in Canada, which was superb incidentally. We were told to expect greater levels of bureaucracy and hierarchy in the workplaces and in the society. Something has to be different right? Otherwise where’s the challenge?!

The other challenge is that the organization has fallen into the bad books of the Minister of Education and Culture here and he has the backing of the President. As mentioned before, we compiled a report from the government’s own reviews of PEDP – the Primary Education Development Policy – which was very critical of the government’s implementation of this policy. This document was the trigger, but HakE’s generally critical and activist stance, its savvy media messaging, including public service ads urging people to action, have angered the Minister who wants to treat NGOs like government ministries – if he mouths a decree he believes they should adhere by it!

He has decreed that we cannot go to schools to do any research work and schools, and district and regional (state/provincial) level government departments seem to have taken his message to mean that they cannot receive any publications from us as well! The latest development is that the Minister has banned our public service ads. Will the Dec. 14 elections change any of this?

You can google HakiElimu and I am sure things will come up as alternative news websites outside the country have carried stories on this issue and NGOs have written in our support. It has certainly triggered a debate around civil society’s role and freedom of expression. The media and local NGOs here, as well as citizens, have been very supportive of us.

To end on a positive note, a couple of days ago I got the news that a literary mag in the U.S.A called “Cerebration” is going to publish one of my short stories in its December issue. Hurrah!