Dear Friends and Family,

Hope you ended 2006 and started 2007 in good spirits and that you
continue in that vein. In this post I will report on the rather
disparate events over the last few months, since September ’06. Life
has been bittersweet and though this post may reflect more of the
bitter, rest assured that good things are happening too!
Love
Veena

Here are the photos of our trip to hilly Lushoto over X-mas:

Lashing rain and electricity blues
————————————-

Growing up with the monsoons in India, I was used to newspaper
headlines, at certain times of the year that read: Rain lashes city.
These were accompanied by pictures of people knee deep in murky
looking water, carrying those big, black umbrellas of yore, wading
stoically through the “water logged” streets. In Calcutta, I happily
missed school sometimes, thanks to lashing rain and water logging.

So when I came to Tanzania, I was looking forward to pounding,
pouring, gurgling, gushing rain, preceded of course by thunder and
lightening. (Nostalgia is a strange thing. It can make you long for
things, which, when actually delivered, you can’t wait to get rid of!)
In 2006, the official rainy season – March-May – came and went. Alas,
it was a damp squib. Missing was the melodrama – copious tears,
breast-beating, hand wringing, cries and imploring eyes, raised to the
heavens – the season doing a la Bollywood!

The wet and wild season arrived after all, but in the guise of late
winter, early summer rains. (I will remind you that the seasons are
reversed in the Southern hemisphere.) It was horrific for many. Lands
we associate with drought, like Somalia and Ethiopia, flooded (partly
due to excessive rain in Kenya) and some 1.8 million people were
affected in these three countries. Rain washed away bridges, flooded
and blocked roads, in Tanzania. International relief was delivered.
The issue was not much covered in local media, and now it has
completely disappeared!

0n 28 December ’06, we awoke to a mini flood of our own. The room
which serves as Marc-Antoine’s study has a leaky glass door and a bit
of rain has seeped through it, in the past. Combined with the balcony
drain not coping, and torrential rain at night, we had water all over
the floor! Marc-Antoine swung into action and scooped up 2 large
buckets of it, before tackling the balcony, which was even worse.

So now we have come a full circle (or maybe there is still some
distance to go?!) with electricity cuts, that at their height, went 12
hrs a day for about 3 months. On both sides of that period there were
lesser cuts. Our building water pump broke down twice, overnight once,
and over 3-4 days in November, not a drop coming out of any of the
taps and both our toilets are western-style! There was nowhere obvious
to get water or buy it.

Said Marc-Antoine the Wise: “We cannot remain isolated from the problems in this country.
” Or continent. Or the world. I thought.

We watched a DVD of Al Gore’s “An inconvenient truth” on global
warning, lately. A real-life horror flick (!) that makes me determined
to live a more environmentally friendly life. Have you seen it? If
yes, reactions please!

I am no stranger to power cuts or water shortages. We had ’em all in
dear ole India and still have them. But, there was a difference (or is
my memory failing me?!). Once the shortages established themselves,
the government made a plan, and by and large, stuck to it. They said
things like: You will get water for half an hour at 7 am and 7 pm
every day or you will not have electricity in your locality from 6 – 9
pm Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday.

While this situation is distinctly uncomfortable, one can live with
it. The lack of planning, and not sticking to plan, if a plan is
announced, continues to distress me, albeit much less than
before.

The whole “electricity crisis” was the product of unsavory deals
with questionable corporations. Politicians and their families were
implicated in private. Speculation ran rife in the media. Documents
were unearthed. But one thing missing was a long, well-researched,
in-depth feature article about the electricity crisis.

True, some English newspaper columnists attempted to dig deeper and
provide a critical perspective. But a systematic analysis of how much
power was needed in Tanzania, for domestic and industrial use, how had
it been provided so far, how much was missing and why, what were the
different deals with corporations – existing, past and projected, how
did this fit within the power policy, was not to be had. At some point
the whole issue was pretty much dropped! Ah well. Crisis reporting
fatigue I suppose. And then the rains came, filled up the dams and
voila there was hydro electricity!

However, some of my colleagues and neighbours insist that the whole
thing is “political” i.e. that the government can produce and deliver
electricity at any time if it wants to. And won’t if it does not see
it as a priority. Only 11 per cent of the population has access to
electricity. There were no mass protests and interestingly no
urban-based protests either. So the ruling party, CCM, can still
expect to be voted back into power? And there are further scandals –
over buying an out-dated radar from the U.K. and the bribes involved
therein and a lot of money disappearing from the Bank of Tanzania!

The CCM’s popularity is falling. One top-down and inhumane measure: moving all street sellers who plied their trade in different parts of Dar into a market at one end
of the city (where most customers have never been!) True, these
sellers created some “chaos,” and it was said added to crime. Well,
the government could have created say 12 market areas in the different
parts of the city and allocated the traders places there. Cleared up
the streets but kept livelihoods and petty trade intact. After all the
sellers need to be near paying customers. Now they keep trying to
sneak back and are unmercifully removed by the cops. The fact that
they cannot earn even the meager amounts they used to may have added
to crime, perhaps?!

HakiElimu in trouble again
——————————-

Some of you may remember reading in an earlier Dar Samachar that my
NGO had been “interdicted” by the government in September 2005. The
government was unhappy with our critical advocacy. Specifically, they
did not like a critique of their education policy in practice, which
was a compilation of their own evaluation reports. We had packaged and
distributed the message well; this is our forte.

They also hate our TV and radio “slots.” These are public-service ads
that depict some of the real-life problems in the education sector,
like teachers not getting paid on time, rural teachers not getting
decent housing, even as more and more schools are being built, the
macro economic growth of the country not trickling down to change the
actual lives of the rural poor, etc.

In September ’05 the government prohibited or constrained us from a)
undertaking or publishing research on schools, b) developing and
broadcasting spots and educational films c) distributing publications
to schools and d) representing civil society in education dialogue
forums with Government. We consulted lawyers and were told we were
legally in the clear. We cut back on some activities but essentially
carried on, partnering with other NGOs or networks to release our
work.

When the elected representatives changed in the December ’06
elections, though they all belong to the CCM, the new President,
Ministers of Education and others seemed more progressive and dynamic,
so we expected change. We repeatedly sought dialogue with the
government all through ’06 to resolve the interdiction issue but
nothing much came of it.

In December ’06, we went on a planning retreat to near-by Bagamoyo.
On return to Dar, there was a confidential letter from the Prime Minister’s office
informing us that our “advertisements and publications that are being
published via radio, TV and other media have been prohibited by
Government.” If we continued there would be legal action.

In fact we have continued our work and gone public on the letters. We
are not (yet?) shut down! The government has also proposed lately a
so-called “Freedom of information” bill, which will effectively muzzle
the press, free expression and access to government information in
different ways. There is a vociferous protest. Freedom of information
bills, now operating in more than 60 countries worldwide, are supposed
to give citizens to government information on request, thus giving
citizens more agency.

Is our approach to advocacy effective and commendable then? This is a
debatable point and more on this perhaps in the next Dar Samachar.

Dignified brides
——————

My supervisor, Robert, invited all office staff to a “send-off” for
his daughter Eva in December. I attended the event with a colleague.

The idea is to introduce the families of the bride and groom formally
and for the bride’s family to “send her off” officially. Seems like a
great ritual in societies where people are still attached to their
extended families. It would work well in India!

A solemn and dignified Eva, with her bridesmaid/ best woman/ best
friend beside her, was the centre of attention. Both families arrived
and settled down with great fanfare. (Of course everything was being
photographed and videoed.) There was a Master of Ceremonies who kept
up a constant patter, alas in Kiswahili! He also ordered the canned
music to be switched on and off as needed.

When everyone had settled down, a youth group did a song and dance
routine. There were also prayers and words spoken by the Father and
Mother. And perhaps, by the Father in Law. I can’t remember it all too
well now. Then, the entire Bride’s side of the family walked over, in
a line, to the Groom’s side and greetings were exchanged. After that,
you’ve got it, the Groom’s side walked over to the Bride’s!

Then Eva and her lady in waiting, descended slowly, from the decorated
stage, where they were seated all this time, over to the “wedding”
cake. Eva cut pieces of it and went and presented it to the Groom’s
family and then her own. (I was sad because the guests did not get
any!) Then Eva walked over to the Groom, knelt beside him, and the
bride and groom, with their best woman/ man, walked over to the dinner
buffet. They walked back onto the stage with their plates and ate
their dinner there, as if enacting in public a ritual they will live
practically every day in their married life. The Bride’s and Groom’s
families ate next, followed by the guests.

The send-off started and ended with social dancing and was a very
joyous and communal occasion. We observed that same spirit yesterday,
when Marc-Antoine and I went for the wedding reception of an
acquaintance. After that, we met friends at a popular night-club-bar
here, and raised a toast to Marc-Antoine, who turns 40 mid next week.

Au revoir for now…