This is my third year leading a team in VIDEAs Global Solidarity Challenge, but it feels pretty different this time around. Yes, I want to raise money for an organization that I personally think does really good work (and continues to offer me employment, which is also great) but I also want to take a moment to thank the people who have done more than just talk about human rights over the last year. You have taught me so much. Asante sana!!
Human rights need to be fought for! We need to lobby our leaders and demand better for our vulnerable citizens both in Canada, as well as internationally. While protests and picket lines are important and definitely have their place, sometimes all of that can feel too big or too overwhelming. Some days we need the person next to us to really see us and recognize the humanity in each one of us. Opening up your home, regardless of how little you have, is one way that I have seen Tanzanians tell people that they matter. So, while I will continue to find ways to be an advocate, this year I am choosing to make a lifestyle change that goes beyond the one week that makes up the Global Solidarity Challenge. This year, in honour of the amazing, hospitable people who have welcomed me into their homes over the past year, I am trying to be more like them!! So, it looks like I will be cooking a lot of meals in the foreseeable future 🙂
I get it, I am a complete cliche but I’m sure its no surprise to anyone that I’m pretty happy playing with the kiddos and holding a baby or two when I get the chance. It’s especially wonderful because I get to give them back to their mommas at the end of the day. Perfect!!
I have been a little surprised though at how willing the moms are to hand me their kid after knowing me for a whole minute and a half. It just wouldn’t happen in Canada (although I always wish it would)! From football tournaments, interviews to workshops, I seem to find myself surrounded by a group of children and often have a little one in my arms. The CDF driver thinks it’s hilarious and loves to document my shenanigans with unflattering photos – thanks Leonard!
But let’s think about this a little more. Imagine if you had to do all of the work for the day including difficult tasks such as – carrying buckets of water on your head from the river to home, doing laundry by hand for your whole family, cooking multiple meals on a single charcoal stove and just for fun let’s throw an income generating activity like selling bananas in to the mix – all with a baby on your back!?! You would trust the strange muzungu lady who wants to hold your baby too. You just need a break!
This is where I have found my place at CDF. One of the projects CDF does in Tarime are income generating workshops with young girls and women who had to drop out of school and in many cases were married when they were very young (think 14). The trainings cover skills like soapmaking and battique (fancy tye dye). Many of the young women who attend these workshops have small children and as you can imagine, it is very difficult to learn a new task when your baby is demanding your attention. This is where holding the babies is actually kind of important – I don’t speak swahili, I can’t make soap, and no one wants me to teach battique! One thing I can do though is take a kid for a few minutes and comfort/scare them with my weird english songs and stories. Oftentimes, it’s the little things that count and if holding someones baby can give them a few minutes to grab their water or learn how to make soap – well, sign me up!
1.Having ZERO clue what is going on. My kiswahili is slowly getting better but I have a hard time keeping up. I was assisting with a soap project that was teaching income generating skills to some girls a couple weeks ago — I don’t need to tell you that I still don’t have any idea of how to actually make soap!
2. Church parties (probably just regular church in Tanzania) but I LOVE the dancing and singing!!
3. Cooking at work!!! We have everything from pumpkin to popcorn to ugali!
4. Football! I still don’t know the rules but I love that it brings the community together!! (over 1000 people some games – it’s AWESOME!)
5. Fabulous friends who keep me laughing
6. Riding in trucks – or any other vehicle really. I should have been a dog! There’s something pretty great about cruising around Mara Region, especially at sunset!
7. Impromptu selfies
I promise that there are worse ones!
8. No words needed!
9. Running…I always thought that I probably look ridiculous running but the finger pointing and the belly laughs have confirmed it. “Silly muzungu running in this heat!!” (My interpretation of what people are saying. I only know the words for muzungu and running…)
10. Have I mentioned friends? Honestly, they are the very best part of being in Tarime and each of them make up my actual top 10 of favourites!!
Learning a new language as an adult is an experience and I’m learning a lot through the process! Since I live in a small town on the Tanzanian border, learning Swahili is pretty important. Everyone keeps telling me that it is ‘easy’ and that Swahili has no ‘tricks’ – and this may be true but if you don’t know the rules in the first place, it isn’t very helpful.
Although it is a bit frustrating at times, the process of learning a new language is teaching me so much more than proper greetings or how to buy the correct quantity of fruit without resorting to full body sign language (which has the effect of frightening local sellers by the way). Learning Swahili is teaching me many things – patience, grammar rules…silence but most importantly I am also learning to be a kinder person.
You see, I don’t know how to say mean things or how to use sarcasm in this new-to-me language. Sarcasm does not make much sense with English speakers either since folks are much too kind and genuine for all of that nonsense. And so, as it takes longer to put thoughts and words in any sort of order – I find myself saying – welcome, how are you, i miss you, you are so kind and thank you in almost every situation. These 5 phrases are working pretty well so far. At any rate, they are useful when making friends 🙂
It’s a day late – but that is sort of how reflections work and I was a bit busy yesterday taking pictures, laughing and dancing with some fabulous ladies in Tarime.
Women are strong – and I am so incredibly grateful to have many inspiring role models in my life. Women who are not afraid to be seen, take up space, or be heard. And while I can think of many beautiful, hardworking, compassionate Canadian women – I have been absolutely blown away by the strength of Zambian and Tanzanian women over the last few months.
Women who work long days to make sure that there is a place to go when girls are abused. Women who show up for each other despite a mountain of housework. Women who walk miles for water every day. Women who scrape together beautiful meals with only a few schillings and still invite the strangers for dinner. Women who close their shop to bring a neighbour water. Women who are the kindest and most generous people I have ever met.
Yes – these women are strong! They are strong because they have to be. They are strong because life is hard and giving up is NOT an option. They are strong because they want their sisters, daughters and grandchildren to live without the fear of being married off before their 14th birthday, cut without their consent, forced to drop out of school, told they won’t be anything – because they are girls.
All over the world, women and girls are fighting for their rights. They are challenging the status quo and making changes in the places they live and work. I’m glad we have a day so we remember to appreciate them – but what about showing our thankfulness every day?
Does international development even matter? Is it really necessary for countries that are further developed to dedicate a portion of their national budget to foreign aid? Where does the duty to provide for the worlds poorest citizens belong?
Well, the simple answer to that one is – to ALL of us. After all, how did certain countries accumulate enough wealth to be considered developed? They certainly did not achieve that on their own.
Some of us have a disproportionate amount of material goods and this is directly linked to the reality that others do not and this disparity is by no means a natural phenomenon. In the greatness of human ingenuity, we have manufactured this inequality. This gap continues to grow as we colonize, extract, and continue to prop up systems that enforce dependency.
Are these things in the past? Absolutely not! I’m going to try really hard not to rant about the Canadian mining industry and how it continues to exploit foreign nations for their resources, environment and people but please keep in mind that it is happening right now! Fun fact: Canada is home to 75% of the worlds mining companies partially because only two Canadian laws apply to international mining practices and companies are not held to account for policies relating to either environmental or social responsibility – way to go Canada! (Mining Watch Canada)
So yes – we do owe it to countries working hard on their own development. Forget aid as charity and instead try thinking about it as the fine owed for the exploitation we continue to engage in and benefit from.
If we really want to do away with foreign aid (and I agree that it is not a very good system), maybe we could start thinking about changing how we engage as individuals, corporations, and governments with the international community. If our current practices are going to continue to deepen the divide between less developed and more developed countries, then I guess we should increase the amount of aid dollars we allocate each year. OR – we could actually hold our own governments as well as our private sector to account! They get away with this neocolonial shit because the voices calling them out on their exploitation are too few and ultimately, Canadians benefit from shutting up.
International development is absolutely an issue of social justice and human rights and we are failing miserably right now.
We are responsible for the world we live in. What do you want it to look like?
Recently, a kind Malawian diplomat reminded me of something very important. During a chat about the role of international development in Tanzania he said,
“Remember, you know nothing!”
Now, before anyone gets cranky – he was and is absolutely 100% right! This is something my boss also likes to remind interns of when they are getting ready to go overseas on their internships and personally, I find it very helpful (it also takes off the pressure to ‘make a difference’ or ‘create change’). Quick reminder: that is NOT what overseas placements are meant for in the first place!!
Sure, no one likes to be reminded of their inadequacies (myself included) but I think it is incredibly important, especially when it comes to any sort of development work, to keep in mind that as an outsider you know very little. You do not fully comprehend the situation regardless of how much time you have spent in said country or community and you probably never will!
and that is okay!
People and cultures are wonderfully complex and it really is arrogant to assume that you know anyones situation better than they do. You also miss out on the exciting, everyday things when you are busy trying to prove your own worth. Sometimes we get a bit preoccupied with the idea of ‘experts’ but trying to be one is really not very useful to anyone.
So instead – pull up a chair or sit on the floor if need be, have a cup of chai and SHUT UP and LISTEN. There are always opportunities to learn but we have to get out of our own heads to really make the most of them. Remember, you know nothing – which might just be the most important thing that you do know. I do know that it holds true for me.
As a side-note, I think ‘knowing nothing’ is applicable to many other jobs and life experiences apart from development but I will leave that for other wiser souls to address.