Random highlights of a week in Tanzania (workshop dancing, hyenas v goats, cricket attack – that kind of thing)

Farm animators dancing at the workshop Tanzania May 2011

Any trip contains numerous golden moments that don’t fit into a neat blogpost. Here are some of them:
The way a training session with activists regularly breaks into singing, dancing and general hilarity. If only all Oxfam meetings were like this.

A vote on export bans: the government reintroduced a ban on exports of maize and rice the night before our session with 40 ‘farmer animators’. So they held a vote – 9 supported the ban, 27 opposed and one abstention. Argument for the ban: ‘We must keep food in the country, we can’t export when there is hunger’. Argument against: ‘We have very limited access to markets in Tanzania, and inputs are very expensive. The government will only buy at very low prices.’ 

Justice as a basic need: meandering, miserable stories of communities being screwed by lazy, incompetent or corrupt lawyers, as they spend years trying to get the promised compensation for being expelled from their land to make way for mining companies. All summed up in a Swahili proverb: ‘In the case of the goat, if the judge is a hyena, there will be no justice.’ Same goes for hyena lawyers apparently – the villagers never even got to see a judge.

Best definition of research (from a woman farmer animator):  ‘Going out and checking the cracks in your house’s [mud] walls, or else one day the house will collapse and kill your children.’ And talking of research, spotted during a break in the exhausting farmer animator workshop: two crack Oxfam organizers, Jane Lonsdale and Anna Bwana, reading respectively Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (for fun) and the World Bank 1997 World Development Report (on the role of the state, for a masters).  Hats off.

Best Swahili word: Shagalabagala – chaos or disorganization (emphases on shag and bag – rolls delightfully off the tongue). For etymology, the word for white folks – mzungu – takes a lot of beating. It means ‘one who wanders aimlessly’……..
The overwhelming pleasure of a cold shower after a 10k run in the heat of Dar es Salaam (haven’t run that far in a long time).

The latest example of South-South frugal innovation – the Indian-made ‘bajaji’ (a Swahili adaptation of Bajaj, the Indian bike company), motor bike rickshaws that have appeared in the last couple of years and provide the ideal (if scary) way to weave through the shagalabagala of Dar es Salaam’s horrific traffic jams. Mzungus are reportedly now buying them for personal use – the end of the ubiquitous four wheel drive? Probably not.

And finally, boarding my flight out by literally beating my way through wheeling flocks of crickets, attracted by the airport lights. Spiky crickets down the shirt, pinging off your face or getting stuck in your hair at 5a.m. Biblical, man…….

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3 Responses to “Random highlights of a week in Tanzania (workshop dancing, hyenas v goats, cricket attack – that kind of thing)”
  1. Nice one. I hope you wore one of those T-shirts with MZUNGU emblazoned across it: the ironic counter to all the kids (and some adults) who shout out Mzungu! to every passing whitey.
    There are alternative etymologies of mzungu (pl. wazungu), one of them relating to the possession of foreskins (vs. circumcision)… But my money’s on a direct derivation from mzungu, pl. mizungu, “something wonderful, startling, surprising, ingenuity, cleverness, a feat, a trick, a wonderful device”, which also gives the abstract noun uzungu “strangeness, wondrousness, novelty” (these definitions from Frederick Johnson’s 1939 A Standard Swahili-English Dictionary).
    Duncan: thanks Martin, that’s certainly a more flattering version…….

  2. Lisa Morrison

    This post is further evidence confirming my hypothesis that you have the most interesting job ever. One question: on the export ban, what was the abstainer’s argument?
    Duncan: shhhh, don’t tell a soul (about best job ever). As for the abstainer, he was a trainer working for Oxfam!