Friday, December 17, 2010

Tafadhali, Asanti, Pole Sana, Rafiki, Caca, Dada, Shusha! I'm learning...

Merry Christmas! While it is way too hot to have any concept of winter, Santa or reindeer I understand that in other countries the tradition is continuing as usual. The last month has been really quite incredible. I think back to my initial wild culture shock arrival and I can't quite believe how much has happened since. This is a town where the majority of well employed or educated people are either Aid workers or consultants working for Aid organizations. Good news for me, as it means there is an overwhelming abundance of people here willing to share their stories and talk about their experiences.

If I didn't already believe it this country has proven to me that so much of the Aid system is broken. While I have spoken to some NGO's and individuals who seem to be having some success, the overwhelming message I have been hearing is one of frustration and too frequent failure. Any large scale project seems to be plagued by money waste, system inefficiency, and wayyy too much corruption. Additionally the country itself has become so intertwined with the aid economy that a really unsustainable dependence has emerged. The most sought after jobs are those working for foreign NGOs as these are the most dominant "businesses" that seem to be in operations (perhaps the most reliable form of employment... which is a bit depressing as funding can be cut off at any time).

Another interesting thing about Dar at least, is the position of Mizungus (gringos, foreigners)within the country. Every foreigner I have met works in Aid, consulting or import/export. As a result I have begun to think that all us foreigners are doing is in many instances condescendingly giving Tanzanians what they need, telling them what they need, or plundering the country. OK a bit harsh, but no wonder there is a level of resentment among locals. I think there is a balance that needs to be found where Aid is appreciated but not resented, right now there seems to be far too much of it and in many instances it only seems to represent the inequality that defines the relationship between givers and receivers.

All this makes things sound very bleak indeed but despite the horror stories I have spoken with some people that are really working toward worthwhile goals in ways that are sensitive to local culture and have aims that are toward long term sustainability. Some very creative models and some very forward thinking and energetic individuals.

I have also come to realize that "local culture" is often a very hard thing to respect. So much of what I have been looking at has been biased towards my belief that local culture must be incorporated in interventions. I stick with that belief but I am now starting to realize that often in interventions local culture has to be changed, challenged and even dismantled. Often local realities must be worked within so that the system of beliefs within a location can be deconstructed.

Last week I spoke with a Canadian lawyer working for women's rights. When I asked her what her most common cases were she told me they were related to land rights. In Tanzanian Federal law women are respected as equals and their rights are protected as being equal to those of men. Unfortunately there is another law that essentially says any local law overrules federal. Seems like a great law to an anthro major right? Of course federal law for Dar Es Salaam would not be totally applicable to a tiny rural village in TZ... Wrong in so many cases, especially when it comes to women's rights.

So back to land rights, in most village law women have no right to own land. When their husbands die they are essentially left without anything even if the husband left a will explicitly passing inheritance to his wife. Widowed or abandoned with basically nothing, in some places women are given, with their land, to living male relatives (often for brothers to share). In other places there are no laws that account for the widow and she is left without anything. Making things even more horrific, if the wife was considered a "bad wife" in some places she can even be sentenced to "wife cleansing"- gang rape by the men in the community. All of this sanctioned and even enforced by the local councils. None of this local law is really written down and so when it comes to fighting for women's rights things get sticky and women rarely end up winning in the end. This lawyer's NGO offers counseling and even represents many of these women in court, she told me that even with their help, too often nothing can be done. After hearing the story I was shocked and thought, as I have far too frequently, how lucky I am that I do not live within the confines of a culture that sanctions such behavior.

In instances like these maybe cultural sensitivity is too much to ask... maybe Tanzanian Federal law needs to force the issue, but then with forcing it who is to say it will be enforced? Is there a way to work within the local culture to change things or are some beliefs too strongly rooted? Is education the answer, is that even feasible? How can large scale change occur when changing the beliefs and practices in one community seems daunting enough? I have too many of these types of questions and find my answer is always, unhelpfully, it depends on the situation.

I know this was a bit of a depressing post, many of the things I have heard have been quite depressing. Nonetheless, I truly have been enjoying myself here and finding my footing in this pretty incredible place. Have met some fantastic people, Dar is very conducive to new friendships as it seems almost everyone in my age range is coming or going or only here for a few months. Everyday I wake up not quite believing I am here and very happy I have come. I hope everyone has a Happy Christmas and sorry for being a downer with this post!