What we learned on our study trip to Tanzania …
28 april, 2016
(This blog entry is written by many students – a collaborative effort of all the students who participated in this study trip …)
Our group of 14 students and two teachers land in Dar Es Salaam at 02:25 on the 28th of March and into the hands of the incredibly professional outfit of Tanzania Explorer. At once we are fascinated with the contrasts from our lives in Sweden: not just the obvious ones like the fact that it is 40 °C and not just 6 °C but also cultural differences. Customs seem disorganized and unreliable in our Swedish eyes. This journey is going to be a journey of acceptance and observation and not criticism and everything is so new. The new impressions keep coming as the jeeps bounce on our way past the sleeping trading post of Kibiti, to Selous, a huge Game Reserve southeast of Dar Es Salaam. As villages fly by the open windows in the yet dark night we are impressed by life on the street: dancing, talking, groups of people hanging out: cars, trucks and especially motorbikes ignore traffic rules, running red lights. Men with their motorbikes either sleep on them or just hang around next to them, in the dark Dar es Salaam at 3 a.m.
The six-hour journey on the inferior roads takes us 200 km southeast of Dar Es Salaam to the Rufiji River Camp. The camp, located INSIDE the reserve, has adapted to the tropical savannah in a western manner and is extremely exclusive in comparison to the local villages we observed as we flew past them on the red clay roads. Still, it is different from what we are used to. In Sweden, and the rest of the western world, having electricity is a matter of course but since there are no power stations in the countryside the only electricity available was generated by generators. There is one generator at the lodge we stayed at but it only generated enough energy to provide electricity for a couple of hours. Forget internet.
Electricity and roads: logistics in this remote rural section of this huge country called Tanzania are the most powerful impressions on these first days. Potholes the size of smaller Swedish lakes that drivers tackle with complete abandon and sea sick inducing nausea and the ever present odor of burning firewood emphasize the emerging status of this fascinating country.
During our day excursions we are able to study a number of impressive animals. Conversing with our amazing guides: Rashid, Joshua and Paul we learn about the bachelor herds and the harem herds of impala, the rate of decomposition in this part of the world as opposed to Sweden, about the harsh laws of the lion pride where the alpha male kills cubs to reduce the threat to his reign, that elephants and water buffalo who are cast from the herd are more aggressive and angry than those still in the herd, about how to tell an animal by its droppings and when they had passed them and how to tell a hyena’s footprint from a lion’s or a hippo’s footprint from an elephant’s one.
The habitats of Selous are diverse. The river provides life and death for many as the crocodiles threaten young zebras, wildebeest and gnu as well as the women from the local village, Mloko, as they cross the river twice a day to farm the fields. The river also provides water for the villages and some have wells but most do not. Rice farming is seen in a smaller river delta.
Open, driftwood coloured landscapes are home to many an acacia (umbrella) tree under which the giraffe feel safe enough to nap.
At our camp it was revealed that the weaving trails of “mowed” grass around the camp were none other than the tell-tale signs of a huge male hippo called Luigi. Despite the elevated position of our camp, Luigi leaves the cooling waters of the Rufiji River every night and blazes a weaving trail of masterful horticultural pruning between the tents. We were all lucky enough to have seen him and his gnawings lulled us to sleep in the warm star-filled Tanzanian night
Day 3: Mloka
The first village that we visit is Mloka. Mloka is located in the Selous area of Southern Tanzania, close to the Rufiji River. Thanks to Rashid at Tanzania Explorer, we are met by a local guide and school teacher who leads us around and who provides us an insight to life in rural Tanzania.
The second we step our feet onto the red, sandy, ground, dozens of children surround us- each one of them wanting our attention. We, mzungu, are as exotic to them as their lives are for us.
The first impression we have of the village is that it is very poor and undeveloped. However, the guide tells us that this village is, in fact, quite developed compared to similar villages around the country. Mloka has a medical center, a large school and a food market which carries both imported and exported goods.
Mloka has an Airtel/Tigo shop. Airtel/Tigo? Why is that such a big deal you might ask yourself? Airtel/Tigo representatives are so important in Tanzania because mobile financial services are the backbone of Tanzanian economy. According to tradingeconomics.com the rural population of Tanzania was 69% in 2014. In a country where according to the World Bank only 14% of the population have electricity (2010), mobile banking is even more important. That Mloka has an Airtel/Tigo rep is very important so that villagers can pay their bills. Bill paying in Tanzania is fascinating: ALL MOBILE. Not Swish or internet banking mind you, like Sweden. The visit to Mloka showed us the system: 1) Have cash from sale of goods. 2) Go to a shop that sells phone cards (which in this case is a very simple shop under the central mango that functions as the town center and under whose branches people gather and under which visitors park) 3) Hand over cash and provide representative with your phone number. 4) Wait 3-5 days to receive confirmation that the money has reached your account. Pay bills with code.
We have so many questions after hearing about this. If the phone account is like a bank account does the money gather interest? When does the money go into the account-in the town or when it has reached the big city? What if the cash courier gets robbed? Do I have insurance if Airtel loses my money? Why don’t people use banks? Can one ever hope to have a financial reputation in order to get loans? How could I ever get a loan? Banks are needed in our opinion, but not theirs. This system seems to work. This leads to large amounts of cash floating around. Is this not dangerous we ask? Every day the cash gets picked up and taken to a safe place. But what if someone steals from the messenger we ask? Then everyone will know who that is we are told. And justice will be served.
The Mloka food market provides the village its largest income as it exports its local goods to the whole country. Mloka’s local goods are mostly fish from the Rufiji River, but also from across the river where the village keeps its farms. The workers on this farm are the men and women who risk their lives everyday taking a narrow boat trip over the crocodile filled Rufiji River. This daily trip takes around 75 lives every year.
That all of the able-bodied men and women were away farming was tangible. At three
thousand inhabitants strong, Mloka seemed to be mostly young children on school holiday, older people-finely dressed and partaking in the village meeting about the distribution of electricity and women with newborns also finely dressed and patiently waiting for the health care official on the red earth beneath a large mango tree. The village has many mango and nut trees and there is a saying that the wealth of a village is somewhat deduced by its number of these trees as they will always provide nutrients. Many trees provide a cure for malaria when the branches are chopped, boiled, and the liquid drank as a tea. Nature in the bush is ever present in Mloka and there circulates the story of the sad lion with a toothache who ate five of the village children before being hunted by locals. There is a monument to their passing outside the Reserve gate. I saw a baboon run pell-mell through the village and in the house that we visited the room with a lock was to keep these cheeky beasts out.
When we were walking through the village, we met many children. They were happy and enthusiastic, a few of us would hand out pens, balloons and candy. It seemed like they really appreciated it. We were privileged enough to be able to walk through a family home. The walls are mud and sticks and there are no windows. This keeps the interior very cool and appropriate for the climate. Owing to the lack of electricity there is naturally no kitchen but there is an eating section of the house dominated by a fireplace and the pot with which water is boiled. We are beginning to understand that the heat and work life also results in different meal times for people in Tanzania and whereas we are used to 5 meals a day they are only used to three and the first two are quite far apart. The house is home to one man and his usually three wives and children who live in harmony. If they have anything to complain about they let their kanga speak for them. Like the Impala the young men are thrown out and have their own pad at 18 years old.
Thank you #Tanzania_Explorer for this amazing and eye opening experience.
We arrived in the late afternoon after a long journey from Selous via dirt roads, extreme traffic and a ferry ride. It is terribly hot and an interesting transition from the calm, serene Selous to the hustle and bustle of a busy town. Once on Zanzibar, we walk to our hotel, which is not far from the port. It is located on one of the narrow streets of Stone Town near the harbor. Sounds of afternoon prayers, returning fisherman and many, many people take over as we settle in. We end our first evening with a traditional roof-top dinner.
The next morning we begin a walking tour with our local guides – Martin, Elvis and Ali. In small groups of 6, we tour historical sites including the first hospital in the region, culture centers and the original slave trade sites. It is a somber reality to visit where the slaves were kept prior to sale. We also visit the Anglican Church that is built on the site of the whipping post where slaves were whipped to show that they were strong enough to work. It is a sad place that shows the reality of the slave trade. On our way out, we see the monument erected by a Swedish artist to commemorate this important historical site.
In addition, we visit the famous spice market, fish market, meat market, as well as the fruits and vegetables market. We see many local craftsmen sharing their art – henna, banana leaf paper, recycled flip-flop art, fabrics and more. It is crowded, dirty, busy, exciting, colorful, loud and different from our previous home in Selous. Hundreds of people, all selling their colorful product, crowd into a small area, making for an intense experience. In the evening, we walk to a local restaurant and visit the “park” where local people sell tapas from food stands.
Zanzibar, and more specifically Stone Town, is full of history. As a former center of trade between Africa and the East, the city hums with influences from colonial times. European and Arabic cultural trademarks are evident everywhere. From the architecture to the street names, the doorways and animated haggling the walking tour was like a walk through time. One specific detail of the influences were the doors: heavy, large, ornate, decorated and different shaped doors tell of the period in which they were erected.
During our walking tour, we were also able to listen to an alternative perspective regarding the question of cessation. While we understand that Tanzania is a country where different religions live in peace with each other, the question of the relationship between the mainland and Zanzibar remains unresolved. On the mainland, our guides expressed support for the new president and the importance of keeping the relationship intact. On Zanzibar, we are confronted with another perspective. Our guides believe that Zanzibar should be granted independence and have their own government. Clearly, this is a complicated question with many aspects worthy of consideration.
Our time in Stone Town seemed to be dominated by men. There were men everywhere. And, for the first time, the females in our group felt somewhat uncomfortable and insecure. Everyone was friendly, yet it seemed more of a challenge to connect with local people.
Makunduchi is a village located near the south coast of Zanzibar. The coastal terrain provides the village of three thousand a sustainable income from the sale of ropes made out of coconut. This is one of the major businesses in the village and is mostly done by women. It is a long process with several steps. First the women have to place the coconuts in the water for six months to make the fiber soft. Then begins the process of twisting the fibers into ropes. This is one way that the women get money from.
In the village of M’zuri Kaja (Beautiful …..), located in the area of Makunduchi, there are two schools, one primary and one secondary school, both under the name of Kusini. The school has approximately 840 students ranging between the ages of 6-15 years old. There are 11 classes altogether and in every class there is around 60 students. The school has about 29 teachers, we had the opportunity to meet with the head teacher Nathan Hodha who also was about to apply for the role as the headmaster. It was a different experience to visit a school in a very small and poor village and compare it to a Swedish school. We had the chance to look in their school books which were very similar to the ones we have in Sweden, this breaks a lot of the stereotypical thoughts that many might have had before the trip about people not being educated. One thing that is also important to acknowledge is that every single book in the Kusini school is donated by the USAID organisation. There is a new law passed with the accession of the new President, John Magufuli, (#whatwouldmagufulido), that school is free and obligatory for all and the school has been inundated with first-third graders. Where there are two sixth form classes all of a sudden there are five first grade classes.
One experience that we had was learning about a traditional African piece of clothing named Kanga. Looking like just a piece of fabric but holding on to so much history. Kanga is a piece of fabric that the women wear in different ways to varied occasions. It is used as an everyday clothing such as a skirt and a top. In the lower middle of every Kanga there is a quote that women use to express different messages to each other. For example if two wives in the same house has a conflict they can, instead of fighting, tell each other things through their Kangas. It can also be worn in so many ways and to different occasions.
Makunduchi have in several ways managed to get water. Other than gathering rainwater, which is effective during the raining season, but not otherwise, the village relies on a group of wells within the village for the vast majority of their water supply. Two of the three wells in the village were operated by hand, using coconut rope and containers made of anything available at hand, usually large plastic bottles. The third well was fitted with a crude electrical pump, making collection of water easier, however the pump was prone to breaking down, as the generator that supplied electricity was unreliable, especially during the rainy season, as the humidity and rain caused major problems.
Leaving Zanzibar at 0400 we were once again thrust into the hustle and bustle of the ferry terminal in Dar: a veritable hive of activity at 0730. We are met by Ms. Susan from The Barbro Johansson Model Girl’s School and she whisks us through customs and luggage and stops someone taking one of our bags and who receives a smack from the baton of the customs official. On the way out we see and hear boxes of baby chickens that are being sent to Zanzibar.
The day is hot, and the sun is high in the sky by the time we arrive. Male students are ushered quickly into the visitor’s dorm while the rest have our luggage transported further on to the student dorms in which we will stay the night. We are given a quick tour of the campus, with its dorms, canteen, classrooms, labs and art centre, and which ends with us introducing ourselves to the students during the daily assembly. School was not quite in session as the girls had only just returned from their vacation the day before. Teachers were in meetings and the students were often found in classrooms managing their own studies and subjects. Just about everyone was working earnestly.
We visited a class of 11-13 year olds where we went around and asked them to fill in our questionnaire about IT, social media, family life, long term goals, dreams and aspirations and general things. Two things struck us. 1) that the girls were studying rather advanced accounting and 2) that most of the answers on the questionnaire are similar to what we would have answered. Our economics students were flabbergasted that the 11-13 year olds were doing accounting as a part of their Civics course. That they were doing corporate budgeting in pen and with impeccable aesthetic clarity served to illustrate an earlier discussion with Ms. Susan. Ms. Susan elucidated that despite the students being exceptionally well educated after graduating from Barbro Johansson the employment market did not have the diversity of employment opportunities that their education deemed them ready for. Many of the graduates became accountants.
Despite the school’s already large size, it was to explained to us that there are future plans to expand the school, as soon as funding was acquired. It was explained to us that the original plans for the school were created under the assumption that the money that was being received from the Swedish SIDA organisation would continue to come in, but after a reevaluation done by the Tanzanian government the SIDA funds had been redirected to other schools. We are not so sure about this. The school was started by a Swedish woman, Barbro Johansson, who fell in love with Tanzania and who decided to stay. She eventually became a member of Parliament and a champion for the rights of women and girls in the country. Her passion and drive to educate young girls in Tanzania and to elevate their status led to a strong relationship with Prime Minister Olof Palme and Lisbeth Palme has been the chairman of the Swedish based foundation for the school for years.
The school is very different compared to Swedish schools. There are many more rules, and they are more strictly and effectively enforced than at home. Many of these rules are designed to minimise bullying. For example the girls are not allowed to have hair: all students have to have shaved hair except for the seniors. Having long hair is a sign of wealth. The girls are not allowed to wear makeup or use mobile phones during weekdays. Rules like these would be incredibly difficult to enforce in Sweden. The campus was patrolled by at least ten armed guards and the girls believed that if they left campus then they would be eaten by pythons. The most important thing for the parents of the Barbro Johansson students is to make sure that their daughters have a top-notch education, that their access to temptation is restricted and that they are safe. For this they are willing to pay..
The girls have study hall until 11pm and come and pick us up. We stay up most of the night in the dorm talking and braiding hair. Every Sunday the girls are allowed to let out their hair but it must be tightly braided again come Monday morning. Needless to say they are amazing at braiding. The girls at the school had very different expectations and opinions regarding relationships, abortion and religion. When we talked to the girls about relationships they explained that some of them had boyfriends but keep it secret from their family because they fear disapproval.
The best part of the visit to Barbro Johansson was seeing our friends that we have hosted in Sweden: they were so incredibly different-relaxed and completely open and cheerful. In Sweden they were reserved and on best behaviour. Many of our group conclude that perception’s binary oppositions are what makes vrg4tz so incredible and this seeing the girls so incredibly happy and normal was one of these-a total binary opposite.
So far the trip has been one of the most interesting and meaningful things that I have done in my entire life. Today the academic focus of the trip reached the same level.
Early in the morning we left Barbro Johansson School to do some study trips at Swedish-based companies located in Dar es-Salaam. First we arrived at Scania. Scania is one of the world’s leading companies in its field: trucks, and they have been operating in Tanzania since 1982. This means that they are well adapted to the Tanzanian way of working and know what it means to be operating a full scale business in a frontier market and the challenges that come along with it. It was therefore interesting to learn about the big differences between operating a company in a country like Sweden, where society is well developed and laws are followed, and Tanzania, where the state of justice is dysfunctional, due to large issues pertaining a high rate of corruption. It was also interesting to hear about their predictions regarding Tanzania as a country, since it is a frontier market, with a large economic potential in its future. We learned about the challenges lying ahead, for example tackling corruption, infrastructure and the people’s faith in the state and the government. Perhaps the most interesting subject discussed was the status role Scania had after their extended establishment in the country. From what the manager at Scania told us Scania’s market position in Tanzania was now so strong it could be, in some ways, compared with IKEA’s market position internationally. It will therefore be interesting to see Scania’s future development in Tanzania and the countries around.
After the study trip, representatives from the Swedish embassy came and talked to us about what their function is in Tanzania and what they do. We then developed a further understanding for the international development projects that are being done in Tanzania and what their main focus areas are to develop. These were education and infrastructure, specifically regarding the development of the electrical network, internet, roads and railways in Tanzania.
The last study visit of the day was at Sweco. Swecos job in Tanzania was to, in cooperation with the stately owned electrical company Tanesco, develop the network of powerlines in Tanzania. The main objective was to provide small villages in the countryside with electricity, in total 25 000 household were going to be provided with electricity. At Sweco we received a further deeper understanding about the infrastructure problems in Tanzania, and other poor countries, and the measurements that had to be done, giving us further perspectives into the challenges that the country faces in the near future.
I believe that this day was the one on which I learned the most. Probably because I had been gaining impressions and had learnt a lot throughout the trip which I then could apply on the things we learned at the study trips at Sweco, Scania and the embassy.
After the field trips we were in the area of Dar Es Salaam where we would probably live if we were to live there-lots of expat families in the markets and the polar extremes of our experiences diminished somewhat. At 1230 am we headed back to the airport and our journey home began.
Two weeks back now and all of the impressions are beginning to settle. Writing this diary together has helped. This common Facebook page/travel diary has physically put our amazing experience together but our hearts are forever filled with Selous starry nights and hippos chomping, the hoops of overjoyed children, the discussions with friends so different and so same and with the hope of more of Tanzania in our futures. We hope that you have enjoyed it!
Students’ personal reflections …
“The best part of the trip was the Scania visit. It was so valuable, so rewarding. It’s very hard to gain insight on what it’s like to work and run a business in another country just by reading about it. Very little information is available online, and it’s usually quite formal and limited. Listening to Anders truly gave a huge – invaluable – insight on how it’s to operate a venture in Tanzania, and the greatest challenges that one may encounter; challenges that might be less obvious than one first might expect. It made it clear that one must stay open-minded to succeed and find and solve the unconventional obstacles that one might face.” – Jakob
“I also enjoyed meeting the different companies and the young students from Sweden who worked at the ambassador. Seeing all the different parts of Tanzania and the problems that existed really made you curious on how to fix them. All you wanted was to take a wand and solve everything but unfortunately there is a long way to go for a country like Tanzania. Corruption, poverty and lack of welfare affects everything and it was interesting to see the challenges that Scania, as a big European company, faces. Cultural clashes are almost inevitable and I was surprised to hear how much they affect the everyday working life. I never thought that selling trucks could be so different in Tanzania compared to selling trucks in Europe and it was so inspiring to see how a company like Scania were able to adapt and develop so much. ” – Anna
“[…] Visiting villages and schools was definitely one of the best parts of the trip. I have never seen that kind of poverty or met people who lived so differently from me and it is hard to explain how it felt. One part of me was shocked about how they lived and how their lives were, while another part of me was fascinated by how happy they were and all the similarities I could find. Meeting the kids and talking to young adults was very much like talking to kids and young adults in Sweden. I know that so much is different but it was amazing to see how fast we could connect. I especially experienced this while visiting Barbro Johansson School where we got to meet many young girls. Talking about boyfriends, the future, school and everyday life I really felt that in the end, we aren’t that different. It was so interesting to hear about their dreams and to see their reactions when I told them about mine.” – Anna
“The best part of the trip was being able to experience so much of a completely different culture. We met ordinary people working in Dar Es Salaam, children from the more primitive villages of Mloko and Makunduchi, schoolgirls at Barbro Johansson’s school for girls and most notably Alan the Masai-warrior whom we shared a breakfast with. Dressed in ordinary clothes and talking about finding a job after university, he was not trying to capitalize on his culture, but rather find a way to further it and help others. ” – Cecilia A.