Archive | March 2012

She was eight years old and she loved chocolate

Someone who was murdered in the Rwandan genocide was wearing a t-shirt that reads, “I love Ottawa”.  The t-shirt is blue and the script is yellow.  Size small.  I saw it yesterday at the Kigali Memorial Centre.  Hanging in a room along with clothing worn by other victims.  A white scarf with blue birds. Superman sheets.  A string of pearls.

Someone who was murdered in the Rwandan genocide loved chocolate. Her name was Chanelle.  Her favourite sport was jogging with her father and her favourite thing to drink was milk.  She liked to watch TV and listen to music. Chanelle was eight years old when she died.  She was hacked to death by a machete.  I saw her picture yesterday.

Someone who was murdered in the Rwandan genocide had only ever had one picture taken of himself. The one on his driver’s licence. There is nothing else left.  He wore glasses.  His driver’s licence hangs in a room along with photographs of hundreds of other victims.  Most are smiling and laughing.   Some are serious.

It is estimated that nearly a million someones were murdered over a 100-day period in 1994.  The Memorial Centre tries to provide victims with a voice, by displaying clothing, pictures, and anecdotes.  One room is filled with skulls and bones, another with pictures of children who were killed, a third with personal effects.  There are video interviews with survivors and newspaper articles.

250,000 victims are buried in the grounds adjacent to the Centre, their names listed in small white letters on a concrete wall.  Their graves are surrounded by bright red, purple, and yellow flowers.

A t-shirt, chocolate, and a driver’s licence.  Bones and clothing.  The things we do to each other.

This is the saddest place I’ve ever been.


What is he thinking about?

Yesterday, I spent the day at Gombe National Park, which is about a three hour boat ride from Kigoma.  The park is famous because it is where Jane Goodall lived and studied chimpanzees in the 1960’s.

My friend KG and I spent an hour watching a chimpanzee family, until a downpour forced us all to take shelter.  The chimps hid under a tree while KG and I hiked back to camp.

This is my favourite picture from Gombe.

‘Kigoma is where Tanzania ends’

Kigoma is a small city in a remote region in northwestern Tanzania.  According to this article, Kigoma is where Tanzania ends.  Geographically, the city is located on the edge of the country at the end of the national railway line.  It’s somehow fitting, then, that Kigoma is also my last stop in Tanzania before I cross the border into Rwanda.

Kigoma is red earth and palm trees and emerald lake water.  I’ve spent the past five days lounging on red beaches, hanging out with zebras, swimming in Lake Taganyika, getting caught in rainstorms, and exploring muddy roads with friends from Dar.

A love letter to Dar

I knew that you and I would get along as soon as I stepped off the plane that Thursday morning in September.  A bright sun, a crowd of people, and a dizzying taxi ride past rows and rows of pink government buildings.

There are some parts of you that are easy to love.  Deserted beaches, uninhabited tropical islands, white sand, blue ocean.  The best Indian food I have ever tasted.  Weekend trips to Stone Town.  Coconut, pineapple, and mango for sale on the street corner.

But, Dar-city, you also have a hearbeat.  I hear it in the first light of the morning when the call to prayer from the neighbourhood mosque rings through the neighbourhood.  And again and again when my downstairs neighbour blasts Enrique Iglesias all day, when my favourite bajaj driver greets me on the way home from work, when the sound of frogs drowns out human conversation.

And a soul with a capacity to dream that is bigger than mine.  An IT guy who visits every morning to fix my computer even though we both know it will break down again tomorrow and a street vendor that calls out to me every day even though I resolutely continue to  ignore him.  A billboard that advertises the site of the soon-to-be largest mall in Dar, complete with a coffee shop, grocery store, restaurant, and apartments.  “Grand opening soon!”, the sign proclaims.  Underneath the billboard, there is a still empty field.

Thank you, too, for letting me keep my laptop and camera.  My colleagues in Kenya and South Africa have long since been robbed of their valuable possessions and, when those were gone, the muggers came back for soap, coconut milk, and a flashlight.

I wouldn’t be caught dead in a hockey arena in Canada, but I let you take me to a soccer game.  Your two teams, Yanga vs. Simba.  Yellow and green against red.  Yyou warned me not to wear the wrong colours or sit on the wrong side of the arena.  You were right – I had fun until the end when I was punched by an overenthusiastic fan.

It hasn’t always been easy.  I love your street food, but I spent nearly all of October doubled over in pain.  And I love the wind-through-my-hair-freedom of riding around in a bajaj, but not the accident that resulted when one of your drivers decided to take a short cut down the wrong side of the road.

Most of all, I’ll miss your people.  People I would be friends with if we had met in Dar or China or Texas, but who I fear wouldn’t recognize me if I wasn’t sunburned and sweating.  I’ll miss Sunday brunches,  Crazy Kitenge shopping,  and book club meetings at Saverios.  I’ll miss the friend who wrote this lovely poem and all the other wonderful people I met in Dar.

I turned in the key to my apartment last Saturday and I’m leaving Tanzania tomorrow morning.  Goodbye Dar, for now.

Last meal in Dar

Last weekend, one of my Tanzanian friends told me that she takes de-worming medication as a precautionary measure every three to six months.

And so, as a surprise, my roommate ER bought this snack for our last meal in Dar together: Krest tonic water, chocolate, and de-worming tablets.

A dafu a day keeps the doctor away

The past few days have been intolerably hot.  One last heat wave before I leave Dar.  Is this the city’s way of saying goodbye?

On Sunday morning I lost myself in the maze of downtown for one last time.  Sweating, dehydrated, and cursing the heat, I stopped to buy a coconut from a vendor on the street corner.  For 500 Tsh, he lopped off the top with a machete, gave me a straw, waited for me to drink the coconut milk, and then scraped out the flesh for me to eat.

Coconuts on the street corner.  One of the many things that I will miss about this sweet, sweaty city.

Bongo City

“Bongo” is the Swahili word for “intelligence” or “brain”.  Dar is nicknamed Bongo City, a name which alludes to the fact that street smarts are needed to survive in the city.

Here are a few pictures I have taken of Bongo’s streets over the past few months.

A day late(r)

In Tanzania, under Local Customary Law (Declaration No. 4) of 1963, widows are prohibited from inheriting property from their deceased husbands, which is instead transferred to male children and other surviving male relatives.  After the death of their husbands, women often have to contend with property grabbing, eviction from their homes, and sometimes even the loss of their children by abusive relatives.  Deprived not only of a place to live, but also of collateral and a potential source of income,  widows are often rendered economically destitute.  There are an estimated 4.98 million widows in Tanzania.

In Tanzania, the Law of Marriage Act requires women who want to obtain a divorce to attempt to reconcile with their husbands before the Marriage Conciliatory Board.  The petition for divorce will be denied unless the Board certifies that there is no possibility of reconciliation.  This has obvious and acute consequences for victims of domestic violence, of which there are many in Tanzania.  A study conducted by the World Health Organization in 2001 / 2002 found that 41% of women in Dar es Salaam and 87% of women in the Mbeya District had experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner at some point in their lives.

In Tanzania, the Law of Marriage Act sets the minimum age of marriage at 14 for girls and at 18 for boys.  There is a strong link between child marriage and low levels of education or non-education.  Girls who are forced into child marriage are more likely to withdraw from school or to decide not to pursue a higher education.  Perpetuating the cycle of poverty, women who have little education tend to start childbearing at younger ages, have more children too close together, and have prolonged childbearing years.  The children of young, uneducated mothers in Tanzania are less likely to stay in school.

In Tanzania, whether they are related or not, women affectionately call each other dada, or sister.  Men are called kaka, or brotherI like this idea that we are all sisters and brothers, connected by something greater than blood.  I don’t know, though, how we can sit back and watch as 87% (87%!) of our sisters in Mbeya are beaten, as our 14 year old sisters are forced into marriage and deprived of an education, as land is stolen from our widows.

This situation is not unique to Tanzania.  Yesterday was International Women’s Day.  Let’s do something to help our sisters in Tanzania and around the world the other 364 days of the year.

This moment where there is only possibility

I applied to nearly every law school in Canada, was accepted to more than one, and then struggled to decide where to go.  Halifax or Vancouver?  Toronto or Victoria?  East or West?  Snow or rain?

In the midst of this self-inflicted agony, someone turned to me and said, nothing is better than this, this moment where there is only possibility and you get to choose where to go and what to be.  Next year, you could be living in any corner of this country, in any apartment, on any street.  There is beauty in this choice.

Last night, I spread my travel books on the kitchen table and thought, that’s how I feel right now.  Like a woman with a handful of acceptance letters.  A few tomorrows from now, I could be in Harare or Lilongwe or Maputo or anywhere in between.