The past few weeks at work have been very exciting. Unfortunately, I can’t write about most of my work in a public forum.
Today is an exception. We had a big party to celebrate the launch of several publications that were authored by the legal aid centre where I work. The Minister of Justice was in attendance, and there was singing, dancing, and food. I was asked to trade in my lawyer’s robe for a camera and to take pictures of the event.
Here are some of my favourites.
Today is Friday and there is electricity.
J, one of the lawyers that I share an office with, is particularly happy about the electricity. J was called to the bar last year and is a source of entertainment in our office, with his loud and unrestrained sense of humour. J also has a fondness for technological gadgets. He has three cell phones, and usually has one pressed up against his ear while the other two ring in his hand.
On days when there is electricity, J also has the remote control for the office air conditioner in hand, which he adjusts to lower and lower temperatures until we are all shivering and my other officemate, L, intervenes. A battle for the remote control usually ensues. L usually wins.
Today is Friday and there is electricity and L is not in the office.
This morning, J was perplexed to find me sitting at my desk with the air conditioning off and the window open. Megan, he said, today is Friday and there is electricity. I love Fridays. Life is too short to sit here in the heat. We must turn on the air conditioning. We must seize the moment. All too soon the work day will end and we will have to go home and there will be no air conditioning and we will be hot all weekend. Okay?
Okay, I said. And I wondered whether L would be back in the afternoon to rescue me from the sub zero temperatures.
Today, at about 10:00 am, all the women in my office disappeared.
I asked A, one of the law students who is working at the Centre for the summer, where everyone had gone. He pointed at the large whiteboard in the hall, which read: Kikao cha Vicoba and explained that the women were conducting a Vicoba meeting in the boardroom. Vicoba is short for Village Community Bank and is a microfinance lending project that was initiated by some of the women working here last year. Each member is expected to contribute between 5,000 and 50,000 tsh per week (approximately $3 – $30). The funds are used to provide loans to members who want to start businesses, pay for weddings, or fund another type of endeavour. Members are allowed to borrow up to three times the amount they have contributed. There is no interest or collateral, but there is an expectation that members will not default on loans because “everyone knows everyone else, how much they make, and when they get paid”.
A is an avid fan of the Hollywood movies that play weekly at Mlimani City near the University and he sums it up like this: “You guys have all of those book clubs and we have Vicoba”.
Karibu is the Kiswahili word for ‘welcome’ and it is a word that I have heard frequently over the past week. “Karibu Tanzania” (welcome to Tanzania) is a popular refrain around the hotel and in shops and restaurants.
I started work at the legal aid centre this past Monday and the greeting was used over and over again as I was introduced to the other lawyers and staff to mean, “you are welcome here”.
Each work day also starts with a series of intricate greetings, which are important in Tanzanian culture and which I am just starting to learn. To a colleague who is my age, I say mambo (what’s up?) to which she replies, poa (I’m cool). To the woman across the hall I say habari gani (how are you) to which she replies, nzuri, asante (fine, thank you). To the senior advocate down the hall, I say shikamoo (greetings, to an elder) to which he replies marahaba (greetings). And then we start work.
The centre’s offices are located in a small two-storey house at the end of Ufipa Road, in Kinondoni. I share an office with two other lawyers, L and J. We are a bit crammed at times, as a steady stream of clients pass through our office every day. L and J both see clients in our office, sometimes at the same time and sometimes offering advice to each other’s clients during meetings. Layers upon layers of Kiswahili for me to try to decipher. Sometimes the stories are translated for me after the client leaves, and I am struck, after the fact, by the lines that crease her face and the immediate nature of her problems.
Power failures are frequent. Last week, we did not have power on Wednesday or Friday. I am told that we were lucky that we had power on Monday. On days when there is no power, it is harder to get work done because the computers can’t boot up and the phones can’t ring. There is also no air conditioning on such days, but the boardroom has windows on all side and the surrounding palm trees can stir up a nice breeze. We usually bring our laptops and work until the batteries run out.
And then we say kwaheri (goodbye) and tutoanana (see you).
Last week, several of my former colleagues threw me a goodbye party, complete with an outdoor moonlit dinner, personalized place settings, candles, an endless parade of appetizers–each more spectacular than the last, homemade grilled salmon, an amazing frozen desert, travel stories, a card with my favourite Tolkien quote, and some very thoughtful travel supplies.
The kind of goodbye party that almost makes you want to change your mind about leaving.