April 26, 2007

Ee Mungu nipe uvumilivu

This is what my kanga says--kangas are the wraps the Tanzanian women wear--and it means, "God give me patience." Going along with haraka haraka haina baraka (hurry hurry has no blessings) I think it's really the biggest thing I've been learning this semester. My research in the village in Moshi was great, talking to farmers in a beautiful highland village who grow coffee. I wanted to talk to the ones who switched to organic farming, for better health and better soil and maybe better prices, and see how difficult it was and what went into this decision and if it's a good option for the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. And essentially, yet again I'm faced with the reality that it just takes patience. Organic farming is better in the long run, for the soil and maybe in the context of the international market, but it gives lower yields at first--there will certainly be a time of loss. They just need to be patient, said a woman at envirocare, the NGO I've been volunteering at. But patience is hard when you don't have a lot of extra resources or security. And I mean for the most part these farmers are doing all right, they have enough food (eat bananas day and night) and their houses are well-constructed and they have water access. But then there are still things that are hard, like sending their kids to school, getting health care, and whatever other small amenities they want. But they need to have patience. And even then, probably not much is going to change. A few of them may still die of cancer from chemicals. The international coffee market is showing a lot of promise for the future, and smallholder farmers don't get much of a share of the prices we pay for coffee. So patience. It's hard, but maybe that's just what you do. You keep living your life and caring for the people around you. Meanwhile, I've been learning to be patient with the future and the things I want out of life and the places I'm always missing. And when I'm patient, that's when I go to my random friend Pauline's in town and she teaches me to cook ugali and dagaa, a typical Tanzanian meal. I guess we never really reach the point where we feel like we're not being patient about something or lacking something. But while we're waiting thats where the baraka are. I'll probably keep learning this over and over again. And I only have 3 weeks left here, so then I'll enter a new arena in which to learn patience. But don't worry, usijali, as they say. And according to one of my favorite Bongo Flava (Tanzanian hip hop) songs, "Acha kulia, shida za dunia, ebu tulia, Mungu anakujaribia": "Stop crying for the problems of the world. Calm down, God is trying for you."

April 20, 2007

Revolution is for the changes

That is the song of the students on campus, at the University of Dar es Salaam. On Monday and Tuesday of this week (I'm jealous, I missed it, I was in Moshi doing research) they held a strike, to protest the government's new policy with student loans. The government until recently was paying for students to go to university, and they could get loans for the full amount of tuition. But now, partly because of World Bank cost sharing and budget pressure, they've changed the policy so that students must pay 40% of tuition on their own, and can get 60% loans. This is extremely difficult, almost impossible for most students. Until this week they were still allowed to go to class even if they couldn't pay, they just wouldn't be able to get their degree until they pay. But now, on Monday and Tuesday they protested, blocked the road, held conferences and demonstrations on campus. Apparently it got pretty ridiculous, like they were forcing students out of the library to march with them, forcing students out of buses and their dorms to join the strike. On Tuesday, the university administration posted that everyone had to leave by 6, at least the Tanzanian students. So now they're all gone, they can't get credit for this semester (they're trying to work something out at least for the students who are supposed to graduate this year), they can't come back until they pay. The university is really empty except for some exchange students and a few people who've been hanging out, and most cafeterias and buildings are closed. My program isn't affected because we're just doing independent research now. But it's crazy; something is really happening here. And one of my friends is doing his independent research project on this whole student loan business--what can be done? The students can't afford to pay, the government can't really either. What about people who aren't in university, do they think the students should have to pay for themselves so that government money can go elsewhere? That's an independent research project that's extremely relevant. There are so many interesting things about this turn of events--the chaos of the protests, the ability of students to influence the government, the fact that this is keeping a lot of students from getting credit for their courses and being able to finish their degrees...they can't come back until they pay. "Revolution is for changes. If we don't fight for ourselves, where would we study?"

April 18, 2007

Loliondo and Arusha

What a few weeks it has been. Over spring break I had the incredible opportunity to travel with a friend to a village way up north of Tanzania, in the middle of Maasai land, to stay for a few days. We stayed with a missionary from Germany and the Tanzanian family she lives with, who were some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. And Easter was absolutely beautiful. We went to a church service with the Maasai. Now the Maasai are an African herding tribe that sort of have the reputation of being the only traditional unmodernized Africans left in Tanzania. They herd cows, ceremonially cut their ears, wear plaid shukas and beaded jewelry, and carry wooden sticks to fight off aninals. Stereotypically, “real Africans.” But really, they are beautiful, and wonderful, and hospitable, and on Sunday their church service was one of the most joyful things I’ve ever seen; when they started singing and dancing, and we were under a tree and looking around at the hills and landscape which is absolutely stunning out here, there was a moment I just felt like I couldn’t contain my emotion inside, my gratitude for this all. And then we went down to the river for baptisms, and 14 people were baptized, which is incredible for the Maasai because they can’t swim and they’re so afraid of water and the water was dirty. And one of the people baptized was Cipironi, who is 13 and lives with the family we were staying with. His story is incredible, about how he was sick last year and really was miraculously healed; he said he heard Jesus telling him to stand up after so many doctors and traditional healers had tried to give him treatment unsuccessfully. And he stood up and was fine, and slowly was also healed from fear and sadness about the abuse he had suffered at home. And I believe it. All of this is real. That’s the biggest gift Tanzania and the Maasai have given me. If I’d have heard any of these stories or heard about missionaries in the remote tribes of Tanzania last year, I would have thought it was ridiculous. I would have been so sceptical. I still am, in some ways, hesitant about missionaries and know that Christianity can be patronizing, and we have to be careful. But now I’ve seen life that doesn’t have to be explained by Nietzche and Freud and reason. I’ve seen joy in God that is real, and it’s become real to me again. I have been given so many blessings.

The sad part is that, after going on this excursion to Loliondo, I returned to Arusha, where we saw a trial of the International Tribunal Court for the Rwanda genocide, and just had to think about the horror of the genocide and crimes that humans could do, and realize it's not all joy. And one of my friends pointed out that all the joy of this experience in Tanzania is in some way not REAL, it's a dream, in the sense that we're just touring, it's not a sustainable way of life. It's just a treat we've gotten to experience for a few months. Then we have to return to reality and make lives and deal with the horrible facts of human life too. At first I was really upset by this, because what if it means that my growth isn't real or sustainable either, or that when I return all the people and places I've grown to love will fade forever? But we talked more and I realized there's a distinction between this experience being a dream, and being an illusion. I can't let it be an illusion, if I think that it has shown me real life, or that my growth is only about myself. But if it's a dream, if it's a time when I can love many people and learn to imagine a life that is full of the joy I have been given, a life not just for myself but for all the Maasai and all the university students, then it's good. So, it was good for me to realize that there's something wrong with imagination if it's only for myself and my own joy. But if I can imagine a better world--that is what I am called to do, to imagine a kingdom of justice and joy, and to pray and work to create that world in my own life. So I hope Tanzania and the growth I've experienced here will be sustainable, will be a vision for me to pursue, will really change me.