A Message from Tanzania

Author: Denis McCrann

From Longford to Tanzania. A young man's account of his experiences of living and working in Tanzania.

After receiving a Bachelor of Arts specializing in Psychology from the national University of Ireland, Galway I moved into the field of research at the Dublin Institute of Technology. In conjunction with the department of Social Sciences and in particular Doctor Kevin Lalor I started conducting a field study into the issue of child sexual abuse (CSA) in Tanzania. During my undergraduate years I had developed an interest into this issue. Tanzania was chosen primarily as the country of investigation for the study because little research on CSA had been conducted there.

This paucity of research exists in most sub-Saharan countries. The major reason for this scarcity of research is that more pressing survival issues take center stage. Poverty and the many epidemics that have hit Africa need to be faced before social needs get met. The idea for the study originated with my supervisor Kevin Lalor who spotted the vacuum in the literature and sought to remedy it. He has visited sub-Saharan Africa and has produced a literature review on the area. He also devised a project for a student (yours truly) to spend a considerable amount of time in the country to assess the problem.

The assessment of child sexual abuse in any country is a mammoth task. The fact that Tanzania is been looked at makes the job even harder. The present study is realistic, it does not hope to gauge an entire nation but to get an idea of the problem, to turn international attention to the issue in sub-Saharan Africa in the hope that further study continues and develops. The study will first survey a sample in the University of Dar es Salaam. This will be a retrospective account of possible instances of CSA. Even this much has not been carried out to date. Stage two of the study involves the creation of focus groups that will discuss the issues involved and there are many. The views of Tanzanians on the problem are extremely important. The views will help in the interpretation of the questionnaire but may also offer ways to combat the problem The third stage involves face-to-face interviews with victims of abuse. I am currently a masters student but the project has definite scope for a doctorate.
I have been in Tanzania over two months now. I have acclimatized, visited various organizations that deal with related issues, drawn up a questionnaire suitable to the population (with the help of my Tanzanian supervisor Dr. Katabaro) and am ready to proceed with the study proper. I have three further months to conduct my work.

As a post-graduate student in Tanzania I have been privileged to experience a vastly different way of life. A life that would surprise, shock and sometimes horrify any human being. However, that been said there are countless positive aspects to life here that have aroused in me great affection for the place.

I live in the industrial capital of Tanzania, Dar es Salaam. This name means, “haven of peace” and I can tell you right now it is everything but serene. Presently the population lies somewhere between four and five million. There are people everywhere always shouting, selling, hawking, laughing, and trying to keep busy somehow. This I think is the legacy of Julius Nyerere’s socialist policies. Everybody does a little together. Old Japanese imports flood the air with leaded toxins that at times makes it difficult to breathe. The heat from an ever-present sun and the dusty roads add to the problem. Not a place for a serious asthmatic! I expected Africa to be green, fresh and traffic free but I had forgotten that cities are cities wherever you go. Buildings vary from run down government offices to plush hotels. Local dwellings are in a league of their own. Most native people live in hut-like unpainted houses with few rooms in one of the many suburbs. Running water and electricity are the privilege of a few. Ten percent is the current figure.
I live in one such suburb called Konjitonyama. I am sharing a pleasant house with two women from Ireland and Holland. The house has the essentials beds, cupboards, showers, some furniture and a fridge. We have running water and electricity that works most of the time. We even have our own night watchman called William. He is an extremely thin Maasai clad always in a red cloak and carrying a spear. His ears are punctured in a few places. This description fits most Maasai who have traveled from their land in search of work. Being natural warriors they usually find some sort of security job. With not a word of English communication is difficult. William usually hunts with a bow and arrow at night, for what I don’t know, we live in the city. Life over here becomes very reductionist. We have no choice but return to basics. We hand wash our own clothes, then iron every item to kill insect eggs. We live without television and radio, boil all the water we drink, take only cold showers and generally live a cleaner life despite the fumes. I usually arise somewhere between five and six daily. It becomes impossible to sleep with a Muslim mosque broadcasting prayers on a load speaker around the corner. Aiding the mosque the neighbour’s roosters make a terrible racket as soon as they see the sun.
The people are generally very welcoming and everybody wants to befriend you and sometimes sell you something. Strangers will come up to you, start asking you questions in English and even offer you to buy you a beer. These are the better off Tanzanians who like I think to be seen with mzungus (Europeans). The majority would not have such money to flaunt. Surprisingly there is little begging. In comparison to Dublin the figure is insignificant. Those who do beg are really in need. Instead of people with addictions I see only lepers, polio sufferers and aids victims looking for a spare shilling. It is impossible to refuse such genuine bequests.
This is the land of the great rift and I’m not only talking of the valley to the north. The gap between the rich and the poor here is unbelievable. The average weekly wage is less than forty Euros yet there is a small percentage that makes over one hundred times that amount. Huddled Huts versus mansions at the seafront. The general sense is that corruption is rife. I get the feeling brown paper envelopes are used quite a lot. That been said Tanzania seems to be progressing slowly. Compared to many of its neighbours it is a stable nation. Objectively it has enough resources to provide for its people I’m hoping it’s only a matter of time before that potential is utilized.

The language of the people is Swahili but English is known and spoken widespread. This makes it particularly difficult to learn their mother tongue but relatively easy to get along. They learn English from an early age in primary school and the minorities who make it to secondary level are taught only through English. It’s important though I think to know a little. Greetings play a huge part in their culture and if you can manage these you are assured better treatment. I find the price of everything drops considerably when cupla focal Swahili are spoken.

There are other aspects of daily life that startle me. For one thing men hold hands with men all the time. Walking down any street in Dar you would find men intimately grasping the fingers of their friends. I laugh to myself every time I see it it is still a shock to my system. Woman do it too but not to the same extent. Man-woman public affection occurs but not often. There is also a culture of formal address in Tanzania. An old man, for example, is called “Mzee” (old man), a tribesman “Masaai” and a white person “mzungu” (European person). At first I thought it rude to be called mzungu but it doesn’t have the same meaning, as it would back home. Imagine the reaction in Europe if you called to a coloured person “hey black man”? As well as that you may call anybody younger than you brother or sister you ignore his or her first name. It takes a bit of getting used to. Generally two people of the same age address each other by their surnames. It is actually expected. Tanzania is a very polite place. They actually have a verb for asking for something in the nicest possible way. Naomba maji (I want water) is very polite. People in other Swahili speaking countries are not so courteous. I was informed that if you used Naomba in Kenya for example you would be laughed at!
Life here is certainly unusual and there are more things I will surely learn before I leave. I have three months left to carry out my work and I am just hoping they will be as eventful as my first.