I have a confession. Yes, I bought my guide book two months. No, I have not opened it-- it is in utterly pristine condition. For this entry, I decided to start poking around in the guide book, looking at places that I find interesting, and seeing some of the places I'll be traveling too. This probably should have been my first Blog entry, better late than never. Tanzania has some of the most spectacular outdoor landscapes and is home to the Serengeti, Lake Victoria. and Mount Kilimanjaro. While in Tanzania I will be spending three weeks in Dar Es Salaam, the largest city in the country, and then traveling to Ifakara, a small town in the west. I will also have a week for vacation where I'll have the opportunity to go where ever I'd like. So first, some general info about Tanzania. Tanzania was created in 1964 by the union of Zanzibar (British ruled) and Tanganykia (former German East Africa) and is home to 36 million people. Tanzania is among the world's poorest countries, with an average salary of $50 a month. The country has had a multi-party democracy since 1995. The rainy season starts in March (so I'll miss it). The currency is the shilling (abbreviated Tsh) and comes in denominations of Tsh500,1000, 2000, 5,000, and 10,000 notes. The exchange rate is about $1 to tsh1300 (up from Tsh900 a few years ago)
I'm always amazed by the range of reactions I get when I tell people that I will be traveling to Tanzania and Vietnam. This is something that I have thought about quite frequently in the last few weeks as I've been preparing to study abroad. When I tell someone about my trip they either usually ask me where Tanzania is (and then often guess an incorrect location) or provide a warning about HIV/AIDS in Tanzania. To be honest, I had to look up where Tanzania is located so I can let that slide. What I can't get past is many of the ideas that I’ve been presented about HIV/AIDS and Africa.
Let me present a few of the reactions I've had in hopes of illuminating my point:
1. At Thanksgiving after I told my Aunt I was studying abroad in Tanzania she warned me "not to catch AIDS by drinking the water."
2. My grandmother started crying. Not tears of joys I should add.
3. My doctor told me not to "have sex with any natives." She then proceeded to tell me not to (EVER) touch any blood and she gave me the rundown about how HIV/AIDS is transmitted.
The question of authenticity seems especially pertinent when it comes to food. I know that the Chinese food that I get a block away from my house is probably nothing like the food that I would eat if I were in China. Oftentimes we get an Americanized version of food. This said, how can you tell when food is authentic? I decided that while I was home, I would try some Pho, one of the most popular dishes originating in North Vietnam. Pho is typically eaten for breakfast, but is occasionally eaten as a snack or in addition to lunch or dinner. I've never had Pho before, even though there is a hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese restaurant in a shopping center a few miles away from my parent's house. Even though I've known about this place for years, I've never been before. For some odd reason, Pho (and the Pho spot by my house) reminds me of an ex-boyfriend so I've tended to avoid it. He was obsessed with Pho and would grab it whenever he was close by. While I was originally weary of going to "his spot," it is about time that I conquered my fear of Pho.
I should probably add that I'm a picky eater. Very picky. For years and years I was a vegetarian. I was lactose intolerant. I was a. I was that kid who came to your house and couldn't eat anything. This has been a problem when traveling in the past. I have vowed that I will be a more open minded eater, and I'm trying desperately to try many new foods. It is my hope that by trying some of the foods that I'll be eating while traveling, will help with this process.
Once again, technology has kicked my ass. After spending the last hour trying to create a successful Google Map, I give up. Instead, I printed a map of Tanzania and a map of Vietnam and spent five minutes locating my points and connecting the dots. I will bring my maps in on Tuesday. On a positive note, it was great to sit down and really see where exactly I'm going. Visualizing these places and seeing their location in relation really helped. Here is a brief version of my itinerary.
Washington D.C. (10 Days) - No map needed. In fact, I'm in D.C. right now.
Dar es Salem (2 weeks) - This is the capital of Tanzania and is located on Africa's Eastern Coast.
Ifakara (1 week) - Ifakara is the main transport route to Zambia.
Dar es Salem (1 week)-
Spring Break (1 week) - I can go wherever I want to, perhaps into a National Park or to Zanzibar.
Ha Noi (4 weeks)-Located in Northern Vietnam.
Ha Long Bay- While staying in Ha Noi I'll take excursions to Ha Long Bay.
Mekong Delta (1 week) - The Mekong Delta is in southern Vietnam. We'll take a train from Hanoi to the Delta.
Ho Chi Minh City (2 weeks) - Formally Saigon.
Hue (4 days) - The program ends in Hue for a short retreat and reflection.
Wow, looking into each place I'm going to is exciting. I've also been doing a bit of research about the different schools, NGOs, and government agencies we're going to be studying with. More on this later.
On a side note, today I went to the Tanzanian Embassy to apply for my visa. The Embassy is about four blocks away from my Dad's house, so I figured that rather than mail in my application, I would just pop in. People at the embassy were very kind; I talked to a woman about my trip, I asked a few questions. Overall, a great experience.
Finding music from Tanzania and Vietnam was surprisingly easy. Finding music that I liked, however, was a more difficult task. In fact, I never quite found any. The music I found is music I could appreciate but probably wouldn't play on my own.
I came across the Tanzanian Rap Group X Plastaz, a group of Six rappers who rap in Swahili and call themselves Maasai Rappers. The Maasai are a group of nomadic cattle herders. The group tries to merge traditional Tanzanian music and rap. The video I posted is great in that it shows some beautiful landscapes in Tanzania. The video opens with a view of Ol Doinyo Lengai, a mountain sacred to the Maasai. The group climbed six hours at night to film at this location. This video was made in honor of the lead rapper (seen in the video) who was killed by a drunken neighbor in a knife fight. This video gave me a good idea for the look of the country and of some of its inhabitants. I'd also never heard Swahili rapped before; it sounded interesting. I was also looking for music that wasn't the folk music that we commonly associate as African music. X Plastaz seems to be a pretty well known rap group, and is the first hip hop crew to use Maasai cultures and practices in their performance. The group raps about current political issues including AIDS, poverty, and hunger. I appreciated this, however I was unable to find a copy of the lyrics to translate, leaving me to wonder what this song was about. X Plastaz have released four records and has toured in Europe.
It's a thin line between learning too much about a place you've never been before and learning too little about this place. The danger in reading too much is that each book presents the point of view of somebody else. The experience that I will have traveling abroad will be different than the experience of others. Just because two people go to the same place doesn't mean that they will share the same journey. I think it is easy to fool ourselves into believing that this is true. There is also a certain scare factor that is certainly present in much of the reading I've done. In "The Zanzibar Chest," Aidan Hartley is a foreign corespondent who visits and reports on conflicts in Eastern Africa. He is surrounded by starvation and death. In each conflict he sees the worst side of mankind. Reading this book made me terrified. Watching "Darwin's Nightmare" I had a similar response. I also read "Bad Trips," a collection of stories describing funny, interesting, horrifying, embarrassing, awful trips from countries around the world. The only time Tanzania was mentioned was when one author casually mentioned that his girlfriend was raped in Tanzania. Vietnam was discussed in regards to the Vietnam War and sex tourism. For a while, the combination of these stories made me apprehensive and nervous. I realized though that the things that I see, that I feel, that I relate to will be different. I will not have the access that Hartley or the director of "Darwin's Nightmare" had. I will not be in Vietnam during the war. Tanzania is a very peaceful country. There are so many sides to a country and to a story and while it's important to learn about a country, I need to remind myself not to go overboard.
After a bit of searching I found "Darwin's Nightmare," a documentary set on the banks of Lake Victoria in Tanzania. Lake Victoria is the second largest lake and is referred to as the birthplace of mankind. Sometime during the 1960s the Nile Perch fish was introduced to the lake. In subsequent years the Nile Perch has destroyed almost all of Lake Victoria's native species. Apparently, the perch is quite the delicacy, and nearly 500 tons of the fish are flown daily to Europe, representing about twenty percent of Tanzania's exports. The film introduces us to the complex web of transactions that occur around the fish. We meet Russian pilots who while fly the perch from Tanzania to Europe. One pilot tells us, "I just want all the children of the world to be happy." He says this after he admits that the plane is flies to Tanzania is not empty; it is full of gun and ammunitions. These weapons help fuel the countless conflicts in Eastern Africa. We meet Eliza, a prostitute who sells herself to pilots for ten dollars a night. She is killed by an Australian pilot before she can finish telling her story. There are the men who work on the boats and in the fisheries. There are the countless street children, many of whom have lost their parents to the fishing industry or to HIV/AIDS. These children collect discarded fish containers and melt them down to make glue. They sniff the glue to get high. And then there are the government officials who are proud to be a part of the fish trade; they vehemently deny that Tanzania is having a famine as well as the devastating effects of the trade. All these interactions demonstrate the complexity of the situation, as well as the tensions between groups involved. The film seems to epitomize a larger problem.
Finding anything that is directly related to Tanzania has been difficult. This said, I expected my museum trip to be tough. I decided to go the MET as they have a wing devoted to African art. While they have textiles, sculptures, and statues from many areas of Africa I was unable to find any from Tanzania. For many, this may seem "close enough," but I'm determine to find things, whether they be art, music, or food that is directly from Tanzania. This art was beautiful and ornate and showed real craftsmanship and skill, however none of it was from Tanzania (or Eastern Africa for that matter). Additionally, most of the African art at the MET wasn't recent (i.e. hundreds of years old). I want to see what is coming out of Tanzania now. My trip to the MET was enjoyable, but didn't provide me with any new insight or any new ideas. I didn't get a sense of what art from Tanzania looked like--what materials are used, what style is popular, what subjects are observed, etc.
I thought I might have better luck online. After a bit of searching I found the work of Godfrey Semwaiko, a resident of Dar es Salaam. He is young (born in 1975), and the founder of the Tanzanian Artist's Trust. He has shown his work in New York, Sweden, and Tanzania. He works with watercolor, ink, pastels, and oil. He is an illustrator, and his work has a beautiful quality to it. His paintings seem to be a range of people, animals, and landscapes, all with a strong focus on light and dark, and deep contrast. His mixed media pieces are more surreal, and I'm drawn to these. His art is beautiful and detailed and comparable to art coming out of New York.
I've been diligently reading my guidebook--I read it on the subway riding home, or while the kids I babysit practice piano, or on the bus--anytime I have a spare moment, out comes the Tanzania guidebook. For my guidebook I had two options, the Rough Guide or the Lonely Planet Guide. I was told that the Lonely Planet Guide was more common among travelers, so in an effort to go further off the beaten path (and of course, find the "authentic" experience) I went with the less popular Rough Guide. I liked that this guide had fewer pictures, my thought is that photographs of places help to create an idealized image. As Jenkins says, photographs become texts and representations of the world. In my guidebook there seem to be a few dozen photos, more than half of which are of animals. Indeed, on the cover is a picture of a zebra. After this there are photos of flamingoes, lions, fish, elephants, and monkeys (to name a few). The first photo that includes a person in it, is a picture of a young man painting a mural of a giraffe. Wow. There is even a guide of the mammals of East Africa. It looks like I better study up.
These glossy photos of animals send a message and create a representation of Tanzania. They create the illusion of Tanzania as an exotic place with a plethora of exotic wildlife. If one took the ratio of photos of people to animals to heart, one could imagine that there are more animals than people (or that the animals are more important than other parts of the country).