Working in Tanzania offers opportunities to operate at a rather more senior level and meet people I would not be meeting compared with being in the UK. So, twice a year, I sit on a committee, most of the other members being deputy vice chancellors of universities across Tanzania. As recorded here I have met the Vice President of Tanzania, been to meetings with the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, also I've been to a reception with the former president, President Benjamin Mkapa, and have had dinner with the Ugandan High Commissioner in a group of about 6 people. And I've met the Swiss ambassador at the local gym. None of these things would I be doing in the UK!
So, this last week I've been to Southern Tanzania for two official reasons, also to improve my Swahili which doesn't quite count. I was teaching part of a course on gender issues, with the repeated question, 'Jinsi o jinsia?' (Sex or gender?) as we looked to unravel which differences between girls and boys, women and men, are intrinsic biologically, and which are socially defined. And also to meet the local stakeholders in a project we're getting started with in a village called Kitangali looking to promote early childhood education. Yes, I know, what I know about early childhood education can be written on a postage stamp still leaving space for the postage stamp, but mimi ni mtwala mdogo (I am a small manager - it works better in Swahili than in English).
Anyway, delighted to be in Kitangali with James Gayo, creator of the cartoon strip Kingo which appears in several national newspapers on a daily basis. So, not a name known in the UK but my goodness is he well known here! Below is his cartoon from Thursday's Mwananchi (Citizen) newspaper:
By the nature of being a cartoonist, nobody recognised James himself while I was with him, nor did anbody seem to recognise his name (although James tells me that that does sometimes happen). But as soon as people realised that he is Mr Kingo, the whole room lit up, with one person we were speaking then spending the next 15 minutes giving us a blow by blow account of Kingo cartoons going back something like 20 years.
(Although, I would note, when I tried to introduce James - James ni Bwana Kingo (James is Mr Kingo) - I just got blank stares. How can this be? Have I not achieved perfect East African vowels AND consonants over the last three years?)
Have to say, really delighted to have James on this project. Underlying premise is that education, specifically early childhood education, is for everybody, girls and boys, involving everybody, school, parents, wider community, everybody, with important learning occurring through play activities, using locally available materials, being fun and cooperative. So part of the project is the production of booklets, using the Kingo characters, to promote positive messages around these ideas, with then various competitions going on and other ways of interacting. Really pleased that we tap into an established and very popular brand for this purpose, and really grateful to James and his team for working with us, I trust that the project will be mutually beneficial.
On the trip more generally, it is now the dry season. Driving in the area, it seems to be the case that roads go from high quality tarmac to unmade with no warning, but being dry the roads are traversable - mostly without difficulty - by two wheel drive vehicles. But being dry gives rise to another problem, which is dust: once a lorry has gone past in the opposite direction, it's some time before you can see the road clearly again. Alas, it's the (perceived?) availability of work in Dar es Salaam and other built up areas that drives people, particularly men, from the villages, on the face of it life is rather more pleasant in a slower, greener, more spread out environment.
And, another first for me - the first time I've been in a vehicle which was filled with petrol from a roadside stand using plastic containers, the price being something like 50% more than from petrol stations. Doesn't feel 100% safe but it seems to work! Got into minor trouble for not paying the full bill at one of the hotels - but it does help if it's clear what the bill is and whom one is supposed to pay. Ah well, nobody seems to mind too much so long as the bill gets paid eventually....
Think that's it for this week, coming up soon is a piece which has been some time in the planning entitled 'Sins of the fathers', exploring the difficult issue of instances in the Bible where punishments are passed from one generation to another. Any offers to comment on the current draft gratefully accepted, please send me an email - thanks!