7 reasons why Conde Nast is wrong & Dar is friendly a f

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Today, I awoke as I usually do – cocooned beneath my mosquito net, listening to the sounds of the already-bustling streets of Dar es Salaam’s market district. Picture the lyrics of ‘What a Wonderful World’ set to the tune of a call to prayer. But today, in addition to this warm morning welcome that I’ve been fortunate enough to receive for the last 8+ months, I was greeted by some seriously shocking news in the form of a Facebook post.

According to the article delivering said shocking news, Conde Nast Traveller has spent the last 4 years collecting the opinions of its readers on the ‘friendliness’ of the world’s cities – ‘especially with respect to where you felt welcome’. 128,000 people took the survey in 2015 – and now, according to this exceptionally humble publication, ‘for the FIRST TIME EVER’ we can see how US cities compare to the rest of the world.

And according to those 128,000 cultured explorers of our Earth, Dar es Salaam has snagged 4th spot on the unfriendly list.

Now I am doubly disappointed in this one, as Canada didn’t make the cut for either list (I could argue a plethora of reasons for why Vancouver should receive both top spots) – but more so, because over the past 6 months of living in Dar, I have never felt more welcomed in my life.

Ok so I haven’t travelled much outside of North America & Europe – but according to the list, I don’t have to since over ¾ of the friendliest cities are located in the southern states! And yes, the 2 sentence justification for Dar’s placement on this unfriendly list does also admit that maybe “Dar es Salaam is a city one has to live in or stay a while to appreciate” – so maybe I’ve just been ‘round long enough to form a more holistic opinion on the place. But the award still disappoints me, because it has now had the chance to shape the perspectives of approx. 800,000+, clearly already biased, Western readers – perpetuating an age-old toxic image of this incredible part of our world.

I’m well-aware of that image as I was guilty of letting it terrorize my views on the continent before coming here, so much so that I almost declined the opportunity in favour of living & working in BURNABY, BC (now there’s a ‘city’ that could be tossed on the unfriendly list). However, I didn’t let the fear-mongering likes of Conde Nast & crew let me down. And so, in an attempt to ensure that the wonderful and curious readers of my blog are not led astray – I’ve compiled an equally FB friendly, click-bait worthy list of reasons for why Dar es Salaam is the friendliest city in the world. Here they are: 7 reasons why Dar es Salaam is friendly as f.

  1. Jambo, jambo bwana, habari gani, nzuri sanaaaaa

“People speak to each other!” one Conde Nast reader manically wrote in support of Charleston being one of the Friendliest Cities in the WORLD (also once the Slave Trade capital of the world, but let’s forget about the history books for the sake of Conde Nast here). In Dar, people also speak to each other. And I don’t mean that in a patronizing way, because I completely get what the Conde Nast reader means by this notion. It’s alarming how much people speak to each other here in comparison to most American/Canadian cities. And in Dar – this begins (and sometimes ends) with greetings. Each interaction demands at least one greeting, but the limit is seemingly endless. Here’s a transcript of the generic conversation that I have with my building guard each morning:

Me: Shikamoo (respectful greeting)

Abdullah: Marahaba (respectful response to said greeting), umeamkaje (how well have you awoken)?

Me: Salama (well), habari za asubuhi (how is your morning)?

Abdullah: Nzuri (good), habari za kwako (how are you)?

Me: Sio mbaya (not bad), nimechelewa kwa kazi badaaye (I am late for work, see you later) << must include or the greeting train would never end.

And this is not just because I know Abdullah on a personal level. My walk to work is inundated with mambos and habaris. I once went on a road trip with a Swahili speaking driver and every effort to ask for directions came complete with a minute-long intro of greetings.

Dar es Salaam is an exceptionally conversational city, more so than anywhere I have ever before visited – and its greetings alone should be reason enough to move it off of the unfriendly list (and imho secure a spot on the friendly list), but as Tanzanians would say, “hamna shida” (no worries).

  1. Karibu Chakulaimg_4879

“Welcome food” is the direct translation of that phrase and it is usually accompanied by someone (often a complete stranger) physically extending his or her hands with a dish of food as an offering. Before I came to Dar, I thought I understood the whole idea of the ‘sharing economy’. I mean…I rented my room out on Airbnb pretty consistently, I often received congratulatory emails from car2go for how many ‘trips’ I had taken with their vehicles (still nursing debt from those), and I was never seen to refuse a free meal. But wow was I ever wrong. For Tanzanians, the notion of community is taken very seriously – maybe a cultural remnant from Nyerere’s socialist era, a foundational period that forged much of the country’s sense of unity.

  1. Dada and Kaka

Expanding off of that point – once you enter Tanzania, you are immediately considered family (though the Immigration office likes to remind me that this is purely symbolic). I’ve quickly gotten used to referring to complete strangers as ‘dada’ (sister) and ‘kaka’ (brother – not kidding).

  1. Family matters
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And expanding off of THAT point, most new friendships are accompanied by a (somewhat) mandatory trip to meet the family. And I don’t mean like Mom & Dad family, I mean entire extended family and probably a few neighbours. In the time that it has taken some of my ex-boyfriends to mention my name to their parents, I have been to a wedding, a graduation party, and two big family dinners at the home of a close Tanzanian friend.

  1. Roadside assistanceimg_6362

Map coverage of Dar es Salaam and Tanzania as a whole is severely lacking. A comparison between the Google & the Apple map of my neighbourhood of Kariakoo is a testament to this. Street names are misspelled, or completely wrong, and some streets are forgotten entirely. This is a problem that my current project is working to resolve (ramanihuria.org). Tanzanians, however, seem to overcome this instinctively through the practice of offering each other informed directions. As alluded to in #1, pulling over to inquire upon local expertise is common practice here – whether lost in the heart of a city like Dar es Salaam, or in a rural village in the Usambara mountains. Although these directions are never as straightforward as you would hope for them to be and require a lengthy round of Swahili intros (once again see #1) – they are far more useful than a GPS and they force human connectivity in a form that has nearly become extinct in North America.

  1. For Fundi Sake

Where I come from, there is little incentive to become a ‘jack of all trades’. In Dar, however, this does not seem to be the case. We’ve already discussed how there is always someone keen to help you navigate the city, but this willingness to help extends to all realms of life. Fundis are evidence of this. Fundi translates to ‘craftsman’, and signs advertising these ‘craft’ services can be found on every block in the city. You need a dress tailored? Ask a fundi. Hot water heater not working? Hit up a fundi. Cracked your iPhone screen for the 100th time? A fundi’s got you sorted. These Tanzanian craftsmen are at your beck and call for tasks that would (more often than not) require scheduling an appointment with a specialist back home.

  1. BFF Bajajis

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From my perspective, relationship-building is critical business practice in Dar es Salaam – particularly within the service industry, and even more particularly in the taxi service industry. My contact list is predominantly comprised of B for Bajaji * insert misspelled name here *. These are people whom I trust with my life and, even more importantly, my belongings. One relationship-building marketing ploy many of these bajajis use is periodically sending a pleasant greeting as a lil reminder of their presence and of the presence of their vehicle as a safe, reliable form of transportation. I can confidently say that I’ve never loved a cab driver in Vancouver, but I truly ❤ all of my bajajis.

… I could go on, but I think these reasons should be convincing enough.

Those surveyed by Conde Nast viewed this city as an “unremarkable transit point,” experienced en route to a safari, a cruise, or Mount Kilimanjaro. And so I should note that if you are only visiting this fine country for a postcard perspective, you might struggle to see the beauty in Dar. But, just as we have been taught to behave on an interpersonal level, do not confuse the aesthetics of a city with the value of its soul. Dar es Salaam is friendly a f and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in experiencing the culture of Tanzania in its raw, unfiltered form.

If you’ve been exposed to the friendliness of Dar, please feel free to expand on this list in the comment section below – or just spread the word.

 

Dancing in the Moonlight

It’s like clockwork how it happens – yet, much like when I watch Allie return to Noah at the end of the Notebook, each time I am equally as surprised & elated. After hours of daydreaming through a conference conducted exclusively in Kiswahili (a srsly common occurence), I am awoken into my wonderful reality by an organic eruption of song. “Tunapinga ukatili ehhh” exclaim the 300 conference attendees in harmonious unison. I clap along, shake my non-existent hips, and use my token choir trick of mouthing ‘watermelon’ in an attempt to blend in – but I’m pretty confident that I’m not fooling anyone (the laughter directed my way by all of my colleagues (and everyone else) is pretty telling).

Music plays a vital role in the women’s movement of Tanzania – traditional tribal melodies have been adopted by thousands of passionate activists and put to words meant to inspire and mobilize a population crippled by patriarchy.DSC_0194.jpg But the women’s movement is not unique in its heavy musical presence. Music is so deeply and naturally entrenched in all cultural spheres here – and it seems Tanzanian’s are eager to make that known from dawn until dusk until dawn again.

It all kicks off at 4:30 am when the call to prayer makes its way down my street and through my window (I swear not losing a single decibel on its journey).

Religion is very often practiced with music. When our good friend Evah asked us to visit her Church – I was v v hesitant. Largely because the only experience I’ve had with religion was one horrific day spent in Sunday School. The young, hip, & babely Sunday School teacher told me that I would get candy if I held a Bible atop my head in honour of some Biblical dude who did something of the same sort (see this for reference of the HELL that I endured https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNRRx0vimJ0). Much to my shock and embarrassment, EVERYBODY got candy when the hour was over. Not just me. EVERYBODY. And that is why I no longer trust attractive men. And I that is why I do not believe in God.

Anyways – I knew it would be rude to decline the offer, so I put on my Sunday Best and hit the road with Evah & the roomies. Immediately upon arrival, it was evident that I was in for a wildly different experience than the one of my youth. We were warmly welcomed, then we were asked to sing the congregation an acapella tune (we politely declined), then we were peer pressured into dancing for approximately 4 hours straight. And that is why I am now reconsidering God.

After the call to prayer comes my morning soundtrack, courtesy of my daladala driver or mwendo kasi driver or bajaj driver or Uber driver (yes, Dar has Uber) whether I’m in the mood for it or not. One dude is really into the Taraab – most others prefer the Bongo Flava, but ALL playlists are intermittently interrupted by commercial jingles that have now entered my ears like Tinnitus, likely to haunt my daily life ‘til death do us part.

Once at the office, I’m greeted by the theme song of my organization’s radio show, Mwangaza (https://soundcloud.com/wlac/mwangaza-maswali-na-majibu-june-12-2016). A pleasant little tune that serves as a great motivator for powering through grant proposals in order to GTFO of the office.

Ok, so it’s beginning to sound like I’m not keen on the ubiquitous music scene – but that is FAR from the truth. It is quite possibly my favourite aspect of life here – garnishing nearly every minute of every day with cultural presence.

Before I embarked on this journey, I wrote a little bit about the ability of music to identify a place, “how a songs’ melody is home to decades, centuries, and sometimes millennia, of a local history”, and I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to be soaked in the rich history of Tanzania via its soundscape, and to now have this soundscape mark my own history – to represent an incredible period in my life and the many feelings that accompany it.

Over the last 6 months, I’ve been gifted private performances from Maasai and Dodoma tribe members, and from the family of my good friend Roda (imagine a Tanzanian version of the VonTrapps). I’ve had the enormous pleasure of attending the live sets of reggae legend – Jhikoman (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uh1r4UMuoK4), Kiswahili R&B icon – Lady Jaydee (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RqdjQVOML4), Zimbabwean guitar God – Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11po9xKBsbw), and a plethora of other travelling (sup Chinese Missy) and local artists. I’ve had a couple of real Tanzanian music festival experiences (one a bit too real if we’re being honest – RIP iPhone5c). And I’ve spent many a Saturday night failing terribly to blend in on a Bongo Flava dance floor…

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Snippets of ‘home’ have also made many a recurring appearance. It turns out Tanzanians have a bit of a thing for Canadian songstresses Celine Dion & Shania Twain (who could blame them tho amirite?). And it also seems that I can’t physically prevent myself from forcing any/all restaurant owners to play my own personal theme song, Toploader’s Dancing in the Moonlight, whenever I’m feeling a little bit homesick.

As the classic Zappa quote goes – art is how we decorate space, music is how we decorate time…and if that is the case, my time here has been painted by sonic colour as vibrant as a Tingatinga.

Asanteni kwa kusoma. Or should I say… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DERCP5S4mkc

Feminists I Admire on Feminists They Admire and/or Convos on Gender Equality – FINAL EDITION: Mira Knippel

She was sitting at the back of the restaurant alongside a group of my *~new friends~* when I first met her. She was sporting a quirky tee and freshly trimmed bangs and came across as exceptionally nonchalant — sipping on a Coca Cola while all others had opted for the Molson’s of Tanzania.

She spoke with confidence and a well-informed opinion on various topics of gender equality – and so I obvs assumed she was one of researchers from LSE who had just touched down to study the development of Dar. It wasn’t until about half way through our meal, when she starting talking about the 10 year old boy who recently followed her on Instagram and her friend who moved to London & has taken up an accent at her new school, that I finally began to realize that this girl was not here to conclude her Master’s thesis. No, Mira has been here ‘on and off for 9 years’ – which is about ¾ of her entire lifetime.

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Once I got over the initial shock of bonding so hard with a 13 year old, I embraced the fact that we are kindred spirits with the decade between us dividing us only in our physical ability to move and our digital aptitude.

Over the past 6 weeks of getting to know this girl, I’ve learned more than I did from some of my longest relationships. Her optimism and dedication to gender equality has instilled in me new hope for the future of humanity — now whenever I begin to feel the dark, jaded cloud of adulthood enveloping me, I simply adopt Mira’s perspective. Here’s a portion of it for your pleasure:

“I have a t-shirt which says: ‘Feminism- The radical notion that women are people’. I think that sums it up pretty well. I do I believe feminism is gender equality but am proud to call it “feminism” because I believe that during this day and time women are still not treated equal to men. I think that feminism is needed because people still misunderstand the word feminism and are disgusted by feminism just because it’s called FEMinism. That, as soon as men and even women hear a word that has “fem” in it they jump into defense and don’t want to be associated with it. Feminism is needed because both women and men are still oppressed if they don’t fit into certain norms and stereotypes. Both women and men feel pressure to behave and act a certain way.

My favorite feministic role model is Zara Larsson. A lot of my outlooks on feminism and life are inspired by hers. For those who don’t know her, she is one of the biggest Swedish artists well known for her hit songs ‘Lush Life’ and ‘Never Forget You’ ft MNEK. She is just over 18 but has many confident opinions, which she has managed to share fearlessly. Endless headlines and articles have expressed shock over how confident she is as she receives a lot of hate and scary threats. Nevertheless she keeps on fighting for what she believes, not letting any angry old man stop her. She is very down to earth and is not too worried about her image. She is not afraid to show how human she is and can laugh at her own mistakes and past opinions that were not as wise as her current ones. She continues to be one of the most powerful role models for young girls and boys all over Scandinavia and is starting to inspire people worldwide as well. I will always stand behind her and learn from her. I will always be proud to call her my role model. I will always be proud to call myself a feminist trying to cover up her fears with fierceness inspired by Zara Larsson.”

Now please excuse me as I play this banger on repeat while I cope with Mira’s extended summer absence from Dar >>> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tD4HCZe-tew

Feminists I Admire on Feminists They Admire and/or Convos on Gender Equality: Asimwe Amina Kabanywanyi

Today’s featured female feminist is one of the many women I have had the immense privilege of getting to know thanks to this internship. Asimwe was one of the first employees of the Women’s Legal Aid Centre to offer me a warm Tanzanian welcome – and, for four months, she continued to brighten all of my hours between Jumatatu (Monday) and Ijumaa (Friday) . We clicked over our mutual adoration for the QUEEN of the Tanzanian R&B scene, Lady Jaydee ( click here for reference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGli8BPAe-4), and over my personal adoration for the girl’s chic office style (srsly, I don’t think she repeated a single outfit over our time working together).

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When she wasn’t at school or studying for her exams – Asimwe dedicated all of time to the women seeking legal aid via WLAC. She usually did so from the isolated Legal Hotline office – not phased by the lack of recognition that accompanied this challenging position.

Unsurprisingly, she passed all of her exams with flying colours and was immediately offered a prestigious position elsewhere as a new advocate.

My admiration for Asimwe’s drive and dedication to tangibly contributing to the fight for gender equality is boundless and I so look forward to celebrating her many successes (from near or afar).

Here’s what she has to say about gender equality & who inspires her:

“Gender equality means treating each and everyone equally in all social, political, economic and cultural realms – being a man or a woman. To me, gender equality is an important goal to be adhered to so as to make the world a better place. All men and women have the potential to be essential, great leaders – why discriminate on the basis of their gender?

I admire all activists who speak out firmly on gender equality – but someone who inspires me is the first female president in Africa…Dr. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She was the 24th president of Liberia. Africa only believed in male leadership until she proved otherwise – and it serves as proof that gender equality is essential. She opened doors for other great leaders and also led to other female heads of state like Joyce Banda of Malawi.”

Asimwe may not realize it, but she herself and the work that she does has opened doors for many other women in her country and elsewhere – and that is exactly why I admire her so. Hongera sana, dada.

 

 

Feminists I Admire on Feminists They Admire and/or Convos on Gender Equality: Kristin Robinson

The 3rd laday I’ve chosen to spotlight for Feminists I Admire on Feminists They Admire and/or Convos on Gender Equality is one of the most staunch feminists I have had the privilege of knowing. She also happens to be the person who convinced me into volunteering for VIDEA back in high school. And it ALSO turns out that she is one of my dearest friends (tools4schools, friends4life)!

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Kristin Robinson isn’t afraid to push the comfort levels of those around her if not doing so means sacrificing her values. Srsly, mansplain at your own risk around this gal – word on the street is that she once publicly shamed a group of men that tried to impose their opinions on issues surrounding menstruation upon her.

I feel so grateful to have spent some of my most formative years with Kristin by my side as she helped to inform my passion for feminism and also my banging sense of humour. Those of us lucky enough to know her are all so much better because of it.

Ok enough about me. Here’s what K-Rob has to say about gender equality:

“The concept of gender equality brings up a lot of things inside of me. There’s the pride and passion I feel for the empowerment of sisters around me, ones that I know and love and then ones worthy of this equality by chance of being people, not ‘sisters’. There’s also the anger and confusion at resistance of this cause and the backlash of words like ‘feminism’ that is somehow a slight towards men just because it includes women. Gender equality is equity- recognizing we are born differently, with different amounts of privilege and ability and being able to address it and recognize the struggles endured by the subordinate gender for so long without feeling threatened. It’s having a voice, and not lacking an implicit respect just by chance of your genitals. It’s your value as a person rather than your value as a sexual object. It’s having conversations like these even when we feel like ‘a feminist killjoy’ (though there’s nothing wrong with that anyway).”

And on the most important feminists in her life:

“I guess my favourite feminist would be my mom. I was going to go for something artsy and cool like Laura Mulvey or Gloria Steinem but when it comes down to it, my mom is the most bad-ass feminist I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.”

— like mother like daughter, I suppose!

Until next time … PLEASE DONATE HERE TO THE INCREDIBLE ORGANIZATION KNOWN AS VIDEA THAT WORKS SO HARD WITH GRASSROOTS ORGS AROUND THE WORLD TO FIGHT FOR GENDER EQUALITY THANK YOU >>> http://solidarity.videa.ca/participantpage.asp?fundid=1845&uid=3358&role=3 <<<

Feminists I Admire on Feminists They Admire and/or Convos on Gender Equality: Shelly Shan

The second fierce female I’ve decided to spotlight this week for Feminists I Admire on Feminists They Admire and/or Convos on Gender Equality is one of my bosom buddies (take that however you’d like, babe) — Shelly Shan.

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This woman embodies feminism to me in so many ways and she’s the first person I usually call upon for advice on the subject. Slash she’s the first person I call upon when I want to vent about issues re: male figures in my life.

Therefore, I knew she wouldn’t be shy to an interview. TBH the only time she’s ever been shy to an interview is when Global TV objectified her for their benefit due to her ICON status in Victoria. Those d*cks.

Here’s what my bbgirl has to say about gender equality:

“For me, gender equality = being given the same amount of respected attentiveness.

There’s so much evidence in the multitudinous ways women aren’t heard, like based on ridiculously arbitrary attributes like highness of voice, etc.

I read a story about how when females request medical attention, they don’t receive the same level of care as male patients because there’s this inherent subconscious belief that they “exaggerate” their pain because of their tendencies towards “melodrama” and even though that’s a specific consequence, the same frame of mind occupies every facet of female existence, you know? Not only within the dichotomy of male vs. female, but pervasive in the whole range of interpersonal encounters within my chosen facility especially; being a writer, one is continuously demeaned from critical attention and excluded from the “high culture” of the literary field because the experience of being a woman is thought of as SPECIFIC, as opposed to being subsumed within the realm of HUMAN experience. So there’s this subliminal intuition that women only write for other women, and only women READ other women, and so the consequence is that every female writer is Sophie Kinsella with a hot pink book jacket and a clip art of Louboutins on the cover.

Of course being a woman IS a specific experience because moving through the world in a female body is operating within an opposing infrastructure, but if that struggle isn’t HEARD and isn’t recorded in a respectable way, that structure is never going to give. It makes me angry because male writers are always lauded for portraying women in a realistic way, and that’s just another repercussion of the patriarchal manifestation. And because my image is female to such an extreme extent, there are so many day-to-day instances where I don’t feel like the attention I’m paid is respectable. In academics, when I say something in an erudite way, there’s always this atmosphere of “oh. she’s not a ditz” because god forbid a girl in a short pink dress can have a comprehensive opinion on a serious subject.

Attention. The wrong kinds and the right kinds, and the enormous distance between the two created merely by the female identity. There is no gender equality if that gap continues to exist.”

And I highly suggest paying close attention to this girl & her prose: http://www.shellyshan.com/

When asked to tell me about her favourite feminist – Shelly responded immediately with “Vivian Gornick – ‘cause she’s a really good writer and she also understands interpersonal relationships between men and women in a really profound and interesting way”.

Completely trusting every recommendation that Shelly ever offers me – I took it upon myself to investigate this Gornick character further and was very moved by this quote from her recent interview with the Paris Review.

“When I was about eight, I was in a car with my cousin Rose, who was fifteen years older than me. I was in the backseat with my mother and my aunt, she was in the front with her husband, Irving. My aunt says, Could we stop at the grocery store, I need something. Irving says, No, we can’t. And Rose says, Oh, honey, are you sure we can’t? And again he says no. Then she put her hand on the back of his neck and began to massage it, and she leaned toward him and cooed like a baby. Oh, honey, she crooned. And he said, All right. Then she turned and winked at me, as if to say, This is how you do it. I was stunned. I saw that she was not at one with him. Winking at me meant that she wasn’t his ally—she was my ally. She and I were in this together. She was teaching me how to become her. It was the first time I’d seen something like that, and even then I knew a world of values was behind her action, a world I wasn’t going to be at home in.“

I too reject this ‘world of values’ that continues to be imposed upon women around the world. Instead, I choose to embrace the world being forged by women like Gornick & Shelly & my mother & the women of VIDEA – whom you can DIRECTLY support by visiting my fundraising page for the Global Solidarity Challenge!! http://solidarity.videa.ca/participantpage.asp?fundid=1845&uid=3358&role=3 <<< check it out & keep your eyes out for the next segment of Feminists I Admire on Feminists They Admire and/or Convos on Gender Equality.

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Feminists I Admire on Feminists They Admire and/or Convos on Gender Equality: My Mama

Alright – so, as those of you who follow my blog religiously already know, next week I will be participating in VIDEA’s Global Solidarity Challenge. The GSC is an annual fundraiser for the wonderful organization that has sent me on this journey, and it also serves as a method for increasing public awareness of global inequalities. The pledge that I have made to honour the challenge is to spend each day exemplifying a different obstacle that women around the world face due to menstruation. Here’s a cute lil link to my fundraising page if you’re interested in supporting me in this endeavour: http://solidarity.videa.ca/participantpage.asp?fundid=1845&uid=3358&role=3.

Leading up to this challenge as an engaging little segment, I’ve decided to do a daily feature of my fave feminists who have each helped to inform my passion for gender equality. This segment is succinctly titled “Feminists I Admire on Feminists They Admire and/or Convos About Gender Equality”

The first of these fabulous gender warriors missed her period in March of 1992 and subsequently sacrificed 9 months of alcohol consumption in order to ensure my healthy development. And her sacrifices only multiplied the minute I escaped her womb. Each day and every dollar for this lady has been dedicated to my safety, success, and happiness. And although I am over 15,000 km away from her now, I feel her with me at all times – embedded in my personality, values, and decisions.

If you’re still unsure as to whom I’m talking about & you didn’t read the title of this post – it’s my mom, Patricia Hirsch. And in addition to being an outstanding mother and feminist, she also happens to be a brilliant writer. Here’s what she has to say about gender equality & about some fierce women who have served similar purposes in her life as she has in mine: 10549908_10153410703641103_7152644679536871656_o

“i believe that the tenants of gender equality are indisputable.   that men and women enjoy the same rights and opportunities across all sectors of society including economic participation, and decision making.   and that the different behaviours, aspirations, and needs of both genders are equally acknowledged, encouraged, and valued.  

in my opinion, and as a female, who has been both a daughter and a mother,  i believe gender equality is a fundamental right.   it is about knowing your son and daughter can both realize any dream and enjoy the same rights, resources, opportunities, and protections.     it is about eliminating gender archetypes and stereotypes, and for both men and women to choose what identity fits best for themselves.  

and it is about respect.  

i want my daughter to have the freedom to walk home alone at night and not be afraid of any man who walks toward her.   i want my daughter to be in social situations without being vulnerable to sexual harassment or even  sexual assault.   i want my daughter’s opinions, expertise, and position in the workplace to be given the same favour as would be given to a man.  and i would like both my son and my daughter to never feel constrained, inhibited , inferior or diminished because of their gender.

 

on two feminists that i admire.

i first need to put this into some context.     when i was growing up , there weren’t any female news anchors,  or radio personalities, because women’s voices were deemed too ‘shrill’ for these positions.  there were barely even female comedians.   on screen,  female actors were cast second to the male actors who were the ‘leads’ in a film.    and they were usually cast as the ‘wife’ or the ‘fallen woman’.     women were secretaries, nurses, teachers, cashiers or mothers and wives.    

and then there was my mother.   Gladys May Cunningham.    before the word ‘feminist’ was part of our vernacular,  my mother epitomized those strengths and ideals.  she had always worked outside the home, ( in contrast to most of my friends mothers who stayed at home to raise their families ).   she was the strength and heart of our  family, wise, opinionated, informed, and had, for a long time, been ‘liberated’ from the societal constraints of her time.   i would never have to ‘explain’ to her why i wanted to  retain my last name when i married, though tradition decreed the opposite.     and it was not even an issue that i would live with someone without the benefit of marriage, when other girls were marrying their high school sweethearts after graduation.

while my father, though i loved him, seemed peripheral to our daily lives, my mother was the one who ‘kept it all together’,  embracing the shifts that the sixties were to bring upon us,  supportive, resilient and courageous in the face of so many life changes.    she learned to drive at age 40, again when most women were dependent on being ‘driven’ places by their husbands.   and when circumstances left her a widow, and her health was challenged, she carried on, volunteering, being active, independent, and continuing to be the backbone of our family,   and a defining force in her grandchildren’s lives.  

 

Gloria Steinem.

at the inception of the feminist movement, many of the leaders were older, conservative, and upper class .    and then a vivacious,dynamic, blue-jeaned journalist emerged.   in 1972, Gloria Steinem founded the feminist magazine, Ms., to which i had my first literary subscription.   she posed as a playboy bunny to expose the sexism inherent in that culture.   she made feminism relatable.  and for a young 20 year old like myself, she embodied this new vision of womanhood,  with intelligence,  humour, style and sass.   

every step in her remarkable life journey has been to raise awareness,  create dialogue,  fiercely oppose the culture of patriarchy,  and be a relentless global  activist for women.   she has inspired me to have the courage of my convictions,  speak to injustice,  and know my self worth as a female.    to me she defined a movement,  the end of an era,  and the legitimacy for women everywhere to be authentic, speak their truth, and never take equality on any level, for granted.”

 

“She’s probably just hungover”

… I laughed in response to my friend confessing that one of his employees here in Dar had called in sick with cramps for her Sunday serving shift.

I mean, that’s usually the case isn’t it? As a female server with exclusively male bosses, you use your period as your go-to hangover excuse to get out of a breakfast/brunch/lunch/oksometimesdinner shift.

After I mentioned it, enlightening this clueless man with my half decade (a half decade too long) of v v confidential serving expertise, I quickly let it slip back into my useless-memory bank. That is – until the next morning, when scrolling through my twitter feed, I stumbled upon an article with a click bait title reading, “Girls are literally selling their bodies to get sanitary pads.” Needless to say, I took the bait – and immediately felt ashamed for my quick judgment the day prior.

The article delves into the many obstacles faced by women within the global south and elsewhere when it comes to menstruation. These obstacles arise in the form of a lack of information, inadequate facilities, and, most commonly, an unjustifiably high cost for sanitary products. According to one statistic highlighted in the article, a girl may miss 10-20% of her education due to her period as a result of her lack of necessary resources, traditional pressure, and/or culturally instilled fear of public shame. More shocking than that, though, one mentioned study discovered that one in ten 15 year-olds had actually had transactional sex in order to attain money for pads.

It is a reality with which I’ve never been confronted – and it has absolutely broken my heart now that I have. I mean – it’s one thing for my (imaginary) boyfriend to refuse to go out and buy me tampons, but prohibiting access to these essential products is a crime against womankind.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of organizations dedicated to destigmatizing menstruation and advocating for greater accessibility to related products and appropriate facilities. The Red Elephant, for instance, is a Canadian organization that works in Tanzania to establish and support projects that allow women to remove/overcome the obstacles they face as a result of menstruation.

Speaking of Canada & periods – I was pleased to find out that, as of July 1st, GST has been removed from all feminine hygiene products, a sign that progress can be and is being made worldwide on this subject as public awareness leads to greater political pressure.

You may be wondering why this blog post is so heavy on Aunt Flo. As you should already know – I am leading Team Gender for VIDEA’s Global Solidarity Challenge, a fundraising campaign for our lovely sending org. that aims to highlight the global inequalities that they hope to lessen through their work. Putting the periods together now – you’ve probably deciphered that my challenge is going to have to do with the obstacles faced by women regarding menstruation. If you’re intrigued – or if you just want to hep a sister out and support the wonderful organization that has not only transformed my life over the past 4 months, but has worked for nearly 40 years to educate, collaborate, and advocate for a more just & equitable world, please head over to my fundraising page at http://solidarity.videa.ca/participantpage.asp?fundid=1845&uid=3358&role=3 and toss some of your spare change into my kitenge bucket hat.

Info on my challenge will make its way into this space and onto my many active social media platforms over the week of July 23 through 28th, so keep my online presence on your bookmark menu.

Now, in honour of Team Gender & SDG #5 & the Global Solidarity Challenge – I’ve decided to spend each day leading up to my challenge partaking in an engaging segment that I’ve titled: Feminists I Admire on Feminists They Admire. 2morrow is day one and it will ft. the phenomenal woman who quelled my nerves when I was certain that the blood in my underwear signified my approaching death – the same woman who entertained my demand to visit the doctor re: 2 ‘tumours’ that I was confident were infecting my flat chest at age 11. Stay tuned.IMG_3995

149 & feeling pretty fine actually

Today is Canada Day.

This usually means that you would find me engaging in a marathon of seaside debauchery, incomplete without a (crate of) craft beer and a summery Victoria wind chill of 15 degrees.

But that I am not.

Today I’m in my office in Dar es Salaam, sans beer, though it does feel like someone set the A/C to ‘Uncomfortable Victoria Evening’. However, that’s beside the point. It turns out Harper wasn’t a big fan of funding development projects (fun fact: the few Canadian-funded projects here in Dar are largely oil-related)…which means that this city is severely lacking in Canadian comrades to join us in celebrating our momentous 149th (have legit met a total of 2 other Canadians here, one of whom I have only actually communicated with via Instagram so not sure if that even counts).

Initially, I thought that this would result in July 1st fading like all other days into the beautiful blur that is my time in Dar. I thought that I would wake up this morning, once again identifying far more with the global community than I do with my national community – or really with any of my local communities on the west coast of ‘Canadia’ (if I had a Tanzanian shilling for every American that I’ve met here who’s employed that term, I would be Diamond Platnumz).

But that it did not and that I did not (and that I am not).

This week has been rife with tragic events that seem terribly indicative of a global shift away from unity & progress towards a less aesthetically pleasing rerun of the 1930s and 1940s. I was actually loosely inspired to jot down these simple thoughts o’ mine after reading an article written for The Tyee by Harry Smith, a WW2 veteran. In it, Harry emphasized that he sees one significant difference between our current global situation and that of his military day – and it’s not in our generation’s favour (see article in full thetyee.ca/Opinion/2016/06/29/Harry-Smith-Not-Britain-I-Fought-For). He reflected that ‘no matter how scared we were during the war against fascism we took comfort that Britain [and its allies] was united, not divided.

It is now undeniable that 2016 has birthed a disturbing global movement towards cultural protectionism and the strengthening of borders (most literally within our pal Donald Trump’s rhetoric), so I guess it might seem slightly peculiar for me to be getting all nationalistic today – but LET ME EXPLAIN.

This morn, I awoke to the exciting news that the Federal Court of Appeal in Canada had overturned our government’s approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline. This project has been adamantly and vocally opposed by First Nations, local communities, environmental groups, and most importantly, my late activist Grandfather, for over a decade now. Its approval would not only be devastating to our coastline, but it would stain our country’s history with yet another example of institutionalized ignorance to the irrevocable impact of fossil fuels, once again prioritizing short-term economic gain over long-term sustainability.

After 3 months of working here at WLAC under Tanzania’s corrupt judicial system – within which bribery is barely reprehensible against a backdrop of the significantly more criminal discriminatory law – you can probably imagine how elated I am to hear news of progressive justice being achieved in our world.

The reasoning provided for this delivery of justice was a lack of thorough public consultation for the project, particularly with the First Nations community that it would directly affect.

Now, I’m sure my British friends aren’t super keen on the notion of public consultation at the mo. However, I do feel like there is lesson to be learned through this piece of news from their once lowly colony – this lesson being that an engaged and informed populace does have the potential to attain great change, and that the presence of these traits can (and, I believe, will) ultimately enable us overcome the fear-mongering driven by capital within our current political culture.

While taking a closer look at the happenings this past week in my home country –– see exhibit A, this beautiful gif of our boy JT forcefully establishing a stronger union between the Northern Americas

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…and exhibit B, this study that has offered Canada the silver medal for most socially progressive nation in the world

 

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(https://dailyhive.com/vancouver/canada-most-progressive-country-in-the-world)

—- I’ve (quite clearly) become overwhelmed by two distinct feelings. The first being hope. The second, pride. With an ethically conscious judicial system, an increasingly inspired populace, and a leader who seemingly prefers opening our country’s arms to the world over fortifying our borders like a medieval property developer – imho Canada’s looking damn good for 149.

Or maybe I’m just a little homesick for exhibit C – this exquisite coastline.IMG_0152.jpg

 

Getting ‘Dolled Up’ in Dar

Last week, I attended a court session for the first time since I was in Grade 12 Law – and I will say that my two experiences did share a few similarities:
1. I was equally under-dressed this time around, though I like to think that my fashion sense has somewhat improved over the past 6 years
2. People all around me were speaking in jargon that I don’t understand, though this time slightly more so due to the legitimate language barrier
3. And there was a disproportionate number of silly-collared men filling the halls

The proceeding that I attended here also had a similar vibe to the one that Mr. Schippers dragged us into (us being a disruptive group of 30 teenagers) back in 2009. The Canadian case was between two estranged divorcees – fighting in every possible way save for physically over every last piece of their matrimonial assets. Fortunately for the wife in that scenario, she was offered equal (if not slightly preferential) compensation by the irritated judge who obviously spent the entire session questioning whether or not those grueling years in law school were really worth it.

In Tanzania, however, women aren’t privileged in quite the same way. Under the Law of Persons Act, the payment of a bride price is still accepted – legally deeming a wife as ‘property’ of her husband and his family. Fortunately, this practice is losing prevalence. What isn’t losing prevalence, however, is the injustice experienced by female widows – the precise injustice being experienced by the female appellant involved in the case last week. Courtesy of Tanzania’s Local Customary Law, a widow cannot inherit property of her deceased husband – even if said property was acquired with or with the help of her own money. Over the past year, WLAC has been at the forefront of the fight to put an end to this discriminatory law. My colleagues spent the majority of 2015 conducting a shadow report regarding the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (otherwise known as CEDAW) Committee to monitor the State Party’s efforts to abide by the recommendations and expectations of the international community. Additionally, they have taken on major strategic litigation cases – like the one mentioned by the Human Rights Watch here  – http://bit.ly/1Ql0O9b, and the one that I attended last week – in an attempt to pressure the government to get rid of this law on the grounds that it conflicts with human rights.

The State Party has publicly agreed to review institutionalized practices of discrimination against women, but, according to my colleagues, it is a promise that has been made over and over again, leaving them with little hope for any serious improvement.

Before I began this journey, I promised that this blog would comment on what life is like as a woman in Tanzania. However, I don’t feel the need to highlight any of the slightly uncomfortable situations that my gender has made me susceptible to in this country with deeply rooted traditions of patriarchy and so many obstacles to overcome in its progress. What I will mention, however, is that I have not once felt more objectified on the streets of Dar than I have walking down Granville St. in Vancouver. Although women here experience fewer of what us Canadian’s would refer to as ‘freedoms’, they are liberated in so many small ways that we could never truly comprehend and they are for the most part respected to a great degree by their male counterparts.

And although it is slightly offensive to be asked to cover up my hair while strolling down the street outside my own home here – I have been exposed to equal if not more sexism from the obnoxious mouths of Dar’s muzungu expats, one of whom legitimately asked me to get ‘dolled up’ for an event like I was his 1950s housewife and not a completely independent female stranger that he met a mere week prior. Canadian law may offer the rights of my gender far more protection – but by no means is our culture free from shameful discriminatory practices against women. There is still a long way to go until women outnumber the men cloaked in legal robes at the Victoria courthouse, and an even longer way to go until I can expect not to be likened to an inanimate object by a male suitor.

Now, before I let you go and while we’re on the topic of gender – I would like to formally announce that I will be leading Team Gender for VIDEA’s Global Solidarity Challenge this July. If you are unaware of what VIDEA is, you will be pleased to know that not only is it the organization that has sent me on this incredible journey but it has also been committed to providing vital and innovative programming addressing gender equality, human rights, and social justice for 37 years and counting (see http://videa.ca for more info). I join thousands of others in my infinite gratitude for the work that VIDEA does, which is why I’ve decided to take part in the Challenge. What is the Challenge? It is an annual fundraiser that asks participants to make a pledge to partake in a small activity of their own choosing that highlights some aspect of global injustice. As leader of Team Gender, I am now recruiting you (yes you) to help me to raise money for this brilliant organization while simultaneously engaging our cumulative networks on the subject of gender equality (a hot topic that I’m sure you can all get on board with). If you’re interested in being a part of this fundraiser – or if you just want to support monetarily – please get in touch with me through any/all digital platforms.

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This is what you will receive if you ask me to get dolled up
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Madame Jane of another VIDEA partner organization, Equality for Growth, engaging community leaders in Dar es Salaam on the topic of Customary Law and the CEDAW recommendations
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Community dialogue on Customary Law & the CEDAW recommendations hosted by WLAC in Shinyanga, Northern Tanzania