If interested… give my first reflection post – a read!
The topic of this is post was in response to the following question:
Reflecting on the challenges you have faced during your internship so far, how has your own privilege impacted the way you reacted to or addressed challenges? How are you practicing self-reflexivity relating to your privilege?
As a foreigner in a country where the colour of my skin, my clothes, my language and even my mannerisms all make me stick out like a sore thumb, there are a few things I have learnt during the past six weeks in Mwanza about the term’s “privilege” and “self-reflexivity”. Whether I’m walking down the street and someone outright calls me “Mzungu,” or I’m at the market and someone tries to sell me a watermelon for triple the local price, or even the day I got pick-pocketed (don’t worry it was only 2000 TZS); I have learnt the importance of stopping and thinking for a moment before reacting. My initial reaction is often teetering on frustration/anger because clearly some of these incidents are not the nicest interactions that one could have, but then I am reminded of who I am, where I am from and how that plays a role in how I get treated in place where I am the one who is “different,” or an “outsider,” if you will.
The more challenges I face, the more I recognize and acknowledge the many layers of privilege that I have simply by being someone who has the means to go halfway across the world to a country where almost nothing is the same as back at home. From the weather, the daily interactions, the food, the music, the language, the gender and workplace norms, and even the hustle and bustle of the busy streets: there have been a lot of things that I’ve had to get used to. In one of my recent blog posts, I wrote about getting used to the water running out twice a week, cold showers, a-not-so-cold fridge, slow WIFI and not always having easy access to all the foods I would normally would eat at home. Although at first these things may have seemed bothersome, I am very well aware of the fact that these are problems that I am lucky to have as there are many people here and in other parts of the world who don’t have access to these things for much longer than I can imagine. For that reason, I am actually very grateful and I am avoiding the urge to complain about these “first world problems,” that are in hindsight very minute adjustments.
Similarly, from a work standpoint, I have had to adjust to the pole-pole (slow) processes that influence the work that the other interns and I have to get done during our three and a half months in Mwanza. For example, we are still awaiting ethics approval from NIMR which oversees all the research in the country before we can begin our Sensory Evaluation Study which has been put on halt since we arrived, even though it was supposed to be one of our biggest internship goals. It is also commonplace for scheduled meetings that are supposed to start at 9am, to actually start sometime closer to or even later than 11am. Incidents like this can at first be disappointing, but I am also somewhat used to this type of laid-back work lifestyle from previous experiences working in communities that have very different timelines compared to that of typical fast-paced communities like we are used to in Canada; here they call this phenomenon “Tanzanian Flexible Time (TFT),” and last year when I was working on a reserve in Northern Ontario it was called “Rez Time”.
Another workplace challenge that the other interns and I have faced, are a few cases where we have had meetings with organizations who assume we are able to donate lots of money to help out with operations or put on large-scale events just because they see that we are foreign travelers which gives the impression that we are able to act as donors. Our main translator, Kato, has been extremely helpful in these situations by explaining that we are simply university students who have the ability to listen to their needs, collaborate and brainstorm solutions to key challenges, and also attempt to find other means of funding for them, but in no way are we financially capable of giving out money of our own.
Before coming to Tanzania, as I was packing my almost overflowing suitcase my dad had said to me “It looks like you are packing all of Walmart to go with you, but when you get there you will see nothing, but the simple life,” and he was right. The life here really is simple and the more time I spend here, the more I become conscious of the luxuries’ children growing up in places like Canada have in comparison to the children who grow up here, and in other countries like Pakistan where both of my parents grew up. Yesterday, we had a meeting with a girl’s empowerment group called the Eagle Movement, which was started in 2017 by Mikono Yetu. When we asked some of the girls what the challenges they face as they grow up here in Mwanza, the answers ranged from having to keep up with their studies even though they often go to school hungry, having to balance school, work and doing all of the house chores because of cultural norms, or not being allowed to go to school at all because of financial barriers or parental restrictions. These are the daily problems that the majority of the young girls here face, and not to say that some kids back in Canada don’t go through similar struggles, but the normalcy of this for so many children in Tanzania alone is really eye-opening.
I want to end this reflection post with two sentences that I found on a previous WHE interns’ blog that really resonated with the theme of this reflection post: “If English is your first language, if you are from a high-income country, if you are white, able-bodied, straight, educated, male, if you are able to travel, and especially if you are ALL of these combined, realize you are privileged as F. You were dealt a Royal flush in the card game of life1.” Although I don’t perfectly fit the description above, I acknowledge the layers of privilege that I do have and as a result I understand where the people of Tanzania are coming from when they treat me differently. On a final note, I strongly believe that this is the basis of practicing self-reflexivity which is extremely important in being respectful of other cultures, especially when travelling and working abroad.