Today’s Flaneuring post comes from Dodoma, Tanzania. Let’s take a walk with Tamie Davis.
I step out of my back door for my evening walk. It’s a circuit of the university where we live and work. There’s no fence around the university but recently huge thickets of thorns have been placed at every possible exit except for the main gate. We don’t expect rain for another month so there’s plenty of material for this makeshift boundary, though the splashes of orange, pink and purple hibiscus mean it’s not as brown as you might expect. I greet the four guards casually sitting at the gate chatting with a woman selling mangoes. There’s something of an exodus of students at this time of day as well, on their way to their hostels for the night, or leaving their campus accommodation to get some food.
I follow a girl in bright green skinny jeans, walking arm in arm with her friend in a flowing floral dress with matching veils. As we leave the university premises, I pick up my pace. Past the shipping containers converted into stationery shops where you can print and photocopy. Past the mini-stores selling soap, chewing gum, water, matches, toothpaste and phone credit. Past the bajajis waiting in the shade. Past the raucous secondary school girls in their bottle green skirts and jumpers, one group calling out the line of a song and the others answering.
I head up the incline towards the top of the university and it’s like a different world. I overtake two shriveled old women trudging along carrying huge loads on their heads, their kangas faded and limp and their ears pierced with the holes of the Gogo tribe. I return their calls with a respectful greeting. I’m overtaken by a lad on a bike, empty containers strapped on either side as he cycles to get water from a well. On the other side of the road a group of four children are herding goats into a building for the night. They point me out to one another and then one of them calls out in English, ‘Good morning!’
Their house is nondescript home-made brick but as I come back down the other side of the university, I start to see some new houses, watermelon pink or lime green, water tanks visible above the line of their imposing fences. There is often a mama out the front of one house, packing up her fruit stall and looking rather flustered by her crying baby. A little further is a row of cafes serving chips and fried bananas. There’s a baby there too, wearing a frilly dress and in her father’s arms, and I know I’m heading back towards the world of the university.
There are students arriving at the café. They dust off the plastic chairs before sitting, because everything in Dodoma is permanently covered in dust and without kangas to wrap around them or sit on, they’re worried their clothes will get dirty. It’s not just the fact that they’re eating out that gives them away as students. It’s the crispness of their clothes, and their self-consciousness. Even in groups, they know people are watching them. Their eyes flicker to each other, as if they’re not quite confident in this setting. They’ve made the decision to come to university, but I wonder if the top part of the university’s surroundings feels more familiar to them.
The irony of all this of course, is that my eyes are also darting around, though for a slightly different reason. I’m drinking everything in. We’ve been here two years and I’m hyper-aware that there is much I don’t understand. For all I have seen and learnt and been influenced by my environment, it’s still foreign. A walk is never just a walk; I am constantly taking in information, trying to sort and categorise it, as we westerners are so wont to do.
As I’ve made a circuit of the boundary of the university, I’ve thought of myself as passing from one world into another and back again. But that’s an artificial distinction because the tension between the two worlds is embodied in the students themselves. It’s in their hearts as well as on the streets. This isn’t about contrasting two worlds so much as it is about connecting them. The students aren’t an island of modernity in Tanzania: they are Tanzania, with all its contradictions and uncertainty and energy.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Dodoma, Tanzania with her husband and 2.5 year old son. She thinks out loud at meetjesusatuni.com.