"Couldn't there be more intercultural exchange OUR way?"

November 13, 2019

Who talks about refugees in Tanzania, and what do they say?

November 10, 2019

#SudanUprising in Copenhagen

June 23, 2019

On 26 June I moderate talks & debate on #SudanUprising in #Copenhagen.

The Sudanese artist Khalid Albaih joins via Skype.

Kindly read Khalid's article a...

Update: Everyday Poetics: Instagramming Life in East Africa in Belgrade

April 26, 2019

PHOTO EXHIBITION: EVERYDAY POETICS - INSTAGRAMMING EAST AFRICA

April 12, 2019

Owl in Tanzanian Parliament - bad omen for freedom of speech and assembly.

January 30, 2019

On 29 January, when the Tanzanian Parliament (Bunge) was assembled in Dodoma, an owl flew in and watched the assembly. The owl is seen in Tanzanian (e...

''We've died''

January 22, 2019

Bikozulu tells the stories of the people making it through last week's terror attack in Nairobi.

See the Instagram post here

If you ask me, and someti...

FILM: Wakamba Forever

January 21, 2019

Colonianism revisited:

..''a hilarious take on Masaku and McMillan’s first encounter set in the 21st century. From a dramatic re-telling of the Kamba o...

Chuchu: ''We are not the audience. We are the story''.

January 20, 2019

Two important tweet threads (see below) which take point of departure in the New York Times coverage of the Riverside terror attack on 15 January 2019...

Field Work & more

November 9, 2018

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I, the visitor from the other galaxy

Monday, January 16, 2017

In September last year I was in Tanzania where I did a third semester of my MA at Centre for African Studies as a field study. During field work I went with a translator to do an interview. When we were offered lunch the translator started quizzing me. I instantly felt as if he crossed a border in regards of my perception of intimacy. My reaction was irritation which I tried to control by taking notes of the conversation as it unfolded:

 

 

 

'Is that a real tattoo?'
 

The man sitting in the sofa next to me shoots a question across the room while he bends over my bag and me with such an eagerness that I first fear my shirt is unbuttoned.

 

It happens so fast. He grabs my right arm and looks at the tattoo before all of his words have left his mouth. I ask him to please stop whatever he's doing, that he shouldn't grab my arm like this. That it makes me feel as if I am nothing but a goat on the market.

 

Then he giggles. It is a kind of giggle which takes me a while to place. I feel like as if it expresses everything from insecurity, surprise and pure innocence. But it is also a kind of giggle which makes me feel like a matter out of place. I feel like he is turning his problem with trying to place me in a box into my problem.

 

We are waiting to be served food. He asks me: ‘Are you sure (you can eat it)?!’
 

The question appears on level with a grander existential choice.

 

'I believe so' I say.

 

He giggles.
 

‘So, you are not married?!’ he asks though he has already asked me that question the other day.
 

‘No’ I repeat.
 

Giggle. 
 

‘Why not?!’ he asks.
 

‘To be honest, I don’t know. Why should I be married?!’ I counteract.

 

Giggle.

 

‘But what about the children?’

 

‘Yes, what about those?!’ I reply.

 

Giggle.

 

Even though I am wearing long trousers and a shirt with long sleeves, he makes me feel as if I'm inappropiate. He makes me feel as if he's never sat so close to a woman who does not share his colour. I may be making it up, but this is how it feels. He doesn't make me feel outstanding, he makes me feel as if I stand out. Excluded.
 

When the food is served, he observes how I take the ugali (staple food), form a lump in my right hand and uses it to scoop up the dagaa (fried sardines) on the plate. I look back at him. He looks at me, the visitor from the other galaxy.

 

‘I am his Other’ I think, and make a note on how convenient this experience is for my field study report. This will contribute extravagantly to pages of academic meandering. Right now, I wonder though how I practically will find a way to bridge this massive gap of understanding of colour, culture, gender and age.

 

I feel my own resentment bubble. I try to beat it back. Focus. I try not to take it personal, but I do. It goes right under my skin.

 

Later, I realised that I wanted so badly to control the situation of interviewing and observation, during and after. Alas, this is real life, and this is not realistic. Then I contemplated that if I actually looked into his mirrored observations of me, if I tried to see how he saw me instead of rejecting it, I may learn something new. I realised I had made too hasty conclusions: ‘that put research participants in an unfavourable light (questioning their moral status’) (Ryen, 2008: 15). He called me three weeks later inviting me to his wedding. It made me wonder about why my own instinctive conclusion was that he was judging me as a less worthy person. Maybe he wasn't. Maybe he was just curious about me?

 

People take time.

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PhD Student, MA in African Studies, journalist and former development worker. Heart tilted towards the Balkans & East Africa: Refugees, Peripheries, Imaginaries & Humanitarianism