My university teaching here in Dar es Salaam has sucked up all my hours for the last month, turning this already intermittent blogging rivulet completely dry. My instruction ended last week, however, meaning time this week to write up tales of my mwalimu experience. But then I woke up on November 9th to watch the November 8th election returns roll in, and the bottom dropped out of the America I thought I lived in.
Enough (better-crafted and more insightful) polemics and hand-wringing accounts appear elsewhere, so I’ll not add my talking-head account to this page. And the Fulbright program has cautioned all of us not to get too political in any case (yes, Mr. and Ms. Fulbright Coordinator, I’ve added the disclaimer that you want us to post). Still, being here while you’re voting there—and then watching states turn red while many of you sleep through the night hoping for a miracle—whacked me out as totally weird.
Remember Silent Running, the Bruce Dern movie from the ‘70s? Bruce pilots a big ass cargo spaceship that carries around the solar system the last living plants from a post-apocalyptic Earth. At some point his bosses tell him to destroy the plants, and he (or everybody else?) goes crazy. He turns confused rebel, drifting alone, unmoored to anyone, anything, or even the plant-less Earth outside his spaceship window. I felt unmoored as well today, watching from Africa a blight spread in the darkness of North America and wanting to shake everybody awake to stop it. A really lonely feeling.
The other strong emotion? Embarrassment. I couldn’t go into the University this morning. I’ve a wonderful group of people at the Institute of Human Settlements Studies that hosts me, always curious about my life and what’s going on in the US, particularly this election season. Some of them even got out of bed at 4 AM for each of the three Presidential debates, and watched them from beginning to end, plus all of the post-debate commentaries. And while almost all criticize America on some accounts—most of it justified in my opinion—all volunteer how much they appreciate and envy our rule of law, civil society, transparency, and diversity. No joke, I couldn’t face my Tanzanian colleagues today.
Fakejina, one of the PhD students in the class I just taught, emailed me this morning (stay away NSA snoopers, I changed the name to protect anonymity):I couldn’t bear to write back right away, but eventually . . . . which prompted the followingThe response intrigues me. Tanzania’s President Magufuli (and maybe his CCM party) now appear to have huge support from wide swaths of society—out of 100 Tanzanians I’ve talked to, I’d say 80 enthusiastically applaud the changes he has made, mainly because (they claim) he has thrown out a lot of bad actors and finally made public officials accountable after decades of the opposite. But it doesn’t sound like it started that way at all. Unfortunately, I can’t imagine a more ill-suited person for such a turn-around in the US than the guy we just selected.
To end on a metaphorical note, Frank, the three-wheel bajaj driver who gets me to and from my university, works magic to move quickly through the nasty traffic every morning. Look below at a typical route. We come in from the upper right on Rose Garden Rd. and exit to the upper left on Bagamoyo Rd. Putting America in the bajaj’s passenger bench, as it approaches the intersection of Rose Garden and Bagamoyo, the bajaj veers right in a post-primary bounce, before doubling back to the left in mid-summer and turning sharply right as irrelevant emails continue to fester. Then, as tales of widespread groping appear, it goes left on a clear trajectory headed for downtown, before inexplicably reversing course against all odds and exiting on a long dark run to the right.