Saturday, February 16, 2008

Tanzanian travel peeves

Pet peeve of the moment #1

Would you sleep on a sponge?

I didn’t think so. The foam mattresses here in East Africa look like (and act like) giant car wash sponges. After a few nights of an obese mzungu tourist sleeping on them, foam mattresses get sunken in. It’s like sleeping in a worn sponge bowl. Forget about spine support. The floor would do a much better job of that. Too bad the floors are generally icky and buggy.

Pet peeve of the moment #2

How does it feel to be treated like a second-class human being all the time?

It’s bad enough to be a woman here in Tanzania. Imagine being a black African woman. Despite Nyerere’s African socialism, one thing that he forgot to help equalize is the status of women. Many women here seem to just assume that they are second-class humans and fail to speak up for themselves – or for anyone else for that matter. Nearly everything is deferred to men. It’ painful to see women constantly swallowing their voice and being stepped on.

I am facing an uphill battle with wanting respect as a small-sized, loud-mouthed Asian American female physician. Since I have been traveling with Guy (a very very tall white Dutch American man) and Steve (a relatively tall African American man), most Tanzanians get confused when I am introduced as the doctor, Guy is introduced as the nurse, and Steve is introduced as the peer educator. I’m happy to encourage people to challenge their stereotypes, sexism and assumptions, but dammit – it is hard work!

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