My Experience In India

When Ursula asked me to write about my experience in India, I was reluctant because the little that I had experienced was within the four walls of a hospital. Within my four hospital walls, India was a huge success! I truly doubt if there is anything they can not do medically! Their facilities are just out this world and what impressed me the most is the investment they have put in this industry they have mastered. I wish us, Tanzanians, did the same with our tourism – and we have so much, infact just too much to show off for!

Back to medical as I sat in wonderment of the Indian physician, I couldn’t help it but compare with my own back home. To be honest – we have some very talented doctors! What we lack are the facilities! Yes, the equipments are very expensive, but if we can put up a multi million dollar stadium and satellite that we really have no use of, surely we can invest in medical facilities that will save the lives of leader of tomorrow? Yes, Tanzanians are just as good and abled in many sectors as other countries – but we are just not encouraged nor facilitated! Tell me, what is it that Rwanda has that we don’t have?!

Now back to India, the few people in India who were a bit knowledgeable about Africa swore – just like everybody else in the world – that Kilimanjaro is in Kenya and so are the Maasai. What are we doing? Pretty soon the world will say that Zanzibar and Tanzanite are in Kenya! There I was getting pissed when they asked if I was from Nigeria, while we don’t even promote ourselves well. I mean, Tanzania doesn’t even know herself, despite all the resources we have – and we are truly blessed with resources – since as far as they are concerned Africa is a country and Nigeria is the capital city.

So I have just finished reading these two amazing books Born Under A Million Shadows and Rooftops of Tehran – which have really got me thinking – made me think about Ursula’s request, particularly because we are both very passionate about awareness projects.

But before I try to get all serious, I learnt that we, humans from this continent called Earth, whether from India, Tanzania, Australia or Switzerland, all have one thing in common – maybe some worse than others but we all have it – the “I know better” attitude. The doctors and facilities were amazing – but the supporting staff, uwii!! I woke up from the first operation in this agonizing pain, I called the nurse, she came then smiled at me, patted me, shook her head from side to side then left. I was like “okay, was I just speaking Kichagga, because surely she must have understood what I just said?!”

Anyway, this continued for six hours! I mean I was in serious pain! Anyway, it went on until I was returned in my room from the ICU! Later when I realized that if I continued with this patting game I might die from pain I angrily ordered her to call the doctor. Apparently the painkiller drip wasn’t strong enough for me. For a while I thought it was the language barrier, but kumbe it was the “I know better” attitude “I’m the nurse, such shut it!” But she had forgotten something – it’s my body and I know it better than anybody! We have the same attitude problem in Tanzania – I’ve found myself fighting with car mechanics over my car, the car I drive and know quite well; over my computer that I have used and owned for years; again my body that I have had for years and know very well – but hey, I am here, you might be the expert here but I know my things better!

So India made me laugh, surprised me and left me in awe, I was envious, impressed, as well as shocked and on a large scale of my own country. Yes, India did shock me, or rather the part of India I was in – I am stressing on the par oft as many that I asked said whatever I was experiencing had a lot to do with the area.

In the other countries I have been to, the youngsters’ cultures are not that different from us with MTV, the pop and urban culture having played a big role in influencing their lives. But here I was in a country where if you were not a cricket star than you were not known! Mandela, Michael Jackson, Bill Gates were all alien names to them. This is where I was surprised and awed. Bollywood really lives large in India, and Hollywood is hardly known.

Indians have embraced their culture with both arms – and legs even! In everything Indians do whether in the corporate world or in Bollywood, they took some Indian spirit and culture with them and they are so proud of it. I doubt if the saying, “you can take an African, in this case Indian, out of the bush but you can never take the bush out of an African, erm Indian” can ever apply to them as they embrace their “bush”. I really did envy them there.

I was also so impressed with the fact that everything in India is manufactured there! And I mean absolutely everything! Despite the poverty and all, India is doing something for her people. Yes, there is corruption – but when they steal, they steal smartly. They don’t take 90% as some of us do. They take 10% and yet also leave a legacy of what they have achieved. We steal stupidly and we still don’t have anything to show for it! Atleast basi build schools, hospitals with the funds that you have stolen! Don’t go paying for DSTV, sijui saloon tabs; buying the reddest cars and houses for nyumba ndogos!! Jamani!

Such I was in total awe in the contrast in India, as India today is a country of contrasts – a fast modernizing economy in which village production continues to largely dominate, a vibrant democracy with an deep-rooted bureaucracy and at the same time a nuclear power in the place where nonviolent protest was born. I read somewhere that the Indian economy has been described as “schizophrenic”, its modern service sector – largely urban-based – stands in concurrence to rural India, where fields are plowed with bullocks and brick furnaces are specks in the landscape. As for the road traffic, it’s not the Mercedes and Marutis proceeding at zig zagging multiple speeds – incorporating these different sectors – that share the roads with scooters, bicycles, cows and sometimes even camel-drawn carts that are necessarily an awe. You see this schizophrenic economy is everywhere in India – even the entertainment sector exhibits these discrepancies, with older Bollywood productions portraying rather chaste and uncorrupted interactions between the sexes – with teary songs, long flowing saris and fields of flowers – and newer films being more risqué in their portrayal of men and women – with bump and grind songs, tight and short outfits and four poster beds.

Anyway, India did make me laugh – I arrived at the hospital, almost eighteen hours later, tired and hungry. I got there just in time for lunch, very tired and hungry, I see a nicely bound menu. Si you know how us waswahili love our foods! So I made a quick mental note that since I would be bedridden for a while I should be careful of what I eat. In the menu lots of Indian dishes and a few continental dishes. So I asked for cream of chicken soup and toasted wheat bread. A very well mannered waiter dressed in black and white, came into my room with a tray of my goodies, after placing my order.
“Have you had lunch?” he asked as he smiled warmly.
“Um, you’re carrying my lunch!”
He smiled again, shaking his head from side to side and asked again if I have had lunch. Again I repeated my answer. It took me about a week plus to learn that “have you had lunch/breakfast” was a greeting. Duh!

So anyway he placed the tray on the trolley next to me. The toast was wrapped in a foil paper. I opened it, there was white bread. So I told the guy, who was still standing at the foot of my bed, that I had asked for wheat bread.
“Vhite bread,” he said as he pointed at the goodies, smiling.
“No! Not white bread! I had asked for wheat bread.”
“Vhite bread,” he repeated again, shaking his head from side to side.
Uwiiii! I then decided to just let the bread be as dude clearly didn’t understand me. So I reached for my bowl of soup – that was wrapped with a cling film. First thing that that me raise my eyebrow was the thinness of the soup – it was just too thin to be cream soup. Anyway, so I tasted it. It was chicken boiled in milk, then seasoned, then they added a dollop of cream!! Nilichoka kabisa!!!!

Tomato soup was grated tomatoes, boiled in water then seasoned! Pasta salad was boiled pasta and bell pepper, without seasoning or dressing! I think this is why I was forced to lose weight as my tray almost always went back untouched!
After realizing that I’d starve if I keep on returning their trays, I started ordering out. Anyway, since Nigeria was the “only” city in the country of Africa, they figured I was a “big person from Nigeria.” Lol. To them Africa is a country and the capital is Nigeria. After repeating a million times angrily that I was not Nigerian, I decided to answer to their constant question of “are you from Nigeria?” with “no, but are you from Pakistan!” You should have seen their dark faces turning purple! And for a while their heads stopped shaking from side to side. Lol.

The funniest was whenever I spoke proper English, I was told that my “language was different,” that they did not understand my language. I tried to speak broken to get my points across ad funny enough this was understood.

One thing that really struck me while there was for people so talented and intelligent they could also be very uninformed. The two I could never connect then, but I got it – it’s the schizophrenic economy that they have, the rich are extremely rich and exposed, while the poor are really poor and uninformed.

Then I was told o the different syllabuses they have for the different castes – I suppose this is one contributing factor for such a gap. This made me think of just how much potential us Tanzanians have – despite poverty we suffer, the late Mwalimu Nyerere managed to introduce free and universal education, greatly raising the nation’s literacy rate. But with all the opportunity that we have, the poor are continuing to be poorer as his vision was not embraced by many. Such while we have just been sitting on the jackpot all along, letting Kenyans, South Africans and others grab it instead.

So anyway, on my way from the hospital to the airport, along a quite up-market street I saw a very nice looking store, what caught my attention was not the architecture of the building, but rather the blinged up colourful cow that was conveniently parked outside the store. My driver seeing my raised eyebrow explained that it was a god guarding the business.

Yes, so India made me laugh – I once asked the physiotherapist if I can start exercising once I got home. He then took my weight, looked at me then announced that I could, but went on to insist sympathetically even that I should work more on the lower part as the upper part is small and all the weight seems to be going to the lower part. I looked at him and told him, “wewe!! Una kichaa cha kuku?! This figure in Africa ni dili!”

Enough of laughter, lol, now comes the shock part. I suppose this shock was expected after reading so much about what goes down in India and also watched it on telly. But experiencing it was a plus. The various classes and huge gap in classes, the ignorance, the poverty, the segregation I saw in India really struck me. Tanzania is also India in one way or another. But most of us are always so content, comfortable and even blinded by our shortfalls that more often than ever only a visitor can see them and pin point them.

Tanzania is faced by the same problems your typical third world country has – where women, more than men, are disproportionately affected by economic, social and health issues that contribute to the continued slow development of our country.

Such poverty, illiteracy and gender inequality are issues affecting Tanzania – like India. It is sad but women are more affected than men, such women risk complications and deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth, sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and AIDS. Traditional practices, such as domestic violence, early marriages, and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) also contribute to the slow development.

However it is never too late and a lot is already being done – and much more can still be done. We need to start sending out messages. We need projects which will be sending out relevant messages to the masses on the sensitive issues. Such projects should serve as a platform that will sensitize, educate and give the masses a medium to use that will voice out issues that either affect them on an individual basis or affect them as a society.

There are many out there who are willing to join hands in this possibility but funds are needed. We need companies to sponsor such causes. The harsh reality faced by the victims of the issues on a day to day basis as well as the impact of that issue on the rest of society need to be addressed. And mostly we need to open lines of communication; to show the face and voice of the victim and connect the faceless and voiceless to agents that can bring about change either for them or for the nation.

We need Tanzanians to hear real life stories, which will empower people – particularly women and children to address these issues within their own families and communities. Such this will also provide the women with new opportunities and sensitizes participants on how those practices have a negative impact on their quality of life.

India made me realize that truly corporate capitalists no more encourage prosperity than do they propagate democracy, such a literate populace is a threat to people such as feudal lords, religion dictators, military dictators and so on – where the masses are starving on a full stomach. You see, an affluent literate populace with high expectations about its standard of living and social conditions as well as a keen sense of entitlement, is not the plutocracy’s – a government by the wealth – notion of an ideal workforce and a properly bendable politically organized unit. Capitalist lords prefer poor populations. The poorer you are, the harder you will work and for less and the less equipped you will be to defend yourself against the abuses of wealth.

Moreover, if there are no manners of control within the society, the plutocracy can easily crumple into a kleptocracy – reign of thieves – where the power holders attempt to confiscate as much public funds as possible as their private property. As per Wikipedia – a kleptocratic state is usually thoroughly corrupt, has very little production and its economy is unstable. Many failed states represent kleptocracies. Incidentally Tanzania has been in the list of failed states – ranked warning – for many years running now. Again as per Wikipedia – A failed state has several attributes. Common indicators include a state whose central government is so weak or ineffective that it has little practical control over much of its territory; non-provision of public services; widespread corruption and criminality; refugees and involuntary movement of populations; sharp economic decline.

The status-quo does not change if the social and economic monopoly that is enjoyed by a few doesn’t get threatened by alternatives. With such projects we will be attacking poverty through literacy. I strongly feel that such projects will promote development and bring awareness in health care, education, agriculture, water and sanitation, resource management, infrastructure, and HIV and AIDS – among other avenues.

So as beautiful as Tanzania is and I really hope visitors who come here don’t view us as I had viewed a part of India – as progressing as it is. Such I hope such projects will serve as an awareness vehicle to your typical Tanzanian and such will hopefully get him to make a difference.

By the way I am not a politician, infact I don’t understand politics – infact listening about politics gives me a headache – I am just very passionate … 🙂

Sandra A. Mushi is a writer based in Dar es Salaam. She publishes her blog at SaHaRa Soul Food and at Sandra’s Den.

Her first book, a collection of soulful poems, The Rhythm of My Rhyme is available in selected (book) stores including A Novel Idea, Dar es Salaam.


~ by saharasoulfood on October 28, 2009.

2 Responses to “My Experience In India”

  1. […] h My Experience In India · … in India who were a bit knowledgeable about Africa swore – just like […]

  2. Hi, Jambo. I did not get from your article – which part of India were you in – though your experiences are very true and depict the correct picture of how much awareness Indians have about Tanzania.

    Surprisingly, i am a Tanzanian National by Birth and reside in Mumbai, India since the past 30 years. You are right in saying that we haven’t done enough to make our selves known. Similar were my concerns to the Tanzanian Embassy in New Delhi since more than a decade now.

    I am now associated with the Tanzania Tourist Board and am working hard to promote the tourist attractions that we have, which we are all aware are one of it’s kind in this world – but unfortunately there is no awareness about these attractions in India and worst is the fact that we are not doing anything about this.

    Looking forward to communicating more with you and other Tanzanian Brothers, Sisters and Friends on such issues and to bring about more awareness about Tanzania in India.

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