WHY I’M IN TANZANIA

I watched the sky darken for the impending sunset at Heathrow Airport, in England, and a night-flight later stepped out into glaring sunlight – a brand new day in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

I am here with Oxfam GB, meeting up with Oxfam Tanzania, to work together on a few projects. I have been involved with Oxfam since their Walking The Breadline report last year, which exposed the scale of food bank use in Britain. I was one of the case studies in the report, and indicated a wish to work with Oxfam on further projects. Later in the year they asked me if I would consider being an Ambassador for their UK poverty projects, and I accepted.

So why, as a UK ambassador, do I find myself in Tanzania? It is a good question, with no straightforward answer – but I will attempt to clumsily put down my thoughts.

I was invited by Jane Foster, the UK country director for Oxfam in Tanzania, to visit some projects centred around women, motherhood, farming and land, and to write about them for Oxfam. I have guest blogged for Oxfam on a number of projects and issues this year, including the G8 summit in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, last summer, as part of the Enough Food If campaign.

I have said since I first signed my book deal (and later Sainsburys) that I would be donating a percentage of my royalties to projects and good causes, both domestic and abroad, and so I said yes. The respective Oxfam teams then started to plan the trip, and identify the projects to visit in Tanzania. I shan’t spoil the surprise as I will be blogging as I go!

People have asked me a lot over the past few weeks, why Africa? Why not concentrate on projects at home? Why are you interested? Have you forgotten about the poor in Britain now? (and variations on this theme!)

Why Africa? Because the Africa we see in the mainstream news could be mistaken for a homogenous country, one defined by guns and famine, devastating history, civil war and disturbance. Ask any Westerner to describe ‘Africa’ and they will paint a similar picture. Desperation and despair sell newspapers, underpin emotive NGO campaigns and TV appeals. While the newspapers and charities do not fabricate these events – they are real and devastating disasters – the more positive stories are seldom heard. Yet…we do not define Europe by the flooding on the south coast of England, nor the whole of Asia by a civil unrest in one small part of it. So I am partly here to discover a part of Africa – Tanzania, to be precise – that has far more stories to tell than those perpetuated by the usual mainstream media. Poverty and inequality are unavoidable parts of those stories.

Secondly, I am not here for a race to the bottom with regards to poverty and living standards. Poverty in the UK and poverty in Africa are incomparable on so many levels – but at the core are common themes; the scapegoating and victim blaming, the attitude that if you are poor then it is somehow your own fault. The lack of representation at Government level, with no Parliamentarians willing to align themselves with ‘the poor’, who they do not really understand. An inability to meet basic needs such as food and water, the difficulties in providing for children when you have very little.

We may be almost 5,000 miles from one another, but our basic needs and rights are the same. The need for food, for water, for education for our children, an income, safe and secure housing. The right to live without fear of exploitation, financial or sexual or otherwise. The right to live without fear of abuse or violence. The right to live independently rather than at the hands of an abusive partner. To be able to give birth safely, to be treated by a doctor if you or your family fall sick.

I am here to meet women who have made a change in their lives and their communities, who have stood up and been counted, who have broken traditions and political barriers. I’m here to write about what I learn, and to share it with you. I am part journalist, part food blogger, part charity campaigner, and for the next week or so, I will be doing all of that here, in Tanzania.

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

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33 thoughts on “WHY I’M IN TANZANIA

  1. Long time reader, first time commenter.

    You are a total inspiration and it’s amazing how you turned your life around in 2 short years. I feel compelled to write this email because I feel you shouldn’t have to explain yourself for everything that you do. Like the Sainsbury ad for instance, it was an opportunity and it felt right for you, so you did it. It sucked that you were blasted for it, to be called a sell out, but at the end of the day, you have to make a living, and as more opportunities come, you’ll be able to live more and more comfortably. Just because you survived on 10p meals when you had to, doesn’t mean you should always have to live like that to be true to yourself.

    With this Oxfam opportunity, it’s a chance to do good and to do something about a cause you firmly believe in. It is not in Britain no, but the perk is you got to travel somewhere else, which I suppose if why you felt the need to explain yourself? F*ck that, this was an awesome opportunity and you took it and that’s great! I hope eventually you’ll stop feeling like you owe your readers an explanation for everything. Just because you have more resources and opportunities now doesn’t mean you’re less than who you were 2 years ago.

    Good luck and I am happy for all the success you have! :)

  2. Long time reader, first time commenter.

    You are a total inspiration and it’s amazing how you turned your life around in 2 short years. I feel compelled to write this email because I feel you shouldn’t have to explain yourself for everything that you do. Like the Sainsbury ad for instance, it was an opportunity and it felt right for you, so you did it. It sucked that you were blasted for it, to be called a sell out, but at the end of the day, you have to make a living, and as more opportunities come, you’ll be able to live more and more comfortably. Just because you survived on 10p meals when you had to, doesn’t mean you should always have to live like that to be true to yourself.

    With this Oxfam opportunity, it’s a chance to do good and to do something about a cause you firmly believe in. It is not in Britain no, but the perk is you got to travel somewhere else, which I suppose if why you felt the need to explain yourself? F*ck that, this was an awesome opportunity and you took it and that’s great! I hope eventually you’ll stop feeling like you owe your readers an explanation for everything. Just because you have more resources and opportunities now doesn’t mean you’re less than who you were 2 years ago.

    Good luck and I am happy for all the success you have! :)

  3. What on earth are you doing there, Jack?

    For starters- is there really any comparison between living in Britain and most of Africa for most people? That just seems bizarre to me, to compare the suffering of the UK which is basically *waiting for benefits* or *not having enough* or *insufficient government representation or action* to the kind of horrors people probably aren’t going to show you on your Oxfam visit….

    Is Tanzania not still one of the most exploitative places to be a young female? Have these barbaric people even stopped female genital mutilation in response to international pleas or law?

    You do know that homosexuality is punishable by law there and that most of the population- almost 100%- uphold that position?

  4. Jack, your ability to cut to the chase–swiftly and neatly–never ceases to amaze me but, today, you have outdone yourself with this commentary. It is not a race, it is not a competition. Poverty hurts, regardless of location. Poverty is wrong, everywhere, all of the time. Thank you for doing what you do. Small boy has an amazing mother.

  5. I’m certain you’ll find Tanzania fascinating. I had the good fortune to spend over 18 months there some ten or so years ago, working with a conservation organisation. Dar es Salaam is an amazing city. I hope you get out into the further reaches of the country, too. So many stories to find and share. And don’t forget that Zanzibar is only a ferry trip away!

  6. I am very curious to read about your experiences there. My hubby and I have done social projects near Moshi in 2002.

  7. While your heart is obviously in the right place I am afraid Oxfam is a large, bloated, inefficient organisation that often does more harm than good. For a cogent summary of the effects of aid in Africa as a whole, see Paul Theroux – Dark Star Safari. My experience of working in the past with Oxfam as a supplier is that they treat their suppliers like Tescos.

  8. Right on, Jack! You are so right about the common themes of poverty worldwide: poverty regarding to not only access to material goods, but of access to social goods such as safety, freedom, choice, opportunity, and respect. I look forward to reading about your experiences and impressions from your trip.

  9. I dislike that it’s always seen as a zero sum game – like, if you care about the poor of Africa, you clearly can’t have enough compassion left to care about people in Britain who are also living in poverty.

  10. With everything that you do and say for others my respect for you is constantly growing.

    I am lucky enough to be going out with an Eritrean woman so I hear about sides of Africa that I would not have known about otherwise, good luck with your trip and I hope you enjoy it.

  11. Great post Jack. Sometimes it is east to focus on the differences. We are all on this world together – everyone hopes for the same things. Food, shelter, security and the potential for a future for our children.

    I hope you have an amazing trip – and come back with some new recipe ideas :)

  12. I thoroughly agree that there is a common them to scapegoat the poorer people (with the exception of natural disasters when money is more readily donated to help). I echo your thoughts that many of those in parliament have no idea what living on a low income means and the effects on people’s life chances as well as their physical and mental health. I think that you are an inspiration both as a person and as a campaigner. I wish you every success. I will be following your reports very closely.

  13. Thank you for such a beautifully written post Jack. You have brought so many emotive issues into the public eye and increased awareness of them. You are doing a great job.

  14. You should be ashamed of yourself praising such a regime.

    People are dying and being literally killed just for being gay in many African countries- including Tanzania.

    It’s a horrible thing you do here, I just do not get it.

    • As a gay woman myself, I am well aware of that. But the women farmers I visited yesterday did not stone me as I wandered over with short hair and tattoos. Yes parts of the regime are corrupt and ghastly, but tarring the entire country with that brush is like saying everyone in England behaves like a member of the EDL, BNP, National Front… I’m not ashamed that I am in Tanzania, not at all. How are we to foster understanding if we all draw lines around our countries, sit in those lines and judge from them without ever going to see for ourselves? That is the shameful thing.

    • When exactly did Jack “praise” the Tanzanian government anyway? Did she claim they weren’t homophobic, corrupt or repressive? No.

      How is travelling with an NGO meeting poor people – arguably neglected by the government themselves – “praising the regime”?Were the West “praising” the horrific North Korean government by giving their people food aid during the 1990s famine?

  15. What an amazing opportunity, they picked you because you have a voice that people listen to. Well deserved honour. Look forward to following your journey as an armchair traveller, you take every opportunity to help where you can hunny x

  16. Good luck! please don’t forget to visit forgotten villages and not the usual places full of NGOs. There you can find the true people of Tanzania, behind the conflicts between farmers and pastoralists, independent women, muslim and christiand living together in peace. There is so much to learn in Tanzania, and so much diversity. One week may not be enough to discover that. And if you are staying in Dar es Salaam in expensive hotels or in ex-pat houses in Oysterbay, then the probabilities to see any of the true Tanzania are even lower.

  17. My name is Peter Nkwera From Tanzania In hire Tanzania if you have respective you will done everything that you want , always i like some one who respect everyone I m christian an im 18 years old . Wellcome Tanzania And well come at my home anyone . On faceboôk Im Peter Aur . And my email is :peterbunty42@gmail.Com thank you allllllllllll WELLCOME ALL

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