Notes from the Field: Dar es Salaam


Washington D.C., April 2014

With some phone numbers of Tanzanians living in the East coast of the US in my pocket and a preliminary plan on where to start and where to end, I traveled the Boston. I had difficulties to imagine how conducting ethnographic research in huge cities of the United States will look like. I soon had to find out that not only the fact that I was conducting research in those big urban centers was a change but also my informants who – trying to make a living in those urban centers or suburbs – were in the midst of their professional carriers, thus women and men busy working some also on the weekends. I guess that makes the bigger change from interviewing older people in Dar es Salaam, than being in big US cities, where you need some time to travel from one place to another, which was actually very much similar to Dar es Salaam with its foleni (traffic jams). Hence, my informants were mostly young and very busy. However I was very glad to find out that almost all of them were willing to and also interested in talking to me about the care of older people in Tanzania in general, and their care relationship to their mothers and fathers in particular. Since the communities of the cities I visited were very well organized, I was very happy to get into contact with many Watanzania (Tanzanians)! Being able to talk Swahili and having lived in Bongo (Dar es Salaam), I was welcomed as a mgeni (guest) in the communities.

I was especially happy to be able to follow up on the few already established contacts in Dar es Salaam. Since I knew members of their family ‘back home’ I was also treated as a part of the (US) family right from the beginning. We shared pictures of their parents back home and many nice stories. Being able to stay with some families was also very much enriching, and gave nice insights in how living in a ‘transnational social space’ looks like…

Luckily, I was in the US when the Union Day of Tanzania was celebrated. There was a big event organized by the Tanzanian Embassy in Washington DC and I was able to join. In the evening there was a big reception at an event hall and even a minster from Tanzania gave a speech. Furthermore amongst others, the ambassador and also the president of the Tanzanian community in the US were sitting at the nicely decorated table on the stage and were welcoming Tanzanians from different communities spread all over the US continent. There was a fashion show with Tanzanian dresses, nice Tanzanian food and of course music. For me this event was especially nice to meet with people I interviewed in different communities and places and observe how they are connected.

Dar es Salaam, 22nd November 2013

In the last few days we were able to go back to the other three areas of research, where we conducted the interviews with the older people last year. We already went to greet the wazee (older people) in April. Now it was interesting to see again how they are doing half a year later. Most of them are fine and around. Unfortunately, I could not meet the oldest bibi (grandmother) in my sample who is already 100 years old, as she moved to another area of the city. They told us that she was getting too confused and sometimes just run away and went into neighbor’s houses. They were afraid that she gets lost or that somebody would consider her to be a witch. Therefore they explained that they sold the house and moved to another place where they can lock the door of the house…

We were especially happy to go back to one of the areas because most elderly of the “middle class” milieu talked about this area when distinguishing themselves from “others”. Thus, this area was always mentioned when they told us that they are not “as rich as" others but also not “as poor as” the inhabitants of that particular area. Once back from the visits we talked again with some wazee in the better off area about the older people in the poorer area. Like this it was very interesting to grasp values and attitudes, but also hints on how they perceive what we might call their social position. They told us for example that in the poorer area the young people are not taught to work and therefore they consume drugs and alcohol – and due to that they also do not respect older people anymore. This totally negative picture was reproduced so many times and in different ways! And we were also reminded again how different the life of an older person looks like, depending on where in Dar es Salaam and (therefore?) how this person lives. It is really a heterogeneous city!

Otherwise we are about to finish with the interviews of the smaller sample. Soon we have to start saying goodbye again. At the moment I really enjoy to just walk around the ward and greet “my” wazee. Yesterday I went to buy fresh milk at one mzees (old man) place and then I passed at the shop of another bibi; always with a little chat for some twenty minutes or so. Those daily chats also give a lot of insights to me because they are not announced or arranged but just occur very naturally.

Dar es Salaam, 6th November 2013

Since almost four weeks I am now back in Dar es Salaam in order to continue with my research. This time will be one of the last times to follow up on “my” wazee (older people) from the small sample that I focused on since the beginning of the year. While I was away my lovely field assistants continued to visit the older people on a monthly base and reported back to me their hali (state/condition). I also called them every month in order to keep the relations close and to know how they are doing. So already before we met them we knew how they have been and which problems they were bothered with. Once more I realized when we came to say hello again that the fact of coming and going - saying goodbye and hello; bringing zawadi (gifts) when I arrive and receiving gifts (mainly for my parents) before I leave – really deepens the trust in the relation to them. The same I observed with my landlords; now they always emphasize that I am not a guest anymore but a family member. I enjoy that very much.

In general it was good to see that not much changed. Of course all of the wazee had some critical moments; those moments do not necessarily have to be related to their physical health, but can also be sorrows because of a sick family member or deaths of relatives. Those incidents seem to have kept them busy during the last months. Health wise I was happy to observe that most of them are doing quite well. One 70 years old man of our sample with diabetes even improved his health. When asked why he told us that he had discovered Yoga! Thus, almost daily he is now following Yoga instructions from a book that he found once in a small (Indian) second hand bookstore just around the corner. The book originates from the US and was printed in 1975. It is really interesting to observe how such ideas travel around the world!

After some days we also plan to visit the 38 older people in the other three mitaa (wards) of our sample from last year. I am already looking forward to hear their stories!

Dar es Salaam, 26th May 2013

Apart from hypertension, diabetes seems to be a widespread health problem of older people here in the city. According to the specialist at the diabetic unit of one of the hospitals in Dar es Salaam, the adult onset diabetes starts already with 40 years here. And the lifestyle of the city is not really helping to prevent the condition. Although the older people in our sample listen to their doctor, the advice to do some mazoezi (exercises) is seldom transformed into action. By the way, when it comes to advice in health issues, most informants told us that they ONLY listen to the doctor, and rarely to health advices from their children or sources like newspaper or radio. This applies also for the bibi I was accompanying to the hospital for her monthly blood sugar test: Because she is helping out her daughter in a shop, she is forced to sit the whole day at the same shop and she hardly moves. Apart from diagnosed diabetes she is also suffering from hypertension. At the diabetic unit of the hospital she gets advise on what to eat and how to look after her health. At the hospital they even once a week hold an information session for the patients and their relatives about living with diabetes. The bibi knows much more about what kind of food is good for her than her (yet unmarried) daughter who stays with her. The same applies for taking her drugs; it is her own responsibility to remember to take the pills. Sometimes she gets tired of her (daily) medicaments and she just delays to go to her monthly checkup (which is connected to the provision of new medicaments for another month). However, usually she feels very fast that this was not a good decision and sometimes she even goes to buy similar drugs at a pharmacy to bring her sugar level down again, before visiting the doctor who would be angry with her (she is afraid of that!). In general, I had the impression that this bibi can live well with her health problem because she is having a health insurance through her first born daughter who is state employed and working as a teacher. The daughter was able to take her mother as a “dependent” on her insurance card, which now helps to finance the (for many people costly) diabetic treatment. It makes the visits at the clinic a bit more complicated because before queuing for the examination, you have to present yourself at a special counter of the hospital where they fill in a form for you, after showing the insurance card. With this form you have to wait for the examination, which is again divided into two parts; at first the blood, pressure and weight test and then as a second step some time later the consultation of the doctor. After the doctor prescribes you medicine you have to go to another building where there is a counter for the pharmacy. Usually, at the pharmacy of the hospitals there is no medication available, thus you have to (wait and) see another doctor who is filling in another form for you, which entitles you to go and take the medication at another pharmacy outside the hospital. In case you have a health insurance card you then have to go to a special pharmacy where they accept you with the card. Thus, it is somehow a long procedure. While with the bibi, before traveling again to the pharmacy, we planed to take some breakfast at a restaurant. However, for the bibi this was a challenge, because they only had chai ya rangi, which is black tea without milk. Also for food, they offered chapatti or mandazi. The bibi remained with no meal because the black tea that she could only drink without sugar was not pleasing her and the food was to fatty for her diabetic (and hypertension) diet. At the pharmacy it was then very easy to get the medicaments and therefore after five hours the bibi had her examination and the new medicaments for another month and we were able to get into the crowded bus back home!

Dar es Salaam, 28th April 2013

About ten days ago I was traveling to the north of the country in order to visit a bibi who was in my sample last year. For now she moved to Moshi in order to care for her husband. They were separated for 15 years; he even married another woman in between. Now he has fallen ill and the bibi has to meet the expectations of the family and care for him. So this bibi who has lived an independent life in her own house in Dar es Salaam moved to their village in Moshi where she is now cooking and caring for her ex-husband in their house, which they had build once they were still a couple… it was a nice experience to spend two intensive days with her; I was even allowed to stay over night! This visit provided me with a very good insight into her current life and her responsibilities towards the family. Although her health is not very bad, she is also struggling to do all the household activities. That is why she hired a household helper who is doing the cleaning for her, however the bibi faces some difficulties in paying her. Her only income is the collection of rents in Dar es Salaam as well as from the student rooms they rent out in Moshi.

Apart from this exciting visit the research here in Dar goes on very well. Every day we are visiting one babu or one bibi; with the older women we usually cook or join them to the market and chat, while with the men we sometimes go for example to do mazoezi (exercises), we do some farming activities around the house or sometimes we also just sit and chat. A very important event is also the church on Sundays where we also try to participate, as it seems to be a highly important event for most of them every week. The nice effect of spending so much time with those older persons is that my assistants and I are already very much part of their families; thus we are not only familiar to the elderly themselves but also to their children, grandchildren or household helper; those people who are surrounding them.

Apart from these visits in my main research area we are visiting currently also the rest of the 50 informants from the last years' sample. It was interesting to see that not much has changed since last year, even the two very old ladies (one is 95 years old the other one around 100 years) in one of my sites are still old (and frail) - but around. One bibi of my last years’ sample died – just two days before I came to visit her house! This was very sad, but I guess that’s part of our research on older people!

Dar es Salaam, 17th March 2013

It has been three weeks since we are back in Tanzania. The first two weeks Sandra and I conducted another Swahili language course at SUZA in Zanzibar. This course was very helpful to get back into the language. Besides the course it was wonderful to be able to take up again the contacts to our host families (from the language course last year) and during the two weeks of language course, we were either eating lunch or dinner with them. Besides the effect of practicing the language it was also great to be part of the family again. Apart from the language school we were taking up our links to some organizations and institutions concerned with elderly in order to exchange about recent developments in their and our work.

Since one week I am now back in Dar es Salaam. Fortunately, I was able to go back to the same apartment where I already stayed last year; thus my landlords are again the elderly Tanzanian couple on a compound with five houses in Kinondoni District. I was warmly welcomed and felt at home right away.

During the first week here in Dar es Salaam I was trying to get organized with my research. I found two new and competent assistants, both have a BA in Social Science from the University of Dar es Salaam. After a short training, we were already able to meet almost all of the elderly people in our research area in order to conduct a short interview and make an appointment for the coming week. As we will focus this time mainly on one of the four research sites from last year (the area where I also stay), the focus lies on the randomly sampled thirteen elderly in this quarter of Kinondoni. Apart from two elderly women who are currently traveling, eleven elderly are still staying in the same houses and are willing to take part in the study again. Similarly as with my landlords it was very nice to meet my elderly informants again and to see that they are well. And I was able to observe once more how an acquaintance becomes more familiar and close if you can build on an already established contact; a nice effect of an ongoing research. We will now go back to the homes of the elderly next week in order to spend full days with them. I am curious how it will be to stay for half a day or a day and to just do what they are doing!

Dar es Salaam, 14th October 2012

The last week was very productive. We were lucky and many elderly were around for the appointments. We started with the fourth and last mtaa, which is again very diverse with elderly from different educational, religious and cultural backgrounds. After the sixty years old Christian babu with his own shop we interviewed an around hundred years old Muslim bibi who is not capable of walking anymore and is cared for by her daughter and granddaughter… This shows again that the elderly above sixty are by no means a homogenous group! And every care arrangement has its own history and particularities.

However, despite the heterogeneity of my elderly interview partners, there are some tendencies that we can see after having met over forty elderly: Although the ageing policy of Tanzania and commonly articulated social norms expect families to take care of the elderly, in most households the mabibi and mababu are the main caregivers of the family and as long as their physical and mental health allows, they raise grandchildren, provide financial support or advise family members…

Dar es Salaam, 1st October 2012

Yesterday I started conducting interviews in a new mtaa; it is the area where I am currently staying. To do interviews “at home” is very luxury because for once I did not have to travel for more than one hour in a crowded daladala! I do not say that I would want to miss the experience of public transport here in Dar, however for once it was nice to just walk to my interview partners…! 

I have already conducted a test interview with the babu, I am staying with: he is slightly over seventy years old, stays in his house with his wife and two of his (already grown up) children and he has a very interesting life-story! So now I am curious to learn more about his neighbours, in an area that was to a large part occupied by government houses that were given to civil servants. Also now it seems that some of the elderly stay in houses that were sold to their children as state employees (I still have to find out more about that)… Thus, they can stay there for free; one kind of support the children are providing to their parents.

Otherwise the last week was not very productive as some of the planned interviews could not take place; either the babu or bibi was too busy to receive us or too sick.  Furthermore, there was also one informant who changed his mind and decided not to take part in our study. But I guess that’s how it is and it is always exciting to find out what the next week will bring!

Dar es Salaam, 16th September 2012

We already conducted the transsect walks in two mitaa! This was quite a task, especially because in one of the areas the letter from the municipality, which was supposed to inform the concerned ward officer on our research, was lost. Thus, a whole day we were chasing letters at the different offices that are distributed over the whole district. But finally we were lucky to get a new one!

Coming to the actual realization of the transsects, it took us several hours to walk along the streets and to count the houses; in order to assure a random sample we were choosing every tenth house on the right side… While in the first mtaa in almost every house there seemed to live an elderly person, in the second area we sampled, it was more difficult; and especially to find elderly men was quite a challenge! But finally, we managed to find our interview partners; up to now, with no exception they were very welcoming and willing to take part in the study.

Dar es Salaam, 3rd September 2012

After having accomplished a language course at the State University of Zanzibar, SUZA, for almost two months, we conducted a mapping of organizations (in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar), which are in some or the other way engaged in elderly people. Up to now we did not find many of them. However, we found some with very motivated members; although, especially for NGO’s it seems to be difficult to engage in the topic since not many donors seem to be interested in elderly people.

One week ago we (finally) received our research permit here in Dar and we are now about to start with conducting the planned fifty interviews with elderly mabibi and mababu (grandmothers and grandfathers). And luckily, my two field assistants - a bibi and a babu as well - are ready too to assist me with the translations during the interviews. For the research in this huge city we have chosen four different mitaa (=wards) distributed in all three districts of Dar es Salaam (Ilala, Kinondoni and Temeke). The intention by choosing the wards was to get a good overview over the city; with its diversity of people, places and spaces. In order to randomly select our interview partners we intend to do transsect walks in the different wards; this is our plan for next week!