Majina ya wazanzibari

After some months on Zanzibar I now start to get used to the names (in Swahili majina) commonly used here; and time after time I have “discovered” that many of these names can be found in my dictionary, because they are also frequently used Swahili words. The same phenomenon can be found in Norwegian names like Dag, Finn and Gro, or in English names like Joy, Cliff and Frank, but the fact that these names mean something is coincidental. In Zanzibar, however, the use of these types of names are much more widespred, and probably also more intentional. This caught my attention, so I tried to learn more about it, and this is  the result of my little “investigation”.

First of all, Zanzibar is a muslim community, and islamic names like Ali, Mohammed (often abbreviated Moh´d), BakarFarid, Khadija / Hadiya, Fatma / Fatimah, Rashid, Othman, and Omar are frequently used. There are also a lot of Arabic versions of names we can recognize from the bible, like Suleiman (Salomon), Yussuf (Joseph), Mussa (Moses) and Maryam (Maria). On the list of Arabic names, we can also include names inspired by the timing of the birth of the person having this name: Idi (born during the Idd festival), Haji (or Hajira for girls, for a person born during the pilgrimage to Mecca, known as Hajj), Ramadan (born during this well known Islamic month), Rajab(u) (born during the 7. month in the Islamic calender, with the same name), Shawal (born during the 10. month in the Islamic calender, with the same name),  Juma (born on a Friday, known in Swahili as ijumaa, which is a word with Arabic roots), and Hamisi/ Khamis (born on a Thursday, known in Swahili as al-khamis, which of course is also a word with Arabic roots). Much more could be said about these names and their meaning, but that is outside the scope of this blog post (because that would be more of an Arabic than a Swahili story).

What really fascinate me, and what I found confusing to begin with (because in some occations I didn´t understand that it was a name I was hearing/ reading, and not just another word in the sentence), are the names having straight forward meanings in Swahili. Many of these are beautiful, nice words that I can easily understand that parents would like to associate with their children: Lulu (pearl), Kito (gem stone), Heri (blessed/ successful), Salama (peace or safety), Jamala (courtesy/ elegance), Zawadi (present), Rehema (mercy), Amina (peaceful), Jabu (wonderful), Mahir(i) (skillful), Baraka (blessed, related to the wellknown name Barack).

Among the more neutral names we find Mosi, Pili and Tatu (meaning “one”, “two” and “three”, often refering to first born, second born and third born child of the family), as well as Tenda ([to] do), Sadiki ([to] believe), Saada (help), Mkubwa (big man), Bimkubwa (big woman), and Mar(i)jani (coral). However, there are also a number of names that I find less flattering: Pakacha (plaited fruit basket), and Zabibu (grapes). And why would anyone name their newborn child Mzee (old person) or Bimkongwe (old lady)?

Some names are straigth out negative and would probably have caused the child to have a hard time in school, if the translated versions were used in Norway: Mtumwa (slave), Shida (problem), Kombo (wrong), Bimbaya (bad woman), Bimchafu (dirty woman), and Bimnono (fat woman). I have a hard time understanding how parents can call their own child things like this, and I have asked some of the locals about it. The explanation I have gotten is that these names are given to fool evil spirits (or even to fool God) into believing that the child is not worth taking, so some of these names are chosen when the family has already lost one or more children because of illnesses or accidents. This reminded me on another fascinating custom, that is quite common here: The face of newborn children are often painted, and according to what I´ve been told, the mother makes an effort to make the baby look ugly and dangerous in an attempt to scare away evil spirits.

Many of the boy names in Zanzibar (as in other muslim regions) begin with Abdul-, like Abdulrahman, Abdulrauf, Abdulwadud, Abdulsomad, Abdulshakur, Abdulkhalim, Abdulkhadir, Abdullah. They all mean the same: Abdul is Arabic and means “servant”, whereas the second part is one of the 99 different names for God (Often meaning things like “the Mercifully Gracious”, “the Most Mercifull”, “the Eternal”, “the Most Thankful”, “the Mild”, “the Patient”, “the Capable” and so on). So these names are probably chosen by parents who would like their son to serve God.

Similarly, many of the girl names in Zanzibar begin with Mwana-, but this has a completely different origin. Examples are Mwanaidi, Mwanajuma, Mwanakhamis, Mwanapili, Mwanaomar, Mwanakombo, Mwanajabu and so on. Mwana- means “child of”, so originally these names were probably given to the daughters of IdiJumaKhamisPiliOmar, KomboJabu and so on, but I have been told that this is not the case anymore. However, these names can, like any other name, be found again and again in the same family. This is in fact one of many unformal rules regarding names:

Most Zanzibarians have three names, of which the two last equals the two first names of the father of that person. This means that the first name is generally given to that person, the second is the given name of the father, and the third is the given name of the paternal grandfather. The next “rule” is that the given name of the first born child is chosen by the father or the fathers family and friends. Many times they will choose to name boys after their paternal great grandfather. This means that for many generations all first born boys in a family can share the same three names, with the internal order between the names as the only difference (for instance: Ali Khamis Mohammed is the father of Mohammed Ali Khamis, who is the father of Khamis Mohammed Ali, who is the father of Ali Khamis Mohammed and so on). But the mother and her family has also got some rights: The second born child, and every second child after that, has the name chosen by the mother and her family. So the unequality between the sexes, when it comes to naming of the offspring, isn´t quite as huge as I first thought. Anyway, as we say in Norway “the name is no disgrace for anyone!” (“navnet skjemmer ingen”)

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Medisinsk etikk av en annen verden

Er det de samme prinsippene som gjelder for medisinsk etiske spørsmål, uavhengig av omstendigheter? Selv om situasjonene er veldig forskjellige fra Europa til Afrika, er det jo gjerne de samme grunnleggende spørsmålene som kommer opp på et sykehus: Når er prognosen for en pasient så dårlig at det beste er å holde tilbake behandling? Hvilken pasient prioriterer man først, nå det kommer to samtidig og man bare kan gå til en ad gangen? Og mer overordnet: Hvor stor andel av det totale helsebudsjettet kan man akseptere at brukes på enkeltpasienter eller enkelttilstander?

Når spørsmålene formuleres generelt er de jo like anvendelige på rike og fattige omgivelser. Men dette blir fort en for teoretisk tilnærming. Det forutsetter at det er reflekterte, bevisste beslutninger som gjøres. Og noen steder er faktisk svikten at man aldri skaffer seg oversikt nok til å kunne gjøre slike vurderinger. Dette forutsetter nemlig at man har vurdert pasientene grundig, har stilt en diagnose (som er rimelig korrekt), og så tar stilling til hva man skal gjøre med det. Og det forutsetter at det som man har bestemt seg for å gjøre, faktisk blir gjort. Det å undersøke og observere pasientene som er på et sykehus er jo en så grunnleggende del av det helsevesenet befatter seg med, at noen skrivebordsetikere ikke en gang tenker på muligheten for at det finnes steder der det ikke blir gjort. Men det gjør det.

Dette ble veldig tydelig illustrert da vi forsøkte å sette opp en studie her på Zanzibar: Vanlig praksis her er at nyfødte barn reiser hjem fra sykehuset etter fødselen uten noen som helst vurdering. De nyfødte blir tilsett i liten grad i de få timene de er på sykehuset, og det hender rett som det er at man finner barn som er døde, uten at noen vet når barnet pustet sist. Med dette som utgangspunkt, ville vi sette opp en screening (med pulsoksymeter), for sikre at alle fikk et lite tilsyn (1-2 minutter), slik at vi kunne plukke ut noen av dem som trenger nærmere undersøkelse, siden vi vet at det er urealistisk at alle barn blir vurdert skikkelig med dagens bemanning/ driftssituasjon. Så vi skrev en protokoll, fikk den godkjent av lokale myndigheter på Zanzibar og hadde alt klart, men ble stoppet av norsk etisk komité. Hvorfor? Fordi vi med denne metoden trolig ville finne barn med hjertefeil, og internasjonale prinsipper for screening tilsier at man skal ha tilgjengelig, effektiv behandling mot de tilstandene man finner, før man starter opp en screeningundersøkelse. Vi klagde og argumenterte med at for hvert barn med operasjonskrevende hjertefeil, vil vi trolig finne 10-20 ganger så mange med banale, men dødelige tilstander som vi kan behandle, men til ingen nytte.

Paradokset blir fullendt når man legger til følgende opplysning: Barn med hjertefeil på Zanzibar blir faktisk operert. Hvis diagnosen stilles (om det skjer, beror på en rekke tilfeldigheter), blir mange av dem sendt til utlandet for operasjon. Angivelig betales dette av bistandsmidler, men disse midlene kunne jo like godt vært brukt på andre deler av helsevesenet. Når man vet hvor mye det koster å transportere en pasient til et annet land, operere, gi postoperativ oppfølging og transportere tilbake, kan man spørre om det er riktig bruk av penger i et land der mange barn dør av dehydrering, som enkelt kunne vært behandlet for en brøkdel av disse pengene. Tilsvarende kommer besøkende nevrokirurger til Zanzibar og opererer inn shunter hos barn med vannhode. Når man vet at 50-80% av de som har slike shunter får komplikasjoner innen ett år, og det ikke finnes noen beredskap for å ta seg av disse komplikasjonene, kan man stille spørsmål ved dette også.

Velmenende helsepersonell og eksperter fra andre land tilbyr sine tjenester, men man forutsetter at det basale er på plass. Og når det ikke er det, så blir utslaget feil. Det er klart at det er mer glamourøst å si at man har hjerteoperert et barn enn å si at man har væskebehandlet en med diaré. Men klarer du ikke det sistenevnte, så hjelper det lite å gjøre det førstnevnte. For også det hjerteopererte barnet får nok en diarésykdom på et eller annet tidspunkt. Tilsvarende har jeg mer enn én gang kommet til pasienter som ikke hadde noe som helst tilsyn, men da jeg oppdaget at vedkommende ikke pustet, kom noen springende med intuberingsutstyr. Siden vi ikke har noen respirator blir det jo ekstra latterlig, men det illustrerer det samme poenget: I stedet for billig, enkel, effektiv, tidlig behandling som oksygentilskudd og overvåkning hos de som er litt dårlige, så vil folk gjerne gi høyintensiv behandling til de som er veldig dårlige. Tilsvarende er det noen som argumenterer for å starte med dialysebehandling av de med nyresvikt, mens man trolig kunne forebygget nyresvikten hos en stor andel av disse dersom man hadde hatt skikkelige blodtrykkskontroller. Og da kan vi gå tilbake til våre initielle, generelle spørsmål: Hvordan blir kostnad/nytte-kalkylen av slik praksis?

Hvis man har én pasient som har en akutt, kritisk tilstand, og en annen som har en stabil, kronisk tilstand, hvilken ser man først på? Selvfølgelig ser man på den akutte. Og hvis man har én alvorlig syk pasient og en ikke-alvorlig syk, hvem ser man først på og bruker mest tid på? Den alvorlige, naturligvis. Problemet er når det er så mange alvorlig syke, at man ikke kommer til de andre, før de også er blitt alvorlig syke. Så ved å prioritere behandling av de dårligste, så blir det flere dårlige.

Oppfattelsen av hvor stor verdi et individuelt menneskeliv har, er dessuten veldig forskjellig fra land til land. Jeg har opplevd mange situasjoner der mine kolleger prioriterer høflig omgang og småprat, frem for å tilse dårlige pasienter. Og for de fleste blir det en del av hverdagen å gå hjem til familien, selv om det betyr at man forlater et døende barn. Og sånn må det kanskje være, når det er barn som dør hver dag? Man kan ikke være i full stressrespons til en hver tid.

I fjor var jeg på en forelesning med en indisk nevrokirurg, som beskrev at for noen tilstander tilbyr han kun operasjon dersom faren til barnet er rik. Dette hørtes uetisk ut for mine egalitært oppdradde moralske instikter, men da jeg fikk tenkt meg om skjønte jeg at han hadde rett: I et offentlig helsevesen må man prioritere de tilstandene der man kan gjør mest forskjell for de tilgjengelige resursene. Hvis noen har private midler til å betale for mer behandling, så må de jo gjerne gjøre det. Men systemet må gjøre noen prioriteringer, og stå for dem. Det kan virke uetisk på oss, men hvis man ikke godtar at man ikke kan hjelpe alle, så klarer man sannsynligvis ikke å hjelpe noen.

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Swahili is fun to learn, part 2

A few weeks ago, I gave a short review of some of the aspects of the swahili language that I find  interesting. I promised that more would come, and here I fulfil that promise. For those of you who are as fascinated by lingvistics as me; please enjoy. For the rest of you; maybe you will appriciate other of my blog post more, so feel free to skip this one.

As mentioned other places in my blog, the word for a white person (actually a person from the western world, because the term has more to do with culture than with skin color) is mzungu in singular, wazungu in plural. Interestingly the word mzungu (but this time belonging to m-mi-class, which makes the plural become mizungu) also has a completely different meaning: “a clever device” or “a wonderful thing”, possibly because a mzungu-person brought a mzungu-thing some time in the past… Like with other words about people, we recognize the m-wa-class pattern, as mentioned in my previous blog post, but what about the -zungu part? This means something like “to go around”, and was probably chosen since -for African- it seems like white people are moving around and around all the time. We find the same syllable also in words like mzunguko (circuit), kuzungusha, meaning “to make something turn around” or “to spin” (the -sha suffix means “make something/ someone to do…”), kuzunguka, which means roundabout (another word for the same is kipilefti, which is swahilification of “keep left”), and kizunguzungu, which means “dizzyness”.

This last word is also an example for something else: Many swahili words contain a repetition:

  • mbali means “far away”, but if you say mbalimbali, it means “different” (two things that have properties that are far away from each other, I guess).
  • kidogo means “small” or “little”, but kidogokidogo means “with small steps” (little by little)
  • the word kote is made from ko- signifying a unspecified place and -ote meaning “all/ every”, but to say “everywhere” you have to repeat it twice: kotekote.
  • pole is a very frequently used word for expressing sympathy (almost like saying “you poor thing”), but polepole is the word for “slowly”. The connection between these to words remain a mystery for me.
  • Something that is boiling (in the state of being boiled) are refered to with the verb chemka. And since a (natural) spring of water appears to be boiling all the time, this is called a chemchemi.
  • The word bara means “continent” or “mainland”, whereas barabara is a “main road”.
  • The word rangi means “color” and rangirangi means “having different colors”.
  • Maji means “water” and majimaji means “wet”.
  • Kuchelewa means being late, and if you add -esha it become kuchelewesha, which means “to make someone be late”. Repeat it twice, and you get kucheleweshachelewesha which means “to be repeatedly/ persistently making someone be late”, expressing that it has become a habit.
  • All but one of the words for close family members contain repetition: Mama (mother), baba (father), dada (sister), kaka (brother), bibi (grandmother), but babu (grandfather). What the connection between “brother” (kaka) and “to be in a hurry” (kakakaka) is, I don´t understand, but maybe brothers are generally stressed?
  • Other words are easier to understand: juu means up, and juujuu means “superficially”; juzi means “the day before yesterday”, juzijuzi means “recently”; and wazi means “open”, whereas waziwazi is “clearly” or “explicitly”.
  • If you want to say “that” or “those”, you would use the Swahili words yule, wale, ile, zile, kile, vile, ule, lile, or yale, depending on which noun class the word you are talking about belongs to. And if you want to say that to things are similar to each other, you repeat it twice: Ile ile, kile kile, ule ule, zile zile and so on.
  • “Here” in swahili is hapa. To say “right here” you repeat and say hapa hapa.

As mentioned above the word for “color” in Swahili is rangi, and some of the names of the colors are easily recognizable, like buluu and pinki. The fact that “chocolate brown” is called rangi ya chakleti is also understandable. But the name for “orange” is a little bit confusing, at least in Zanzibar. In English the word “orange” refers both to the fruit and the color. Similarly, in Swahili the word machungwa (plural of chungwa) means “oranges” (the fruit) and rangi ya machungwa means “orange” (the color). So far, so good. The confusing part is that oranges in Zanzibar actually are green in color. The first time I saw this, I thought it was not ripe yet. But that was not the case; that is simply how oranges are here, even when they are completely matured!

Another interesting word from the field of nutrition is the word for “milk”, which is called maziwa in Swahili. Maziwa is actually the plural of ziwa, which means a womans breast, and the connection between breasts and milk should be obvious. But this word also means a lake, so on the map you may find Ziwa Victoria in the north-eastern corner of Tanzania. Which of the two that gave the name to the other I don´t know, but when you think about it, I guess there are some similarities between womens breasts and lakes.

Some words have relation to Arabic words with specific connotations: I´ve already mentioned that sheria simply means “law” (and not religious Islamic law, as westerns associate with this word). Other examples are halali, meaning “legally” (refering to everything about the law, not just meat), and hadhari, which is a verb meaning “be cautious”. What about hadhari, you say?! Well, I am not sure, but the Swahili pre-/infix (-)ji- signals the reflexive pronomen (used when the subject and object is the same, as in anajikunyoa which means “he is shaving himself“), so maybe there is a relation between jihadhari (look out for yourself) and jihadi (holy war)? Then again, maybe not. However, I am convinced that there is a connection between the Swahili farisi (meaning “expert”) and the English “pharisee” (Norwegian “fariseer“).

Working in the hospital I pretty early had to learn the word for “drugs” or “medicine”, which is dawa. “Drug” is quite versatile word in English, but the noun dawa in Swahili even more so: dawa ya kukinga jua (“drug of protecting [against the] sun”) is sunscreen, dawa ya meno (“drug of teeth”) is tooth paste, dawa ya kuzuia mbuu (“drug of preventing/ stopping mosquito”) is mosquito spray, and dawa ya kikwapa (“drug of the armpit”) is antiperspirant.

Also the word kupiga (meaning “to hit” or “to beat”) can be used in many different circumctances: kupiga mtu means “to hit a person”, but you can also piga simu (“hit the phone” or “call someone with the phone”), piga mswaki (“hit the toothbrush” or “brush teeth”), piga picha (“hit picture” or “take a photograph”), piga makofi (“hit palms” or “clap”), piga magoti (“hit the knees” or “kneel”), piga sindano (“hit [with a] syringe” og “give an injection”), piga kelele (“hit noise” or “shout”), piga chombo cha muziki (“hit a music instrument” or “play music”), piga kura (“hit [a] vote” or simply “vote”), or piga risasi (“hit [a] bullet” or “shoot”).

There are also some adjectives that several meanings in swahili. The most frequently used is probably nzuri (or mzuri, kizuri, mazuri and so on, depending on which noun class it reflects).  This word is most often translated into “good” can actually mean almost anything positive: “good lucking”, “smart”, “beautiful”, “great”, “clever”, “kind”, “nice” and so on. And if you ask a Zanzibarian what they think about a thing, person or situation, they will probably answer kizuri (for thing), mzuri (for person), or nzuri (for situation), because of their positive spirit and attitude. So being nuanced when describing something in Swahili can be challenging. But on the other hand, it makes the language a little bit easier to learn!

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Tiggermentalitet

“Vi vil gjerne gjøre ting bedre, men det er ikke lett når man er fattig”, kan man høre ganske ofte her på Zanzibar. Det er jo en viss sannhet i dette utsagnet, men jo lenger jeg er her, desto mer skurrer det i mine ører når jeg hører slikt. For det første blir slike utsagn alltid sagt på en måte, og i situasjoner, som gjør at det etterhvert er ganske lett å gjennomskue baktanken: Det som sies er egentlig “kan du gi meg penger?”. For det andre er det forbløffende at menneskene på Zanzibar er så fattige som de er, når man ser hvilke enorme og verdifulle resurser de besitter, både når det dreier seg om fruktbar jord som det vokser tett med frukttrær i, et hav med fisk og annen førsteklasses sjømat, turistattraksjoner (som stort sett forvaltes av europeere, som dermed sitter igjen med gevinsten), og en lokalisering som er ideell for handel (og gjennom historien har vært ettertraktet nettopp av denne grunn). For det tredje kunne man lett gjort mye mer ut av det man har. Som en klok Zanzibarer sa det (han tilhører unntakene fra fenomenet jeg her omtaler): “Det at du er fattig er ingen grunn til å ha rot i sakene dine.”

Men i stedet for å gjøre det beste ut av de premissene man har, er det skuffende mange som spiller “offerrollen”. De sier -og tror kanskje selv også- at de er helt avhengige av hjelp fra andre for å få til noe. “Jeg vil gjerne studere, men trenger en sponsor for å ha råd til det…” (underforstått: “kan du bli min sponsor?”) har jeg fått høre en del ganger. Én gang forsøkte jeg å hjelpe vedkommende om å søke mikrofinans, og oppdaget da at han hadde ingen planer. Det var ikke noe spesielt han hadde tenkt til å studere. Det han ønsket seg var simpelthen “a good life”. Og for det trengte han sponsor. Det hele minner om det norske sitatet “hvis jeg noen gang skal bli lykkelig må folk skjerpe seg”, men i en mindre aggressiv utgave.

Det er ganske mange som kan godt engelsk her, også en del barn. Men påfallende mange av dem har lært samme setning, allerede helt ned i 2-3-årsalderen: “Hello. Give me money!” Og når man lærer dette fra barnsben av, og kanskje sågar erfarer at dette er en vel så god måte å klare seg i livet på som noe annet, så er det jo ikke rart at det vokser frem yrker for voksne som tiggerdamene som sitter i Stone Town, som gateselgerne som vil gi deg “good price, specially for you, my friend” på krydder, t-skjorter, sjal og CD-er, som beach boy´ene, som sjekker opp vestlige, tilårskomne kvinner, så de kan få seg en flørt mot å betale litt, eller som koffertbærerne på flyplassen.

Så hvorfor har det blitt sånn? Det er nok mange forklaringer. De lokale, som selv ofte kommenterer fenomenet, sier simpelthen at “vi er veldig late her”. Og det skal jeg ikke nekte på at gjelder en del folk, men naturligvis ikke alle. Noe av årsaken skriver seg kanskje tilbake til kolonitiden også? Men dessverre tror jeg nok mye av årsaken ligger i hvordan u-hjelp har blitt drevet. Man har nok ofte kommet med donasjoner og gaver, gitt det og dratt igjen. Det får jo giveren til å føle seg godt! Man kan se resultatet, for man har jo resultatet med seg, og responsen er selvfølgelig masse smilende mennesker. Problemet er bare at de hadde et problem, og det de har lært er at noen vil komme og løse problemet for dem. Det skjer jo gang på gang. Så i stedet for å ta vare på det man har, prøve det beste man kan og være kreativ, så venter man på neste giver. Den kommer jo snart allikevel, og gir mye kjappere resultat enn det man selv kan oppnå.

Dette kan man se på deler av helsevesenet. Nesten alle sykehusbygg har et skilt med inngravert navn på giverne. De fleste bygg er nok fine når de blir donert. Men hva skjer så? Det er ingen publisitet og glamour i å si at man vil vedlikeholde, så neste giver vil heller bygge noe nytt enn å gi vedlikeholdsmidler. Så kvaliteten på materialet som er donert er motsatt proposjonal med tiden siden donasjonen skjedde. Og hvis det man gjør er å hjelpe de lokale med å hjelpe seg selv, så får man jo heller ikke samme lettkjøpte godfølelse som når man bare gir noe ferdig. Det er nemlig ikke alltid like lett å dra igang folk her.

Det er et ordtak som sier at “hvis du gir en man en fisk, gjør du ham mett for én dag, men hvis du gir ham en fiskestang, gjør du ham mett for resten av livet”. Så lett er det nok ikke. Han må også lære å bruke fiskestangen. Og hvis du står med en fiskestang i den ene hånden og en fisk i den andre, er sannsynligheten stor for at han vil velge fisken, hvis han kommer fra en vi-tar-morgendagen-når-den-kommer-kultur. Dessuten er det ikke sikkert han vil lære å fiske før han virkelig må det (når han er skrubbsulten), og å unnlate å gi ham den fisken du står med i hånden da, det kan være litt tøft. Men så tøffe tror jeg faktisk vi må være, for ellers gjør vi ham egentlig bare en bjørnetjeneste. I stedet må man gjøre slik som man gjør med et barn som sliter med leksene; ikke ta leksene for barnet, men gjøre dem sammen i tempoet til barnet som skal lære hvordan det gjøres. Dette kan også være krevende, ikke minst tålmodighetskrevende, men det er nok det eneste som gir noe varig resultat.

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Confusing economy

I have always been confused about how economics work, I mean how financial crises appear and disappear and so on. But the economic system in Zanzibar is even more confusing to me. I do observations that I find to be conflicting. For instance I have been told that the lowest legal salary is 80 000 Tanzanian shillings (about the same as 300 Norwegian kroners or 50 US dollars) per month, but know that some people get paid only half of this. Still many people seem to buy water for drinking, to a price of 1 000 TSH for 1,5 liters. Even though that is affordable for me, it is relatively expensive compared to that kind of income.

I have heard locals complaining about the price of the daladala (300 TSH, or about 1 NOK), and personally, I don´t understand why it is not more expensive, considdering the gas prices (about 2 000 TSH per liter petrole). On the other hand things like cloths and electrical articles are sold for about the same here as in Europe, which means that they are relatively more expensive. Another example is ice cream which costs 22000 TSH for 5 liters (about 80 NOK, which equals 32 NOK for 2 liters).  I have paid 25 000 TSH for a fish (1-2 kg), and on that occation I was shopping with a local friend that behaved as if this was a reasonable price. Compaired to a bread (3-400 TSH) this is extremely expensive, but still it seems like people can afford it.

The real disparity, though, is first obvious when you compair the daily life to the typical touristy activities: A simple day trip, with few expenses for the provider, can cost the same as one month´s salary for an normal working Zanzibarians. At the airport, people will help you carrying your luggage to your car, for a “small tip”. For most tourists this is really a small amount of money, but compared to the mentioned income for regular work it is quite a lot. Another source of income that I find disproportionately high, is related to real estate: Some months back we needed to find new appartments, and during that periode I learned that the person that shows the appartment (this is not a professional, but just a person with a key) can expect to be paid 1-2 months rent for the “job”. Since these appartments can cost anything between 200 and 800 US dollars per months, this make a quite good income. Imagine to get 5-6 months salary just for one hour showing someone an appartment!

There are very few fixed prices on Zanzibar. The only one that I know by heart is 0,33 liter soda, which costs 500 TSH (less than 2 NOK, so unfortunately this has made me increase my consumption of soft drinks considerably). So you always have to ask for prices, and when we first came people asked all the time if we had learned to bargain. So I guessed I was expected to bargain a lot, and have tried to learn how to do this. But this is a funny game: You can feel that you have been clever if you manage to get the price down to the half of the starting price, but the next day, you may find another seller that asks for less than you ended up paying as his starting price (this is mostly the case for souvenirs). Another funny thing is that you often get some starting help with the bargaining: “my starting price is …, but I can reduce if you like me to”.

I often feel like I am being fooled when I go and buy food in the marked, because when I ask about the price, they take a good, long look at me (as if they try to find out how much I can pay) before they give me an answer. So I have figured that this means that I have to bargain on groceries also, and most of the time, they are willing to reduce the price a little. But when we went to Dar Es Salaam and looked around in stores with fixed prices, we found out that the prices were remarkebly similar to what we usually pay in Zanzibar.

The banking system is not as in Europe. There are several banks in Zanzibar, and you can quite easily find an ATM in Stone Town, but paying by Visa, MasterCard etc is only possible very few places. And I don´t think people generally have a bank account. I been told that the salary is most often paid in cash. This also means that when you are paying for expensive things, you have to carry a lot of money. Like when I paid the rent for my appartment, and paid for six months at once: I had go to an ATM, withdraw the maximum (400 000 TSH) nine times (the picture above shows 360 bills of the highest available denomination of 10 000 TSH in my bag), bring this to an exchange office and exchange to US dollars, before I went to the owner of the appartment and paid. Not exactly like using internet banking at home.

Norway is said to be an expensive country, and it is, but the differences are not as big as I expected before I came here. Still it seems like a lot of people can afford a living, if you take a look on the cars, mobile phones etc. Seeing this, and knowing that in the hospital there is a problem getting paper to write on, syringes to give drugs and other consumables, is confusing to me. The reason is of course that the differences between rich and poor are much greater here than in Norway.

Another -and for the society more important – implication of the lack functioning bank systems, is that people don´t get loan, if they for instance would like to build a house. A result of this, is that you have to save money, if you like to have a house, and when you have enough, you may build for instance one wall, and then you have to start saving again for another year, before you continue. So because of this, there are a lot of unfinished buildings in Zanzibar.

Even people that earn a relatively good salary can have problems making ends meet, I have been told. One reason for this is (if I understood everything correct), that people take care of their extended families, so one income may be supposed to support a big group of people. And if people need help urgently (because of a wedding, a funeral, illness or something else), they will always go to the family member they know has a high income, and it would be unacceptable for him to deny helping. Under these circumstances, I can imagine that it is difficult to save money as part of a plan, for instance if you like to build a house. So it may actually be very reasonable to build the houses a little by little, as you get the money. After all, it is harder to pay for a wedding with your wall than with your savings.

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Zanzibar doors

The doors of the houses in Zanzibar are well known for their beauty and decorations. On most of the houses, the doors are the most beautiful part, and even houses that looks like they are about to fall down can have amazing doors. I have been told that the doors are a way of expressing the wealth of the owners, so that they would spend a lot of money on it, to make a good impression. This tradition is said to be inherited partly from India and partly from Arabia. Sometimes you can see details like brass knobs standing out of the door, ment to stop elephants from knocking it down in India (which does not make sense on Zanzibar, where there are no elephants, especially not in the narrow streets of Stone Town, but has been brought along as a tradition).

During my time here on Zanzibar I have taken photographs of a lot of the doors I have been passing by. My collection is summarized in this video:

The most impressive about these doors are all the carvings, which often involves a lot of symbolism. For instance many doors can have a carving looking like a chain going around the door, which would tell you that the family in the house (when it was build) probably was Arabians, involved in slave trade. Because people did business from their houses, the ornaments could also serve to show their profession. Arabic inscriptions, mostly containing scripts from the quran can also be found frequently. For more background about these doors, you could for instance look here or here.

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T.I.A.

As a European comming to Africa, it is easy to focus on all the differences, both things that I prefer about Europe and things I prefer about Africa. Part of a normal culture shock reaction is to focus more on the bad things than the good things about the new country, especially in the early period. So whenever I see something I dislike about Zanzibar, I try to search my soul to see if this is really a problem with Africa and Zanzibar, or if it has more to do with me and my expectations and reactions to unfamiliar surroundings. In this process it is often interesting to listen to how the locals speak about themselves and their own culture.

And frankly; I have been surprised to hear how many African people talk about African people. I have heard many statements that I would had called racistic, if they were said by a mzungu. When I first came, for instance, and we brought equipment to the hospital, we were adviced not to hand out the equipment to the wards personally, but instead use local persons for this. Why? Because the hospital staff would think about the equipment as personal gifts for them (not for the ward or the patients) if they were given by a mzungu, I was told.

Some parents of hospitalised children have come directly to me and the other Norwegians here and said: “please help my child. These people don´t care. You know how African people are”. Another parent asked me to bring more of my Norwegian collegues and establish a private, high-quality hospital here, because he felt that even people who can afford paying for their medical treatment have no where to go. Actually, I think he is right, but it make a big impression on me to hear this from an African person.

“African people are too lazy”, I have heard being said by several African persons. One intern doctor added “Indian doctors are clever and study a lot. They are not lazy like us here in Africa”. I have to admit that I consider some of my coworkers to be a bit lazy, but to realize that this is the opinion of many Zanzibarians also was unexpected for me. Another doctor said that “if you want people here to listen to you, you have to shout and yell on them”, and continued with “the only African presidents who have had success are the once that yell on their people”. Later this doctor also said about his collegues that “African doctors don´t care”, and about the parents he went on by saying “while the mothers are at the hospital with their children, the fathers are out making new children.” I wouldn´t even dream about saying something like that, and I don´t think it is true. So I was quite shocked.

“African time” is an expression that many people are familiar with, also in Norway, and it means that you are a little late. It means actually that you can be a lot too late, without having to excuse yourself. A few weeks ago a encountered a similar expression, when I asked someone how the meeting they just came from was: “We had an African meeting”, she said “noone came!”

Maintenance is another big challenge here. There is a lot of equipment at the hospital, actually, but many things just stand Equipment that has been standing in the same corridor for as long as I have been here.around, without being used. A lot of this equipment “does not work”. More often than not, I have experienced that it is actually working, if you just do simple efforts (like pluging in the power cord to an electric outlet that has power), but generally people don´t bother trying to find out why something is not working. They just accept that it is not working, because that is what they are used to. “This is Africa”, they say, meaning “things are not supposed to work here”. And sometimes they don´t even bother saying “This is Africa”; they just say “T.I.A.”.

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