On arriving in Tanzania in 2013, we were greeted with a new communications reality: mobile internet. Tanzania had started out with mobile internet rather than waiting for wired infrastructure. Unlike Australia, mobile data bundles quickly became cheap and plentiful. By the time of our first home assignment, advanced smartphones were everywhere, led by the Samsung Galaxy. Among tertiary students, personal computers were not necessarily in wide use, but handheld internet access was fast becoming common. When we returned the following year, networks had completed the transition from 3G or H+ to full 4G. Where at first we would wait overnight to download a movie, we could now start watching straight away.
However, the most significant thing for us was the availability of internet access from the start. Soon after our arrival, we discovered that we could continue using Facebook more or less as usual. It didn’t take any effort to do so – you know how social media works – but this was an unexpected situation. By that point in our lives we had already begun to get our bulk of news and views through social media, and now this pipeline was apparently trailing across the Indian Ocean behind us. If we wanted, we would never really have to break contact with Australia. This was not an idea that anyone had discussed with us. As our life in Dodoma began to filter back to Australia, one or two people expressed surprise: ‘We thought we wouldn’t see you for another few years!’ or words to that effect. Weren’t we leaving for a far-flung frontier? Isn’t that what ‘missionaries’ do? There was even an expression of concern: ‘Isn’t this going to stop you from being immersed in your new context?’
It’s a good question: if you can keep a foot in two worlds, should you do so? In what way might it be necessary to break contact in order to more fully make the crossing? Or are there new possibilities to consider?
This new communications reality created space for a changing understanding of our role, and that’s what I’m going to tease out in the next few posts.
Image credit: East River Bridge by Brooks Shane Salzwedel, 2012
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.