Because Elliot is at a school which is about half Indian-background kids, I am having a chance to learn more about the Wahindi at school functions.
I was at a parent consultation the other day where it was clear that my concerns were vastly different to the other parents. (No Tanzanian parents attended, just me and some Wahindi.) My concerns were about curriculum implementation, and punitive and shaming discipline practices. The other parents were concerned with:
- menu “Why is Tanzanian food being served?”
- teachers “Why do we have to have local people teaching our children?”
- hygiene “There must be a staff member in charge of ensuring the local children flush the toilet.”
- dress code of the teachers “Why are the clothes so tight?” (pointing to the Tanzanian head of nursery school who was at the meeting)
See the common thread? When I walk to school with Elliot, other Wahindi parents frequently instruct their drivers to slow down so they can offer us a lift. They tell me it is unsafe to walk the ‘dirty’ streets of our suburb among, you guessed it, ‘local people’.
The maandazi ladies tell me there is ‘ubaguzi’ in Tanzania, a word that means separation or discrimination. They say, no Indian person ever greets them on the street, or makes eye contact, and certainly they never stop for a chat. That they don’t bother to learn Swahili or Tanzanian culture. And that they consider Tanzanians dirty because of the dark colour of their skin.
I feel sad hearing this, and wonder if there is another way to read the attitudes of the Wahindi. At school I certainly hear a lot of fear and disgust expressed about local Tanzanians, and it makes me want to judge and choose sides. But I’m conscious that I understand Tanzanians much more than I do the Wahindi, and so I must delay judgement once again.
I say nothing when the Wahindi speak about Tanzanians as they do. And I feel compromised by that, because what they say does seem racist, and unfair, and I want to stick up for Tanzanian people. But I do not yet have the cultural knowledge to know how I might say this in a way that might be heard. Then again, I don’t have the cultural knowledge to know how my silence is being read either; I’m saddened to think it might be read as agreement.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.