I am happy to introduce my readers to Aine – fellow mzungu and A Lady Away’s first guest writer! Aine is living and working in Tanzania and her piece, Not a Spectacle, discusses what it’s like to be an outsider within her new community. Anyone who has ever spent significant time in another area of the world will relate to Aine’s thoughtful and honest story. Though, ultimately, Aine’s reflection isn’t about what sets her apart from her Tanzanian community, but about what brings them together.
Featured Writer: Aine Seitz McCarthy
It is nearly impossible to forget that I’m an outsider in Tanzania. I’m white.
In my study villages, my whiteness explains the fact that I arrive in a truck, that I carry a lot of papers, that I give out bicycles, that the village chairman wants to meet me and that I don’t stay long. Even in the office, where I’m working with Tanzanians of a similar education level who are also passionate about development and conservation, my outsiderness lingers in missing Swahili jokes, my direct communication style, misunderstandings of workplace culture and frequent consumption of peanut butter. To me, these things mean I’m a graduate student and American, but to everybody else, this is all summarized by the fact that I’m white.
Tanzanians don’t go out of their way to make me feel this way, its an inevitable part of expatriate life. In fact, the consistency of this feeling is part of what leads to the intimacy of expat communities.
But I have found refuge from the spectacle. The only space where I am momentarily free of my mzungu spectacle badge, is on a small field or muddy plot of land with a handful of gangly teenage boys, two make-shift stick goals and a ball in the middle. In other words, playing football.
When the ball goes out, they giggle and remember that I’m white, but when the ball is in play and we are attacking out of the back after a quick turnover, all that matters is that I’m open.
Aine Seitz McCarthy is a mzungu and PhD candidate in applied economics at the University of Minnesota. Fieldwork for her dissertation on fertility decisions takes her to rural Tanzania, where she is evaluating the effect of an educational family planning program. She blogs about international development, research and the mzungu life at Big Ideas.
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