Lessons from Dar

Concluding the second week of life in Dar, the amount I’ve learned is incredible.

On Day 1 Mama, my new landlady, scooped me from the airport and made me feel at home before letting me chat about my research.  (To refresh your memory, the research is the impact of mobile phones on women’s empowerment.)  She wonders aloud why they need foreigners to come and do this work – why not Tanzanians?  I wonder the same.  A thought pricks – aren’t I very glad and lucky to be here?  One could argue that I am here for my own benefit (to learn and live new things), rather than to add value to people’s lives.  I hope this is not true.  Privileged people like to travel to developing countries, ostensibly to help, but bringing neither the dedication nor skills necessary to do so, only to return home with fond memories of the cute children they posed with along the way (see the Onion: 6 Day Visit to Rural African Village Completely Changes Woman’s Facebook Profile Picture).  I wonder if I am part of this dance; cynicism creeps in.  The goal of this research is to produce information that arms development efforts with strategies that work, i.e. that lead to quality of life improvements for the marginalized (in this case, women).  Is it arrogant of me to think that there is a difference between this and the voluntourism that smacks of superficial beneficence?

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