It’s been interesting to walk as much as I have in Mwanza so far. I only started recording my walk because of my excellent colleagues in the south of Holland dared their Facebook audience to a walking challenge. So from mid-June to mid-September I’ve walked about 550 km, and now I can’t seem to stop logging kms. Walking is an excellent way to get low impact exercise, familiarize myself with the surroundings and listen to podcasts. (May I recommended “Feel better, live more” with Dr. Rangan Chatterjee). As I’m wearing my shoes down to atoms, I am pondering if the things and behaviours I observe to be different than my normal – is it my own personal measure of normal, is it the Danish normal or the European normal I measure it against? I’m not quite done pondering; here is but a few observations from my non-clinical life.
Sidewalks. In Denmark, we automatically factor other users of sidewalks in and make room for each other. Say that two couples approach and need to pass each other: In Denmark, we’ll engage in some way of ‘formation walking’ and pass each other so that everybody is safe and nobody touching. To me, that is normal and polite. In The Netherlands, despite it being one of the most densely populated countries on the planet, they will walk right into you, because they don’t factor each other in. They don’t see you and – I suspect – don’t really care that much either. In Mwanza, they absolutely see me, they spot me quite easily due to my paleness, and they will have me jump into traffic off of the sidewalk. I don’t know if it’s a white thing, a woman thing, or just how they operate with everybody.
Government. I’ve grown up inherently trusting the local and national government in Denmark; the democratically elected officials do their best, they will mess up, sure, but ultimately, transparency, accountability and responsibility are key values. We have unions, we pay a lot in taxes, and we get a lot in return (education, healthcare, infrastructure etc) to name a few things. Here, it’s roughly the opposite. But even though the lack of transparency and the lack of accountability (small example: meetings are scheduled by an other party, nobody shows up and nobody says sorry) is driving me bananas and causing my chromosomes to unfold in unpleasant arrangements – we can hardly blame them. Whatever colonizing power was here, after in most cases having depleted resources, killed off a bunch of the locals or better yet: pitted tribes against each other, drawn arbitrary and very very straight lines right through vegetation, grazing areas, languages, (nomadic) tribes as they saw fit, robbed them of cultural heritage, they then upped and left the folks to fend for themselves and commence selv-governing. Most democracies in Africa are very young, only 60-70 years old. They need to find their footing, but considering where they came from, they are catching up pretty fast. If you want to learn more about this vast continent, I highly recommend Dipo Faloyin’s “Africa is not a continent”. And of course, as always, anything by Hans Rosling, like this video where he describes how fast sub-Saharan countries are catching up.
Carting weird items. I’ve transported more than my fair share of IKEA items either walking, biking or by public transport. Both Denmark and The Netherlands are bicycle countries, so both countries consider it normal to bike around with children and small pets positioned fairly safely and both countries boast designated and well-designed bicycle lanes. Here I’ve seen 4 teenagers riding one motorcycle together. A motorcycle with a coffin strapped across it. A motorcycle with the driver, a live goat and the proud owner of a new goat. A tiny motorcycle truck with 20 yellow and pink foam mattresses stacked rather high. Where there’s a will there’s a way, seemingly. Crosswinds or not, with or against traffic.
Garbage. In Denmark we sort glass, plastic, paper, biodegradables, non-biodegradables and soon also diapers – from your daily household waste there are currently 10 different categories; we recycle as much as we can and basically have a gazillion different containers for each subtype of garbage. But whatever you do, you throw your garbage in a can. I even went so far as to stuff my chewing gum in my pocket before going in for an interview once, because I didn’t want to litter. (tip: don’t wash your jeans with the chewing gum still in the pocket). The Netherlands is a tad more relaxed, so that’s deviant from my Danish norm, but here in the Mwanza region garbage – ‘takataka’ – is everywhere. Despite a ban on plastic bags, there’s so much crap here and no bins to throw things in; people just dump in the street and burn whatever can be burned (and sometimes things that you shouldn’t burn). The rivers flowing into Lake Victoria are not quite as picturesque as they could be.
Me? I’m still holding on to my litter and carry it with me all the way home. You can take the girl out of Denmark, but apparently not all the Danishness out of the girl.