My independence - have you seen it?

21:27, Oct 15 2012

Last week I performed a great feat. It was up there with my proudest moments: getting my first job at TVNZ, the first time I interviewed the prime minister, my first solo overseas trip. And now I'm adding to that list: the first time I walked from my house to the village centre in Babati. All. By. Myself.

To you it may not seem a lot. But let me explain.

Moving to Tanzania has been a huge adjustment. Not just in leaving behind friends and family, a steady income, or the luxuries of hot showers, flat whites and chocolate biscuits. One of the hardest things has been leaving behind some of my highly valued, hard-fought-for independence.

I'm not ashamed to admit I grew up surrounded by the Girl Power phenomenon. Being 25, one of my most vivid memories growing up is learning all the words to Spice Up Your Life so I could put on a spectacular lounge performance. As shallow as the beginnings may have been, it started an internal dialogue: that I would work hard, pave my own way, and become fabulously independent.

There were milestones along the way, as there are for everyone. I finished school, went to university, shunned parties in favour of essays (mostly), gave up semester breaks to slog my way through "work experience" (read: fetched coffees, held microphones and listened to cameramen's war stories). Eventually, though, I think I cracked it in some way. And then, I moved to Africa. And the game changed.

In Tanzania, or at least the small town of Babati where I live, being a white woman brings with it some challenges. It's not safe for me to go anywhere alone at night. I'm not supposed to look men directly in the eye if I don't know them. I'm not allowed to wear shorts, and shouldn't really leave my shoulders uncovered either. I should never address a man by his first name.


I'm not complaining, because this is what being different in a new culture is all about. And I'm not saying traditions here are any less important than the ones we have at home. But sometimes, it can be tough. Like when I go anywhere in public by myself ... and I get heckled, propositioned or accosted for money.

So adjusting has meant losing a little of the independence I fought pretty hard for. It's a lot easier and safer going places when MH is with me. I avoid a lot of drama when MH does most of the talking when we first meet new, local people. 

But as I ease into life here, and get more confident going about my daily business, it means new milestones. The goalposts may have moved a little, but they're no less meaningful. I'm finding freelance work, making new contacts and new friends. But I'm equally proud of the smaller stuff, like the first time I drove in Babati by myself (obviously not when this photo was taken).

Driving here is part awesome, part terrifying. You get to drive as you've always wanted to (overtake anywhere, anytime.. and there's pretty much no speed limit), but everyone else is driving the same way...


Milestones, I've concluded, are relative. 

I'd love to hear your stories. What have you been proud of lately?

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