Stories from Karagwe: My Tanzania Eyes

by Amizade Global Service-Learning

This blog entry is part of an ongoing series from Amizade’s semester Service-Learning course in Tanzania. Today’s entry comes from Kara Naseef, a junior international studies major at American University.

“The cloths are brightly printed and worn together in jangling mixtures that ring in my ears: pink gingham with orange plaid, for example. Loose-joint breaking-point colors, and whether you find them beautiful or find them appalling, they do make the women seem more festive, and less exhausted.” -The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver

“A long, flimsy pink and black scarf, with the garish prettiness of cheap things.” -The Thing Around Your Neck, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I stepped off the plane in Zanzibar already sweating with the smell of salty sea water invading my pores and lungs. Once aboard At first glance the “garish prettiness of cheap things” appeared appalling; even abrasive. But as the days rolled on and I was the recipient of a neon-orange shirt and bracelets made of large plastic beads, I began to see the beauty all around me. Not only were the black robes designed in various styles with subtle accessories that expressed a woman’s personality, but the colorful head scarves decorated with rhinestones became a symbol of deliberate and undeniable fashion.adalla-dalla (public mini-bus transportation) and driving towards Stonetown, I realized that my new home was nothing like the one I had left behind. Billowing black waves of silky fabric seemed to drown the feet, legs, and even hair of female passersby as our dalla-dalla inched forward through traffic. In the sea of black could be found an occasional head scarf in hot pink or lime green and the pale white legs and arms of a tourist
Amizade Spring Semester in Tanzania
I made my way across the mainland to meet up with my Amizade group, and the sea of black was replaced by “jangling mixtures that ring in my ears.” Whether a woman’s skirt and blouse are of the same cloth or her outfit made up of various colors and patterns, we can all agree: ‘I would never wear such a thing in America.’

But why not? Each of us has adapted our style to our temporary home by putting on ‘Tanzania eyes.’ ‘Oh Wow! She looks so beautiful today!’ We say about Lane when she walks down to breakfast in a navy-blue and white skirt, brown-green top, and light-blue and beige kanga (a local fabric with a proverb written on the side, which she is wearing as a scarf) all in various floral patterns. ‘They really rock that new hair style!’ we agree when Danny shows up to dinner with letters shaved into the back of his head, and Juan shows off his half-Mohawk.

‘Can I have the left-over fabric?!’ We clamor when Caroline models her new shirt displaying neon-orange, blue, and white geometric shapes. ‘You have really become an expert seamstress!’ we insist to Joyce when she comes home wearing short-shorts made of the fabric of school uniforms with accents of kitenge (local fabric). A perfect blend of here and home!

‘Hey Doctor!’ we exclaim when Katie refuses to take off the white lab coat with kitenge accents she had specially designed and sewn.
‘She will look hot!’ we comfort John when he shows doubt that the kitenge he picked for his girlfriend doesn’t match the styles we might prefer at home.

I hope that our Tanzania eyes never go away. I hope we fight against the ease of allowing this new perspective to slowly slip away as we struggle to re-assimilate into the American culture and fashion that we left behind just a few months ago. Living in rural Tanzania, where malls are not available and we must go fabric shopping and then trial-and-error with various seamstresses, has given us all the opportunity to embrace our individuality and style that we may be tentative to express back home.