Vijana Monologues

After a record eight postponements we finally had  a meeting with the village council and were formally introduced at the general town meeting. Both were three months tardy but necessary to clear up a little confusion about the three new Americans on the block.

The Village Council is made up of ten community leaders who discuss local issues. The meeting began over an hour late and ended after two hours when it started to get dark. It was full of fiery rhetoric and drama, one member even resigning his position and walking out in the middle of the meeting.

A few days later one hundred and fifty men and women and a slew of children showed up for the town meeting held under the largest mango tree in the village, the seat for a few young spectators. Fortunately our announcement about 2Seeds and our project focus of nutrition came early in the agenda this time. We were able to explain our project goals and activities, but were overshadowed by later events of the meeting.

A large chunk of the three and a half hours was spent mudslinging the local leadership, mainly the village chairman and government representative. The main instigators came from the village group called the Vijana, Swahili for “youth” but composed mostly of what we consider middle-aged people. It underscores the importance Tanzanians tie to age and explains a little of why the Vijana’s complaints are met with such hostility. Community elders compose most of the leadership and some consider direct challenges from the “youth” offensive. It was a scene reminiscent of Salem witch hunts or revolutionary tar and featherings, and an indication of what we may face us if our work isn’t up to snuff. Complaints pointed to the needs for transparency, misappropriation of funds, and lack of community progress. People gave lengthy, animated speeches outlining their grievances with the leadership, using interesting metaphors like “He eats money”, to describe the Chairman’s (mis)management of village finances. The crowd was responsive, gasping at the particularly heinous accusations or biting insults, laughing at other times. The Chairman defended himself spiritedly, the representative listened blankly and though much was said, it appeared that little was heard.

I would be thrilled to hear nutrition discussed with such fervor, wishing the energy and skills directed at political power struggles could be captured and redirected towards more tangible, pressing issues, which are many in Tabora. A work in progress……

Photos: Aly Koka delivering a scathing critique which was adeptly deflected by the poltically savvy Chairman, as we look on trying to keep up with the back and forth.

Photo Credit: Josh Paul

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