Scott Hanselman

Arusha Tanzania 2006 Day 7

December 09, 2006 Comment on this post [4] Posted in Africa
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Z's got a fever, so that's not good. He's running around in a diaper, trying to keep cool, while we're plying him with the occasional Baby Tylenol and lots of water. It's never good when baby's sick, less so when you're as far from home as physically possible. But, we're also in a house full of women who have collectively raised 11 children, so we've got support.

We went to the Arusha "Cultural Heritage Center" today. The parents loved it, and it was very kind of my sister-in-law to take us there, but I personally found it profoundly sad. I expected a museum, but instead found a giant mall of carvings and local art, literally jammed to the rafters, and run by a group of local Indians. They are Ethnic Indian Tanzanians who've been there for a few generations, but they've turned this Cultural Center into a artist clearing house and consignment center. The artists leave their art at the center and when it's sold they are paid a percentage, usually around 30%. For a painting that would ordinarily be less than 30,000 tsh (Tanzanian Shillings, about USD$25) this center wanted USD$120, and happily asked for it in U.S. Dollars. I'm sure I could have negotiated them down to $50 or so, but it's the principle of the thing that bugs me.

The first words out of their mouths after a greeting was "we offer DHL shipping." Why would I come all this way, only to point at a piece of art and have it shipped home? This appears, to me, to largely be the case with African Art. It's been completely commoditized and globalized. The artist is forced to create for the lowest bidder and his art is shoved in a glorified storage area with every other local artist. I appreciate the Indians' ingenuity and business savvy, but the general presentation and hyper-commercialization left a bad taste in my mouth.

One other thing, we were at a bus depot today, picking up my niece who was coming back from boarding school in Nairobi, and there was a German guy with a camera taking pictures of a particularly attractive local woman whose hair had been freshly braided. I found it very rude of him, as he was furtively sneaking photos of her. Everyone but she knew he was doing it, and it started to be creepy. He should have just asked, and perhaps offered her a sitting fee. In this case, he was a creepy white guy far from home making everyone uncomfortable and giving foreigners a bad name. Maybe I'm hyper-sensitive, but that's how I saw it.

Oh, one other thing. My Video iPod so freaking rocks. I'm loving this thing. I loaded it up with TV shows and Movies from iTunes before we left, and we've been enjoying it, hooked up to the TV here. The iPod supports NTSC and PAL (the non-US TV standard) and works great here. It's like a portable Tivo, and everyone's getting it a kick out of the photo slideshows of the baby growing up. I brought my PSP also, but even though the screen is great, the iPod is getting more use. I'll post a detailed comparison later of the PSP and Video iPod now that I've used both all over the world.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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December 09, 2006 20:21
Although I understand how frustrated you are with commoditized African art, I would love to have more in my house here in the US. One interesting thing to me is that what is "African" is also shattered into the western world; Africans who have left seem to be the ones who are capable of producing the kind of expression of their homeland that is less commercial (because they don't have to be driven as much by need) and more soulful.

I'm glad you're blogging about your trip. Of course I'm a Ugandan who lived in Nairobi, but it's still giving me these thoughts of the life.
December 11, 2006 10:16
Hi Scott,

I appreciate you taking time from your trip to blog about your time in Africa with your family.

Regarding your comments on the trip to the Arusha Cultural Heritage Center (CHC) -- I don't understand how the local artists are "forced" to sell their artwork through the CHC. Regardless, its apparent (after issuing a single Google search for 'Arusha Cultural Heritage Center') the CHC is one of the most popular places (if not the most popular) to go in Arusha when travelers want a souvenir to take home that reminds them of their trip to Tanzania. This fact was recognized some time back and the CHC has made the most of it.

I'm sure the local artists aren't complaining that they are getting ~30% of a USD$120 original asking price for their work (regardless of the final negotiated price, it's sure to be greater than the USD$25 price you say this art might fetch down the street from some 'mom and pop' place w/out the crazy markup). Like it or not, the CHC might be the best opportunity for local artists to make the most $ from their efforts.

From what I can tell, this is no different from any and all tourist locations I've visited here in the US. The same goes for my travels outside the US, namely Mexico, the Bahamas, India, and Malaysia. In all locales, one could find many small (I'll use the term again) 'mom and pop' souvenir shops, as well as the ones with larger showroom floors and a team of salesmen hitting you up as soon as you walk through the door demanding to show you any number of things that you really have no interest in.

Even places like Arusha aren't immune to unbridled capitalism.

Anyway, that's my USD$.02. It's entirely possible I'm clueless about the real situation on the ground in Tanzania, but I thought I would offer my opinion either way.

Thanks again for the interesting commentary.
December 11, 2006 16:52
Sounds like you found the African equivalent of Walmart.
December 11, 2006 17:11
Great post, just some advice...
Don't waste your time with Children's Tylenol, it wears off too fast, use Children's Motrin instead, works a lot better on fevers and each dose lasts about 2x as long as Tylenol.
Another thing, if things are bad, you can give the Tylenol between Motrin doses since they are different things, I would not recommend it for long, but it will help when things are bad.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.