Friday, February 10, 2012

Boredom and Entertainment

"... my chief value for the Dowayos was simply that of a curiosity. It is untrue that boredom is a complaint exclusively endemic to civilization. Village life in Africa is very dull indeed, not just to a Westerner accustomed to a wealth of daily-changing stimuli, but to villagers themselves. Every small event or scandal is lovingly rehashed and raked over, every novelty sought out, any change of routine greeted as a relief from monotony. I was liked because I had entertainment value." 

From The Innocent Anthropologist: Notes from a Mud Hut by Nigel Barley
When I first arrived I, too, thought that Tanzanians would be immune to boredom. After all, for the most part they don't have the array of books, magazines, televisions, movie theatres, computers, video games, iPods, and other sources of amusement, entertainment, and distraction that we in the developed world are so used to. And life here just moves a lot more slowly. They would be content to watch the day progress and to observe the flow of the natural world.

I still think there is much truth to that. But I also think that given the opportunity Tanzanians, especially the younger ones, will take to much of the same media and gadgetry that we do. They are not much for reading — even though there are plenty of inexpensive Swahili language newspapers — but they are very visual and auditory.

For instance, when our students are introduced to the encyclopedia that I installed on the school computers they avidly look through all the pictures and the video clips. Quite a few have discovered and gotten hooked on playing Spider Solitaire when someone (occasionally me) explains the game to them. Others like to doodle using a paint program or to play a math game.

On a recent morning at the daily Mass a woman was sitting in front of me. Beside her on the bench were, not one, but two cellphones. Is she so attached to those phones that she could not leave them at home for the quiet of a half hour religious service?  -Earl

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