Saturday, February 4, 2012

Harmless Idiots, With Benefits

"Much nonsense has been written, by people who should know better, about the anthropologist 'being accepted'. It is sometimes suggested that an alien people will somehow come to view the visitor of distinct race and culture as in every way similar to the locals. This is, alas, unlikely. The best one can probably hope for is to be viewed as a harmless idiot who brings certain advantages to this village. He is a source of money and creates employment."

From The Innocent Anthropologist: Notes from a Mud Hut by Nigel Barley
Idiot? I feel like an idiot whenever I do something that seems socially awkward, or open my mouth to speak Swahili, or stare blankly at someone who is explaining to me how to get something done. Harmless? Well, aside from my work and presence at our school, which is where Diane and I have really centered our lives, my involvement with the rest of Mtwara has been minimal. So in that regard I have been harmless, insofar as I know. [School is a different story, which I will defer to another time.]

Source of money and employment? Our teaching allowance from the school and our mission allowance from LMH both pretty much get spent in this town (and when we're traveling, in this country). We hire our Tanzanian friend to shop and do errands two or three times a week — I would say we have kept him and his family in food. Lately money has been pumped by us into paintings from a couple of local artists, for whom we have also gotten some business from customers in the U.S. So, yes, we have contributed to the local economy. The amount of money may sound small — around five hundred dollars a month — but that's nothing to sneeze at in a community which is so cash-poor.

Tanzania is a peaceful and civil place to live. Harmless idiots are well-tolerated. -Earl

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