So this is the “field”: first impressions & some assistance from the past

Last week, things started rolling with first interviews being conducted in the southern district of Temeke.

About a week earlier, our teams had gone into the field to generate lists of households and household members, to draw the stratified sample and to make appointments with selected respondents. I had accompanied a team to the ward of Keko for the listing exercise to see if our procedure of drawing random samples in the field (based on random number tables) would be workable, but mainly to get a first sense of how life looks like in one of the poorer areas of the city.

I probably had never before felt quite as much a stranger as I felt walking through the streets of Keko for the first time.

Street in Keko (slightly misleading, as it was actually much less deserted than it looks here).

Most of the locals’ reactions to my presence I can’t quite place (curious stares? hostile stares? bored stares?), while some are obviously friendly. Like that of the woman who greets me with “mzungu, mambo?” and then – after I correctly reply “poa” – bursts out into loud and lengthy laughter and gives me a high five. Or that of the flocks of children running up to me, first slightly bewildered but soon greatly amused by just about everything I do and say (and again, me uttering “poa” appears to be just about the most hilarious thing they have ever witnessed). I don’t understand half of the things that happened around me – and not just because they happened in Swahili – and am gratefully relying on my Tanzanian colleagues who patiently translate and explain.

In hindsight, apart from the general newness and strangeness of it all – after all I had just touched down in Tanzania a couple of days earlier, making it my first visit to the continent – two things have struck me in particular.

A small kiosk advertising mobile phone prepaid cards.

First, the amount of (economic) activity. At every corner, people seemed to produce and trade, finding creative ways to make a living with the limited resources available. Not that I had expected people to just be sitting on the dusty ground spending their days on being poor and miserable. But what I hadn’t expected either was the energetic hustling and bustling that filled the streets, the amount of informal small scale trading: there are tiny food stands everywhere with open fires for deep fried pieces of chicken and zege, tiny wooden kiosks (and, yes,  even tinier prepaid card stands), small markets for fruit, people selling CDs and second hand clothes.  And in all this, I could make out hardly any boundaries between doing business and doing social life, between private spaces and public spaces.

The second thing that I hadn’t expected was the level of local administrative organization. Our sampling procedure (see grey box in post below) required us to go into each mtaa (street level), get a list of all ten cells (about ten households), and then from there a list of all households to eventually select a household member. Not knowing anything about Tanzania, I had expected to get down to the lists of households to become somewhat of a logistical nightmare (as I indeed would expect for pretty much any other country). Luckily, and to me completely unexpectedly, we were greatly helped by the legacies of Tanzania’s socialist times under Baba wa Taifa (Father of the Nation) Julius Nyerere: a well organized, hierarchical system of leadership, with each ten cell represented by a balozi, or ten cell leader – in most cases a party member of the leading CCM party.

A kiosk to the right and a food stand to the left - with the characteristic glass display with chicken & chips.

While the role of the balozi apparently is less pronounced in areas where other parties than the CCM hold real political power, securing the balozis’ cooperation  has so far been crucial for our in-field sampling procedure to work and also for gaining confidence and trust from our respondents. Once we were introduced to the balozis by the ward officer, they would provide us with household lists and in turn introduce us to the head of the selected household. Also, convincing them to leave for the actual interview (we also ask somewhat sensitive political questions), turned out to be much less tricky that some of our Tanzanian interviewers had expected.

All in all, things are running quite smoothly so far, with about 70 interviews completed in different areas of Temeke. Furthermore, while we are still waiting for the actual data to prove it, it seems that virtually all respondents are able and willing to participate in our mobile phone follow-up surveys. So enough reason for careful optimism at this early stage!

This entry was posted in dar es salaam, poverty, sampling. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to So this is the “field”: first impressions & some assistance from the past

  1. I’ve often heard it said that the balozi system is no longer functioning in Dar es Salaam. This is patently untrue, and it is good that you show that. However, the balozi is in all cases a CCM member, not just in some cases: it is a party position, not a public one. However, as you also show, disentangling party and state at the street corner level is fiendishly difficult.

    And I’m looking forward to following the results from my mtaa here in Temeke. Best of luck with it.

  2. thanks a lot for your comment!
    i indeed found it striking how party structures and government institutions were almost indistinguishable for me on the ground. and i’m quite curious to see how this will look like once we move into other parts of town.

  3. I was at a meeting in my ward office on Sunday afternoon (included in your survey). An area of land about 400 square metres had at one corner, the police post, with the Ward office occupying one other. The final two corners were marked respectively by a tree and the CCM office. No visible boundaries between the three structures. Everyone parks under the tree.

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