Continuity and Change
Final Reflection: Reflection #5
As a Western foreigner, I notice the adaptation of Western goods, ideas, and technology in Africa which have obviously brought much change to the African continent. This change, though gradual has had lasting effects in modern day African society. This can be witnessed on the streets, in the shops and buildings which line the roadside, and in the schools. While many of the Islamic and African people admit that the West is better and stronger technologically and materially, they also acknowledge the fact that the West lacks values that are strong in Africa.
As the Islamic Arabs came across the Indian Ocean to East Africa to trade goods, they interacted with indigenous Africans and intermarried with them. The intermarriage of Arabs with Africans brought about change that is evident today and will continue to last for generations. It is through such encounters of people that change has been brought about throughout the African continent. However, not all of the encounters throughout Africa have not resulted in positive outcomes. Many of these encounters have resulted in wars and other conflicts and have resulted in a loss of freedom.
Especially here in Zanzibar, it is evident that tourism brings in a huge profit and affects the local people. Tourists bring not only money but also culture when they travel. While sometimes subtle, differences in cultural practices, religion, and ideas open up things to the locals as they become aware of and educated about these differences. In addition, the ideas that foreigners bring with them can easily be transferred to the local people and as a result can increase their job opportunities.
My host family in Riruta Satellite had never interacted with or hosted a foreigner before I arrived at their house. By having me in their house for a week, I definitely changed their perception of Americans and left them questioning some of my cultural habits and practices. It was amazing how much I took out of this home stay and how much they took out of it as well. These are things that cannot be learned from books or movies but rather require first hand experiences and interactions.
In addition, relationships, whether friendships or romantic relationships, between people of different backgrounds can easily develop between tourists and local people. I can attest to this as I have many friends, contacts, and even a boyfriend in Ghana. While staying with host families in Riruta Satellite and Tumbe, I made more friends that I will keep in contact with even when I return home to America. Having the opportunity to interact with and have a lasting relationship with an American obviously opens people up to new ideas and ways of thinking but also opens them up to the possibility of visiting or even moving to America.
In the rural village of Tumbe and even somewhat in Riruta Satellite, the family structure and roles of each member were very specific. The mother was expected to raise the children, cook the food, clean the house, and look after the family as a whole. In Riruta Satellite, my host mother was an atypical wife and mother. She did not have the opportunity to continue her education after completing secondary school due to the fact that she was pregnant. Currently, she attends beauty school which means that she leaves the house early in the morning and returns late at night. As a result, her two young children are raised and cared for by a girl who provides house help. However, my host fathers in both Tumbe and Riruta Satellite fit the role of the stereotypical African father and husband. The males are responsible for working and making money so that they can provide for the family. For this reason and due to the fact that they are not very comfortable in the house, I rarely saw my host fathers and did not interact with them much.
My host parents in both Riruta Satellite and Tumbe grew up in a culture with traditional values which affects the way that they view and deal with modernization. While they have cell phones and enjoy some of the technological advances, they did not grow up with these material objects. On the contrary, my host siblings are growing up in a generation that is highly influenced and affected by modernization. My host brothers in Tumbe enjoyed playing video games on their game system while my host sisters in Riruta Satellite spent much of their time sitting in front of the television. This affects their outlook on life and the way they interact with others. As a result of spending so much time in front of the television, these children are loosing part of their traditional culture and the values that their parents were raised with. The television, Internet, and other technologies also expose people to violence and other unfamiliar practices and customs. These are changes that occur gradually, over time, across generations.
Such technological changes allow people to become more knowledgeable and opens them to things that they previously were not exposed to. As they are exposed to televisions, computers, and cell phones, they are becoming more powerful as well. Computers and cell phones allow people who are thousands of miles away from each other to communicate. In addition, people can acquire goods and contacts from the Internet. As consumerism through the Internet becomes more prevalent in African countries, the local sellers are disadvantaged. Services and goods that one can find on the Internet for inexpensive prices means that local people are no longer supplying these goods and services. On the other hand, this opens the rural people to something that they previously did not have and allows them to participate in opportunities that are available to people in the Western world.
Education in rural areas is another important aspect of globalization. My host parents in both Riruta Satellite and Tumbe were very supportive and encouraged their children to do well in school and succeed. Education provides a gateway to success while enabling people and providing them with a way out of poverty. In addition, well educated people are more likely to obtain good, stable jobs and secure their employment. The money that a person in a rural society earns allows him/ her to become independent from the elders.
During my stay in Tumbe, the educational gap between males and females became evident to me. The most significant part of this gap appeared to be the fact that the male youth could communicate in English very well while the female youth could not. Over time, it became apparent to me that this was the case because while education is vital to both males and females, males are more commonly encouraged to continue their education. Females on the other hand are an important asset in the home and as a result are more likely to stop attending school or drop out of school when they are needed to help in the house.
However, I have noticed at the schools in Riruta Satellite and in Zanzibar, there is an equal opportunity for both males and females to get an education. The opportunity for women to continue their education is available but due to unforeseen circumstances, it is not always possible for women to take advantage of that opportunity. In President Obama’s speech in Egypt, he stated the fact that when women are well educated, the country is more likely to become prosperous. This is something that has been realized over time as the female is the one who educates her children. In addition, the female is an important part of society and can contribute more to the society if she is well educated.
Our female guest who came to talk to us about her experiences at the State University of Zanzibar spoke about her desire to continue her education in the medical field. She is one of many females who are working to change the role of women in African society. She explained to us that she would not marry a man who would not allow her to pursue her dreams and continue working while raising a family. She refuses to follow the stereotypical role of women in rural societies, where she would be expected to stay at home to take care of the house and the family while her husband provided for her.
It is obvious that change throughout the African continent has not occurred overnight. The changes which have taken place and continue to take place in Africa are gradual changes that occur over generations. This movement forward requires understanding and respect between the people of Africa and with the people of the world. In addition, this change has been possible and will only continue to be possible through the freedom of choice. Although we, as outsiders may believe that the Africans, especially Islamic Africans are still not entirely free, we must realize that they choose to dress in a certain way in an effort to respect their religious traditions. While the people in Mombasa, Tumbe, and Zanzibar have appreciated the way we dress in an effort to respect their religious practices, they look at us and worry that we don’t have a religion.
In America, when walking down the street, I must admit that I have never looked beyond an Islamic person’s dress. It is unfortunate that I feel like a lot of people in America react in a similar way to Islamic people. I have never stopped to get to know them or worked on breaking down the religious and traditional barriers that separates us. My experiences in Kenya and Tanzania have definitely opened my eyes and have made me more receptive to learn about their religious practices and have encouraged me to get to know Islamic people. Although we have misperceptions and stereotypes about Islam and the Islamic people, the violent Islamic people make up only a very small percentage of Islamic people throughout the world. Even though they have a different religion and read a different Holy Book than I do, that does not make them any less important. They are people too, people that need to be treated with respect and understanding.
The creation of Islamic terrorist groups has changed the perception of Islamic people throughout the world. Although I knew that not all Islamic people participated in violence, I was hesitant to interact with these foreign people. Although circumstances have changed, it is important to continue treating these people as people because they deserve the respect and justice that we expect from them.
While many changes have taken place over hundreds of years in African society, there are important characteristics that have continued to remain essential to the African way of life. In the rural village of Riruta Satellite, although modernization is arising, the people continue to hold on to and cherish their tribal affiliations. In Tumbe and many other villages and towns on the East African coast, it is evident that the people treasure and hold on to their religious identities. These identities are important aspects of their cultures and help keep the people grounded even as they accept other changes. These identities hold the families and communities together and are very significant parts of their East African identities.