Beth Ann Williams is a fourth year African History graduate student. She is currently living near Arusha, Tanzania conducting research for her dissertation. In this post, take a look at what a typical "Day in the Life" looks like for Beth Ann during her research year.
4:30 a.m.: Two weeks ago my host family acquired a new rooster. For reasons unknown this particular fellow, a giant, off-white beast, likes to crow from the beams right above my bedroom window. I stumble out in the darkness, glad no one is awake to see my in my shorts, pick up the giant stick left behind from a recent construction project in the yard… and knock the rooster down. Luckily for him chickens can (sort of) fly so the 12 foot drop wasn’t dangerous. At that point I would not have cared.
Five months into my time conducting historical and ethnographic research in northern Tanzania, there are some cross-cultural norms I’ve settled into. I am better about greeting everyone I see, including random strangers. Bucket showers. Live stock (other than the height-obsessed rooster). Offering rides down and up the mountain. No problem. Sometimes I still feel discomfort rooted in my American sensibilities about appropriate questions, time management, and personal space. But I also enjoy the warmth and hospitality of my host culture, and the real relationships I am building with my family, research assistants, and interview subjects.
5 a.m.: Coffee. Yes, even in rural Tanzania I start the day with coffee, usually including some milk fresh from the previous evening’s milking. In some ways I am incredibly spoiled here.
5:30 a.m.: The skype ringing noise will probably haunt my dreams for the rest of my days. Yet I am incredibly thankful that through the magic of the internet I can talk almost every morning with someone from home despite being halfway around the world and living in a community where most people still don’t have running water. Today it’s my youngest brother in Texas. He makes a comment about the roosters in the background, and I just laugh. Unless they are crowing directly into my window I don’t even register the noise. Actually, the cows are much louder.
8 a.m.: Breakfast. I eat with the family, which I love. It feels so normal to sit at the dining room table, drinking chai (tea with spices and more fresh milk) and discussing our various plans for the day. After breakfast I get in my car, an unusual luxury that has been critical for getting around and accomplishing work. I wave to Mt. Meru as I drive down its slopes to meet my research assistant Glory and start a morning of interviews.
9:30 a.m.: I’ve been at Glory’s house for over 30 minutes. She serves me (more) tea and mandazi (fried dough, kind of like a donut without the glaze). We discuss recent power outages in the area then the American election results and their potential impact on the global economy and Tanzanian immigration to the US. Eventually she gathers her purse and we can start work. Tanzania time.
That morning Glory had two interviewees in mind. As we leave the house she calls the first woman, a local teacher who says she’s out right now, but will home later in the morning. We decide to start with her other friend, an tailor who works out of her home. Although my research focuses on gender change, asking how the local Lutheran church has affected gendered relationships and expectations since independence in 1961, the fact of my being a woman has brought me into contact with many more women. Tanzanians often make the same assumption that many Americans do: if you say gender, they think women. Glory and I have talked about getting some more men to interview. But it’s harder for her since her main contacts and closest friends are women, a fact that says a lot about the often separate spheres of life that men and women occupy despite living in the same community.
The tailor ended up being unusually chatty and we spent almost three hours talking about her family, education, hopes, and challenges. As we left the house Glory could tell that I was tired. My Swahili is better than when I arrived, but several hours of conversation will still drain me. We agreed to reschedule with the teacher and I left to do some reading at a local university library.
1 p.m.: After a quick lunch of rice and beans ($.50 at the school cafeteria), I settled in to read at Lutheran Tumaini University’s library. Stifling sneezes from the dust, a hazard familiar to many historians, I read about social programs started by the church in the 1960s, problems affecting Tanzanian marriages (sadly much the same as those in the States), and arguments about if and how church leaders should try to address questions of politics. Written by theology students, the theses are often low on facts and evidence, but provide a useful look into the kinds of topics and questions future church leaders were interested in throughout the later half of the twentieth century.
5 p.m.: My brain is fried. I pack up my bag and head to the gym. Running and (ugh) lifting weights has become vitally important, not only to combat all the tea, rice, and snacks, but also to help refresh and rest my mind after days of reading and interviewing in a second language.
6:30 p.m.: I’m still not quite used to the later dinners here. But the extra time in the evenings provides a great chance to sit on the back porch and enjoy the kids playing. Although we only have one little kid living with us, there are 10-15 kids in the area who often end up at our house in the last hour of sunshine.
8 p.m.: After more rice along with greens and a nice beef stew, I’m starting to feel ready for bed. After backing up my new interview recording, repacking my bag, and making a cup of tea, I check the news and read a little of Mansfield Park before turning off the lights. That darn rooster will be up early.
All photos are courtesty of Beth Ann Williams.
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Beth Ann Williams is a fourth year African History graduate student. She is currently living near Arusha, Tanzania conducting research for her (tentatively titled) dissertation, Women We Must Learn: Christianity and Gender Change in Post-Independence East Africa." While not reading or conducting interviews, you can most often find her at a coffee shop, running, or playing with whatever children happen to be in the vicinity.