Photo: Stuart Ramson: UN Foundation
Today we drove 300 miles to a town called Tanga. One of things you need to know when doing work like this in countries like Tanzania, the people are very proud of the work they have done as a consequence are very protective. Much of our first day at work was spent greeting and meeting the UNICEF people, our escorts to Tanzania and the leaders of Tanga Town. These formalities along with written documents are necessary before they will permit you photograph, interview or videotape anything or anyone.
So our day got started around 4pm and it was just so amazing and well worth the wait after spending the day with seven of us packed into one car with luggage and equipment stacked on top, inside and all around us. We had spotted children doing somersaults over an old tire. It was just the kind of images we wanted– healthy children being children. Our health official and interpreter immediately set out to speak to the moms and get their approval of capturing the children at play. It didn’t take very long for the children of every age imaginable to warm up to the cameras and get into the spirit of things. It seems children hamming it up for the camera is universal no matter where you go.
Two moms volunteered to talk to me though it had to be through the interpreter. I was nervous. They were nervous. I didn’t know where to start. I talk to moms from all walks of life, but having a conversation through an interpreter was a bit disconcerting. He is a very nice man, but there is something special about moms talking to other moms and sharing those bonds we have regardless of boundaries and language. I didn’t know Swahili so I had to speak through someone else. I couldn’t even tell if what I was saying translated well. But when we finally got going, I never wanted it to end.
There are so many similarities yet so many differences. They wanted to know about me first and if I was a single mom and if I had children. Both of them were divorced like me. One of them had remarried. They wanted to know why I was divorced. They wanted to know if I didn’t love my ex-husband enough. It was so hard to explain when our cultures are so different.
We shared information about our children and I showed photos of mine. Their children, and they had 6 between them, were all vaccinated. Their health information isn’t found online or through online conversations, but through clinics. Like American moms they struggle to juggle family, the home and their children often forgetting to remind their children to do their homework because they fall asleep. The men focus on work leaving everything else to the women including the care and keeping of their husbands.
When I asked them about what would make their lives better– their answer was better economic opportunities. If they had the collateral and access to micro lending, these moms could elevate their circumstances. However there are no organizations here like we have in the U.S. We can get access to homes through organizations where we can live with our children, learn skills we can use to get work and get on our feet.
They wanted to know why I was there doing what I was doing. So I talked about the importance of moms helping other moms and supporting each other to better our lives. It’s up to us. We need to stand together. I explained that I am fortunate to do social media for a living so shouldn’t those skills be put to work or social good? And that it was important to me that my children know that we all have a responsibility to think and care about more than ourselves. That’s when they really got to me. They told me I had taught them something moms having to help moms. They asked for my email address so they could talk more. They told me they were going to talk to other moms in their community. We held each other’s hands and then we posed for the camera. I was so stunned when they put their heads on my shoulders. Thank goodness for the darkness of night because I am halfway around the world with two women I’d never met till now and I have tears in my eyes.
The sisterhood of motherhood is alive in Tanzania. I can’t wait till they write me and to meet more of these brave women.