Vancouver. Calgary. Amsterdam. Kilimanjaro. Dar es Salaam.
Stiff after 23 hours of travel time, I arrived to warm welcomes “Karibu Sana Tanzania” (Swahili for “You are very welcome to Tanzania”) and tropical heat. Following several months of working through research clearance in country as well as in Canada, obtaining the correct travel visa, and coordinating a trip with our partner organization 10 hours ahead of Vancouver time: I was ecstatic walking through the arrival terminal to meet the team that had coordinated the logistics that had me arriving in this moment.
While the heat and humidity is truly the first thing to embrace you in Dar es Salaam, the generous hospitality immediately follows. As a white, American researcher from Canada, I was unsure how receptive our Tanzanian partners would be to our purpose. I quickly learned that a lot of the weight I was feeling was the result of my own insecurities (sometimes referred to as imposter syndrome), combined with the baggage of colonial ancestors that left their mark on much of this continent. My hosts were not responsible for easing that tension for me, but they consistently reminded me that I was welcome to dive in, they had a lot to show me/teach me: Swahili being a first priority!
Prior to leaving Vancouver, I was crossing my fingers for 1 or 2 interviews. This would be success. With our partner organization equally dedicated to the success of the project, a passionate cultural liaison/translator (Jane Waithera), and my willingness to hang on for the ride, we interviewed 47 participants within our six-week timeframe. We clocked many hours as our driver, Maneno, navigated Dar traffic. We used this time to catch up on sleep, debrief the last interview while we sat in the heat, scribble field notes, or make calls to further recruit or confirm interview plans.
Women generously shared their stories of albinism radically altering the trajectory of their lives. We sat in their work studios, in their living rooms, or outside under trees exploring with them what it meant to be a mother impacted by albinism. Their collective commitment to each other and to their work was moving.
We have been told several times that mothers are the backbone of the Tanzanian family, indeed the African family. There is much for us to learn from these women who muster a strength to survive and raise their children that is to be honored. However, they have not shared their experiences simply so we can honor them, they have shared in order to bring change to their society. We hope to bring context to the situation and provide necessary information for policy-makers, NGOs/CSOs, government officials, and global organizations (like the UN) to better and best address the needs identified by women impacted by albinism.
Welcome to stories from the field. This will be a space to amplify the voices of women impacted by albinism in Tanzania, South Africa, and Ghana: “we have a lot to tell you” (Participant from Mwanza Region, Tanzania).
Written by Emma Strobell, Project Coordinator