An Intern's Postcards From Tanzania

July 1, 2015

A view of Mount Kilimanjaro from the airplane. The mountain, located in Tanzania, rises as the highest peak on the African continent.

Although I've been in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, for two weeks now, I still feel as if I have yet to arrive.

This part of Africa is different from the one I know and love. It includes a huge house on the Msasani Peninsula a block away from the Indian Ocean, access to running water, flushing toilets, electricity, swimming pools, microwaves, Snickers bars, rice milk and, yes, even espresso.

The last time I lived in Africa, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya. PCVs are expected to live as host country nationals do, using the same public transportation options, shopping in the same food markets, and having the same access to natural resources and infrastructure. Because PCVs live alongside local residents who are trying, through various grass-roots initiatives, to develop and improve their communities, PCVs are directly involved in projects and spend hours in people’s homes, businesses, schools and farms.

It is said to be good luck if you wash your face with water from the well located at the Kaole ruins, which contain a mosque and graves.

When I was a PCV, I lived in the village and didn't have running water — I collected rainwater or went to the nearest bore hole. I didn't have electricity. I shared one small solar panel with a neighbor and had just enough power to run my radio. And I certainly did not have a flushing toilet, swimming pool or espresso.

Working with the United States Agency for International Development, on the other hand, is a completely different experience. USAID is part of the U.S. Foreign Service, and while they are, like the Peace Corps, focused on development work, USAID staffers do so at much higher management and political levels than PCVs do.

Traveling through Dar es Salaam, a port city in Tanzania that is one of the fastest-growing cities in Africa.

This means that USAID staff (and interns) live in big cities rather than small villages. We coordinate with host country governments, gather and assess data, design large-scale development projects, and contract them out to nongovernmental organizations that do the on-the-ground implementation of projects.

This contrast has helped USAID to earn the nickname "Peace Corps for adults," and it’s no surprise that a large percentage of USAID staffers were Peace Corps volunteers at some time in their youth.

Leishara Ward works with Joseph Kaiza in Tanzania.

While USAID is an American organization, do not think of it as a patriarchal holdover of colonialism, where the Americans come in with absurd and inappropriate solutions to the "poor African" problems. Argue the political pros and cons of the U.S. providing foreign aid to developing countries all you want, but the fact remains that the majority of USAID staff members in this country are Tanzanian nationals.

These professionals work side by side with very few Americans in the office, creating, tracking and managing programs that research suggests will help to alleviate extreme poverty, boost the overall national economy and public welfare, and build a strong middle class.

A tour of the ruins of a 13th-century mosque, located in Kaole in Tanzania.

I'm learning about how USAID operates, with Tanzanians providing the long-term institutional memory for the organization, while Americans provide the governmental hierarchy, financial and technical oversight, and cultural liaison services.

I'm also getting more comfortable with the concept of living like an expat in an environment where most residents in this society cannot afford to do so.

Packed in the van and ready to tour.

Tanzanians who work for American organizations such as USAID are paid wages that are set by the market rate in Tanzania for their given positions, while Americans are paid wages set by the market rate in the U.S. for our given positions. Unfortunately, the difference in pay between the two can be drastic and a source of tension between the groups.

On the other hand, it would be extremely difficult to staff American positions in a diplomatic mission overseas if they were not offered a competitive employment package compared to what might be offered in the States. If we want the best and the brightest representing our country to other national governments — and I would argue that we do — then we have to pay them well.

Leishara Ward visits the grave of a 13th century relative of a sultan, located at the Kaole ruins.

This internship is giving me a new perspective on the cultural rift that this socioeconomic divide creates between expats and their host country counterparts, and it’s good to see upper management taking it seriously. Within the last month, Tanzanians working at USAID received a raise and are currently shopping for health insurance.

Personally, I just feel lucky to be here and to participate in the process. I hope to make a career with USAID after graduation, and I expect that what I'm learning at the UA will prepare me for this job — especially as a program officer at one of the overseas missions. 

From the historic German fort, you can see settlements below.

For now, I’m really enjoying the privilege that I have to live in this amazing country and still have access to some of my favorite creature comforts from home.

Leishara Ward at a 19th-century German fort in Tanzania.

Photos courtesy of Leishara Ward; Portrait by John de Dios/UANews

Leishara Ward, who is in the Master's in Public Administration program in the School of Government and Public Policy while working toward a certificate in collaborative governance, is one of four students selected as a 2015 UANews student columnist. The columnist initiative was launched in June by UANews and provides students the opportunity to share insights about the work and research they will be doing over the summer in various parts of the United States and abroad. It is the UA's 100% Engagement in action, and the students' experiences will prepare them to be real-world ready upon graduation.