by Bryan Demchinsky
Published in Roverarts.com, January, 2014
Staying connected in the Usambara highlands in Tanzania
We were waiting at the border for entry visas to go into Tanzania from Kenya, a lineup of foreigners restless and anxious to get back on the overcrowded vans that would forward us to the next adventure. As happens in such situations, strangers began talking to strangers, and suddenly the subject was Rob Ford.
This was a few days after the Toronto mayor’s zinger about preferring to dine at home, and one comment, broadcast to the captive crowd by a yobbish fellow from an English-speaking country, not Canada, was “Oh yeah, I would to-tally vote for that guy.” The Canadians among us groaned or looked at our shoes. Later that day, the manager of a hotel where we ate came over to chat, and, discovering we were Canadian, the subject once more turned to Ford. It felt like we couldn’t get away from the tubby mayor.
It was further proof, not that any is by now needed, of how media create and spread celebrity and notoriety to every corner of the planet. Internet, television and mobile phones are ubiquitous in Tanzania, as they likely are in every corner of the world outside of North Korea. Everyone’s on to the same thing at the same time.
Media’s ability to influence perception can be a problem. My spouse and I bought our tickets to Africa a week before the the Westgate mall massacre in Nairobi. Immediately, there was anxiety about whether we should go ahead with the trip, and some friends counselled against it. As I suspected from previous experience, media tend to magnify such events, and it was the case here. We discovered that anarchic traffic, insect bites and mugging were a far greater danger (in roughly that order) than was the possibility of a random encounter with a terrorist.
But for the most part greater connectedness is a good thing, especially for a country such as Canada. Along with Rob Ford, our culture, high and low, is out there in a bigger way than it has ever been in my lengthening experience of it – our Celines and Cirques, our Biebers, but also our Chris Hadfields and Alice Munros.
Everywhere is next door, and, for better and worse, we are all neighbours, sharing each other’s follies, disasters and triumphs. “Love thy neighbour,” goes the biblical injunction. Maybe being closer to each other raises our chances.