The present meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion in Dar es Salaam evoked memories of a visit to Tanzania nine years ago. Incongruities stick in the mind, some of them bizarre.
Arriving late on a Tuesday evening, we stayed at a convent near the airport before attending a seminar the next morning and travelling inland to stay in the town of Njombe. After having a meal, we went into the hotel’s lounge where a television on the wall was showing a football match. “Welcome to Ewood Park, Blackburn on a cool autumn evening”, said the commentator. Had I travelled so far in order to watch a Premiership football match? I realised it was a game that had been played on Monday evening, before we had left Belfast. I leaned over to John our driver and said the team that wins this match will score three goals in the last ten minutes. He looked at me, bemused until I explained that we were watching a recording.
It wasn’t just watching English football in remote African town that was incongruous. It was the things that we don’t usually notice, until we are suddenly struck by the fact that these things shouldn’t be where they are.
There were things like the policemen who drove new cars and who parked alongside roads where traffic passed only occasionally with speed cameras. Were the cameras part of some odd bilateral aid package? In a country where people were still living in poor mud houses in many places and where people walked or rode on buses or on the backs of trucks, who decided that speed cameras were a necessity? Our driver muttered that the cameras were just an excuse for policemen to stop vehicles and demand fines which they put into their own pocket? Was this true or just a piece of prejudice? I didn’t know.
There were the British-style road signs on roads that were no more than tracks. Apparently the budget for the road had run out, but the signs had been already bought
The worst incongruity came in Dodoma, the official capital. The countryside around was parched dry and absolute poverty was widespread. We were driven into the compound of a conference and training centre, the gates closely securely behind us. Rooms were of European standards, with en suite bathrooms. Dinner was served in an elegant dining room with linen table cloths and afterwards we sat out on the patio drinking Johnny Walker whiskies from the bar. In the warm tropical evening it was hard to imagine the world beyond the fence.
Living in comfort in a land of poverty is an incongruous thing, but isn’t it also incongruous to live in luxury in a world of needless poverty?
Did the Primates in their splendour look over the fence and see the real issues of the world?