The life of single mothers
When I became acquainted with Anna, some ten years ago, she was 29 years old and worked as a secretary in a private European coffee company in Arusha town. She was unmarried and the mother of a 10-year-old daughter who lived at her grandparents’ in Meru.
When Anna was roughly 19 years old, she worked as an accountant at a tourist hotel in the north-western part of Tanzania and she developed a sexual relationship with her boss. He was unmarried and worked as a hotel manager. They did not marry, but, according to Anna, “we lived together as a married couple and we planned to have a child.” Anna became pregnant, but soon after she gave birth, their relationship began to dissolve. “He had other women and some of them he even brought to our home!” Anna suffered emotionally and, disappointed, she decided to leave her ‘husband’ (i. e. mume or m%ee, the latter term also means ‘the old’ and is used by both sexes to express deference and respect to males) and her job, and she went with her seven-month-old daughter to her parents in Meru. Strongly supported by her mother, she left her daughter in the care of her mother and went to Arusha town to look for a job. She soon got a well-paid job at a Eu-
‘Prostitutes’ or Modern Women? Negotiating Respectability in Northern Tanzania
ropean-run coffee company and the company also supplied her with a modern – standard house situated on the company estate.
Soon she developed a more or less steady love affair with a married man. Babu, or ‘grandfather’—as she usually calls her lover—“is 60 years old and rich.” Anna first met Babu through work:
[H]e offered me beer, and soon we became lovers. Usually he comes to visit me late in the evening. If he provides me with money, I buy beer and food and prepare a nice meal for him. He usually gets very drunk. At times he is even drunk when he comes to visit me. After the meal, he goes to my bedroom and calls for me. Whether I feel like it or not, we make love and soon he is snoring.
Listening to Anna’s story about Babu, it is not difficult to understand that her feelings towards her lover are very ambivalent. Besides being unsatisfied with him as a sexual partner, there is another quality in their relationship that Anna strongly misses: “[A]t times when he is not so drunk, he can satisfy me sexually, but he does not give me a happy heart. He is not the right one. I pray to God that He will send me a husband—the right one”. Referring to her friend, Elimbora, who joined us in our conversation that day, she added, “I wish I had a ‘husband’ like hers!” She asked me: “Have you seen him? He is tall and handsome and he is a ‘gentle person’ [mpo/e]!” The woman who has joined us is herself a townswoman from Meru. For several years she has been an informal ‘second wife’ (referred to as a mke mdogo, literally ‘small wife’) to a married Meru and for the last three years they have been living together in Arusha town.
Like most single women, Anna is constantly searching for ‘Mr. Right’. Although she does not believe in finding a faithful and devoted husband, she is constantly looking for a better option. “The man of my choice”, she explains, “should be tall and handsome, young and unmarried. Like myself, he should be well employed and have more or less the same salary as myself’. Anna is very conscious of her privileged economic position as well as her freedom compared to most women. “Because I have money I am free to do what I want to. I am free to go out with (male) friends. I can even invite them for a beer and if the man is not of my choice, I am still free to go home—on my own.”
To my question why she keeps on seeing Babu, she gives me a clear-cut answer: “If not, I would not get any money from him. I need his money!” Perhaps Anna noticed my surprise upon her frank answer, and somewhat uneasy, she tells me about the high cost of living. She also informs me in detail about the house which she, for the past four or five years, has been struggling to build. Anna’s relatively high salary puts her in a favourable economic situation compared to most, but to build a modern brick building is both a time-consuming and costly affair and after five years Anna has just about reached the roofing.
Anna returns to her relationship with Babu and explains why she always accepts him even when he is drunk, “I will take his money. Sometimes 5,000 [Tzs] and at times 10,000.1 He is usually so drunk that he doesn’t manage to keep a record of the money he spends.” Then, referring to what she has just told me
Arnfred Page 216 Wednesday, March 3, 2004 2:38 PM
about Babu’s money, she asks me: “Does that make me a thief?” And as if she wishes to clear herself, she continues, “You know, sometimes his breath is so intolerable that I have to hold my hands before my nose—while making love! Besides it is mainly I who satisfy him. So it is my right, isn’t it? Life is hard!” Obviously, both parties benefit.
When I returned to the study area in 1999, Anna had left her job at the coffee estate in Arusha town. Actually, just before I left in 1995, she told me about her new plans and her wish to initiate her own business activities and was seriously considering taking up the gem-stone business in the southern parts of Tanzania. A close friend of hers informed me that Anna had finally managed to complete her house. Before she left Arusha, she had rented it out. She had also bought a big estate—a bar and restaurant with an attached guesthouse.