Thursday will be the start of my fourth week in Dar. I've become really used to our daily, consistent routine - much less hectic than how I usually keep my schedule. For people who know me, they know that I am always running around, whether it is on campus or flying back and forth along the East Coast. A necessary but rather excessive lifestyle for a somewhat underfed grad student.
I love not staying put - staying in one place for even a month makes me uneasy. It sounds a bit exhausting, but I love having the ability to maintain relationships in various locations at once. Facebook and gchat is nothing compared to shared experiences, and phone conversations can get…pretty awkward, to put it lightly (I'm convinced people born after 1985 do not know how to end a phone conversation, myself included). And really, I've had wanderlust all my life. In first grade, I wrote a terrible 50 page unfinished story about a girl going on a never-ending adventure that was a mixture of Super Mario on the original Nintendo and Benjamin Franklin: each new land was a higher level, and the method of travel was by kite. That story may or may not be an exact portrait of my life right now.
Anyway, I am technically still on travel right now, but I realize fieldwork gets to be pretty routine in the end - we wake up early, take the dog on a short walk (during which she strategically chooses to relieve herself on patches of grass right in front of our neighbors' gates - will most likely end up in an awkward confrontation), eat a fried egg and toast, and head to the interview site. We make some calls in the morning to book interviews, talk about how scared we are that we might not get 300 interviews by the time we leave, and then maybe do an interview before lunch. Lunch is always at Tang Ren, a neighboring Chinese restaurant that serves Northern Chinese food. I don't think I've had this much Northern Chinese food in my life. I like it a lot, but am sort of craving the light, sweet savory tastes of Shanghainese food, something I try to replicate at home that ends up in not complete failure but not great. The girl at Tang Ren who serves us wears dresses that are way way beyond what is acceptable to wear around here. I don't even go outside with long shorts much less dresses above the knees - when this girl leans over there is definitely some panty action going on. The three of us chuckle and gossip and eat peanuts.
We can usually fit two interviews in the afternoon. What really scares me is that because we are using this fancy referral method called network sampling with memory (NSM), the referral process might not happen quickly enough for us to have an acceptable number of interviews per day. To put it simply, we figure out who we want to interview next based on the people that each interviewee reports during the survey (we randomly choose three people to contact out of the ten they report). Since the people they report are their friends, they might be a bit more reserved about giving out contact information (which we promise to destroy after fieldwork is done) and letting us reach out to them. I totally understand this feeling. I won't even refer three friends when I could potentially get a free Groupon.
So far, I'm having a lot of fun practicing Chinese, meeting all these interesting and strange people, gossiping with our hired interviewer (who I will call M from now on), and spending my free time working on stuff I've been putting off during school (mostly reading and writing). More later on my interactions with the Chinese here; probably more to tell especially since tomorrow is 端午节 (Duanwu Festival), a really important traditional Chinese holiday.
Currently we are in the process of getting ready for the actual fieldwork portion of the trip. We chose an interview office site behind a well-known chinese grocery store in Mikocheni, which we pay monthly rent for (including electricity for the air conditioner, etc.). We asked them if we could pay the monthly rent via direct deposit into their banking accounts. The owner refused, telling us that no one here trusts the banks - they only use cash. I found it very interesting that even an owner of a small business refuses to deposit money into the bank. Given that robbery is a relatively non-trivial threat (not only in Tanzania but anywhere), I wonder why people think that cash is the more secure form of transaction and savings.
Another option to pay for stuff here is via cell phones, which is really popular. People can open an "m-pesa" account with each cell phone sim card they purchase, and can use this account to pay for pretty much everything - utility, groceries, paying back friends, etc. We asked a chinese girl who lives here whether or not she uses m-pesa, and she has never even heard of it - from what she knows about her network, people only use cash. Of the Chinese people who own businesses, they apparently send the money in cash form directly back to China. I have no idea how they think this is less risky than saving money in a bank.
This led me to wonder if the fear of banking institutions and other forms of electronic payment is warranted or overinflated. There are certainly presumably legitimate international banks that operate in Tanzania, such as Standard Chartered. The downside to international banks such as Standard Chartered and HSBC are the monthly fees - Standard Chartered charges $10 per month. This does seem a bit prohibitively expensive for personal accounts, but probably not terribly so for business owners.
From a quick Google search, I couldn't really find any article about perspectives of migrants in Africa towards banking institutions here. I did come across an Economist article (link) that gives a brief overview about banking in the developing world. Not surprisingly, the overall percentage of people with banking accounts in Sub-Saharan Africa is very low: about 27% of men and 22% of women have banking accounts. It also seems like banking levels are drastically different between people with a college education and those with only a primary education or lower. The common sense conclusion from these statistics is that more informed people are more likely to have bank accounts (other factors must be taken into account, of course, such as amount of income).
While migrant deposits probably make a very minuscule portion of the financial industry, it did make me wonder more about the nature of trusting banks in developing nations, which is a huge topic. Chinese small business owners who choose to come to Tanzania are strange: not in the need-to-stay-ten-feet-away-probably-will-drink-your-leftover-beer strange, but strange in their risk preferences. They are abnormal in the way they seek business opportunities; by the fact that they choose to live longterm in Tanzania to make money, they are likely to be more risk-loving than the median small business owner in China. Yet, their perceived risk of saving money in a bank account is higher than the risk they are willing to take, which is already likely to be higher than average. This makes me want to learn a bit more about banking regulations in Tanzania and how to use policy to increase trust in financial institutions in developing nations. More later as I learn more about this topic.