fieldwork logistics

The joys (?) and tribulations of becoming a permanent resident in TZ by youjinbchung

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Oh where do I begin. 18 Sep 2015: On this day, I made my first trip to immigration services (Uhamiaji House) in Kurasini to apply for my Class C permanent residence permit. An immigration officer, whom I will call E, advised me to come back after 12 days. When I was submitting my application though, E gave me a hard time for having paid the $500 fee in advance; she said the fees are paid only when the applications get officially approved. I was discombobulated -- what she told me was contrary to the information posted on the immigration services website. According to Government Notice No.262 of August 03, 2012, the the $500 fee for Class C Permit (researchers) should be deposited through direct banking, which I did. The website also indicates: "Services are provided after the customer's presentation of the Bank Slip to the respective office where the service is sought" (Part 2 of the website). E took my documents anyway and gave me a receipt acknowledging my application, but she wasn't convinced that the accountant would accept my deposit slip...

6 Oct 2015: I made my way to Uhamiaji House early in the morning, already stressed out after having spent so much time and energy haggling over the taxi fare with dishonest drivers, and having been stuck in traffic for I don't know how long. *Oh, also just a word of caution, there is a dress code at Uhamiaji House -- no skinny jeans, or "skin jeans" as they call them here. A woman in front of me was stopped at security point; she eventually had to drape a kanga over her legs. It doesn't make sense though, because the security officers didn't say anything about guys who wore jeans that were as tight or that were practically sliding off their asses, ugh.*

Anyway. I went directly to counter no. 13, which serves Class C permit applicants. I showed the officer on duty, whom I will call M, my acknowledgement receipt from September. She told me to wait - her expression impassive. After having waited half an hour or so, officer E appeared at the counter. She told me the same thing she did back in September: it was wrong that I paid the fees in advance. This time, I had a printed copy of the immigration services website. E acquiesced to my surprise: "Oh, well... maybe the weakness is on our part". She took me across the ground floor to the accountant. Having examined my deposit slip from NMB Bank, he told to go up to the 3rd floor to the Revenue Office so that they can verify that my $500 had in fact been deposited. I did what I was told, and brought the verified (signed and stamped) deposit slip down to the accountant. He now told me to go across the street to get a photocopy of the slip and come back. To the closest stationery store I went -- only to realise that there was no power. I walked further down the road to another shop, which charged me five times the usual price, because of the generator. I walked back to Uhamiaji House, waited in a long line under the scorching sun, went through the security point again, and went back to the accountant with my photocopy. The accountant kept the original and he told me to give the photocopy to the officer in the next counter. I waited and waited...

About half an hour later, the officer who took the photocopy called me over and asked why I had given it to him. What was I supposed to say other than "I did what the accountant told me to do"!? The accountant called me over again; he told me to go across the hall and find E. It took me an hour to find E. When I did find her, she said I needed to pay $50 extra dollars for a "re-entry fee". She said without it, my permit will terminate if I leave the country temporarily within the two years of my residency. I was baffled why she hadn't told me this earlier. She took me back to the accountant, who told me to go to another counter across the hall to pay the additional $50. I was getting exasperated. I had spent three hours at this place already; been dragged from counter to counter, from floor to floor; put up with people pushing and cutting in front of me in line; and the heat. When I went to the payment counter, there were just SO many people and no space to even stand and wait. I was trying really hard to be patient and stay positive, but I couldn't stop the tears that were starting to cloud my vision. I choked up.

When I was wiping the tears away with my handkerchief, I locked eyes with officer M. I was pretty embarrassed. She kept looking at me - still impassively - and it just made me cry even more. I swiftly wiped my tears, blew my nose, and took a deep breath, reciting "Om Mani Padme Hum" silently in my head. When I locked eyes with M again, she called me over to her counter. I didn't know what to do, because I was starting to make progress, albeit slow, in this long queue to pay; I didn't want to lose my spot. She was insistent that I come see her. I eventually relinquished my spot in line and went up to M. She asked: "What's wrong?" I wish she hadn't, because my tears started gushing out. Once I regained my composure, I told her I was just getting flustered with the lack of clarity with this whole process, all the back-and-forthing, and the hours of waiting. Her look was still impassive, but she told me to wait; somehow, she had managed to expedite my $50 payment. I was beyond grateful. She told me to take the payment receipt back to the accountant, who then told me to go outside again to make two photocopies. It was the same process again -- overcharged photocopying bill, long queue under the sun, security check, and more waiting to see the accountant. I got an official receipt of payment from the accountant when I came back. I was so hopeful I would be able to get my permit on the same day. Instead, I was told to go back home, wait, and return after 10 working days. Inshallah!

*Update* 22 October: I waited 10 working days and went back to Uhamiaji House; I left my house at 7 am to beat the morning traffic and arrived just before 8 am, when the offices opened for business. When I brought my receipt to counter no. 13, the officer, without saying a word and without even looking at me, pointed to the next window (no. 14), at which there was no one. There was really no point in me arriving early, because no one showed up to serve counter no. 14 until around 9.30 am.

I imagined this trip to Uhamiaji House to be my very last one. And because I thought everything would go smoothly and quickly this last time (I mean, what could go wrong?), I hadn't brought anything to read... I hadn't expected to wait for so long...

When the officer finally arrived at counter no. 14, I showed him my receipt. I could see that he was typing my name on the keyboard. He typed my name over and over. Frown lines appeared between his eye brows. I started to panic. He said, "It's not ready. Come back tomorrow and check." No explanation as to why it was not ready. My heart started racing, my blood started simmering. There was no way I was coming back here. There was no guarantee that my permit would be ready tomorrow. "Come back tomorrow and check"!? I sat down and mulled over my course of action, while trying to suppress the tears of frustration. I think I sat there for another hour. My head was blank. I should have asked my friends for help; I knew at least three friends, who either new people working at Immigration, or people who could help expedite my application. I observed the world go around me. I saw so many people (mostly men) holding other peoples' passports; filling out other peoples' paperwork; and quietly exchanging words (and cash) with officers in corridors and stairwells...

A petite Indian Catholic nun sat next to me. She grinned at me and I returned a meek smile. She gently touched my arm and asked if everything was okay. I vaguely told her my situation. She whispered in my ear: "Don't worry. I'll take you to an "officer"". It was a bizarre situation. I felt quite uneasy, and yet somewhat hopeful. After she received her permit (she submitted her application 3 weeks after I had, and she had already gotten her permit!), she took me to a room on the first floor, where a heavy-set man in a navy blue uniform sat. The nun went into his office, shook his hand vigorously, and said thank you repeatedly. Then she introduced me to him, as "a sister needing help". Without any question, he asked for a copy of my receipt, and told me to wait downstairs. I asked for his name, and he said I didn't need to know his name. Just "Officer", or "Ofisa". I left the room, and the nun stayed with Bwana Ofisa. For a fleeting second, I thought of attending mass this Sunday and reviving my foregone Catholic beliefs...

I waited for another hour. At this point, I was bored, I was hot, I was vexed. I didn't know for how much longer I could wait. Then a male officer called me at counter no. 13. He said they were now going to process/print my permit, and that I should wait for an hour. Of course I waited more than an hour. Exactly 5 hours and 30 minutes after my arrival, I received my Class C permanent residence permit. I can now legally reside in Tanzania for the next 12 months...!


So, I've written this post to both let off steam and to help other researchers in the future. I succeeded in doing this immigration business under my own steam (well, except for the unexpected help from the nun and Bwana Ofisa), at the cost of completely running out of steam. As frustrating as it was, I did learn something about Tanzanian bureaucracy.

Weber once said:

"The nature of bureaucracy, which is welcomed by capitalism, develops the more perfectly the more the bureaucracy is 'dehumanized,' the more completely it succeeds in eliminating from official business love, hatred, and all purely personal, irrational, and emotional elements which escape calculation" (see Weber, M. 1946. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, pp. 215-6).

On one hand, I observed and experienced many "human" aspects of the Tanzanian immigration system. The application process is non-automated; there are heaps of manual files stacked on officers' desks; the receipts are hand-written; and the overall process is based on direct, face-to-face interactions. And yet, this human interaction, as I experienced it (as a foreigner), was very "dehumanising", in the sense that it was emotionally offensive. In many instances, I felt ignored, disrespected, "othered", helpless, powerless, and the list can go on. But on the other hand, the pervasiveness of middlemen, personal favours, and petty corruption, all seem to successfully reproduce the bureaucracy... And what alarms me is how these practices are naturalised and rationalised. Many of my Tanzanian friends/colleagues/acquaintances acknowledge the adverse nature and extent of petty corruption in the country, and yet, they all partake in it, because it saves them time and energy. Tanzanian bureaucracy seems to reproduce itself in spite of - or thanks to - its inherent contradictions. It is impersonal yet personal, and irrational yet rational.

Applying for a research permit in Tanzania by youjinbchung

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One of things that worried me the most about starting my fieldwork was obtaining a research permit from the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH). I have heard so many nightmarish stories about the research clearance process -- how it's so difficult to get in contact with COSTECH, how the overall process is unclear, how there's so much bureaucratic red tape, etc. There's actually a lot of information about the research clearance process floating on the web -- some useful, some not useful...  I'll just write about my own experience here (while my memory is still fresh), with the hope that it will help other researchers in the future.

Here's what I did:

1. Apply for a research associateship with the University of Dar es Salaam

As I was conducting my pre-dissertation fieldwork (2013-2014), I spent a lot of time building relationships with local academics and researchers. In summer 2014, I established an informal affiliation with the Department of Geography at UDSM through a faculty member, with whom I had shared research interests in land/resource politics. I got in touch with her again around May 2015 (once I had secured my fieldwork funding) and asked if she could serve as my local advisor in support of my formal affiliation at UDSM (the affiliation is officially called 'research associateship').

Here are the documents required for applying for a research associateship at UDSM:

  • Application Form (let me know if this link doesn't work)
  • Research Proposal (one page in length, 4 copies)
  • CV
  • Names and Addresses of 2-3 Referees
  • Photographs (no specific size requirement, 2 copies)
  • Invitation letter from a local advisor

I sent these documents via email to Noela, the administrative assistant at the Vice Chancellor's Office for Research, on 11 July 2015, and mailed a hard copy to the following address the next day:

The Deputy Vice Chancellor Research University of Dar es Salaam P.O. Box 35091 Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

I heard from my local advisor about a month later (18 Aug), who said I needed to transfer the $200 application fee. The Bank details for UDSM can be found in the application form. I transferred the funds online through Bank of America; it went through in about two days (N.B. BoA charged me $35 fee for international transfers). About three weeks later (9 Sep, two days after arriving in Dar), I was informed by Noela that my research associateship was approved.

A week later (16 Sep), I met with my local advisor who handed me a packet of documents to take to COSTECH to apply for an official research permit. The packet included a letter from UDSM introducing me to COSTECH, and the other documents I had submitted to the university back in July (i.e. one copy of the photograph, one copy of my research proposal, CV and references, invitation letter from my local advisor).

2. Apply for Research Permit at COSTECH

I saved some time by depositing the research permit fee ($300) before going into the COSTECH offices. If you want the bank account details, let me know and I can share this information with you. You just need to go to any National Bank of Commerce (NBC) branch, fill in the cash deposit slip, and deposit the fee in US dollars. Remember to keep the receipt!

Once you arrive at COSTECH, you will sign a guest book at the entrance of the building. The building itself isn't really welcoming, and the offices are not signposted. Walk up to the the second floor, go through the corridor on the right, and enter room number C1. There was one lady processing the documents and one man (Mr Mushi); I don't know his exact title, but he is the one who has the authority to issue the research permits on behalf of the Director General (I think). They were both very lovely -- speaking Swahili helped a great deal. After reviewing my documents, Mr Mushi directed me to go downstairs to room B6 to submit the receipt I got from NBC. This took maybe 5 minutes. Once I came back with my receipt, my research permit was all ready to go! I was given three documents:

  • Research Permit
  • Cover Letter from COSTECH to Immigration Services
  • Tanzania Immigration Department Residence Permit Datasheet

I need to take all these documents to Immigration Services Department HQ in Dar (Kurasini) to apply for my Class C Residence Permit. I'll more about this later...

In sum, the research clearance process isn't so complicated as long as you have a good institutional affiliation, have a lot of patience, pay the fees in time, and try to do things face-to-face once you are in the country (and speak Swahili as much as you can!). Another important tip is to bring a lot of US$ with you for the initial months. It doesn't sound so safe to be carrying thousands of dollars, but a lot of these official documents require fees to be paid in US$, and the ATMs here charge a lot of fees (BoA charges something like $11 every time I withdraw cash).

Packing for dissertation fieldwork by youjinbchung

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While packing light is key, knowing what you definitely need/don't need, and what you can/cannot live without is also important! Packing for 12 months in less than 50kg:

Clothing & Shoes:

  • Lightweight, breathable summer clothes + long-sleeves for chilly mornings and evenings, and for preventing mosquito bites
  • Light scarves and kangas (they serve multiple purposes!)
  • One or two nicer outfits for professional meetings (just in case)
  • Light rain jacket
  • Comfy walking shoes (slip-ons, trainers, and sandals)
  • Waterproof flipflops
  • Wellies for the rainy season

Electronic Equipment:

  • Nikon D90 DSLR camera, 50mm and 18-200mm lenses, strobe light, and multiple battery packs
  • Vivitar point-and-shoot cameras and plenty of AAA batteries for photovoice
  • SD card reader
  • Apple Lightning to USB cable
  • USB hub
  • Audio Recorder (I use this one from TASCAM) and mini tripod (I use this one from JOBY)
  • Good over-ear noise-canceling headphones for interview transcriptions (...and for blocking out noise coming from dogs, bars, and mosques)
  • Portable bluetooth speaker
  • External hard drive
  • Various chargers, universal adapters, and extra cables
  • Internet modem/router (*it turns out that the Vodacom dongle I bought back in 2012 is no longer compatible with OS X Yosemite, so I purchased a new one yesterday -- the Wifi router (below) is actually pretty neat as I can connect up to 10 devices wirelessly, TZS 70,000; US$33)

Vodacom Wifi Router

Basic and Emergency Medication & Personal Care:

  • Probiotics
  • Multivitamins
  • Acetophenone (Tylenol)
  • Expectorant and cough suppressants (Mucinex DM)
  • Antihistamines (Benadryl and non-drowsy kind, like loradine)
  • Nasal spray for year-round allergies (Flonase)
  • Atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone)
  • Contraceptive pills (primarily for lightening/skipping periods while in the field)
  • Antidiarrheals (Imodium; it's never really worked for me, but just in case)
  • Pepto-Bismol
  • Ciprofloxacin for travelers' diarrhea
  • Band-Aid
  • Neosporin
  • Hydrocortisone 1% ointment
  • Anti-itch bug bite roll-ons
  • Insect Repellent, 30% Deet (I like this product by Sawyer)
  • Contact lenses (biweekly ones and spare daily ones)
  • Contact lens solution (also sold in pharmacies in big cities like Dar, usually for TZS 25,000 or US$12).
  • Eyedrops for dry eyes (I got some sodium hyaluronate drops prescribed by my ophthalmologist; it's supposed to be much better/healthier for the eyes than over-the-counter products)
  • Other prescription ointments for inflammatory skin conditions
  • Sunscreen SPF 50+ (for sensitive skin, buy products that have Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide as active ingredients!)
  • Nail clippers, nail file, cuticle oil

Other things:

  • Lots and lots of passport-sized photos (you need multiple copies for various permits)
  • Granola and protein bars (essential for long days out in the field!)
  • Electronic mosquito trap (thank you, mum!)
  • Duct tape (for fixing everything!)
  • Safety pins (also for fixing everything, esp. big holes in mosquito nets!)
  • Microfiber cloth (for all that dust... but this can be easily bought in local supermarkets in Dar)
  • Baby wipes (a cheaper alternative to wet wipes! pretty cheap in TZ, too)
  • Hand sanitizers (also can be bought locally)
  • Feminine hygiene products (they are still so much more expensive in TZ!)
  • Handkerchiefs
  • Outdoor sun hat
  • Water bottle
  • Exercise band
  • Travel yoga mat (this one I use is SUPER lightweight)
  • iPad with lots and lots of e-books, music, and movies
  • Guitar