23 September 201023 September 2010 Main Posts A post from Tanzania: Preaching to pictures Louise Pine On the ferry between Pemba Island and mainland Tanzania there was a video playing in the lounge area. It was, as a man I met on the trip described, ‘preaching to pictures’. I met Abdul in a cheap guesthouse the night before the weekly ferry was due to leave for mainland. He is one of those guys who is infinitely interesting: born in Somalia, he left three months before civil war broke out and spent three years in a camp in Pakistan. At twenty, he arrived in Canada. He got himself to university, worked for the Canadian government, took a series of contracts in Liberia, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Kenya and Afghanistan, and is now working for the World Bank in Dar es Salaam. We were napping between conversations when he sat up and pointed at the television. ‘I speak a little Arabic. And this,’ he said, ‘is not the kind of thing they should be feeding the Tanzanian people.’ It was a half hour program espousing the almighty power of Allah, set to a series of images. It was a combination of sermon and passages from the Koran. For thirty minutes we watched news footage of natural disasters interspersed with clips from Hollywood disaster movies, shots of Westerners drinking and smoking followed by shots of Westerners being swept away by the Boxing Day tsunami – buildings flooding, bridges collapsing, cars up trees, James Cameron’s Titanic crashing into an iceberg. Not being an Arabic speaker myself, I have to take Abdul’s word for it, but his take on it was this: he worried that the combination of the sermon and these images were being directed at people who were not broadly educated to think critically about what they were seeing. I thought of the horror stories about refugees on Today Tonight, and the Andrew Bolt columns in the Herald Sun and wondered if that was getting somewhere close to it. Abdul’s second concern was that for a country trying to develop, shows like this weren’t helpful because they didn’t encourage progress. ‘It’s basically saying that you can go ahead and build these great cities, develop tourism, encourage foreigners to visit and spend their money – but ultimately, Allah decides. And He may well decide to sweep it all away. ‘Disasters like this happen once every ten, twenty, fifty years: what happens in the meantime? I’m a Believer, I know that He may take away the development, the buildings and the bridges. But what is the alternative? To not develop?’ As I said, I’m not an Arabic speaker, so I have to take Abdul’s word for it. But even without knowing what was being said, it didn’t take much for me to figure out the implied connection between the close-up of the white man sucking on a beer bottle and the very next shot of the white man in Bali being swept away by the tidal wave. I’ve only been in Tanzania for a few weeks, so I’m yet to gauge what role a show like this could really play in hindering the progress of this generally moderate and tolerant nation. But I did happen to notice that, prior to the crashing waves and the booming voice, the television was screening a slapstick comedy, complete with Funniest Home Videos sound effects. Once that had finished and the sermon came on, nine out of ten of the passengers had stopped watching. Louise Pine More by Louise Pine Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate. Related articles & Essays First published in Overland Issue 228 24 February 202317 March 2023 Main Posts Final Results of the 2022 Judith Wright Poetry Prize Editorial Team Overland, the judges and the Malcolm Robertson Foundation are thrilled to announce the final results of the 2022 Judith Wright Poetry Prize. First published in Overland Issue 228 24 February 202317 March 2023 Main Posts Final Results of the 2022 Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize Editorial Team Overland, the judges and the Malcolm Robertson Foundation are thrilled to announce the final results of the 2022 Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize.