Sunday, August 2, 2015

A University Graduate Living on Four Dollars a Day and a Prostitute Making 100 USD an Hour

Back in town at Iringa, the town that graciously hosted the author for the previous interview trip from a month ago, there was a job advertisement on one of the lamppost on the main street leading to the bustling central market.  A renowned international organization was hiring local stuff to do market research and data analyses to help determine the best strategies to gain access to target markets.  In its brief description, the high expectations for the job is clear.  To get the job done, computer and critical thinking skills, a rarity in this mostly farming community, are obviously essential.

The salary expectations were clearly noted: 140 USD a month in the current exchange rate.  Post-taxation, this is equivalent to around four dollars a day in final earnings.  And just to reiterate, this is the salary for a highly competent university graduate in a town where 95% of the population are farmers with little beyond primary school education.  Certainly, compared to the college graduate with steady income, these farmers cannot possibly be expected to have a higher income by any means.  It is not at all surprising, then, that brain drain has led to a dearth of the educated in this little highland town.

Given the financial situation of the average resident, the hustle and bustle of the market becomes more of a puzzle.  Even at relatively affordable prices (by comparing to the already affordable standards of developing Southeast Asia), many of what people will consider to be daily necessities become pure luxuries.  This is especially true considering that many packaged goods of non-agricultural nature has to be imported into the town via not-so-developed logistic networks.  It explains why the author's purchase of a bottle of shampoo and mouthwash would be equivalent to 10% of this four-dollar-a-day university graduate's monthly income.

It is what it is, a sheer display of misfortune, when a person of high intellectual caliber is rewarded with some little in a place where he can barely eek out a living without being able to afford the closest semblance of a lifestyle he deserves as a, well, white collar worker...as the author thought of this, he receives a message on the popular Chinese mobile app WeChat from a Chinese girl based in Dar es Salaam.  The content of the message is as usual: "where are you?" and "when are you dropping by the Yuetan Hotel," referring to the popular Chinese hangout in the busy Kariakoo market area.

In a Chinese expat community where the population is almost exclusively composed of youthful and energetic Chinese businessmen and laborers, girls like these have become hot stuff.  "Working in the service industry" as they would introduce themselves in the messaging app, their abnormal "massage services" seem to sell like hot cakes despite the steep price tag of 100 USD per hour, or at an extreme bargain, 300 USD per night.  Purportedly not receiving any non-Chinese guests, the girls cater well to a Chinese male population that has enormous "needs" while abroad.  They see a couple of years in Dar to be a time to really make money.

The image of the Tanzanian college graduate living on 4 dollars a day contrasted with that of the Chinese prostitute at 100 dollars an hour does show the disturbing multiplicity of the local economy.  Yes, the money is indeed floating around, otherwise no Chinese businessman would be here on the ground, paying large sums of cash to girls flown in from back home just to serve them.  But the money is not going to the local and the intelligent, but to the foreign and the opportunistic.  It is clear that this country, devoid of manufacturing capacity, values those who are able to meet local needs much more than those who are not resourceful.

Perhaps the critical thinkers in these Tanzanian small towns are simply ahead of their times.  As economies grow and become more complex in nature, bigger firms will emerge and require the service of those capable of providing complex data inputs for long-term, strategic decision-making.  This is what the author was precisely doing in his previous position.  But in today's local economy, there are just too many market niches waiting to be filled and too few contenders to fill them, that it simply needs no complicated analyses to show what the company can devoted resources and make good money.

In essence, both the lowly paid college graduate and the highly paid prostitute are part of this rather early stage of economic development.  At this point of progress, those performing highly demanded services, whether requiring intelligence or not,  will be rewarded handsomely.  This reality, as the country becomes one where more and more credible competitors emerge for every industry, will undoubtedly come to an end.  When that day comes, the college graduate will have the last laugh.  After all, it is much more difficult and rarer a skill to be able to do complex thinking than to spread one's legs for horny strangers.  

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