Last night I caught up with a high school friend over dinner in Brooklyn. I learned two fascinating new things about the world.
First, when I mentioned the 14-passenger vans known as matatus that are so common in East Africa (and elsewhere), she told me that Brooklyn has something similar. They’re known as “dollar vans” — and apparently they are as ubiquitous as they are illegal. One journalist writes:
I saw something similar when I lived in Chinatown in Manhattan: each morning and evening there were dozens of minibuses, most without any marking in English, taking passengers too and from… I didn’t know where. I just looked them up, and found this yelp review of a service that runs to Flushing.
Takeaway? Informality blooms everywhere, with varying degrees. Public services are complemented by private ones. Everybody hustles.
The other thing I learned came when we were talking about television. I mentioned that telenovelas are shockingly popular in Kenya and Uganda. These are Spanish-language soap operas, terribly dubbed over in English, and broadcast by a South African station (so I assume the shows have an audience elsewhere on the continent). I’ve seen La Tormenta and En Nombre del Amor on Kenyan TV, but I know there are others. Here’s the new thing I learned: apparently India has its own soap operas, mostly in Hindi. They have a similar style — dramatic twists, ridiculous overacting, etc.
Takeaway? Not sure. But I find it interesting that this format seems to work across countries. Does anyone know anything about soap operas as a cultural phenomenon? Even more so, as a cross-cultural phenomenon? I’d curious how they differ across countries, why the Spanish telenovelas are so popular in East Africa, and whether a country like India develops its own for cultural reasons, or just because of market size.