WH Chronicle No. 1.20

Nov 27, 2010

We arrived safely back home from our expedient trip to Dar es Salaam.  The AC in the car went out before we even exited the University gate, which was especially frustrating because we just had it repaired (the AC, not the gate).  The highway between Arusha and Dar es Salaam is a paved road, but if you drove on it with your eyes closed, you wouldn’t know this.  Which, by the way, is a common technique incorporated by many of the local drivers.  So we rattled down the road in our ‘hot tin box’ dodging goats, people, cars, buses, hand carts and craters the size of a small house—seriously.   Occasionally, one might notice a rusty old road sign like this one:

On the road to Dar es Salaam.

In Dar es Salaam, we took care of embassy business, sat in sweltering traffic, and hurried home.  It was tremendously hot, but I decided riding in the car was marginally better than riding in a bus with a goat in my lap.  By the time we arrived home, the kids were happy to see us.  Running to hug us they stopped dead in their tracks (cue: 'squealing brakes' noise) as soon as they whiffed our aroma.   Perhaps the goat would have been an improvement. 

Tom was sick this week.  He had a fever and a case of the shakes during the night.  All suspicious fevers mandate malaria testing.  Mentioning it to Tom, he looked over his glasses at me in his usual skeptical manner.  Our supervisor took him to the hospital where he was eventually tested for malaria, typhoid, and amoebas.  According to Tom, the hospital’s chichi factor, (though a new facility) could be characterized by the waiting room’s National Geographic magazines from 1980.  When he arrived home, he announced that all tests found him normal.  I quickly assured him that he was not, proof in the fact that he’s still married to me.  He also declared that he was never getting sick again.  But honestly, I feel an unequalled burden of guilt every time someone in our family sheds a tear or skins a knee.  In the back of my mind—am I the responsible lunatic dragging my family on a zealous journey?    I guess I’ll take that up with my therapist.

We celebrated Thanksgiving with 60+ other expats in the Arusha area.  We feasted on “Kuku Mmarekani”  or American Chicken, also known as, “Bata Mzingu”, meaning ‘crazy duck’.  The food was spectacular and the mingling produced some of the most interesting worldly stories I’ve ever heard.  
We worked most of Thanksgiving day, and it wasn’t until lunch that I remembered the holiday.  Without the seasons, holiday advertising or other annual orientations it’s virtually impossible to just guess the month.  Even the sun hides the passing of years by rising and setting the same time every day.  This equatorial stability is reflected in the Tanzanian time system as it numbers the 12 regular hours of daylight. ‘Hour 1’ is at 7am. 

 Mr. Twinkie is finally in full voice and has developed a melismatic crow.  Think--Janis Joplin does rooster impersonations.  One morning while jogging, I heard a rooster that offered consolation to Mr. Twinkie’s vocal short comings.  He sounded like James Brown without the band.   I’m not really a rooster crow connoisseur, but these jungle fowls’ gravely voices sure don’t offer pure voices and operatic crows.  Tom commented that it's nothing an ax can't cure. 

“Europeans, like some Americans, drive on the right side of the road, except in England, where they drive on both sides of the road; Italy, where they drive on the sidewalk; and France, where if necessary they will follow you right into the hotel lobby.”  Dave Barry

Applying extra deodorant,


WH Chronicle No. 1.19

Nov 20, 2010
The beautiful flowers, the tents, the music, the dancing, and all the finely dressed people of today’s graduation ceremonies are now delegated to a mere memory (well except for those Youtube clips).  We graduated, congratulated, orated, and celebrated for 5.5 hours.  The music department shares a sigh of relief after providing all the entertainment and technical support.   

“Entertainment?” you ask?  We sang, we danced, we drummed, we led the parade, we provided hymns, anthems, fanfares, and anything else dictated by the person holding the microphone. All of that without the aid of a French horn or bassoon!

Tom leading the brass processional. 

African Drumming--Call to Ceremony

That's in front of 2000 people. 

 I sigh with wonder as I observe the students here.   This week one music student’s brother passed away.   His roommate announced this sad news in class, at which point each of the students emptied their pockets of any spare change.  For most of them that meant forgoing lunch and dinner, and they don’t even eat breakfast.  I bring bananas to class as often as possible.  It’s not unusual for a student to go several days without food because funds are so tight.   

The students here also speak to me about the problems of Tanzania.  They desperately want to be part of what they refer to as “the global village”.  They worry about being seen as ‘backwards’ or as ‘living museum’.   They are passionate about music and education.  When they speak in such a heartfelt way about these issues, I respond that I can only point the way or spark the ideas, but the true change will rely on them.  They know and comment that ‘knowledge is power’, but I offer the gentle reminder that ‘with that power comes responsibility’ (I heard that line in a Spiderman movie once).  Perhaps that will help them be part of the solution they desire—as I have few answers, but plenty of encouragement.

Daryl was a big help today during graduation.  She was our official runner and videographer, but unfortunately she enthusiastically engaged the dirt with both of these ventures.  Her videos include more feet than faces, and her poor little hamburgered knees now harbor tiny Tanzanian pebbles.   Bandaids and Neosporin! 

Sam spent all 5.5 hours stomping termites and playing Uno with some local kids.  No common language needed for Uno.

Both kids are doing well with homeschool.  It offers a lot of freedom and they work diligently to conquer their tasks each day before launching into play time. 

We’re driving 10 hours to Dar es Salaam tomorrow in our new car.   Driving is such a seriously scary thing—but riding in a bus is not any safer.  It just helps to remind yourself that you’re not cosmically entitled to life and limb, or to that of those you love.  It’s all a gift to be cherished during the brief time it is available.  Then you take a deep breath, stomp the accelerator and ‘keepey lefty’. 

  The kids are staying in Arusha and are looking forward to their slumber party. 

Available for parties and Bar mitzvahs (not too many of those here),

He loves the rear view mirror and frequently tries to rip it off.  


WH Chronicle No. 1.18

Nov 14, 2010

We officially began classes!  Though many teachers from other departments are yet to be hired, the music department is well into the refrain, so to speak.

 My sweet students, most mature adults with families, are full of questions and awe.  Never having heard any of the western music examples I presented (Beethoven 5th, Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto, Also Sprach Zarathustra, La Traviata) they asked endless questions bringing forth even more unfamiliar terminology (what’s an orchestra?).  One student was so excited about the aria from La Traviata, that he wanted to know how to acquire the music. 

This is where the challenge begins:  There are NO music books to be purchased (for students or teachers), no staff paper, no sheet music, no CD’s, not even itunes is available to you if your computer is registered in East Africa.  All the education is strictly what the teacher writes on the chalk board for the students to memorize (assuming there’s a niblet of chalk available).  Few students have access to computers; even then, there may not be electricity or internet service.  Computer literacy is daunting to the students.  Regardless, I have emphasized that their budding computer skills will open a valuable portal to a vast amount of knowledge and information available on the net.   This simple tool could be revolutionary to the educational systems in developing countries.

It’s been nice to enjoy weekends as a family.  One of our favorite pastimes is to play what Sam calls “Pool Ships”.  It’s a slightly less static version of Winnie the Pooh’s “Pooh Sticks” because of Sam’s imaginary armory and battle engagement.  Basically, we drop sticks, guavas, mangoes, leaves, or whatever we want into the trickling stream, watch it disappear under the bridge, and then run to the other side to watch it reappear.  There’s something beautifully simple and wondrous about this activity; then Sam adds explosive noises from his various orifices. 
Sam watching for his "Pool Ship".

A variation: Daryl, with help, playing "Pool Ships".

I’ve been warned that our feral kids will be difficult to catch and tame when it’s time to return to the States.  I’m frequently ambushed as they hide in trees or around corners.  They spend much of the day pretending to be spies.  They come home at dark, but continue their rowdiness like they were still in the mulberry field chasing crows and monkeys.  We’ll need a tranq gun and some padded cages.
 Their occasional homesick conversations are about spending a week immersed in junk food and video games at the grandparents’ house.  Their eyes glaze over blissfully when reminiscing, while it has the complete opposite effect on me. 

The kittens are beginning to open their eyes and have become quite noisy when you take them away from their mother.    The baby chicks are sprouting little feathers from beneath their chickly fuzz.  They run faster and are becoming more difficult to catch.
Mr. Twinkie is finally starting to sing, but not like his proud rooster friends with well developed operatic crows--hosting tremolos, trills, melismas while warming up at midnight.  Instead, he has a meager little incantation like country-western yodeler plagued with chronic sinus infections.  I admire his perseverance with his permanent state of snot-encrustation.    

More bizarre events:  Two baby catfish came out of the neighbor’s kitchen sink faucet, one dead, and one alive.  I saw a bumble bee the size of a softball.  As it tried to maintain altitude, it sounded like a Cummins diesel engine.  We noticed two shy Colobus monkeys on campus.  One of them tried to pee on us.

We finally have wheels!  And with it comes a new phase of freedom, and financial endeavors.  Planning to pay for the vehicle with an online wire transfer, we realized the fallacy in the idea as soon as the internet and electricity went out.    My sweet dad had to break away from landlording our house in Austin long enough to ‘run by Western Union’ and wire us our own money.   Because the largest bill in Tanzania is only 10,000Tsh ($7) , we had to pay for the car with two, large, bricks worth of cash—the only thing missing was a brown paper bag or handcuffed spy briefcase.  We were happy to hand it over to the owner so that we weren’t the mugger bait.   

The car is a little 4x4 Suzuki.  Four wheel-drive is important because there’s basically only one paved road through the middle of Tanzania, and even it has speed bumps that are waist high.  The steering wheel is on the right side and one must ‘keepie leftie’ while driving.  We’re not sure where to park it, but I told Tom if there’s a tow truck anywhere in Tanzania, chances are it’s broken down with no hope of being towed to a repair shop.

The car was named "Sparky" by our little hood ornament.

You all are such amazing friends!  Everyone keeps asking what essential item from our former lives we still desperately need---within the padded envelope caveat, of course.    Tom is in bad need of a beard trimmer.  Daryl braids any uncovered hair within her reach; hence, Tom is working on a “Fu Man Chu” impersonation (a braided beard is a sign of Chinese royal dignity).   He’s also in need of some anti-depressants; not for Tanzania, but for football season.  Horns and Cowboys are just dreadful this year….this dilemma could make anyone living in a developing country feel better about their lives.

Looking up in trees with my mouth closed,

Sam and the baby chicks.

Flamboyant Tree


WH Chronicle No. 1.17

Nov 7th, 2010

Hard to believe that Africa is spinning on the globe just as fast as North America, but this week we may have sped a little faster in time and widened the gap in the Atlantic Ocean!

Sunday, Oct 31           
 Political elections, Halloween (for us only), and the stray cat that adopted us had 3 kittens in the hedge.  They now live in a box on our back porch so the stray dogs won’t eat them. 
Monday, Nov 1
 Downtown Arusha was flooded with people waiting for election results. 
Tuesday, Nov 2
 Downtown Arusha had many businesses closed due to people celebrating the acquisition of senate seats by the opposition party.  The police released the tear gas and water cannons on the crowd without warning.   We met with the University music students that were able to acquire travel arrangements during these hectic and unpredictable days.  Three baby chicks hatched.
Wednesday, Nov 3 
Music rehearsals began for graduation ceremonies.  The music department, all 30 of us, provides the singing, dancing, and instrumental music for the event celebrating the students who completed their studies last semester (July).
Thursday, Nov 4
More students arrived, more rehearsing.
Friday, Nov 5
They announced that the presidential incumbent (expectedly) won.  I attended my first faculty meeting.   The discussion was that enrollment for the University has doubled.  Many new teachers will have to be hired and to expect difficulties with class scheduling and room assignments.    Perhaps this will be worked out over the new few weeks, as classes begin on Monday.    Music classes, though already in order, will probably require schedule adjustment to accommodate the University core classes.

Over the weekend we attended our first Tanzanian birthday celebration.  Many Tanzanians do not have birth certificates (nor do they know their birthdates, or birth years) as most births are at home.  There are no snowy, picturesque Hallmark Calendars hanging from the doors to mark the days and special events. Of course, many home dwellings do not even have doors.  On this special occasion they have a ‘cake song’.  Cake is a very big deal, as it is a difficult thing to cook over three hot rocks in a pan that resembles a hubcap.   After the song, the guest of honor cuts the cake, and they hand each person a morsel on a toothpick (most Tanzanians do not have any eating utensils beyond a sharp knife).  The expectation is for one to cram the whole piece in his/her mouth at one time.  They chastised my children for not doing so and I gloat with the notion that it took me 3 years to break Sam of that very habit.  Oh, well…when in Rome.   

After the cake everyone sings while each attendant dances up to the honoree and offers a gift.  Examples of such gifts include: a bar of soap, three ball point pens, shoe polish, shampoo, 200 Tsh coin (15 cents), and a really nice gift: flip flops.   Then they parade each person to their home with more singing and dancing. 

We also attended our first campus church service.  This is a Lutheran University, so when in Luther…    Act like you’re in Lake Wobegon? (Remember, there are more Lutherans in Africa than in the states!)  The entire service was in rapid fire Swahili—I recognized “Amen”.  At the end of the service they auctioned the items that were placed in the offertory basket in lieu of money.  Today it was just eggs, but occasionally, I’ve heard  there are goats or cows in church.    

When we go to market to purchase our eggs and milk, we sometimes wonder what the locals are thinking.  They recognize us instantly and know our story.  They elbow  the person sitting next to them and begin talking about us.   We see them nodding, but what are they saying in Swahili, “Eee, there goes the neighborhood…”?

The students in the School of Music are quite remarkable.  University students are the ‘best of the best’ in Tanzania.  They dress in their finest Sunday church clothes to attend classes.   They all ‘thank God’ for the opportunity of education.  I will learn more personal stories as we progress, but one of the students had to walk 50km (each weekend) to complete his high school education.  It was the closest high school and there was no available transportation.   He walked at night when it was cooler, but had to be mindful of lions.   If one passes the tests to be admitted to high school, then the honor is so great that any sacrifice is secondary to the opportunity presented.  Another student sold one of the three family cows in order to afford University fees.   He still has two years of studies ahead of him….

When I was in the faculty meeting, there were several moments when my concentration lapsed (though it is in English, their accent requires close attention for understanding).  I was staring out the window at the purplely-orange sunset on Mt. Meru.  Time melted away and I was transported to a place where my current gaze became a mere distance memory of our time here.   I felt a nostalgic, yet melancholy, smile cross my face and I wondered….as I often do. 

Tom continues to endure.  Somehow baby kittens, baby chicks, goat milking, (cat milking), monkey chasing,  eternal spring, singing and dancing traditional African tunes, banana and papaya harvesting,  coaching brass ensemble, and other daily adventures don’t seem to distract him from missing football games (even though it’s a good year to miss them), and playing horn with the symphony.  The kids occasionally squeak out about missing Taco Cabana and grandparents (that order, sorry).   I’m happily missing the political headaches of home, though there are days here where cultural adjustment is completely exhausting.

Just a warning, I think the “Comment” section of the blog has not been reliable….or maybe that’s a symptom of wishful thinking.  But several of you have emailed us about comments we’ve never received.   So we will just continue to believe that most of you have been regularly offering  your humorous or insightful quips and we've continually failed to receive them.  

“Reach out for the joy and the sorrow.  Put them away in your mind. The mem’ries are the times that you borrow, to spend when you get to tomorrow.”  Times of Your Life, Paul Anka

Milking cats and nursing chicks,

Introducing (imagine 3 of each--chicks then kittens):  Fluffy, Dolly Madison, Sputnik, Bunnicula, Sharktooth, Milkshake

Kitten being rocked to sleep.
First two snapshots they were fighting...this is the promise of ice cream. The orchid cost $2 on the street.  

Cool chameleon we found.  He's been released back into the wild for the sake of Sam's nose. 

I know you all have been hungry for some action packed videos!  Maybe a lion kill, snake eating a hyena, rhino charging a tour bus, etc.  Well, here's one that even takes out the videographer (but he still managed to upload the video).
  Click Here!

After the attack:
We're not sure if Rooster is wearing protective armor or a restraint--but he looked good for Halloween!