WH Chronicle No. 1.23

Dec 19th, 2010

Packages from foreign lands have been arriving!  We place each one dutifully under the Christmas tree, after a curious shaking, of course.  We have incited a moratorium on opening presents until Christmas Day! 

I recently had a dream in which I am frantically racing to the toilet only to find the lid nailed down.  Subconsciously, I suppose I’m trying to process the different ‘issues’ that present themselves while living abroad.  This dream was slightly emotionally disturbing because there are times here that, to borrow Dave Barry’s phrase, ‘one wishes the toilet had a seat belt’.

But luckily, I have my Sunday afternoons of Chronicle therapy (and if there’s internet service, you even receive a Chronicle).  As I tell my silly stories, I envision your eager faces, awash in blue light from your computer screen, receiving the images and African tales from my own mosquito swatting lair-- half  a world away.   Thank you for inspiring me.

One of the faculty members at the University has a son getting married in a few weeks.  There are many congratulations, as weddings are of epic proportion in Tanzania.   One important ritual to which the  father of the groom must adhere, is to offer a ‘bride price’ to the future in-laws prior to the wedding.  Now this is not a rural village situation still dealing in cattle trade for wives, but urban, educated Tanzanians, who have traveled the globe.    When I told my European Music History class about the European tradition of dowries, they (mostly men) erupted in gleeful Swahili—discussing poetic justice, maybe? In Tanzanian rural culture, such as Maasai Land, the indication of success and prosperity is the number of cows and wives one owns.   The first Maasai wife is selected and purchased by the husband’s family.  When that wife tires of birthing children and tending basic survival she encourages the man to take on a new woman to ease the burden.

My students talk about ‘escaping’ Tanzania.  Who could blame them?  Almost anywhere they go there are significantly better wages, creature comforts, better health and safety, transportation, opportunities, less corruption, and maybe someone would pay them to take a wife (?).  But once the smartest and the brightest leave….Africa has a name for it, ‘brain drain’—another hurdle for many struggling countries.

So why would an American leave all of that to come here?  Was my brain drained? 

Sometimes I think that in the American scientific and capitalist path to conquer nature we like to pretend that we are not bound by the fragility of human flesh.    But enduring these expirations (and recognizing your own) can be a catalyst for spiritual maturity.  Many of the people here have this wisdom and peace about their lives.  Some might call it resignation or superstitious religion, but it stems from an effort to explain the unknowable and live through the unbearable.  It is as if Americans haven’t noticed what happens to their movie stars when they  are consuming all they desire…this ‘cosmic candy’ caused some serious cavities in their perspective and everyone else thinks they are immune to this malady. 

Another issue is that Africa is at the far end of the spectrum on collectivist societies when the U.S. is at the other end.  So this discussion of ‘brain drain’ bothers those who consider leaving—because of their ingrained feeling of responsibility.  Whereas, most westerners are more concerned about their rights rather than any societal obligations.  I can tell that the students already harbor some guilt about leaving their homes for University studies.  As Tanzanians mature they support their parents, but we gain independence in order to free our parents from the burden.  It’s very different.  Many of the students here send home their loan money to help their families, keeping just enough to maybe have one meal a day as long as no unexpected expenses arise.

Even from 10,000 miles away, I think I many have spawned the need for psychotherapy for a child other than my own.  Our little friend, Jamie, 10, saw a poster of me at a hockey game.  He coerced the chaperoning parent in to photographing him next to the poster and then proceeded to tell outlandish stories about PLUMP Pool parties, cannonball contests, bassoons, chickens, lizards, and Africa.  Then, when the chaperone was later admonishing Jamie’s parents  for letting their son’s imagination get the best of him, they added, ”Did he tell you she had West Nile, too?”    Bizarre world--glad to be doing my part.   

Jamie, the hero of our story. 

 Daryl and some campus kids playing the African game of Bau in the dirt. 
Sam's trying to get the kitten to 'use' their Bau board. 

For those of you with inquiring minds, Sam informed us that the milk from the momma cat doesn’t taste like anything.  Now is the time to tell your inquiries to stop. 
Nathan and Sam playing a variation of Jenga ( the Swahili word for 'build")

Tom just returned home, slightly traumatized by his climb of Mt. Meru.  It is claimed to be a more difficult ascent than Kilimanjaro.  He mentioned that the easy part was the stairs--only 4 hours of that part!  3 days up and one day down.  65km total.  His mountain report next week.
From above the clouds, the tip of Kilimanjaro illuminated.

 Monkeyville.  The monkeys were frolicking in our yard.  The know they are safe when we are in the house and then they have a good time peeking in our windows.  The kids can recognize and have named most of the clan.  This clip is especially for my dad, who always asks about the nature of our monkeys.   Here's a minute of silliness in Monkeyville.
 If you really like vervet videos, here's a 5 minute news clip on drunk monkeys.  Drunk Monkeys

The momma cat brought in a tasty morsel for her kittens.  It is an East African Highland Shrew.  Doesn't look too mean...
I wonder if it will change the flavor of her milk?

  An omission from last week’s Chronicle email delivery.  There was a video of Tom laughing manically while singing Christmas carols in the pool.  Though only 5 seconds, it clearly leaves one wondering about the stability of his mental condition.  You can see it at www.whaleherdienda.com

"Only in men's imaginations does a truth find an effective and undeniable existence.  Imagination, not invention,  is the supreme master of art as of life."  Joseph Conrad

Your poster child,

PS.  Merry Christmas!  I keep forgetting.  I even tried to fix the awry December date on my computer at one point, until I realized it really was December.  


WH Chronicle No. 1.22

Dec  13th, 2010

We put your tax dollars to good use this week as we snuck off to a lovely resort on the side of Mt Meru.   The kids sang Christmas carols while swimming in the pool.  We lounged on the veranda and marveled at the orange peak of Kilimanjaro during sunset.  After dinner we snuggled by the cozy fireplace to read stories and swat mosquitoes. We celebrated my 40th birthday and I’m elated about it.   I look forward to harvesting the seeds of wisdom sown in my 30’s.  I feel like I earned my age the hard way, but it’s possible to recover from that somewhat challenging decade. 
Tom's lightening up and finally enjoying himself.  I wonder if it's safe to leave the kids with him.

It seems like yesterday I was sobbing over my 30th birthday…bemoaning what most people would consider a well-endowed life.  A month later I was pregnant.  I took a pregnancy test in the Taco Bell bathroom, and then considered barricading myself in there for the next 9 months because I couldn’t quit crying.  Those of you who remember my condition are probably shuddering from the recollection of my emotional state (or lack thereof).  This was all exacerbated by a healthy dose of hormones and a good bit of fear, all pureed together in the blender of self-absorption.  Of course, that was just the appetizer for what my 30’s had to offer—each new challenge trumping its predecessor.   At least by birthday number 39, I was dreaming of celebrating the big 4-0 in Africa.  Ahhh…and such a sweet moment it was--unadulterated by Nutcrackers, Messiahs or SingAlongs! 

Only one realization tempted to spoil the event.  My children were so unusually well-behaved, friendly, fun, enjoyable, amenable to trying new experiences and foods, without fighting, crying, or complaining.  I basked in the enjoyment of their age and sweetness (and rarity of this near-perfect behavior). Daryl cooked and decorated a ‘surprise’ cake.  Sam was full of hugs and smiles.  Then, I realized that my next decade marker will contain a different set of treasures, but my children—still being the sweet little children of 9 and 6—will be wistfully missed.  So, I’m flush with the feeling of gratitude, and wholesome unworthiness, as I cannot imagine being bestowed with any greater fortunes than the present.

Sam lost his second tooth this week.  The next day he was hit in the head with a soccer ball during a student match between the divinity/music and law (who actually had uniforms).  The music/divinity students lost by only one point; their best record to date.  When Sam was beaned by the ball, the music students all gathered around to rub his head and hug on him.  The law students began passing out their business cards. 

Daryl’s been practicing her cake decorating.  Sam’s been practicing his stealthiness in eating cake decorations.

It’s been raining more.  The rains are so pleasant and have caused Mother Nature to begin reverting the world back to its natural state –of overgrown flora and fauna.   She’s also working on our car—inside and out.  Rainboots are recommended driving apparel  in our car during wet weather.
As we live and work in Tanzania, I’ve noticed a change in my perceptions of people’s physical appearances.  I no longer notice when people’s teeth are strikingly brown due to excessive fluoride in the mountain water.  I rarely note the people with facial brands, tribal scars, ear decorations, missing teeth (on purpose),  and other alterations.  Of course, maybe I have my U.S. college students, with a hardware store’s worth of facial adornments, to thank for this relatively seamless transition. 

Many thanks for all of the birthday wishes from all those with everlasting electricity and internet!  Your love made it around the world in practically no time at all…and it only took me two days to download it to our computer.  

“Last week the candle factory burned down.  Everyone just stood around and sang ‘Happy Birthday’.”  Stephen Wright

“Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“40 is not old, if you are a tree.”  Anonymous (G. Seekoi Yaw)

Fa la la la la laaa la la la la,
Colobus Monkey.  They look like 40 lb skunks sailing between treetops.

Africa-sized milltipede.  
Q.  Why the chicken cross the playground?  
A.  To get to the other slide. 


WH Chronicle No. 1.21

Dec 5, 2010

Christmas approaches but we have to remind ourselves because there’s still not a tinsel of evidence in the blazing  tropical heat of Tanzania.  Even if we had an old fashioned Christmas card, we could at least fan ourselves. There’s also that worrisome issue of Santa Claus and his eight tiny African Antelope?  Daryl and Sam keep asking very innocent and sweet questions like, “How the hell is he going to find us in Africa—especially if the electricity is out?” and, “What if he takes all of our loot to the wrong house—can we get it back?”    The concept of Santa actually sounds like a cruel joke in this developing country context, as most the children would be happy to get a full meal for Christmas, or maybe even an old pair of socks redeemed with bleach.   Daryl and Sam have yet to notice many of these differences, but I’ve requested that they not speak about Santa to their friends.  Oy… I hope it never rains on their delicate chalk painting of childhood innocence, but in every life …..  All I can say is, “Take an umbrella, it’s raining.”*

Westerners complain of rampant petty theft in Tanzania.   Historically, there is a significant difference in the cultural concept of possession.   In Africa, ownership has a looser interpretation and might be viewed more as ‘borrowing’.  Land purchase in Tanzania is not possible; the only option is a 99 year lease.  Material goods  could be considered on existential ‘loan’ and stealing is more akin to reallocating resources.  But with globalization the ideals and philosophies of modern and urban Tanzanians are now more in common with those of a westerner.   In fact, when donations are given for someone in need, they are commonly documented (no anonymity) in an effort to demonstrate honesty and transparency— I assume this is from the western emphasis.  The students here despise the corruption.
Honestly, if I lived on $2 a day and had 4 children to feed (gave birth to 4, 2 lived, and 2 are ‘adopted’ from distant family members deceased of AIDS), I might feel compelled to slip the small ipod belonging to my employer’s 9 year old child, which I found under their bed while cleaning, quietly into my pocket. So I find it remarkable when they don’t do this.

Reallocating resources also extends to boundless generosity.   I feel fairly confident that the western fable of the ant and grasshopper would appear morally bankrupt to most African cultures.  What kind of decency could find comfort in living while not offering assistance to one who might perish? And that is the way they live. They take in orphan kids and feed those that might be hungry tonight, not knowing from where tomorrow’s food will come.  I’ve seen this generosity and it makes me feel inadequate, demonstrating ample room for personal growth.

  Many of the adult students have families they have left at home in order to study at University.  They’ve commented that going to school and managing their dependants is like driving two buses at the same time.  The sacrifices they make to be at school are tremendous.  Some of the students have even lost children while being here, yet they have persevered in their studies.  I’m not sure I would have that fortitude.  I tell them this.  Perhaps their courage has abused me of some of my previous notions, but I can see that they will have the necessary strength to make very powerful and positive changes in their country.  I tell them this, too. 

The music students auditioned for their scholarship funds this week.  The presentations were incredible; imagine Tom and me judging ‘Tanzania’s Got Talent’.   The most fascinating, for me, were the traditional dances. One performance was a women’s dance for a newborn, performed in drag by the auditionee; another was a presentation and performance of the circumcision songs of the Masaai.  This is rite of passage at age 15 for the Masaai boys.  They have to demonstrate their bravery by not quivering or crying out while the procedure is completed.   They speak shockingly open about these traditions just as you and I might speak about our weddings.

Tom is beginning to look like a member of ZZTop.  Willie Nelson is now comparatively a jarhead.     He mentioned that his homesickness is getting better or maybe it's that he’s just getting numb. 

Our friends celebrated the confirmation of their children in the Lutheran church today.  This celebration is every bit as big as a wedding event.   Some of the confirments’s families hired a brass band to parade them home in a decorated car.  Goats were roasted, tents were hoisted, and I can still hear the parties out my office window, 7 hours after the service. 

At the end of today’s 3 hour church service they brought out a plastic grocery bag containing a well-behaved live chicken.  Someone had brought the hen for their offering and she was being auctioned off to the highest bidder.  We refrained from publicly revealing any of our idiosyncrasies, but considered putting the kittens in the basket for next week.

*Curious Savage, a play by John Patrick
Mrs. Savage: What's the matter, Fairy May?
Fairy: Nothing. It's just that no one has said they loved me this live-long day.
Mrs. Savage: Why yes, they have, Fairy.
Fairy: Oh, no they haven't. I've been waiting.
Mrs. Savage: I heard Florence say it at the dinner table.
Fairy: Did she?
Florence: Did I?
Mrs. Savage: She said, Don't eat too fast, Fairy.
Fairy: Was that saying she loved me?
Mrs. Savage: Of course. People say it when they say, "Take an umbrella, it's raining" - or "Hurry back" - or even "Watch out, you'll break your neck." There're hundreds of ways of wording it - you just have to listen for it, my dear."

"Our life on earth is, and ought to be, material and carnal. But we have not yet learned to manage our materialism and carnality properly; they are still entangled with the desire for ownership."
-E.M. Forster

"Mine, mine, mine, mine, mine.  It's ALL mine."  Daffy Duck in Ali Baba Bunny (1957)

Kissing Santa goodnight,

A bus on the highway.  Notice thru the cloud of smoke a picture of a turtle and "Pole Pole", which means 'slow'. 

Another bus--worthy of a photo.