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. 

Anonymous –   – (December 7, 2010 at 3:07 PM)  

LOVE reading about your adventures. Keep the stories coming! Be safe & have fun - we miss you guys!!!


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