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.  

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