WH Chronicle No. 1.32

March 27, 2011

My grandmother passed away this week.  Mimi was my last grandparent to depart, and it was especially disheartening to be so far away from my family.  But in lieu of my presence, I sent some memories and reflections to be read at the funeral.  I've included them in this week's Chronicle.  I attempted to capture smoke with my bare hands by writing about Mimi, but I perhaps the effort was appreciated. 

Other news here on the African front: Carolyn, kids, and Tom are off to Zanzibar for the week.  They will be in charge of next week's report.  The peace and quiet in our house is very unfamiliar. 


One of Mimi’s favorite poems:
When I'm An Old Lady
by Joanne Bailey Baxter

When I'm an old lady, I'll live with each kid,
And bring so much happiness just as they did.
I want to pay back all the joy they've provided.
Returning each deed! Oh, they'll be so excited!
(When I'm an old lady and live with my kids...)

I'll write on the walls with reds, whites, and blues,
And bounce on the furniture.....wearing my shoes.
I'll drink from the carton and then leave it out.
I'll stuff all the toilets and oh, how they'll shout!
(When I'm an old lady and live with my kids...)

When they're on the phone and just out of reach,
I'll get into things like sugar and bleach.
Oh, they'll snap their fingers and then shake their head,
And when that is done, I'll hide under the bed.
(When I'm an old lady and live with my kids...)

When they cook dinner and call me to eat,
I'll not eat my green beans or salad or meat.
I'll gag on my okra, spill milk on the table,
And when they get angry...I'll run....if I'm able!
(When I'm an old lady and live with my kids...)

I'll sit close to the TV., through the channels I'll click
I'll cross both eyes just to see if they stick.
I'll take off my socks and throw one away,
And play in the mud 'til the end of the day!
(When I'm an old lady and live with my kids...)

And later in bed, I'll lay back and sigh,
I'll thank God in prayer and then close my eyes.
My kids will look down with a smile slowly creeping,
And say with a groan, "She's so sweet when she's sleeping!"

When Mimi first read that poem to me, I thought she had written it herself.   She loved that poem.

Mimi loved to tell stories.  
We all will remember her enthusiastic tales of family history, ancestors, as well as her time-honored fables, skits and poems.  She regaled us with her youthful experiences of life on the farm, and daily walks to the schoolhouse, which interestingly enough, resembled her most requested bedtime story, The Three Billy Goats Gruff.

But perhaps the best story is the one about a little old lady, named Mimi.  Of course, Mimi wasn’t always old, but her youth has transcended your narrator’s reference.
In the beginning Mimi was a loving grandmother.  She thoroughly enjoyed the company of her three granddaughters, and never showed annoyance for childhood curiosity nor tired from our endless energy.   Laurie, Patti, and I were blessed with ‘Mimi Summer Camps’, weekends and holidays spent on the peaceful farm outside of Lometa.  Mimi approached each occasion with us as if she were a professional activities coordinator for the busiest of cruise ships.  She indulged us with games of checkers, plaster hand prints, picnics on Biscuit Rock, needle-pointing pillows, and a seasonal favorite, Jack Horner pie gift boxes at Christmas.   She took us swimming in the stock tank and to the creek on the old Godwin place--both of which required her to perform a thorough de-leeching afterwards.   To maintain respectability and reclaim any lost ground from leeches or coif-buried cockleburs, she employed Lavern--to shave, sheer, or trim the errant hairs on her young Godwin representatives.  And when the wind died down and the hot bugs sang, she directed us to find relief from sweltering heat within the fresh peach juice running down our chins, assisting her with homemade ice cream or simply hogging the swamp cooler breezes.     These pastoral experiences and memories were divinely offered through Mimi.  She stamped an indelible mark on our youth and the only ill moment for us, and her, was the time to say, ‘Goodbye’.

Goodbyes are difficult.  She told me several times about what I said to her at Umpaw’s funeral when I was only 5:   “Mimi, I know exactly how you feel.  It’s just like you want to sit in the corner and curl up into a ball.” I assume she found peace in that sentiment, because I know that’s how I feel today.

But back to our story…

Much to Mimi’s chagrin, those three adorable granddaughters became grandteenagers.   Mimi lamented that with age we would become too busy for our summer visits.  The sadness she expressed pained me just as much as the thought of our youthful adventures ending.   So much so, that I made a na├»ve promise I could not keep, “Mimi, I’ll always spend my summers with you.”

 But Mimi knew.

She faithfully endured our teen years.  Her loyalty was not deterred by any haughty teenage attitudes.  She attended football games, horseshows, basketball games, and music concerts, but perhaps her devotion backfired as horsecamps and bandcamps eventually replaced our beloved “Mimi camps”. 

After outlasting her second round of teenage drivers, University tribulations, and the parade of boyfriends, Mimi’s patience was rewarded with the happy weddings of her granddaughters.  As always, she got all gussied-up, applied her Jergens hand lotion, a fresh layer of Aqua Net and spritely attended those festive events.  For Patti’s wedding she even gussied me up with an unsolicited haircut.  Wedding album documentation demonstrated Mimi’s deficits in Cosmetology. 

When it came time for me to marry, Mimi proclaimed about Tom, “Seems like such a nice young man, it’s a shame he can’t afford a haircut.”  Before our wedding, she offered him her scissorly services, but knowing my own testimony about a cleaved coiffure, he politely declined.

And then, of course, came round three of children to love and cherish.  Six beautiful great-grandkids entertained Mimi with their youthful curiosity and childhood antics.  The youngest of the clan, Daryl and Sam, loved to act as Mimi’s chauffeur by driving her to the mailbox on her scooter.  Despite the 88 year age gap their time together was relished by all parties involved. 

Over time the family visits were not as frequent but Mimi still busied herself by sculpturing her own life and aspirations.  She wrote several books by researching and laboring endless hours; all for the sake of preserving regional history and family lineage.  She also beautified, maintained and preserved local cemeteries.   She traveled the globe and was forever supportive of us doing the same.  Hence, today, my family is living in another world a hemisphere away.   Though our time here is cherished, it is sad to be away from our family on this occasion.

But Mimi knew.

Years turned to decades.  Mimi grew older and her body became less cooperative.  She would remark, “Getting old is a lot of hard work.”  So, instead of continuing to managing the farm, she began to read more and travel less.  And all too soon, even the simplest tasks were less available to her.

Now one might think that this story is winding down, but rather, I’d like to suggest that we’re coming to another deficiency in the omniscience of your story teller. 

As Mimi appears to us to depart, I imagine an open-armed reunion of family, full of joyous welcome, awaiting her.  The love and warmth she feels dwarfs all the grief endured from their previous adieus.    And now, I take heart, for when our own opportunity arises, she will be there to ensure we receive the same beautiful and blessed reception.
We love her so much.
And Mimi knows.

Parable of Immortality
Author: Henry Van Dyke
I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze
and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength,
and I stand and watch until at last she hangs
like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says,
" There she goes! "
Gone where?
Gone from my sight . . . that is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull and spar
as she was when she left my side
and just as able to bear her load of living freight
to the place of destination.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.
And just at the moment
when someone at my side says,
" There she goes! "
there are other eyes watching her coming . . .
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout . . .
" Here she comes! "

Mimi with Daryl and Sam


WH Chronicle No. 1.31

Ok, Thanks to my technical prowess...it's being delivered--finally. 
March 20, 2011

Classes start tomorrow.  We're enjoying some welcomed rain.  This 'blessing from the sky' is accompanied by the gentle thunders that coax peaceful slumber. But we’ve had a relatively pleasant week being insulated from all the world’s troublesome problems.   Not much of it has affected the rank and file Tanzanian. 

 This week we traveled to the Meserani Snake Park.  Tom refrained from buying any swim trunks that had “Snake Park” printed on them.   The camel rides were closed due to mud.

Sam and friendly snake.

Daryl and a restrained baby Nile Crocodile.

Deadly Green Mamba

Africa's most feared snake: the Black Mamba

We finalized our grades this week.  All grades have to be approved by the department, and then the Academic Board.   This is where they scrutinize the ratio of A, B, C’s for each class.  They are very concerned about academic honesty and grade inflation, all of which I appreciate.    The challenge lies in transforming the regular western grading scale to the Tanzanian one:

A= 100-80

If there are too many high or low letter marks, the professor is asked to ‘normalize’ the grades with no indication of appropriate percentages or relevant mean score. This is especially tricky because their grading scale is skewed to favor high letters. Unfortunately, this scrutiny has standardized the grade reporting to mostly C’s, D’s, and F’s.    A’s can be frequently met with skepticism and often need justification (with test scores and class exams).  This is the administration requiring an explanation of what appears to be a seemingly impossible event—or perhaps, worse--the sign of a terrible teacher.  
Our supervisor, a great teacher, was once admonished for advocating for his students.   The idea of lifting up University students with education, in order to be successful, is apparently not viable concept.  Instead it is often re-interpreted as a dishonest endeavor that reveals corruption.   Knowledge is power and those with it are not often interested in sharing.       

This coming week we are  looking forward to the arrival of Carolyn  from California and attending "Mama Africa"—Tanzania’s answer to Cirque de Soleil. 

“Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day."
Thomas Jefferson

"Anyone who says sunshine brings happiness has never danced in the rain." Unknown

 Discoing in the drizzle,

Transportation: Notice the guy hanging out the door on the left side.

I wonder if the windows work properly.
Daryl and Mr. Twinkie


WH Chronicle No. 1.29

March 13, 2011 (Apologies for the slightly long entry--but we have some catching-up to do!)
It’s the break between semesters, so no students, no electricity, no gas in the generator, no internet.  They save money then complain when the on-campus faculty fail to submit their grades to the online system, and then delay the start of the second semester.  

The last week of finals was plagued with student medical issues.  They were dropping like wadudu inside a thunderhead of DOOM (bugs in Raid).   One with malaria, two with tooth abscesses.   Malaria disappears in 24 hours with treatment, but left untreated, you’re being swept out with the cockroaches. The problem lies in the fact that Tanzanians like to pretend they are well (and don’t have $3 for treatment ).   “I am walking--how can I be sick?” is a typical phrase about illness.   One of our students had such a bad tooth abscess that the dentist scolded me about the poor guy’s EYE being in serious jeopardy.  Both students need root canals and we offered to assist with the cost.  Left to strictly Tanzanian channels these poor chaps would have to go to a dentist with an “Ol’ Sparky” type chair—straps and all-- to have their teeth ripped out of their head.  This is evident by their lack of teeth and fear of going to the dentist.   We explained that this dentist would not hurt them and that teeth are a really good thing to have—esp. if you are a brass player.

Daryl and Sam went fishing last week.   They departed the house with their little hats, pants rolled up, skipping along, holding hands with the Tanzanian girls who know the base of the mountain like the back of their Swahili books (well, if they had books, that is).

The Tanzanian girls tossed Daryl and Sam up and over the concrete wall (never mind there is a gate 100 yards away), scurried over themselves, and then they all stomped through the forest until they arrived at the waist-high river.   The girls would muddy-up the waters before throwing in the net.  After they became bored with catching scrawny little fish, they went swimming.    I was comforted by the girls reporting that they held on very tight to Sam.  Even though Sam can swim, their caution was warranted because Tanzanians frequently can't swim.  When everyone returned home, they were all caked in dry mud while grinning wildly.   I can’t help but wonder how these experiences will be reflected through the colorful lenses of time and memory. 

Our vacation to Dar es Salaam was nothing like we imagined, but perhaps it was more spectacular in an ‘adventure’ kind of way.   

The day before our departure, while returning from the dentist, our car overheated.  Randy was very concerned about us traveling so far in our rattle bucket and insisted on us taking his Toyota Land Cruiser (“Ahh….AC,” I think to myself).  There were also some music department purchases to be made in Dar, so it was easily justifiable.    

So we packed the car with luggage as well as two of our students that were also headed to Dar es Salaam.  2 hours down the road the AC belt broke—I was so disappointed about having to ride the next 8 hours in dust/dirt and heat that I didn't even bother to wonder if the fan belt is going to break, too.  Well, it did; right in the middle of nowhere.  Our student got on his phone and began walking down the road, within a few minutes he returned riding on the back of a pikipiki (motorbike) with a small army of mechanics, also on pikipikis, following him.  1 hour of men hanging out under the hood of the car, $8,  and we were back on the road, again.  Except this part of the road, we were told, is one of the most dangerous stretches of highway in Tanzania, so they built a hospital here.

As we entered the city, Tom turned the driving over to the student that has a commercial license--which also doubles as a Medal of Bravery.  After observing his driving, I began to think that maneuvering an automobile in the city is more about style and improvisation than following any regulations.  It is a mere recommendation that you drive on the left,  but certainly not necessary.   Driving in the US would be akin to performing classical music whereas driving here resembles ‘heavy metal’,  screechy noises and screaming profanity all inclusive.   The horn honk also has multiple purposes and techniques from the short ‘mosquito swat’ to the ‘double swat’ as well as the ‘permablast’ that attempts to drill an audio initiated passageway through the car parked in front of you.
Ever wonder about 'speedy delivery' in gridlock?  These are occasionally found on sidewalks and medians.

The next morning our students accompanied us to the embassy.  I think their thrill would have been equaled only by teens going backstage to a ‘boy band’. Our embassy representatives treated them like VIPs and gave them gifts which made it a really special moment.

After leaving the coolth of the embassy, the rest of the day was filled with errands and sitting in the intolerable Dar gridlocked traffic—without any AC—and remember, Dar es Salaam is only a few degrees cooler than the surface of the sun.  This, in turn, inspired some car sickness and a few productive barf stops.   At one point we returned to our mobile kiln to find it booted by a private agency that has carte blanche to boot any car.  Of course, some loud Swahili, flailing arms and a trip to the manager’s office easily resolved it.
Sam waiting for the boot to be removed from our car.

Over the next day, we made our music purchases, had the car’s AC repaired,  went swimming, went to visit our students’ families, visited Bagamoyo School of the Arts, walked on the beach, visited University of Dar es Salaam, and met many very nice people.

Departing Dar es Salaam and aiming for Dodoma, Tom had taken over the wheel for only a minute and then “WHAM!”   An Indian lady rammed us from the side, removing the mudflap.   Our student hollers to Tom, “Twende! Twende!” (Go! Go!) and begins berating women drivers (not inexperienced drivers—mind you).  Glad to know this is an international pastime.   

After 8 hours to Dodoma to visit Ed and Debra we finally get some ‘west and welaxation’. Since this is the center of Tanzania it has been designated the capitol city.  It is a beautiful little town housing the University of Dodoma which will be the largest University in East Africa when finished. 
Simba Rock in Dodoma
Hike to Simba Rock
Top of Simba Rock overlooking Dodoma.  UDom being built in the distance.

 Wrapping up our terrific time with the Lloyds, we loaded up our loot and began our tumultuous trip back to Arusha on the infamous “Road to Dodoma”.  This road (term used loosely) is described as “usually passable”, “4x4s only”.   Imagine the roughest mountainy pasture road you’ve ever driven—with top speeds of 30 mph—then drive it for 6. 5 hours.   We laughed about arriving home with only a steering wheel between Tom’s white knuckles  as everything else rattled off into oblivion.   On our arrival home, Randy seemed quite happy to see us, but I’m sure this emotion was infused with the relief of seeing his car (mostly) intact.
On-coming traffic on the "Road to Dodoma"

To Sum it up:
40 Hours in the car (in 6 days)
Two shredded belts
$75 new Toyota belts/$2 labor for installation
1 broken shock absorber
6 Barf stops
12 Pepto Pills
6 Motrin
4 Dramamine
2000 kilometers
4 Squished Bananas
1 speeding ticket
1 parking boot
1 Lost mud flap
1 pair ‘disposed of’ underwear
1 business card from the Mayor of Dodoma
4 Adventures of a Lifetime

I have a couple of heartfelt apologies to issue to you loved ones back home.  First, I finally found the ‘lost emails’ that you all had been sending!  In my techno wizardlessness, I forgot to activate the email account.  But it was so much fun to read what everyone had said—from praising the episodes with exploding kitchen devices to warning Sam not to dress up like a banana for Halloween.  They were terrific—and thank you!

Disclaimer:  I comment rather honestly on our adventures, and included in this are the cirrus-like thoughts wafting through my mind.  For those who miss us most and worry that we like it too much; don’t fret—Tom has already been airfare shopping, and they are scheduled to be home for Bear Valley Music Festival.  I’ll be right behind them.

“It’s a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.”  Seneca

“It has always been my private conviction that any man who pits his intelligence against a fish and loses has it coming.”  ~John Steinbeck

“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”  ~Henry David Thoreau

“Fishing is boring, unless you catch an actual fish, and then it is disgusting.”  ~Dave Barry

“Every tooth in a man's head is more valuable than a diamond.”  ~Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, 1605

Brushing only the teeth that I want to keep,
Advertisement for condoms.  Another university billboard advertises, "Graduate with A's not AIDS."
Mobile Gourmet--just like Austin!