WH Chronicle No. 1.35b

Note: The Chronicle staff has run into some problems with the blog delivery system due to an annoying internet content filter.  We apologize for any inconveniences.   

April 25, 2011

We are sloshing through a beautiful rainy season.  The temperatures have been dropping and the rain usually showers our early morning karate class.  I’m just sorry we can’t share this blessing with the flames currently ablaze around Texas.    

Karate class provides the kids and me with some Tanzanian camaraderie, challenging exercise, and a chance to learn Swahili (though Japanese terms in a Swahili accent are thrown in for good measure-- differentiating them is an issue).   The 5am class makes it difficult for those of us who like sleep, but exercising in pre-dawn darkness is preferable to doing a saggy-bottom-push-up in broad daylight.  When we endure the downpours, my mind overflows with movie rain scenes from Karate Kid, Crouching Tiger, Spiderman (upside down kiss), and Matrix--all the best fight scenes are in the rain.   The instructor frequently chooses Sam to be his sparring partner, which is especially charming since he is built like a baobab tree.  With a chuckle, he praises Sam for attacking his kneecaps.   I watch with admiration and pangs of sympathy knowing that he lost his only child, a young son, less than a year ago.

Excellent Easter packages arrived this week.  As requested, Laura sent us a book on ‘puberty’ because I had underestimated this educational need upon our departure.   The book offers a lovely cartoon-filled biological perspective that is age-appropriate, yet explicit in its explanations.  The kids have ordained a sacred place on the coffee table for it to reside when Daryl’s not hauling it around campus.    Her inquisitive nature has sparked some questions that few people, outside the sexual worker industry, are prepared to honestly answer.   But, perhaps in lieu of asking those with ‘professional experience’  Daryl might rather direct her inquiries to those with ample evidence of experience.  I'd like to suggest the missionary families with 8 kids in tow.    Sam doesn’t have any questions, he just regularly announces, “Mr. Twinkie is fertilizing Lil’ Debbie, again.”  (referencing our chickens, of course).

Tanzanians are a bit shy when discussing such activities.  They don’t even officially ‘date’ but rather only announce engagements.  Dating is synonymous with promiscuous behavior.   Tradition stems from arranged marriages or purchased wives, but even the most modern Tanzanians still offer an honorary ‘bride price’.   Despite the hiatus on ‘date talk’, the AIDS epidemic has mandated very open discussions on the practice of sexual relations.  Questions are asked by the Tanzanians that make me blush—but honest education has been a priority. 
The “ABC Strategy” is frequently found painted in very large print on the outside walls of secondary schools.  It's implementation has caused AIDS rates to drop as much as 10%  in many Sub-Saharan countries.
   In Swahili it reads:
AIDS Transmission
Sexual intercourse                  80%
Mother to Child                      19%
Direct Blood                            1%
In order to avoid AIDS one must (“ABC Strategy”):
 1) Abstain from sexual relations
2) Sexual fidelity to one partner
3) Use a condom. 

In my opinion, this technique is miles ahead of the sex education in Texas where we lead the nation in teen births (with 54,284 births in 2008)*.  This indicates that Texas’ “Abstinence Only” training, where 51% of teens* are sexually active, might not be the most sound approach. 

Recently, a Tanzanian student asked me for some ‘dating’ advice:

After he looks over his shoulder to make sure no one is in ear shot, he states shyly, “Every time I go home, my mother is pressuring me to get married.   My family’s desire is to buy me a bride, but I don’t want the bride they would purchase.  I want to marry a mzungu (white person).  How do I get one?”  Desperation is in his voice.

Noticing his demeanor and possible embarrassment, I work hard to hide my reaction. "Well, most white women are not for sale, nor are they easily chosen.  Remember they come from different traditions where they participate in the selection of their spouse.  European women are considered equals in civil unions and make many (if not most) of the marital decisions.“  I stop short of declaring that they are flat out difficult, and imagine Tom’s head nodding in vigorous agreement.

“Hmmmm…” he sighs, with a hint of disappointment.

“Yes, western marriages are unions between equal partners.  And, you know,  it is also common that couples live close to the bride’s parents.  It would be rare to find a European woman who would want to give birth to babies in Tanzania.”

He shakes his head and tells me, “It is the opposite here because my bride would be expected to become a part of my family.  She would live with my mother and my sisters.”

I sigh.  “You know, I think your dilemma is more about finding an 'equal' than it is about skin color.   You will have a college degree; you are well traveled and worldly.  So it’s normal that you desire a mate that is stimulating and intelligent—like you.  You and your mate will probably live a more modern life style than your family.  Just don’t be fooled by skin color.  And beware of potential cultural collisions before you make any permanent decisions.“   Then I rambled on about finishing his degree before starting a family, and how there would be no trouble finding a lady when it was time. Probably something many college professors have suggested to their students.

He wholly agreed, but I know it didn’t solve the immediate family pressures.  I think they were lining up their cows to buy him a bride.  

Carolyn departs Tanzania tonight to return to her familiar teen life in California.  I'm hoping to hear about how she might now see her homeland through the eyes of a visitor. 

One bit of sad news, right after I submitted last week’s Chronicle, we heard of a terrible head-on bus collision occurring 1 km from the University gate.  People were trapped for hours with no medical services help; many died.  It was disturbing to me how accurately the Tanzanians can describe death and the last few moments of life.   One of the students stood up during class and suggested that we thank God that we were all still here–knowing full well that anyone of us could have been on the bus.   It seemed like a good suggestion. 
 "Sex education in schools is a good idea, but I don't think kids should be given homework."  Bill Cosby

'Marriage is an alliance entered into by a man who can't sleep with the window shut, and a woman who can't sleep with the window open."  ~George Bernard Shaw

 "A man without a wife is like a vase without flowers."  ~African Proverb

"Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet."  ~Roger Miller

Wax on...wax off,

The monkeys really enjoyed Easter egg hunting.  The kids were armed with badminton racquets to lend them a fighting chance. 


WH Chronicle No. 1.34d

April 14, 2011

We were shot only three times while in Nairobi! 

Notice the 'bullet holes' seem to be strategically located near their hearing orifices!

 The Kenyan city is  frequently referred to as “Nai-robbery” and visitors heed the warnings.  Though a rough town, it is very modern, cosmopolitan, and might be considered the “New York City” (1980's high crime version) of East Africa.  

Tanzanians refer to Kenyans as the “Man Eat Man” society.  Even with the short time we were there, it was easy for us to notice the differences in the cultures.   Kenyans are not even as remotely friendly as Tanzanians.  The country has a long history of violence and the current political fever is a daily reminder.  When we departed, the 'Ocampo Six' were returning to Kenya from the International Criminal Court in The Hague in the Netherlands.  They were to be received by mass demonstrations--not a good place for any fair-skinned person to be.   When Kenyans are not being denounced for their brutality, they are often accused of acting like Americans—whatever that means. 

Despite the volatile history, Nairobi is definitely navigating the 21st century--a very different scene than Tanzania.   English is the national language of Kenya and all of our polite Swahili attempts were met with indignant responses in English.  Consumerism abounds with places like the Nairobi Java House (their Starbucks), shopping malls, supermarkets, lots of traffic, modern accommodations--everything one would see in the states.  It would appear that Tanzania lags behind their neighbor by several decades--like there's a time warp at the border.  It's understandable considering that Tanzanians generally prefer stability to revolution, and Swahili (national language) to English.  I supposed these choices slow development and globalization, but perhaps the government has confused  stagnation as stability. 

The Nairobi Symphony hosts a very interesting variety of musicians— England, France, South Africa, US, Kenya, Sweden, Tanzania, Spain, Poland, Scotland are some of the countries represented.  One of the horn players was a friend from our old summer music festival days.  The venue was very modern--complete with multi-level bar open before, during, and after the concert.  We performed Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, Stravinsky's Suites No. 1 and 2, and Brandenburg Four for a very receptive crowd that refrained from clapping between movements!

Sight seeing in Nairobi—
 We visited the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage.  These adorable little guys lost their mothers due to poaching and were rescued from the wilderness.  Now they live at this facility with a 24/7 human caretaker who even sleeps in the stall with them at night.  These very social animals desire affection and are covered with heavy blankets to simulate the feeling of standing under their mother while they are sleeping.    
Once the babies begin to grow tusks they are reintroduced into the wild at Tsavo Game park.  Almost all elephant herds shun newcomers, but in Tsavo there is one particular herd under the authority of a Mama elephant (female elephants always rule the herds) who will accept the young orphans.  Her name is Elena.   And the best part of the story, she actually came from the Sheldrick Orphange in the early 70's.    She is the Mother Teresa of Elephants.   
Time for mudbaths at the elephant orphanage.
Rhino orphan named Maalim.

 We also went to the Giraffe Center. 

Not sure who's more grossed out, because she has his food in her mouth!

Baby zebra

We also went to the Kenyan Railway Museum.  The highlight here was a special exhibit on the Tsavo Man-Eating Lions that halted progress of the railroad in 1898.  They claimed these maneless lions ate people 'like Twinkies' and killed over 140  people before they were turned into rugs.  Out of all the Indian 'Coolies' and Africans eaten, only one of the lions' victims was European.   This man was waiting with a gun to ambush the lions from inside the railcar pictured below.  He fell asleep.  Then the lions stealthily boarded the car in order to drag him out by the neck and devour him within earshot of the camp.  Tsavo means 'place of slaughter'.  
Dining car for the Tsavo lions.

Kenya Railways (this train was seen in the movie "Out of Africa"... recognize Meryl Streep and Robert Redford?)

Claw of one of the lions--still has dried blood in it!

In order to avoid political demonstrations, get the hell out of Kenya and sleep in our own bed, we decided to drive home after the symphony performance.  Driving in the daytime resembles lifesize bumper cars, so driving at night is much more perilous.  Though most of this Nairobi road is actually paved (no stripes), there is concern of collisions with pedestrians, handcarts, motorbikes with no lights, cars with no lights, busses with no lights and wild life with no lights.  Serendipitously, we ended up seeing more Dikdiks and Thomson Gazelles crossing the road that night than we did in the expensive Nairobi Game Park.  Luckily, no collisions.

Carolyn is in high demand for her instructional skills on violin and drum set.  Despite all the travel, she has managed to fit right into our daily routines on campus.  Everyone here is already commenting about their disappointment in her impending departure.  I think she is beginning to see the world a little differently--though I wonder what experiences she will take back with her.  We engaged in exciting journeys and adventures, but that, of course, is intertwined with the obligatory weirdness.  For instance, while we were eating ice cream outside of the convenience store, we noticed a flying bug the size of a small pony crash-land a few feet away.  It was so large, that emotionally, it no longer fit squarely into the 'bugs that you squish with no remorse' category.  It was flailing on it's back so we flipped it over and examined this unusual creature.   After we lost interest and were distracted by other Tanzanian oddities, we were suddenly startled by a loud squishy, crunching noise, as someone (with obviously poor eyesight) had accidentally mashed the bug.  He was lucky the critter didn't skateboard off with him when he stepped on it.  But the next sight was probably the most disturbing--our entire family (6 people) stood around this bug and watched it perform it's last creepy, buggy shudder.  Carolyn commented, "Wow, that circle of life thing is rotates quite quickly here."

Daryl, Sam and I continue our exercise program at dark thirty in the morning.  The kids have rockstar status as they are so adorable attempting their little karate moves.  Me, well, I'm just thankful that the leaders (my students) are of generous spirit and  haven't take the ample opportunity to vent their homework frustrations on my pitiful physical condition.  I'm especially thankful after passing out a test earlier this week and hearing a faint, "Madam, You are killing us."  Luckily, it was followed by a meek classroom chuckle.  In recognition of the  lack of cultural reference, I refrained from my normal evil laugh, "Bwah..ha..ha..ha..ha!"

Tom was as happy as a hyena in a hippo carcass last week while playing the symphony.  He misses performing orchestral literature and being recognized for his talents.  Referencing Ferdinand the Bull, I tease him about longing to return to the bullfights in Madrid--where "..all the lovely ladies have flowers in their hair."  As for me, I'm happy to sit and smell... ..the flowers, that is.

Tom was also somewhat mollified with a visit to the famous Stanley Hotel, the first hotel, if not the first actual building, in Nairobi. This hotel is home to the Thorn Tree Cafe which  is a popular meeting place, has an historically recognized note board, and it's own Facebook page.

"Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar."
Bradley Miller

"I never thought much about the lion tamer.  Inside the cage he is at least safe from the people."
George Bernard Shaw

"I meant what I said and I said what I meant! An elephant is faithful one hundred percent!"
Dr. Seuss from Horton Hatches the Egg

Hoping Carolyn washes the giraffe slobber off her face,
Typical Nairobi store toy item--notice Indian bridal nose ring.

From our Cub Reporter (what I wanted to name "Musings from Timeout", but was voted down)

by Daryl Hale

Hi everybody!
Today I just wanted to talk to you about what I did and liked and disliked in Nairobi.
When I went to Nairobi I got to do so many things.  My favorite part was when I got my ears pierced (as you
have already heard about).  It was scary at first, but it only hurt after I got them done. Now on to the next part.  As some of you will understand most kids will get really bored at 2 hour long rehearsals and you know how I've been going to rehearsals ever since I was a baby and never got bored.  Well this time I got bored.
Alright my mom is getting a little impatient. So that means bye for now!


WH Chronicle No. 1. 33

April 3, 2010

The family has returned safely from Zanzibar.  Their adventures are revealed below.  It took me a day to become accustomed to the quiet, but with teaching Tom's and my classes, I was rarely home.

I started attending an early-early morning martial arts class.  Did I mention that Tanzanians can see in the dark?  All I can see is their big smiles lighting the way. They are also able to keep up with the fastest animals in the Serengeti.  I was so sore after the first day, but too embarrassed to limp while teaching class--mostly because the martial arts instructor is one of my students. I managed to walk normally up and down the stairs, but I was crying on the inside.   When we went on a two hour run Saturday, the person assigned to me was hopping sideways, backwards, and walking on their hands while I was moving at the rate of a Tanzanian grandma carrying a 75lb bale of hay on her head.   Each time one of the students would run past me, they would congratulate me--I think this was for not dying on their watch.    Daryl and Sam were attending the martial arts class prior to their Zanzibar trip and all of us, including Carolyn, will be exercising next week until we depart for Kenya--to perform Beethoven, Bach, and Stravinsky with the Nairobi Symphony.

"I get my exercise acting as pallbearer to my friends who exercise."  ~Chauncey Depew

Turning to our field correspondant: Tom
The second trip to Zanzibar was more about "beach time" than actual culture/tourism. Also, whoever said getting there is half the fun never road twelve hours in a Coaster (medium sized bus) over Tanzanian roads. The kids were real troopers most of the time. They were equipped with road sickness medicine, motion sickness patches and enough mother figure types to satisfy  almost all their ailments. That doesn't mean we didn't stop at least four times for the attempt at throwing up or pooping or whathaveyou.
Anyway, arrive we did and had four glorious days of sightseeing, seafood tasting and BEACH! We tried to interject some culture into the week with trips to the Anglican Church, sight of the original slave market, tour through Stone Town with the ubiquitous doors and tourist shops, spice tour etc. But the water called more frequently. We snorkeled off Prison Island, swam with dolphins off the southern coast and generally enjoyed the warmth of Zanzibar.
Returning to Dar, we stayed two nights in a resort close to the beach where the kids and I took advantage of a day off to visit the local waterpark. Fiesta Texas has nothing to worry about as far as competition from this place, but the slides were fun. The water was a scary sort of green, certainly not enhanced by the sight of children peeing beside the pool. But we stayed all day and washed extra carefully when we got back to the hotel.
Saturday was a travel day with another twelve hours on the bus. I am so sore I told Daris I am quite content not to go on any more trips anywhere. However, we have already committed to play with the Nairobi Symphony next week so we will be back on the road Wednesday, in a car this time, headed for Kenya.
Stay tuned for updates!

North Shore Zanzibar
Bathing beauties abound!
Sam at his snorkeling best. Beware the "squishies"! Jellyfish, that is.
Wakawaka, the pet vervet monkey drinking a Sprite.
Giant tortoises on Prison Island
I don't think the tortoises (or the tourists) speak English
Dolphins five feet away!

Family night at the circus--that's Daryl!  The clown was trying to get Sam to go with him, but Daryl rescued our frightened Sam by going in his place.  The clown and Daryl are playing dueling djembes.

Little did we know it would be all OUR family in the circus!  Tom is playing 'air guitar'.
"I had a friend who was a clown.  When he died all his friends went to the funeral in one car."
Stephen Wright

Remember that 'family vacation' is an oxymoron,