WH Chronicle No. 1.42

June 25, 2011

There are times I hear expats say, “Oh, I don’t ever tell anyone back home—they’d never understand.”     Of course, after purging my diarrhea story in the last Chronicle, I thought better of this advice.

But the expats also say there are issues here that you all won’t perceive properly—because it is completely out of your context or you have little reference to the Tanzanian culture.    

Take for instance…circumcision…. (I’m not including any photos here, despite the potential audience appeal)

Now this fore(skin)boding event is considered an exciting rite of passage into manhood, complete with ceremonial songs, special foods and adult beverages (for those with the sharp knives).   The Tanzanians gush about this affair just as we would regale our wedding stories.  Even though it’s often casual conversation,   I’m still not completely comfortable with the discussion and often want to cross my legs when this topic comes up.   

But I notice my perceptions changing as I see a few glimpses of this culture and begin to understand why they would esteem such rituals.  Just as our military are ‘conditioned’ to an annihilation mindset, and then cautioned about ‘acting normal’ around civilians; I imagine that the men who kill lions on the Serengeti are prepared for this fierceness of nature by the traditions of their culture.  It amuses me as I continue to  discover my own preconceived notions just as if I were picking the lint from my trouser pockets.

We’re in the final stages of the semester and preparing for our big concert.  It is an exciting (read: exhausting) time with the highlight being our evening dance rehearsals for African Ensemble.  Tom drums while the kids and I dance through several hot and sweaty hours of  traditional Tanzanian music.  We laugh and joke as the leader screams, “Shake your body!”; “Second position!”; “With beauty!” over the loud pulsating drums.   The camaraderie is touching and the students work diligently to teach me—just returning the favor, I suppose. 

After vigorously dancing until 9pm or 10pm, the kids and I take a short nap and then roll out of bed for karate.  The fleeting hope of an afternoon nap enables this early morning ritual of limping to the bathroom and shaking out the body kinks before finding our way to the dojo.   After 90 minutes of Karate we are all ready to start the day and no longer pining for the comfy bedcovers, at least not until after lunch. 

After University is out, and finals are over, Tom and the kids depart for Bear Valley Music Festival via Grandmother Ritch’s house in Santa Fe.  I will travel around Tanzania to visit some of the students’ families.   Remember, most of the students are adults with children at home eagerly awaiting for their parent to return from University.   I am really excited about traveling and meeting these folks.  

  One student recommended that we take the train to his homeland.  His suggestion:
 “We definitely want to travel 2nd class on the train; because 3rd class is very crowded with no room.  In 2nd class it is fine because there are only 6 or so to a compartment.” he explained.
 “What about riding 1st class?” I inquired.
“Oh, you wouldn’t want to do that.   You would be in a compartment all by yourself and that would be very lonely.”  

Another student of ours commented on how he disliked riding the buses in Finland. 
“If you brush up against someone, they look at you.”   He remarked in a worrisome way.  

Tanzanians do not have a personal space bubble.  In fact, it is quite the opposite—similar to the backside of two magnets.  Tanzanians are attracted to personal contact.  I believe they enjoy brushing up against each other, sitting close together regardless of available space, pawing at each other, and even holding hands.  I like this, too.  So, when I get home I’ll welcome you all into my personal space bubble.   

I requested some photos of Laura’s children so I would not be shocked by their growth.  When I saw them I was more alarmed by how clean they were…    I glance over at my untamed children and become concerned about our re-entry.  Unless we audition for the musical Oliver, our personal hygiene will appear to have suffered a serious backslide—or maybe that’s a mudslide.  We will have to reacquaint ourselves with the unfamiliar smell of clean laundry.   It will take a few weeks to get the kids’ skin back to its original color.   But these things don’t really seem to matter here, because there are plenty of little kids with one flip-flop and a singular holey shirt that hasn’t resembled its original color in years.  Brand names, styles, color coordination, fashion, and body image issues are mostly non-existent compared to our homeland.    No pressure to keep up with the Jones’…

For those of you getting anxious about us coming home, we pulled out our first suitcase and packed some books and music.  Wait… shhh…I think I heard a few of you cheering.  August 18th will be lunch at Camino Real! 

From our cub reporter:
How is everybody? Are you fine? Are you sure you’re fine? Ok I know it’s almost time to come home and yes there will be some things that I am going to miss like my friends and all that stuff.
But I am really happy that I am going to see my friends back at home especially my grandparents. Oh and don’t forget the food like chips and queso and tacos and enchiladas and burritos. Ahhhhhhh! I’m making myself hungry for Mexican food! Ok enough of that talk.
I am so happy to be coming home. I only have to survive 27 more days! Anyway I will put the
mommy bear back on. Toodles!

Back to the studio:

“Don’t hit her milk; that hurts,” ~Karate instructor to two young girls sparring.  The word  ‘Milk’ is synonymous for ‘boobs’. 

If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies.... It would be a sad situation if the wrapper were better than the meat wrapped inside it.  ~Albert Einstein

What do nudists wear on casual Fridays?  ~Author Unknown

Reminiscing about the color white,

Cub Reporter and 'Shrewbert'

Shrewbert, the shrew, thinking of his "unfinished" business


WH Chronicle No. 1.41

June 17, 2011

I think about you all a lot. Sometimes I marvel at the beautiful skies and the huge moons and I wonder if you witness the same cosmic sensations on the other side of the world.   East Africa experienced a full lunar eclipse last Wednesday night.  We heard about it the next morning.   

Regarding sensations: I had VIOLENT diarrhea last week.   To borrow Dave Barry’s description, “the toilet needed a seatbelt “….and “NASA should have been notified for liftoff”.   I had just finished a recording session and barely made it to a safe zone before the explosion.  36 hours in bed.  And, since anything but snot is a symptom of malaria, I requested Tom to perform a home malaria test.  Now Tom is not a scientist, nor does he play one on TV, so he had to perform the test three times;  Three Bears style.   Ow!!  Not enough blood... OW!! Too much blood.... OWW!!!..just right.  It was negative and I'm back to normal.  This is the only sickness that I've had while being here; but  I can't help but wonder what rare tropical malady I would have contracted had I stayed home.

The students discovered that I was sick and made pilgrimages to our house.   They recited the advice we often give them, “drink plenty of fluids like water and juice”.  Then one student apologetically says, “I would buy you some juice, if I had any money.”    He can't even afford one $0.75 meal a day. 

Baldy found his way in through an open door to see me while sick.   He clucked in a sympathetic way, pecked the crap out of my hand and then proceeded to have hot and heavy chicken sex with a towel lying on the floor.   When he finished, he fluffed his feathers and proudly marched out, Tom shook his head and said, “That chicken ain’t right.” 

Apparently the wild dogs think this about Baldy, too.    We left the chicken coop door open and all the residents were devoured except for Baldy; the retarded chicken.   Perhaps he tried to mate with the dog and it ran off in self defense.    Since this event, Baldy has been attacking Sam and Daryl, so we decided to re-home him before he creates any mutant offspring.  His new caretakers promised not to make masala out of him, then laughed. 

A fellow Fulbrighter, studying chameleons in northeast Tanzania, ventured through our territory and bunked up at our house.   The kids still talk about the amazing nighttime adventure they had with him through the swamps of Makumira looking for creepy, crawly, scaly things to photograph.  When they arrived home 3 hours later they had a long list of creatures (genus, species) they encountered.  It was at least 2 years worth of biology all crammed into an exciting herpetological stroll. 
Photo from our cool science guy, Phillip Shirk.

Takes a special person to hide out in the wilderness and photograph these critters like supermodels. 

We put Gary on a plane home to settle his affairs before returning in September.   

So currently, no guests, no chickens, and only one cat….Daryl and Sam better mind their manners.

More seriously, our previous guests communicate to us often about how much they enjoyed Tanzania, the beauty of its culture, and how visiting here has changed their world view.  Of course, it is also an honor for us to show off our University life and introduce our friends to all the talented Tanzanian musicians.   

Speaking of talent: footage of the Collaborative Concert is now posted on a simple website for everyone to sample our efforts.   There are photos and audio files from this live concert. 
 Here’s the site:  

And if you remember my comment about emergency vehicles—well, I stand corrected.  You can clearly hear sirens during one piece, perhaps it is as Ian always warns me, “the intonation police are on their way.”

“People are very busy working in America.  Life is programmed.  There are no tea breaks.”  from a Tanzanian music student currently pursuing graduate work in the U.S. 

“I’m so poor I can’t even pay attention.” Ron Kittle, 1987

Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What's a sundial in the shade?” Benjamin Franklin

Shopping for soft toilet paper,



WH Chronicle No. 1.40

June 10, 2011

It’s a high of 71 degrees today.   The kids count the days until they board the plane destined for their homeland.   I heave a melancholy sigh each time they tell me. 

The Provost (highest administrative figure on campus) complained to our gardener that our chickens are a public nuisance as they run free and scratch in people’s gardens.   I smell some prejudice, since everyone’s chickens run wild here.    Anyway, this inspired us to begin downsizing our coopless occupants.   Our flock has expended over time, but our helpers elated at the opportunity to reduce our bird-en; with the only caveat, “if you eat them, you cannot tell us about it’.  They laughed hysterically. It wasn't meant to be funny.  

The chicken stories don’t stop there.  Remember Baldy?  Well, to our surprise, ‘she’ is a ‘he’.  So one can infer that Baldy’s life expectancy has sharply plummeted.   In addition to this, ‘he’ enjoys the role of ‘attack rooster’ which will likely accrue another potential drop in longevity.    But Baldy, the chicken who suffered a head injury, often follows us to the cafeteria to eat, to class, or to the neighbor’s house, always comes when called, and waits patiently on the front door step for us.  The Tanzanians chuckle and then raise an eyebrow as they look at us.    There’s no telling what they are truly thinking (or you, either, for that matter).   But then,  one can only imagine the sentiments that Tom has toward this less than gracious fowl.   Consolation:  he’s not dead, yet (Baldy, not Tom).

Sam flies into the house hollering, “Mom, do you have 12,000 TSH?  They are selling two queen termites!!”   
In my mind, “Aren’t these the things that people want to kill most?  Does my child really look that stupid?” 
Once I recited the standard issue mommy statement, “No”; the kids found the money elsewhere.   They became the proud owners of two pus-colored, pickle-shaped creatures with tiny heads.    
When I commented to some adult Tanzanians about the ridiculousness of Sam paying 6,000Tsh ($4) for a queen termite, they responded, “Oh, that’s a really good price.  They usually go for 10,000Tsh a piece.”  
Well, now I know.   They are a delicacy.   If you’d like one, I’ll be taking orders before my return.  Girko?
"Two queen termites to go, please."

Did Tim Burton design this?

Tom hit a pedestrian with the car the other night on the way to the airport.  THANK GOD, it was not serious—only a minor bump and a small cut on the man’s hand.  Tom mentally wrestled with stopping to render aid.   Americans are sternly warned, “If in an automobile accident, DO NOT STOP!  Drive directly to the police station because you are in mortal danger.”  Translated, this means watch out for mob rule.     
But Tom stopped; the pedestrian immediately jumped into passenger seat and started screaming.  Then another man opened the back door and began climbing in the car.  With self preservation at the forefront of his mind, Tom started driving off with the second person hanging half out.   Then the second man shouted,  “It’s ok, I’m a police officer.”  So, the three of them drove directly to the police station.   Once the police realized that the pedestrian was staggeringly drunk they warned the man that he was lucky to be alive.  The police recommended that Tom compensate the man for the injury.   30,000Tsh ($20)-- Case closed. 

Several seasoned expats commented that this was the best outcome possible.  It was wise to involve the police and will probably prevent the pedestrian from any recourse of nefarious means.

Speaking of traffic, I’ve mentioned that Tanzania is a slow country, but they make up for lost time behind the wheel of an automobile.   Creativity in driving is rewarded in time saved as people avoid following rules, drive on the sidewalks, honk at the donkeys, dodge handcarts, and park in the middle of the highway.  Of course, wrecks are common and not often attended by any public servants.  I have yet to see an ambulance, but I once heard of one upside-down in a bar ditch.     

Then there was the car adventure for Liz and Claire safariing through Arusha National Park, a beautiful game park only 10 minutes from our house.  We hired a guide to take them using our car.   A little way into the park the car alarm initiated and subsequently stalled the engine.   For three hours they sat waiting for any animal to first recover from the shock of a car alarm and then perhaps walk by their dead car before the repairman arrived.  The car alarm has been permanently disabled.

We are down to one guest.  Gary is ready for his position next year.  He’s learned the students’ names and has his class assignments.   I’m envious of his position as I would love to continue watching the progress of our students next year.   We have another guest arriving tonight, there’s even a bed free for him and the sheets are clean.  Lucky guy, except for that little bedbug issue we’ve been having.  I won’t tell, if you won’t…

We helped one of our brass students replace a tooth last week.   Crowns are not common practice in Tanzania, so he was very happy about not having the tooth pulled; especially considering it was a top incisor necessary for trumpet performance.  Beyond the mere functionality, I commented to him about how handsome he was with his new tooth.   He blushed the color of a ripe plum while shyly glancing upward with a grateful smile.

Speaking of teeth—Sam lost another one.  That’s four total since we left home.

Too many termites will do that to ya...

Other than a dimple in a cute little chin,
What's more adorable than a toothless grin?
~Azu "Betty" Espezia

Natives who beat drums to drive off evil spirits are objects of scorn to smart Americans who blow horns to break up traffic jams.  ~Mary Ellen Kelly

What a lucky thing the wheel was invented before the automobile; otherwise can you imagine the awful screeching?  ~Samuel Hoffenstein

Helping Baldy apply for his Tanzanian drivers license,


WH Chronicle No. 1.39

June 3, 2011 (plus or minus a few days without internet)

Tanzania had a taste of woodwind quintet music last week with music flavored by East African composers.   Some audience members reported being quite touched by these compositions and, more importantly, our students felt even more inspired to write their ethnic music to share with the world.   I plan to post the live recordings on a website in the next few weeks for everyone’s listening pleasure. 

It is nothing short of a miracle that we secured a woodwind quintet and have a terrific pianist, like Randy, to perform these world premieres in Tanzania.  Liz traveled from Charleston, Gary from Knoxville and Claire from Nairobi—each of them are terrific musicians, friends and colleagues.   Students, composers, teachers, expats, and locals were all incredibly grateful for these musicians’ sacrifices and their willingness to bring this project to fruition—as were we. 
Woodwind Quintet, Randy (w/ his pianist hat on), and two of our composers, Kasheshi, and Kaghondi.

Performers including the small choir for one of the compositions, composers, and Dr. Tamusuza, Prof. of Composition at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. 

Our musicians appeared to enjoy their time while visiting—safaris, mountain climbing, late night bottle wine while playing quintets; plenty of Bananagrams.  We played children’s concerts for some extremely engaged and attentive audiences--children that come from houses without electricity, bricks or multiple rooms—where they grow up sweeping dirt floors.   Daryl and Sam successfully lead these schools through their very first attempt at the “Chicken Dance”.    Evidently, this should be considered an international favorite.

When it was time for Liz to depart for home, she burst into a flurry of farewell tears.  The Tanzanians wishing her ‘goodbye’ were very confused by her weeping.   To them, this emotion is reserved purely for funerals.  Megan explained that it is normal for Americans to be sad and shed tears when they love a place and don’t want to leave.  To this, one student responded, “It makes me sad to see her cry, but very proud that she loved her experience.”   I find it charming to witness these cross-cultural awarenesses.

As our time here slips away, I still struggle with coherent thoughts at to what makes Tanzania such a special place.  Every visitor we’ve hosted shares our sentiments, but describing it remains a challenge.

Perhaps it is the people’s commitment and loyalty to community; or their priority towards others over selfish ambition; or the lack of cosmic entitlement.  Thinking of leaving I, too, get weepy. 
Maybe I’m a fugitive running from the known evils of my old life…or just maybe, I’m drawn to a culture of people that live so close to daily demise that I share some of the same contentments (resignations) after having been introduced to my own mortality by a mere mosquito.   As with the war veterans, we all understand there are alternatives far worse than a nice nap in eternity--not something that most comfy Americans like to dwell on…

OK, enough waxing editorial…back to the morning report.

After the concerts, Tom, Randy, Don, and Gary went to climb Lengai, an active volcano, and then to visit Lake Manyara. 

From our field reporter, Tom:
Always the question, “Why do you climb?” Always the answer, “Because no one told me how freakin’ hard it was going to be!!” One hears about the difficulties of climbing Kilimanjaro because of the thin air. Some people even talk about how much more difficult Mt. Meru is to climb. No one talks about Lengai because either they haven’t climbed or they are dead from having tried. My brother Jerry warned my brother Don not to climb anything with me.  I kind of understand now why he said that.
Anyway, we, Don, Gary Sperl, Randy Stubbs and myself, left Makumira on Tuesday morning and drove west. Our driver, a taciturn man, confidently took us to the small village where we ate lunch and picked up our cook and then turned off the paved road onto a dirt road that took us three hours north into the rift valley and up to Lake Natron next to Oldonyi Lengai “the place of God.” This is an active volcano which erupted last in 2008. It is recommended that you climb at night (midnight) because it is too hot during the day. We have since decided the reason is psychological in that if you can’t see what you are attempting, you won’t be tempted to quit.  Don aptly called it an eleven hour stairmaster. I agree except stairmasters rarely kill people.  There were many stops, much crawling on hands and knees and much soreness in feet and legs the next day. But, we did it and it is all part of a large selective memory bank of “boy, that was neat!”
We rested a little while then drove back on the much longer (strange) dirt road to the paved road and on to our lovely campsite complete with bar and pool.  Early to be and early to rise and we are on to Lake Manyara Game Preserve, famous for the tree climbing lions.  It is a beautiful park with plenty of animals and cool forested regions next to a very large lake and yes, we did see lions. No elephants, but it was fine with us. Gary Sperl, our clarinet playing friend from Knoxville, has determined that all the animals are remote control activated animatronics and there must have been a power outage in that part of the park. I would be inclined to agree because it was quite often a matter of driving around a bend in the road and catching some beast unawares ala Disneyland or Six Flags. But he got some beautiful pictures regardless.
All in all it was an eventful trip to places not often traveled with terrific people and terrific memories.

Photos courtesy of Gary Sperl

If there were a chicken in this photo, it could be a promo for:   Hangover 3, "The Serengeti"

Now back to Daris in the studio....

This week Sam told me that he wanted a freckle shaver.   

Daryl has been teaching Gary how to use his new mobile phone; how to navigate around the local village; as well as which cookies he should buy her.   Gary, our long-time friend, was recruited by us to teach here next year, so we’ve been doing our best to acclimate him to Makumira.   He’s already having a splendid time.

 This morning we could watch our warm breath in the crisp, cool air. 

"Culture is the widening of the mind and of the spirit."   Jawaharlal Nehru  

"It's not the mountain we conquer but ourselves." Edmund Hillary, first to climb Mt. Everest, 1919

"I wasn't always black...there was this freckle and it got bigger and bigger."  Bill Cosby

"Reminding you that all music was once new."  Composer's Datebook, National Public Radio

Still wondering,