Author Archives: mytthumbs

How To Mail a Package in Tanzania

Various Internet and electricity issues have made it difficult to post.  TIA (This Is Africa).  I have a couple of other posts I need to edit a bit before I publish them, but here’s some helpful hints if you ever find yourself in Tanzania and want to mail something back home.  Plus I threw in a few random, unrelated pics – just because I can and they’re cool.

Liz dubbed this the "Bob Marley Bird" because of the colors.  Shot in our backyard.  It's a humming bird.

Liz dubbed this the “Bob Marley Bird” because of the colors. Shot in our backyard. It’s a humming bird.

How To Mail a Package in Tanzania

  1. Pack for two nights. This is gonna take a while.
  2. Offer a pikipiki taxi (motorcycle taxi) driver Tsh 2000 (about $0.95) to get to Kiyegea so you can catch a Noah (minivan) to Morogoro. Tsh stands for Tanzania shillings. All drivers refuse because they want the wazungu price and think I have no choice but to pay.
  3. Huh – I got feet. I have no problem with an hour and a half walk. My standard 4 students all gasp in astonishment. Except Emmanuel. He knows I can now walk however far I need or want to because we walked all the way to Ifunde a few weeks ago – but that’s another post.
  4. Having called their bluff, I get picked up 10 minutes later by a pikipiki driver that isn’t about to give up an easy Tsh2000. Twenty minutes later I’m on a Noah.
  5. Get real snug with the other 17 people on the Noah. I was lucky, this one wasn’t crowded. No chickens.

    Chickens just roam free here, just like everything else.

    Chickens just roam free here, just like everything else – including the kids.  We just toss organic garbage out the back door and between the chickens, dogs, pigs, goats and cows it’s gone by morning.

  6. Spend the next hour getting jabbed in the leg by the club and machete-size knife strapped to the waist of the giant Maasai sitting next to you.
  7. Pull over to side of road while the driver gets out, pees, and takes multiple pics of the van (really ???).
  8. Break down and get transferred to a daladala (small bus). Wait.

    Checkechea kids playing witch doctor.  Maybe they caused the breakdown?

    Rose (left) and Prince, two of our Checkechea (kindergarten) kids playing witch doctor on our back porch classroom. Maybe they caused the breakdown?

  9. Spend the next 3 hours having an amazing conversation with Okanda, the young man next to me on the daladala.  He told me about his work to improve conditions for children in remote Tanzanian villages. He was educated in Kenya, so his English was near flawless.
  10. Arrive in Morogoro 5 hours after you left Berega for a 2 hour trip.  TIA.
  11. Meet up with Okanda’s friend John. The two helped me find my way to  Ricky’s Café where we enjoy the best iced-coffee with Ol’ English Toffee ice cream.
  12. Okanda and John agree to help me get this package mailed. It’s 2 pm.   Posta closes at 4 and is only a block away. Hamna shida.
  13. Yea…..right. Silly mzungu.
  14. Walk to the Posta. The lady behind the desk informs you that you have to first go to the Tanzania Revenue Authority to fill out forms. Assures us they have packaging materials.
  15. Walk to the the TRA. Wait 10 -15 minutes while th girl finishes her call to her friend. She’s not in a hurry.  Finally she tells you that you need to find a stationary store to purchase the packing material, then return to the TRA so she can watch you pack it.
  16. FINE!

    That bundle of firewood weighs about 60 lbs - and they women do this every day so they can cook.

    That bundle of firewood weighs about 60 lbs – and the women do this every day so they can cook.

  1. Walk to stationary store where Okanda makes sure I don’t get charged the wazungu price. Thanks Okanda!
  2. Walk back to the TRA where it takes about 45 minutes to box the goods, fill out the form and have the TRA girl give it the official stamp. Why does it take so long? I’m guessing it’s because the *$&^%#! battery on her damn cell phone hasn’t run down yet!
  3. Hustle to the Posta before it closes. BTW, all this walking and running around is being done in 92o heat and humidity. Grrrrrr!
  4. Get the damn thing weighed, the TRA form affixed and postage paid. Home free!
  5. WRONG

    Some of our boarding girls stopping by for an after school visit.  Left to right:

    Some of our boarding girls stopping by for an after school visit. They’re eating unripe mangos with salt.  Yuck!  Left to right: Elizabeth, Joyce, Suzan, Neema and Winner.

  6. Write “fragile” on the box because I’ve seen how packages are handled in Africa.
  7. Spend the next 15 minutes recalculating the postage because now it’s in a whole other category and one must pay more.
  8. Cross out the “fragile” designation, paste on a fake smile and carry on.

    Yes…her name really is Winner.  We also have a kid named Goodluck.

    Yes…her name really is Winner and she really is this pretty.  She’s got a nice little sassy attitude to go along with it.  She’s going to be a handful, but I like her. (BTW, We also have a kid named Goodluck.)

  9. Figure out what phone numbers to add to both the “To” and “From” address. WTH???
  10. Postal lady asks for Tsh 200 more shillings for no good reason other than I’m mzungu. I gave her Tsh100.

    Told you we had pigs.  Also shot from the back porch.

    Told you we had pigs. Also shot from the back porch.

  11. PACKAGE MAILED! 
    Emma is our little genius - plus she's so dang cute!

    Emma is our little Checkechea genius – plus she’s so dang cute!  Again, this is our back porch classroom.

    All in all I’m thankful because, by TZ standards things ran rather smoothly. But most of all because I met Okanda and John.  Okanda called it a Golden Coincidence.  I like that.  We are keeping in touch because our two organizations might be able to help each other out. Mostly, though, our conversation at Ricky’s was a merging of cultural exchange, ideas, wisdom and understanding. Those are the very foundations of peace.

The doves are pretty here.  I get a lot of great shots just sitting on my butt on the back porch!

I’ll call this our Peace Dove.  The doves are pretty here. I get a lot of great shots just sitting on my butt on the back porch!

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The entrance to our school with the

The entrance to our school with the “playground” in front.

Mbuli

Mbuli, the hospital director’s son and possible future author.

I think it’s about time I wrote about our school, Bishop Chitemo Anglican Pre-School and Primary School. The British started a hospital (such as it is) and nursing school here in the late 1800’s. In 2011, the director of the hospital decided he wanted to keep his younger 3 children at home rather than send them away to boarding school as they had to do with their oldest. So…an American doctor took on the project, hired Liz and started a school with 6 children. We now are bursting at the seams with 136 students from Pre-school through Standard 4. We will add Standard 5 in January and so on until we are all the way up to Standard 7, the last year of primary school in Tanzania. The foundation for 3 rooms at the new site, are ready to be poured. We are fighting the clock to erect the walls by January or risk being shut down by the Tanzanian Ministry of Education. Liz went to a meeting on Thursday to ask for an extension, but we won’t hear the end result until she returns from Dar Es Salaam tomorrow. It is a highly stressful time right now. We cannot get registered without those walls, and without registration our students can’t take their national exams in Standard 4 next year. Their private school education will end and they will go to the government schools. I’ve met many children from those schools. Their English is essentially nonfunctional and they are severely lacking in math skills. Since we teach all but Kiswahili in English, our students are conversational in English by Standard 1 and fluent by Standard 4. English is the language of commerce. Without it these kids will never rise above their poverty status. I look into the faces of my students every day and can’t bear the thought.

Our kids literally live in mud huts with pigs, chickens, ducks, cows and goats.  There is no electricity in the village, with the exception of a few local shops. The electricity we do have is only on part of

Cows living with people.

Cows living with people.

the day. Usually from 11 pm to 7:30 am (teachers have a generator, but it cost too much to run it 24/7). Twenty-seven dollars here is an average person’s monthly salary – and they’re feeding their families on that.  Mostly our students need food, to be fluent in English and proficient in math, so they can leave this village, get some form of higher education, and return to change it.  Without these 3 things, their life will be short and difficult.  It’s even worse for the girls (if you get my drift).  In America kids have a safety net.  One way or another, they can sleep their way through school, but most will literally survive, be relatively healthy and have a place to live.  The children of Tanzania have no net what-so-ever.  None.  There are no welfare programs, no easy access to quality medical care, no medical insurance, no foster care system, no low-income housing, homeless shelters or soup kitchens – nothing. Lack of a basic education will perpetuate the endless cycle of poverty these children were born into. Nothing will ever change.

I know this sounds harsh, but life here IS harsh.  Tanzania is not actively at war, so it is not the poorest country in the world – but you can see it from here.  Tuition comes from over seas sponsors and gets them their books, 2 meals a day (3 for boarders), pencils and erasers and a safe school environment where they don’t get beaten (that’s legal here and it can be extremely brutal).

Liz teacher the remedial class on our back porch.  Best commute ever!

Teacher Liz with her remedial class on our back porch. Best commute ever!

On the bright side, I get to teach my afternoon Std. 3 writing class on my back porch! Liz got some chalkboard paint for the porch walls and voilà – an open-air classroom! I teach Std. 4 English and

This burn pile is right under our window in Beirut.  We've had to evacuate a time or two just to be able to breathe.

This burn pile is right under our window in Beirut. We’ve had to evacuate a time or two just to be able to breathe.

This is also a common sight.  Unfortunately this is right next door to Beirut.

This is also a common sight. Unfortunately this is right next door to Beirut.

Entrance Std 4 B

science in an abandoned building we call “Beirut” because you have to step over rubble to get in and some of the walls are crumbling. But, there’s a chalkboard and some bolted down tables and benches that serve as desks – the basics. We have a lot of fun learning in Beirut because it’s far enough away from the main building that we can be noisy and not disturb the other classes. That works well for

Doing word problems on the board in Beirut.

Doing word problems on the board in Beirut.

my teaching style! My Std. 3 science class is also fun, but we have to be much quieter since there is only a partial wall separating us from Std. 1. But by far, it’s the kids themselves that make my day. I have little to no discipline problems so I actually get to teach during class time. Everyday there is progress. It warms my heart to see faces light up with excitement and pride when they grasp a concept, learn a new vocabulary word, read well, or understand a difficult bit grammar.

Yohana, Samweli and I took an 8 hour hike to find the baboons.  As it turned out, these were the only little monkeys I saw.  It was a good day.

Yohana, Samweli and I took an 8 hour hike to find the baboons. As it turned out, these were the only little monkeys I saw. It’s amazing what you can learn from 10-year old boys.  It was a good day.  When we got back to the village we enjoyed Coca baridi (cold Coke) to celebrated the fact that no one (that would be me) broke anything or fell off the mountain during the free rock climbing portion of the day (NOT recommended).   

But my relationship with the kids doesn’t begin and end in the classroom. This is a village, so they are everywhere. I see them when I go to the shops for food and they help me. They carry my bags when I go to market. They come to collect me when it’s time for church choir practice.  They are helping me learn Kiswahili and teaching me the customs of their tribe (Kaguru). Mbuli and Dani are especially interested in introducing me to the unique culinary offerings of Berega. So, yes, in a few weeks we will go and catch a bush rat, clean it, roast it and eat it. Why the hell not?  The hanging goat didn’t kill me.  However, I require they take the first bite.  They assure me it tastes great. I’ll keep you posted on that one. I also have plans to walk to Ifunde with Emanuel to deliver the pictures I took at the Maasai wedding. Mbuli will walk with us and perhaps Samweli as well. We read, we talk, we laugh and exchange cultural information. Some of the girls are teaching me how to dance African style (yes, it’s hilarious.  No, there’s no video).

I love to listen to their dreams for their futures. Emmanuel and Eliza want to go to

Frankline hard at work so she can pass her Std. 4 exam. One step closer to her dream of being a pilot.

Frankline hard at work so she can pass her Std. 4 exam. One step closer to her dream of being a pilot.

America and become doctors, Frankline wants to be a pilot, Farida and Chris want to be teachers, Evander and Suzy nurses, Dani an accountant. I’m not sure what Mbuli wants to do, but the boy should definitely consider becoming an author.  Knowing these kids and being a part of helping them realize their dreams is an honor.  It makes the thought of the school possibly having to close an extremely painful one.

I do get extremely passionate about this village, especially now that I’ve seen it with my own eyes and hugged these children with my own arms.  Yes, I am in love with this dirty, dusty, pitiful place.  It happened the moment I locked eyes with these children and saw their eager, beautiful, trusting souls.

Ana, Imani and Eliza picking me up for choir practice.

Ana, Imani and Eliza picking me up for choir practice.

Women and girls carrying heavy buckets on their heads is a common, daily sight.

Women and girls carrying heavy buckets on their heads is a common, daily sight.

Miriam and her daughter Maria carry water to the school and clean the school

Miriam and her daughter Maria carry water to the school and clean the school “sinks” daily. We have no running water.

Every available space is used for instruction. This is the door to Std. 1 & 3.

Every available space is used for instruction. This is the door to Std. 1 & 3.

One of the 2 school sinks. The small bottle on top is filled with soapy water so the kids can wash.

One of the 2 school sinks. The small bottle on top is filled with soapy water so the kids can wash.

Miriam and Maria bringing more water to top off the school's daily supply.

Miriam and Maria bringing more water to top off the school’s daily supply.

Vale, Emmanuel (future doctor) and Mbuli (future author?) shooting marbles during break in Beirut.

Vale, Emmanuel (future doctors) and Mbuli (future author?) shooting marbles during break in Beirut.

Playing Mancala in the dirt during recess.

Playing Mancala in the dirt during recess.

My Std. 3 class. These guys are fun!

My Std. 3 class. These guys are fun!

Blandina is the sweetest kid, but she was just a little bit sick of Rehabu taking her stuff. The look on her face could stop a charging elephant.

Blandina is the sweetest kid, but she was just a little bit sick of Rehabu taking her stuff. The look on her face could stop a charging elephant.

This is Lulu.  She is in out youngest Preschool class.  I don't think a kid could be much cuter!

This is Lulu. She is in our youngest Preschool class. I don’t think a kid could be much cuter!

It Takes a Village (but first you have to belong to one)

Village Kids

Village Kids

Being one of 7 wazungu here is not easy. All of us left family, friends and loved ones to come here.  This is not our culture, our language or the food we’re used to.  We wake up to the sounds of different birds, different shades of light and having to boil water to have a warm bath.  We go to sleep to the screams of the bush babies (small arboreal, nocturnal primates), buzzing, malaria-ridden mosquitos and “things” rustling in the bushes outside our bedroom windows.  We’re not in Kansas anymore.

Berega sunset. Took this on one of my long treks.

  Berega sunset. Took this on one of my long treks.

It is difficult being on the flip side, being the minority both in skin color and culture.  It’s quite humbling, to say the least. We are constantly reminded of our color by the calls of the village kids as we walk past. “Mzungu! Mzungu!” It’s the equivalent of seeing a black person or Asian person and calling out “Hey! Black guy!” or “Hey! Asian lady!” The village kids don’t mean any harm. They just want to wave and say “hi” or “bye, bye” – the only English words they know. They might even take your hand and walk a ways with you. If you’re carrying a camera they always want to “takea pickcha.” Still, once you’re on your way you again hear, “Mzungu! Mzungu!”

More village kids. Anything functions as a toy.

More village kids. Anything functions as a toy.

The adults are harder to take. You get stared at every step you take, every place you go, every day you’re here. Mind you, staring isn’t considered impolite here, so they aren’t being rude, but it gets real old, real fast. I mean, really! Do I look that much different today than when I walked past you yesterday? What especially bothers me is walking past a group of people (usually men sitting around doing nothing), having all conversation stop, then hearing the word mzungu in their conversation once you’ve passed, but are not out of earshot. That’s the worst, and it happens every day on my walk to work. The women are always busy carrying heavy buckets of water or other cargo on their heads and have babies strapped to their backs. But they, too, will stare.

Going to the market, getting a pikipiki (motorcycle taxi), regular taxi or even just a beer involves what Liz refers to as a skin tax. There’s always an attempt, often successfully, to charge us more because we’re white. A common tactic is to tell us they have no change. I’ve started either carrying exact change or following the guy around until he finds some buddy of his who has some. No one ever does until they realize the crazy mzungu lady isn’t going to go away until she gets her change. Miss that minivan to town that has 18 people and a chicken? Hamna shida, no problem! There’ll be another along in bit with 20 people and 2 chickens? I can take that one. Again, this is usually the men. The women don’t do this very often. My Kiswahili is good enough (i.e., I know my numbers and a few key words) to be able to argue about a jacked up price and win. Self defense.

But, I’m not one to just let things remain status quo if I don’t like it and can do something about it. I’ve started saying habari, salama or shikamoo to the people I see. Culturally, greetings are extremely important. The Tanzanians are a friendly people and I always get a reply and a smile back. The pikipiki drivers are beginning to recognize me from seeing me on my long walks into the bush (I can be gone for hours). Several are starting to wave and call out “habari yako, how are you?” “Nzuri sana! Asante! Everything’s great, thanks!”

A man from the village who sells children's clothes. He stopped to chat during one of my walks.

A man from the village who sells children’s clothes. He stopped to chat during one of my walks.

This is true of all age groups from Berega and any of the surrounding villages. I’ve even had a chat with a couple of those scary Maasai warriors. They are actually very friendly and like to laugh. Okay, maybe it’s at me, but it’s also with me so…I’m good.

My little tagalongs.  They sometimes follow me and have decided to teach me Kikaguru, the tribal language of Berega.

My little tagalongs. They sometimes follow me, and have decided I need to learn Kikaguru, the tribal language of Berega.  I teach them English.  The dirt becomes our chalkboard, the trees, mangos, birds and everything else becomes our classroom.  They don’t call me mzungu anymore.

I might be mzungu, but I’m finding that in addition to our students, a few “regulars” are starting to call me mwalimu, or “teacha”, instead of mzungu. Though I’ll obviously never fully be a member of Berega, I am beginning to be accepted as a part of it. They know we are here to help their kids. Our student’s parents see a difference between what our students learn and what the government school students learn. They want us here. Yet, every new wave of American teachers is an oddity and there’s going to be an awkward adjustment period.

The cultural stuff isn’t so bad (except the staring, I’ll never get used to the staring). There are a few things to get used to. For example, the minivan taxis driving at break neck speeds on the left while you’re sitting with some stranger on your lap and a chicken next to you in a minivan designed to hold 9 but you counted 20. And, are they trying to add another person with a chicken? What’s with the chickens, anyway? Yes, it is possible to stand in a minivan.

Samweli, who often needs an eraser. I just love this kid's smile!

Samweli, who often needs an eraser. I just love this kid’s smile!

It’s a bit disconcerting when a 10-year-old boy asks for a rubber. When you ask why, he tells you he made a mistake. I resisted the temptation to tell him he was a little late just long enough to realize he meant he needed an eraser (whew!). However, I think I’ll pass up the offer to eat rat or a piece of that goat that’s been hanging outside the cafe since forever.  Mango season is approaching and I can’t wait to eat my fill on one of my walks. Right now I’m enjoying the bounty offered by the ukwaju (tamarind) trees. Tomorrow I’ll make a sweet drink from mapera, the seed pods of a baobab tree. I actually kind of like wearing skirts all the time. It’s winter, but it’s still hotter than Bay Area summers so skirts are quite nice. Besides, I can wear all the bright colors I want here. The brighter, the better – I love it! Year-round sandals or bare feet, life at a leisurely pace, great students, time to relax, and long evening or morning walks into the bush.

This mwalimu mzungu is adjusting and loving every minute. Well, almost. I still wish I had my own “hut.”

Yup - that's the goat just hanging right out there. In the heat. With the flies.

Yup – that’s the goat just hanging right out there. In the heat. With the flies.  Could be dog, for all I know.

My tagalongs goofing off.

My tagalongs goofing off.                                                           

My final destination.  I'm looking for the baboons (nyani).

My final destination. I’m looking for the baboons (nyani).

Walking 2 1/2 hours got me this view.  Worth it.

Walking 2 1/2 hours got me this view. Worth it.                         

Caught the hawk in flight!

Caught the hawk in flight!

This is Nelson.  He carries a machete and a hoe in hopes of being hired to clear brush.

This is Nelson. He carries a machete and a hoe in hopes of being hired to clear brush.           

This is Amani.  I don't know if he carries passengers on his pikipiki, but he did stop to ask me where I was going.

This is Amani. I don’t know if he carries passengers on his pikipiki, but he did stop to ask me where I was going.

This sweet girl is Zahara.  I wish she could've gotten an education.  She's quick and smart.  As it is, her like will probably be hard.

This sweet girl is Zahara. I wish she could’ve gotten an education at an early age. She’s quick and smart. As it is, her life will probably be a difficult one.  

Young boys bring the cows and goats home every evening.

Young boys bring the cows and goats home every evening.

Re-entry into Berega.  This is one hub.  The other is the hospital (such as it is).

Re-entry into Berega. This is one hub. The other is the hospital (such as it is).

Walking Into a National Geographic Magazine

All decked out and ready to go.  The men went, too, but we wore prettier colors.

All decked out and ready to go. The men went, too, but we wore prettier colors.

One of our Standard 4 boys in boarding is a young Maasai warrior. Well, almost…he’s fifteen. Youth notwithstanding, Emmanuel possesses the graceful elegance and proud carriage inherent in all Maasai. As his teachers, we were invited to a three-day wedding celebration in his village, Ifunde.* We decked out in our finest attire, climbed into the back of the pick-up and drove until the truck could go no further. Then Emmanuel led the way through theAfrican bush to Ifunde. There are no lions here, but even if there were, we had our Maasai warrior to protect us.**

Acacia Thorns.  Keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times.

Acacia Thorns. Keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times.

The road was pretty rugged.  This wasn't the worst of it.

The road was pretty rugged. This wasn’t the worst of it.

Emmanuel leading us to his village.  He's still wearing his school uniform.

Emmanuel leading us to his village. He’s still wearing his school uniform.

Cresting the top of some boulders, we found ourselves transported back hundreds of years to a time when the Maasai ruled this land. Resting in the shade of an acacia tree were 6 or 7 Maasai warriors clad in their full regalia: Red pattered shukas (cloth wraps), marungu (weapons) which included spears with 30 inch long iron heads crafted to kill lions, throwing clubs, and even some jewelry. These were not symbolic items. These were real. These were not merely the descendants of fierce warriors. These men are fierce warriors skilled in the warrior arts – and they are proud of it. I regret not getting a picture of this. But honestly, in spite of the fact that one spoke English fairly well and was very friendly, I was afraid to ask. The others were polite, yet aloof – and very, very serious.  In lieu, I’ve included a picture from my visit to another Maasai village in Kenya in ’05.

On the ground next to this warrior is a throwing club.  Sorry, no picture of a spear.

Kenya ’05.  On the ground next to this warrior is a throwing club. Sorry, no picture of a spear.

When we arrived at the village proper, the women greeted us warmly. The men and women remain separate during these affairs. While the men congregated around a fire across the village, the women relaxed on mats in the shade of a thatched roof mud hut. Children clad in hot pink or bright purple stole shy glances as they clung to their mothers.

This little girl glared at us the entire time we were there.  Yet she followed us everywhere.

This little girl glared at us the entire time we were there. Yet she followed us everywhere.  

Maasai Girl.  She was a real sweetie.

Maasai Girl. She was a real sweetie.

Others sent searing glares from their places on the mats. The young women wore maroon wraps with white trim and the married women wore blue or purple.

Male bonding happening on the other side of the village.  Glad I have a zoom lens.

Male bonding happening on the other side of the village. Glad I have a zoom lens.

The jewelry was something to behold indeed!  From what I could gather, the older you are, the more status you have.  The more status you have, the more jewelry you wear.  Ear plugs and metal hoop earrings with bangles longer and bolder than you can imagine circumvent the ears.

This woman wore the most jewelry of all.  Lisa took the picture, I cropped it.

This woman wore the most jewelry of all. Lisa took the picture, I cropped it.

Metal necklace upon metal necklace, upon metal necklace adorn the neck or are worn around the waist as belts. Elaborate beadwork is worn over the necklaces and on wrists and ankles. Shiny (brass?) spiral wire begin at the ankle and extended more than half way up the calves.  The jewelry provided musical accompaniment whenever they moved.

At first things were awkward. They spoke little English. We spoke little Kimaasai or Kiswahili.  Hamna shida, no problem.  We are women.  We will always find a way.  I decided to start with Emmanuel’s niece who was bouncing happily on her grandmother’s lap.  Emmanuel’s mother is a wonderful woman.  She always treats her son’s teachers in a warm and welcoming manner complete with handshakes and hugs. She had taught the little girl

Emmanuel's mother with the baby.

Emmanuel’s mother with the baby.

how to give kisses and encouraged her to kiss the wazungu (white people).  The next thing you know we are taking turns passing the baby around, blowing kisses and laughing, Maasai and wazungu alike.

The next obstacle to overcome was the clash between an ancient culture and an infant one.  On one mat were the Maasai, a proud people living as they have for centuries.  On the adjacent mat were the Americans (and one Belgian) with camera’s slung awkwardly over our shoulders.  The tendency is to want to start snapping pictures right and left because you can’t believe you just walked into a National Geographic Magazine.  But that is extremely rude.  Would you appreciate it if someone came into your home and treated you and your way of life like a photo op instead with respect?  No, and neither do they.  The women were especially embarrassed to have their pictures taken (another universality). Trust me, you don’t want to piss off a Maasai – male or female.

So…I should Emmanuel’s mother how to use the camera. I don’t think she has ever looked through a camera before because she was like a child receiving her first surprise gift. I showed her where to place her eye and how to zoom in and out. I changed to my zoom lens and let her play

The camera lesson.  Daktari Kristein got in on the action as well.

The camera lesson. Daktari Kristein got in on the action as well.

with that. I showed her how to press the shutter button and where to look to see the pictures she just took. She was laughing like a little kid in a pile of puppies and just having a ball! I even let the children give it a go.

Well now, the younger women were not about to be left out. Everyone was crowding around waiting her turn. We had great fun! Then one woman got the idea to have me take a picture of her and her children. That did it – all the women wanted a family portrait. In the end lots of pictures were taken and, even though I prefer candid shots, I am not disappointed.

Left to right: Emmanuel's mom, the woman I talked to (couldn't understand her name).

Left to right: Emmanuel’s mom, the woman I talked to (couldn’t understand her name).

Afterwards, I sat on the Maasai side of the mat. Using mostly hand signals I had a lovely conversation with one of the women. We managed to talk about many, many things. She was proud of the callouses on her legs made by the spiral wire and wanted me to touch them. She took off her handmade beaded necklace and let me try it on. I found it interesting that several times she felt my skin, then hers. She was obviously amazed at the fact that although we are different colors, our skin feels the same. She was particularly interested in my feet and the callouses made by my shoes. She spent quite a lot of time touching and examining every millimeter of them. I’m guessing that a callous is some kind of status symbol; I’m not sure. She was also very relieved to know that the freckles (alright, now they’re age spots) on my arms were not a disease, but just a wazungu oddity. In the end, she told me I was her daughter. Quite an honor, I assure you.

Later that night we walked back down the moonlit path and rode home in the back of the truck. As I gazed up at the Southern Cross, the warm night breeze on my face, the full impact of what had happened hit me. This woman from a culture that tenaciously clings to its traditional ways had intentionally reached through the crack in the door to touch my life and to let me touch hers.

No Difference

Small as a peanut

Big as a giant,

We’re all the same size

When we turn off the light.

Rich as a sultan

Poor as a mite,

We’re all worth the same

When we turn off the light.

Red, black or orange.

Yellow or white.

We all look the same

When we turn off the light.

So maybe the way

To make everything right

Is for God to just reach out

And turn off the light!

               Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends

*The traditional Maasai land spans the border between Kenya and Tanzania (includes the Maasai Mara), so many Maasai have a long way to walk in order to attend a celebration in another village. Due to our responsibilities at school, we could only attend the first day.

** The Lion Hunt is a Maasai rite of passage. http://www.maasai-association.org/lion.html

Future Warrior  with his water bottle "weapon."

Future Warrior with his water bottle “weapon.”

Future National Geographic photographer.  All she wanted to do was carry my camera - all day.

Future National Geographic photographer. All she wanted to do was carry my camera bag – all day.

The Future photographer's mother.

The Future Photographer’s mother.

The  photographer and a fierce little warrior.

The photographer and a fierce little warrior.

My Massai "mother" and her children.

My Massai “mother” and her children.

The small children get to eat first.

The small children get to eat first.

Young Maasai women.  They were shy, but still allowed me to take their picture.

Young Maasai women. They were shy, but still allowed me to take their picture.

Emmanuel's mother snapped this shot.  The fierce little warrior  was shocked to see her with a camera.

Emmanuel’s mother snapped this shot. The fierce little warrior was taken by surprise.

Having dinner in Emmanuel's hut.

Having dinner in Emmanuel’s hut.

Dinner

Dinner

Emmanuel's hut

Emmanuel’s hut

I'm not so sure yet how I feel about this.

I’m not so sure yet how I feel about this.

We literally stayed till the cows came home.

We literally stayed till the cows came home.

Music In The Dirt

Abraham, the budding little musician.

Abraham, my budding little musician.

This is Abraham. He is in my Standard 2 reading class and is one smart little cookie. The other day at lunch he noticed the music tattoo on my left wrist and asked me to explain it. I told him it was two music symbols combined into one design, and that I’d explain more later when there was paper and pencil available. I figured that would be enough to satisfy him for the time being.

WRONG!

He ran off and brought back a stick. Looking up at me with those big, puppy-dog brown eyes he said, “Show me in the dirt.”

Wow! Who could refuse such a child?

So, down in the dirt I sat (dress and all) and we had our first lesson in how to read music. I showed him the music staff, treble and bass clef and how to find the G and F, respectively. Today he brought me another stick and a group of his friends. He wanted to know anything and everything about how to read music. By the end of lunch he could tell me the name of each clef, the name of the notes on each line and space in treble clef and which note would have a higher or lower pitch compared to another. The other kids didn’t do to shabby either, but Abraham was drinking in every drop of information like a dying man at an oasis…and asking for more. He is begging me to teach him how to play an instrument. Okay, hamna shida, no problema. Today I took the recorders to school. Alas, Abraham’s little hands are just too small to learn bassoon.

Some day, little man…some day.

My music tattoo.

The tattoo that started a movement.

Intensity

Check out the intensity in Abraham’s eyes as I answer his music questions.

This was the first time Christina smiled in a very long time.  What a precious smile!!

This was the first time Christina smiled in a very long time. What a precious smile!!

Nasla and Pasco are also enthralled.

Nasla and Pasco are also enthralled.

Why my hair looks gray.

Why my hair looks gray.

Carried on the Sunday Morning Wind

The church is one of the rooftops on the hill. This is the view from my back porch.

The church is one of the rooftops on the hill. This is the view from my back porch.

It is a lazy Sunday morning. I am sitting on the back porch, sipping my tea and watching a beautiful rust-colored rooster and his hen scratch the ground.  A large, black bumblebee drones amongst the magenta blooms of the bougainvillea. In the distance cows are lowing, roosters crowing, goats bleating. A myriad of birds add to the Sunday morning symphony. The warm wind carries the whine of an occasional motorbike and the private conversation of two men from across the gully.

Best of all, the wind carries the singing.

The singing from the Catholic church on the next hilltop has been going on for at least an hour with no sign of finale. There is an electronic keyboard that sometimes accompanies, sometimes prays on its own. The melodies are colorful and smooth. The rhythms make you want to sway and dance. Some songs are bold. Some are peaceful. But there is mournfulness in the sounds, a longing. There is also joy. Strength. Hope.

On tour this summer, we sang a medley of Spirituals called “Songs of Strength and Hope.” I am finally beginning to understand, if only just a little.

Another great porch view.

Another great porch view.

Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea

Rusty the Rooster

Rusty the Rooster

Mama

Mama, Liz and I getting cozy on the boat to Zanzibar.

Mama, Liz and I getting cozy on the boat to Zanzibar.

There is no such concept as “personal space” in Africa. Sitting at the harbor in Dar es Salaam waiting for the boat to Zanzibar, we are closer than shoulder to shoulder. We are front to back, back to front, nose to arm pit…eye to eye. We are, Muslim, Christian, Massai, Tourist. The morning air is electric and vibrant with the anticipation of the day. The energy present is an entity in and of itself, created by the mingling of people who are shoulder to shoulder, front to back, back to front, nose to arm pit…eye to eye.

Having resident status, Liz was first on the boat and secured for us a couple of bean bags on the upper deck. Being winter here (which means its blazing hot, but not quite hotter than Hell) the clouds rolled in and brought some rain. Hakuna matata. We covered ourselves with our scarves and watched as the river of humanity slowly sludged its way onto the ferry. In the end, there were people in the seats, on the floor and some standing for the 2 hour passage. Every mode of public transportation here has people on top of people on top of people. It drives home the meaning of the phrase “the unwashed masses.”

And then we met Mama*.

Mama was one of the last people to board. She looked at us, we looked at her, I gave her two thumbs up and the 3 of us burst out laughing. Then, we got “the look” as she sized us both up. “Sogea.” “Move,” she said, flashing us this wide, broad-toothed grin. She was very polite, but it was not a request. Then this fat**, laughing woman shoved us both over and cozied right on up. Karibu! Welcome! I mean, seriously, what else can you say? Mama’s English was about as good as my Kiswahili, but most of our communication was woman to woman eye contact and laughter. We all enjoyed a fun, cozy, relaxing and comfortable voyage on the Indian Ocean. In the end, although we went our separate ways, we had bonded. Our two disparate cultures had interfaced. May that spark ignite a blaze of peace. Salama.

* “Mama” is a respectful designation used to refer to any woman with, shall we say, a few years experience in life.

** This is not an insult here, but rather a compliment. It means you are one of the fortunate who have enough to eat.

Little School Girls

Little School Girls

Education is better in Zanzibar than on the mainland.

Two Boys

Two Boys

Children love to get their picture taken – if you pay them.

Boatman

Boatman