Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Abandon blog...well, almost

So, this is the challenge with blogging and I imagine everyone who blogs has at least one major gap and an apology post to go along with it. So here's mine. So here's a quick update...

Grandma came all the way from Canada to visit us in October. What an exciting adventure! She had a great sense of humour through it all, and you definitely need one when you're traveling in these parts. There was a lot of play time, relaxing and a wonderful trip to the boma, of course. During this visit, Naanyuni decided to give Grandma the gift of her first few steps. 

Life and work have continued onward. Naanyuni's speedy mobility made our trip to Italy for Christmas a fun adventure. We met up with Aunty Papa (Robin) and stayed in Florence over the holiday season and traveled on day trips to Pisa, Venice and a couple of small towns. 

All the while I had been interviewing at various schools for next year, with the intent to leave Tanzania. At the end of February, I reconsidered that plan and decided to stay, largely because it just didn't seem to be working out to find work elsewhere within a time frame I was comfortable with. I've re-signed my contract at the school for next year and will begin looking for work again for the following year starting in October. 

Naanyuni has many friends here now and it's nice to have another year with them all. In our building complex of 16 apartments there are six other children she plays with everyday. She definitely has the benefits of one-to-one care with the added bonus of socializing in groups regularly. I'm very happy for her to be interacting regularly with other children. I'm hoping she'll learn to stop giving the boys love slaps on the head. She has recently added smooches on the cheek, so I'm hopeful this will take the place of the cranium drumming. 

That's all to report for now. There are some plans pending and I'll post them as results come in. Pictures don't seem to be uploading for now. I'll try to post some later...

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Goat cake

I had the pleasure of attending my first Tanzanian wedding last weekend with some friends. The groom is my mechanic, and a friend of Ibra's. Wedding invitations are distributed to people who donate money to the event. There is a tradition here of going around to people and asking them to either pledge money for the wedding celebration or to give money up front. This allows the bride and groom to add people to their guest list and cover the costs for the ceremony, wedding band (which drives around in the wedding party caravan, in the back of a pick up truck, playing lively music), reception space and dinner, drinks, decorations and so on.

There are several very 'Tanzanian' traditions that make up a wedding, but my favourite by far is the goat cake. In keeping with the culture of carnivores, a wedding ceremony is not complete without the carving of a roasted goat, decorated with fruit and kept in it's living form, sitting upright on a platter. Like a wedding cake, the carving of the first piece is a photo opportunity for the bride and groom and they then shave the meat up and add it to the buffet for their guests.
 The reception continued with the presenting of gifts, accomplished by going up in table groups and dancing to and from the gift table which was placed in front of the bride and groom. The newlyweds had to stand to receive their gifts of kangas, dishes, cards and decorations for their home while people continued in trains to go up before them and dance. This went on for a couple of hours, with the bride and groom standing the whole time.
The dancing progressed to include the classic butt-jiggling routine performed by several of the younger ladies, in front of the gift table and guests. We laughed as we realized that some of this dancing was obviously aimed at John, our friend who came with us.

All was going well until a stray cat (stray cats roam freely here and they're quite gross) strolled up to my chair and proceeded to pee on my leg. It wasn't until the cat had left that I noticed warm wetness. It wasn't the nicest part of the evening for me. Will, ever the optimist, seems to think it's a sign of good luck but I beg to differ. Anyone who has ever been peed on by a scraggly wild creature knows that it feels anything but lucky.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Performing Arts Centre in Dar

I was invited to participate in a new project here in Dar. The UN ambassador to Tanzania is married to a woman who has a passion for the arts and would like to open a performing arts centre here in Dar. The meeting I attended last week sparked my interest but I'm wondering what the artistic vision for such a centre might be. While a performing arts centre may be a great idea in theory, the reality in this city is that many Tanzanian citizens have had little exposure to music and dance training and certainly don't consider it a top priority while they struggle for basic survival. So who is this for? The concern automatically surfaces that this will be yet another perk to serve the transient expat community and Dar's elite. My initial guess is that the intent is not to provide Tanzania with an arts centre that encourages the local population to participate in the arts as a way to improve one's quality of life and, in some cases, perhaps provide a marketable skill for employment later on. It's difficult to focus or steer someone's vision to include the poor when it so obviously means that the process to stabilize the community being created becomes much longer and intensely more complicated. I'm not sure where to start. My immediate suggestions at the meeting to address this major issue were a) that the majority of the teaching staff should be Tanzanian citizens and b) that there be a scholarship program to extend financial aid to students who can't afford arts training but who demonstrate they have the commitment to stick with it for at least a year. There are still a lot of questions I have about this centre and I suppose there's a lot to think about in the beginning stages of something this large and unknown. Though I don't intend to teach at the arts centre as it will definitely conflict with my workers permit and contract at IST (despite the fact that the ambassador's wife might have some pull with the government to avoid these hassles), I do intend to keep my hand at task and continue to advocate on behalf of the many who would benefit from the programs offered. I only hope that the overall idea to begin a much needed centre for the arts here in Tanzania isn't sabotaged by either the good intentions of philanthropy or the easy solutions of exclusivity. We just have to locate that border between those extremes and continue to navigate carefully. Hopefully all the key decision-makers are thinking carefully through each decision.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Boma or bust

The last time I went to the boma was exactly 1 year ago, 3 days before I found out I was pregnant. I haven't been able to go during pregnancy because I knew the drive would be too uncomfortable. It's a long journey, about 6.5 hours, with 2 hours on really bumpy roads and 30 minutes on 'paths' through the bush, but we made it without any major problems. Our caravan of 2 trucks and 6 people arrived at Hendeni, the town near Ibra's home, well into dark and we settled in for the night. After breakfast Mercedes, John, Jen, Ibra Naanyuni and I headed off to the maasai market for some shopping and a chance to dress my friend, John into his outfit for weekend.

I had the spontaneous idea that Naanyuni needed a cow, so I asked Babu ("grandfather"/Ibra's dad) to pick one out for her and gave him some money. For those interested, a young calf costs 150,000 Tsh, about 140 CAD. Babu selected an all-white calf and told Ibra he chose the most beautiful cow for a beautiful baby. I named it Chicken-Rad in honour of Bjorn and Susan. We paid someone to walk it to the village, a hike of about 3 hours.

We then ate a large leg of roasted beef. One of the men began carefully cutting off pieces and placing them in a communal bowl. I have never tasted such fresh and amazing meat! It's incredible how clean-tasting meat can be when it's not from a 'farm' but is free-grazing in the countryside. When we arrived at the boma, all the children came running. They know the car by now. Then the customary greetings began. Ibra is a type of elder so the children all walk up to him and he touches their heads, like a blessing of sorts. I have some more language skills than I did when I came a year ago, so I was much more comfortable conversing with the people as they approached. My Maasai name is Entapukai Nanana (delicate flower) a name bestowed on me by Ibra because of my sensitive skin (I'm sunburned a lot) and dislike for general rough-housing (I don't particularly enjoy wrestling with a huge maasai). His family took a liking to the name and use it jokingly when they greet me. After greetings we are invited to sit and drink tea. Babu then took the opportunity to hold his granddaughter for the first time. Men don't hold babies generally and it was so nice to see that exceptions were being made in this way. Uncle Karokia, still a warrior, also enjoyed holding her.

Our visit was a few hours, during which time Naanyuni had a chance to meet all her relatives. I was escorted into Ibra's hut for nursing (public breast-feeding is NOT allowed, even with a cover. I discovered this when I began to feed under a cover and was quickly ushered into a hut) and bathing the baby before dressing her in a new outfit she had been given and some traditional jewelry that was made for her by the other ladies. Naanyuni didn't care much for the cold bath.

The following day we returned in the morning and again drank tea. There was a brief session of singing followed by a presentation of cattle to Naanyuni. We approached the herd of calves and were shown that Chicken-Rad had arrived. Then, Babu pointed out another all-white calf from him and Ibra's mom, and first wife (Momma Zachariah) pointed out an additional white calf from her own herd. So, Naanyuni is the proud owner of 3 white cows and the offspring they produce. We all had a laugh about the cows matching my my very pale skin colour.
Then church began. This consists of people gathering in a circle and singing call-and-response songs of worship while dancing, swaying and, of course, jumping. There are times when only women go into the circle, only men and then all combinations of different kinds (according to the song's lyrics). It's amazing to hear the harmonies and voices blending together so effortlessly. One of the highlights was watching all the women sing and dance while hearing a distant low chant coming up the road and seeing that it was the warriors coming in a group to enter the 'service'.

We returned home again that day, rushing out because someone needed to be taken to the hospital. Ibra's sister developed an ear infection and was in mild discomfort the first day we arrived. By that second day she was basically immobile. We rushed her and her toddler, also suffering from an infection, to the nearby town and Ibra went with them to the hospital. They are both fine after receiving antibiotic injections. Infections move fast in this climate and, unfortunately, many people in remote places wait too long before taking the long hike into town to get help. It was a good thing we were there with a car when this happened.

Though our exit was swift, we were able to say some goodbyes to our friends and family. The women had made us each a beadwork cross with dangles (all maasai jewelry has silver dangly bits) and presented us with them. What a remarkable time. I'm looking forward to the paving of the roads, which is currently in process. Once the roads to Hendeni are paved (construction that is under way by the Chinese government for some unknown benefit they will receive...), Naanyuni and I will make that trip more often. It will shave about 1 hour off the worst part of the drive and make it so much more accessible for us.

I had intended to add photos to this blog but can't seem to get them to load. There are two albums on facebook to look at.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Top Tens

Don't forget to check my 'top tens' page. I'm posting miscellaneous things there as well.

Another week at the office

Well, the first week back to work was normal. And normal here has many different settings. I think I'll call it normal-crazy (which is closer to real normal than crazy, but more eventful than crazy-normal). Normal crazy looks like this...
Day 1: I arrived at work and was called home because the baby wouldn't stop crying. After 20 minutes in bumper to bumper traffic, I arrived home to discover she was sleeping. I hung out for a bit, fed her when she woke up and headed back to work. Learned about a crazy literature analysis essay with very few guidelines that my EAL students are supposed to write,

Day 2: Ran out of luku in the middle of the night (luku is prepaid electricity) around 2:30. Everything shut off. Had to send Ibra out to buy some or the nanny wouldn't be able to heat bottles to feed the baby. Took him an hour and a half to find a 24-hour luku station (almost nothing is 24-hours here). Returned around 4:15. Baby woke up. I fed her then started getting ready for work. So much for sleep. Head to work and pump, pump, pump.

Day 3: Off to work and pump, pump, pump. Tried and tried to help kids organize their essays. I think we all left more confused than when we started. Staff meeting mayhem after school where frustrated teachers get a platform to complain about the systems. Problems-many. Solutions-aaaaannnnd we're out of time.

Day 4: Off to school and traffic cop won't let me turn onto Toure Drive. All the right turners get frustrated and decide to go straight to the next street. I get cut off by a bus full of kids who overtake me on the right turn and force me into oncoming traffic. Their first lesson of the day was how to kill the teacher in the 4X4. Another day of pump, teach, pump, teach and pump. Starting to feel like a talking cow ("")

Day 5: Two sick colleagues means cover classes. It's hard to teach three periods, have a staff meeting AND pump, pump, pump. Managed it somehow AND, by some miracle, had a wonderfully inspiring lesson whereby the mental fog cleared and the EAL students managed to successfully write their opening paragraphs for their lit. essays. Phew!
Then to a birthday party and staff party before heading home for the evening.

So that's a basic 'day-in-the-life'.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Bibis

Bibi means 'grandmother' in Swahili. Ibra has 5 moms (one biological and 4 other wives of his father). Two of these bibis came to visit us last week. The introduction to their granddaughter went well and though Naanyuni was a little hesitant at first, she warmed up to her relatives quickly.

It's so easy to forget where you are when you live in a major city. I love the realizations that storm in when I am forced to deal with the fact that my 'family' ties here are totally other-worldly. The bibis had never before left the village, where livestock roam freely throughout their living spaces (small huts made of mud and sticks) and electricity and running water are unheard of novelties. Watching their reactions to the inventions of the past century was entertaining and they thoroughly enjoyed exploring things like the TV, computer, airplanes and the toilet. They first thought the actors on TV were speaking directly to them and asked Ibra why they were there and what they wanted. He laughed and explained the concept. I wish I had been able to speak Maa and could have listened in on all the conversations. Unfortunately, we communicated very little during the week, but smiles go a long way and there's always that phrase that bibis love to hear "Would you like some more tea?". I know that one in Swahili.

By the end of the week, the bibis seemed well settled, turning on the TV in the morning and watching Maasai gospel videos on Youtube.  And drinking tea at leisure. The first holiday they have ever had. I'm so glad I got to be a part of it.

Ibra's father called every morning and eventually called them back a couple of days early. Maybe he was getting nervous they wouldn't want to return, what with limitless hot water, entertainment, endless supplies of tea and a little grand-baby.

The bibis left feeling ever-so-proud of their son who had managed to learn so many valuable things in the city, including how to cook and take care of a baby. These are very abnormal skills for a Maasai man.