December 9, 2009

The Japanese Housewife.

I just completed a month-long introductory Swahili course. The class consisted of Musa, our gregarious Tanzanian teacher, a Japanese housewife married to a JICA “expert,” and myself.

Musa is an extremely dynamic teacher, willing to make a spectacle of himself to elucidate a point lost on his kingergarten-level apprentices. His toothy, boyish grin reveals deep dimples that alight his face. He has a larger than life personality. Wherever he goes, an entourage follows suit. I quickly recognized I had much to learn from this character.

The Japanese housewife dually embraced her Swahili studies with fervor, however she failed to adopt a mutally shared sense of respect for our teacher. She described her worldly travels on the heels of her husband’s career pursuits with a sense of accomplishment. His unspecified expertise had opened doors for them all around the world, and we soon discovered Spanish was our strongest shared language. Her leisurely pursuits represented a broad range of atheletic, culinary and inebriating activities. Cultural exchange and understanding were not part of this illustrative line up.

Musa had a penchant for showing up several minutes to class each day. She greeted him daily by rolling her eyes, tapping her watch, and practicing her newly acquired Swahili skills to inform him just how late he was. Her bags were often packed and she was out the door promptly when the class “finished” despite Musa’s attempts to make up for lost time.

Given his back-to-back schedule of Swahili classes over the course of day, he was often squeezing in meals between classes or, at times, would even have a meal delivered to the classroom so as to not miss instruction time. Her distaste for this was palatable as she would chide and make disparaging remarks to me in Spanish about his bad behaviors and poor eating habits.

One day, Musa and I got sidetracked from our daily lesson talking about Tanzanian customs around weddings and funerals. Following several minutes of lively and enlightening discussion, the Japanese housewife looks up and blythely asks, “Are you two finished, yet?”

And so it seems we had very different aims with undertaking a course of language study. She took seriously mastering numbers and bargaining with the stated intention of capitalizing on these skills to purchase fresh fish at the best price possible from the market and prepare sashimi for her husband each night in their over-priced ex-pat home in an upscale neighborhood.

Baby in a Kanga.

Footwear of Choice.

Boys on a Bicycle.

Women Fishing in a Village.

Girl under a Tree.

My Perch.

I have adopted the front balcony as my most cherished spot in my new “home” away from home. It overlooks a dirt road with confetti-like remnants of plastic trash strewn about. In the evening, large jet-black crows circle overhead in a frenzied manner, feverishly communicating in a language to which I am not privy. The sky is filled with a mesmerizing mix of cobalt and indigo blue interrupted by thin streaks of clouds and splashes of orange from the setting sun. People walk by and sometimes stare in wonder at the white girl perched on the balcony above. Neighbors from the presumably cramped living quarters across the way pour out onto the street to take in their daily dose of gossip and idle chitchat before dark falls. The unhurried pace on the street level foils my hasty attempts to become a ready expert in the inner workings of Tanzanian life and culture.

November 15, 2009

Party Barge.

It appears the music video for the Silver Jew's song Party Barge was deleted from youtube. I heartily recommend purchasing this worthy album for yourself. Here is a thoughtful review of the Silver Jew's album Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, which includes the song Party Barge:

November 4, 2009

Girl with a Camera.

For this post I will borrow words from someone much more eloquent than I. Aidan Hartley, a frontline reporter who covered the atrocities of 1990s Africa, wrote a book called The Zanzibar Chest. A truly captivating book. He writes:

I often wondered why this girl with her necklace of cameras and rucksack had abandoned America so young to come to my home to take photographs. She came from a family of preachers and eye doctors and somehow this ancestry seemed to combine in a young woman who captured with her lens images that told stories of good and evil. I remembered that in Africa some tribes used to believe that a camera is a box with which to capture souls.

Remembering Lizzie's life as a photographer, I am reminded of how "dark" is an epithet that completely fails to describe Africa. Africa is bathed in light, and it's the mornings you recall more than the nights with their noises and vague fears. Lizzie chased the light, rising before dawn, waiting for sunrise, capturing color and shadow, black faces with their depth and warmth, trapping the crescendo of light on film before watching heat leach out all the hues and contrasts, the would become two-dimensional, and faces turn black, blinded by the sun. Long before noon Lizzie used to come back to find me wherever I was and rest until the sun sank; color returned and she went off to capture images of the fading day. At evening, the light had such depth that one could observe the incredible detail of things, as if the continent was made of liquid glass. It peaked, then she put away her camera and settled down to watch as the orange ball of the sun melted into the horizon; all sense of space and distance vanished in seconds. In East Africa darkness falls like a black velvet curtain, and almost before you can adjust you look up to see the moon and wheel of constellations.

Sweaty hands.

I just passed a man in the street carefully inspecting and scrutinizing his hand. It was only upon passing him and glancing in the direction of his hand that I understood what he was attempting. He was trying to make out a phone number he had written on his hand for later use.

Note to self: Do not write notes to self on sweaty hands in hot and humid African climate.

November 3, 2009

Sleepless and Showerless in Moshi.

On my last night in Moshi, I was awoken to the sound of rain clamoring on the rooftop and the torrential sound of water cascading off the rooftop. For that night, I remained sleepless in Moshi.

It seems the rain disturbed more than my personal nighttime pattern, as I was greeted the next morning to this guy seeking refuge from the rain in my shower. He won, I went showerless in Moshi.

Interestingly, this validated my decision to embrace the practical functionality of the mosquito net provided to me in my room. Strange Victory.

Primary Colors.

October 30, 2009

Mosquito Nets.

Arguably the most decorative facet of my hotel room in Moshi is the mosquito net tied into a neat bundle over my single bed frame home to a rather thin and unforgiving mattress. The first night here, following 36 hours of travel between 1 cab, three airplanes, 1 people mover, and 1 land cruiser, I crashed into bed succumbing to the functional rather than decorative use of the mosquito net mainly born out of a fear of unknown African creepy crawly things that may be lurking in the darkness.

My second night here following a distracted afternoon gazing at Mount Kilimanjaro, I crawled into bed with approximately 27 mosquito bites covering my ankles and wrists as evidence of my distracted, jet lagged state. Again I looked to the functional purpose of the mosquito netting, only to awoken moments later by the telltale, deafening buzz of a mosquito.

This brought on a range of emotions.

Confusion: Am I hearing this from inside or outside of the mosquito netting?
Fear: Is that bugger carrying malaria or not?
Relief: Sustained silence.
Doubt: Is he gone? Are they nocturnal?
Defeat: Buzz. BUZZ. Even louder than before.
Resignation: This will be a sleepless night.

Strange defeat.

About the Title of this Blog.

I married the love of my life on September 11, 2009. Much to our pleasant surprise, President Obama commemorated this date by naming it a Day of National Service. It seems we were not the only people trying to positively transcend the significance of this day beyond doom and gloom.

Through a simple civil ceremony at the DC Courthouse, we were legally conferred the titles of husband and wife graduating up from the youthful titles of boyfriend and girlfriend and graduating away from the gender ambiguous titles partners. It became quickly apparent the state holds a pronounced preference for the former title, as we were greeted with an onslaught of newly conferred benefits from the state, irrespective of our uninterrupted feelings for each other as we moved seamlessly from boyfriend and girlfriend to husband and wife.

Strange Victory.

Less than 7 weeks after the date of our marriage and legal union, I left the country to pursue an opportunity in Tanzania made possible to me through generous fellowship funding from the U.S. Government.

However, apparently the state benefits conferred to those legally wed have limits and boundaries. My husband continues to seek either health care coverage or full-time employment, or both, as the case may be, to join me on this yearlong adventure. And thus, I am here alone until further notice. In the mean time, this blog is designed to provide a medium for me to communicate my experiences in Tanzania to him as well as any other friends and family back home curious to share in my experiences.

Strange Defeat.

And so it seems, life, as aptly described by David Berman, is a series of strange victories and strange defeats. I anticipate this year in Africa too will represent a succession of victories and defeats, ranging from unfamiliar to peculiar to unexpected to extraordinary to mystifying to perplexing, all sharing strange characteristics. I remain hopeful the balance will come up positive, and thus, this blog has been named Strange Victory.

This blog is dedicated to the special someone in my life who gifted me a camera to visually capture my experiences here.

October 29, 2009

Mountain Lookout: View from my hotel room balcony.

My yearlong journey in Tanzania starts at the base of Kilimanjaro, the world’s highest mountain that you can simply walk up. Next stop is Dar Es Salaam, a seaside port town on the Indian Ocean. And with that my blog – Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea – was born.