October 29, 2010

Hip, hip, horray.

Three cheers for the Birthday Boy!
 Happy Birthday, Andrei! Yes, we are all shocked that you are this much closer to "30". Love.

Photo Credit:
Rob Ross
Black lemur, Nosy Komba, Madagascar

Incidentally, we recently had the pleasure of meeting Rob while passing through Dar es Salaam, en route to the Selous Game Reserve to do a photo shoot for what he hopes to make into an unprecedented photo book covering the entire Selous. I highly encourage you to flip through his online albums, they are simply breath taking.

October 28, 2010

Inspired Fashion.

I have spoken in the past about the importance of the kanga and the kitenge cloths as a centerpiece of Tanzanian dress. One of my favorite pasttimes here continues to be digging through piles and piles of kangas or kitenges in local markets and finding new and inspiring designs, patterns, and sayings. it provides a nice afternoon distraction.
While strong on cultural interest in these traditional cloths, I find that I am short on inspiration to actually do anything useful with them, and as a result, I have piles and piles of kangas and kitenges sitting in my closet not being put to any productive use. As a marked contrast to my own creative design limitations, I am highly impressed with those that can create fashions suitable for Western audiences out of something so basic and traditional. One recent example proved blog-worthy.

Under the brand name, Ole Africa!, a friend of mine has worked in collaboration with a local tailor to create a custom clothing line from kangas and kitenges. The result is wildly impressive.
For more information head here. To place your custom order ahead of the holidays contact her: oleafricadress@gmail.com.

October 16, 2010

Dream Machine.

This one is for you. You know who you are.

Listen and download here.
Cant get enough, look here.
I cant either.

October 15, 2010

Thoughts on Homosexuality.

While polygamy is considered "normal" here and is even sanctioned by Tanzanian law, homosexuality is decidedly not. In Tanzania, sexual acts between men are illegal, carrying a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison. Sexual acts between women are not mentioned in the Penal Code of the Tanzanian mainland. However, in 2004, Zanzibar, which is a semi-autonomous island which is part of Tanzania's territory, enacted a law criminalizing female homosexual acts as well, punishable by the same prison term length that men face for homosexual acts in Zanzibar - a maximum of five years. While these laws are "on the books," these laws are rarely enforced, Amnesty International reports that no arrests have been made due to homosexuality in Tanzania or Zanzibar since 2004.

While that is encouraging news for some, or perhaps just further evidence of Tanzania's notoriously weak law enforcement and judicial systems, this hardly matters in terms of the active discrimination the homosexual community faces here. In Tanzania, gays and lesbians are violently persecuted, mistreated, hated, and ostracized. A World Bank-supported working paper entitled Sexual Minorities, Violence and AIDS in Africa reports that homosexuals in Tanzania run a high risk of experiencing violence and intolerance. In my office, well educated colleagues compared homosexuals to cockroaches, citing fear that homosexuality is "contagious" and that they actively seek to "convert" young boys into becoming homosexuals. In a training exercise in which we were asked to explore our own values as staff members before carrying highly sensitive sexual reproductive health messaging into communities, we were asked to take a stand of agreement or disagreement with the following statement by standing on one side of the room or the other, "Homosexuality can be normal." Two of us gathered on one side of the room, we just so happened to be the only two Westerners in the room, there were 14 people on the other side of the room, all Tanzanians. The conversation that ensued was divisive and loaded with emotion. There was no convincing one side or the other of the merits of each respective stance, but then again that was not necessarily the point of the exercise. In the end, I realize  certain sexual practices should be viewed within a culturally relative lens and state of mind, however I often find myself wondering when, if ever, is it ok to label certain modes of thinking as "wrong"? It can be emotionally taxing that I am expected to tacitly accept sexual practices my own value system and culture otherwise deem as "deviant" but at the same time accept extremely offensive claims about another form of sexual preference, dare I say, deviance.


Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Tanzania: Treatment of homosexuals
by society and government authorities; recourse and protection available to
homosexuals who have been subject to ill treatment (2005 - January 2007)., 2
April 2007. TZA102434.E. Online. UNHCR Refworld, available at:
[accessed 13 November 2007]

October 12, 2010

Thoughts on Polygamy.

A recent attention-grabbing headline in African news on CNN read, "Kenyan polygamist with 100 wives dies." According to the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, Ancentus Akuku, known for marrying 100 wives and reportedly had over 160 children, died at the ripe age of 90"something". This notorious Kenyan man was nicknamed "Danger" because of his alleged charm and ability to woo women. His family was so large, he built a church and a school for them in the western town of Kisumu, and Akuku himself admitted that the size of his extended family made it impossible to keep track of them. Akuku married his first wife in 1939 and his last wife in 1992, and had reportedly divorced as many as 30 wives during this time.

Although polygamy was the norm in Kenya during Akuku's time, the article cites that this practice has died out over the years. To whatever extent that claim is true in Kenya, this practice decidedly persists in Tanzania. We have seem many, many examples of polygamous marriages during our time here. Not only does polygamy continue to happen on an informal basis, it is actually sanctioned by Tanzanian law. Upon registration, a marriage license must be filed according to one of three classifications: polygamous, potentially polygamous, or monogamous. Incidentally any declared status can be "converted" to polygamous or monogamous by joint declaration at any time. As it exists, polygamous relationships are permitted only with the consent of the first wife, in fact maintenance of the other wives becomes the first wife's duty in cases where the husband is incapacitated or otherwise unable to earn a living. Given that Islamic law allows for men to take up to four wives, it is presumed that all Muslim marriages are polygamous or potentially polygamous unless proved otherwise, and Christian marriages are the reverse. A man is only allowed to take a second or third or even fourth wife provided that he can "afford" to support them, therefore polygamy is often a defacto status symbol, indicating great wealth.

This past weekend we were hanging out in South Beach with a newfound friend, Shannon, otherwise known as The Kristen Replacement, and were greeted with swarming numbers of Pakistani naval officers on shore leave. They approached Andrei in a steadfast manner and invited him for a friendly chat by the poolside. He got up to join them alone. Shannon and I were more than content to continue drinking our beers by the bar. No no, they beckoned, everybody should come. By the poolside Andrei explained, these are both my wives - Wife #1 and Wife #2. This statement received barely scant notice and jovial conversation continued. Once their rudimentary English skills had run their course, they asked to take a group picture with us and then politely excused themselves for further exploration. As they walked away one man looked back and with a wink and nod of the head he remarked, "You are a very lucky man to have two wives."

And so it seems, sometimes the path of least resistance, in terms of explaining away circumstances, is the most amenable and easily understood mode of communication, especially when working across such varied and value laden cultural norms.




October 8, 2010

Jesus for Sale in Mombasa, Kenya.

This picture was taken on the downtown streets of Mombasa amidst swirling and festive Eid celebrations. Go figure.

The Loss Felt Round the World.

The Kristen Replacement.

Cart O' Italian Delight in Zanzibar.

Back by Popular Demand.

Following a blogging break in which I was inexplicably busy with tropical paradise and all of its pitfalls, I am back. Apologies for such an unwarranted break.