May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets’ towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkey’s howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches where storms come and go as lightening clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you---beyond that next turning of the canyon walls. ---Edward Abbey (thanks Trudy Hall)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tanzania: A New World in a City with Wedding

Dar Em Salaam by air
November 16--Even the sound and action in the women’s bathroom in the airport is different: Loud, melodic, playful, expressive conversations in Swahili.  The visa charged raised from $50-$100 and we didn’t have the cash on us, so they finally waived us through and said we had to pay on exit.  Nice.  People at the airport followed us around like we were a dog-in-heat: maps, safaris, taxi.

 We got the price we wanted to Jambo Inn and they had upgraded us to an air-conditioned room.  It’s very hot and moist here.  After not sleeping well for two days of air travel, we took a nap, but we wanted to take a walk before dark, so up we got and made our way past the singing of the mosque, people selling fruit, guys with stuff in baskets to sell who shake their money—each to a different rhythm to announce themselves.  It got dark fast, so we went back for a meal and to send some messages via email.  The electricity went out (it was to be out most of the time we were there—so much for air-conditioning, or even a fan, but I remembered from India that this was a normal thing.  No worries.

November 17—we got out and wandered around to find a grocery store and have lunch by the ocean.  We were the only white people on the street, but no one stared or acted like it was unusual, so that put us at ease.  It was hard to find a place in downtown and was gently encouraged out by security. 
Imposter Artists
We sat under a tree and along came two guys who said they were artists from a center in Ilala where they teach boys the arts: dance, music, painting, acrobatics.  They keep them off the streets an active so they’ll be productive artists instead.  They talked about the girls who get pregnant too early and pushed out of school to work with babies on their backs sweeping the streets.  We told them that we couldn’t buy anything--we’d have to carry it—but we’d pay them a 3,000-shilling dance.  They happily obliged and told us about a concert at the French Alliance at 7PM with dance, live music and acrobats.  They said they were performing.  We walked up there, bought some books and coffee and checked out the scene.  Back to the hotel, electricity on, but none in our outlets or air-conditioning.

We were there for the party early, looked at the art and shared a beer and two ravioli-like samosas.  The guy from before, “Rasta” saw us and brought us downstairs where the kids put on a modern dance showing in the gallery.  Sweet.  Then upstairs to listen to two bands—the first had 4 women singers and musicians back up from Nairobi.  It looked to me like 3 sisters and their mother.  Their name was long including Massai Warriors, Gaga, and others.
 Near the last song, there was a man who got up and danced—not too well, and then some others joined him.  It was creepy to see him hit on the women, and fabulous to see how this one FABulous dancer played with him and avoided him.  She was masterful. 
Modern dance

The acrobats  included an older man in GREAT shape.  They tumbled and made towers of men, balanced precariously.  One man was a contortionist.  They always make me cringe and hurt to watch them.  The second band also had a really long name and folks called them the “Buena Vista Social Club of Tanzania.”  They were a 17-piece ensemble with a big highlife sound.  Les immediately jumped up and danced like his body was taken over.  It was beautiful, and folks were drawn to him to dance with.  Even the guys in the band connected with him.  As it turned out, Rasta and Steven George—the artist who taught boys—didn’t perform after all, but they were there.  Party!

Our Neighborhood
Baba Julius, Sue, Deus

November 18—We made arrangements to meet Deus Cosmos, our new host, at the hotel.  He and his friend Julius (Les’s dad’s name is Julius, so we started calling him Les’s papa, though he is 35 years younger) took us what I thought was out of town.  I was surprised how far we went.  The high rises turned into low cement and mud brick buildings, streets into sandy water-filled and pocked roads and we ended up at Cosmos’ home.

Shower and WC
Sunset in the neighborhood
It’s a great place, behind a reception hall.  A series of cement rooms hold about 10 families who share a squat toilet and a room with a drain where you can douse yourself with water, soap up and rinse off as your shower.  Rain fell hard, but still laundry hung in the small spaces between homes.  We talked about his goals for his life.  He has a foundation called the Rafiki Development Foundation, that sounds too big to be true, but he’s making it happen.  It all started when a visiting teacher pushed him to accomplish more when he was young, then an opportunity to work with Jane Goodall’s “Roots and Shoots” program got him interested in the idea to plant what baboons eat up in the forest so that they won’t come down to the farmers and get hurt. 

From his fame with this project, he was sponsored to go to the US, where he learned so much more and came back to Tanzania wanting to better the lives of children and the poor and disabled through all kinds of various projects.  It looks like Cosmos is doing it all the right way, with high powered people with big hearts to support the foundation, and his ideas are solid and doable, which will help the foundation ( Rafiki Development Founation) sustain itself.  VERY cool! 

We dropped off the car and walked through the neighborhood.  I wish I could have taken a video of Les who danced his eccentric dance down the street to the highlife music.  The kids when nuts: laughing and clapping.  He was a STAR!

We went to a shack where a guy cooked pork.  We told him how much and he deep fried it, took out half, and then stir-fried the rest with tomatoes, onion and pepper.  

Hoping to continue to build a church
 Then we went to church!  It was an Assembly of God Pentecostal church who is trying to raise money to build a larger structure for worship.  They have a cement foundation but need more funds to carry on.  The group was small but passionate.  The leaders were formal and we were introduced to the congregation.  Prayer (first for the upcoming marriage, then the country, then for the church and the church building) was ecstatic, tearful, exuberant, and mixed.  I was thinking when our church members pray together, we recite one person’s words in unison.  Here there was one intention for prayer, but everyone got to express it as they saw fit.  I loved loved loved the singing.  One woman played the drum and four women lead the songs; children danced and played around during the whole service.

Les, Sue, Janet
Later, Cosmos and his fiancé Janet cooked up some delicious rice and beans.  Janet’s brother (a singer) came by to say hello, and Cosmos’ aunt Flora Mbasha (I heard her CD and it’s fabulous music) called and said hello.  He gave us his bed (he might have slept in the kitchen?) with a mosquito net over it. Music played all night long, mixed with 5 AM call to prayer.  This is such a cool country.

At the Village Museum: Houses from various regions of Tanzania
November 18—We went to the internet place and I got info about the wedding for tomorrow, and sent off a message to a woman at Oprah Winfrey’s Girls Leadership Academy.  I am so excited about both opportunities.  So the rest of today revolved around getting Les a tie.  Papa/Baba Julius picked us up and we went to the mall.
Julius and Daughter

 We both forgot our ATM cards, so we didn’t last long there.  Ties were expensive too.  So we went back, got our cards, visited where Julius works to get cash, filled the car with gas and found a tie at a local shop where he knew the people. 

Then we went on a wonderful urban safari.  He drove us through street after street, where we bounced along looking at all the beautiful and wonderful people.

At one point, we stopped to greet his brother.  It took a while, but eventually, all the kids in the neighborhood wanted us to take their pictures so they could see themselves frozen in the screen.  It was a cacophony of delighted squeals and jousts to get in front for the photo.  Cute, cute kids. 

The electricity went out when it got dark.

We went to a place to have a drink and watch new college graduates come into a reception.  When Janet came home we went across the street for “chips in your eye:” French fries with egg and sauce.  We sat in the dark street with music blaring until that person’s generator ran out of gas. Home and a dousing shower to flashlight.
November 19—Deus bought an internet card and Julius loaned him a modem so he could work on the internet.  I helped him a little with starting his vitae, and he worked on my computer and listened to the news to find out if the department of mining would be fired because of corruption.  He was happy that they asked the director to step down.
At 2:00 we took the taxi to the enormous Catholic church where Anna was waiting along with her whole family who treated us like stars.  I generally like being in the background, but today it was impossible; people wanted to take photos with us, even though we were just visitors. 
Alice and Anna
Anna and two sisters (daughters of Moses and Elizabeth) are tall, beautiful and graceful women.  The brass band (think New Orleans, not concerto) lead us into the church.  We were among the first families to slowly, slowly two-step in. 

The wedding seemed like a normal Christian wedding except bursts from the band, applause and happy “lalalalalalala” from the women.

The biggest applause was for their first donation to the church as a couple.  Outside was dancing, handkerchief waiving, handshaking, and seeing the couple off in a rose-decorated car. 

Moses was our host.
Sue and Moses
We went to a military area on the Indian Ocean and had a drink next to the beach.  What a charming man!  After dark (7:00?), the place was finally ready--decorated with tiny lights, long lace strips, roses on the covered tables, and a stage where the couple and honored couple sat facing the guests.

 There’s something about the culture of smiling that I don’t quite understand.  When people are in front of a crowd, or getting photos taken, most of the time they don’t smile.  I’m wondering in what situation one smiles here.  It’s not as free and constant as our culture.  Moses said that many people contributed money to the party and that the whole thing wasn’t up to one person.  They still have dowries for the wife.
The Celebration of the Mamas
The party proceeded with lots of ritual: the slow entrance dance of the wedding party, a formal introduction of each close family member (I think we were introduce too?) with a short spurt of music for each, the celebration of the mamas where all the women came out and danced in a circle conga-line-style as individuals moved in the center.  Anna took care to include me in everything.  Pumpkin soup came and Moses had us drinking out of the bowl.
Cake and Goat
After much more action from the master of ceremonies, with a videographer’s light shining brightly at us most of the time, they brought in of the goat (a skinned and cooked whole goat in standing position.)
Feeding the parents
The couple cut then fed each other cake and goat, then processed to each mother and father fed them cake and goat.  It was nearing 9:30 when we processed to the buffet where there were beautiful selections of salads, rices, meat in sauce, flatbread, fruit, goat and cake.  A feast I couldn’t finish!  The after dinner entertainment was two dancers with deformed or lost legs who dance a fast and acrobatic dance.  A procession of people came and gave them money after that. Because we had a flight the next morning, we started our goodbyes about 11:00 and missed the giving of gifts to Anna’s uncle and new aunt.  Wow, Anna gave us one amazing gift!  One of my favorite people was the groom’s mother, who hugged me and danced with me as a good bye.  She was about 4’3” and adorable with the warmest smile.  Another woman loved encouraging Les do the Lalalalalala that the women do.

Moses was an endearing and attentive, graceful, handsome and loved father.  Of course the electricity went out during the reception and on the ride home.
Don’t forget: 
  • ·      Ditches with rickety bridges crossing
  • ·      Colorful women with something on their heads: 5 crates of eggs, or basket, or bucket of H2O
  • ·      Cement school with English letters graffiti’d and uniformed kids coming out.
  • ·      A woman pulling up a plastic container from two tires that ringed the well next to the road
  • ·      Business as usual in torrential rain or without electricity.
  • ·      Everyone who does business in the street: tailors, passport pictures; would you like some used shoes at your dinner table?
  • ·      The sound is always filled with something loud: TV, music, announcements.

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