Thursday, September 29, 2011

Past and Present

It’s been quite a while since I last wrote a blog entry, but I think it’s only because this place is becoming more of a home and less of a novelty. It’s a very good thing, I can feel it. The days fly by- mornings are always busy with running or Swahili lesson or hopping over to a market somewhere, then the days pass by all too quickly with students coming in and out of my room back to back, then suddenly it’s evening and perhaps I have something to go out and do or cook. Then all of the sudden, I’m back at home ready to crash in my bed! Monday starts and before I know it, it’s Wednesday night which means Thursday’s basically here which means Friday’s basically here which means it’s time to get ready for teaching on Saturday which means it’s time to get ready to do all of the other stuff we need to on Sunday which means BAM it’s Monday again!! You see how the time passes so quickly. And here it is, already near October.

It finally felt strange to me today, thinking about October arriving. It’s warm here and getting warmer and more beautiful each day. How odd it seems to know that the fall colors are just arriving back home and people are beginning to smell the first autumn breeze. I know my university campus must be gorgeous about this time, or maybe in a few weeks all of those gold and orange leaves will fall into deep, soft piles all around campus. When I think of that difference, only then do I begin to feel so far away. It doesn’t bother me… it is only a strange phenomenon to feel so at home so far away from my old home.

Last semester at Vanderbilt I made audio recordings of some of my private lessons with composition teachers, my organ teacher, and some conversations with friends. I listened to a few of them tonight and it spurred so many strange thoughts. In one of the conversations with a professor, he asked me what my plans for next year were. The conversation was recorded in mid April and I told him, “oh I have no idea! Nothing’s certain. I could be in Africa, France, Haiti, or Costa Rica.” He laughs and I laugh at myself now. It seems so recently, that lesson and that room … yet, I knew nothing of what I know now! What incredible adventures last summer held and the people I met who I’ll never forget. This job and the people here and the new language I’m learning… none of it was a part of me then.

It was quite dizzying, listening to that recorded conversation from Blair School of Music, because I would be listening to the vivid voice of my teacher and then suddenly a local Tanzanian dog would start barking. It felt a bit like how it feels to play organ—when your brain divides into several pieces at once and seems confusing only when you focus on what your brain is actually doing. Hearing these sounds from Blair and from Tanzania mix together… it was disorienting. The two places seem beyond distant. They are of different worlds.

I wanted to listen back to my lesson because I feel that I have forgotten what it was like when I was a student… only a few months ago! It’s a bit intoxicating to be a teacher every day, to be giving diligent advice to students, to hear yourself spouting out tips and demands-- the same that so many have given me over the years! I wish I could remember when and where I learned each bit of information I now offer my students, for it all just seems to come out, and from where I don’t know. When I listen to the recordings of my lessons at Vandy, though, I know that I miss that. The challenge and stimulation and thrill of grasping something new, taking hold of a better form of art. All I can say is that I feel so lucky to have been able to study art and music and life!! I’m realizing that transitioning out of college is learning how to keep learning in every day in life.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Umoja Ensemble

This friday Tiana, and David and I kicked off this year's work with Umoja Ensemble- we work in two schools teaching two classes percussion and singing. I'll really just let the video speak for itself. It was awesome.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Safari weekend!

My GOODNESS, what an incredible weekend we had. I’m going to try to list and describe all of the things that made the past few days so memorable and beautiful!

Friday: Another good teaching day that ended with me and Alison going for a tough but good evening run through the coffee fields. The setting sun and misty Mt. Meru made for a beautiful backdrop. We changed, hopped in a cab, and went to meet a bunch of great new friends at a lovely outdoor restaurant. The cool air, delicious wine, and great company made for such a relaxing evening. After dinner, a few of us went on to meet more new friends at a small, yet hoppin’, bar called Lively Lady. That was where I started to lose my voice as I shouted over the loud crowd and music. I headed home late and slept well.

Saturday: We started our morning with a Swahili lesson with Mike. Things are progressing nicely in the lessons, but there sure are a lot of words and rules to learn! I tell people “nina soma Kiswahili…pole pole..” that means I’m learning Swahili… slowly… haha. Then it was off to the community church where we were going to meet our Umoja outreach students who we will there on Saturdays! It was so terrific to meet all of these adorable little Tanzanians and their very dedicated mothers. It’s a real sacrifice these moms are making to get their kids some music lessons: missing work, making accommodations to get transport, taking time out of their already work-filled days. I hope we can serve them well. We heard the kids each play a song they had learned in their lessons last year and then we all performed twinkle twinkle together- guitar, violin, singing, piano! I have 3 piano students and 1 flute student in the outreach program.

I then immediately headed out to get my hair cut by a local guy who has quite a reputation in Arusha. Sure enough, as soon as I walked in, I (and every one in the shop) was offered an orange slice, salt, and a tequila shot! Don’t worry, he wasn’t drunk as he cut my hair. We had a lot of laughs as his shop cats purred at my fee.t He just took off a few inches of my hair and I feel a little bit lighter—less to keep clean, at least. Haha! I met up with Alison and Mike for coffee after that, and then Alison and I took off to perform with a band at a private party. The party was actually at the home of a couple of my piano students, so a lot of our music students were there! We performed with David (Umoja guitar teacher) a woman named Momma-C who can flat out sing with some soul!! (she was an active member of the black Panther party for a long time and has led quite an interesting life!) Then there was a great drummer and terrific bassist. Oh man, it was SO much fun as we basically jammed and improvised through a lot of songs, rhythms, and new improvisations for hours into the night. The view at this house was spectacular as well. There I stood, rockin’ out on the piano with fabulous music and people surrounding me, overlooking the green tropical hills of rural Arusha. I just had to smile. It’s one of those moments when you just kind of stop and say to yourself: “how did I get so lucky? And how on earth did I get HERE?!” There was lots of loud music and talking at the party, so my voice continued to lose its strength.

Sunday: Safari day!!! I woke up at 5:30am and found that my voice was indeed mostly scratchy whispers. Yuk! But, we were off to Tarangeri National Park for a Safari with our new friends Anne, Simone, Katie, and Cameron. They are all working here for a range of 1 month-2 months as medical students, seeing how the hospital here in Arusha works. They tell us very interesting stories about the power going out in mid-surgery here and how everyone just flips on their head lamps and keeps going! They’re all such terrific people and MAN did we laugh a lot on our safari. We left by 6:30am and arrived in Tarangeri at about 8:30 am (oh.. after fixing a flat tired that popped on the way to the park!) We saw so many amazing animals, but the best was getting to see a lioness sunbathing right in front of us as elephants passed in between.

I’ll let some of the photos and video speak for itself! We had a safari jeep whose roof opened up so we could stand up, feel the wind on our faces, and really see a 360 degree view of the animals. Amazing. There were so many moments when I found myself just standing there, smiling, feeling absolute bliss and comfort. I don’t know how I got so lucky, but I am more than thankful for it.

At the end of the day, we were quite tired, but still wanted to get dinner together when we got back to Arusha that evening. We had wonderful Ethiopian food and then headed back to their house for drinks and music.

I returned to work today without a voice.. haha.. lessons were interesting! But feeling soo rejuvenated and happy about life.

There should be a new video appearing at the top of this blog showing out Safari adventure, but here’s the youtube link if you’d like to see it directly:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I will paint the scene

First off-- there's a new video! Check the top of this blog under the words "My life in Tanzania." It should be the video on the far left box.

Now, I feel like I've been writing about a lot of very trivial events and failing to mention the more emotional elements of my day. I wrote some poetry and prose recently in my journal, so I thought I would copy them here. The first is a poem and the second is just me writing about myself in third person. Someone looking down at my world one night. Hope you enjoy.

Take me


A surging wave of wind and dust thrusts against these walls

And seems to mock my stormy mind with boastful crests and falls

Reminds me still that nothing’s still and will steal me from my aim

Demands my mind to change its pace and wonder from where it came

Is this a new deep breath of air that should freeze me once again?

Is this that born trust of unfamiliar who, looking back, shall be a friend?

Fatigue fills my eyes and hair; I breathe, slow-soft and calm.

I see it now: we shall never arrive... and life ebbs slowly on,

With an always-desire, always-need to fill a bottomless bowl—

Embracing this nature, I open myself and hush my breath amidst this lull

Silent, though, I remain, I burst internally—

Shouting to the universe (I shudder)… again, here please, take me.


I will paint the scene: a young woman with gently worn makeup, disheveled hair, and weary yet contently heavy eyes lies tucked beneath warm blankets, beneath a silvery billowing mosquito net, beneath sturdy and dusty walls, beneath the bright stars and full moon of an Arusha night sky. She lies in complete comfort, surrounded only by the light of her small burning flashlight, writing easily in her journal and absorbing the cool smooth music of Arvo Part. The silky and clear voices of a choir build and bellow into her ears, causing her to often pause and close her eyes to feel the fullness and sinew of the voices and echoes. Outside, an occasional wind builds and impresses its power against the strong walls and flittering tree leaves, while dogs announce their news in always-distant rough barks and howls. A full belly rests within the girl, and a full heart, holding memories, questions, and faint worries. Her mind quickly weaves between desires of an understanding and an understanding that so much should not be understood now. Listen to the voices. Wake up. Seize. Do not worry. Breathe. The wind, just then. All of these speak to her. And how she wishes that each person had a purpose and knew it well.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


I got bored after practicing tonight so I thought I would offer you all a different perspective into the little details that make my life so great here in Arusha. I went around and with my camera’s macro-lens I captured close shot of some important material objects. See if you can guess what each item is before reading their descriptions below. [not too much to report otherwise- just working hard, running, learning Swahili, and practicing!]

    1. My wooden mask—Liza gave this to me from her house and I have it hanging on my wall to greet me each time I come home
    2. Jug o hugs—given to me by my dear friend, Martha, it sits on my bedside table and I smile every time I look at it
    3. My airtell modem—this little guy goes into my computer so I can have internet and talk to you all! Where would we be without portable modems, ay?
    4. My violin—notice there’s no dust on it, since I practice it alllll the time… hehe.. or I should, at least!
    5. Swahili book—one of the several books Alison and I use to help our Swahili lessons we’re taking each week. Ninafanya kazi! We’re doing work! Haha, simple Swahili that I know.
    6. Jeeves and Wooster DVD’s – you ever read/seen this series? Tristan introduced me to it last summer, but when we moved in I noticed that Thembi had the whole collection! I’ve been vegging out on it a little bit every other day I think. It’s pretty dang funny
    7. Sesame and honey bar—these sweet treats are quickly becoming a must-have in our house hold. Yummm
    8. Our ‘kitty’ (british term for jar??)—we collect a bit of extra money in it each week so that Amena can go out and buy us fresh fruits, veggies, and milk.
    9. Fresh avocado, yes?—When this puppy gets ripe we’ll blend her up for some delicious fresh guacamole!
    10. Paka, our cat, of course—here she is fighting my camera string. Of course, a cat is an every-house-hold-must-have in my opinion! J

    Monday, September 5, 2011

    A Dane, Croatian, Candian, and American walk into an Indian Restaurant in Tanzania…

    A good start to some joke, ay? Well, Alison pointed out the humor in this scene when it occurred just last Wednesday! We were very lucky to hear a delightful performance by Croatian pianist Vatroslav Vudjan that night. He performed a number of Baroque, Classical, and Romantic works on the piano at the church where I teach each Saturday! People make quite a big deal out of this piano, too, seeing as how it may very well be the only working, in-tune baby-grand piano in Arusha! It was so nice to hear some Bach in the midst of this Arusha craziness! After the concert, one of the women who helped organize it took me, Alison, and Vatroslav out to dinner at a terrific Indian restaurant! It was great talking to the pianist and hearing all about the interesting ways of the Croatian music education system works. Sounds pretty great! I then asked him if he was familiar with some pretty famous American composers—he had not heard of quite a few of them! But, he then educated me on the famous Croatian composers that I aught to know: Dora Pejaoevic, Iva Zajc, Fran, Lhotka, Boris Papandopulo, Blagoje Bersa, just to name a few! (check them out for yourself and let me know!)

    Another great work week interspersed with our first couple of Swahili lessons and more running in the coffee fields! I feel like we will get to be pretty good with Swahili in not too long! Maybe by the end of the year I’ll do a blog in Swahili?? Haha... only being hopeful!

    I’ve been hearing some interesting and new excuses from students concerning why they haven’t been able to practice: no electricity. Seeing as how it’s quite difficult to get a piano here, most parents buy their kids electric keyboards. Yuk, not ideal, but I can understand their reasons. BUT, it’s quite usual for houses here to have only a few hours of electricity each day, so when the power’s out- no practicing can be done. One student came in and told me she didn’t practice on her piano, but she did practice on hermoms Ipad….!!! Oh, technology will save us or kills us, I swear.

    The only thing that’s really kind of bugged me about Tanzania so far is the amount of dust that’s here during the dry season! I keep sneezing, and when we go running, the dust seeps entirely through my socks and shoes!! My feet after a run-- is this totally gross?! haha! its only dust I swear!

    Life could be worse, I’ll tell you that much! It’s a beautiful Saturday here and Alison and I are going to a friend’s house for dinner (a woman from Tennessee, no less!), then out for fondue with some friends!

    Here, I'll leave you with a prettier picture than my feet: Mt. Meru on our drive home!

    Thursday, September 1, 2011

    Home Tour

    I made a video tour of our trip from work to home! Check at the top of this page under the title "My Life in Tanzania"-- it will be one of the three images! Enjoy!