Thursday, December 13, 2012

A New Normal


A week ago, I was walking along the road on my way back from Saturday work at the church and I suddenly stopped. In front of me there stood a normal-size house with a small square green front lawn. It completely baffled me, and then I felt more confused wondering why it had. I’m sure it seemed strange that a lone mzungu was just standing in the middle of the street staring at a random house, but I lingered to inspect the scene more. I looked around and noticed that there was freshly turned dirt along the border of the lawn and on the side rested old metal and bricks- the remnants of their wall of fencing. It slowly came into clearer focus why this was all so interesting: the house looked like any house on any street back home in the US. Just there, unprotected by any wall or fence. I could actually see its green lawn and small shrub of pink flowers, which was what had confused me first. A green lawn instead of dirt or cement or mud. But I have a green lawn in my little plot around my house, so why was this different? Because I could see it. Every house here sits behind tall walls of security and secrecy. Either that or it will be a house made of mud, cardboard, or dung. A house with cement floors, however, well that’s worth protecting from peeping and hungry eyes. This house had nothing to hide behind while they were repairing its walls. “Imagine that,” I thought, “A house with a little lawn just sitting for everyone to see…. Just like at home.”

A week ago, the rains really started. I’ve been training to run a 5k, however, so as I stared out the windows of my warm cozy music room I considered the pros and cons of running in the heavy rain that afternoon.  “Common, just do it!” my audacious piano student urged me, knowing I had been training and knowing what was going through my mind at that moment. So, after her lesson I tied up my shoes and splashed into the wet grass and mud. By my fifth lap around the track I was feeling thirsty, so I randomly opened my mouth to the heavens to get a taste of rain. But suddenly I stopped myself, and then I had to stop and wonder why I stopped myself. Well, the water here is often not safe for me to drink- the water from the river, the water from the tap, the water from the shower. I remember back home in the US sometimes I would drink the water falling down from above in the shower. Maybe this is odd, I have no idea, as I’ve never really discussed it with any one. But at least you know that if you accidentally get some water in your mouth it’s not a big deal. But here, when in the shower, I keep my mouth closed tight because I don’t want to end up not feeling well from the water. So as I stood in my grey, damp clothes in the rain, I thought what a sad thing it is that my instinct is to assume the fresh rain toxic. And then I thought… isn’t this something? This clean water leaves its burdened cloud, plummets for miles in the sky clean and pure, and the moment it hits the earth here, it becomes septic. But, as I opened my mouth once again and felt the rain on my face, I decided I would at least get to save a few of these clean drops.

If you haven’t seen this awesome video from the fabulous Bienmoyo Foundation and the song that I wrote for them, please check it out:

In other news, I go home for Christmas on Wednesday and I couldn’t be more excited.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A little Americana?

Nov 7th, 2012

At our Obama Inauguration Party (~ 4:30am)

               Today felt different. Today, I looked in the mirror at myself differently, held my gait differently, categorized myself differently, and for the first time since I’ve come to Tanzania, I mentally excluded myself apart from everyone else on the street. Today, I didn’t try to wear a long dress that covered my knees in the heat of a blazing sun; and when I passed through the raucous marketplace and dove into the smokey pool of daladalas, I did not try to hide myself in the crowd. I didn’t try to conceal any smug smile that might cross my face, and I didn’t ignore the obvious staring of the man sitting next to me on the bus, but instead confronted him on it. For just one day, I resumed a part of my old identity that I haven’t felt in a long while, because today in my mind, I was an American.
                Around 3:30am this morning, seven friends and I awoke to head to a sportsbar where we had requested a special screening of CNN election coverage, breakfast, and champagne. At 4am, a couple of us walked into the bar and my face lit up as I heard the first sounds of Anderson Cooper’s voice. The pumping, energetic music being unsubtly featured on top of Wolf Blitzer’s frenzied voice was refreshingly exciting, thrillingly fast-paced, and gave the same sense of anticipation as one walking into a huge cheering stadium just before a football game. From 4-7am, the group of us proudly obnoxious Americans cheered and booed as states were declared, played a game of pool, shared our political knowledge and opinions, and enjoyed spontaneous cups of beer far too early (or too late?) for common sense. When we left the sports bar in the bright morning sun, I felt a sense that I had been there for hours and hours, maybe days. And why was I suddenly at a sportsbar in day light?!
                So, when I went home, took a shower, and then a 2 hr nap, it was time to do the daily rigmarole of figuring out an outfit appropriate for the streets and for the weather and for teaching. I have these cache long shorts that don’t quite cover my knees, and usually they’re a bit too risqué for the dala ride. So, I instead put on a pair of long trousers, stepped outside and set, “ah screw it!” – yes, today, for some odd reason, I stopped caring if I was starred at or if I stood out! It was my election day and the man that I voted for twice had just won the election. It was my turn to be proud. I know it seems ridiculous, ok my form of protest was shorts riding just barely above my knees, but it is the principal—it was the mentality that I wore on my sleeve. (or pants leg, for that matter)
                I took out some chewing gum and smacked it loudly (sorry, mom), blowing bubbles as I walked in the street. Oh man, I even wore my sunglasses!! I never do this… I’m not sure why, I think because it’s just one more item that most Tanzanians (especially women) are never found to be wearing. But, well the sun was shining and there were my sunglasses in my pocket. So imagine a hipster Dani, smugly strollin’ through the daladala stand with her hands in her pockets and blowin’ bubbles with her gum. Well, that was the scene and it was glorious because I didn’t care one bit!
                We Americans are such a strange breed of people. We’re such an amalgam of so many cultures, we just don’t realize it! And, in only 200 years, we have grown into a nation of proud and passionate people that stick out everywhere we go. Last night, Millie (my English roommate) sighed, “I just don’t see how you can get so excited about an election!” and I smiled. When did I become so passionate about my country? Well, once I realized how ridiculously incredible of a country it is, I suppose.
Last night Obama said a couple of things in his victory speech which I really liked. The first was “We believe in a generous America, a compassionate America, in a tolerant America…” My gosh, how truly that resonates in me. It’s the tolerance of difference, of uniqueness, that I miss so much here in Tanzania. Obama said, “What makes America exceptional is the bond that holds together the most diverse nation on Earth.” Even now, I nod my head in agreement, and with pride. So that’s why I wanted to stand out today: well, it may sound cheesy, but I really believe that it was because I wanted to remember that I come from a place where difference is celebrated, where being weird isn't all that weird at all. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

thinking, not writing

I realized today why I haven't been blogging much this year at all. For one, I've forgotten that my life here is not the typical life for everyone everywhere and that it might be of interest to anyone back home. Secondly, I’m busy and my internet is pretty much crap all the time now. Third, because I just haven't felt like sharing much lately- not quite sure why. But, I've been thinking a lot. All the time I'm thinking, evaluating, trying to deduce equations in my mind. For example, why the prospect of doing 2 small tasks becomes doing 5 bigger tasks here. 1 + 1 = 5 (TIA)**

**TIA, for those who don't know, is an acronym many people use here. This Is Africa. I suppose it's not very nice, but sometimes you just need a mantra like that to get through doing something that shouldn't be as difficult or slow as it is. So, this is a new year, and perhaps you're wondering, what does dani do most of the time? Here's a typical day for me:

Wake up at either 6am to go for a jog around a large, dusty outdoor basketball court and football field (soccer) or at 8am to have a leisurely breakfast. My roommate teaches much earlier than I do so she's usually gone when I wake up (unless I run), and home when I return at the end of the day. I then walk up and wait the dala dala (van/bus) from the top of my road, trying to ignore the taxi drivers who are also parked there waiting for customers. They usually accost me in some way, though I think they've gotten used to me. As I leave my house to walk up that hill, I often greet one of three people: either Daniel, the guy who works at the little general-goods stand across from my house, Irene, a little girl who lives in my neighborhood who speaks great English and is somehow always around when I walk in my neighborhood, or the pikipiki guys (motorcycle taxi drivers) who call me "Mayai"-- see previous blog entry for this explanation. Once I've crammed into a dala dala, we ride just a few blocks to get to the main dala dala stand. I do the same thing each time I get out of that first daladala to transfer to the next: I wipe any smile off my face (gotta look tough, you know!), throw my backpack over one shoulder and then the next, and look straight ahead, no eye contact- looking like I know exactly where I'm going (toward the other line of daladalas), but actually just hoping that I hear the word "kisongo, kisongo"-- kisongo is where I'm going and you find the bus that you want by listening for the name of the final destination  of the daladala. When I hear the sharp "sss" shouted from the word "kisongo" I feel a sense of relief, knowing that I don't have to make myself slightly more vulnerable by asking "wapi kisongo?" (where’s the kisongo bus). In that bus stand, I try to avoid talking at all costs, so as to draw less attention to myself. This is, I know, all in vain. For I am mzungu and all eyes are on me.

But, I've arrived in the 2nd daladala and now I have my choice of nice seats next to the window. We want this window seat because when you get 20 people inside that van, it's hot. But, there's another risk in grabbing the window seat. You have to be ready to close the sliding plastic window at any moment, because if an obnoxious person notices you're mzungu in the daladala, they'll probably b-line it over to the window and try to strike up some asinine conversation just to flirt with you or get you to buy some candy or chips that they’re selling. Ok, so now the dala dala is fairly full and the driver starts honking his horn to let the conductor (guy who’s shouting ‘kisongo’, and whose job it is to gather customers on the bus, know that it’s time to get moving. BANG BANG BANG, the conductor almost always hits his fist into side of the daladala telling the driver, “just wait, some more customers are coming.” It seems always to be a bit of a power struggle between these two men. The driver wants to go, the conductor wants to wait for more customers. Eventually, almost always, the driver gets fed up and starts rolling, without the conductor in the bus. But, miraculously, even when the bus is really moving at a good speed, the conductor runs, catches up with the bus, and hops in the wide-open door. Once inside, he closes the door and sticks his head out the window to continue shouting “kisongo!”  I’m always slightly concerned for the conductors because they really do have to run between other moving vehicles or people to jump into the bus. I’ve never seen anyone not make it into the bus or trip, but once I did almost see a conductor get squished between another parked daladala. Phew. That made every one laugh at the time.

Now’s the easy part, just sit back, stay quiet, take your money out of your pocket and wait about 20 minutes through traffic and picking up other customers until you’ve gotten out of the city and then we’re really rolling. My work is a bit of ways out of town but once you leave the disgustingly polluted streets of Arusha-proper, you become immediately surrounded by lush green coffee fields interspersed with tall trees and white flowers. You fly through this coffee forest and suddenly emerge out of it to find yourself surrounded by wide open, and often dusty, fields. On my right, they stretch far until they hit the foothills of Mt. Meru and then, there’s the mountain herself. It’s a beautiful view. This morning, I watched several hawks soaring high, searching for prey, there in front of the mountain. The rains are coming, too (It’s about time, my gosh it’s so dusty here) and the mountain has some snow on her top from the rain that’s falling so high there. There are big grey clouds there in the distance, as well.

As we turn a corner, I see the peaks of some of the classroom buildings from my school and I (even still!) get a small pang of nervousness because I’m about to have to speak and reveal my american-accented swahili to everyone on the bus, many of whom will inevitably look at me. I usually practice saying the word “international” (which stands for international school where I work) in a Swahili accent a few times under my breath before it’s actually time to say the word. Once I’ve said it, I pay my 400 shillings (about 25 US cents) and wait for the bus to stop shortly thereafter. I hop out of the bus which always stops right on this steep little hill, and I have to be careful not to slide down the hill. I cross the street and start to smile at the school’s gate guards, Simon and Neema who are always all-smiles and ready to greet me.

Our greetings go as follows (translation from Swahili)
Hey!  - Hey!
How’s the morning?  - Really good!
How’s your morning? – Really good too!
How’s work? – Great
How’s your family? – great!
How was your weekend? – really nice
Have a good day!
Have a good work!

It’s basically always something like 5 questions that you already know the answer to: great! You can’t be like, “ah man, my day really sucks.” That would cause serious alarm.

Then my work day begins. I start teaching at 12, but I often arrive early to practice or do things like write a rambling blog, as I am doing this morning. I teach 30 minute or hour long lessons in piano, flute, and voice, and then some group classes are interspersed in all of those. At the end of the day, around 6, I walk out and await my taxi driver and dear friend, Jimmy. I choose to take the taxi at the end of the day because, as my roommate and I found out last year, the daladalas are bonkers at evening rush-hour.

If I don’t go out to dinner or to a friend’s house for dinner, I’ll arrive home, first to greet our night Eskari. Eskari means “guard” and our guard’s name is Joeseph. He’s a very friendly older guy who opens  the gate for me, wrapped in enough winter clothes to face a blizzard- even though it’s maybe 60 degrees outside that night. Well, he has to sleep outside and stay awake all night (though we of course all know that most eskaris sleep), his only companionship being a crappy radio. I think I would actually go insane if I ever had the prospect of doing this every night for the rest of my life.  After some cheerful greetings with him and some jokes (he usually asks “where’s my soda”? because I sometimes buy him a coke or something) and our laughter, I continue to the house. This is often to find a very happy Millie who’s cooking or watching a movie in our warm and cozy home. I’m always happy to come home. Nights include practicing music, laughing with Millie, talking to Mom, Dad, or Rafael on the phone, reading, and eating good food.

I’m sorry, it’s all that I have to write today. Just the logistics of what I do each day. Life is good, I feel very very very blessed each day. But, not particularly inspired to write philosophical blogs. You guys will all forgive me, yes?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sorry guys

I.        Have. Not. Written. In. a. very.

Long…

Time.

Why is that? Well, because life is moving so fast and I’m amazed each day as I’m lying in bed and  recognize that yet another day has come and passed. Of course I feel like I’ve been back in Tanzania for several months, and yet it’s only been about a month and a half. What has happened? I’ve gotten back into teaching all my private lessons and group classes at our Umoja ensemble schools, I’ve organized a successful fundraiser for Meru Animal Welfare Organization, I’ve made some new friends, I’ve gotten much closer to old friends here, we’ve had our first student recital of the year, I’ve thought about a lot of people in the US and Brazil and everywhere else in the world that I miss a lot, I’ve composed the music for my collaborative project in Tunisia with Colette, I’ve been shopping to buy a car, I’m organizing a recording session for our Umoja Ensemble kids to record a song I wrote for a heart disease foundation here, and tonight… I partook in a barn dance.

Yes, my roommate Millie helped plan a barn dance/hoe down at her church and tonight it happened. Oh my gosh, I don’t know when I have laughed and had so much fun here in Arusha! The pictures show it all- basically, there was a band of musician friends playing and one who called out the moves of what to do “swing your partner, line moves in, ladies to the center, men to the center, strip the willow!” haha oh man it was a great deal of fun.

Roomate, Millie

We were a foster-home for a wonderful little puppy for a week!

the hoe-down!

All of us very tired after the dancing!

Life is moving fast. But there are cycles in life- sometimes I feel very inspired to compose and to write blogs and journals, and other times it’s as if life itself were demanding all of my time and energy- no time to reflect, no time to sit and ponder the meaning of everything. But that time will come again. I leave in NINE days for Tunisia and Morocco and I couldn’t be more excited. I have no doubt that as I stare over the sands of the Sahara Desert some sense of inspiration will hit me. I’m going first to Tunisia where I will hear the premier of a piece I composed with Colette. Very honored and excited to have the chance to work with her again- also to hear how this music sounds, as it was all inspired by ‘arabian’ sounding music… well, I don’t  have the energy to discuss all of the kinds of music I had to take into consideration for this ‘middle-eastern’ musical drama that Colette and I created.

I’m feeling more comfortable in Tanzania than ever. It really takes a year to feel at home in a place and it’s certainly what I feel here now. Today and yesterday I snapped at some of the drivers of the dala dalas I was on. Yesterday it was because they were talking about me ‘mzungu’ (white person)  and making kissy noises at me and laughing. I shouted, “ndiyo, cheka, cheka!” which is like, “yeah go ahead- laugh! Laugh!” and they usually shut up a bit when they realize I know some Swahili. Today there was a homeless man who came across the street to either ask the dala dala for some money or try to get a ride in it. The driver said, “toka!” which is basically like “shoo!” and the command of ‘go’ people say to dogs. I couldn’t help myself,  I told the driver in Swahili “you know, he is not a dog! Why don’t you say ‘pole’, not ‘toka’!” We had a bit of an argument, of which I stood very little as the driver spoke back in fast Swahili. But, maybe he got my point. All that to say that I’m feeling comfortable;  I’m feeling it is my community here. I’m feeling more of an outsider and insider all at once as I learn the kinds of people I can and cannot trust all because of the color of my skin. It is a true coming of age- losing some of that idealism and starry-eyed naiveté one often has as a young 20-something year old first going to live in Africa.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Always jarring…

 I read this poem in the blog of a friend and I was immediately captivated by it:
Once you have flown,
you will walk the Earth
with your eyes turned skyward;
for there you have been,
there you long to return.
- Leonardo da Vinci

I think about it metaphorically as well as literally. Most Tanzanians have never been on a plane, yet watch all of the expats like myself arrive and leave on planes, as if Amsterdam were just a day trip to the market. Several times on my way to work, I’ve stared out the blurry window of the dusty dala dala (bus), to find men pointing upward and staring at these metal birds as they take flight and disappear from the small tarmac just outside of town. The literal translation of ‘airplane’ in Swahili is ‘bird’, after all. What do they imagine we see from so high? It is perhaps just another way that we with wealth can look down on the rest of the world, thousands of feet between our understandings of each other.

But with whom else now do I feel a distance? At times, my own culture-- my own home. “Once you have flown…” I do love Tanzania because I feel as though I am free, flying without limits or boundaries, where I can explore endless amounts of new things. And I think anyone who has fallen in love with traveling, with meeting new cultures, with being caught off guard and forced to reevaluate all that is comfort and familiar to us- people who feel home sick for a place that was not home for most of our lives, they will understand “you will walk the Earth with your eyes turned skyward” … perhaps it’s not skyward, but toward the south where dusty, tropical Nicaragua lies, or to the east where you can hear the clicks of shoes upon French cobblestone streets, or west toward the snowy peaks of Kilimanjaro.  

I spoke with a friend last week and she said, “that’s why I love it here: because you never feel settled. Everything is always jarring!” And I realized how right she was! How ironic it is that nervousness can become so appealing. It’s a nervousness of the unexpected, which transforms into excitement for those of us who become addicted to the lifestyle here. I think I should keep a journal each day of what I see on the dala dala because it’s so unique, so individual to each dala dala. A lot of people here don’t want to ride the dalas because they’re dirty, smelly, slightly dangerous, and crammed with people. But that’s exactly why I love them. They are jarring- you don’t get to become blind or closed off from the realities of life and how difficult it is for so many people. While being crammed in with Maasai women carrying massive baskets of fruits and vegetables (and wondering how on earth they manage to carry such heavy goods), I stare out the window and see infants in the ditch playing with vegetable scraps discarded by their nearby mamas selling fruits. I see an old man alone whose clothes are dark, stained, and full of holes, leaning against a pile of cement blocks, rocking himself back and forth. I see people with shrunken feet from a disease unknown to me, pushing themselves around in old wheel chairs in the road as giant trucks and motorcycles blow by them dangerously close. I see men standing in joyful conversation, holding hands as they speak. I see the mommas with their little and quiet babies wrapped in bright colors to their hips and backs. I see beautiful butterflies dancing over rooftops and bright sunsets that paint mount Meru pastel pink. It’s also beautiful and so horrific at once some times. But I smile because I know that I’m seeing life- that I’m getting a chance to fly and never again will I have the desire to have both feet on the ground.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

The dog days are over...

This is one lucky pup!


This morning, as we were enjoying our breakfast, my new roommate Millie brought up how her friend had just found a puppy that really needed a home. We both agreed that it was a shame we don't have the space or the time to have a dog here. A few minutes later, I left the house with my friend Jimmy to go from business to business asking for raffle donations for our Meru Animal Welfare Organization fundraiser in september. My mind was already totally on dogs for the day.

On the way to one part of town, we passed one of the most tragic looking dogs I've ever seen still alive. It was unbelivably skinny, lying on the side of the road by with its head still held up so I knew it was still barely alive. Oh it was so unbelivably sad to see. I immediately called the vet that I knew to see if he could bring the drugs to put the dog to sleep there. It was going to be a feat of arranging things to make that possible, as I was running all around town and so was the vet.

So I had to continue on because of Jimmy, my driver's, schedule. Soon Jimmy had to pick up another person who needed him as a taxi and the three of us went together to a super market. On the way there, however, I received an unexpected phone call. A woman had found a tiny puppy in her yard out in the coffee fields here. She had called a bunch of people, whoever she thought would be able to help take in the puppy, and three of them recommended that she call me! As she told me this, I thought "oh great, what a repuation I have given myself!" when actually, I was feeling quite proud that I was a go-to person in the community for helping animals. I told her at first that I wasn't able to help her, but she explained that she was about to leave the country and had no other place for the pup. I caved in a bit, but told her I had to check with my roommate.

Meanwhile, we had just arrived at the super market. I wasn’t there for a few seconds before I heard my name from another car- it was the parent of one of my students. I greeted him and then, slightly sarcastically, asked if he wanted a puppy. He said, “oh, really?! Actually we’re looking for a puppy!”… I couldn’t believe it. He asked me to send him a picture of it when I saw it. I immediately called the woman who had found it and told her of this crazy lucky. We decided that she’d bring the dog to the grocery where I was and I’d take it home for the afternoon before we decided if the parent I knew would want it. As soon as I hung up that phone call, however, another young woman approached me and said, “I heard you say that you have a puppy! My boss is looking for a puppy” – this was super good luck, especially for Arusha, to have two people immediately interested in this puppy! So I gave her my contact and waited for the dog.

Not long even minutes after that, my colleague Tiana drove into the same parking lot! I went over to talk to her while I awaited the pup’s arrival. We were enjoying some nice lunch when the woman arrived with the puppy in a box. She thanked me a lot, spent some time talking to us, went and bought the dog some shampoo and de-wormer, and gave me more money for food, vet, etc. It was all very nice and the puppy was being very sweet and sleepy inside the box. Just as my food arrived at the table, the dog got really jumpy and kept trying to leap out of its box. It was completely disrupting the meal and it was clearly very upset that it couldn’t get out of the box, so I had to wrap up my food and jump in a taxi.

We arrived home and I made a nice little bed for the doggy. When Millie arrived home, we gave the doggy a bath, sprayed it with flea medicine (that should have killed her many fleas, but seems to have had little effect…) and spent a lot of time feeding and playing with her.

She’s so skinny it’s amazing. You can totally see her rib cage. But she’s been remarkably good, social, and very people-friendly. We’re quite amazed. We’ve called her Lucy for now, but hope to find a home for her very soon. It all just seemed so serendipitous that we should have started the day talking about puppies, then I spent the day fundraising for dogs, and then all of this dog stuff happened all afternoon! Perhaps a much more appropriate name for our “Lucy” would be “Lucky”! 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Back in A-town


My community- Aug 18, 2012

I arrived Thursday night and yesterday I stepped out to visit and see my city again. I spent most of the day walking around the market with Fraser, remembering the language, the smells, the etiquette of the culture here. One thing I immediately noticed was how much more indifferent I was to being sought out, stared at, and hassled because of the color of my skin. Perhaps the break from that this summer did more good than I expected. It was really only as I was walking back to my home in the afternoon, however, that I realized the community and neighbors that I have here. First, I walked past a small printing shop where I do my photocopying and printing when I need it for school. I wasn’t even thinking about the shop when I heard, “daniellllla” called out from the window. A big smile spread across my face as I headed into the shop to greet my friends there, surprised that they could recognize me and remember my name (I guess there aren’t too many white girls where I live though, haha).

 I continued on to the duka (little shop) close to my house where a man named Daniel works. We were excited to meet the first time, discovering that our names were almost the same (I go by Daniella here usually though). He was so excited to see me, it made me laugh. He ran out of the shop and gave me a big hug—the typical hug here is a loose embrace of the shoulder and a hug to the left, a hug to the right. It’s similar to the way the French kiss on each cheek, only there’s no kissing here. Then he took my hand and held it as we talked—this is also a very common greeting and it took me a bit of time to get used to it with the men. Usually the men stand and hold hands with each other, like a very extended handshake without the shaking, for at least 30 seconds or a minute as they converse and ask each other how their families are, etc.

 I felt very happy as I continued on down my street to my house. There outside my house gate, next to the road stands a little group of piki-piki drivers (motorcycle taxis). I wasn’t sure if my friend that I always saw last year was still there, but my glances toward the group of drivers were confirmed as I heard the words “mayai!” I couldn’t help but start to laugh. This goes back to a personal joke this man I have—a guy with whom I’ve never really had a significant conversation because of my knowledge of Swahili and because he’s usually surrounded by other men (I stay clear of large groups of men if I’m by myself, even if I’m close to my home.) But “mayai” goes back to a day last spring sometime when I kept hearing this strange old man shouting out “maaayyyaaaiiiiii, maaayaaaiii” in all different inflections of pitch, the words ringing throughout the neighborhood and buildings. I seriously thought the man was just deranged and wandering around shouting sounds. But then I listened really to the word he was saying “mayai” means “eggs”! He was going around selling fresh eggs and notifying the neighborhood that he was passing through. One morning I was standing at the corner of my street near the motorcycle group and I laughed out loud as the egg man came by again with his screeching echoing around us. This pikipiki driver laughed too and said, “mayai!”—thus, that became our way of saying hello each morning as I left to go to work. It was so nice to see him, to greet him again. Just another familiar face with a story I don’t yet know.  

A new feeling- Aug 09, 2012

I was listening to some tunes tonight and thinking about Tanzania—and suddenly an oddly familiar pang of restlessness hit me, but in a new way. I realized, smiling to myself, that I am at last homesick for Arusha! How many times I sat in my Tanzanian home, thinking about the people and places I miss in the US, but now I realize that I’m ready to go back to Tanzania, ready to take on another year, ready to have another year of incredible memories and adventures. I’ve barely stopped going this summer: moving between Atlanta, Brazil, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Tennessee in less than 2 months. Uff. I’m ready to be back in Arusha, in my home, and be in one place for a little while.
There are little habits I see in myself now that have been born out of my life style in TZ. I wonder, when I do finally leave Arusha how long it will take for those quirks to fade away. Things like, being delighted to find bathrooms with soap and toilet paper, how I no longer ever keep my laptop plugged into the outlet (in case of electrical surges as are common in TZ), constantly being aware of the location of my flute (after having lost my previous one in TZ), not taking showers every day as I used to, wanting to play with and hold little children, and being perfectly content to be squished hot in a hot car or to not be a picky eater. I talk about Tanzania all the stinkin’ time with my friends, family, and new acquaintances. Everyone can tell you a hundred times that moving to Africa will open an entirely new world to you, but when you finally see how it has transformed you (in some ways, forever) it’s quite remarkable.

Friday, July 27, 2012

a new year, a new blog


Time to get ready for a certain-to-be-amazing year in Tanzania. I’m going to start sharing with you the music that I’m listening to as I write the blog and I hope you will listen to the music while you read it. The sounds capture the mood so much more accurately. So, turn this wonderful song on:
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Or4nFSkc-KA

I’m in another airport, after another slew of I-don’t-know-when-we’ll-see-each-other-next-time-goodbyes. Airports have become the loneliest place for me; they are always prefaced with bittersweet goodbyes, followed by a sigh and a look behind to give one last smile to whoever is bidding me farewell, then a push past the point of no return- the invisible border crossing through metal detectors and pat-downs into a bright iridescent land of useless items for sale and colorful strangers, each on his or her own journey and at the same time flowing together like a great migration—we’re safer when we move as a herd, going to no one really knows where. And as I sit by myself in these different colored but always uncomfortable plastic chairs, sticky with food and drinks from previous voyagers, I relive recent amazing moments that are still so alive, hugs that are still warm, yet turning into grey memories from a distant life far outside these airport windows. It’s my natural resistance to change, I know.
Whenever I’m in an airport by myself, which I seem to be most of these days, I watch the people passing by, searching for someone else who might be bored and a little lonely and I think of imaginary scenarios where I go up to him or her, strike up a conversation, and we discover that we have the same love of music, books, have been to the same places and even know some of the same people around the world. But, the passerby usually continues on without noticing my gaze. What I’m seeking is someone to travel with me, to confirm that the part life I just experienced wasn’t just a dream. And yet, I smile as I write this, because of course I know … you all are traveling with me. What would I do without the memories, laughs, stories, and gossip from all of my friends and family? Well, I would be a lot more bored in airports, that’s certain. So, here we go to another land, and more memories to miss someday.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Viewing TZ from Rio

I've been in Brazil for a little more than one week and I've had a lot of time to think about home- Arusha, Nashville, Atlanta, Marseille... where to begin? 

I'm torn, very torn between what makes me happiest. Mostly, I'm talking about my professional career: music-- my passion, my art, my life. When I am in Tanzania, I feel so fulfilled, so appreciated, and so useful. There aren't many classical musicians in Arusha and at times I forget what's going on in the rest of the world. I feel like a top-notch, world-class, butt-kicking musician in Arusha. And I get to have a lot of fun like that! But, of course, there is always something that seems lacking there-- the opportunity to learn, to grow, to for a short time soar from hearing other people, great classical musicians, playing. 

When I went home for Christmas last December, I soon heard some live jazz music with my dear friend Matthew. I almost started crying, I was overcome with the joy of hearing the beloved instrument- double bass!!-- again after so many months without it. Now I'm in Rio, visiting my father, and having the honor to hear great live music of so many types, and to play on some of the world's most incredible organs! Tonight I heard a fantastic concert by world renown, and quite young, organist Christian Schmitt. His music truly moved me, so much that I didn't really want to talk to him or any one after the organ recital; rather, I wanted to be with just the music in my mind, and my emotions for just a bit of time. [He played Pachelbel third sonata, and then later Liszt's variations on B-A-C-H. The Pachelbel seized my soul (I must learn this piece!) but the Liszt offended me. Not his playing, just the composition as a whole. It's so clamorous and doesn't seem to ever develop anything.] But, this was far too good of an opportunity to miss talking with this organist, so dad and I went off with Schmitt a small group of other organists and diplomats to have a bite to eat. At the table, I listened as Schmitt discussed his experiences getting to play with the Berlin Philharmonic. My heart melted a little as I envisioned simply being in that hall- why have I never been to Berlin?! I've spent hours of time watching videos of concerts in the Berlin Phil hall, looking at their digital tour online, and day dreaming about getting to hear a concert there, let a lone perform there!! Suddenly a pressure overtakes me, and inside I hear myself shouting at Dani: "what are you doing?! wasting time not practicing, not competing, not making yourself good enough to get there!"

So then comes the familiar dilemma: which world would I choose if I can, could, will? Will I remain in a place like Tanzania, Haiti, so many countries, that have nothing- no orchestra, few music programs, a handful of instruments and teachers? Where I would be appreciated, set to good use, but left to dry as far as filling my own soul with sharing beautiful music with world class musicians; or would I rather throw myself into the torrent of competition in the bigger arena of classical music? One that, for me is so fulfilling, and yet so heart breaking because of the constant comparison of oneself to others. The world that very few, and increasingly fewer, "mainstream" listeners appreciate, and even fewer understand? Both worlds make me whole, and I surely must find a way to remain (or even get into!) in the arena of the world's greatest musicians AND find a way to feel put to great use and share the greatness of so many pieces with those who have never heard such things. I have to set my own path, and I must find a way to be happy with it. Even though I am not winning world composition, conducting, organ, flute, percussion competitions. I have to find a way to know that what I'm doing is meaningful- meaningful for myself, for others, and for music as a whole. I refuse to become lazy, to take small, uneducated compliments as true judgments of my abilities, and will pursue a higher education and understanding of music. 

It's like there are two realities: one is my imaginary future self, something I day dream of, plot, plan, and organize each day that I live in the 'western world' where I'm reminded of my true musical 'competition'. And then, I sink back into my happy home there in Tanzania. Where ignorance is so blissful for me, forgetting about competition, entrance exams, grades, composition debuts, and judgement from peers. There, in that peaceful tanzania-filled world, I think "how can I teach my university class better? what composers can I introduce them, and myself to? How can I better engage my 6 year old piano students? How can I make my 50 year old flute student breathe more fluidly? How can I stay inspired to keep practicing, to make myself better, to stay 'in shape' musically? 

Perhaps this is the battle ever ex-patriot experiences in a developing nation. How to be two people, in two such separate and different worlds? 

Each day it's a battle, and it takes this plunge back into this western society, where we have SO much, to hold a mirror up and see how much I have in my little world of Arusha, Tanzania. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Pondering Pedagogy



I’m sitting at home on a cool evening listening to the sandy voice of Ella Fitzgerald in my headphones. I don’t exactly feel like writing a blog entry, but if I don’t do it now, I’m not sure when it will happen.

Just a few of today’s experiences that made me smile.

Today as I was walking up the hill to catch the dala dala (bus) I saw a woman standing on the side of the rode, beside a short bush, peeing. She had a big cloth wrapped around her, as most women wear here, but she was just standing there peeing! In broad daylight, no minding any one walking by. I was more impressed than anything I think. It was quite a sight to see.

Then tonight I was cutting into an onion when I saw a black spot in the onion. I thought I’d cut around it and use the rest of it since it seemed fine. But as soon as I cut into the black part… and brace yourselves… a colony of tiny ants burst from it!! EW. I kinda jumped and then ran the cutting board and onion out the front door to throw it in the bushes. Ants... living in an onion!!! So weird.

Last Friday we had our end of the year recital for Umoja. Crazy that it’s the end of year recital, yes. We had a wonderful concert and it featured two songs that I’ve written. One of them will be in Ndoto and the other is called Watoto Wa Umoja (Children of Umoja). I originally just wrote it as a song for choir, but after people enjoyed it at our December concert, I arranged it for our ‘orchestra’ of guitars, pianos, violins, flutes, and voice. The flute studio here is new, and most of the students started learning with me. I was really proud of them- especially the beginners. Here’s the video of the song from the concert. Don’t mind the SUPER loud microphone of my youngest voice student. Haha.


Mom made a good suggestion to me the other day- to write about my experience teaching. It is something that I have certainly spent a great deal of time thinking about—probably every single day that I’ve been in Tanzania, I’ve thought about teaching, how to do it better, lessons learned. And I’ve learned a LOT. One thing that comes to mind is how to handle kids with low self-esteems. I’ve made mistakes in that department, sometimes being too hard on kids when they weren’t ready for it. I’m still trying to figure out how to connect to students, teach them to trust me, and teach them to trust themselves. You can’t just tell a student: “You’re good. Now suck it up and play.”

Then there’s the topic of being open-minded to other kinds of music, and teaching music for kids to simply enjoy. Pop tunes and songs are very hard for me to respect and even more challenging for me to want to teach, but I do see value in them in that they give some students a lot of enjoyment. That’s what music is about, right? Enjoyment.

Then I’ve learned that a teacher cannot change the desire of a student to want to practice or even to want to play an instrument. I have done everything from coming down harder on discipline, to talking to parents, to getting creative with composition and improvisation activities. But, if a student doesn’t want to practice any music, then they won’t. I’ve learned not to take things so personally. There was an instance toward the beginning of the year when I played part of Mendelssohn’s Italian symphony and asked the kids what they thought of it- someone yelled out that they thought it was boring. It made me VERY mad when they said that, but I have to understand that the music I love is not what everyone loves, and vice versa.

I’ve learned that many children actually fear the metronome. I don’t know when I started loving the metronome, but I see it as a huge aide in practicing. Some students actually begin shaking in fear/nerves when I ask them to play a scale with a metronome. But, then for some of them, when I play with them in a steady rhythm instead of turning on the metronome, they can totally latch onto the groove and play with a steady rhythm.

I’ve realized that teaching very beginner music is not stimulating to me and I really struggle with making myself be excited to teach it. I love teaching at Makumira University- it’s very stimulating. There, I teach music students who are all older than me and very knowledgeable about some things and often ask me questions that I have to consider and that really challenge me. I don’t think I just want to lecture, though. And I still get somewhat hurt when they seem bored by the recordings I’m playing. These are the pieces that changed my whole perception of music! And I want them to be as ground-breaking for these people too. But music is individual and so personal. I have to come to terms with that.

I’ve learned how frustrating it is to teach a studio of children who have electric pianos. In Tanzania, real pianos are very hard to find. Most of our students have electric keyboards and when we have a week of a lot of power-outages, well, they don’t get to practice at all. I’ll never forget that little student coming in and telling me, quite proudly, how when her electricity was out she practiced on her mom’s ipad piano app…. Not quite the same as the piano.

I’ve seen how kids step up and seriously come through when it’s recital time. They come out of the weeks of struggling through a piece with a polished tune they, and I, can be so proud of.

I’ve come…somewhat… to terms to being around a lot of musicians who won’t make music their main life force. Coming out of university music school, where all the students are there FOR music and completely dedicated TO music.. it’s tough to know that I’m teaching most kids something that they will always do for fun or remember only as a part of their childhood. And I can find joy in that as well.

I’ve learned that little kids REALLY like to write and draw about killings, blood, and death when given the chance. Every time we have to make up a story about a composer as a fun activity, my little 6 year old group class begs to write or draw a story about the composer dying or being caught in war… not sure what to think of that. I remember once someone drew Chopin with “music bleeding out of his ears!” ….

I’ve witnessed how difficult it is to be a parent. I have such a great deal of respect for the parents who have to organize not only their insane, NGO-running, continent-hopping, family-raising lives, but also the 10 activities of their talented and insanely busy children. I’ve also seen how difficult it is for them to first let go of instructing their children in our lessons. There have been many conversations when I have to say “It’s great for you to help, but I have to be the one to instruct in the lessons.”

How do you teach someone to love opera? Or even to be open to it?

I’ve felt how much I’ve missed having professional live music concert. Oh I miss live jazz and live symphonies SO much.

I’ve thought a lot about when I fell in love with music, when I stopped minding practicing, when I learned all that I learned. It’s the hardest thing to remember—how you learned something that is now so engrained in who you are. What was I like when I was a 7 year old piano student? Did I understand things easily? Was I that student that my teacher dreaded? Or was happy to have? Why did I stick with music so much? Was it just because of the social element- I know marching band had such influence on me because of the friends I had there. These kids here don’t get that element, so will they love music less?

Those are just a few of my thoughts that I’m thinking of tonight. New questions come to me each day. It’s been such a year of discovery.

Ndoto is just around the corner J Colette arrives on Thursday! 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Rounding the Bend


More than 9 months! I’ve already been here 9 months, can you believe it? How much I can now look back upon, seeing growth and discovery in so many ways. This weekend was particularly wonderful, allowing me to reflect on all of the beauty and joy that I have to experience here.

Friday night, my friend Fraser and I went over to my dear friend, Jimmy’s house. His family is so beautiful and they’re always so gracious to have us in their home. He taught us a lesson on how to eat ugali. This is a traditional East African dish made from white maize, eaten by dipping it in a bunch of vegetable or meat dishes. Yum! Thanks for Fraser for the video documentation. Hehe


Immediately after this lovely dinner, however, something significantly less fortunate, though significantly hilarious happened to me. Jimmy told us that he has an avocado tree in his yard, so we all went out to look. His 11 year old boy scurried up the tree to pick one for us. So, he picked one, but another avocado connected to the same twig also fell, plummeted to the ground, hit the plastic water tub sitting under the tree, and ricocheted directly INTO my face. Bulls-eye. It hit the crap out of the top of my nose, immediately causing me to cry. I was actually wanting to laugh, it was so ridiculous to imagine this very large, very hard avocado pummeling into my face. A little sore now, but no broken nose!


Yesterday was Fraser’s birthday and I organized a big hike for us and 6 other friends! It was one of the most wonderful hikes I’ve ever been. We walked through a village on one of the hills of Mt. Meru, into a pasture-like area, and down into the valley of tropical and ancient trees. 


Once we climbed down down down the very slippery muddy slopes (with a huge assistance from our guides and Jimmy!), we walked along a creek for some time.


 Then, around a bend, past some large stones, and there before us was a massive waterfall pouring down from the crest far above us. I climbed up and under the waterfall with Jimmy and the view was simply breathtaking. 
We all had a wonderful lunch together on the rocks. I made my specially-delicious guacamole J 
These friends are some of the most wonderful people I’ve yet met and we mesh together so well! It was a special birthday for Fraser, but an equally special day for everyone else as well. 





Monday, May 7, 2012

My first tanzanian operation


My first operation was in Tanzania

Three weeks ago I noticed a soreness under my right arm and a painful lump right under the skin. I immediately felt a little worried, and became more so the next day when the spot began to be red under my arm. I set up an appointment with the school doctor, who just happens to be the parent of one of my flute students. She took a look at my arm later that week and told me that I had a staph infection and would need antibiotics. I got on them the day that I left for my trip to France (see previous blog entry). That whole weekend in France the spot under my arm became quite painful. When the doctor looked at it again the next week, she said that it would need to be cut open- a minor operation that I could be awake for. So, I agreed to meet her the next day and we would do the procedure in the nurse’s office at the school… or so I thought.

I met her at the school, but it was a school holiday that day so the nurse’s office was locked. She had apparently expected this, as she led me behind one of the buildings where there was a picnic table. She rolled out a yoga mat and said, “ok hop up!” … I realized at that point that I was going to have the procedure done on a picnic table under a thatch roof cabana. Haha. Oh, I love being reminded that I’m in Africa. She had all of the sterile supplies, clean medical paper to put under me, and new, unwrapped utensils.

She numbed my arm as I stared up at a gecko climbing upside down on the thatch roof above me. It was actually one of the most pleasant medical experiences I’ve yet had- no waiting time, a doctor I knew, a gecko to distract me, and a very pleasant breeze blowing by on a warm day. At the end of the operation, however, she had to pack the wound.. I won’t go into detail cause it still makes me cringe. Let’s just say that in one fast moment, a shock of intense pain hit me when she did that. I nearly started crying from the pain! It soon subsided, but the shock had caused my heart rate to drop suddenly. She had to lift my legs to get blood back moving faster to my heart. That was over after a moment and I felt like I could stand up and fix my clothes. The only problem was that I hadn’t yet had lunch and immediately after standing up, my blood sugar dropped and I became hypoglycemic! I thumped back down on the table and felt like I was going to be sick. She realized what was going on and ran and got an apple. Apparently I nearly fainted, but she held an apple in front of my face and said, “eat this!” I told her “I will be sick if I eat that.” And she said a little more forcefully “EAT this.” And so I took a big bite of the apple and bonked my head back down on my arms as I tried to chew. But, I managed to do that and within 30 seconds, the nausea was gone and I felt way better.

10 minutes later, I was teaching a piano lesson.

My arm was very sore the next day, but now it has been a little over a week since the experience, and my arm is all healed! YAY!



Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My Premier Premier


Many have requested that I share the experience I just had last weekend- that of having an orchestral piece performed in France. It wasn’t just any orchestra, however, but it was one very dear to me. I conducted many of those musicians in my debut orchestral conducting performance two years before when I was studying abroad in Aix, France. The director of the orchestra, Michel Camatte, was a true mentor for me while I was studying there and has sense become a sincerely dear friend. About 9 months ago, I sent him the score to my then-recently finished composition, with only slight hopes that their orchestra might agree to play it. But in January, I received the wonderful news that they would play it in April and wanted me to come to hear the performance!

And how time travels so quickly. I wrote this in an earlier blog:
"there are times when I have thought about moments suspended in the future for so long that it feels the future will never arrive, yet alone pass!"

But that’s not how I felt going to France to hear the piece. Reflecting on it now, I find it strange that I didn’t day dream and try to imagine how I would feel, how it would sound, what others would think. Instead, I felt a true sense of calm and, simply, a forward motion. It was, as one friend described it, the next progressive step in my career path. That’s very much how I felt, as if it were something that should be expected of me and which I should expect of myself. When a med student delivers their first baby for example, people don’t think it any feat of impossibility, but it’s simply an important (and yes, significant) task in the journey to grow, learn, and more importantly, to serve.

I think I feel different than most musicians, however, as I truly don’t feel like I fit into any “instrument” category. People usually like category boxes- but I have no desire to choose between conductor, composer, teacher, flutist, pianist, organist, percussionist, and border-line guitarist?

I arrived in France to see the smiling face of my dear friend, Hodg. He had come to meet me at the airport as a surprise- just the first of several surprises of that day. After our BEAUTIFUL three hour train ride to Aix, I ran up to hug my mom, Terry, and (as a surprise!) my grandparents! They had all flown to Italy for holiday and then come on to Aix for the concert. It was really so special to have my grandparents there in particular, because my piece was inspired by and dedicated to my Nana who taught me about “Whippoorwill Winter” in Tennessee—the title and inspiration for my piece.

So the performance time came and we all filled into the Grand Theater in Aix. It was a really fantastic turn out! I hardly ever see free concerts get such a great audience. The orchestra was for the more advanced students at the conservatory in Aix and had many teachers and professional players filling in instrumentation.

It was a very different experience from other times when I’ve had pieces premiered. In university, I always felt so tense, and so judged, when my pieces were being played for the first time. I was always thinking “what is he thinking? What is she thinking? Oh how could I have written such crap?” But I truly think I have graduated from that. Sure, I don’t like everything I’ve written and am writing, but I have finally taken a step in the direction of understanding my own music and appreciating it. So as I sat in the audience, it only felt funny to me because Camatte gave an introduction about me and the piece and it was strange for me to know that hardly anyone in the audience knew who it was that he was talking about… and for the first time, that person was me.

What was going through my head during the performance? I can’t quite recall; it wasn’t a reflective moment for me. I remember being very focused on what was going on in the music, listening intensely to which parts worked and which parts totally didn’t. It was like a learning experience and a composing experience at the same time. I was constantly evaluating what the orchestra was doing and almost mentally willing certain instruments to play louder or softer as they played. When it was finished, it was finished, all in a blur of a moment. So I stood up and bowed and felt proud. But it was almost like auto-pilot. When someone asked me after how I felt, I could only describe it as a very intimate moment- I forgot about anyone else in the audience, I forgot to worry about people coughing or talking during the piece, I forgot about the orchestra even. It was just me and my piece, having a conversation together- the music telling me what to do and what not to do next time. And when you’ve composed a score for so many instruments, it suddenly sounds so simple to hear it played back. All those hours of consideration, just blowing back at your ears in a matter of 10 minutes.

Fortunately, and I didn’t even think of this until now, two very good things happened:
-         Not many people came up to me to tell me that they loved the piece (did my family enjoy it? I don’t remember if they told me! )
-         I did not become a hermit-like snob immediately after the piece, internally scowling at any one who complimented my piece… this has happened to me on many occasions.

So, audio will be coming soon. I’m sorry there’s no video. I thought the concert hall was going to video the performance, but there was some misunderstanding. I know some people will be really disappointed about that, but don’t worry… life goes on.

It was so incredibly wonderful to be in France. I worked with Colette, the artist for Ndoto, for many hours on Saturday. It was humbling and so wonderful to work with her. We had incredibly sweet red strawberries, and fresh creamy cheeses, and sweet wine, and olives soaked in the incredible oils and salts of Provence. I had lunch and dinners with people who were my professors only a couple of years ago; and now they treat me with respect and as a friend—it’s one of the greatest and most astounding feelings I’ve experienced. I feel like I’m slipping slowly but safely into a warm pool that is adulthood. I’m always looking behind me to suddenly realize that I’m no longer where I was. There’s a fresh obligation to teach, to share with others what great minds have taken the time to teach and share with me. But, sometimes I just look up at the sky, gaze at the stunning blue sky, and feel like a child again. Perhaps, and perhaps hopefully, that never goes away.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Whippoorwills and Waltzes

I'm currently counting down the hours until I board a plane to Marseille, France where I will
a) See my mother, step dad, and two "surprise" guests....
b) see my dear friend, Hodg
c) See my dear friend, Aix-en-Provence (where I studied abroad 2 years ago)
d) Hear the premier of my first orchestral piece, Whippoorwill Winter.

Whats a whipporwill, you ask? Well here's what the Cornell Lab of Ornithology says:

Whip-poor-will Photo
Whats a whipporwill WINTER, you ask? Well here's what some random guy's gardening blog says:

"the last named winter, Whippoorwill Winter, is actually a herald of warmer days coming to stay for the summer. The whippoorwill (Caprimulgus vociferus) migrates from wintering in Mexico to their summer range farther north in late May to early June. Whippoorwill Winter is not as cold as the other winters but still a bit of cold snap, lest we forget.

So that's what my piece is about- singing birds and the last of a cold winter. I think april is the perfect time for such a premier, don't you? It must be just about whippoorwill winter time over in Tennessee!

I'm quite excited. And have no fear, of course recordings will be done. Why do people keep asking me that? I document my life probably more than most people actually want me to...so, yes, of course I'll have video and audio and photos and what-have-ya.

In other news, we had our big Ndoto two-day camp last weekend. WOW! was fun- was intense. About 40 minutes of music and dancing for these kids to learn. Check out the video from the weekend