Sunday, January 29, 2012

Breathing in all this dust

Liza, founder and pres. of Umoja, was visiting this week!

Some of my very dearest friends here: (Kelly, Kelly, Becca, me)

I remember when I first arrived last august and how dry everything was. I’m sure there was a lot of dust in the air, but my goodness- I don’t remember it being like this! I guess we went through a bit of rainy season right before I left for the holidays, and that was really nice to have the rain. Everything turned so green! But I’ve returned home to a very dry and very dusty hot summer! I had to give my keyboard a bath yesterday… and my white shirt yesterday looked like khaki…

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Tanzanian men and how they treat women, particularly white women, and today Alison and I sat and talked about it for a while. I feel like I’ve had a number of interesting interactions with TZ men lately. Last week I went to get a pedicure at a small little Tanzanian store (about the size of a closet with just enough room for the two of us) and the woman had thought I was going to bring my own polish so she hadn’t brought her collection. So she told me she’d grab one of the nail-polish people from the street. I’ve seen these boys plenty of times; these young and rough-looking men who just sort of walk around with a bucket of nail polish and all of the tools that they need to do nails. They’ll stop and do women’s nails for about 1,000TZS- less than a dollar. Well, she flagged one down and in walked a dusty but kind looking young man, maybe about 18 years old, who let me pick out my pink nail polish and proceeded to paint my toes! It was pretty interesting and I felt a little odd about it.

Then last Friday I was sitting on the dala dala (bus) with the window open and we stopped at an intersection for a moment. I saw this man walking by our bus and he sort of quickly put his hand out. Before I could even react, he basically reached up into the window and pushed the side of my face…. I had to laugh. No, first I went ‘ARUGH!!’ with disgust and anger. I looked at Alison with confusion and frustration, and then I just had to laugh. Now I sit here, shaking my head because it’s all quite infuriating. Maybe he went and got to tell all of his friends ‘oh today I touched a Muzungu’s face!’ … what the hell, really.

But not all of it’s bad I suppose. Here, men will greet each other by shaking hands, but then just standing and chatting while still holding hands. It’s kind of nice to observe. Yesterday after my Swahili lesson, I walked to the daladala stand with my teacher and as we chatted he just sort of held on to my wrist loosely. It’s a really internally awkward thing for me to sort of weirdly be holding hands with someone (I’ve walked and held hands with TZ women, too a couple of times), but it’s another good learning experience.

Today I became pretty infuriated while walking on the street though. There have been few times in my life when I have felt powerless, but I sometimes do feel that when I’m walking out on the street here. I must close up inside of myself to try to ignore the slew of comments I hear each time I walk along the road. In one trip to town I’ll hear maybe 10-15 comments, hellos, calling out, etc. Mostly from men, they say, “hey! Mambo! Hey sister!” maybe some Swahili, maybe some English. People on motorbikes ride by and stare back at me, the children stare and then often say, “muzungu!” Occasionally I do get a nice conversation with a woman as I walk along. We’ll talk in Swahili about her children, how I’m an only child (you can’t even imagine how foreign of a concept that is to people here!), about where I work and what I do. It’s nice. But, usually, I find that I just close myself off to the world (while still being extremely cautious and aware of my surroundings), turn off my smile completely. Eyes straight ahead- no eye contact with men, even though I can feel them staring at me as I pass. Today I had to walk through a group of 4 young men and of course they all said something, made remarks, called out. UGH. It really infuriated me because I felt like I couldn’t say anything or do anything to make it stop or change! I put myself at risk if I respond, I might encourage them to do something more than just say things, and I know I certainly can’t influence them to suddenly respect women just by calling out the mean insulting words going through my mind. Change happens so slowly.

I know that I just need to take a step back and be more thankful for the incredible freedom I have in my life. To be educated, to wear what I want, to say what I want, to read what I want, to believe what I want. I become more and more thankful for that each day.

On completely other note, I have some photos to share from some events in the past few months:

Playing at a fancy garden party (not sure why I look so unhappy though! haha)

Playing at a christmas celebration last december:


The new instruments Umoja ensemble has for Ndoto- plastic bottle drums!
The kids teaching us a Maasai Song- to be used in Ndoto (see video from first rehearsal)

I’ve also been hard at work writing the music for Ndoto, the big artist collaborative concert I’m working on. Liza, founder/president of Umoja, was here this week doing evaluations, checking up on things, having lots of meetings, and making sure everything was alright before she heads back to London where she’s currently doing grad school. It was great to have her here and to hear her feedback.

Here's our recent video from rehearsal of Ndoto- the kids are getting to play with these awesome plastic-bottle drums that Tiana made!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Ndoto is born! The big collaborative project between Umoja Music School and French artist, Colette Albiolo ( has begun! I’ve been writing all of the music for this big production that will involve instruments, percussion, dance, singing, and of course Colette’s amazing artwork projected larger than life! Ndoto means “Dream.” We titled this show Ndoto because it tells the story of little Maasai kids (our Umoja Ensemble) who dream that when the sun goes down, they turn into ants!!

In the first part of the story, they are playing and singing, just as normal Maasai kids. We had our first rehearsal for the first part last Friday (will teach them a new part each week). See the video at:

Life’s busy and good. That’s all for now!


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

With the Rain Outside

While reading this blog, please listen to the following piece and you'll know how I'm feeling:

I’m currently tucked, cozy and content inside my mosquito netted bed and outside the heavy rain falls on our tin roofs. It smells like one of those wonderful summer rains, when you welcome a cooler and fresher breeze to pass through open windows. I’m taking advantage of this moment to sit calmly, think clearly, and take a moment just to write before all craziness launches starting tomorrow. Yesterday and today were already full of meetings, planning, and feeling only slightly overwhelmed. Let me sum up my semester’s projects for you here:

  1. Teaching at Umoja- regular private lessons in piano, flute, and voice, and teaching group classes
  2. Makumira University- teaching the composition/arranging class a couple mornings a week
  3. Meru Animal Welfare- volunteering as their fundraising coordinator, helping to apply for grants, etc.
  4. Organ Concert- giving my first full organ recital in March on one of the two organs in Arusha!
  5. Umoja Collaborative- ok, this is the big thing for the term. I wrote about it before but I’ll briefly explain it again. Basically, this wonderful artist and my previous teacher when I studied abroad in France is collaborating with me as a composer and Tiana (who works for Umoja) as a choreographer/composer to put on what will now likely be Umoja’s big annual fundraiser performance. Through visual art, music, and dance, the Umoja ensemble and Umoja teachers will tell the story of Maasai children who at night change into ants! They craw through the earth, fly through the air, run to escape the stomping elephants, and at daybreak, they simply turn back into the maasai children. Is it all just a dream?? That’s for you to decide! I have to start working a lot on composing the music and getting it all down on paper. Then there’s a lot of planning logistics, drinks, food, venue, performers, donors, advertising…ahh! It will be a fantastic show I’m sure. Now the hard part for us is what to name the show!
  6. Orchestral piece- exciting news! My first orchestral piece that I wrote last may at Vandy, titled Whippoorwill Winter will be premiered by the Philharmonic Orchestra of Provence in France. The performance will take place April 20th and I’m really going to try to be there for the premier. Eeehh… if I can manage to take the time off from work, that is.

At any rate, you see how crazy it’s all about to get.

Now, I want to share with you a bit about an amazing person I met on the airplane from Atlanta to Amsterdam. I was lucky enough to sit beside a Dutch woman who I guess to be about 70 years old and who had an incredible wealth of stories, history, experience, and life. I learned that when she was 21 years old, she moved to Pakistan to teach in schools. She then married a Dutch man and moved to South Africa where they lived and raised their children for 25 years. Her children now live in America and one of them teaches at Vanderbilt! (a small world indeed!) Oh we talked about life, music, culture, children, marriage. She was one of those incredibly beautiful and wise souls that you hope to become someday and feel privileged just to have met. When I arrived in Amsterdam and bid her farewell, I wrote down a few of the messages from her that I wanted to remember. Of course, they all make much more sense in context, but you’ll get the idea;

- “If there is a problem that you cannot solve, manage it.”

- “To have a raise a child and see that they develop into a helpful and productive human being, that is a true accomplishment”

- The latin proverb “non scholae sed vitae discimu” … “We learn not for school, but for life”

- Hug your husband (she was talking about the importance of showing your children that husband and wife/father and mother can be affection and are loving to one another)

- Do as much as possible before you settle down

I have her address and plan to write her letters from time to time, as she doesn’t use email.

So, tomorrow we start school. I just sort of feel like taking a nap but, alas, the holidays have ended already!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Heading home... always

Just a little flash back to two people I love and miss :)

There are times when I have thought about moments suspended in the future for so long that it feels the future will never arrive, let alone pass! But, this incredible time at home (20 days!) which I day-dreamed about and planned over many weeks before, has at last come to an end. I didn’t quite expect to fall in love with home so much and so quickly all again. But really what it was was a hyperactive break completely filled with people I love and know so well. What a happy time it has been.

Strange feelings definitely fill my mind on this last night in my home. It’s sort of like reliving the night before I left for Tanzania last august. I feel like I should be afraid and nervous like I was five months ago, but then I get to breathe a sigh of relief knowing that I have friends, a wonderful job, a familiarity and love for Arusha… a home waiting for me when I get back to Tanzania day after tomorrow. But, still, it’s becoming more and more clear to me how important family is. I missed my father terribly this winter because he’s in Rio and I didn’t get to give him a big hug on Christmas. I wish I could have spent another month up in Knoxville with my crazy wonderful family, and another month here at home with my mom.

Or rather, I wish I could take them all with me to Tanzania. My biggest fear is that I’ll forever feel like I’m always saying ‘bye’ to the people I love. Bye to the people I love in TZ; bye to the people I love in USA. Such is the fate of someone who makes the world their home, I suppose.

I visited my dad’s house yesterday, which is currently being rented by a lovely young couple until dad can sell it (since he’s living abroad now also). It was very surreal being back there. I knocked on the front door window in the same way I used to always knock on it when I’d come over to the house to let my dad know it's me who's home! My piano’s still there, fortunately being played and loved. My room still has the paint on the walls of the colorful fish my dad and I painted together when I told him I wanted an “underwater room.” My tree house that my dad and I built together, the marble flooring in the front of the house that we installed in the frigid fall, the tree I used to climb with him… there are so so many memories there and it’s only just now hitting me that he’s so far, and that I’m so far—from my mom, from my family, from my childhood. It’s hard coming to terms with it, but it’s making me grow up and it’s making me appreciate it more than ever before. Never will I be able to really thank my parents for the incredible childhood they gave me.

My dear friend Wendy gave me a CD of great music for Christmas and one of the songs on it is called “Wake Up Danny Boy” – ok, yes, it is about a Danny Boy, but the words speak strongly to me and they give me, Dani Girl, a lot of encouragement. Part of it goes:

Wake up Danny boy!

There’s a world outside

A world outside, a world outside

Wake up Danny boy!

There’s a world outside, a world outside

Your window

Wake up!

You can’t foce change, or change the path

You just have to walk home

And through the woods at night

With red wolves glacially slow

No one sees me moving but you

So long my friends!

I think it’s time you try again

To wake up!

It’s true. I feel that I need to wake up and realize what incredible beauty I’m getting to experience outside the window of my home and at times, outside the window of my comfort zone.

Another one of this band’s songs that gets to me goes:

I’m feeling Rootless

In my wandering mind

Time is moving, it’s moving

I was so thankful to get to see my friends Wendy, Paul, and Martha- people who will never stop being beautiful and faithful friends. It was incredibly wonderful to get to stay with Matt and Lindsay in Nashville- ahh they make Nashville a real home, truly.

And then my dearest wifey, Meeshee who finally came and stayed with me in Atlanta- who bought me the coolest pony t-shirt EVER haha!!

Then there’s my core group of friends from high school: Zach, Greg, Peanut, Ankit, Chris, Joshy! It just means to get to grow up with such a fantastic group of people.

And my forever-highschool-sweetheart, Andrew who continues to crack me up and make me smile each time I see him.

What would I do without all of these people?

I guess, as I prepare to embark on another exhilarating adventure in Tanzania, I just want to say thank you to everyone who has ever shown me, my family, my pets, my friends love.

... And the more I think about it, the more I sure do miss those Tanzanian smiles :) So, away we go!!