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!


  1. Wow Daily, it makes my stomach a little uneasy to think of you walking through those men, but you're smart and I know you know what you're doing. I'm grateful for the lessons that you are learning and also for the lessons in appreciating your freedom - something most American's take for granted. You KNOW what to be grateful for and for that, I'm grateful. I love you most. moma

  2. very wise observations, and I am glad you are being careful....There is certainly a lot that we take for granted! Stay safe!

  3. Great journal entry, fascinating really. Take care and carry a good stick to protect yourself!
    Hey I saw the rehearsal video, coming along well, but then I found another gem of a video I hadn't seen before, Muzungu song, and really loved that! You perform well in the guitar, and your song writing is, as always, heart felt. Thank you especially for sharing your lovely voice dear!