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?