Saturday, January 26, 2013

Things my Bobo has taught me

I was thinking the other night about how my biggest blog fan is my grandfather, who we lovingly call Bobo:

I began to think of ways in which I could give him a special shout-out here on my blog, and decided that the best way was to think of all of my memories of him and how they have prepared me for life in Tanzania. These are in no particular order of importance

  1. A love for Johnny Cash and other country music legends: are you aware HOW much Tanzanians love country music? I’ve had this conversation with many a musician here. We think it’s because the stories are simple, understandable, and universal. But I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard “Burning Ring of Fire” on radios here and smiled, thinking of bobo.
  2. The memory of Bobo telling me that I “eat like a bird”, and writing a song about it on our trip to the grand canyon: I remember us laughing a lot in Arizona on that trip after he wrote a poem off the top of his head about how his granddaughter eats like a bird. Well, I think of this often because I always get “take-away” food at restaurants here and people comment on how little I have eaten. Hmph!
  3. Bobo Noting that I eat one food at a time in clock-wise order: Along the same lines… Several friends have pointed out, curiously, that I eat in clockwise order. Well, I have to give it to bobo for pointing that out first to me. I have only minor O.C.D. issues.
  4. Collecting all the coins of the US for me: I had some US coins in my wallet the other day and showed them to a bunch of Tanzanian kids, telling them how there was one quarter for each state and that my bobo had collected them all for me. They seemed befuddled as to why one would simply collect money. Though, I do recall, upon receiving the collection of coins, saying to my cousins “alright guys, let’s go buy some lottery tickets!”
  5. Bobo teaching me the following poem: “Spider, spider on the wall. Ain’t you got no sense at all? Don’t you know that wall’s been plastered? Get off that wall you silly…… spider.” Well, let’s just say I see a lot of spiders on walls here, and think of the poem each time.
  6. Getting a commode for Christmas : first, let’s all acknowledge the importance of knowing the word ‘commode’ in general. Well, I remember bobo got this toilet and immediately dropped down to his boxers to take a picture of him test-driving the unattached toilet in the middle of the living room. YES, bobo, I do remember that. How does this apply to me? Well, it has taught me the importance of actual toilets versus the drop-holes you often find here in Tanzania. Yuk.
  7. Taking a picture with a fat lady on our cruise to Alaska: bobo—the ultimate photo-bomber! I remember there was this large lady who’s big butt was facing us while we were in the Jacuzzi on the cruise. Her butt’s size was exaggerated further by the water jets propelling her bathingsuit up and out. Bobo posed in a picture with her in the background. Well, this is just a funny memory. Really doesn’t apply to my Tanzanian life at all.
  8. Teaching me to play Keno (underage) on our cruise ship: learning the rules of gambling have come in handy QUITE  a number of times for me in Tanzania. Ok just kidding.
  9. Giving me and my cousins $100 for emergency only: Well, this is a good place to be safe and secure financially! Last year my wallet was stolen while on a bus her in Arusha and the first thing I thought when I got home later was “PHEW! Glad I kept that $100 in another wallet tucked safely at home!” – don’t worry bobo, it’s still safe. Going on 6 years of keepin’ that baby!
  10. Telling me “remember what I told you” each time I say bye: Not sure if there really is only one thing that I’m supposed to remember, but bobo says this to me every time I leave the States. I think it’s a lesson on something like “don’t be stupid; or don’t trust most people; or be careful.” Probably the latter since mom tells me the same thing each time I leave too.
  11. The beauty of Flares (aka: flowers) : I mean really, guys, we all need to appreciate the beauty of the flares anywhere in the world. But they are PARTICULARLY beautiful here in Tanzania.
  12. Knowing that whenever you don’t hear someone, they are certainly telling you to “do” something: I’ve learned this from bobo saying “Do what?” every time I say something to him. I’m tempted to say the same thing in Swahili each time I don’t understand what they’ve said: “fanya nini??”
  13. Knowing that in Finland “they don’t even have damn snowmen”: Reference to last Christmas. One of bobo’s inexplicable outbursts. But yes, as I prepare for possible graduate school in Finland next year, I DO know it’s cold there.
  14.  “A place for everything and everything in its place”: I find myself saying this mantra out loud quite often as I clean my house here. Not sure if bobo ever said it to me, but I sure picked up on it. Helps keep my home mighty nice.
  15. Remembering where my home is. Remembering where I come from and who loves me most—My family. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

wow what a week

Well, can you believe I'm in my 17th month in tanzania!

and WOW that was a week.
I can already sense that I am going to have a difficult time summing up this past week. I feel as though I’ve been back in Tanzania for several months now (since returning from christmas visit in the states). What makes the transition for me? Friends-- wonderful new and wonderful old friends to help me along the way. On my first day home (arusha), my roommate Millie and I bustled on over to Makumira University, where I teach a composition course, to participate in the very exciting Glomus (Global Music) Conference. This was a huge on-taking for the university, brilliantly organized by Randy Stubbs (director of Music Department), and hosted by great conservatories in Denmark, Finland, and Sweeden. Day one in which Millie and I participated already proved to be SO much fun. I jammed and improvised with a South African Jazz group, while Millie joined the Nordic Folk Music group which was also including an Afghanistan trio of musicians. At this conference, there were about 65 students, a number of their teachers, and a few odd-ball tag-along’s like me and Millie. How many countries were there represented in this group? TWENTY THREE. It was like heaven to me: every conversation lead to some new discovery about human nature, about the world, about how connected we are, about music and its complete power to surpass the superficial boundaries of country borders or language differences. I was able to be at Glomus conference all of 3 quick times during the week, yet I feel significantly changed and very connected to the friends that I made there.
                Wednesday night was Game Time, however. Just before the winter holiday, Millie and I learned about the graduate program that facilitates Glomus. It’s called Global Music Development, shared between the partnering universities in Denmark, Sweeden, and Finland. It offers a vast array of very practical world-music courses, giving students the chance to develop their skills to working with music all over the world. It seems absolutely perfect for me and I after having been to this conference, I’m only more in want of this degree. What more, one of the main universities involved is the Sibelius Academy in Finland—a school I have dreamed of applying to for years. And even more than that, they brought admission judges to Tanzania to host grad school auditions!! So, on Wednesday night I had one of the most interesting auditions I have, and possibly ever will experience.
                Firstly, it was at 8pm on a warm evening, the trees reflecting their leaves by the clear moon. I arrived at the audition site which I promptly discovered was sitting just beside the university chapel. Why was this so obvious? Simply because the church service was BLASTING music through massive amplifiers that projected their sounds throughout all the villages around us. So, I realized what I was up against but found it to be humorous—ahh, Tanzania! The judges arrived shortly thereafter and also showed concern for the very loud music pouring in through the windows. “Is this music ok for you to play with?” one of them asked me. I responded with “well, it’s in the wrong key…” to which they all replied with resounding laughter. Phew! Off on a good foot, I thought. The blaring music was pretty funny, but I was soon in the mental zone to launch into Debussy’s Syrinx on flute.  Honestly, I apparently managed to completely block out the church music, for I don’t recall hearing it at all once I started playing. The only moment when I noticed the church music was when their song ended, timing perfectly with my very last note on flute which was very soft and delicate. I was thankful that the music had stopped just in time for them to hear my last hushed note. The judges seemed pleased and I moved over to the piano, which I quickly found to be quite out of tune. Well, I was slightly distracted by that fact and also the neighboring band started up again. I jumped into the loud and bombastic Bartok piano piece, but within a couple of seconds, found my fingers slipping. I stopped and told them I would like to start again. One of the judges said, “sure, take your time.” I think they were empathizing with me in light of the church situation. (ha-ha-ha, very funny, God) I launched into it again, however, and was off and running. It’s such a fun piece, I was surprised when it was finished and I banged out the last chord. They clapped, which was nice, and I began to explain the final piece which was a song I wrote in Swahili for the Umoja Ensemble kids in our Ndoto show last year. I felt like I sang and played well, I remembered all of the words, and they were interested to know a bit more about the show.
                Next part of the audition involved me teaching a piece to a 3-person ensemble of Sibelius Academy students. I chose a fun piece called Kuchimba Chini (Digging Down) that I composed for our Ndoto show last year as well. I explained the concepts, the form, the general idea of what to do, and demonstrated a fun sliding technique  used in the song on my own guitar. I tried to use as many teaching techniques as I could think of. I also had copies of scores for the judges so they could follow along, thus showing off my Type-A personality strengths….haha! The piece came together quickly, with what awesome musicians I had playing it and all, and I noticed one of the judges tapping his foot along. After that, I had to improvise and “contribute musically” to a song the same three Sib. Acad. students played. That was also just a bunch of fun, like a jam session. Finally, I had my interview where I was asked such questions as “where do you see yourself in 10 years? What do you have to offer the Sibelius academy? Why do you want to go be in Glomas?” and my personal favorite: “If you have to pay, will it change your mind?” – for the Sibelius Academy is free for all students, but the other two partner academies in Denmark and Sweeden are NOT free for US citizens. Well, I told them that if I was supposed to be at one of the other institutions, I would figure out a way to finance it, but right now my goal is to be completely focused on getting into the Sibelius Academy.
                I spent another hour waiting outside with the Sibelius academy musicians and 2 other auditioning students. It was during this time that I gained the best picture I yet have on what I could expect if I were to go to Finland. To me, everything sounds amazing: wonderfully interesting students and faculty, a very unique perspective on combining cultures through music, a once-in-a-life opportunity to be at one of the world’s best conservatories. Not to mention, all of the students I have met seemed so genuinely kind and excited about sharing different kinds of music.
                In summary, the week visiting this conference was so incredibly vibrant, inspiring, and encouraging. It has already affected what music I’m teaching my piano group classes. I decided to introduce them to music from around the world—starting with, of course, Brazilian Samba J
                In the meantime, I will be waiting to hear back from Sibelius Academy in JUNE about my acceptance. Cross your fingers, everyone!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013



I always have a bit of difficulty transitioning back to my home here in Arusha. I’m not alone in this, I know, for I have heard some of my friends say the same. Once you’re here for a while, you forget what it feels like to be home and you transition back to a Tanzanian-Mzungu-normal. By far, this time back has certainly been the easiest transition for me. When I initially moved to Arusha, the first three days were actually nauseatingly stressful for me and the nights were sleeplessly torturous. The second time I went home and came back, I had a breakdown suddenly while doing crunches on the floor of my room. Weird, right? I was so upset that I had an iphone and as I laid there on the ground, I promised myself I sell the iphone and give the money away. (this iphone was later stolen, so the universe works it all out…) The third time I went home and came back, there was no emotional breakdown but I did find myself going out and drinking a lot more than normal with old friends for the first week I was back. This is my fourth and final time (at least for now) that I have gone home and will come back. No tears, no desire to binge on chocolate or drinks, but there’s just this guilt.

The first kind of guilt comes from reevaluating what I want in life. When one comes to an African country as a 20-something year old, you feel this sense of pride, of calling, of duty to help fix this place. Of course, this is fueled by every one’s oo-ing and ahh-ing when you tell them you’re going to Tanzania for two years. You land here knowing that you’re going to CHANGE THE WORLD! For some time, I’ve gabbed on about living here, or in Haiti, or in some hot and dirty place. But, at some point since I’ve been here, I’ve come to accept that this may not be the path for me. I do love this place, and I do love its challenges, but I struggle emotionally even still with being away from the comforts of home. I start to doubt my original noble goals, realize my human weaknesses, and the guilt sinks in for not being stronger.

The second feeling of contrition comes from that which I cannot control—my place of birth. At some point, I started to wonder why I should have the luck to be born in America and have all of the opportunities that I do, while the majority of Tanzanians never have the hopes to leave East Africa, or even the country. Why, I could go and find an apartment in downtown Atlanta, search for a job, and live in complete comfort (and probably boredom, I might add). Ok, but I have the choice. But, I’m not sure if I could compete in the job market in America these days, being a musician and all. Isn’t it better to be a prized musician in a small city than another classically trained musician in a metropolis? I’m not quite sure which is scarier to me, really.

I have an audition for graduate school tomorrow, here in Arusha. I’m hoping it will take me to Finland to get my masters next year. But, I’m nervous about the audition, and I’m sad to be missing people from home, and then there’s this guilt on top of it all. Oh, I forgot the third kind of guilt—why do I feel so sorry for myself when I have SO much? Friends, family, very comfortable living, good clothes, money to go see movies and eat out at restaurants, an awesome job, people who I love and who love me, musical skill, an exciting and beautiful place to live. Seriously, sometimes I wish someone would just come splash cold water in my face and say, “dani! Wake up!”