Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tanzania Post 1

You would think that after the extreme wierdness of fish-stepping and singing sea-life just about anything I encounter here in Tanzania would seem decidedly mundane. But my trip has been getting all the more curious as I go along, and Christmas was no exception.

I attended midnight mass outdoors in the small hilltop village of Bujora.  There must have been six or seven hundred people there, drawn from a handfull of neighboring hamlets, and packed into a small clearing in front of a stage beside a brightly-lit church.  The opening act was the Christmas pagent, an epic two-hour affair that included all of the Greatest Hits between Creation and the Birth of Jesus.  It was like a distinctly Tanzanian broadway musical, with much celebratory drumming, dancing, singing and carrying on.

The highlight of the pagent was undoubtably Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  Throngs of bright-eyed children crowded so close to the stage that they had to be beaten back with the leafy branches of a nearby mango tree, and, after some singing and a little soft-shoe, Eve reached up into that same tree and brought down... a banana.  In a phallic coup-de-grace she peeled and fed it to Adam right there on stage, and the spectators erupted into hysterics.  Of course, with all of the hijinks the magnamity of the fall of man was lost somewhat on the crowd, something that obviously displeased the frown-faced visiting priest, who looked on sourly from the wings.  But I thought it was brilliant: if I even get to play Adam in a pagent we're definitely using a banana.

The pagent ended as expected, with a conscripted and very confused baby Jesus being presented to a seriously grooving throng of about thirty Wise Men and Women as they got their frankincense and myrrh on in front of an equally rocking crowd.  The onlookers were so filled with The Holy Spirit they promptly rushed the stage, bringing a swift conclusion to the pagent as church officials once again broke out the mango branches and flogged everyone offstage.

It was Time for Mass.

After all of the booty shaking during the pagent, midnight mass was a surprisingly conservative affair. It was administered by the local branch of the Roman Catholic Church, and had all of the trappings of Organized Religion.  White linens, incense, sombre faces, golden chalice etc...  Although one thing I hadn't seen at other R.C. churches was the twelve-girl dance team that led all processions, dressed in fine flowered garments, and who sashayed about in front of stage during each of the carols.

Also notable was the tense moment when one of the "security guards," wielding a sizeable club, rushed shouting on-stage and took off his uniform top, releaving a bright orange t-shirt.  The crowd was spellbound as a quick-thinking junior priest tackled and dragged him offstage.  After the hubub subsided the sermon continued without incindent.  I've been asking around but I still can't figure out if the man was a protesting protestant or had smply indulged in one too many glasses of the holiday nog.

Today is New Years day, and my New Year was less colorful than christmas.  I came to Mwanza City and, seeking a bit of home, went fishing with my Middlebury roommate and friend Kiddo Kiddolezi's dad, Nathaniel.  Kiddo is a native of this place and it is great to be able to come and celebrate here with his good natured father when I need a break from village life.  Kiddo sent Nathaniel a fishing rod from the states so we went down to the shores of Lake Victoria in our ballcaps and sunglasses and cast in the lure as the sun set across the bay.  All that was missing was a couple of folding chairs and cooler full of Pabst and we could've been at Anylake USA.  Except that we were fishing for Tilapia.  And it was New Year's Eve and we were wearing sandals.
Anyway, I have been working on my project here, though from my stories you wouldn't believe it.  I've set up in the small village of Igudija about an hour east of Mwanza.  I'm living in a great little mud hut, thatched roof and all, although I've upgraded from Ghana's one room to two (a kitchen.)  The hut belongs to the above mentioned Paolo, and he is a member of a local fifteen-member musical farming team.  My daily routine involves lots of music: every afternoon until dinner we practice farming songs and after dinner we generally sing some more.  A couple of times a week at dawn we go out and weed the farm plots of the different team members. 
The real attraction is turning over the fields, which they do with huge hoes, simple synchronised movements, and of course, fascinating songs.  The team moves across a field amazingly fast, creating large tie ridges of soil into which they plant corn, beans, cassava, cotton and other crops.   Unfortunately the rains, which always come at the end of November, still haven't come.  So I've only gotten to try this style of musical cultivation a few times, as the activity is tied to the rain (which loosens up the soil for the hoes and waters the young seeds and plants).
But I am doing what I can with what we've got.  We sing while weeding too, and, of course learning and translating the songs takes most of every afternoon.  So despite the drought I'm learning a lot, and saving up to write a full-on description of these amazing local musical labor practices for you as soon as I can.

I suppose this update amounts to my Happy Holiday Message- and what can I say?  Keep the holiday spirit rocking into the new year even if they tell you to settle down and start acting normal.  After all: glad tidings and general merriment throught the year?  Why not!  And hey- speaking of "why not"- now that you've heard all about my holiday exploits why not send me yours?

At the moment it's best to send mail to 596 Union Rd. Appleton, Maine 04862 because at the end of this month a carrier-stork will fly by and drop it off for me.

Or even better, haven't you always wanted an excuse to call Tanzania? There's no better reason than to tell me about the holiday rager your grandmother threw that ended up with everyone naked and covered in the christmas gravy.  Just dial:  255-74-500-1488 and I'll pick up all cheery and full of stories.  We even have reception at the hut.  And word is phone cards to Tanzania can be found online for relatively cheap.  Go on, surprise me.

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